Best espresso machine buying guide for the complete novice
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Espresso machines for the home and office have gained in popularity over the last 20 years. Like the toaster oven replacing the toaster, espresso machines are quickly replacing coffee makers.
Maybe you are in the mood for a Mocha Cappuccino? Hot, smooth espresso combined with rich chocolate and steamed milk, topped with luscious froth and chocolate drizzles?
Sounds delicious, right?
Or you are probably like me? Tired of dragging yourself out of bed and to the local coffee franchise to buy your morning fix.
And what about the price?
If you are like me, it has probably hit you. You could make your morning cappuccino and after dinner espresso at home. All you need are our own espresso machines!
Espresso makers have come a long way since the ’80s. Gone are the days of big hair and single function steam Espresso makers. Today’s units can be automatic or super automatic. They can handle everything from grinding to built-in milk frothing.
But don’t worry if you know nothing about Espresso machines or making fancy espresso drinks. This guide will be all that you need.
Or maybe you have bigger dreams. Like being a barista (an expert at making espresso based coffee drinks) for your own trendy coffee shop. Check out the info on commercial espresso machines. Or maybe an Espresso kiosk.
Have fun touring the guide! The information here is easy reading. Unlike other sites which tend to be too technical.
- Automatic Espresso Machines
- Semi Automatic Espresso Machine
- Super Automatic Coffee Espresso Machines
- Commercial Espresso Machines
- Buying Refurbished Espresso Machines
- How to Make espresso like a pro
- Making Cappuccino and Espresso Using a Machine
Automatic Espresso Machines
Looking for Automatic Espresso reviews and recommendations? Don’t understand the lingo? Before you buy an Automatic espresso machine, let’s first understand the terminology.
The “Automatic” machines are so named because some or all of the espresso making process is done automatically by the machine. Also, all of the “Automatic” espresso makers are electric and use a pump to drive water through the portafilter.
Fully automatic espresso makers are perfect if you want to be able to enjoy a great cup of espresso in your own home. Choosing a fully automatic is a great way to get the espresso you love on a daily basis.
But before you go out and buy one, you need to learn all you can and decide which type of espresso machine is right for you. So what exactly are fully automatics and how do they work?
Note: Fully automatic is sometimes referred to as automatic. This can confuse things as all the pump driven machines are automatics.
When using a fully automatic espresso maker, you will set a programmed amount of water to flow through the flow-meter and then the pump is automatically turned off and the brew pressure released through a three-way valve. This helps you produce the perfect cup of espresso every time.
How Do They Work?
Like all espresso machines, hot water is delivered via a pump and forced through coffee grounds under pressure to create your espresso.
Since temperature and pressure are very important in creating the perfect espresso, the machines are built to get these steps just right for the perfect drink every time. If not, the wrong pressure or variation in temperature can lead to a sub par espresso.
Evaluating Your Needs
When shopping for your own fully automatic espresso machine, what sort of things should you look for?
Here are some questions to ask yourself. Keep in mind some fully automatics can also act like semi automatics by turning off the programmable feature.
- Do I want to program the amount of water for the shot? If yes, a fully automatic meets this requirement.
- What is my experience with espresso machines and how much am I willing to learn? Am I willing to learn how to grind/dose/tamp? If not, a super automatic machine may be in order.
- Do I have a brand preference?
- What is my budget?
Semi Automatic Espresso Machine
The semi automatic espresso machine might be the right choice for you. After all, it is the most popular choice when buying an espresso machine.
The features on this type of espresso machine are not automatic. This will allow you more control over how the espresso is made. And more room for experimenting to find what suits your taste.
Like other automatics, a semi automatic espresso machine uses a pump to carry the water to the portafilter. With a semi, you will need to turn on and off the water used for making the espresso. Also, you will have to grind the coffee beans, add the grinds to the portafilter and tamp.
Many home espresso aficionados and baristas use a semi automatic just for these reasons. They have control over these steps when making the perfect espresso. They are the “purists” of espresso making.
This type of machine also does a great job of maintaining brew temperature and pump pressure, two vital components of making a great shot.
Super Automatic Coffee Espresso Machines
For a quick, consistently great espresso. All at the touch of a button! More and more the super automatic coffee espresso machine is turning up in the espresso lovers home kitchen. And at the workplace.
It doesn’t matter if you are a home barista or own a coffee shop or restaurant, you may want to consider a super automatic.
Purchasing A Super Automatic Coffee Espresso Machine
A super automatic coffee espresso machine is a type of pump espresso machine. These units work with a powered pump that produces just the right amount of water pressure. One touch will turn on the machine, pull the shot and automatically turn off. This convenience frees up the barista for other tasks.
While more expensive than other types of espresso machines, they produce a consistent, excellent espresso. Most commercial espresso machines are super automatic but they can also be purchased for home use.
How Super Automatic Coffee Espresso Machines Work
So how exactly do these super automatic espresso coffee machines work? Fill the hopper with beans, add water (if not plumbed) and push a button! They don’t call them super automatics for nothing!
These machines have built in conical burr grinders. Other types of espresso machines, like semi and fully automatics require manual grinding.
After the coffee is ground and the portafilter is filled, the super automatic machine tamps the grounds. Mind you, all automatically.
A preset amount of water is then extracted by force and pressure through the ground coffee to produce your perfect espresso! The used espresso puck is ejected into a discard bin inside the machine.
Most super automatic coffee espresso machines use 2 thermoblock heating elements. One for brewing and one for steaming. If a cappuccino or latte is needed, the steam wand is ready to go.
Another great feature is the machine needs very little time to produce the next espresso. This is necessary for the busy coffee shop.
Also keep in mind most super automatics are programmable and will let you tweak your settings, such as dose, temperature, etc.
You don’t ever have to worry about being an expert at making espresso because the machine does the hard work for you!
What to Look For
What should you look for when buying a super automatic coffee espresso machine? Well, your budget is going to play a part in what type of machine you can afford. Other things to consider are a matter of taste and what works for you.
Sme other things you might want to look for are:
- Cup Warmer
- Frothing Wand
- Hot Water Dispenser
- Water Filter
- Programmable Option
- Volume of Water Dispensed
- Dosage Control
- Removable Brew Group (convenient for cleaning)
- Bypass Doser (Great for decaf. Don’t need to empty hopper for one decaf)
These are just some of many features that may come with your super automatic coffee espresso machine. The more “extras” your espresso maker has, the more you can probably expect to pay for it. Usually it is well worth it to get the extra features and a great espresso maker that you will use for many years to come.
Commercial Espresso Machines
Commercial espresso makers are not just for the local coffee shop anymore. Own a restaurant? Or how about at work? The office is nearly as important a place to have ample sources of coffee every morning as anywhere else.
Along with dozens of other workplaces, it’s not realistic to expect a simple at home espresso maker to stand up to the rigors of the massive daily demand of dozens of coffee hungry workers or customers.
For that reason commercial espresso makers are designed to be bigger, more durable, and ultimately more efficient than those smaller, quicker machines you might find in someone’s kitchen. But for the serious espresso lovers, the commercial units are turning up in the home too.
Things to Consider Before You Purchase a Commercial Espresso Machine
Prices for commercial espresso machines usually start in the four figure range. So it’s important to know exactly what you need.
Think about which features are most important for your commercial espresso maker. A coffee shop with a hundred customers a day is clearly going to be in need of different features than a third floor office serving a dozen or so employees five days a week.
Speed should be a top consideration when buying a commercial machine.
With most commercial espresso machines, heat up time should be negligible. They are in fact designed for quick ease of use, but how fast do you actually need it?
If you have customers waiting in line for that latte, you’ll want a fully or super automatic machine capable of resetting and loading your drinks as quickly as possible. Your milk should not take longer than a few seconds to steam.
However, if your office or workplace is merely looking for a good, fancier way to drink their morning coffee, coworkers can wait the extra few minutes. The machine will need time to reset before the next shot.
It’s a matter of necessity when speaking of speed and often the price will reflect this. The higher end machines will manage upwards of 175 cups an hour in output, well beyond what any office could expect to need.
Size may matter!
Besides speed, you’ll want your commercial espresso machine to be of a fairly decent size. Large enough to accommodate as many patrons as possible. It should have a decent sized water reservoir and a large hopper for your coffee beans.
Some machines are simpler than others to take apart for a quick and easy clean after initial use. While café machines will be cleaned in the course of the day, at work or home it might not get readily done.
You’ll want a simple, easy to clean machine.
For most commercial uses, you’ll want a machine fully capable of making all drinks, including crema.
The pressure points are important, often between 11 and 18 bars of pressure is considered best.
Casual settings with a set amount of drinks produced daily will not need quite the durability or pressure requirements of a machine used in a commercial, restaurant or café setting.
Buying Refurbished Espresso Machines
Refurbished. That word means big savings! A refurbished super automatic espresso machine needs to be considered. Generally a refurb will be a return, open box sample or factory reconditioned unit.
A super automatic machine is a perfect choice for someone looking for a machine that offers bean grinding, filtering, and brewing along with a full range of automatic features.
And a refurbished super automatic espresso machine is one of the best choices out there. It offers a quality machine with all of those features for a reduced price.
When looking for a refurbished super automatic espresso machine, it’s important to know the range of features these machines offer. First off, the super automatic is a complicated machine. It does quite literally everything.
The following checklist is helpful if you can actually test the machine. If you are buying a refurbished unit online, all the testing has been done for you. It is still best to buy a refurbished super automatic espresso machine which comes with a warranty.
Easiest way to find Refurbished Espresso Machines? Check out Amazon.com! Choose an espresso machine of interest from Amazon and click. Under pricing and delivery information, a REFURBISHED link may be present for the item. Amazon lists 3rd party vendors from top name espresso sites on the internet. Save time by locating refurbished units through Amazon!
Checklist for Refurbished Machines
Check the grinding mechanisms. If the machine has a pre-grinding or pre-brewing feature, make sure they work properly and don’t catch.
Because most refurbished super automatic espresso machines carry out the entire coffee brewing operation, you should make sure each step in that process works properly, without problems. Meaning, if you can, run the machine through a quick cycle and see how it operates.
The heating elements should only take about 45 seconds or so to switch between brewing and steaming cycles, and if you have a dual element machine, almost no time at all.
If you find yourself waiting for a couple of minutes for the steaming apparatus to warm up, your refurbished super automatic espresso machine might need more refurbishing.
Most of all, be sure you know exactly which features you are most interested in. Because you are buying a used machine, you might not have the luxury of being too picky, but there are certain features you might be more interested in than others.
If you absolutely must have control over things like taste, make sure the machine has adjustable grinder and dosage settings, and that they work properly. If your coffee is ground too finely, it might turn out bitter and could ruin your espresso. On the other hand, not fine enough and you’re not getting the flavor you want.
Likewise, you can adjust the amount of coffee that is ground by changing the dosage, weakening or strengthening the taste the more traditional way.
You also might want the ability to change and adjust the actual temperature of the water and output of your machine. While drip coffee brews between 190 and 205 degrees, espresso will often end in your cup at no more than 170 degrees. If you are a fan of blisteringly hot morning brew, you might want the option to adjust these settings.
A refurbished super automatic espresso machine is a perfect choice for someone on a budget. With so many features built into a good machine though, it’s important to make sure each and every one is working properly and that the features you most care about are present. Why purchase a machine if it does not offer everything you want in a good espresso?
How to Make espresso like a pro
So you want to be a barista (expert maker of coffee drinks) and learn how to make espresso like a pro?
Well, don’t quit your day job! I’ll show you the 5 easy steps essential to great espresso.
It all starts with water! Don’t ruin good espresso coffee grounds with bad water. Start by making sure the water is fresh.
How to make espresso quality water?
Use your own water if you are lucky enough to have great tasting tap. I was not that fortunate. Pink rings in my sink convinced me I needed a water filter.
I bought an inexpensive hook on water filter that I absolutely love. It feels good knowing my body is not longer doing the filtering of subpar water. Plus, I no longer buy bottled water. So the savings were huge.
How could we make espresso without coffee?
The definition of espresso is coffee brewed by forcing steam or hot water through finely ground darkly roasted coffee beans.
There are generally 2 types of beans:
- Be sure to select arabica for your beans or ground coffee. It doesn’t matter so much what country the beans come from. As long as they are arabica.
- The other choice would be robusta beans. These beans are easier to grow than arabica. They have twice as much caffeine but definitely less flavor. Of course you could use robusta for a quick jolt but use arabica as a rule.
How to make espresso better? Roasting your own beans, of course! All sorts of methods are used for home roasting. From frying pans to ovens to hot air popcorn poppers.
I’m too chicken to use anything other than a coffee roaster so I can’t vouch for other methods. Whatever you choose, NEVER leave your roasting coffee beans unattended.
If you can use a blender, you have the skills required to use a coffee grinder! This is an important step in how to make espresso great.
For the best espresso, the ground coffee should not be exposed to air any longer than necessary. A grinder will allow you to grind immediately before use.
Some espresso machines now come with built in grinders. If yours does not, invest in a stand alone grinder. I actually prefer the grinder separate from the espresso unit. For more information on grinders, see our page: How to grind coffee beans.
Maybe grinding your own beans is not for you…not yet. That’s ok. For now, pre-ground beans will suffice and can be found locally or on the internet. Just keep in mind grinding your own beans is probably the most important part of making the perfect espresso!
Last but not least, the best tip on “how to make a great espresso” comes down to the espresso machine. A clean machine of good quality. Avoid cheapo machines that rely on steam to create pressure. The best machines heat by boiler or a thermoblock.
Now you have the 5 basic steps on how to make an espresso…and a great espresso at that! But what about actually using the machine?
Making Cappuccino and Espresso Using a Machine
Making cappuccino takes espresso making one step further – by adding steamed and frothed milk. You do know how to make an espresso using a machine, don’t you? If you don’t know how to use an espresso machine, read on.
Keep in mind all espresso machines will vary according to the model. However, the process for making cappuccino and espresso pretty much remains the same. Below is an overview of using an espresso machine.