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While purists may insist on a finicky espresso machine that lets them jiggle and play with temperature and pressure settings, there are just as many espresso lovers who are thrilled with the newest crop of semi-automatic and automatic espresso machines that take all the guesswork out of making a perfect shot of espresso every time. As more and more ‘end users’ – that’s you and me at home, folks – are turning on to excellent coffee and espresso, the prices for even the high end machines are coming down to affordable levels. If you’re considering buying an automatic espresso machine, here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of the three major types.
Semi Automatic Espresso Machines
The most common type of home espresso machine sold is the semi-automatic espresso machine. The semi-automatic espresso machines are based on the pump machine originally patented in 1938 by Achille Gaggia. They use a water pump to create the water pressure to make true espresso. A semi automatic espresso machine is the type that most people are familiar with in coffee shops. It still relies on the skill of the barista to make a good shot of espresso. The barista grinds the coffee, fills the filter basket and tamps it down tightly, adds the right amount of water and decides when to turn the pump on and off. The only thing the barista doesn’t do is actually pull the shot to pump the water.
A semi-automatic espresso machine consists of a pump, a boiler, one or more water reservoirs, the portafilter basket and the group head. Most also have a steam wand to steam milk for cappuccino.
The marks of a high quality semi automatic espresso maker are:
– portafilter and group head made of marine brass and plated with chrome
– a thermometer to monitor the boiler temperature
– boiler made of high quality marine brass
– ability to view the water level in the water reservoir
Advantages of a semi automatic espresso machine:
– allows the barista a great deal of control over the finished shot of espresso
Disadvantages of a semi automatic espresso machine:
– give the barista a great deal of control over the quality of the finished shot of espresso
Fully Automatic Espresso Machines
A fully automatic espresso machine is the next step up on the automation ladder. A fully automatic espresso machine uses a thermostat to start the electric pump running when the water reaches the precise temperature needed to make perfect espresso. The importance of water temperature can’t be overstated – a matter of just a few degrees can make espresso that’s little better than watery sludge. By taking the guesswork out of judging when the water is at the perfect temperature, fully automatic espresso machines help ensure consistently good shots of espresso.
With a fully automatic espresso machine, all the barista does is grind, fill and tamp the coffee into the portafilter, then press a button. The machine heats the water and a thermostat turns on the pump when it’s at the right temperature. The sensitivity of the thermostat is one of the key factors in how good the espresso made in a fully automatic espresso machine will be.
Advantages of fully automatic espresso machines:
– Water is always at the right temperature to brew espresso
Disadvantages of fully automatic espresso machines:
– still relies on the barista to grind and tamp the coffee properly
Super Automatic Espresso Machines
Welcome to the world of automation. Super automatic espresso machines do everything for the barista from start to finish. You choose settings, push a button and that’s all there is to it. The super automatic espresso machines include a grinder, a hopper to hold coffee beans and one or two reservoirs to hold water. They generally have an automatic steam wand, which can also be used to draw off hot water to make hot drinks other than espresso. Many allow you to set the machine to make anything from full-out espresso ristretto to Cafe Americain.
The machine heats the water and holds it at the right temperature. When the button is pushed, it measures the right amount of coffee beans, grinds them to the right grind, fills the filter with ground coffee, tamps the coffee, turns on the pump to force a premeasured amount of water through the coffee, and then empties the portafilter. In many high-end machines, you don’t even have to froth the milk – the machine does it for you.
Advantages of a super automatic espresso machine:
– Consistently good shots of espresso with a minimum of fuss and muss
Disadvantages of a super automatic espresso machine
Where’s the fun of it? Cost! These babies can be quite pricey.