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:
Espresso shots need to be pulled between 186 and 194 degrees F. If the water is too cold when it hits the espresso, the shot tastes sour. Too hot, and it tastes burnt. It’s trickier to hit this window if you also want your machine to steam milk, since steam requires a higher temperature — at least 212 degrees. But we struggled to get several of our machines just to pull decent espresso, never mind the milk. Sour shots were a clear sign that the water wasn’t hot enough; scorched shots indicated that the water climbed over 200 degrees.
From there, it’s up to your personal preference. Arabica beans have a higher acidity, with notes of fruit and berries. Robusta beans are darker and richer, with more caffeine. Different levels of roasts — light, medium, dark — determine how much of the beans’ oils will break through the surface of the bean, which also affects acidity, flavor, and caffeine levels. “Get to know your local coffee expert,” recommends Awan. Nothing beats a conversation with a barista or local coffee roaster who can help you try different beans and roasts, and to experiment with those variables in real time. Finding your favorite is all part of the fun.
Served in a variety of drinks, espressos are made by machines that send pressurized hot water through finely-ground coffee beans—thus, the quality of the drink is dictated in large part by the quality of machine that brews it. Historically, the best espresso has been brewed in coffee shops with industrial-grade equipment. Today, continued innovation in the at-home espresso brewing industry has led to the creation of high-quality machines that can contend with some of the best baristas out there.
“This is the same coffee maker that I bought years ago. And it’s even the same price. Yep — they do still make things like they used to. And they last forever. It’s super simple, super reliable, compact, and cheap. There are a lot of places where we can spend money, but a simple cup of coffee doesn’t have to be one of them. Once you get the amount of water and coffee figured out to your taste — simply do that. No K-cup, nothing to recycle, fits the car cup holder. And the coffee stays hot in the mug.”
The Moccamaster isn't for everyone. Handmade in the Netherlands, it costs around $300—and would never win an award for value. It lacks a programmable timer, and it was also bit more difficult to set up than the rest of the coffee makers—in fact most were ready to go right out of the box. But a quick look at the instruction diagram should clear up any confusion, and the end result is well worth the effort.
The single-serve or single-cup coffeemaker has gained popularity in recent years. Single-serve brewing systems let a certain amount of water heated at a precise temperature go through a coffee portion pack (or coffee pod), brewing a standardized cup of coffee into a recipient placed under the beverage outlet. A coffee portion pack has an air-tight seal to ensure product freshness. It contains a determined quantity of ground coffee and usually encloses an internal filter paper for optimal brewing results. The single-serve coffeemaker technology often allows the choice of cup size and brew strength, and delivers a cup of brewed coffee rapidly, usually at the touch of a button. Today, a variety of beverages are available for brewing with single-cup machines such as tea, hot chocolate and milk-based specialty beverages. Single-cup coffee machines are designed for both home and commercial use.
Why it's great: The relatively lightweight machine by Mr. Coffee is a triple threat, meaning you’re not limited to just espresso. You can also make cappuccino and regular coffee, not to mention a variety of specialty drinks from the included recipe book (think espresso martinis, raspberry cappuccinos, choco-nutty lattes, etc.) The machine comes with an electric pump that shoots out 15 bars of pressure. It also has a one-touch feature that lets you select either a single or double-shot drink, and it even has an automatic milk frother with an adjustable knob, so you can customize the amount of froth you’d like in your drink of choice.
This product is their smallest K-Mini™ K15 Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker, but it still delivers the delicious taste and reliable quality you expect. Its small size ensures the K-Mini™ coffee maker is perfect for kitchens with limited counter space, college dorms, and other small spaces. Its portable design makes it easy to transport anywhere you go, so your favorite beverages are never far away. Whether brewing coffee, tea, iced tea, or hot cocoa, the product makes single-cup brewing...
“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 Barista Express espresso machine uses a 15 Bar Italian Pump and a 1600W Thermocoil heating system to make rich espresso. Since it's a semi-automatic machine, the Breville automatically adjusts water temperature after steam to extract the most flavor out of your beans. The machine also has a 67 fl.oz (2L) water tank with a nice handle for easy removal, and it comes with a replaceable water filter.
A good grinder: An even grind is essential for drinkable espresso. In fact, if you’re trying to save money, most experts recommend cheaping out on your espresso machine rather than your grinder. Since we wanted to make sure our machines had the best chance of making great espresso, we started with a $600 grinder recommended to us by Seattle Coffee Gear.
In our quest to find the best, we pitted 10 highly regarded coffee makers against each other. These are the machines that regularly make it on best-of lists, earn accolades, and/or are recommendations from the coffee experts we talked to over the course of this review. We aimed for multi-cup carafes — no single serves — and drip machines only. (We didn’t want to muddy the results with French press, pour-over, or espresso. Those are for other reviews.)
All of the espresso machines we tested only included a single boiler for heating. This means that there's only one mechanism for heating both the water for brewing and the steamer wand. Because of this, it'll take the steamer wand a while to heat up after pulling the espresso shot, since the steamer wand operates at a much higher temperature than the brewing temperature of around 195°F. It is possible to buy a home machine with a double boiler (Breville makes one) but this raises the price significantly (we didn't test the Breville because it's over $1,000), and the minor wait time wasn't a major concern for us. We figured it wouldn't be for home brewers either.
That said, it’s not as elegant to use as the OXO machines. (Nor is it as nice to look at. One tester described its tall, bulbous body and squat carafe as “UFO-like.”) Take its eight-button controls, for example, which you use to toggle among brew modes, scroll up and down within the menu, and engage a manual brewing feature. Programming it to start brewing at a certain time was about as intuitive as setting an alarm on a clock radio — easy enough, but more technical than sleek. OXO definitely feels like the future; Behmor is more, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
“I grind the beans in a Hario hand grinder gifted from my brother to me when he upgraded to a fancy electric one. Using the hand grinder is meditative. It feels like you’re ‘earning’ your morning coffee a little bit more. At home, I use a Muji porcelain pour-over, but when I’m at my family’s house in metro Detroit, I love using their Bonavita BV1800SS. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my own, but seriously, you can’t fuck it up. Super-easy and delicious every single time.” — Kimberly Chou, co-director of Food Book Fair
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.
It’s not that cone filters won’t make a great cup of coffee — the OXO On 9-Cup still ranked fifth out of 10 in our taste test. But flat bottoms generally allow for the grounds to be more evenly extracted and increase the coffee’s flavor. (It’s no coincidence our other three recommendations have flat-bottom brew baskets). You may have to do a little more tweaking to get this coffee maker’s brew to the best it can be, and that’s the other reason we like the 12-cupper more. This smaller version doesn’t let you tinker with water temperature.
If your busy life keeps you from making coffee by hand, you can also consider a capsule machine such as a Nespresso coffee maker. These machines use small capsules or pods of coffee, so you don’t have to worry about measuring grounds and adding them to your device. Simply add a capsule, fill up the reservoir and press the On button. If you’re more of a traditionalist, a stovetop espresso maker might be the right option for you. This type of maker uses your stove to heat up water, which then steams up and passes through a capsule of grounds above the reservoir. The steamy espresso then collects in an upper reservoir at the top of the maker. These espresso makers are very popular in Europe and require no electricity to function.
Look beyond your local coffee shop for a pick-me-up at home with an espresso machine from Sur La Table. Perfect for the novice and experienced alike, our assortment of espresso makers includes something for everyone. We have manual, semiautomatic and automatic machines ready to make everything from a creamy cappuccino to a luscious latte, any time of the day or night. Better yet, we have options for every size kitchen. Create rich, delicious coffee drinks at home with espresso machines from Sur La Table.
There were lots of innovations from France in the late 18th century. With help from Jean-Baptiste de Belloy, the Archbishop of Paris, the idea that coffee should not be boiled gained acceptance. The first modern method for making coffee using a coffee filter—drip brewing—is more than 125 years old, and its design had changed little. The biggin, originating in France ca. 1780, was a two-level pot holding coffee in a cloth sock in an upper compartment into which water was poured, to drain through holes in the bottom of the compartment into the coffee pot below. Coffee was then dispensed from a spout on the side of the pot. The quality of the brewed coffee depended on the size of the grounds - too coarse and the coffee was weak; too fine and the water would not drip the filter. A major problem with this approach was that the taste of the cloth filter - whether cotton, burlap or an old sock - transferred to the taste of the coffee. Around the same time, a French inventor developed the "pumping percolator", in which boiling water in a bottom chamber forces itself up a tube and then trickles (percolates) through the ground coffee back into the bottom chamber. Among other French innovations, Count Rumford, an eccentric American scientist residing in Paris, developed a French Drip Pot with an insulating water jacket to keep the coffee hot. Also, the first metal filter was developed and patented by French inventor.
We tested 12 models by making shots of espresso and lattes on each machine. We enlisted the help of an expert from Students of Coffee, a group of coffee educators and roasters at New York University, to judge for quality. The majority of the models we tested were semi-automatic, meaning brewers still have to grind the coffee and pack it in the portafilter (the little filter cup with a wand that you place in the front of the machine). Semi-automatic espresso machines heat the water for you, and then pump it through the grounds at varying levels of pressure, depending on the machine. The semi-automatic models we tester were:
If you’re shopping for coffee at the grocery store, “check the roast date, rather than the ‘best by’ date,” says Awan. With mass market roasters, the “best by” date can obfuscate the window in which coffee beans are at their best: about 4 days after roasting, when some, but not all, of the carbon dioxide has escaped from the beans. (Too much carbon dioxide captured within beans tends to create uneven extraction, as the gas escapes — this is what pre-infusing tries to counter. Conversely, too little carbon dioxide in the bean can lead to a loss of flavor.)
"If I could give this more than 5 stars I would. I love espresso drinks from coffee shops, I used to drink just regular coffee but when I quit smoking the taste changed just enough that I didn't like it anymore. Mexican mochas on the other hand I still found palatable. But they're about 5 bucks a pop at my local coffee shop. I also didn't want to spend 150$+ on an espresso machine, they seem prone to breaking and judging by the reviews never really work right. So I settled on this, figuring I would try it and if it didn't make what I wanted I'd only be out about 30 bucks. It makes delicious coffee. Put some full city roast in their and fire it up and what comes out is espresso. From my readings I've gathered that its not actually espresso, as the Moka pot doesn't make enough pressure for it to be real espresso. But its playing the part convincingly, I can't tell the difference between what comes out of this and a shot of espresso. Its paid for itself a dozen times over at this point. Absolutely one of the best purchases I've ever made. I couldn't be happier."
"I have used this machine for about a week, and it is awesome! I had used an espresso machine frequently years ago, but got sick of the grinding, prepping, priming, etc., especially before work in the morning. So, I eventually gave up and bought a plain-ole coffee maker. Unfortunately, "regular" coffee, to me, tastes like hot water. I even tried a Kuerig, but returned it within a month - it was more convenient, but the coffees are no higher quality than any grocery-store brand coffee. So I debated for a long time about whether I should wait for one of these brand-new Nespresso Vertuoline machines, or just buy one of the older, espresso-only Nespresso machines.
The K575 Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker combines impressive design, and top-of-the-line technology into one powerful package – the ultimate coffee maker. With customizable settings including strength and temperature control, and with the most brew size options – any size from 4 to 30 oz. – you can brew the perfect cup, mug, or carafe of your favorite beverages at the touch of a button. Choose from hundreds of delicious varieties from the brands you love, all easily brewed thanks to...
For many of us, the daily grind can't begin until we've had that first cup of piping hot coffee—so the right brewer is at the top of the list. The most basic coffee makers make at least a decent cup, but a little more money buys conveniences such as programmability, a thermal carafe to keep coffee hot longer, settings that let you adjust brew strength, and more.