While some people are happy with a typical cup of coffee, others are looking for something with a bit more ‘kick’ so to speak. If you’re all about the bolder flavors, then you are probably well-acquainted with espresso. Espresso can give you that burst of energy and tastes fabulous at the same time. But if you find yourself constantly having to visit the local café or coffee house just to get a cup of espresso, it may be time to invest in a machine for your home.
An automatic espresso maker can transform the way you make and enjoy coffee and will save you money in the long run since you don’t have to constantly buy a cup of espresso. But what’s the best automatic espresso machine out there? And perhaps even more importantly, what’s the difference between fully automatic and semi-automatic coffee machine models? We will break down all the details of the typical automatic espresso machine reviews, highlighting the most important features you need to know to make an informed purchase.
What is an Automatic Espresso Machine?
First things first, we need to define what an automatic espresso machine is so you can then compare it to the semi-automatic models. When you take a quick look at the two different models, they look quite similar. Even upon closer inspection, they share many of the same features, but there are some small differences.
The main functions of an automatic espresso machine are to grind your coffee beans, tamp the coffee and then brew it. With an automatic machine, the flow of water is all automated. This means you'll hit the button once, and that's it. Within the machine is a timer that allows water to flow for about 25-30 seconds. The idea is that you get the perfect shot every time - there is no human error since the machine does it for you.
What are the Pros and Cons of an Automatic Espresso Machine?
Just like with any appliance, an automatic espresso machine does have a list of pros and cons. For some people it may be the perfect addition to their home whereas, for others, it will make more sense to keep visiting the local café to grab an espresso.
Some of the most common pros of owning an automatic espresso machine include:
- Over time it will save money since you can make espresso at home
- The automatic machine’s timer makes the shot fool-proof
- You can walk away and not worry about the cup overflowing with water thanks to the timer
- They are relatively easy to use once you get the hang of them
- There are other features and controls that you can usually use on the machine
- Some machines have a built-in coffee bean grinder
- Some machines pull the shot without you having to do anything
- Some models offer a milk steamer
- You’ll feel like you’re getting a fancy café-quality beverage
It’s a rather impressive list of pros, and it’s easy to see why someone would be tempted to pick up one of these machines. But as any informed shopper knows, it’s also wise to look at the cons and decide if they are issues that you’re willing to accept.
Some of the cons in owning an automatic espresso machine include:
- These machines can be very expensive, especially if you want a lot of features and controls
- Some people don't like that they don't have control over the shot time, since they would rather pull it themselves
- The flavor may not be as good as you hoped since you don’t have control over the shot
- You may still need separate equipment such as a grinder and milk steamer if you don’t get one of the high-end machines
- These machines can be quite large and clunky, taking up a fair amount of space on the counter
- They can be cumbersome to clean
Automatic coffee and espresso machine could be the best investment you make, but you need to be sure you weigh both sides of the argument before investing in a model. As for what is the best automatic espresso machine for home use is, that's not a black and white answer.
What is a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine?
That covers the automatic espresso machine, so what is a semi-automatic espresso machine and why choose one of these? As you read through semi-automatic coffee machine reviews, you'll see good and bad, just as you may expect. The fact is that this machine has a purpose - you just have to know what you're getting.
With a semi-automatic machine, you will need to perform a few of the key functions manually. These are:
- Grinding the coffee
- Loading the portafilter
- Using the tamp
- Pressing a button to start the shot
As you can see, it’s not that these are hard or time-consuming steps, it’s just not fully automated. Some people see this as a pro as it gives them a bit more control over their espresso. You feel more like a barista when you’re taking all the steps yourself.
The top semi-automatic espresso machines are still straightforward to understand, so you’ll get the hang of it in no time. At the same time, that’s just it, there is a learning curve, so you need to know this and be patient in the beginning.
Top Tips When Shopping for an Automatic Espresso Machine
If you’ve decided that the automatic espresso machine is more your style and that’s the mode you wish to get, then you want to be sure you’re picking the perfect machine. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the options and because the price can vary so greatly, it can leave you more confused over which one to purchase.
A good tip is to make a list of your must-have features before you even start shopping. This will help you to narrow down the options. You also want to set a budget for yourself that you feel comfortable with and that you won’t go over. Now think about how often you plan to use the machine and if you’ll be making multiple shots at once. Another factor to consider is clean-up and durability over time. You certainly don’t want to have to replace the machine a couple of years down the road.
As was mentioned above, because these machines tend to be quite bulky, make sure you take measurements and figure out the maximum size your kitchen can handle.
Do You Need to Use Specific Types of Beans for an Espresso Machine?
Another confusing aspect for at-home espresso newbies is what kind of beans you need. People often wonder if they can use their regular coffee beans or if they need another type. Well, it's time to erase any confusion you may have because the reality is that you can use any type of coffee bean in an espresso machine. Having said that, there will be a difference in taste and quality between the various types of beans.
Espresso isn't a type of roast, but when you see beans that say ‘Espresso Roast’ at the store, what it does mean is that it's okay to use in your machine and you'll end up with a dark roast. This means the flavor will be very rich and bold, which may or may not be to your taste.
Having said all that, the two beans that are most commonly used are Robusta and Arabica. You'll find each of these to be widely available and each has its distinct taste. Robusta will be more bitter and sharp while Arabica is milder and smoother.
One thing people should be aware of, however, is that if you purchase flavored coffee beans, you can risk messing up the machine. These flavored beans can be oiler and they have the flavor in them. This can clog up the machine and, at the very least, it’ll make every espresso taste differently moving forward.
How to Spice Up Your Espresso
So, what if you want a little flavor in your espresso but you don’t want to risk using flavored coffee beans? Not to worry as you can always add a little something after the fact. The easiest and perhaps the simplest solution is to use flavored syrup meant specifically for coffee. The way you do this is you add the syrup to the espresso after it has been made and while it’s hot. If you like, you could even add the flavor to the milk as it steams.
One tip from the pros is that you use these syrups in moderation. They can be very powerful and you don't want to drown out the taste of the coffee. Use a small amount to start with until you get an idea of how much syrup you like. You can find syrups in a wide array of flavors and even in different flavor combinations, so get creative with your sampling.
Get a Fabulous Shot of Espresso in the Comfort of Your Home
So, if you can’t seem to get enough of espresso but you find yourself spending a small fortune in coffee shops, why not look into getting an automatic or semi-automatic espresso maker for your home and become a novice barista?