The ever escalating popularity of espresso based drinks has led to greater number of people opting to purchase espresso machines for their home or offices. Improving technologies mean it is possible to purchase machines that churn out exceptional tasting espressos with a simple switch of a button. However, how does one select the best possible option from the overwhelming muddle of masses and what exactly is the difference between a fully automatic, super automatic, and semi-automatic?
Automatic espresso come loaded with as many or as few features as you desire and needless to say, costs climb with increasing features. Some factors that help to narrow the field include your budget, amount of convenience you are looking for and the quality of the beverage you seek. While it is possible to purchase a pod based espresso maker for less than a hundred dollars, and it produces a drink to satisfy the palate perfectly well, many an espresso connoisseur will debate the fact about it being an espresso in the true sense of the word. With a budget nearing $1000, it is possible to select from a large variety of outstanding quality machines that brew a quality espresso and are equipped with plenty of features.
Semi-Automatic Vs. Fully-Automatic Machines:
Semi-automatic machines allow you to manipulate a lot of the steps and have control over some of variables that impact the final drink. For example in a semi-automatic machine the espresso pump is operated manually, requiring you to turn it on and off at your desire. They normally do not come with an integrated grinder, meaning you will need to spend money on a separate essential coffee appliance. Not to mention that the porta-filter will require a manual filling and tamping. Pressure and temperature functions are automated in the semi-automatic machines.
The fully automatic or the super-automatic espresso machines offer the ultimate in convenience. All such machines require is, that the beans of choice get deposited in the grinder hopper and a switch is flipped for a perfect cup of espresso every time. The machine grinds, measures, tamps the beans controls temperatures and pressure automatically. However, if the desire is there, the option to override the pre-set functions is available. Some even have an integrated frother for latte, macchiato or cappuccino. Ideal for individuals who don’t want to spend time fiddling with anything but want a café quality beverage at home.
Size: Physical size as well as the number of drinks that can be made at a time needs to be taken into consideration. In an occupational environment where many cups are needed quickly, a machine capable of delivering 4 cups simultaneously might be better while at home one that makes a single or even two cups at a time will be more appropriate. However, if your counter space is an issue then a large sized machine will not be feasible.
Cabinet Clearance: In older kitchens counter to cupboard clearance tended to be a standard 18 inches. Many espresso machines with grinders may fit in this, however filling the grinder situated at the top of the machine with beans will be an issue. If the water reservoir is located at the back of the machine, access at refilling time will not be too convenient.
Grinder: There is no arguing the fact that freshly grounds beans deliver the best possible cup of Joe, and what can be fresher than the ability to grind the beans just before making your coffee? Espresso machines with built in grinders are more convenient compared to a stand-alone grinder. Keep in mind that conical grinders are much better at producing a uniform grind compared to blade grinders and they don’t heat the grounds and degrade them.
Steam driven Vs. Pump Driven Machines: There are two basic methods of building pressure and pushing water through the grounds. Some machines use steam while others make use of pumps to do this. In steam driven machines water, steam from the boiling water is driven through the grounds to extract the espresso drink. Machines using steam tend to lighter in weight, easier to use and compact in size not to mention more economical. The problem with them is that the high water temperature can scorch the grounds leaving a burnt tasting, bitter espresso. Additionally they can’t sustain sufficient pressure to produce a proper espresso crema.
In pump driven machines, a pump is used to sustain the ideal water pressure at a temperature just below boiling (considered to be perfect for brewing espressos) so maximum flavor, aroma and superior quality crema can be extracted. The pump-driven machines are significantly more costly and bulkier. They generally require greater care so pump does not get clogged.
Reviews of some Top Quality Machines Under $1000
Barista Express BES870XL from Breville:
This espresso maker by Breville won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) Best New Products prize in 2013. With the help of its built in conical burr grinder it converts your favourite beans into espresso grounds and then proceeds to brew them in less than a minute. It offers users the option to control water temperature, tamping and quantity of grounds to be filtered so you can fine tune recipes to personal tastes.
The dimensions of 3.2” x 12.5” x 15.8” means it fits under kitchen with ease with plenty of clearance space to fill the grinder. The 67 ounce (2 liter) water tank minimizes refills and the half pound bean hopper with an airtight seal ensures the bean quality is not compromised. It employs a Thermocoil heating system that makes switching between brewing and frothing instantaneous and water temperatures can be adjusted by 4°F increments with an accuracy of ±2°F. The 15 bar pump pressure ensures a thick layer of golden crema. The steaming wand can be turned a full circle for ease of frothing and the indicator light for cleaning keeps the unit functioning in top order.
The magnetized 54mm tamper sits in a designated slot below the power switch. It can be easily removed for greater manual control over the beverage. The porta filter too is 54mm with a steel basket and sits comfortably in the hands free basket holder. The grounds get deposited into it automatically, once the desired quantity is specified using a very straightforward dial.
Rancilio HSD-SILVIA Espresso Machine:
Not many people may have heard the Rancilio name, but that is only because they are suppliers of commercial espresso machines. However, the company is now moving into the home products line, and the good thing is that they employ some of the same commercial quality parts in the machines them make for home use. The HSD-SILVIA is at the top of their new line.
The stainless steel side panels and iron frame make this machine elegant and durable. Measuring 9.2 x 11.4 x 13.3 inches and housing a commercial standard group head with 58mm porta-filter, this espresso maker has a lot going for it construction wise. The stainless steel frothing wand is omni directional with full range of motions which include side to side and front to back of the machine. The steam knob is commercially designed and gives the user total control over frothing and its positioning on the machine allows for large sized jugs to fit under it with ease.
The operation of the machine is also fairly basic, just place the grounds in the machine head, tamp the grounds and with the press of a button the unit will do the rest. The 3-way solenoid valve allows water to pass through the brew-head and the grounds. Once the unit is turned off, the pressure is released from the grounds and the excess water is thrust into the drip pan. The process allows the used grounds, in the form of a tightly compacted puck to be knocked out of the filter easily. All components like mechanical switches, spade lugs and wires are solidly constructed with boiler assembly made of brass/copper. Since there is no auto brew or integrated grinder, there is not much that can go wrong. Maintenance is as simple as an occasional wipe down with a damp cloth. The unit is rather heavy, while moving it from place to place is difficult, the good thing is that it will not be vibrating all over the place.
Magnifica ECAM 22110SB From De’Longhi:
This fully automatic espresso maker weighs just over 20 pounds and measures 9.4″ wide x 13.8″ x high x 17″ deep. The control panel is rather simple with just some buttons and a rotating dial. Learning curve is nominal, all that is needed is some experimentation with the frother and figuring out which grind settings suit your personal taste best.
This little gem can keep churning out lattes and cappuccinos without any wait time due to its patented cappuccino frothing system. Another bonus of this machine is that it can either grind your favorite beans with the built-in (low-pitch) conical burr grinder with settings for all coffee types or use pre-ground beans. This means you can use decaffeinated coffee or just regular coffee. The direct-to-brew selection means speed is not compromised. The bean hopper can store beans but the pre-ground beans are used when ready to brew, there is no storage space for pre-ground beans.
The integrated filtration system means your coffee will taste great even with tap water. The machine will signal when decalcification is necessary, but to be able to do that it has to know the water type of your tap. This is done by using the “Total Hardness Test” strips which are included with the purchase of the unit. Just dip the test strip in the tap water and you can read the hardness level. This figure can then be fed into the machine, and it will automatically remind you when it is time to de-calcify.
While the Magnifica ECAM 22110SB uses 1250 W of electricity, it has a power saving mode which can save as much as 77% of the electricity. The only drawback is that the steam and hot water functions will not be instantaneous when using this mode. There will be a wait period of a few minutes for the steam or hot water to be ready. Should you forget to power the machine off, have no fear, its auto shut-off will kick in and save the day.
Jura-Capresso Impressa F9 Espresso Center:
The Impressa F9 is one smart espresso maker. The touch screen technology means everyone can understand it. You only speak Spanish or French? Not a problem with the Impressa F9 as it has multilingual display. You can even connect your F9 to the home internet, so the latest and best new recipes from Jura can be downloaded.
The water tank has a 64 ounce capacity and the bean hopper can hole 7 ounces of beans. The 15 bar water pressure ensures thick, golden crema. The pre-brew function moistens the grounds and readies them for maximum extraction of flavors and aromas. Additional features include lit cup area and coffee spout that can be adjusted to suit individual needs.
A fully automatic machine, it does all work from grinding to tamping and brewing all you need to do is press a few icons on the control panel. It comes with factory setting and is pre-preprogrammed to deliver an exceptional tasting espresso. However, settings can be changed to suit individual tastes. Coffee strength, water quantity, steam quality and temperature all can also be controlled by the user if so inclined. It heats water very quickly, and hot water is available, besides making espressos, for tea, cereals or hot instant meals so everyone in the family can be kept happy.
The built-in conical grinder is six-stage system which can deliver consistent grounds for the full range of brewing methods. . The whole unit is lined with stainless steel to maintain flavors and resist corrosion. Cleanup is a breeze with this machine, considering it has a number of self-maintaining features. These include automatic rinsing, de-calcifying and cleaning. It keeps track of when water filter needs changing and when it has to be cleaned.
Good quality espresso machines are not cheap. If you are ready for the investment, it is important to make certain that you get a machine that will fulfill all your requirements and one that you will enjoy using for a long time to come. An attempt has been made in this post to give you a clear idea of what is available so you can decide which features will best serve your needs.