Once you've tasted a fresh at-home espresso shot, it's hard to go back to anything else. If you're considering ditching daily coffee-house espresso for your at-home brew, you have a choice of espresso machines to do it with all ranging from a several hundred to a several thousand dollars price range.
Espresso machines come in three styles- semi-automatic espresso machines, automatic machines, and super-automatic options. Deciding to use the term automatic for each probably isn't doing anyone any favours when it comes to choosing the right machine, so let's explore the differences between these automatic espresso machines in a little more detail.
Super, full, and semi-auto espresso machines all share standard features which separate them from other types of espresso machines which happen to be manual espresso machines.
Manual espresso machines are where it all started. While some die-hards still prefer the hands-on experience of pouring an espresso shot on one of these machines, they are not as common now. With a manual espresso machine, you are fully responsible for every action of pulling an espresso shot. This includes grinding, tamping, dialing pressure, and timing your shot. It's a lot of work with a steep learning curve, however, this option offers the most freedom in creating your perfect shot.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine
People are often happy to give up a little flexibility for ease and convenience in real life. That's where super, full, and semi-auto espresso machines come in.
A semi-auto espresso machine automates one of the most complex parts of the espresso pour- operating a lever to get the pressure right. Otherwise, a semi-auto espresso machine still allows for all the freedoms you may want from a traditional espresso machine. Users still weigh, grind, tamp, pull their shot, and control how long they want to pour.
The learning curve for these types of machines is steeper than with other automatic machines that offer more features, but they are a good compromise for someone who wants to advance their barista skills without getting tennis elbow.
Automatic Espresso Machines
Fully automatic espresso machines are very similar to semi-automatic ones with one difference being that they incorporate an internal timer that controls the time of the pour. You are still in control over the coarseness and amount of grind, tamping, and starting the shot, but you don't have to worry about stopping the flow of water.
When customizing the pour length, most automatic espresso machines do offer a little flexibility but not as much as you would have with a semi-auto espresso machine.
Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
For the coffee enthusiast who wants to do the bare minimum, a super-automatic espresso machine is the best bet. A super-automatic espresso machine will measure, grind, tamp, and pour your espresso shot for you and it will even steam the milk. However, what a super-automatic machine makes up for in terms of convenience takes away from the ability to customize your preferred shot.
These machines come pre-loaded with timed settings and there is limited ability to make many adjustments. Super-automatic espresso machines are most commonly found in offices and non-specialty cafes where convenience and user-friendliness override the need for customizability.
Any of these espresso machines would make a worthy addition to an at-home coffee station. The right one for you depends on your budget. A machine with more feature typically cost more than a similar espresso machine with less automation. It will also depend on how involved you want to be with your coffee making.