Automatic Espresso Machines – Which One To Pick!?
So, you’ve decided to take the easy way out, skip the manual espresso makers and go with an automatic espresso machine? I bet you’ve thought all your troubles ended right then and there, right? I’m sorry to say, they have not! As you can see from a quick search you probably did before you came to this page, your journey is just beginning. Because, when they talk about automatic espresso makers, people tend to forget that they are not talking about a particular machine; rather, they are talking about a group of types of the machine! Yeah, a group of types!
Here is a quick breakdown:
- Semi-automatic espresso machine
- Fully automatic espresso machine
- Super-automatic espresso machine
And you thought you were finally done!? Luckily for you, we won’t make you jump through any extra hoops here. We will get in on the nitty-gritty of every sub-category and show you what you can expect from every one of these types. Which one you end up buying will eventually depend on your preferences, the amount of time you have on your hands and the amount of espresso you drink in a day. It basically boils down to how nit-picky about your espresso and the flavor you actually are!
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Semi-automatics are geared toward people who want to feel in control. Well, not exactly feel, as much as be in control. They require a bit more work than other types of machines, but you get to pull a perfect shot that is specifically tailored to your preferences.
Electric water pump delivers perfectly heated water to your grind. This means you do not have to push the water through yourself as you would have to with a manual maker. Since they keep the pressure constant at all times, you will get a more uniformed taste every time. With a manual pump, you usually get mixed results, because it is completely impossible to get it perfect every single time.
You decide when how much water you want in your espresso shot. Some days you need a strong, powerful cup of espresso, and you want as little water as possible in your extract. Other times you need something milder. In any case, the pump is there for you to active and deactivate as you see fit.
Semi-automatic espresso machines keep the water temperature at a nearly perfect level. They are automated in a way that self-regulates the temperature if it drops too low. There is no need to manually do it these days – as you would usually have to in the past – and since temperature is essential to making a good shot of espresso, we call this a huge plus.
Fully Automatic Espresso Machines
Built for convenience, fully automatic espresso machines are more suited for people who are willing to compromise a bit on the flavor and the quality of their shot of espresso, in exchange for the peace of mind they get with it.
Automated water-delivery system means that the machine will dispense a pre-arranged amount of water with every shot. Basically, you push the button, go to the bathroom, and come back to your cup already made. With a semi-automated the machine would depend on you switching it off, and you wouldn’t be able to take your eyes off of it.
Usually, you will have 5 different volume buttons on a fully automatic machine. The main difference is between the amount of water dispensed (so it can either be really, really small or normal) and a number of shots you want to pull (one in contrast to two).
The fifth button is self-regulated water delivery button. This actually turns a fully automated machine into a semi-automated one since it gives you the opportunity to decide how much water is enough!
This last feature is why I actually believe that a fully automated machine has no business in a kitchen. It might be useful in a commercial setting, such as an office or coffee shop, but to get it for home use and then use the semi-automatic feature – and you will end up using it – is simply pointless. Not to mention, it adds to the overall costs significantly.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
People tend to think this type is the best because it has a prefix super in front of it. It actually has nothing to do with the quality of the espresso it brews, simply with how convenient it is for you, the end user. These are really geared toward people who want as little as possible to do with the actual process of pulling a shot of espresso.
An automatic grinder is built into the machine, which means that your coffee is ground right into the coffee basket. This allows it to deliver completely fresh coffee every single time you go to use the machine. The machine will also tamp the coffee for you.
You can preprogram it to pull a shot at any time you want, so it allows you to wake up to a perfectly brewed cup every morning. Well, when we say perfect we mean that you’ll get your espresso, but its quality will depend on preprogramming you did, and the quality of your machine.
They will get rid of the waste for you as well. So the puck that lefts behind after you pull a perfect shot of espresso gets discarded into a special container that you have to empty out eventually, but you do not have to clean the machine out after every use. It does that by itself!
Of course, thanks to all the added bells and whistles, super-automatic espresso machines cost a bunch of money, especially those that are quality made. However, they take you as far away from the process as possible and true connoisseurs don’t really appreciate that. If you want some level of control over your espresso, skip this type and go with a semi-automatic machine, or alternatively, a fully automatic one.
Also read: 7 Reasons You Need A Good Espresso Machine
Three Subclasses of Automatic Espresso Machines
When it comes to brewing a perfect shot of espresso, it all boils down to water and temperature, quite literally. That is why it is important to know what kind of system your espresso maker is using, and which one you should – if possible – be aiming for. There are three main boiler systems in use and each one is slightly different from the next, so let’s check them out.
- Dual use, single boiler – These machines are by far the most popular currently on the market. They have a boiler and two or more thermostats. One thermostat is in use when you’re brewing water for your espresso. So it controls the temperature, keeping it at optimal for a perfectly brewed cup. The other thermostat kicks in when you start using the steam function. It gets the water up to a higher temperature that is perfect for steaming milk. The drawback here is that you can’t use the brew and the steam functions at the same time as the machine has to transition between two thermostats and it takes some time to build a perfect steaming temperature.
- Heat exchange machines – These machines have a single boiler and a single thermostat (there is a backup thermostat in case the primary one fails, and it is used as a safety measure if the water gets too heated). It essentially keeps the water temperature at around 240 F, which is an ideal steaming temperature. The brewing water gets piped through the group head via a coiled tube and gets insta-heated to the right temperature (hopefully – it doesn’t always work out that way). The coil is called a heat exchanger, hence the name. These machines can simultaneously brew and steam. They are usually above the $ 1000 price point, but can be considered a lifelong investment. If you spring this much cash for a machine, make sure to plug it into your water mains. This will allow you to leave it on 24 hours a day, and the temperature stability will be much greater that way.
- Dual boiler machines – These are commercial-grade espresso makers, and can hardly ever be found in someone’s home, the main reason being that they usually cost well above $ 2000. They have two completely independent boilers, on for brewing and the other one for steaming. The reason you wouldn’t really buy this type of a machine is because the investment is substantial, and homeowners don’t usually make 200+ cups of espresso a day to merit such a high investment and quick turnaround time. They can steam and brew at the same time, but then again, so can a much cheaper heat exchange system.
As you can see, when it comes to choosing the best automatic espresso machine, there are a lot of considerations to take into the account. What we can confidently recommend is a semi-automatic espresso maker with a heat exchange system. These machines allow you a near-complete control of the process, so you’ll be able to pull a perfect shot 9 times out of 10. They also deliver water at a perfect temperature every time, so you will really get the most out of your grind. Your choice, however, will depend on your preferences and the amount of time you have on your hands. Or recommendation applies if you want near-perfect espresso every time. If you’re satisfied with a decent espresso, then any of these will do, just make sure not to spend money on pointless collections of added bells and whistles at the expense of a good brew.