buying guide

  • Buying Guide: Superautos

    Interested in espresso? Looking to cut pod coffee out? Still want the simplicity of push button operation? It sounds like you need a superauto!

    We've talked about superautomatic espresso machines at length here. So much so that you probably already know what these machines are. As a refresher, a superautomatic espresso machine is a machine that uses whole bean coffee to deliver delicious espresso based drinks. They are sort of like "cafes in a box." The trade-off is that no automated process can truly outdo a skilled barista on professional equipment. With that said, a superauto machine on your kitchen counter is an incredible convenience that can still provide a tasty morning does of caffeine. Superautos also cut down on the waste generated by pod machines, though they don't make drip coffee. There are a number of factors to think about when selecting a superauto. We'll touch on these things as we go through this guide to buying your first machine, or upgrading!

    First Machine

    For your first machine it's hard to argue against the Philips Carina. Getting into espresso for the first time is an expensive endeavor that the Carina makes a lot less scary. This is a simple to use machine that may seem light on features, but is actually a fantastic value. You can control dose (the amount the machine grinds for each shot) volume, and pull shots of espresso, long, coffee style lungo shots, hot water for americanos, and steamed milk. These are the core functions of any superauto espresso machine, so to have them surfaced like on the Carina is a boon. Add to all of this the easy to use AquaClean filtration system, and you've got an affordable winner of a beginner machine. Just remember to buy a filter with the machine!

    One thing that is important to note about the Carina is its panarello steam wand. This means that you'll need to manually hold a pitcher of milk up to the wand to steam it, like on a semi-auto machine. For many, the promise of automatic milk steaming is why they want a superauto in the first place. If auto steaming is a make or break feature for you, consider checking out the Philips 3200 Latte Go. This machine is just like the Carina in many ways, but includes a carafe based steaming system for automatic steaming.

    The other great thing about the Carina is it'll help you understand exactly what you want out of your next machine. Maybe you'll settle on the idea that more control over the shot is key for you. In this case, you may want to upgrade to a semi-auto machine. Maybe you like the superautomatic nature of the Carina, but you don't need the milk steaming. In this case, upgrading to something like the Jura A1, which brews espresso only, may be the perfect solution.

    Upgrading to a New Machine

    If you're looking at upgrading from an older machine and have a budget of over $1,000, consider the Jura E6. The E6 produces some exceptional espresso thanks to Jura's P.E.P. brewing system and is a definite upgrade from an interface perspective. Using its vibrant screen and simple button system you'll be able to set dose, temp, shot length, and milk volume for your drinks. One-touch cappuccinos with the E6's automatic siphon system are a delicious option as well. Finally, the maintenance tools on the E6 are really something. The comprehensive software is great at reminding you to rinse, clean, and descale the machine.

    The only real negative on this machine is the lack of milk control that you get. While the cappuccino foam that the siphon system on the E6 creates is decent, it just can't do lattes. This may be a dealbreaker for some folks. If that's you, then it's worth taking a look at the Miele 6350.

    The 6350 offers great milk texture for lattes and cappuccinos, delicious coffee, and is easy to operate. It's expensive, but justifies its price with extra features like a hot water spout, brew group light, and a a spill-proof drip tray. It's an easy recommendation for anyone looking at buying the last machine they'll need.

    Stay tuned for more buying guides focused on drip brewing and semi-auto espresso machines!

  • Super or Semi?

    Superautomatic and semi-automatic machines have similar names but ultimately work quite differently. If you're a regular reader you already know the difference between them. For the uninitiated, a superauto handles everything from grinding the beans to steaming your milk. All you have to do is press a few buttons and maybe hold a pitcher, otherwise the machines does it all. On the flip-side, semi-automatics are a little more hands on. While they don't requires you to manually pump water in (we'd call a machine like that a manual machine) they do require you to grind and tamp the beans yourself. They also require you to steam milk yourself for lattes or cappuccinos.

    So which one's for you? If you're new to espresso, you may jump to assume that a superauto is the right option. While that's absolutely the right call for any users, there's reasons to take a closer look.

    Superautos

    The superauto customer is someone who simply wants good coffee quick. Maybe you like a range of drinks, maybe you're laser focused on getting the best latte or americano. In either case, if your concern is convenience, superautos are the way to go. These are machines that don't require finesse to operate and can brew coffee just a few minutes after being plugged in. There are considerations, of course, you won't want to use especially oily beans, for example. Superautos also can struggle to produce very hot drinks due to the nature of their design.

    In any case though, if you are more concerned with quick coffee than learning the ins and outs of espresso, these machines are for you.

    Semi-automatics

    Semi-automatics definitely require more work than a superauto. While there are grinder/machine combos, you'll probably need to buy a separate grinder at some point if you get into semi-autos. These machines also have a real learning curve. Dialing in a tricky single origin to taste good on your semi-auto can be very challenging. It can also be tough to learn to steam milk at first, as there is technique involved. The thing you do get out of semi-autos though, is control.

    Controlling the brewing process with a semi-auto gives you a lot of options. You can really pull specific notes out of lighter roasts, or get extra hot milk. You can make your cappuccinos as dry as you'd like, or, with machines that have PID controllers, control brew temperature. All of this definitely results in a more hobbyist angle. With all of that said, after some practice, making drinks on a semi-automatic machine gets much quicker. Before you know it you'll be brewing with speed and confidence.

    Of course, none of that matters is if you're mostly looking for a quick caffeine fix, or a simpler drink. It's also important to note that superautomatic technology has come a long way. While it's still hard to replicate the work of an experienced barista on expensive machines, they're getting close. You can get incredible good coffee from a superauto, it all comes down to your desire to tweak and control the process!

  • Video Roundup: 1/3/2020

    It's 2020 y'all!

    We hope you had a wonderful holiday and New Year, we sure did! Here's some of the videos we've got for you this week:

    First, it's a crew comparison from Nicole taking a look at a couple of different drip brewers:

    Next up, we've got some tips for cleaning the LaMarzocco Swift Espresso Grinder:

    Finally, Gail walked us through picking out a French Press to fit your budget!

    That's all for this week! Go make some coffee you crazy coffee drinkers!

  • Top Three Grinders For Espresso Machines

    The Round Up

    If you’re looking for a top-notch grinder, then look no further! We’ve picked out our top three grinders for espresso machines the Rancilio Rocky, Baratza Vario and Rocket Macinatore Fausto. When we’re looking for a grinder to go with our espresso machine, we’re looking it to be super fast and incredibly accurate for the best tasting espresso shot.

    The Underdog: Rancilio Rocky Coffee Grinder

    Tall, dark and built with pure muscle—no we’re not talking about that Rocky, but we might as well be. The Rocky by Rancilio is a powerful machine much like a certain boxer. Built with commercial-grade 50mm steel burrs, this is a professional machine that’s made for home brewing. This is a true underdog story folks.

    This is the only grinder we’ve picked that isn’t stepless and we’re totally OK with that. The Rocky gives you 55 levels of control to grind your coffee beans thanks to ultra-fine threading that lets you go from espresso to French press without any fuss.

    Brew Methods: Baratza Vario

    For coffee lovers looking to brew for espresso and drip coffee, the Baratza Vario has the tools to get the job done! A combination of macro and micro grinder adjustments achieve 230 unique settings that home brewer can easily change with a couple clicks—seriously it's so easy with the two lever adjusters. Paired with the powerful 54mm ceramic flat burrs, this grinder munches beans with fast accuracy.

    In fact, the Vario grinds consistently for espresso machines with non-pressurized portafilter—not every multi-purpose grinder can brag about that! And it comes with a portafilter holder for easy grinding. Vice versa, the Vario's a solid companion for your everyday drip coffee maker (we frequently use it with our Technivorm). For more ways to brew, check out the Vario!

    Show Stopper: Rocket Macinatore Fausto Grinder

    We thought the Rocket Mazzer Mini was impressive but man, when it comes to grinders the Rocket Fausto steals the show! The 65mm stainless steel flat burrs quickly and accurately create perfect, consistent grounds. It’s the only stepless grinder on our list, so you have total control over the adjustments.

    Now this is love—if you’re like us and make a lot of coffee, then you’ll love that the Fausto’s bean hopper holds a pound of beans. A. whole. pound. And, if you don't go through the whole pound, there's a stopper that’ll keep the beans inside so you can remove the whole bean hopper and change them out. Could you image trying to turn this guy upside down to shake out the extra beans?

    Conclusion

    We make a lot of coffee here at Seattle Coffee Gear and we love all our grinders for different coffee brewing methods. When it comes to getting the best grinder for your espresso machine, though, these three grinders fit the bill.

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