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Automatic vs Semi-Automatic: Which Espresso Machine Should You Get?

Choosing one of the hundreds of espresso machines available is hard enough. But it seems like marketers want to make it even harder with all their confusingly similar terms.

Automatic, fully automatic, semi automatic, super automatic…. What does it all mean?

Before you panic, keep reading. We’ll make sense of it all and help you choose the right one for you.

semi automatic vs automatic machine
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What is a Fully Automatic Espresso Machine?

Despite being called “fully automatic,” this style of espresso maker still requires you to do some of the work. You’ll need to grind the beans, weigh the correct dose into the porta-filter, and tamp the ground coffee.

A fully automatic espresso maker automates is the shot timing. It uses a flowmeter to measure how much water comes through the puck, and it automatically stops when the right amount has come through. Here’s a detailed article on how an automatic espresso maker works.

The flowmeter DISTINGUISHES IT from a semi automatic.

If you’re in the market for an espresso maker that does it all, from grinding to milk frothing, at just the touch of a button, you need a super-automatic.

What is a Semi Automatic Espresso machine?

A semi-automatic machine is very similar to a fully automatic, with one key difference.

There is no flowmeter. You are responsible for the shot timing.

Other than that, the process is the same. You grind the beans, weigh the correct dose, and tamp the puck into the porta-filter. Then you start the shot, monitor it, and stop it at the correct time.

Many professional baristas and home users prefer this style, because they feel more involved in the espresso-making process and have more control over the shot. Designing machines that strike the balance between control, convenience, and consistency is a source of tension in the coffee industry (1).

The result of that tension is a new wave of exceedingly expensive, beautifully designed semi-automated machines for the craft-coffee set on the horizon

Constant innovation is steering the wheel of these machines’ marketability. For this reason, semi automatic machines are popular in commercial settings, where they often have multiple group heads for pulling shots in quick succession.

So, which one to get?

Both types of espresso maker can produce high-quality espresso, so the right one for you depends on your budget, morning routine, and drink preferences.

The advantage of a semi automatic machine is that you are more involved in the process and have more control over your espresso.

If you consider pulling the perfect espresso shot to be a craft worth mastering, you’ll appreciate this. Semi automatic machines are also usually LESS EXPENSIVE.

In contrast, a fully automatic machine prioritizes convenience over control. They’re ideal if you have a busy schedule and need to multitask in the morning. You can start your espresso and move on to other chores without worrying about stopping the machine. However, this convenience comes at a cost. Fully automatic machines are typically MORE EXPENSIVE.

fully automatic vs semi-automatic espresso mahcine
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Final Thoughts

We cannot resolve the automatic vs semi-automatic espresso machine dilemma by saying that they both make delicious shots of espresso. Which is totally true.

If you appreciate the process of crafting an espresso and have the time to do it, we recommend a semi automatic machine. On the other hand, if you have a million things to get done in the morning, it’s worth spending a little more for a fully automatic machine.

FAQs

A superautomatic espresso maker is worth it if you have more money than time. They’re expensive to buy and maintain but incredibly convenient on busy mornings. But, in the end, it comes down to your personal preferences. You can also check out our comparison of two well-known makers of auto espresso machines: Saeco vs DeLonghi.

An automatic espresso maker should last 5 to 10 years, if well maintained. To properly maintain it, you need to clean it and descale it regularly. Deep-cleaning your machine once a month would prolong its lifespan. Manual machines can last much longer.

A manual espresso maker doesn’t have an electric pump. Instead, the barista needs to generate pressure using a lever. You need to pump a lever to produce the necessary 9 bars

For more details, check out this article on manual vs automatic espresso machines.

  1. Buchanan, M. (2013, April 9). Before the Coffee Pods. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/tech/annals-of-technology/before-the-coffee-pods
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I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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