2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso
Semi-automatic espresso machines can be daunting at first glance. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to crafting cafe style espresso drinks, and getting started with the right gear is key. That’s why we’ve got another one of our holiday shopping guides to help you give the gift of great espresso gear, or get some for yourself! Let’s get started!
Grinding for espresso requires a highly precise, consistent grinder that will give you a fine enough grind to generate the pressure needed for this brew method. To understand this, it’s important to understand the difference between pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets. On a basic level, pressurized portafilter baskets have extra screens or chambering to create back pressure on water coming into the filter. This is to make up for a grind that’s too coarse or inconsistent to generate the needed pressure for proper espresso extraction.
If you’re shopping for a grinder that will last you for semi-automatic espresso, you’ll want something that can grind fine enough for non-pressurized baskets. While you might want to start with pressurized baskets, having the ability to jump to those non-pressurized baskets will give you the ability to enjoy the trickiest single origins with your espresso setup.
With all of this in mind, it’s hard not to recommend the Eureka Mignon Notte espresso grinder. This is a grinder that produces that fine grind that will work for both pressurized and non-pressurized baskets. It’s also got a precision, stepless grind adjustment that really lets you get that perfect consistency for various different roasts. These are features you’ll usually find on much more expensive grinders, so to get them in a grinder at the Notte’s price point is particularly impressive.
With your grinder choice locked in, the next thing you’ll need to decide on is your machine!
Your choice of machine really depends on two things: Budget and how willing you are to practice. Thankfully, there’s an answer for both ends of either spectrum!
If you’re looking for a great entry point on the lower end of cost, the Solis Perfetta is the perfect machine for you. This espresso machine offers great performance, timed shot programming, and high quality steaming at a great price. It’s also all in a small footprint, so you should be able to fit this machine in just about any kitchen. Overall it makes for a perfect starting point for new users, and is also a great upgrade if you’ve been using a cheaper espresso machine to see if you like it. The Perfetta’s ability to grind with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets ensures that you’ll be able to start with the “training-wheels” so to speak, and graduate to unpressurized baskets when you’re ready.
If you really want to jump in with both feet, there’s always the Rocket Espresso Appartamento. The Appartamento is a little more challenging to learn on than the Perfetta, but it also offers a more “professional” feel and feature-set. This machine has a powerful heat exchanger boiler that will have you pulling shots and steaming at the same time. The steam wand and handle mirror commercial setups, and the tactile controls for controlling the brew head feel more hands on as well. There’s also the fact that the Appartamento is built to last, with stainless steel casing and high grade components, you really get what you pay for here. Finally, this is also one of the most affordable machines that features a heated group head on the market. Why is this important? By heating the portafilter you don’t lose any temperature during the brew process, which stands in contrast to other, lower cost machines.
Both of these options work great depending on your budget and degree of confidence!
In addition to your grinder and scale, there are some extras you’ll want to consider as well. The first thing is a scale. It’s very important to ensure the proper brew ratios when you’re dialing in a new espresso. To do this, you’ll need a reliable scale. In a best case scenario you’ll be working with a water-resistant, espresso focused scale like an Acaia Lunar. Given that that might not be an expense you’re quit ready for, something like the Hario V60 Drip Scale can at least help you dose the correct amount of grounds. Just be careful not to get it wet!
You’ll also want to have a knock box handy for cleanup. Knock boxes are used to eject used espresso pucks from your portafilter before dumping them into the garbage or compost. There are lots of knock boxes out there, we recommend something like the Rocket Espresso Knock Box to ensure longevity.
Cleaning your machine is important too, and we love Urnex Cafiza for regular cleaning like backflushing. Just be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for machine maintenance and cleaning to keep it in tip top shape!
Lastly, you’ll want a shot pitcher with clear and readable measurements. This allows you to keep your shots at the right volume over the right amount of time. Once you’ve got an espresso dialed in, you can switch to brewing directly into your cup! We are big fans of the Rhino Coffee Gear Espresso Shot Pitcher for this purpose.