Things to Look for in a Superautomatic Espresso Machine
We offer plenty of opinions on specific superautomatic espresso machines, but one thing we also try to do is provide you with the tools to understand what makes any piece of coffee gear worth your time and money. To that end, we’re taking another look at some basic things to look for on the inside, and outside of your next superauto purchase.
We’re starting with the internals here because there’s a little less variety in what you’ll find among sueprautomatic espresso machines than other gear on the inside. These machines consist of a grinder, heating element, and brew unit, as well as other odds and ends like control boards. While there certainly are superautos with different degrees of internal component quality, this almost always trends with price.
Unlike traditional standalone units, you also don’t need to focus as intently on specific aspects of machines. Where in a standalone espresso grinder you might want to use burr size in your decision making process, parts of superautos like burrs and heating element are designed in concert, meaning that the whole package is made to work together. This, again, is tied to price. A more expensive superauto might heat up faster than a more affordable one, but it’s unlikely that you’ll find two of these machines in a similar price bracket and size that offer wildly different specs.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get a strong superauto for an affordable price. For example, the Philips line of superautos offers quite strong performance and reliability while being some of the most affordable machines on the market. What the takeaway from all of this really is is that it can be hard to judge a superauto based on internal specs.
When we say “the outside” here we’re really talking about all of the forward facing stuff. Case design, form factor, interface, and steaming options all come to mind. This is really where you’ll see the most variability as well. Any superauto will have options for an espresso and probably a “long coffee”, or shot with more water, but beyond that it’s kind of the wild west.
The first thing to look at is basic drink options. Does the machine dispense hot water? Does it have a dedicated americano button? Can it brew double shots? How about ristrettos? Do any of these things matter to you? You’ll also want to identify how customizable these drinks are, from temperature, to dose/strength, to volume. Does the machine save these settings? Does it have multiple profiles?
Another hugely important thing is milk system. Milk systems vary greatly from machine to machine. A panarello is usually more affordable and gives you control at the loss of automation. A siphon system is easy to use but can be a challenge to clean. A carafe will be even more convenient, but can also have cleaning issues. Some innovative systems like Saeco’s Hygeisteam and Philips’ LatteGo make steaming easy and cleanup a breeze, so it’s worth weighing if these elements are worth the increased cost to you.
A big thing that is immediately notable when you put two machines next to one another is the interface. From push buttons to touchscreens, there are a lot of different interfaces out there. These different ways to interact with the machine are generally cosmetic, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t convenient. In some cases (Like with the Saeco Xelsis) they can even lead to more granular control over drinks.
The last couple of things to think about are water filtration and case form factor. The size and shape of the machine is really something that just needs to fit your needs. With that in mind, be sure to get the measurements of each machine on your list. As far as filtration, most major machine lines have some form of optional water filter. We recommend seeking out a machine that has this and keeping it up to date to reduce the number of descalings you’ll need.
That about does it! There are other smaller pieces of the puzzle, but this should get you pointed in the right direction on your superauto search.