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Espresso Machine Buying Guide


Choosing between Manual, Semi-Automatic or Super-Automatic

Purchasing an espresso machine can be a substantial investment and requires some important decisions. IDC is committed to helping you make the right choice to meet your needs, lifestyle and budget. We are here to answer any questions you may have or to make suggestions if required. Please review our buying guide below for some general considerations to keep in mind when choosing an espresso machine.

First, we suggest that you read our article on the types of espresso machines; this will give you a better understanding of the general types of machines that will be discussed.

Are you a person who relishes detail? Someone who wants to be a part of espresso extraction process? Someone who appreciates the finer things in life and understands that art takes time and effort? Then a manual piston driven machine might be the choice for you. Manual machines offer the operator the most control over the extraction process and are capable of producing the finest shots of espresso when operated by a skilled Batista. Manual machines are works of art in themselves, they are often made of polished steel, brass or copper; they stand perched decorating your counter top begging to be admired and discussed. Although not commonly used today IDC is respectful of the history of espresso and we do carry some manual machines for the romantics.

The most common espresso machine is some form of semi-automatic. These machines are named such because they have an electric pump that creates the pressure required for a pull of espresso. Semi-automatic machines are also for people who also want more control over their coffee but like the convenience of not having to pull on a lever to create the water pressure. Whereas fully automatic machines take this one step further and also automate the extraction process.

Another very important consideration when purchasing a manual, semi or fully automatic machine is the grinder. Espresso requires finely ground coffee and a decent grinder is an important consideration. Coffee grinders are divided into two types. The first is blade grinders which have two or more blades that rapidly and repeatedly chop the coffee beans into a powder. The downside to blade grinders is inconsistency and heat transfer and the upside is that they are relatively inexpensive. The second type of coffee grinder is a burr grinder. A burr mill or burr grinder is a device to grind hard, small food products between two revolving abrasive surfaces separated by a distance usually set by the user. Burr mills do not heat the ground product by friction as much as blade grinders, and produce particles of a uniform size determined by the separation between the grinding surfaces. High end burr grinders are remarkably consistent in the grinds they produce and feature a wide array of settings from coarse to very fine.

iDrinkCoffee recommends grinding beans just prior to brewing to ensure maximum freshness.

Are you a person who is in a hurry? Someone who just wants great coffee in the morning and wants it fast and easy? Then a super-automatic is the machine for you. A super-automatic machine only requires you to fill the bean hopper and the water tank and then press a button to extract a shot of espresso. The machine will grind the beans, tamper the coffee, and pull the shot for you in a matter of seconds. Now, there are even some high end super-automatics that have a milk reservoir that can foam milk automatically and create cafe lattes, cappuccinos or cafe macchiatos with the press of a single button.

To summarize we have included a chart below to illustrate the steps required to create given types of coffee drinks using the different types of machines.


Manual Semi-Automatic Fully-Automatic Super-Automatic
Espresso 1. Grind Coffee
2. Tamper Coffee
3. Pull Espresso Shot by applying steady pressure on the lever
1. Grind Coffee
2. Tamper Coffee
3. Pull Espresso Shot by regulating water volume
1. Grind Coffee
2. Tamper Coffee
3. Pull Espresso shot by the press of a button
1. Press Button for desired shot
Café Latte,
Latte Macchiato,
Cappuccino
4. Froth Milk using a separate frother
5. Pour Milk into Cup
4. Switch to steam mode and wait approximately 30 seconds*
5. Froth Milk using steam wand
6. Pour Milk into Cup
* Some machines with two boilers do not require switching between steaming and boiling modes.
4. Switch to steam mode and wait approximately 30 seconds*
5. Froth Milk using steam wand
6. Pour Milk into Cup
* Some machines with two boilers do not require switching between steaming and boiling modes.
2. Switch to steam mode and wait approximately 30 seconds*
3. Froth Milk using steam wand**
4. Pour Milk into Cup
* Some machines with two boilers do not require switching between steaming and boiling modes.
** Some machines can froth milk automatically and can create these drinks with just one step
Ease of Use Difficult Moderate Moderate to Easy Easy to Very Easy
Cost Medium Low to Very High Medium to Very High Medium to High

note - all types of machines will require you to fill the water tank if they do not have a direct plumbing connection and super automatic machines will require you to fill the bean hopper, since both only need to be refilled periodically we did not include them in the steps above.


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