A semi-automatic espresso machine forces hot
water through ground coffee under pressure to produce espresso. These machines also produced steam to work
with milk for drinks like lattes and cappuccinos and produce hot water. With semi-automatic machines available starting
around $250 and ranging into the thousands what are the real differences? Morgan, As with anything, in the end you get
what you pay for. Can you get good espresso out of a $250 machine? Yes you can, and for
some that’s fine. But if you want to experience the art of espresso you’ll need to go further. Marc, lets take a look at the basic dividing
points of features in the range of semi-automatic machines.
Sure, so we’ve got a machine here representing each basic group. Now we currently have more
than 70 semi-automatic machines to choose from at whole latte love.
And our coffee geeks do extensive testing and measurement on all of them. Then we take all that data and put it in the
Compare-O-Matic tool on our website. It’s a great tool allowing you to create
side-by-side comparisons of more than 80 features and data points for every machine we sell. The Compare-O-Matic really makes – well, comparing
machines easy. Anyway, here’s a basic breakdown of the types of semi-automatic machines in
broad categories. So as we move down the chart we’re going
up in capabilities, features and price Right. For simplicity and low-cost we begin
with a single boiler machine with a pressurized portafilter. Using a pressurized portafilter takes two
critical elements of brewing espresso – the grind and tamp, for the most part, out of
the equation. This makes it easy to produce espresso as the pressurized portafilter doesn’t
allow release of espresso until the proper pressure is reached. For really easy espresso machines like the
Saeco Aroma, Gaggia Classic, and Gaggia Baby Twin here come with adapters for pod brewing. Pods aren’t for everyone, but they sure
are clean and convenient. Just put a pre-measured pod in the adapted portafilter, brew, and
when your done there’s no messy grinds to deal with…just the spent pod. So when you brew in a standard basket it’s
the coffee that creates pressure based on your grind and tamp. A pressurized basket
simplifies everything. Of course the tradeoff is the user gives up most of the ability finesse
the quality in any way. The next step up on our list are single boiler
machines with a 3 way solenoid valve. The 3 way valve improves reliability and performance.
It’s an electrically operated, positively sealing valve much less likely to leak than
spring operated valves on lower cost machines. Ya, a nice thing with these machines is they
usually come with with both pressurized and non-pressurized filter baskets. So, the machine
can grow with your experience. Be aware when brewing in a standard non-pressurized basket
a quality grinder is essential. So with a machine like this Gaggia Classic,
You can get into espresso without a good grinder and then move up to really finessing your
espresso through variations in grinding and tamping when you’re ready to invest in a
quality grinder. On the machines we’ve looked at so far there’s
just one boiler. With these there’s always a wait of about 15 – 30 seconds between brewing
and steaming as the boiler gets up to steam temp. You’ll also need to cool down the
boiler after steaming before brewing again. In our next class, dual boiler consumer machines,
that waiting goes away while retaining the benefits of a 3 way solenoid valve. And, some
machines like the Gaggia Baby Twin come with both pressurized and standard baskets allowing
you to grow your skills on one machine. Ya, this class of machine adds a second boiler
dedicated to steaming – practically eliminating any waiting between brewing and steaming.
It also eliminates cooling down a boiler after steaming before brewing again.
Our next basic class is heat exchange machines. Sometimes referred to as “HX” machines.
These machines have a single boiler but with a heat exchange system within the boiler.
So inside the steam boiler is a tube in which water for brewing is heated while the boiler
is producing steam. With a heat exchange boiler you can brew and steam at the same time.
On machines with heat exchange boilers we also start to see most of them using the “famed”
E61 brew group which is generally a standard throughout all higher end semi-automatic machines.
Now the E61 is special because it uses a thermo-siphon which constantly circulates hot water from
the boiler through the brew group to keep it hot for better temperature stability. This
stability is crucial in the ability of the espresso artist in producing consistently
repeatable shots. As we move up through this range of machines
other enhancements start to appear under the hood. Now these vary from machine to machine
but in general we find nicer housings or more robust materials inside and more powerful
steaming. Last on our list are dual boiler prosumer
machines. These machines employ dedicated boilers for brewing and steaming. They include
features allowing the espresso artist to truly perfect their craft with the ability to produce
quality espresso repeatedly. Features like PID temperature control allow
users to set and maintain extremely accurate brewing temperatures. Many in this category
are plumbable to water supplies and drains. You’ll find high quality pumps with adjustable
pressures. Components used in these machines are the
best. Designed for consistent performance and durability. Bigger valves, better gauges
and features ranging from no-burn steam wands to the ability turn off the steam boiler.
So that’s a basic overview of the capabilities and features of semi-automatic espresso machines.
Whether your just starting out and looking for an easy to use, low cost machine, a machine
that can grow along with your experience or one that will allow you to perfect your skill,
there’s a machine to fit your needs. Use the Compare-O-Matic on our website to
generate side by side comparisons of the features of our semi-automatic machines.
Ya it’s a great resource. We do extensive testing on every machine we sell. You’ll
find extremely detailed data to help you make an informed purchase decision
It can be difficult choosing a machine. if you’d like some help narrowing down the
right machine for your needs feel free to give our salespeople a call. They can help
find a machine to perfectly fit your skill level and needs. I’m Marc… And I’m Morgan. Thanks for