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:
“For home brewers, the Mr. Coffee 12-cup, programmable machine can produce great morning coffee that’s decent by most standards. Just make sure you use good water — NYC tap is more than acceptable, though filtered is even better. I’d say it’s also even more important to have a grinder that has a nice, even particle size distribution. I have a Baratza Encore on hand, but recently I’ve been relying heavily on the Handground brand grinder, which is a great ergonomic manual.” — Elliott Foos, barista at Café Integral
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.
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.
For example, if your coffee tastes a bit salty or sour, the grounds are under-extracted, which can be remedied by a finer grind. But what if only some of your grounds are too coarse, and others are too fine – and maybe some are just right? Having uniform grind size throughout your brew basket makes it easier to isolate and adjust this variable in order to get the level of extraction you want. The only way to achieve that is with a burr grinder. Miller — as well as a handful of our other experts — recommends the Barazata Encore Coffee Grinder ($129).
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: This Cuisinart drip coffee maker with a stainless steel finish and glass carafe earns an Excellent rating for brew performance. It’s programmable and features a water filter, a permanent coffee filter, cleaning mode, a cleaning indicator, and auto-shutoff. The machine also allows you to adjust the strength of your brew. For the money, this model offers style and features that are hard to beat. If you can live without the built-in grinder of the Cuisinart Burr Grind & Brew above, you can save yourself some money and still enjoy Cuisinart quality for a lot less.