Semi-automatic espresso machines are just that—semi-automatic. Some of the steps are automated, but many are not. This allows the user to put their personal stamp on the final product but without doing some of the tedious steps that are involved in making an espresso on the stove top. Here’s a look at some of the features that make a semi-automatic espresso machine such a great pickup for the ultimate espresso lover:
Prior to the introduction of pre-measured self-contained ground coffee filter rings, fresh coffee grounds were measured out in scoopfuls and placed into the metal percolator basket. This process enabled small amounts of coffee grounds to leak into the fresh coffee. Additionally, the process left wet grounds in the percolator basket, which were very tedious to clean. The benefit of the Max Pax coffee filter rings was two-fold: First, because the amount of coffee contained in the rings was pre-measured, it negated the need to measure each scoop and then place it in the metal percolator basket. Second, the filter paper was strong enough to hold all the coffee grounds within the sealed paper. After use, the coffee filter ring could be easily removed from the basket and discarded. This saved the consumer from the tedious task of cleaning out the remaining wet coffee grounds from the percolator basket.
“I actually didn’t start drinking coffee on a regular, daily basis until four or five years ago. I got hooked on the smoothness and low acidity of cold-brewed coffee, and for the longest time, my ritual each morning was to visit Gimme! near my house on Lorimer. Recently, though, I’ve started making cold brew myself at home with the OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker. It’s not a true drip-coffee machine, but I’ve been very happy with this piece of equipment — it lets me tinker with different beans and concentrations, and produces enough cold brew to last me two weeks at a time. It also stacks compactly for storage, which is an absolute requirement for my tiny New York apartment.” — Dennis Ngo, caterer at Lonestar Empire
The OXO On 12-Cup feels high-tech without being high maintenance. It’s beautifully constructed, with silicone gaskets, a stainless steel carafe, and sturdy-feeling plastic. But let’s go ahead and get its biggest downside right out there in the open. Of the 10 machines we tested, it took the longest to brew eight cups of coffee — nearly 15 minutes. It heats its entire reservoir of water to temperature before a drop touches the grounds, and if you’re jonesing for a full pot to start off your day, that wait is going to feel like a lifetime. This was particularly noticeable considering four of the machines we tested brewed the same amount of coffee in less than half that time. The Bunn BTX-B Velocity Brew could do it in three minutes flat.
"Great machine for the price. I spent a good amount of time researching for an espresso and latte machine. I looked over different brands and costs and while I agree this is not a expensive or professional machine, it does make great espressos and lattes. Very easy to use and clean and definitely love the taste. My daughter loves the hot chocolate with frothed milk and even my wife likes her cappuccinos. I read a few reviews regarding water leaks and I can't see this to be a problem, it's more on if the water tank is inserted properly. I also have a Kerrigan machine and they both are almost the same size. One more thing, the machine starts and warms water faster (no more than a 5-7 minutes). Definitely a great buy so far. If you are looking for a decent price and great coffee maker this is the one for you."
The Mr. Coffee brand of coffee makers is a straightforward machine that is affordable. If you want something with more power that will consistently make a fantastic cup of coffee, consider the Zojirushi coffee maker with four warming plate settings that will let you make iced as well as hot coffee. Not only that, but it's a coffee maker that makes a statement on your counter.
CR’s take: This unassuming, inexpensive Hamilton Beach coffee maker might be easy to miss, but it can brew a mean cup of joe at a fantastic price. In a basic black-plastic finish, it has the essentials—it’s programmable and offers auto-shutoff—and it offers solid brew performance in a decent time frame (10 minutes). Hamilton Beach machines even earned a Very Good rating for predicted reliability. At around $25, this simple model will get the job done.
CR’s take: The Cuisinart Coffee on Demand is a self-serve model. It stores 12 cups of brewed coffee in a reservoir and has a dispenser instead of a carafe. It makes sense in homes where people are drinking coffee at different times; it keeps coffee hot and ready, so family and guests can fill their own cups. This model is programmable and features a water filter and a cleaning indicator. The reservoir can be removed for washing. In our tests, the Coffee on Demand performs quite well, receiving a Very Good rating for convenience. At less than $100, it can be a terrific choice for entertaining.
Drip-style coffee makers already have a bit of a flavor handicap when compared with other brewing methods, like pour-over and French press, which give coffee drinkers ultimate control over every aspect of the brewing (and therefore extraction) process. This makes it even more important to select a high-quality coffee bean for your at-home drip coffee maker. To learn more, we spoke with Saadat Awan at Woodcat Coffee in Los Angeles.
While we love the all-inclusive features of the Breville, there’s one thing it can’t do on its own, at least not without a hefty repair bill. If you love dark roasts, any machine that features an internal grinder is off-limits. The oily shine characteristic of dark roasts builds up in any grinder — but while you can disassemble and clean standalone grinders, this is rarely an option for internal ones. The residual oil left in an internal grinder will, at best, give future shots a rancid flavor. At worst, the oil will clog the grinder. If you want to brew dark roasts on the Breville, plan on buying a separate grinder.
For the cappuccino lover in the house, its patented system mixes steam and milk to create a rich froth. All you have to do is stick a container of milk under the nozzle and let it go to work. Then pour as much as that creamy goodness on top of your coffee as you like. For espresso aficionados, the patented "direct-to-brew" system is key. Remember what we said above about the burr grinder? The Magnifica also comes with a built-in burr, which grinds your favorite beans immediately before brewing for maximum freshness. (If you prefer, it also works with pre-ground beans.) The machine has an instant reheat function which keeps it at the perfect temperature, so you don't have to wait for your machine to reheat if you decide to go for that second cup (no matter how long you wait after the first.) The Magnifica has a 1.8 liter removable water container and a 7.1 ounce bean container. To keep things simple, everything happens at the push of a button: choose from five different espresso strengths, cup size, and determine the fineness of the grind.
‡Pre-Infusing: Pre-infusing is a technique where the dry coffee grounds are initially saturated with hot water, allowing a “bloom” of carbon dioxide to escape. This 45-second(ish) process puts hot water into contact with more surface area around each ground throughout the brewing process, as it’s no longer competing with the escaping gas bubbles. It can improve the quality of the final product, since this more uniform contact creates a more even extraction. It’s a feature that six of the 10 pots we tested incorporated into their designs — as well as all four of our top picks.
Before we get into the technical aspects of the two types of espresso machines, here’s what you really need to know. Semi-automatic espresso machines are going to be perfect for the espresso connoisseur. If you’re the type that really wants to get the best-quality and taste out of your espresso machine and don’t mind taking a little more time and effort out of your schedule, the semi-automatic espresso maker is going to be for you. It’s a little bit more work, but the key here is that you ultimately have more control over every subtle nuance that goes into your version of the perfect shot of espresso with a semi-automatic.
The Breville Barista Express comes with everything you need to pull great espresso. A built-in grinder lets you adjust grind coarseness, and changing the amount of ground coffee that you want in your shot is easy: Simply turn a dial or press the portafilter firmly against the dispensing cradle. A button at the back allows you to dose as much or as little coffee as you wish.
Brewing coffee has never been easier with this Black & Decker 12-Cup Switch Coffee maker. With the switch of a button, you’re coffee will start brewing into the reinforced glass Duralife™ carafe with a comfort grip handle. Grab a cup of coffee on the go with the Sneak-A-Cup™ feature, otherwise your coffee will be ready when you are with the Keep Warm carafe nonstick carafe plate.
With its mid-century design and an exposed reservoir, you'll want to leave the Moccamaster out on the counter even when it’s not in use. But it doesn't just look great. Indeed, the pricey Moccamaster brews a complex and smooth pot of coffee that ranked highest in our taste test. This machine also fills a full pot quickly—a necessity for the morning rush.
CR’s take: If you’re an aficionado of fresh ground coffee, this Black+Decker is the brewer to buy. As the name suggests, the Mill & Brew goes that extra mile, grinding whole coffee beans just before brewing. As a result, the machine is capable of making a great pot of coffee. Made of plastic with stainless steel accents, this model is easy to use and to clean, earning a Very Good rating in our convenience tests. It allows you to adjust brew strength, and it’s programmable, so you can set it to grind and brew just before you wake up.