F Felicia Kloewer

Gear Guide: Expanding Your Skills With Semi-automatic Espresso Machines

Jul 16, 2016 · coffee · coffee 101 · education
Gear Guide: Expanding Your Skills With Semi-automatic Espresso Machines

Taking Home A Semi-automatic Espresso Machine

In our previous post, we focused on how committed you are to your espresso machine. We're guessing you're here because you've decided to expand your skills with semi-automatic espresso machines! Semi-automatic espresso machines require more skill and technique. But, there are different types of semi-automatics with features and capabilities . Do you have barista skills? If not, are you willing to practice? If you're dedicated to your espresso, then you're ready for advanced semi-automatic espresso machines. If you're looking for great tasting coffee with little effort, we recommend looking at entry-level semi-automatics.

Ready And Willing To Brew!

You’ve decided that you’re dedicated to learning how to brew espresso—sweet! Then consider an advanced semi-automatic espresso machine with a non-pressurized portafilter and traditional steam wand. A non-pressurized portafilter is designed so that the pressure that extracts your coffee is based on the coffee grind size and how much force you tamp. That means for you, coffee connoisseurs, it’ll require dedication to learning how to dial in your grind consistency and how to time the extraction—you may be pulling a few shots before you get the flavor you want.

You Get More Control Over Espresso & Milk

Let's be honest, latte art is the cherry on top of our coffee. Have you ever wanted to try it for yourself? A traditional steam wand offers full control over technique from how much air you incorporate to how long you steam your milk. With a little know-how, you can create latte art milk! The hardest part of frothing milk is not getting the milk consistency just right; the texture you're looking for is paint-like. Grab a gallon of milk and try your hand at frothing! If anything, you’ll be able to create a foamy, coffee shop quality cappuccino in no time. [caption id="attachment_12843" align="alignnone" width="474"] The Rocket Giotto Premium Plus with PID has advanced features like the hidden PID under the drip tray.[/caption]

You Get More Maintenance

At a local cafe, peek behind the counter and you’ll likely see baristas knocking coffee pucks out of portafilters and whipping down steam wands with vigor. Semi-automatics require more maintenance. You’ll spend more time adjusting settings—for instance, if you purchase a machine with a PID, you can change the temperature—and cleaning the machine from daily chores like wiping the steam wand to more in-depth maintenance like backflushing and descaling. Generally, we see these machines last longer than their superautomatic counterparts—if properly maintained. With more control comes great responsibility, but it’s well worth it for the quality of espresso you’ll be able to make with a little dedication.

Practice? I Just Want Coffee…

Fair enough! There are plenty of semi-automatics out there that are capable of pulling quality espresso with little effort. Some features we look for are pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands. We like to think of these semi-automatic espresso machines as entry-level. A pressurized portafilter (most often the basket is pressurized) assists in pulling quality espresso thanks to a double wall that compensates for pressure—meaning that if the grind is slightly off, it has got you covered. That doesn’t necessarily mean your espresso will be cafe quality—you’ll still want to experiment with settings to dial-in your coffee. [caption id="attachment_13047" align="alignnone" width="474"] The Breville Duo-Temp Pro features pressurized and non-pressurized baskets for the portafilter.[/caption]

Auto-Frothing With A Panarello Steam Wand

With a panarello steam wand, just stick it in your milk pitcher and let it go! It froths milk by pulling air in from a small slit at the top and incorporating steam for you. That does mean you get what you get. On most machines, you can’t control the steam power or froth on your milk (you'll generally get cappuccino foam). So what can you control? You can control the temperature by how long you steam it. Of course, if you’re not interested in learning how to froth milk, then you won’t mind the lack of control or features.

Growing With Your Semi-automatic

If you're interested in growing your skills, there are machines that fit the bill. Look for semi-automatic espresso machines with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter options. Once you've learned how to dial in a grinder, you can easily switch to pulling shots like the professionals. Even a traditional steam wand is less intimidating on some semi-automatic. Some feature a thermoblock which draws from the reservoir and heats water on the fly instead of bringing a boiler to steam temperature. Without that buildup of steam pressure in a boiler, it allows baristas more time to learn how to froth milk.


If you’ve decided to be in a committed relationship, we’ve got a couple more tips for you in our next post—so stay tuned! Semi-automatics offer home baristas more control over their espresso with commercial-inspired accessories like traditional steam wands and non-pressurized portafilters. If you’ve decided you just want coffee without practicing, then it’s the end of the journey for you. We have a few entry-level espresso machines that we’d think you’d enjoy. Remember, these machines have features like pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands that help beginners make coffee they love effortless. Check out each machines crew review for more in-depth look. Crew Review: Breville Duo-Temp Pro Crew Comparison: DeLonghi Dedica vs Breville Duo-Temp Pro

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