When you’re looking for a coffee machine for home use, a semi-automatic espresso machine is one of the most common choices but why is that?
We’ll be looking into this issue today but before anything else, what is a semi-automatic machine and why should you care?
- Our Top 5 Picks for Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
- What are Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines?
- Benefits of Semi-Automatic Espresso (The Best Espresso Machine For Personal and Home Use)
- What Drinks Can You Brew With a Semi-Automatic Machine Besides Regular Espresso?
- 10 Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
- 1. Breville The Barista Express Espresso MachineOur #1 Pick
- 2. Mr Coffee Café Barista Coffee and Espresso Maker
- 3. Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
- 4. Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine
- 5. DeLonghi America Lattissima Pro Espresso Machine
- 6. Breville The Infuser Espresso Machine
- 7. Mr Coffee One-Touch Espresso Maker and Cappuccino Machine
- 8. DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine
- 9. DeLonghi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
- 10. EspressoWorks Espresso Machine and Cappuccino Maker
- Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Buyer’s Guide
Our Top 5 Picks for Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
What are Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines?
Semi-automatics might vary in terms of specifics but they share some common features:
- A boiler
- A portafilter
- A switch for activating and deactivating the pump for extraction
It’s that latter element that accounts for the “semi” prefix. Despite the other features being nicely automated, you’ll still retain control over extraction time. In this sense, a semi-automatic works best if you’ve got at least a little knowledge about coffee in place or you’re prepared to experiment and learn.
With this type of machine, you’ll need to use a portafilter so that’s something else you’ll need to get to grips with.
Portafilters come in two main variants:
A pressurized portafilter comes with a valve that stops water coming out until a designated amount of pressure has been reached. If you’ve got a slightly uneven grind or you’ve failed to tamp perfectly, a pressurized portafilter will compensate for this. If you don’t have a grinder or you use pre-ground coffee, this makes a neat solution.
Non-pressurized portafilters are larger and normally made from chrome or sometimes chrome-plated brass. While harder to use and more technical, you’ll have the potential to extract a stunning shot once you’re accustomed to it.
While the occasional semi-automatic machine comes with an integrated grinder, this is the exception rather than the rule.
Most semi-automatic machines come with a traditional steam wand that calls for you to put in a little physical effort in order to work the milk into shape. As with all aspects of making sterling espresso, you’ll face a small learning curve but it’s not too steep or difficult to negotiate.
One of the most frequently asked questions we get here at La Mano Coffee is why you should bother choosing this type of machine in the first place. Well, we’ll underscore the leading benefits of semi-automatics right now.
Remember: Our goal here today is not to coerce you into buying a semi-automatic machine if it doesn’t make the best fit for you. These machines are absolutely not ideal for everyone. Double down on your needs and requirements. Establish for sure if you’re prepared to put in a little legwork and effort on the trail of the best espresso before committing to purchase.
Benefits of Semi-Automatic Espresso (The Best Espresso Machine For Personal and Home Use)
- Most features are automated for your ease of use: With the vast bulk of functionality totally automated, you’ve got the hard work done for you
- Flexibility over extraction time: Despite most of the workaday elements of making espresso being automated, a semi-automatic affords you complete control over extraction time. As long as you’re comfortable with learning a new skill, you’ll soon be relishing that extra control that you can’t find on a fully-automatic or super-automatic machine
- Some boilers allow for simultaneous brewing and extraction: Depending on the type of boiler – we’ll look at this in more detail down below – you could enjoy the freedom to brew at the same time as you’re steaming. This can save you some precious when you’re rushing around in the morning
If you decide to invest in one of these highly capable machines, will you be limited to espresso only or can you also rack up alternative drinks?
What Drinks Can You Brew With a Semi-Automatic Machine Besides Regular Espresso?
The vast majority of semi-automatic espresso machines allow you the scope to make longer and creamier drinks.
Look for an onboard milk frother which can help you to make a range of drinks including:
- Regular coffee
With that basic groundwork in place, we’ll push straight on with our capsule reviews of the 10 strongest semi-automatics in a crowded marketplace.
10 Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
1. Breville The Barista Express Espresso MachineOur #1 Pick
The Barista Express is arguably Breville’s finest semi-automatic machine but why is that?
Well, for short, strong shots the way the Italians love them, you’ll get things started right with the onboard grinder.
The precise digital control gives you the temperature you need for the ideal espresso while the manual wand allows you to create foam just the way you want it.
Pros: PID temperature control. Onboard conical burr grinder. Single or double shots. Manual steam wand for great control. Striking design makes a real statement.
Cons: No low water indicator.
The Bottom Line: A compact and powerful way to get great espresso at home without spending a fortune.
2. Mr Coffee Café Barista Coffee and Espresso Maker
Not all semi-automatic espresso machines need to cost a fortune and Mr Coffee’s classic Café Barista proves that in fine style.
You’ll get all the pressure you need for a wonderfully extracted espresso. You’ll also be able to avail yourself of longer, creamier coffees.
For push-button simplicity and coffee the way it should be, give this fine budget machine a chance and you won’t be disappointed.
Pros: Outstanding value. Makes cappuccino and latte as well as espresso. Simple one-touch operation. Generous accessory bundle.
Cons: Build quality is questionable. Fairly flimsy feel.
The Bottom Line: If you’re looking for great espresso on a budget, the Café Barista is one of the finest options at your disposal.
3. Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
Rancilio make some show-stopping commercial espresso machines. While designed for home use, the Silvia nevertheless borrows some of these commercial components to deliver remarkable espresso and equally impressive build quality.
If you’re OK with the stripped-down brutalist design, you’ll get mouthwatering coffee with push-button ease even if you’re a complete beginner.
While you’ll need to dig deep, you’ll get a machine that’s built to stay the distance while performing impeccably every day.
Pros: Some commercial components. Exceptional brand heritage. Articulating steam wand. Pod/capsule kit available. Compact form factor.
Cons: Costly. Utilitarian aesthetic not to everyone’s taste.
The Bottom Line: For a potent and precise semi-automatic espresso machine from a brand you can rely on, the Silvia is not cheap but the best things in life seldom are.
4. Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine
Achille Gaggia invented the precursor of the modern espresso machine and the company is still going from strength to strength today.
Invest in the Classic Pro and you’ll benefit from a commercial build without the five-figure price tag.
As with any respectable semi-automatic, ease of use is uppermost with some simple rocker switches making this machine ideal even if you’re not particularly tech-savvy.
Pros: Many commercial parts for a rugged, uncompromising build. Solid brand heritage. Super-simple to use.
Cons: Quality control sometimes lacking so check your package closely upon arrival.
The Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a rock-solid semi-automatic that’s priced reasonably, the Gaggia Classic Pro is hard to beat.
5. DeLonghi America Lattissima Pro Espresso Machine
Nespresso have a number of partnerships with major brands like DeLonghi and the America Lattissima is a rebadged Nespresso machine at its finest.
Making coffee doesn’t get much easier and you won’t be troubled by any messy clean-up either.
19 bars of pressure give you delicious and well-extracted espresso at the push of a button. What’s not to love?
Pros: Slimline and narrow footprint. Convenience of Nespresso capsules. Automatic milk dispenser simplifies operation.
Cons: Quite a lot of plastic on display.
The Bottom Line: If you want the plug-and-play simplicity of a pod-based system, Nespresso is the go-to option for coffee lovers the world over. Why not treat yourself?
6. Breville The Infuser Espresso Machine
Breville make a broad and deep range of reliable, effective coffee machines. If you’re looking for first-class espresso, The Infuser delivers immaculately.
PID temperature control and volumetric dosing take the sting out of operation and automates the main processes so making espresso couldn’t be much easier.
Finish off your drinks with the manual frother so you won’t relinquish control in pursuit of convenience.
Pros: Pre-infusion gets things started the right way. Thermocoil heating system. Volumetric dosing and manual override. Solid build and commanding design.
Cons: Fairly bulky. Not cheap but currently heavily discounted.
The Bottom Line: The Infuser from Breville gives you everything you need to get top-tier espresso without needing to leave home or take out a bank loan.
7. Mr Coffee One-Touch Espresso Maker and Cappuccino Machine
Mr Coffee makes highly affordable espresso machines and this One-Touch model also allows you to make cappuccino if you prefer your coffee longer and milkier.
The automatic frother might remove a little control but makes your life so much easier.
If you’re looking for coffee that calls for very little effort but doesn’t stiff you with a low-quality drink, the Mr Coffee One-Touch is well worth popping on your shortlist.
Pros: 19 bars of pressure for great extraction. Automatic milk frother. Single or double shots of espresso. Accommodates taller travel mugs.
Cons: Build quality and lifespan are slightly disappointing.
The Bottom Line: For a straightforward super-automatic at a keen price-point, the Mr Coffee One-Touch punches above its weight.
8. DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine
If you’re looking for an all-powerful semi-automatic espresso machine from a brand you can trust, it’s got to be DeLonghi.
With incredibly simple operation and a smart tamping station that means your kitchen won’t end up looking like a battleground, you’ll get all the hard work done for you.
From espresso to Americano to straight-up coffee, you’re spoiled for choice with a single potent appliance. Go ahead and bring the coffee shop home to you.
Pros: Smart tamping station minimizes mess. Make a range of drinks beyond espresso. Starts up in seconds flat.
Cons: Substantial unit so make sure you’ve got enough space on the counter.
The Bottom Line: If you want more than just espresso, this powerful machine from DeLonghi gives you a great spread of choice to complement delectable short shots.
9. DeLonghi Espresso and Cappuccino Maker
If you thought it wasn’t possible to get a cheap and effective espresso maker, think again.
You’ll be able to brew and steam at the same time and you’ll also be able to rack up more than simply short shots. And you can do all this with little more than the push of a button.
Our only real gripe with this machine is the flimsy build but when you look at the price tag, that’s perfectly understandable. As long as you’re not expecting a commercial fit for all-day use, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Pros: Unbeatable overall value. Latte and cappuccino on offer as well as espresso. Dual thermostat allows for simultaneous brewing and steaming.
Cons: Lots of plastic. Feels slightly brittle.
The Bottom Line: For a cheap and cheerful espresso machine that won’t force you to compromise on quality, DeLonghi hits a home run.
10. EspressoWorks Espresso Machine and Cappuccino Maker
While this machine is not the cleanest in terms of design, it packs a considerable punch. If you’ve got the space in your kitchen, the EspressoWorks is well worth the investment.
Espresso machines don’t come much easier to use if you’re prepared to sacrifice a little control.
As easy to clean as it is to use, you’ll be kicking yourself for not adding this appliance to your kitchen sooner.
Pros: Primed and ready for action in less than a minute. Make single or double espresso by punching a button. Add milk for cappuccino and latte.
Cons: Cluttered design. Quite sizeable.
The Bottom Line: If you’re hunting for a multipurpose coffee machine giving you more than just espresso, you’re in safe hands here.
With our reviews put to bed, you now have a decent idea of the most effective machines on the market. We’ll round out by highlighting the areas you should focus on when you’re in buying mode…
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Buyer’s Guide
Assuming you’ve decided on a semi-automatic machine, one of the first elements to look into concerns the sub-type of machine…
- Single Boiler and Dual-Use: Unless you’re spending four figures, a single boiler dual-use machine is the most popular by some distance but what does that mean? Well, although the machine only has one boiler, you’ll benefit from a pair of thermostats. One of these controls the temperature of the water while the other is responsible for the steam for milk. Flipping a switch toggles you from one function to the other. You won’t be able to perform both tasks at the same time
- Single Boiler – Heat Exchanger: Once you hit the thousand-dollar mark, you’ll find more espresso machines come with a single boiler equipped with a heat exchanger. A supersized boiler keeps water at roughly 240 degrees Fahrenheit, the optimum temperature for creating steam. Brewing water travels to the group head via a coiled tube within the boiler. This is the heat exchanger. The key selling point of this type of machine is the freedom you get to brew and steam simultaneously
- Dual-Boiler: Machine s of this sub-class are usually the preserve of much pricier units. A dual-boiler machine has either two separate boilers or a boiler and a thermoblock. As with the heat exchanger variant, simultaneous steaming and brewing presents no problem
There’s absolutely no right or wrong answer here. All that counts is what works best for you and your circumstances. Get this decision right and you’ll have a semi-automatic to last you for years. Get it wrong and you’ll be kicking yourself.
Overall Ease of Use
The next factor to focus on is overall usability and this is quite broad.
Pay close attention to the switches and interface. Make sure everything is simple to use not just for you but for anyone else in your house likely to use it.
As with most aspects of this buying decision, you should personalize it for best results. What your friend considers a snap to use might cause you problems.
We would advise here that even if you plan to buy your machine online, it’s worth checking it out in a store first. Think of this as active window shopping! That way, you can actually get a feel for the machine before handing over your hard-earned dollars. And there’s nothing to say you need to buy from that store. Feel free to make your excuses and leave!
It goes unsaid that you generally get what you pay for with espresso machines just like with any product.
This does not mean that it’s essential to spend a fortune. What we’re saying is that a more expensive machine will normally be built to a much more exacting standard.
Think about build quality relative to price and usage habits. After all, if you only drink the occasional morning espresso, you’ll have wildly differing needs and expectations to someone who presses their machine into action all day every day.
We stopped short of including the precise dimensions of each of these machines, ironically for reasons of space!
If you have a cramped kitchen or you live in a studio apartment where space is at a premium, sidestep the bulkier machines on our list. We draw attention to any models that occupy a substantial footprint so you won’t end up overcrowded.
Since most semi-automatic espresso machines don’t come with an integrated grinder, you’ll need to consider buying a third-party grinder.
While you can obviously use pre-ground coffee in your machine, grinding directly before brewing is key if you want the very best espresso.
We’d strongly recommend looking for a conical burr grinder. These outperform blade grinders by some distance although you’ll need to be prepared to dig deeper for that extra quality.
While design shouldn’t be your motivating factor when you’re hunting for the best semi-automatic espresso machines, it will obviously play some role in your decision.
After all, if two machines perform similarly but you prefer the look of one, that’s what you’ll naturally choose.
Our only advice here is not to base a decision on a machine that offers form at the expense of function.
Price and Overall Value
Rather than purely scoping out the bottom line, you should weigh cost against overall value to maximize your chances of getting the right machine for your needs.
Before closing, what doesn’t matter quite so much when you’re on the buying trail? Sometimes, it’s equally important to be aware of what not to prioritize.
- Bars of pressure: 9 bars of pressure is normally considered the benchmark for making espresso. A common marketing trick for manufacturers is to focus on the amount of pressure available but it’s generally overkill. A machine with 18 bars of pressure will often come with a restrictor valve to cut it back to the 9 bars required. Don’t fall for the marketing hype
- Crema enhancers: None of the machines we review today offers the spurious “crema enhancer”. If you happen to see an espresso machine claiming this function, give it a wide berth. This type of addition will spoil your espresso instead of improving it. Avoid!
- Steam buttons: When you’re steaming, you’ll need the control of a knob to manipulate that steam. Models with a button in place of the knob give you an all-or-nothing experience without the finesse you need to whip up the microfoam you need to crown your drink. Ignore this advice and you’ll certainly come to regret it!
- Froth aiders: A froth aider might get you up and running immediately but it’s really not that difficult to learn. As a quick tip, when you’re frothing, stop introducing air when the temperature hits 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When you get to this point, push the steaming wand well into the milk and continue heating it. With quick and easy tips like that, you’ll soon be creating microfoam like a barista without the unnecessary assistance of a froth aider
If you take your time to think about what really counts for you and your family, you should be able to find the perfect semi-automatic espresso machine without too much trouble.
Well, you now have absolutely no excuse not to find a semi-automatic espresso machine that meshes with your needs.
Don’t forget to bookmark La Mano Coffee. We’ll always tell it how it is and we’ll never conceal the flaws in products from you. We want your kitchen to be equipped with nothing but the finest gear and it’s our mission to help you achieve that the easy way.
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