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Super Automatic Espresso Machine - Buyer's Guide

Super Automatic Espresso Machine - Buyer's Guide
Category: Buying Guides
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Synopsis: Super Automatic Espresso Machines come with many features and different technologies. Learn the terminologies and find out which feature is important to you.

Super Automatic Espresso Machines
Buyers Guide


With so many super-automatic models to choose from, buying the right espresso machine can be confusing. All super-automatic machines do the same basic functions of grinding, dosing, tamping and brewing one or two espressos at a time, as well as allowing you to be able to make milk-based espresso drinks such as lattes.  Beyond that, there are different ways of operating the machines, different options and different capacities.  Here is where you will have to think about how you want to use the machine, including the types of drinks you and your family will want to make and how quickly a series of drinks can be made (if, for example, you have frequent dinner parties and want to be able to make several drinks quickly for your guests).  Some machines have more options to adjust the end result than others do.  Many people make the same size and strength of espresso every time and many people like to mix it up for themselves or for their families and friends.

We are often asked, "Which is the best machine?" and the only real answer that can be given to that is, "For what?".  There is no 'best' machine.  Some machines are better at certain things than others and some are just easier to use for some people, but harder to use for others.  There is only the best machine for you.  It's different for everyone.  That is why we have provided the following list of options.  Please think about how you want to use the machine based on the following items.  Make a list of the features that sound useful to you and of the ones that you absolutely must have.  This will help you to narrow down your choices.  See our Search By Features to select the features you're looking for and find out which machines have them.


Grinder By-Pass

Most home use machines only have one bean container so you can only use one type of bean at a time.  If you want to be able to sometimes use decaf coffee or any other variety, you would have to scoop out as many of the beans as you can and then make several drinks to remove the last of the beans that are still inside before you can add the other type.  And then, of course, you will have to do the same thing to go back to the first variety.  Not very practical.  If you do want to be able to use more than one type of coffee, many of the machines offer a grinder bypass feature. 


When the machine grinds beans from the bean container, the grounds drop into a unit often called a brew group or brew unit.  This is where the coffee is tamped and where the water is pushed through it to brew your cup.  Once it is brewed, the unit dumps the grounds into a waste container and then you can make your next cup.  The unit can only hold a certain amount of ground coffee, depending on the model.  A grinder bypass allows you to use pre-ground (not instant) coffee as well as the whole beans so that you can use as many different blends of coffee as you like, but on a cup by cup basis only.  When you use a grinder bypass, you are dropping pre-ground coffee directly into the brew group where, again, it is tamped and brewed and tossed.  Therefore, you can't put a large quantity of ground coffee into it like you can with the whole beans in their container.  It is not going into any sort of storage compartment but will be brewed immediately.  Check the brew group capacity for your model and never put more than this amount (varies usually between about 6g and 16g).  You are only putting in enough for the next cup you make and then the brew group will be cleared for the next use.


Steam Feature

If you plan to use the steam feature frequently to steam up milk for Cappuccino, Latte or hot chocolate, consider the delay time between brewing espresso and steaming milk. Most single heating system versions experience about a delay time of up to one minute before you can start steaming milk. When switching back from steaming to brewing, some models need to be flushed first before you can make another espresso. You may want to look at dual heating system versions or rapid steam features. This will reduce or eliminate the delay time.


Some different styles of steaming:

Steam Wand - As pictured above, it's a piece that is attached to the machine and releases steam from the tip.  Put milk into a frothing pitcher and steam it manually with this device.  It takes some practice to get proficient with it, but you will have more control over the temperature and the quality of the foam with this method. Always be sure to wipe off the steam wand with a clean, damp cloth right after using it and flush a little water through it to make sure no milk will dry on it.

Automatic Frothing Devices - Usually a device that connects to the machine where the steam wand would be and has a tube protruding from it.  You put the end of the tube into any container of milk (some machines come with a milk holding container) and, when you turn it on, the milk will be sucked through the tube and foamed inside the attachment before falling through a spout in the attachment into your cup.  This method is very easy to use, but the milk temperature tends to be lower and it is more difficult to customize the ratio of foam and steamed milk to your liking. The cleaning is also a bit more complicated with this as there are internal parts in contact with the milk so always rinse water through it after using and disassemble it each day to give it a thorough cleaning.


Coffee Capacity

The coffee capacity of the brewing chamber will determine how strong the coffee will be. Larger brewing chambers also allow larger size coffees to be brewed in one brew cycle.  These range typically from 8-16g sizes.


Coffee Strength

One way to adjust the strength is by changing how much coffee gets ground.  The more ground coffee that goes into a specific amount of water, the stronger the resulting cup will be. 


Some models allow you to adjust this with a manual dial or lever and some allow you to change the setting in the digital menu (usually as mild, medium, strong settings and not specific amounts of coffee).  Some models have programmable buttons so that you can set the buttons to be the same size and strength every time.  Others let you easily customize every drink on a cup-by-cup basis. Some don't allow you to change this at all.


Brewing Pressure

Some models also let you adjust how much pressure you are brewing under. This will affect the taste and will also affect the crema your espresso will produce. Don’t think that this feature means you will always get lots of crema however, many variables will determine your level of crema such as how freshly roasted your beans are, the blend and type of beans and your grind. An example is the Talea line of Saeco.


Digital Options

The most basic machines use lights and symbols to tell you what the machine is doing or to alert you to things like the water tank being empty or the waste container needs to be emptied.  Sometimes, one flashing light may mean a few different things and so you will have to investigate until you find the problem.


Digital displays will tell you exactly what is going on so you can easily see that the bean container is empty or that the machine is heating up so you can't use it yet.  They also make it easier to program some of the machine settings and generally allow you some more programming options. 


Temperature Control

Typically, this is more of a high/low adjustment rather than an ability to control the exact temperature.  The standard temperature is usually just fine, particularly if you pre-heat your cups (which you should always do anyway - a cold cup will suck the heat out of the espresso before you have time to get it to your mouth).  But for the few who need their espresso a little hotter, this is a nice feature.


Clock Features

Some models feature a digital clock, allowing you to pre-set a time that the machine will turn on automatically and either a time that it will turn off again or a timer that counts down from the last drink made and will turn the machine off when a specified time has passed (for example, you can have it shut down an hour or three hours after the last drink you made - handy if you tend to forget to shut it off before leaving home).  Obviously, the machine will not brew a cup for you at any set time, but it will heat up and be ready for you when you're ready to make one.  Most machines only take a couple of minutes to heat up, so this may not be important to most people. 


Note that on some models, the machine will automatically rinse some water through the brew group and out of the coffee spout once it heats up.  If your machine does this, you might want to keep an empty cup sitting under the spout overnight to catch it when it does this in the morning or be sure to empty the drip tray more frequently to make sure it doesn't overflow.


Touchscreen vs. Push Buttons

Some digital machines have only a one- or two-line readout display.  You still use buttons and/or dials to select and program your drinks.  A few have larger touchscreen displays which allow you to just touch an image or word.  This will really come down to personal preference as the options available will typically be the same.  Some models though have other options unrelated to the display that you can't get on other machines so you might have to compromise on the display type if the machine has other features that you really want.


Removable Brew Groups

Some brands have brew groups that can be removed easily for cleaning.  This is a nice feature in that you don't have to spend money on cleaning tablets to do internal cleaning and because it is cheaper and easier to replace this part if it ever breaks down. 


Automatic Maintenance

Regular cleaning and descaling of your machine is vital to its longevity and performance and all-too-often neglected.  There are three main parts to this maintenance: coffee oil cleaning, milk cleaning, and descaling.  Some machines will alert you when it is time to perform some or all of the functions and some have automatic cycles, making it easier for you. There are certain things that should be done on a daily basis regardless of whether the machine notifies you.  Please see our cleaning page for more information.

Comments on Super Automatic Espresso Machine - Buyer's Guide

Kenward Hagen 11/05/2012 03:12
this informational link was great for my intrestest in soon to purchase an espresso machine. I am still debating on older style or going into full auto with dual hopper for decaf and regular beans.

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