The Convenience of a Superauto
We talk a lot about semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines. If you've read our blog before you probably know that a superauto combines grinder and brewer in one. This is different from a semi-auto, which requires a standalone grinder. You may also know already that a superautos can brew coffee (and usually steam milk) with just a push of a button! But how do they stack up against semi-autos?
Ease of Use
The first and most obvious answer is ease of use. Professional baristas train for a long time to be able to make exquisite drinks on semi-automatic machines. A superauto makes this process far easier. It's true that in reality there's more to them than pushing a button and getting coffee out of one of these machines, but it's pretty close. The machine will also help you learn what different coffee drinks are if you're intimidated by the café menu!
The other challenge with semi-auto machines is milk steaming. Where you may need to spend hours learning the perfect way to steam a pitcher of milk, a superauto's milk system does it by itself. Now, it's important to note, you'll never get milk like what a professional can steam on a superauto. Correctly creating microfoam and incorporating it into milk is so delicate that a machine will always struggle. However, milk systems in superautos do a great job, and steam milk better than many amateurs out there anyway!
These machines also save time. The full process of grinding, weighing, brewing, and steaming milk on a semi-auto can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on your skill level. A superauto can produce a latte or cappuccino in just a minute or two. What's more, there's usually less clean up with a superauto.
Another component in the ease of use argument is maintenance. Semi-auto machines require you to know exactly how and when to perform backflushes, cleaning, and descaling. While these aren't impossible to learn, they do make maintaining a one of these machines more complex than a superauto. By contrast, a superauto will give you helpful indicators, warnings, and prompts. Typically cleaning and maintenance is a step by step process that the machine can walk you through as well.
None of this is to say there's no tradeoff with these machines. The biggest is control. On a semi-auto you can tease out the complexities of a single origin to really craft something unique. Superautos work better with blends, as they tend to pull shots with a little less finesse. This isn't to say their coffee is bad though. On the contrary, the control you get out of a semi-auto doesn't mean better drinks. Instead, semi-auto espresso machines are often enjoyed by coffee hobbyists who enjoy a more complex process.
As noted above, the same is true for milk. Superautos create good milk texture, but not on the level of a pro barista. That said, it takes a lot of practice and skill to make quality steamed milk, and some higher end machines get very close to what a barista could do.
Finally, superautos tend to create cooler drinks than semi-auto machines. This is a real stumbling point for some coffee drinkers, so be sure to take a look at reviews for the specific machine you're considering.
One thing you don't necessarily have to compromise though, is price!
Superautos, like semi-autos, run the gamut in terms of price. From the Saeco XSmall clocking in around $500 all the way up to higher dollar machines like the Miele CM6350. Truly, there's a superauto for every budget.