The Semi Automatic vs Automatic Espresso Machine - How To Make The Right Purchase
Semi-automatic vs automatic machines - what's your choice? Most espresso lovers are quite content walking into their favourite coffee shop or espresso bar and getting their caffeine fix.
Not us though, and we're guessing: not you either. For the true espresso aficionado, the end result (the fix) is not what makes us love espresso; the joy is in preparing your favorite beverage from start to finish. When you brew that perfect shot - your day is off to a great start. Agreed?
Tools of The Trade - Semi-automatic vs. Automatic
You're an aspiring home espresso aficionado, so then the first thing you’ll need to equip yourself with is a quality espresso maker.
Sure, you could go out and get one of those manually operated piston/lever-driven machines used by most professional baristas. You could even go out and buy a pod machine (heaven forbid). But most espresso lovers, who want to restrict espresso-making to the home, would prefer something else.
Your choice of tools for preparing your "fix" really comes down to either a semi-automatic or an automatic home espresso maker (read more about those here)
Semi Automatic Espresso Machines - You're the Boss
For some things in life – like doing the laundry – a fully automated process is preferred. When it comes to making espresso, lovers of the brew would prefer to "have their say" in how things turn out. And that’s exactly what a semi-automatic espresso machine is designed to do.
Semi automatic machines generally have a boiler, a Porta-filter and an extraction pump; and feature a switch by which you activate or deactivate the pump when you believe it is appropriate.
This "when you believe" is an important characteristic that sets apart the semi from the automatic. Instead of the machine deciding what "appropriate" means, YOU – the brewer –control when to start and stop the extraction process, allowing for a truly personalized shot.
Expect to spend around $500 (which is the sweet spot for a great quality super automatic espresso machine) however if you're looking for a brew on a budget you should consider these models (priced under $300)
Working the semi's
There’s still work that must be done to brew your espresso using the semi-automatic machine.
You still need to fill the portafilter with coffee grounds, and then tamp and level the grounds. This last step (tamping) is essential to create the perfect shot, so the grounds fit perfectly to produce the correct resistance required for brewing before you attach the portafilter to the espresso maker.
With most semi’s, you will also need manual intervention to start the device so it draws water from the boiler, and then to stop the electric pump once the espresso has been extracted.
We recommend the Breville Barista Express!
Automatic Espresso Makers - She's the boss
The automatic espresso maker helps remove a lot of the manual work involved with the semis.
For instance, they will grind your coffee beans, tamp down automatically to produce the optimum resistance, and automate the extraction process. In many models, even turning it on each morning, and shutting it down for the day is automated/programmed.
Auto’s have additional features that make them desirable to some, like allowing grinding of the coffee to various fineness levels, and tempering each shot for strength and quantity.
Working the auto's
Obviously there is work that you need to do in order to get the ball rolling, even with an automatic espresso machine.
For instance, you’ll need to add pre-grounded coffee beans into the portafilter, as well as the amount of water needed; and you’ll also need to clean the portafilter once you’re done using it.
It is important to note the difference between automatic and "super" automatic machines here.
While the automatic machines still require manual intervention in the grinding, tamping and dosing parts of the process, super autos do it all!
Super Auto Goodness
We recommend the De'Longhi Magnifica Fully Automatic Machine!
Which is Right For You?
It should come as no surprise that the quick and easy answer is: It depends.
There are many different factors that go into figuring out what kind of espresso maker you should have on display in your kitchen, but there are a couple in particular that are worth bringing up here.
Living the life
First, there’s the lifestyle consideration.
We all can get carried away in our heads with “idealized situations” and wanting to tackle projects that are just too much to handle at the moment, so it’s really worth thinking this one through.
- Do you have time to invest in the skill set to operate a semi-automatic machine?
If you’re a tried and true barista the answer might already be an easy yes, but if you’re going into this cold, keep in mind that pulling a great shot from a semi-automatic machine might not be rocket science, but it’s going to take some time and practice before you can start pumping out that smooth java on the same level as the Third Wave shop down the street.
- Another factor to consider here is just how interested in the nuances and details of your coffee you are in the first place.
There’s a big difference between liking a quality cup ‘a joe and actually wanting to know how to make it yourself.
If your lifestyle is too busy and you just don’t care too much about what goes into getting you that quality brew, you may want to opt for an automatic.
If, on the other hand, you’re all about the experience, the adventure, and the knowledge of “how” something is created, you may want to go the semi-automatic route. As we said, it takes a bit more elbow grease, but the rewards of taming your machine to your brewing desires can be extremely satisfying.
Counting the Cost
The other obvious factor to consider is the cost of it all.
While you can find both expensive high-end semi-automatic models as well as fairly inexpensive automatic models, the reality is usually the opposite.
Semi-automatics typically do less of the work... for less of the cost. So you can count on investing a modest sum in a machine that really should keep things going for you for quite a while.
Automatics, on the other hand, tend to cost a bit more but make the whole process as simple as possible.
Pro Tip: A final note on manual espresso machines. If you’re looking for the ultimate user experience when it comes to home brewing, you may want to skip right over the semi-automatics and automatics and opt right for a manual lever machine. The learning curve is STEEP when it comes to these bad boys, but if you can conquer the skill, the cost-to-reward ratio is off the charts!
Time To Choose
Semi-automatic vs automatic machines - you KNOW what's right for you now (if you paid attention for the last few minutes).
Now all's that left is to pick one up and get cracking on your next cuppa brew.