Choosing A Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine: Buying Guide
When purchasing an espresso machine, people often decide to save time and energy by choosing a semi-automatic espresso maker that does a few different things for them. There are a number of outstanding advantages to this type of appliance, however as with nearly everything you buy, not all espresso machines are equal. This buying guide provides in-depth information about the features that are most desirable, along with some specific information about several of the most popular semi-auto espresso makers available.
Types of Espresso Makers
Before we get started with a discussion of semi-automatic espresso makers, let’s take a quick look at the various types of machines available. Understanding the basics will help you make a better informed decision once you are ready to make a purchase.
Manual Espresso Machines – Manual espresso machines are literally hands-on. They require a professional touch to turn out a great shot of espresso, which is why they’re normally seen only in top coffeehouses.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines – Most of the espresso makers on the market are semi-automatic. These take most of the guesswork out of espresso making. As they do not normally have a lot of fancy features, they are relatively inexpensive. Some semi-automatic espresso machines provide added convenience with attachments such as a built-in grinder or an automatic milk frother. These cost more than traditional semi-automatic machines, but the additional features justify the price.
Automatic and Super Automatic Espresso Makers – Automatic and super automatic espresso machines do everything with the press of a button. The types of features available vary widely depending on manufacturer, and prices typically increase with level of automation. Some of the fanciest models grind the coffee, dose it into the filter, tamp the puck, brew the espresso, and even eject the spent puck.
A Good Espresso Maker Makes Good Espresso
Sure, there are plenty of cheap espresso makers on the market, but when it comes to this kind of appliance, you really do get what you pay for. Instead of thinking about your espresso maker in terms of “small kitchen appliances” think of them as a minor investment, kind of like an entertainment system. Consider how much you pay for drinks made at your favorite coffeeshop each week, month, and year, and you are likely to come up with a surprisingly large amount of money. A good espresso machine will pay for itself pretty quickly!
What’s a good espresso maker? It is one that has the power to push boiling hot water through a dense puck of ground espresso, usually via a 15-bar pump or better. The amount of pressure a good pump creates gives the espresso its characteristic flavor and body, along with the rich head of crema that gives professionally made espresso drinks their sensational quality.
As long as your budget allows, look for a good espresso maker that can generate 15 pounds of atmospheric pressure or better. A cheaper steam espresso maker just doesn’t have that kind of power. The good news is that very simple semi-automatic espresso makers like the De’Longhi EC680 Dedica are available for about $299, depending on the vendor. If you are in the habit of buying five $5 espresso drinks per week, a 15-bar machine in this price range will pay for itself in about 12 weeks, then go on to keep you happily drinking espresso for a long while to come.
How much counter space are you willing to dedicate to the espresso machine you choose? Some semi-automatic espresso makers are very small; the De’Longhi EC680 Dedica mentioned in the previous segment is so small that it’s a popular choice with people who live in tiny houses, vacation in RVs, and spend weekends living aboard pleasure boats. It takes up a space about 6 inches wide by 13 inches deep, and is 13 inches tall.
Other semi-automatic espresso makers are larger, requiring more space on the countertop and perhaps an even higher vertical clearance. As an example, the Breville BES870XL Barista has a built in hopper for espresso beans on top. It lets you grind fresh beans every time you go to make a shot, plus it has a built-in water reservoir that holds two liters of water. The tradeoff for this convenience comes in a bigger footprint: this espresso machine is 13.2 inches wide by 12.5 inches deep. It is 15.8 inches tall.
When you’re first learning how to make espresso-based drinks, you’ll need to move slowly to ensure that you get everything right so the beverages you create are enjoyable. If your lifestyle demands greater convenience and you want good drinks with a minimum amount of effort, consider getting an espresso machine that does more than simply brew the coffee portion of the drinks.
Some espresso makers have integrated milk carafes and automated milk frothers that steam and froth the milk or nondairy milk in your recipes for you. Two examples are the De’Longhi EC860 Espresso Maker, which is programmable and which has an integrated milk carafe that can be used with the automatic function or moved to the side for manual steaming. This machine works with espresso pods as well as traditional ground espresso, so the user can make great-tasting drinks with minimal effort.
The Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso Maker is another semi-automatic espresso machine with a built in milk carafe. Like many other large espresso makers, it has a water reservoir on the back for added convenience. Like several of the most popular espresso machines, it can be programmed to deliver one or two shots.
Consider the amount of cleanup required when looking into cleanup. Most espresso makers are very easy to clean, so long as cleanup happens immediately after beverages have been made. Tap the filter out into the garbage or compost bin, rinse, and lay out to dry. Wash the milk pitcher, wet the steam wand and wipe it with a damp cloth, and you’re finished, in most cases. If that seems like a lot, there are some espresso makers that have self-cleaning components. The Mr. Coffee Barista Espresso Maker is one of these; while you still have to take care of the pitcher and the filter, the steam wand has its own cleaning cycle.
Just about all espresso makers have removable drip trays underneath. These help keep your countertop clean, catching the occasional drips that can happen during the process of making beverages.
One of the most important steps in choosing a semi-automatic espresso machine – or any appliance, for that matter – it to read user reviews and find out what people have to say about the machines in question. Some tips for reading reviews critically follow:
- Look for reviews that talk about the machine’s features, not general reviews that simply say the unit is good or bad. You want to learn as much as you can about the machines you are considering.
- Pick a few different machines to compare. Making comparisons will give you a better feel for what is available. You might even want to make notes so you can keep the details straight.
- Look for espresso machine reviews that break the machines’ components down and provide specific information about how the components work.
- Recognize that with all appliances, manufacturing defects are possible, and the same defects are likely to be repeated across the spectrum. Even the best espresso machines sometimes fail right out of the box due to a defect. Do not let a few bad reviews detract from the overall picture; instead, be sure to read positive and negative reviews.
In addition, there are many espresso makers that have cup warmers on top, allowing you to enjoy drinks that stay hot longer than those consumed in cold cups. The amount of space on top varies from one machine to the next. The Cuisinart EM-100 Espresso Maker is a good example. It has a cup warmer that covers its entire upper surface, and it is fitted with a rail that ensures the cups do not tumble off onto the countertop.
Where To Buy A Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker
While some big box stores carry a decent selection of espresso makers, and while some coffee shops carry their favorite brands, you are likely to find the best selection to choose from online at sites like Amazon. Remember to consider cost, ease of use, features, and of course quality as you make your decision. After all, an espresso machine is a wonderful addition to your kitchen or office. The right one will meet your budget, deliver marvelous drinks, and pay for itself by keeping you from paying steep prices for coffeehouse beverages for a long time to come.