Top 3 Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines of 2020
It’s time for one of our biggest best-of categories of the whole year - semi-automatic espresso machines! We love our brew, our grinders, our superautos, and everything else that we give top 3s for each year. With that said, semi-automatic espresso machines are one of the most complex products we offer (alongside superautos), so we take them quite seriously. This year we’re breaking this category into two. First, we’ll talk about semi-automatic espresso machines that can fit into a fairly wide range of budgets, and closely consider value in our picks. Later we’ll have a list of skies-the-limit high end machines that might be a little high dollar for the typical shopper. Let’s get started!
Rocket Espresso Appartamento Nera
The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is a longstanding entry on this list, and one of our most popular machines. If you know us, you know we love Rocket Espresso to the moon and back, and there’s a reason for that. This is a brand that focuses extensively on performance, reliability, and providing an authentic Italian espresso experience. All of these tenets are clearly present in the Appartamento. This year this machine saw some new styling in the form of the Nera, so naturally we’ve decided to put that version on this list!
The Appartamento Nera starts with the incredible Appartamento as its base. If you’re not familiar with the Appartamento, here’s a primer!
The Appartamento features a 1.8-liter heat exchanger boiler that gives you the power to brew and steam milk at the same time. On top of this, the heated E61 grouphead helps heat up the portafilter, which keeps water temperature consistent as it passes through the portafilter. These two elements alone make the Appartamento a really compelling machine at its price point. While there are other brewers in this range that offer similar prosumer features, the Appartamento also does it with a high degree of build quality and striking design. It also squeezes all of this into a small footprint that can fit most kitchens comfortably.
The Appartamento, like every Rocket Espresso machine, also offers ultra tactile controls that are a joy to use. From the action on the brew lever to the twist of the steam knob, you’ll really feel each part of the drink crafting process here. It gives you that barista feel without the cost of a commercial machine.
The Nera is a visual update to the Appartamento that trades the shine of the fully stainless case for a slick new side panel style. Don’t worry, the stainless case is still there under the powdercoat, but the black sides at a new level of elegance to the already striking cutouts that make the Appartamento so visually striking. With multiple insert covers, you can get just the right look for your Appartamento as well. This machine really is one of the best of the best, and now it’s got a new look too!
Rancilio Silvia Pro
The Rancilio Silvia is a legendary machine in its own right. Many new espresso users start with a Silvia to learn. While it can be a challenging machine to dial in, it’s still a great way to get started with more serious brewing and steaming. This year, Rancilio has finally introduced a new offering, the Silvia Pro.
The Silvia Pro really is a whole new beast. First of all, this machine is equipped with not one, but TWO boilers. A 1-liter steam boiler powers the steaming, and a 300ml brew boiler is dedicated for your shots. This means that you can brew and steam at the same time, giving you that true barista feel. Both of these boilers are controlled by dedicated PID controllers. This gives you rock solid temperatures as well as control over each boiler’s temperatures. You can also turn off the steam boiler, which gives you improved recovery times for brewing multiple shots when milk frothing is optional.
Additional features like auto-on programming, energy saving, a shot timer, and a hot water spout round out the package. All of this combined really makes the Silvia Pro a huge upgrade over the base model. We think it’s a great time for it too. If you’ve had your Silvia for several years, you might be ready for an upgrade yourself, and the Silvia Pro really delivers.
We think this machine offers really fantastic shots, a range of great features, and truly efficient operation. It’s an easy pick for our Top 3 Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines.
Solis Barista Perfetta
New to Seattle Coffee Gear this holiday season is the Solis Barista Perfetta! We normally like to give machines some breathing room before we put them on this list, but this is one special semi-auto. Coming in at an entry level price point for unpressurized espresso brewing, this machine really punches above its weight. We’re thrilled to be able to offer it to all of our budding baristas out there.
The Perfetta’s thermoblock boiler offers quick heatup times with consistent temps that stand shoulder to shoulder with other brewers in its pricing level. It’s also got the pump to deliver with pressurized and unpressurized portafilters. The Perfetta’s portafilter also works with E.S.E. pods without needing an adapter, a real plus for newbies. Other features like hot water, strong steaming performance, and an easy to read pressure gauge place the Perfetta on equal footing with similarly priced machines. What really impressed us here is the extra details.
For starters, the Perfetta is solidly built with a quality case that combines some metal and plastic elements in a way that feels more premium than some entry level machines. It also features auto-purge solenoid valves, which really make brewing unpressurized more enjoyable. Where other machines might produce some soupyness or spray when trying to brew with an unpressurized basket, the Perfetta performs on par with far more expensive machines from a pressure perspective. This is a really great feature that will help newer users get more life out of this machine, and transition to a more prosumer option smoothly.
The Perfetta’s manual single hole steam wand also mimics more expensive machines, and while it does take some practice, you’ll get some great milk from this machine. You can also program in shot times, which really helps you to understand the process of brewing espresso on a deeper level, and aids with dialing in. Adjustable temperatures give you a little more control over your brew than what we’d expect as well. Finally, the Perfetta squeezes all of this into a compact footprint that should fit on any countertop.
These are a lot of terms to throw out, but they all mean one thing when you put them together. The Solis Barista Perfetta is one of the best starting points for any new user. It lets you start with pressurized brewing, either with grinds from your brew grinder or E.S.E. Pods. From there you can learn how to dial in an espresso with a dedicated grinder, and steam up some really great milk drinks. It’s something we’re so happy to bring to our customers, and it’s our new favorite starting point for new users.