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:
Our top pick is the OXO On 12-Cup Coffee Brewing System. It’s a large machine – both in footprint and in capacity — but it earned the second-highest scores in our taste test, and is sleek both to look at and to operate. Convenient features like programmable auto-brewing, a removable water reservoir that doubles as a kettle, and a spigot that stops the brew mid-stream if you remove the carafe make this machine feel high tech without being high maintenance. For those who want to be a little more hands-on with the brewing process, its single-button dial also lets you adjust the water’s brewing temperature, giving you more access to experiment with extraction and flavor.
This grinder produced the most even grounds out of all the machines I tested, and its range of output is all-encompassing. The coarsest setting produces large flakes, while the finest setting produces puffy grounds akin to powdered sugar—perfect for Turkish coffee. In between, I was quickly able to find the ideal settings for my Hario Woodneck, Aeropress, and even mason jar cold brew.
An espresso machine brews coffee by forcing pressurized water near boiling point through a "puck" of ground coffee and a filter in order to produce a thick, concentrated coffee called espresso. The first machine for making espresso was built and patented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo of Turin, Italy. An improved design was patented on April 28, 1903, by Luigi Bezzera. The founder of the La Pavoni company bought the patent and from 1905 produced espresso machines commercially on a small scale in Milan. Multiple machine designs have been created to produce espresso. Several machines share some common elements, such as a grouphead and a portafilter. An espresso machine may also have a steam wand which is used to steam and froth liquids (such as milk) for coffee drinks such as cappuccino and caffe latte.
If you drink enough espresso, and are passionate enough to own a machine at home, it's worth shelling out the money for the fully equipped Breville Brewmaster and learning how to make amazing cappuccinos, lattes, and cortados for yourself. You get a machine and a hobby all in one. An espresso machine is a luxury and making this kind of coffee is an art, so you should opt for the right tools. However, the Gaggia is a less-expensive close second that'll require learning on your part, but will let you tinker to the point of producing a great espresso. Finally, if you want consistent coffee without any effort, opt for the Jura.
Making the perfect espresso can be a labor of love, but not everyone who wants to drink espresso wants to do all that labor. Pod-based machines make it easier, but then you have fewer type of coffee to choose from. This machine solves both of those problems since it has adapters for most of the popular pods, including Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, K-Fee, or Verismo by Starbucks, and you can also use your own fresh ground coffee.
“I LOVE my Breville. I am a career barista. I have had this machine for almost a year now and waited to write a review until now so I wasn’t blinded by the initial excitement of purchasing a home espresso machine. I love to buy more expensive coffee from third-wave roasters, and this machine is so easy to dial in, I come away with professional shots almost every time. While this may be due to my experience in the shop, I will say that my husband is not a barista and picked up dialing in pretty fast using the Breville guides [that were] included. My only complaint is that the steaming wand is not the best. It takes a couple tries starting it up to get it going full blast some mornings, but I have always been able to achieve latte art. That is a very small complaint considering this machine is half the price of its competitors but still can create some awesome coffee. I’d highly recommend it for baristas on a budget.”
Espresso is wonderful, but if you also like regular coffee with breakfast or decaf with dinner, this machine can do it all – and you can use your own coffee rather than proprietary pods or cups. Not only does this make a variety of coffee types, it also brews coffee in a large variety of sizes, from a cup to a carafe and four sizes in between, so you can make just the right amount, whether it’s just for you, or whether you’re serving company
Caffè Espresso translates to “pressed-out coffee.” It’s what happens when you force hot water through finely ground coffee beans. This brewing method is challenging to master, as slight variations in pressure and temperature can produce an extremely unpalatable shot. As such, the best espresso machine is forgiving to first-time owners, it extracts rich flavor from its beans, and it offers a complex balance of sweet, sour, and bitter.
"Oh my goodness! I never knew such a thing existed. This tiny espresso maker makes great espressos! I have taken this to work with me and everyone is jealous. I mean everyone is jealous for real. I think I even persuaded some of my colleagues to buy one themselves! How funny is that? It's so easy to use. I usually use hot water to begin with and I don't bother with getting it to heat my water for me because that just takes a little bit too long. Holding the button for more than 5 seconds will activate the pressurized pumping gear. It is all electronic so you don't have to make any difficult pumping like in some other smaller products. The coffee comes out just as good as any espresso you can make. And the pods are crazy cheap. I found pods that are literally $0.10 each."
CR’s take: If you need only one or two cups of coffee each morning and you don’t want a pod coffee maker, consider the Technivorm Moccamaster Cup-One Brewer. Compact and clean-lined, it has a profile that makes some sense of its high price (it retails for more than $200), and it’s a superstar when it comes to reliability. Technivorm was one of only three drip machine brands to earn an Excellent rating for predicted reliability in our member survey. Our testers also give this machine a strong score for brew performance. This model has only one simple feature (auto-shutoff) and it’s not the easiest machine to use, but you can count on it to last.
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.