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.
“I like the Technivorm Moccamaster because, from a scientific standpoint, it creates the proper water temperature (and temperature consistency) for good extraction of flavor from the beans. That’s the problem with most cheap automatics — they’re inconsistent about temperature. It also has a shower-head design for good water dispersion and saturation of the grounds. It consistently tastes almost (almost, I stress) as good as a manual drip.” — Andrew Chou, engineer, General Motors
"A rare example of the meeting of form and function. This machine is both beautiful to look at and makes wonderful delicious espresso and cappuccino. I was hesitant to spend this much on a "coffee maker", but took into consideration what it costs to get a decent cappuccino from a cafe or Starbucks and finally gave in. Boy am I glad I did. All it takes to get me out of bed in the morning is the happy thought of pulling yet another delicious shot from this wonderful machine."
The gist: This "all-in-one" machine includes pretty much everything you need to make quality espresso, minus the beans. It's Amazon's choice for "espresso and cappuccino maker combos" and has a rating of 4.1 stars. It comes with its own electric bean-grinder, a 1.25 liter removable water tank, a measuring spoon and tamper, a stainless steel filter with two basket options, a stainless steel milk frothing cup, and two 3.6-ounce espresso cups. The machine brews espresso with 15 bars of pressure and with the Thermoblock fast heating system, it's ready to use in 45 seconds. The two portafilter baskets allow you to pull either a single or double shot drink.
This machine is extremely consistent and it brews an excellent espresso or cup of coffee. It also looks like Darth Vader manifested as a coffee machine: it's sleek and black and is definitely what our coffee makers will look like when we're all living on the moon. If your kitchen aesthetic is Space Chic, this machine is for you. It takes the joy and skill out of brewing your own espresso, but it works extremely well and is great for making an almost cafe-quality cup of coffee at home in no time and with very little effort.
“This little coffee maker is PERFECT! So easy and reliable. It works great for a household with little kitchen space and light coffee drinkers. It has upped my coffee intake because it’s so easy to make coffee now! Plus, to be able to have it waiting in the morning and encourage me to actually get out of bed on time is well worth the price of this little machine.”
The Bonavita is a simple, compact machine (about 12 inches x 12 inches) for only $190, and it makes coffee that ranked in the top three in our taste test. Its philosophy seems to be “everything you absolutely need, nothing you don’t.” That means it’s SCAA-certified for water temperature and brew times, boasts pre-infusion capabilities, and has a flat-bottom filter basket that extracts grounds evenly. That’s it.
Semi-automatic machines are not quite as customizable as a manual machine, but they let you play with a lot: You can change the coarseness of the coffee you use, the amount of coffee you add, and how long you pull your shot. Expect a decent learning curve to figure things out, and know that you’ll also need some additional equipment, like a quality coffee grinder.
The piston-driven, or lever-driven, machine was developed in Italy in 1945 by Achille Gaggia, founder of espresso machine manufacturer Gaggia. The design generically uses a lever, pumped by the operator, to pressurize hot water and send it through the coffee grinds. The act of producing a shot of espresso is colloquially termed pulling a shot, because these lever-driven espresso machines required pulling a long handle to produce a shot. Lever-driven espresso machines are sometimes called manual espresso machines because of this.
No one wants to wait in line for espresso, right? This machine lets you make two shots at once, so you can make drinks for two in half the time, and you can choose a single- or double-shot portafilter for different serving sizes. The machine has a 15-bar pump system and a frothing arm to make a creamy froth for your cappuccinos and lattes. An indicator light lets you know when the process is complete.
The gist: The Litchi Portable is similar to the Cisco in that it's very simple to use. Rather than Nespresso pods, use the measuring scooping to add ground coffee to the two-filter basket. Then, add hot water to the chamber and manually push the pressure pump until the coffee comes out. Soon you'll be brewin' the good stuff into the little included cup (even add a little milk if you want to go the cappuccino route.)
The De'Longhi comes with a durable, high-quality stainless steel boiler which would serve you well over time. Other notable features include a swivel jet frother for easy cappuccino and latte prep, a dual-function filter holder that gives you a choice between ground coffee and pods, and a self-priming function which we recommend for the absolute best results.
As legend has it, Ethiopian goats were the first to discover the delightful properties of coffee beans when they ate the raw beans right off the stem. The goats nibbled happily away at the beans, probably right around 2 o'clock every afternoon, until finally an astute goat herder noticed the goats' perky behavior, gave the beans a taste, found them quite stimulating, and rushed them off to the nearest monastery.
A new French press is an ideal companion on a camping trip or picnic. Our sturdy versions of French presses are available in glass, metal, ceramic and other materials. Invest in your own efficient single-cup brewers with included cups and thermal mugs to create on-the-go coffee drinks for one person. Cold-brew machines and kits are other terrific options when you prefer chilled and iced coffee beverages. Remember to order plenty of filters, tampers, descaling tabs and other coffee accessories to keep your machine fresh and bright. Clean machines with the right size filters brew the best coffee