Choosing a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine - Part 2
Last week we took a look at some key factors in choosing a semi-auto espresso machine. This week we wanted to touch on some odds and ends of the espresso machine purchasing process!
What Else Is There?
In addition to the core elements we discussed last week, espresso machines can do a little something extra too. Gauges, control mechanisms, types of steam wands, and PID Controllers are all bells and whistles that can add substance or just cost. So what are some nifty extras to keep an eye out for?
One especially common talking point for higher end machines is PID controllers. We have an entire article devoted to how these devices work, so I won't detail everything. That said, to put it simply, PID controllers regulate temperatures. Instead of a thermostat that waits for water to dips below a certain temperature to activate the heating element, a machine with a PID controller is always monitoring water temps. This makes for much more consistent temperatures, and better espresso when brewing.
What about pressure gauges? This is a question we get a lot. For example, when moving from the Barista Express to the Barista Pro, they dropped the mechanical steam gauge. This bothered some folks, and it's understandable why on the surface. In reality, a pressure gauge is largely only useful for diagnosing problems in the machine. While it can be fun and reassuring to watch the needle on a gauge jump, they aren't really needed for successful operation. This is a nice to have that won't add loads of cost, but don't discount a machine just because it doesn't have one of these.
Steam and Control
Control interfaces, on the other hand, can be make or break elements. While we are confident in the interfaces of the machines that we sell at SCG, not all machines are created equal. Oddly placed levers, bad buttons, or worse, can really hamper your enjoyment of using a machine. Personal preference is really going to play a role in determining what your favorite type of interface is, but know that it's reasonable to consider this carefully when shopping.
Finally, steam wands and water spouts may be a big deal for you too. Some machines, like the Breville Bambino, feature auto steam wands. These can simplify your steaming process and allow you to focus on dialing in your shots. That said, most will prefer finer control. What's nice is that in most cases you can use manual or auto steaming, so you're not locked in. It's a feature you might want to look for if you're brand new to milk steaming in general. It's also important to consider how much a hot water valve matters to you. If you're a regular Americano drinker, you may want to make sure that your machine of choice has this feature, and not all machines do.
The last thing on the list is, of course, aesthetic. You'll want to love the way your machine looks, because it will likely be a long time before you buy another one!