Espresso makers are in plenty. All of them claim to make the best brew. This is not true. Unless your skills come into play, a brewer’s features put a cap on the taste. Now, if you pick an espresso maker that lets you become a participant, rather than an observer, there’s no limit on how tasty a shot you can pull.
But, you should buy the right type of espresso brewer. In other words, you should buy a semi-automatic. A semi-automatic gives you the control needed to hone your barista skills and reap the benefits of your diligence. However, the market is crowded with many products. Each product comes with its own mix of positives and negatives.
To make the right choice, you should be able to evaluate the limitations and benefits objectively. Doing this is difficult without knowledge and understanding. The good news is – we’re here to help you pick the best semi-automatic espresso machine for your needs and budget. So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.
|MODEL||PRODUCT DIMENSIONS||ITEM WEIGHT||USER RATING||PRICE|
|Breville BES920BSXL||16.2 x 15 x 15 inches||30 pounds||4.6/5||$$$$$
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|Breville BES870XL Barista Express||13.2 x 12.5 x 15.8 inches||23 pounds||4.3/5||$$$$
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|Gaggia Classic 14101||25 x 13 x 12 inches||20 pounds||3.8/5||$$$
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|Mr. Coffee ECMP1000||12 x 14 x 12.2 inches||9 pounds||4.2/5||$
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|DeLonghi America EC680B Dedica||16.5 x 5.9 x 13 inches||9.3 pounds||3.8/5||$$
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In this section, we will introduce you to the most notable products in this category. After reading the semi-automatic espresso machine reviews, you will have a thorough understanding of what to expect. In the section that follows, you will learn the important factors to consider when buying a semi-automatic espresso machine. By piecing the information from the two sections, you will have everything you need to move forward with confidence.
The Breville BES920BSXL’s most prized feature is its PID controlled double boiler. The double boiler system heats water for brewing and steaming in separate chambers. Thus, you can brew and steam at the same time. The PID controller lets you select the brewing temperature with precision. The controller also maintains the set temperature with accuracy. As a result, you get superior flavor extraction.
But, consider this: have you mastered grinding, dosing, and tamping techniques? If you have not, temperature control is too advanced for your present skill level. So, an entry-level semi-automatic is a better choice than the BES920BSXL.
Also, double boiler semi-automatics are twice as expensive as semi-automatics with thermo blocks. PID controlled thermo blocks are good at maintaining the best brewing temperature. But, they don’t allow you to brew and steam at the same time. This shortcoming isn’t significant if you’re pulling only one or two shots at a time.
The BES920BSXL’s features, functions, build quality, and price suit commercial use. If you’ve got a handle on the basics of brewing and are ready to go pro, buy this machine. But, if you’re only starting your barista journey, spending $1200 to $1300 on an advanced machine is overkill.
The Breville Barista Express is an affordable and highly rated semi-automatic espresso machine. It comes with a built-in burr grinder and controls for selecting grind size, grind amount, and filter size. You also get pressurized and non-pressurized single and double shot filter baskets for the portafilter.
This machine has a thermo coil heating system with PID temperature control. The PID temperature controller maintains the temperature of the water within the ideal range for brewing. The brewer also has volumetric controls which allow you to program the shot volume for a double and single shot.
But, the machine has a couple of drawbacks. First, the thermo coil heating system does not allow you to brew and steam at the same time. Transitioning from steaming to brewing requires time for the thermo coil to cool from steaming temperature to brewing temperature. Although the auto-purge function reduces the switching time, it does not eliminate it.
And, the Barista Express is not durable enough to handle high-volume commercial use. However, if you need an economical machine at home to learn and practice brewing espressos and milk drinks, the Barista Express is an excellent choice.
The Gaggia Classic is a durable, affordable, and easy-to-use semi-automatic espresso machine. Its chrome plated brass brew group and portafilter resist corrosion and flaking. It is compatible with ESE pods. Alternatively, you can use pre-ground coffee or freshly ground coffee. And, it has a pannarello wand that allows you to froth milk with less technique.
The simple interface has rocker switches and an indicator lamp that turns on when the water reaches the brewing temperature. To heat the water, the brewer uses a low-volume boiler. Thus, the water reaches the brewing temperature quickly, and the temperature remains stable.
For the price, the Gaggia Classic has the right mix of features. But, you should know you are missing out on a few others. First, the Classic doesn’t have a built-in grinder. Next, it has no volumetric programmability or any kind of programmability for that matter. Lastly, it doesn’t have a PID temperature regulator.
If you prefer the convenience of using ESE pods or pre-ground coffee over grinding pods on your own, consider buying the Gaggia Classic. However, if you want more control over the brewing process and better programmability, the Breville Barista Express is a better choice than the Gaggia Classic.
If you’re on a very conservative budget, the Mr. Coffee ECMP1000 Café Barista Premium espresso machine merits your attention. What we appreciate the most about this machine is one-touch espresso, latte, and cappuccino brewing. That’s right. Thanks to the automatic milk frother, you can hit the latte or cappuccino program and leave the rest to the machine.
The milk frother is built into a removable milk carafe. After brewing your drink, you can store the milk carafe in your fridge. But, before doing that, make sure you use the auto-clean function to clean the steam wand.
While speed and convenience are this machine’s strengths, control and durability are its weaknesses. But, to be fair, the ECMP1000 is built for people who don’t want to mess around with controls. Also, since it is a low-cost product, most of the parts are made of plastic, not metal.
But, here’s the thing – the automatic milk frother is the ECMP’s greatest selling point. If you are not a big fan of milk drinks, don’t spend an extra $50 for the auto-frother. Instead, buy a semi-automatic for under $100. And, if you miss milk drinks so much, you can buy a milk frother separately.
The DeLonghi Dedica is a sleek and compact semi-automatic espresso machine. Although it occupies 6 inches of horizontal counter space, it still has a 35-ounce water tank. And, it has a cappuccino frothing system too. So, you get a fully functional compact brewer at a reasonable price.
This machine has a single boiler dual use heating system. Thus, you can’t brew and steam at the same time. But, the heating system on the Dedica does kick into action faster than other machines in this price range. In fact, it heats water for brewing in just 40 seconds.
However, the Dedica does not have a built-in grinder. And, it doesn’t have a PID temperature controller. But, machines in this price range generally don’t offer these features. Also, the steam wand doesn’t produce the best quality foam. You can make milk drinks, but if you want to practice latte art, this isn’t enough.
The Dedica’s main selling point is its compactness. So, if you’re looking for a decent semi-automatic espresso machine that doesn’t hog your counter space, this is the best choice to make. But, you should sacrifice some function and control features.
This section’s purpose it to enable you to choose the best semi-automatic espresso maker. To choose the best, you should frame your needs and gauge how well a product meets them. Doing this requires a sound approach.
So, first, we will learn whether a semi-automatic is right for you. Then, we will explain the major factors to inspect. Finally, we will point you to good brands. After reading this section, you will be able to pick the right semi-automatic coffee maker with ease.
How will a semi-automatic espresso maker benefit me?
A semi-automatic espresso maker puts you in control of brewing variables. So, you get the ability to perfect your shots. Based on the model you pick, you can:
For people keen on brewing coffee in the classic way, the semi-automatic is the best choice. It is also the best rig to learn to brew. But, you should be aware of its faults too.
What are the drawbacks I should know about?
To pull a tasty shot you should know how to:
Your mastery of these sub-skills affects the taste of your shot. In other words, the learning curve is steep. If you’re not ready to put time in honing the sub-skills, buy a super-automatic.
Also, the upkeep of semi-automatics needs time and effort. You should clean the portafilter, filter basket, shower head, and screen after every use.
What are the factors I should examine when buying a semi-automatic?
When you examine a semi-automatic you should look at its internal parts, external shell, and features. Let’s go over these aspects.
The main internal parts of a semi-automatic are as follows.
Now, here’s a summary of what we’ve learned.
The external parts of a semi-automatic espresso maker include the following:
In our opinion, the ideal configuration would have:
Features enhance a brewer’s functionality, versatility, and ease of use. Here are some desirable features to look for:
The cost increases proportionally with the number of features. So, we advise you to get as many features as possible for your budget. There’s no limit on the number of features a brewer can have. If you are shopping for features, you’ll keep expanding your budget. Also, consider the build quality of the machine, the reputation of the manufacturer, service, and warranty.
Great, I think I really need a semi-automatic. What are my options?
We recommend you check our top five semi-automatic espresso machine suggestions. Based on what you’ve learned right now, you can easily choose a great espresso maker from that list. But, if you want to do your own research, we suggest you check the line of products from DeLonghi, Gaggia, and Breville.
The reviews of semi-automatic espresso machines reveal that every price range has good products to consider. For instance, if you have a high budget, the Breville BES920BSXL is the best pick. But, if you’re looking for something on the reasonable side, the Breville Barista Express will meet your needs. And, if you’re on a really tight budget, you could consider buying the ECMP1000.
When shopping for a semi-automatic, it is important that you don’t get blindsided by things that don’t matter. If you do, you will pay too much or too less. Either way, you get the bad end of the deal. Fortunately, you will never go wrong because you clearly understand your own requirements, along with the advantages and disadvantages of a machine.