Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines of 2017 –  Reviews & Buying Guide

beautiful cup of coffeeEspresso 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.

Our Top 5 Picks

MODELPRODUCT DIMENSIONS
ITEM WEIGHT
USER RATINGPRICE
Breville BES920BSXL
Breville BES920BSXL
16.2 x 15 x 15 inches
30 pounds
4.6/5
$$$$$
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Breville BES870XL Barista Express
Breville BES870XL Barista Express
13.2 x 12.5 x 15.8 inches
23 pounds
4.3/5
$$$$
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Gaggia Classic 14101
Gaggia Classic 14101
25 x 13 x 12 inches
20 pounds
3.8/5
$$$
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Mr. Coffee ECMP1000
Mr. Coffee ECMP1000
12 x 14 x 12.2 inches
9 pounds
4.2/5
$
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DeLonghi America EC680B Dedica
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.

#1 Breville BES920BSXL – Our Top Pick

Breville BES920BSXLThe 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.

Pros

  • Double boiler heating system
  • PID temperature regulator
  • Precise temperature selection
  • Great for commercial use

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Steep learning curve
  • Not suitable for home use


#2 Breville BES870XL Barista Express – The Runner-up

Breville BES870XL Barista ExpressThe 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.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Built-in grinder
  • PID temperature regulator
  • Auto-purge feature

Cons

  • Thermo coil heating system
  • Downtime between steaming and brewing
  • Not built for commercial use


#3 Gaggia Classic 14101

Gaggia Classic 14101The 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.

Pros

  • Very affordable
  • Durable
  • Compatible with ESE pods
  • Panarello steam wand

Cons

  • No grinder
  • No PID temperature regulator
  • No programmability


#4 Mr. Coffee ECMP1000 – Best For The Money

Mr. Coffee ECMP1000If 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.

Pros

  • Very economical
  • One-touch espresso, cappuccino, and latte
  • Automatic milk frother

Cons

  • No built-in grinder
  • Average build quality
  • Limited control


#5 DeLonghi America EC680B Dedica

DeLonghi America EC680B DedicaThe 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.

Pros

  • Compact
  • Moderate price
  • Fast

Cons

  • No built-in grinder
  • No PID temperature controller
  • Average steam wand


Factors to Consider When Buying a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

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:

  • Adjust the texture of coffee grind
  • Select the dosing
  • Choose the filter basket
  • Control the extraction time
  • Set the brewing temperature
  • Change the shot volume

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:

  • Grind pods to the right texture
  • Select the correct dose
  • Tamp the portafilter
  • Set the extraction time
  • Choose the right temperature

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.

Internal Parts

The main internal parts of a semi-automatic are as follows.

  • Heating System: The heating system draws water from the tank and heats it to the brewing or steaming temperature. There are three subclasses of heating systems. They are as follows.
  • Dual Boiler: A dual boiler heating system has two chambers. One chamber heats water for brewing. The other chamber heats water for steaming. In such machines, you can brew and steam at the same time. This function is useful for high-volume use. But, these brewers are very expensive.
  • Single Boiler Dual Use: In an SBDU brewer, the same boiler heats water for brewing and steaming. Thus, you cannot brew and steam at the same time. When switching from brewing to steaming, you should wait for the boiler to heat up to the steaming temperature. When switching from steaming to brewing, you should wait for the boiler to cool down to the brewing temperature. The switching time adds up when preparing many milk drinks.
  • Heat Exchanger: A brewer with a heat exchanger has one boiler. But, you can steam and brew at the same time. This is because the boiler, which is always at the steaming temperature, has a pipe running through it. The pipe circulates brew water from the tank to the brew group. While it’s moving through the boiler, it heats to the brewing temperature. These machines are cheaper than dual boiler machines are. But, it is difficult to control the temperature in such machines.
  • Temperature Controller: The temperature controller keeps the water at a preset or manually set temperature. Cheaper brewers use thermostats for controlling temperature. More expensive brewers use a PID controller to regulate temperature. PID controllers are more effective in keeping the temperature steady than thermostats are.

Now, here’s a summary of what we’ve learned.

  • Premium Pick: Double boiler with PID temperature controller
  • Value Pick: Single boiler double use with PID temperature controller
  • Budget Pick: Single boiler double use

External Parts

The external parts of a semi-automatic espresso maker include the following:

  • Water Tank: The water tank supplies water to the boiler through a pump.
  • Drip Tray: The drip tray catches liquids that spill from the brew head.
  • Group Head: The group head sprays pressurized water through the portafilter to make your espresso.
  • Portafilter: The portafilter holds the dosed and tamped coffee.
  • Filter Basket: The filter basket helps regulate the pressure in the portafilter.
  • Steam Wand: The steam wand supplies steam for frothing milk. In some machines, the steam wand doubles as a hot water spout.
  • Three-Way Solenoid Valve: After brewing, the three-way solenoid valve squeezes moisture from the contents of the filter basket to form a dry puck.
  • Cup Warmer: You can use the cup warmer to preheat or reheat your cup.
  • Control Panel: The control panel hosts the buttons, knobs, gauges, or dials for controlling the functions of the brewer.
  • Display Screen: The display screen gives a visual on the programs selected.
  • Grinder: The grinder grinds coffee pods a few moments before brewing. Coffee made from freshly ground pods tastes much better than coffee made from pre-grounds.

In our opinion, the ideal configuration would have:

  • Built-in grinder
  • Pressurized and non-pressurized single and double shot filter basket
  • Heavy duty corrosion resistant portafilter and brew head
  • High capacity water tank, at least 48 ounces
  • Three-Way solenoid valve
  • High-capacity drip tray

Features

Features enhance a brewer’s functionality, versatility, and ease of use. Here are some desirable features to look for:

  • Grind Size: Using the grind size selection, you can change the texture of the grind to fine, medium, or coarse.
  • Grind Amount: This feature allows you to change the strength of the brew. The higher the amount, the stronger the taste.
  • Filter Selection: If you are pulling a double shot, the filter selection feature tells the machine to pull two separate shots instead of one big shot.
  • Volumetric Control: Volumetric control lets you choose the length of single and double shot.
  • Temperature Control: Some machines allow you to specify the brewing temperature.

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.


Conclusion

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.