Gear Guide: Finding The Right Espresso Machine For You

Finding The Right Espresso Machine: Semi and Superautomatics

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Finding the right espresso machine to take home starts by asking yourself what you want. If you're not sure what you're looking for, this guide is for you! We’ve created an easy buyer’s guide on how to choose an espresso machine that's right for you. In this guide, we will go over the pros and cons of superautomatic espresso machines and semi-automatic espresso machines. And at the end of each article, we'll recommend the best home espresso machines in that category. Let's get started! We’ll start here with this simple question:

How Committed Are You?

Are you just friends or are you in a serious relationship with your espresso? We know, it sounds silly, but understanding your level of commitment is the first step to finding the right espresso machine for you. Think about your morning routine: Are you usually rushing out the door or do you cook a balanced breakfast? How you’ll be using your machine—basically, your relationship with it—is the best way to determine what you should take home.

Take, for example, the superautomatic espresso machine.

This type of machine is for people who are rushing out the door. Most require little to no barista skills and typically operate at the touch of a button. It’s like having your own personal barista right in your kitchen! Depending on the model, some machines offer basic drink options such as espresso or Americanos while more advanced options offer a range of menu items, customized temperature or milk texture and more. Superautomatics have a variety of milk frothing options like a panarello-style steam wand, traditional steam wand or carafe, so you can choose which option is right for you. For instance, one-touch superautomatics whip up lattes right into your cup thanks to integrating milk systems like an attached carafe.

The Miele CM6310 Superautomatic comes with an attached stainless steel carafe to easily store milk in the fridge. The Miele CM6310 Superautomatic comes with an attached stainless steel carafe to easily store milk in the fridge.

On the other side, we have the semi-automatic machine for the chefs out there.

With semi-automatics, you should be willing to get involved and grow with it—to a degree. There are several entry-level semi-automatic machines that offer beginners assistance with features like the pressurized portafilter, which helps you pull a consistent shot every time, or a panarello steam wand that froths thick, rich milk with little skill involved.

If you’re ready to expand your barista skills, the higher level semi-automatics let you control just about every aspect of your espresso shot and milk. High-level machines typically feature a traditional steam wand and non-pressurized portafilters, which require a level of skill, technique and preparation. For instance, on a non-pressurized portafilter, you’ll need a consistent grind, which requires a quality grinder and the senses (taste, sight, etc.) to dial in your grind. That means you have more control over how fine-tuned your espresso is!

For those latte and cappuccino drinkers out there, you’ll appreciate the flexibility of a traditional steam wand. You can texture milk to be dense, dry foam or paint-like for latte art. Then sometimes there are advanced features like PIDs to regulate the boiler temperature or the ability to set the pre-infusion time.

Hello, steam power. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is a semi-automatic machine with programmable volume buttons. Hello, steam power. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is a semi-automatic machine with programmable volume buttons.

Of course, some features and functionalities are found on both superautomatic and semi-automatic such as a panarello-style steam wand. That’s why we ask people to focus on their commitment level. Are you ready to learn how to dial in your grind? Do you want your machine to remember your drink preferences? Finding the right espresso machine starts by figuring out how committed you’ll be to your coffee. Speaking of coffee, it's time to think about your beans.

How Do You Like Your Coffee?

Tall, dark and…smokey? If you love Italian or French roast blends, then you’ll want to stay away from superautomatic machines. The reason is that the oils coating the coffee beans will clog the superautomatic’s grinder over time, creating a mess and may require extra maintenance. We always recommend avoiding an oily bean on a superautomatic to keep it in tip-top shape.

That does mean, however, that you could enjoy a dark roast on a semi-automatic! You’ll want to make sure you clean the grinder a little more frequently with a grinder cleaner, but otherwise, a semi-automatic will have less trouble with dark roast. Also, we h2ly discourage using grinder cleaners on a superautomatic because it could potentially damage the grinder or brew group.

Intelligentsia's Black Cat Classic is a medium, full bodied roast that's great in a superautomatic or semi-automatic. Intelligentsia's Black Cat Classic is a medium, full bodied roast that's great in a superautomatic or semi-automatic.

Looking for a unique flavor to try as an espresso? If you love single origins, go ahead and try it out on a semi-automatic! You can change the temperature, grind, tamp—you get the idea. With more control over brewing, you’re able to dial in and find your perfect shot. Since single origins’ flavors benefit from hotter water than a blend, it’s harder to pull a shot on a superautomatic than a semi-automatic. Of course, a blend will be easier to perfect on either type of machine since it’s designed to have a balanced flavor.

Conclusion

Are you ready to commit to your espresso? Again, think about your morning routine and ask yourself how often you’ll use your machine. What sort of drinks will you be making on it? If you have a specific coffee roast preference, then that could also influence your decision. Finding the right espresso machine for you will make it easy to make coffee you love at home. Have you made a decision? Good! In this next couple of posts, we’ll split off into several topics.

If you've decided you're interested in a semi-automatic then proceed here: Gear Guide: Expanding Your Skills With Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Or if convenience rules, check out: Gear Guide: Convenience Rules With Superautomatic Espresso Machines

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