Differentiating Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Let’s be honest, Semi-automatic espresso machines can get pretty similar in the looks department. While coffee nerds like us spot the subtle differences in design on some of the higher end machines, it can be hard to know what sets machines apart from one another. Let’s look at the differences that can arise on the inside and the outside!

Internals

As you might guess, one of the most important points of comparison on these boxy coffee machines is what’s on the inside. That metric is pretty wide-reaching! The biggest thing most people consider on the inside of a machine is the boiler. While not something you’ll see the difference in when looking at the machine, boiler design is one of the most important things for an espresso machine. First there’s design, from heat exchangers to multi-boilers, there are many kinds of boilers. We won’t get into every specific about these designs, but there are lots of resources to help you determine the cost to value ratio in the boiler department.

Next up is boiler material. Copper, stainless steel, lined aluminum, there are many materials that manufacturers use for boilers. Since this is a direct example of material cost, the differences in pricing make a lot of sense fairly intuitively. One thing to keep in mind is that any reputable espresso machine manufacturer is going to use food safe components in their boiler designs. You’re not going to find boilers that seep harmful material into drinks on Seattle Coffee Gear!

Other internal components are things like pumps and thermostats, control boards, tubing and water lines, and case frame. These elements range from simple material considerations to more technical items like PID Controllers vs. traditional thermostats. Generally, when something has a unique or notable component, it’ll be called out in the item’s description. In this way, you can rely on guidance from the retailer to understand what makes the machine tick.

Externals

External elements are very important to machine differentiation and the easiest piece of the puzzle to notice with the naked eye. The most obvious part of this is visual design. Is the machine appealing to look at? Because with the size of many espresso machines you’ll have to leave it out on your counter. 

Also of importance is control design and feel. Many high end Italian machines have very similar knobs and levers for controlling the machine. With that said, how those controls actually feel to use are a different story. We’ve handle many fancy looking machines that have levers and knobs made of cheap plastic. On the flip side, there are some gorgeous machines out there with wood knobs and lever touch points that are a dream to use. None of that matters though if the controls don’t have good movement. A brew lever that’s too stiff or a knob that feels cheap to turn are not fun to deal with. It’s important to note that many machines do have a break in period before their controls feel their best. For this reason it’s best to get a demo on a machine that’s seen some use if you can!

Finally, there’s case material. This is a pretty simple element, but whether the case is plastic, steel, or some other material really matters for longevity and machine quality.

So there you have it! There are many points of comparison on espresso machines even if many look like big coffee boxes. The key takeaway here is that you really should look at the inside of the machine as much as at its casing to understand what sets two machines apart.

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