These machines automatically grind the coffee, tamp it, and extract the espresso shot. The operator only has to fill the bean hopper and, if the machine is not connected to a water line, add water to a reservoir. Some models contain an automated milk frothing and dispensing device. Super-automatic machines take away the ability to manually tamp and grind the coffee, which may affect the quality of the espresso.
The well-designed Braun BrewSense came closer to the gold standard for water brewing temperature than almost any other drip coffee maker in our testing, and delivered a rich, bold and hot cup of coffee. It has settings to program the coffee to brew ahead of time and you can adjust the brew strength and the temperature of the warming plate. Also available in black.
A grouphead (or group head) is the receiver for the removable portafilter (or group handle). A typical consumer espresso machine normally has only one grouphead, while popular professional machines, such as those used at commercial coffee shops, can contain anywhere from one to seven. During the process of extracting a shot of espresso, hot water is forced through the grouphead under pressure. The grouphead contains many holes (the shower) that attempt to distribute the pressurised water evenly over the surface of the grinds in the portafilter basket and thereby achieve an even cross sectional flow.
Whole bean coffee that you grind yourself is preferable to pre-ground, too. The bean’s exterior traps and protects all of the delicate, volatile, and water-soluble oils that give coffee its flavor. As soon as you break the protective shell, it’s easy for the flavor to get contaminated, and much of the aroma escapes as soon as the oils are exposed to air.
The Baratza Encore is simplicity defined and our top coffee grinder. This burr grinder has a 40-setting grind size selector, an on-off switch for continuous grinding, and a push-button for manual control. That's it. Other grinders include complicated timers, built-in scales, strength adjustment sliders, and other doodads, but Baratza suggests that you don't need them—and they're right. Measure your beans using a separate scale, grind them fresh for each cup. That's the way to do it.
An evenly tamped shot requires the tamp to fit into its portafilter basket precisely. Each machine comes with its own tamp, so we were surprised to find that not all of them fit. Some were too small, leaving behind a crescent moon of untouched coffee. It’s possible to try and compress in sections, but you’ll run the risk of re-tamping some of the grounds and producing an unpalatable shot.
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:
CR’s take: Though this Bialetti lacks typical drip-machine features such as programming and brew-strength control, it more than compensates with a Very Good rating in our brew performance test and a crisp 8-minute brew time. If you’re the type who sometimes prefers a morning shot of espresso to a cup of joe, this twofer—drip machine beside espresso maker—may be for you. It features a built-in milk frother, a permanent coffee filter, and auto-shutoff. CR does not yet have enough survey data on Bialetti machines to rate them on reliability and satisfaction, but when we do, we’ll add that info to our ratings.