Espresso Coffee Machine Buying Guide
Which Type of Espresso Machine? Super Automatic versus pod versus Semi Automatic
The first thing to decide when buying an espresso machine for home or office is whether to buy a super automatic, a pod machine or a semi automatic. A super automatic will grind the coffee, extract the espresso and even froth the milk with the touch of a button. Popular brands include Saeco, Miele and De Longhi. A semi automatic is the type used by baristas in coffee shops. When using a semi automatic, the "barista" must grind the coffee using a separate coffee grinder then prepare the portafilter with the freshly ground coffee, extract the espresso using the semi automatic espresso machine and finally texture the milk with the espresso machine. The super automatic is relatively easy to use but here's the catch:
If the semi automatic espresso machine and coffee grinder combination is used by someone who has undertaken some basic coffee training (for example Jetblack's Home Barista Group Course) the resultant coffee will be superior to the beverage prepared by the super automatic coffee machine.
Think about it this way: If the super automatic coffee machines made coffee as good as semi automatic machines, coffee shops wouldn't need to hire baristas and wouldn't need those shiny Italian semi automatic espresso machines! So choose super automatic for convenience. Choose Semi Automatic if the quality of the coffee is the most important requirement.
Pod machines are becoming more popular. In practice, the coffee they produce is worse that super automatic coffee. This is mainly due to ground coffee being stale minutes after it is ground. If you are after a no-fuss coffee solution, we recommend a super auto whole bean machine over a pod machine. But if you're after cafe quality coffee at home, you need a compact version of the same machines your cafe uses - the type of machines that we specialise in!
How important is a Coffee Grinder?
If we had to choose between either having a coffee grinder or having an espresso machine but not both, we would choose the coffee grinder! With a coffee grinder we could still enjoy freshly brewed coffee (plunger, pour-over, stove top, aeropress etc). But with an espresso machine and no grinder, we would be forced to use pre-ground coffee which is unavoidably stale. There would be a lack of crema and the flavour would be flat and dull. Sound familiar? Perhaps you've had this type of coffee at cafe's that pre-grind their coffee and then leave it in their coffee grinder dosers to go stale. Here is something you need to understand about coffee:
Ground coffee is stale within minutes! You can't make great espresso at home - or anywhere for that matter - without a quality burr coffee grinder.
If you don't already have a quality burr coffee grinder, have a look at the Coffee Grinder Buying Guide
Single Boiler, Heat Exchanger or Dual Boiler?
An espresso machine has two main functions: 1. To create Espresso and 2. To steam milk. Heat exchanger and twin boiler machines can extract espresso and steam milk simultaneously. A single boiler machine can do one or the other and then must be switched to the other function - which usually takes about a minute. If the machine is only required to make one or two coffees at a time or only ever black coffees a single boiler machine will be adequate. However, to make several milk coffees in quick succession, a heat exchanger or dual boiler machine will be required.
Heat exchanger and dual boiler machines are both able to make espresso and steam milk simultaneously. The choice of heat exchanger versus dual boiler usually comes down to personal preference. Some prefer heat exchanger machines because the water used for brewing does not make direct contact with the boiler element and does not sit in the boiler for an extended amount of time. Others prefer the twin boiler configuration because the temperature of the brew water can be controlled and they generally heat up faster.
Volumetric or Manual?
A volumetric machine will deliver a pre-programmed volume of water through the coffee grounds. With the touch of a button, the machine will start brewing and then stop automatically when enough espresso has been brewed. To brew an espresso on a manual machine the barista must start the brewing process and stop it when enough espresso has been brewed. In practice, this is a reasonably simple process.
This is where there really is a choice to make. The answer will depend on your preferences, bench space available, decor to some extent and budget. Browse our shop as a starting point. But then talk to one of our Espresso Machine experts for great advice with no obligation - contact us now.