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Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Coffee Geek Lab / Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Yurii Brown

Certified Barista

November 1, 2020

Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Semi-automatic espresso machines are winning their place in so many kitchens these days.

And no wonder, as they come with quite a lot of perks.

If you want to enjoy them too, check out today’s selection of the best semi-automatic espresso machines and our comprehensive guide on how to pick what would work for you. Let’s start right away!

ProductDetailsRatingPrice
BrevilleBest Overall – Editor’s Pick Breville
  • stainless steel construction;
  • integrated steam wand;
  • convenient tamper storage;
  • powerful thermocoil heating system;
  • 15 bars of pressure for optimal extraction.
9.5Check current price on Amazon
De’Longhi(EC155)Best Budget Pick – De’Longhi (EC155)
  • 15 bars of pressure;
  • swivel milk frother;
  • removable water tank;
  • 3-in1 filter holder;
  • separate thermostats for fast operation and optimal temperature.
9Check current price on Amazon
Gaggia Classic ProBest Durability – Gaggia Classic Pro (RI9380/46)
  • stainless steel construction;
  • commercial-style portafilter and brew group;
  • rotating steam wand;
  • simple button controls;
  • removable water tank.
8.5Check current price on Amazon
BrewslyBest for Small Kitchens – Brewsly
  • 15 bras of pressure for great espressos;
  • 2 temperature settings;
  • adjustable steam wand;
  • removable drip tray (for taller cups).
8Check current price on Amazon
EspressoWorksBest for Beginners – EspressoWorks
  • comes with a grinder;
  • simple controls;
  • built-in milk frother;
  • heating tray for the cups;
  • single and double filter baskets.
8Check current price on Amazon

Our Reviews of the Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Best Overall – Editor’s Pick

Breville

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine BES870XL
  • 15 bars of pressure;
  • thermocoil heating system;
  • stainless steel construction;
  • PID temperature control system;
  • pre-infusion function.

The Breville belongs to the best espresso machines under $1,000 and combines affordability, versatility, and quality.

One of the coolest things about this model is temperature control. Not only does it brew at optimal temperatures, but also adjusts the water after using the steam wand.

The Breville is a great espresso machine for different levels of experience. It gives the users plenty of control but does some adjustments on its own to brew the best espressos. Plus, it heats up and brews coffee fast, which is ideal for busy mornings. And with a handy steam wand, you will be able to enjoy multiple beverages.

ProsCons
Quality materials, durableMight require a learning curve if you are a beginner
Maintains an optimal temperatureRequires frequent cleaning, especially if you use harsh water
Easy to clean
Heats up fast
15 bars of pressure for proper extraction
Includes multiple accessories

All in all, the Breville is a worthy find. Despite some minor flaws, it has a lot to offer and can become your most favorite device in the kitchen.

Best Budget Pick

De’Longhi (EC155)

De’Longhi-EC155
  • 15-bar pump;
  • works with espresso pods;
  • self-priming operation;
  • two thermostats;
  • stainless steel boiler.

If you’re looking for a good espresso machine that won’t tear a hole in your budget, the De’Longhi would be ideal. This compact device comes at a very attractive price and delivers impressive results.

This model works with both pre-ground coffee and espresso pods. The easy-serve pods make brewing and cleaning much easier and would be ideal for busy coffee lovers.

It’s also one of the cheapest top-rated latte machines, as the De’Longhi comes with a swiveling steam wand. It allows users to make that silky froth ideal for lattes and cappuccinos. This model uses separate thermostats for brewing and frothing, which speeds up the process and helps maintain an optimal brewing temperature.

ProsCons
Budget-friendlyLimited space below the nozzle, might not accommodate taller cups
Easy to use, compatible with espresso podsMight drip water when you switch to the steam mode, which means you will need to wait for a second before immersing the steam wand into the milk
Dual thermostat for faster operation
Maintains an optimal brewing temperature
Fast heat-up

Despite some minor flaws, this model has a lot to offer, especially given its affordability and functionality.

Best Durability

Gaggia Classic Pro (RI9380/46)

Gaggia Classic Pro RI9380-46
  • brushed stainless steel housing;
  • rotating steam wand;
  • chrome-plated brass portafilter;
  • three-way solenoid valve;
  • removable water reservoir and drip tray.

The next item on our list of the best semi-automatic espresso machines is this sturdy device by Gaggia. If you are looking for superb durability, it’s your “guy”.

The Gaggia’s steam wand is removable, which means you will have no problem trying to clean it properly.

The rugged construction and commercial-grade parts aren’t the only things the Classic Pro can boast of. This machine brews excellent espressos, maintains proper pressure, and supports the needed temperature throughout the process.

ProsCons
Solid, durable constructionThe metal drip tray has sharp edges and should be handled carefully
Simple controls, suited for different levels of experienceSome occasional dripping from the steam wand is possible when not in use
Easy to clean
Shows consistent results
Integrated steam wand for a variety of beverages

All things considered, the Gaggia is a real gem. This machine was built to last and to impress.

Best for Small Kitchens

Brewsly

Brewsly
  • 15-bar pressure;
  • dual filter holder;
  • separate temperature controls for brewing and steaming;
  • removable water tank;
  • heated cup holder.

The Brewsly is one of the best semi-automatic espresso machines that would fit into any kitchen thanks to its compact size. Plus, it makes delicious beverages!

This machine has 2 separate temperature settings for brewing and steaming milk. This way, the Brewsly always maintains optimal conditions for proper espresso extraction.

Despite being rather small, this model comes with everything you might need to make your favorite beverages. There’s an adjustable steam wand for lattes, a warming tray for your cups, and a removable drip tray to accommodate taller mugs.

ProsCons
Compact profile, great for smaller kitchensThe beverages might not be hot enough for some coffee lovers
Well-builtMight seem too loud to some users
Integrated steam wand and cup warmer 
Temperature adjustments to main a proper brew 
Optimal pressure for espresso extraction 
Affordable and offers good value for money 

Overall, the Brewsly deserves your attention, especially if you are looking for a compact device that can save you some space without sacrificing the beverage quality.

Best for Beginners

EspressoWorks

EspressoWorks All-in-One Espresso Machine
  • 15-bar pressure pump;
  • removable water tank;
  • thermoblock heating system;
  • stainless steel and plastic construction;
  • cup warming tray.

The last item on our list of the best semi-automatic espresso machines is not just one device but a huge bundle. The EspressoWorks is perfect for beginners as it doesn’t cost that much but includes everything you may need to start your brewing journey.

What’s great about this set is that it includes a grinder. This will allow you to grind the beans right before brewing and enjoy the richest, freshest beverages.

The EspressoWorks is relatively easy to use and has simple controls. This machine uses 15 bars of pressure to extract proper espressos. Additionally, there’s an adjustable steam wand for manual frothing. The set includes a stainless steel frothing cup as well.

ProsCons
Comes with all the needed accessories and offers great value for moneyThe blade grinder doesn’t always guarantee a uniform coarseness
Easy to use, suitable for beginnersThe beverages might not be hot enough for some users
Has a cup heating tray to keep your espressos warm longer The filter holder handle is made of plastic and might be prone to breaking
Removable water tank for easy refills
Fast heat-up

To conclude, the EspressoWorks bundle is a great find. It comes with all the extras to brew multiple types of beverages.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines Explained

Most semi-automatic machines have similar construction and include such base components as the water pump, the heating system, the control panel, and the portafilter (1). Some also come with an integrated steam wand that allows users to froth milk and make multiple espresso-based beverages.  Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines Explained

Source: https://www.espressoplanet.com/espresso-coffee-machine/semi_automatic_buyers_guide.html

Now, not every espresso machine can be called semi-automatic. This type gives users more control over the process. You will need to grind the beans according to your preferred coarseness, tamp the grounds, and pull the shot. With a semi-automatic model, you will be able to control the extraction time, as such machines require you to turn the water pump off when you’re done brewing. And that’s probably one of the main reasons why such espresso machines are becoming more and more popular for home use. They are suitable for different experience levels and can help beginner baristas learn more about the brewing process. As for more experienced users, semi-automatic models give them more control over their brew, guaranteeing all the needed conditions for a perfect shot of espresso. espresso-machine

Source: https://teletype.in/@consumergoods/ryoVANoFS

How Are Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines Different from Other Coffee Makers?

To understand what makes semi-automatic espresso machines stand out from the crowd, we need to take a quick look at other types.

Manual

This type gives users absolute control over each shot. With a manual espresso machine, you need to heat the water to a needed temperature, grind the beans, tamp the grounds, and manually pull the shot by using the lever. 

For beginners, such an approach can be challenging and might require a long learning curve. But for more experienced users, a manual espresso machine is a real treasure as it can help them achieve a perfect flavor and taste by controlling every step of the process.

Super-Automatic

These espresso machines do all the work automatically, as you have probably guessed. A super-automatic espresso maker would grind the beans, tamp the grounds, and pull a shot for you according to the programmed settings. What makes these machines great is that they typically maintain an optimal brewing temperature. Plus, they allow for a completely fuss-free brewing process (2), ideal for hasty mornings.

Capsule

You are probably familiar with this type, as capsule Nespresso machines are quite popular. They don’t actually brew real espressos, but many users prefer these machines for their functionality and ease of use. 

Capsule coffee makers use coffee pods and force the hot water through those to brew coffee. Such machines operate with a touch of a button and don’t require any effort on your part. However, they can’t make real espressos, even if you pick the “bold brew” option.

The Perks of Using a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Sometimes, new users aren’t sure whether they should invest in a semi-automatic espresso machine. If you are one of them, allow me to share what advantages you might enjoy when using one of these coffee brewers:
  • Ease of use. Yes, this aspect is relative, and many beginner baristas will not agree with me. But hear me out: even though some steps of the process depend solely on you, semi-automatic espresso machines are not that hard to use. If you don’t have any experience, you will need to experiment with the extraction time and grind coarseness to achieve the best flavor. But the rest is pretty straightforward.
  • Functionality. Most semi-automatic espresso machines use at least 9 bars of pressure needed to extract a proper espresso. Some of them come with an integrated grinder, so if you get yourself one of the best espresso machines with a grinder, you will be able to make beverages fast and with less effort. Plus, most of them feature a built-in steam wand or a milk frother, allowing users to make more types of beverages.
  • Adjustability and freedom to experiment. That’s my favorite thing about semi-automatic espresso machines. They give users the freedom to try different configurations and, consequently, different espresso flavors. The extraction time and the grind coarseness can change the way your espressos taste even if you experiment with minor variations. This gives coffee lovers an opportunity to find out what they prefer exactly. Plus, with a handy steam wand, you will be able to experiment with dozens of other beverages.
  • Fast operation. A good espresso machine takes less than a minute to heat up and around 30 seconds to pull an espresso shot. Additionally, if your machine has a double boiler, you will even be able to extract coffee and steam milk at the same time, which can speed up the process greatly.

What Beverages Can You Make with a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine?

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a top-rated semi-automatic espresso machine and use it for one beverage only, I’ve got good news for you. If you get yourself a model with an integrated steam wand (and most of them do come with it), you will be able to enjoy a bit more, including:
  • Ristretto. If you appreciate the boldness of espressos, you are going to love ristretto. This beverage uses the same amount of grounds as espresso but half the amount of water. The result is super strong, super rich, and a bit intense. It’s not everyone’s “cup of tea”, but if you enjoy strong beverages, you might want to try brewing a shot of ristretto with your new espresso machine.
  • Cappuccino. Now, cappuccino may vary slightly depending on where it’s prepared, but for the most part, this beverage is an espresso + steamed milk + foamed milk (3). The ratio is usually one-third of espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam (dense and silky rather than airy).
  • Latte. Similar to the previous beverage, latte requires more steamed milk and typically has a thinner layer of foam (4). The most common “recipe” involves one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk, and a foam topping (less than half of an inch, usually). Lattes taste creamy and not as strong. That’s why many coffee lovers use latte as a base for flavored beverages (cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, hazelnut, and so on).
  • Flat White. Think of it as cappuccino’s brother. Flat White uses less milk and a double shot of espresso, which makes it taste stronger. The typical ratio is 1 part espresso and 3 parts steamed milk, with a thin layer of micro foam on top.
  • Americano. Ideal for those who love espressos but want to enjoy their coffee for longer than 30 seconds, Americanos are bold, rich, but slightly diluted. To make an Americano, you need to brew a shot of espresso and add an equal amount of hot water to it. If you pour carefully, you might even preserve the espresso’s crema.
  • Lungo. To brew yourself a cup of lungo, you need to pull your regular espresso using double the amount of water for extraction. This might take you more time (typically up to a minute). The beverage might taste a bit bitter, which many coffee enthusiasts like.
  • Macchiato. If you want to add a touch of creaminess to your espresso but still wish to feel its rich body and aroma, a macchiato would be ideal. All you have to do is brew a shot of espresso and add 1-2 teaspoons of steamed milk to it.
  • Mocha. This beverage is perfect for everyone who has a sweet tooth. To make a mocha using your semi-automatic espresso machine, you need to pull a shot of espresso, add chocolate syrup or powder, and top that off with around 2-3 oz. of steamed milk. Traditionally, mocha is served with added milk foam or whipped cream.
And here’s the best part: the list is not limited. Just use your imagination and don’t restrict your experiments. You can try caramel cappuccinos, cinnamon Americanos, and even a homemade pumpkin spice latte. Whatever your heart desires, you can get it as long as it’s an espresso-based beverage.

How to Pick the Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine: Buyer’s Guide

One of the most efficient ways to shop for a new semi-automatic espresso machine is by doing your research beforehand. Consider the most important aspects, and you will easily narrow down the list of options to the most suitable ones:
  • Size. Clearly, this aspect will depend on your counter space. Luckily, semi-automatic brewers come in different sizes, and there’s a suitable model for any kitchen. Keep in mind that smaller machines would have smaller water tanks, which means frequent refills. Also, consider the height of your desired coffee maker. Many of them emit steam when brewing (and even more when frothing milk), so you might not be able to use one of them under wooden cabinets.
  • Bars of pressure. For proper espressos, you need at least 9 bars of pressure. However, there are many models on the market that allow for up to 15 bars.
  • Grinder. Now, this isn’t a necessity, but some models come with an integrated grinder. The best part is that most of them use burr grinders, which are much more functional when it comes to espressos. However, such models are more expensive. If you decide to buy a grinder separately, try to steer away from blade ones. Yes, they are much cheaper, but it’s hard to achieve a uniform coarseness with such type. Plus, they don’t really allow for coarseness adjustments. A good burr grinder will allow you to pick an appropriate coarseness for espressos, plus it will make consistently uniform grounds.
  • Steam wand. A steam wand is a must if you love lattes or cappuccinos. Most of them are controlled manually (if we’re talking about semi-automatic espresso machines) and can guarantee great results once you get the hang of it. A good range of motion and swiveling would be ideal, as such a design would allow for precise frothing. And finally, pay attention to the steam holes. There should be at least 2 of them (but 3 or 4 are more preferable).
  • Price. Good espresso machines under $200 can brew a decent beverage, but they usually have limited functionality, and the espresso quality is not ideal (according to the standards). Therefore, you might want to invest in something slightly more expensive. For home use and great results, anything between $500 and $1,000 would suffice. That’s the category semi-automatic espresso machines typically fall into. Anything higher than $1,000 would probably be either fully automatic or commercial-use.
  • Boiler. When it comes to semi-automatic espresso machines, you have two options: single and dual boiler. The former uses one heater for the brewing process and to power the steam wand. The latter, as you have probably guessed, has two separate boilers for these two processes. The main perk of using a double-boiler system is that you can brew espressos and steam milk simultaneously. This can save you some time if you’re in a rush or need to make a few cappuccinos at once. With a single boiler, you will have to pull your espresso first and then steam the milk (and wait for the steam wand to heat up properly). So, if you are a solo user, a single boiler would suffice. However, for a family of coffee lovers, a dual-boiler system would be more suitable (if you plan to make more than just espressos).
  • Build quality. This is when you need to pay attention to the materials. Some of the best Italian espresso machines typically use high-grade steel or brass. However, you can find many high-quality models among other manufacturers. Just make sure you stay away from brewers that have way too many plastic parts. Those aren’t likely to be very durable.
  • Ease of use. Generally, most semi-automatic espresso machines are relatively easy to use, but many of them require a slight learning curve. Naturally, some may take you longer to get used to, especially if those models involve endless tinkering with the settings. That’s an important aspect to consider if you are new to the world of espresso machines. To save yourself from frustration, you can check other users’ reviews to get a general idea of how much experience your desired brewer requires. You can even learn about any potential complications you might face when learning.
  • Water tank. Each espresso machine has its water capacity. Smaller models require more frequent refills and might not be ideal for avid coffee drinkers or large families of coffee lovers. Keep in mind that some espresso machines are compatible with plumbing kits, which means they can be connected to your home water supply. This little trick can save you some time on the refills, but remember that using tap water for espressos isn’t ideal. It can be very harsh in some regions and might alter the taste of your beverages. Additionally, harsh water can lead to calcium build-up inside the machine and affect its performance (and lifespan).
  • Maintenance. Automatic descaling is always a huge plus, so keep your eye open for that. Some models also come with removable parts for easier cleaning (and some of those parts might even be dishwasher safe). Again, reading the reviews can help you understand how demanding your desired espresso machine will be in terms of maintenance.

Conclusion

It’s the perfect time to be a coffee enthusiast. We have all the equipment in the world to enjoy our favorite beverage. And when picking the top-notch semi-automatic espresso machines, let’s not forget to check the bar pressure and the materials used. You might also want to pay attention to the steam wand (if you love cappuccinos too). And, of course, read other shoppers’ reviews to see how hard (or easy) the machine is to maintain. As for me, I was impressed by the Breville the most. This little machine has a lot of potential. It maintains the needed pressure and the optimal temperature, making sure all your espressos turn out rich and flavorful. Plus, it’s nicely made and promises durability. It might require some tinkering with the settings or experimenting with the extraction time, but it’s worth the effort. Ready to get your new espresso machine? Which one caught your eye? Let us know in the comments!

References

  1. Karim Nice (May 17, 2001). How Espresso Machines Work. Retrieved from https://home.howstuffworks.com/espresso-machine3.htm
  2. Jeffrey Van Camp (July 21, 2019). Are Super Automatic Espresso Machines Worth It? Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/automatic-espresso-machines/
  3. Lindsey Goodwin (September 28, 2019). History of the Cappuccino. Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/history-of-the-cappuccino-765833
  4. Myo Quinn (June 22, 2020). How to Make a Classic Latte at Home. Retrieved from https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/cooking/a32896369/how-to-make-a-latte/

Yurii Brown

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