Semi automatic espresso machines are my favorites for several reasons. This type of espresso makers are most often the choice of coffee enthusiasts, who like to fully customize their shot, and they like to experiment with various beans and brewing tweaks. There is a wide range of semi-automatic espresso machines, from the most basic ones, which are very affordable, to the most expensive machines, reaching the prices of the fully-automatic espresso machines. They include various degrees of automation, but to classify as a semi-automatic it needs at least an electric pump, automatic temperature control for the boiler, and the switches to turn the boiler and the pump on and off. Some models feature preset, or programmable water volumes, activated by pressing a button. Some expensive models have the option to control the brewing temperature, and they have a brewing temperature display. Some have even more advanced features, such as pre-infusion duration, and auto start and auto shutdown feature.
The common thing about these machines is that you have to do the tamping, and you start and stop the extraction. With the super-automatic machines you don't tamp and you don't have to manually interrupt the extraction.Read further for more tips on how to choose your espresso maker, and for a couple of semi automatic espresso machine reviews.
Why Choose Semi Automatic Espresso Machines
So why choose a semi automatic and not a fully automated one? One reason is the separate grinder. Having the grinder separate makes things more convenient. Most super-automatics have a decent grinder, but they are not great. A great grinder will decide the fate of your shot many times. Another reason is the visual inspection of your ground coffee. You don't get to see the ground coffee with the fully automated machines, and this is absolutely necessary when you change beans. With new beans you need to see how much volume of ground coffee you get from your beans. How much does the coffee compress when you tamp it, these are little indications of the tweaks needed to nail a perfect one.
Tamping is also something that you would like to have control over. In theory a machine tamps perfectly, because it applies the same pressure every time unlike a human. The problem comes with new beans or special beans that perform better with custom tamping.
A semi automatic can do all the things that a fully automatic one does, and can even have features that you won't find at fully automated machines. The main attraction for the semi-automatic is the many ways to tweak your shot and to play with a great range of settings. It is impossible to get the same level of tweaking with a super-automatic.
On the other hand, if you are content with consistent shots, pulled the same way every time, and you don't care much about experiencing, and go adventurous, your best choice would be a fully automatic espresso machine, if you afford it.
What is a Semi Automatic Espresso Machine?
Choosing a SemiAutomatic
The most common question regarding espresso machines is "Which one is for me?". The answer to this question can be resumed to whether you need consistency, in which case you will choose a super-automatic, or you are a perfectionist, that needs to make his shot a daily experience, in which case you will want the semi-automatic.
There are many things that can be tweaked to an espresso, in order to get the thickest layer of crema possible, and the smoothest taste possible. Some beans need a little more tamping, some need a longer pulling time, and some beans need a specific grind size. Water temperature at the brewing time is also very important, and if tweaked, can improve a shot.
The inexpensive semi-automatic are just that, great machines, that can deliver decent shots, without having to pay a fortune. Obviously, you will not have the same features, and the same tweaking options like with the most expensive ones, but you can get great shots by knowing your machine. Tips like pulling a blank before the shot, or stopping and starting the machine to force it adjust the temperature, or even modifying the machine to include a PID, can improve your shots. A great grinder to pair up your machine is mandatory, and if you try to save by buying a cheap one, you will regret it.