The 9 Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machines And What Makes Them Different

Double portafilter with a black handle is plugged in a shiny steel semi automatic espresso machineone group home. Espresso is made in a with white ceramic cup. Low angle shot high-quality photo.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclaimer for more information.

For any barista or coffee lover a semi-automatic espresso machine is the artisan perspective of brewing coffee.

You ask me why?

With a semi-automatic espresso machine, you choose the programmability, and you also have the power to change every cup you brew with them. You have the power to program brewing temperature, brewing period, micro-foaming, grind size, tamping, etc. 

While these skills require time and practice, you get closer to brewing perfection with every manually-brewed cup. Coffee brewed with your hands will always taste better than coffee brewed at the cafe. 

This post will introduce you to the ten best semi-automatic espresso machines, their pros, and cons, to let you decide which machine is the one for you! 

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

What are semi-automatic espresso machines?

Semi-automatic espresso machines stand between manual automatic and fully-automatic machines.

Unlike manual espresso machines, semi-automatic will come with an electric pump that doesn’t require manual actions. 

Semi-automatics will also heat the water and the milk on their own. Unlike fully-automatic espresso machines, semi-automatics give you the power to decide the brewing length; you manually turn it on and turn it off accordingly. Similarly, you also get to manually froth and steam the milk! 

They are simpler devices than fully- or super-automatic machines with minimal programmability, a manual steaming wand, and adequate water tanks.

Semi-automatics may or may not be completely stainless steel, but higher-end models will have a stainless steel build with bigger reservoirs, apt brewing temperature, etc. 

They are comparatively cheaper than other fully-automatic devices. Despite their low price, you’ll still receive a barista feel coffee enthusiasts desire. 

These devices are also concise with their size and can fit beautifully in your kitchen without suffocating the counter. 

A Breville stainless steel espresso machine. Considered the best semi-automatic espresso machine on the market

Ten Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Among the many options available in the market, it isn’t easy to find the espresso machines you would enjoy using daily. 

With this detailed list of semi-automatic espresso machines, we have also concluded many FAQs to understand your machine better, what features you would like in your espresso machines, and what to look for while buying one. 

Breville Barista Express

Breville Barista Express is the first semi-automatic espresso machine with a built-in, conical burr grinder.

The grinder comes with grind size settings and dosage levels. Unlike other higher-end Breville products, Barista Express allows you to grind the amount you’d like with a simple push. 

Barista Express offers many programmable features, including one shot, two shots, temperature adjustment (decrease/increase), single filter/double filter, etc.

A center gauge displays the pressure applied while brewing. If your arrow lies in the grey section, your grind size is perfect. If it lies below or above the grey zone, change your grind size settings. 

Breville Express offers a unique heating element with stainless steel and Teflon coating to heat faster and maintain a stable temperature. It’s installed with a PID controller to control and maintain the temperature adequately. 

The grinder has stainless steel conical burrs with a removable hopper and upper burr for easy cleaning. The hopper has a black rubber-sealed lid to preserve the beans inside for a longer period. 

Barista has a beautiful rectangular stainless steel casing (over plastic) with multiple buttons and knobs for easy operation. These buttons illuminate to display on-going action. Additional indicators include clean me cycle/descaling, hopper removed, etc. 

Pros

  • Big water tank and big drip tray with an ’empty me’ indicator. 
  • A pressure gauge to display the pressure applied by the machine. 
  • It’s reprogrammable and also already programmed with factory settings if you don’t want to experiment. 
  • Barista Breville Express comes with a stainless steel tamper. 
  • The hopper has a capacity of 450 grams. 
  • It comes with four filter baskets. Of which two are pressurized baskets. 
  • Breville also offers a razor to tamp properly, a measuring scoop, milk pitcher, water filter, cleaning kit, etc. 
  • Two-year guarantee. 
  • It’s affordable, highly programmable, and has a great outlook. 

Cons

  • The machine cannot brew and steam at the same time. 
  • The cup warmer is not stainless steel. 
  • No-kill switch to turn off the brewing process. 
  • You cannot use oily beans
  • The machine requires a ‘clean me’ cycle very often. 

Delonghi La Specialista

Delonghi La Specialista is another semi-automatic espresso machine with a built-in, conical burr grinder. 

The removable hopper is present at the top with six grind size settings. You can reprogram the grind size, the grind amount, and the filter basket while grinding. 

An exclusive feature that La specialista offers is its closed-system tampering. You can lock in the portafilter in the grinder cradle and then tamp with a side lever present at the left of the machine without spilling any grounds while grinding or tamping. 

Delonghi has a similar model to Breville, but some features are exclusive to Delonghi, including the ‘OK’ button that allows you to stop or start a reprogrammed coffee. 

It has a pressure gauge and different programmed and personalized coffee brew buttons. With La Specialista, you can program brew through ‘my’ button and personalize americano, espresso, and coffee. 

Delonghi La specialista gives away a dedicated water spout close to the group head and the portafilter to brew Americano directly in the mug. 

Pros

  • It’s a big machine with bigger drip trays and enough space between the portafilter and the drip tray to adjust medium-sized cups. 
  • The grinder sensing technology senses the grams while grinding despite being fine or coarse. 
  • Beans sensor lets you know when the hopper is out of beans. 
  • The steaming wands let you switch between more foam and less foam for latte/cappuccino. 
  • It doesn’t require extensive heating to get started. After turning on the machine, you are ready to brew and steam!
  • It comes with a milk pitcher and cleaning kit. 

Cons

  • It cannot brew and steam at the same time. 
  • It cannot adjust to bigger cups of coffee. So, you will need to use a cappuccino cup to brew Americano.
  • You cannot manually tamp or grind the coffee ground. 

Gaggia Classic Pro

If you are looking for a compact espresso machine with minimal complexity, an easy-manual brew, Gaggia Classic pro would be a compact choice.

It’s a small machine with three simple switches to turn on/off the machine, turn on/off the brewing, and turn on/off the steaming wand. Gaggia also offers a dedicated water spout/drain pipe. 

It has a stainless steel casing with a chrome-plated brass group head and a 58mm commercial portafilter.

The machine is equipped with a single aluminum boiler. Not only this, the Gaggia classic pro has a removable water tank of 2.1-liter capacity despite the compact size. 

The single boiler allows hotter brews if you steam first and then brew the espresso. You have full control over the brewing time, and the switch is in your hand.

It has a manual steaming wand with two holes to produce dry steam. The steam can be controlled with a side knob present at the right face of the espresso machine. 

Another spout on the left allows you to brew Americano. It has a commercial group head to maintain temperature and pressure inside the boiler. The illuminating indicators indicate when the machine is ready for brewing and steaming. 

Overall, it’s a high-end espresso machine with minimal complexity and expensive service at an affordable price tag.

Pros

  • Gaggia is easy to clean and easy to operate. 
  • It comes with single and double pressurized baskets and also a pod filter.
  • The steaming wand is manual and commercial style allowing you to steam perfectly silky milk with dry steam.
  • It’s affordable.
  • The pressurized baskets do not demand a quality grinder or grind; they will extract rich espresso without a good grind and tamp. 
  • Big water reservoir.

Cons

  • Gaggia’s classic pro is pretty basic with minimal programmability. It brews, and that is all. 
  • The space between the portafilter and the drip tray is small, so you will have to use smaller cups. 
  • It cannot brew and extract at the same time. 
  • The machine takes 5-10 minutes to heat properly,Temperature regulation is manual, and you will need to invest a time finding the optimal temperature, when to sink, and when to heat the boiler again. 
  • The machine contains a considerable amount of plastic.

Breville Infuser

Breville infuser is a decent, minimal, and real semi-automatic espresso machine without the complexity of programming and other details.

It allows you to brew single and double shots of espresso with enough temperature and pressure stability. 

You can program the shot period for future brews if you are not satisfied with factory pre-set settings. Not only this, you can reprogram the temperature of the Breville Infuser with (-+) 2/4 increments. 

The four easy-to-use buttons include the power switch, the program buttons, a center pressure gauge, one-shots, and two shots.

Every button illuminates while functioning. The machine offers two additional indicators, including a ‘clean me’ cycle and ‘hot system water.’ 

Breville infuser has a 54mm stainless steel portafilter, stainless steel tamper, razor, milk pitcher, a manual steaming wand, and a dedicated water spout to brew Americano. 

Breville infuser has a bigger footprint to adjust for a bigger drip tray and a bigger water tank. It has a stainless steel heating element, a 3-way solenoid valve, and a PID controller to maintain and stabilize temperature. 

Pros

  • It comes with a milk pitcher, four baskets (two pressurized and two non-pressurized), a cleaning kit, a stainless steel tamper, a plastic scoop, a water filter, etc. 
  • Cleaning and drip tray indicator to avoid a mess.
  • It comes in three colors. 
  • The model is concise, not as big as a standard Breville machine, but not as small. 
  • The material used to build the Breville infuser is stainless steel. 

Cons

  • The machine has a plastic bottom for the portafilter. 
  • It has a 1.8-liter water tank which may be small for an avid coffee drinker. 
  • Single-boiler. 

Rancilio Silvia

Rancilio is famous for its all stainless steel models; Silvia is no different when it comes to material, sturdiness, elegance, and high quality.

It’s a smaller version of Rancilio pro that can fit on your counter without suffocating your kitchen counter. 

Rancilio Silvia has a simpler design with easy-to-switch buttons and warning lights to alert which function is active. Silvia takes a bit longer to get heated up properly but brews hotter coffee than its upgraded counterpart. 

Silvia is a single-boiler espresso machine with 12 ounces of copper and brass healing elements.

The water tank is situated at the back of the espresso machine with a floater to alert the water level.

The four easy switches allow you to start/stop the brewing, start water, and initiate a steaming wand. A unique round knob is present at your right to turn on and increase the steam. 

The steaming wand is present right below and has a single hole to transfer steam in the milk. The center of the espresso machine has a commercial-based portafilter that is 58mm. 

Pros

  • It has a stainless steel casing. 
  • It comes in two colors: black and brushed steel. 
  • Rancilio Silvia brews hotter shots than espresso machines equipped with PID controllers. 
  • The device has a small interface and a bigger warming platform for espresso mugs. 
  • Silvia is easy-to-operate. 
  • 2-liter removable water reservoir, it’s pretty big. 
  • Professional tamper with stainless steel circular flat and a wooden handle.

Cons

  • It has a small drip tray. 
  • The machine takes longer to get heated up for steaming and brewing. 
  • The water reservoir is made of plastic. 
  • It brews fast. So, you will need to adjust the grind size settings appropriately.
  • It’s a single boiler, so you cannot brew and steam at the same time. 

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II

Nuova Simonelli is a unique model you will come across while searching for espresso machines. Its bigger group head allows more pressure and temperature stability.

Nuova Simonelli has a classy stainless steel exterior with bits of plastics at the back and the top. 

Oscar II is the upgraded version of the former Nuova Oscar original with programmable buttons. 

These programmable options allow you to change the brewing time. 

  • Long press the single-shot/double shot button for five seconds or until it illuminates to reprogram the brewing period. 
  • Once done, push the button again brew until a certain period (25 seconds on your timer)
  • Push the button again to stop the flow when the timer reads 25 seconds. The machines will register for future brews. 

Nuova allows you to brew and steam at the same time with its heat exchanger feature.

Unlike other models, Nuova’s steaming wand is 360 degrees rotational and offers very dry steam, just like the commercial milk frothing. 

The oscar II is a big machine with an adequate water reservoir and drip tray. The overall design, functionality, and programmability are minimal, with a couple of illuminating indicators of water level and heating level. 

Pros

  • It has a commercial stainless steel wand with four small holes to produce dry steam. 
  • Commercial-style 58mm portafilter with two baskets- single and double. 
  • The portafilter has a silver handle and a stainless steel frame, giving the machine an overall expensive look. 
  • The machine brews and steams at the same time. 
  • The water reservoir is big with 2.2 liters of capacity.
  • It’s installed with a copper boiler.
  • The manufacturer offers two years of warranty. 
  • The water reservoir has a bigger mouth for easy refilling and cleaning. 
  • Big drip tray. 

Cons

  • The steaming knob is present at the espresso machine’s top face and might accidentally turn on while removing the warming plate of the head. 
  • It comes with a plastic tamper and a plastic scoop. For the price Nuova charges, it’s saddening to see the plastic tamper. You will have to invest in a new tamper with this machine. 
  • Less programmability compared to Sage’s product at the same price. 

Gaggia Carezza

Another highly-programmable espresso machine is your Gaggia Carezza. Despite the plastic casing, the Gaggia Carezza is a beautiful machine with modern design and color contrasts.

It has four easy-to-switch buttons to turn on the power, start brewing, water outlet, and start steaming, respectively. 

Gaggia Carezza has a temperature gauge on your left and a steam knob to alter the intensity. Gaggia takes a minute to heat up.

Exclusive features of Gaggia include:

  • Preinfusion.
  • Commercial-style pressurized baskets with multiple holes.
  • A bigger portafilter that adjusts to single/double/pods filter baskets. 

Another specialty of Gaggia Carezza is its manual+automatic milk frothing wand. It offers a Panarello wand as an automatic milk frother, which can be removed to allow manual steaming. 

Gaggia has a compact rectangular model with a drip tray and a front removable water reservoir with a glass display. Another characteristic of Gaggia is its auto-shutdown feature. Your machine will auto shut down after 9 minutes of inactivity. 

Pros

  • The double filter basket holds 18 grams of coffee ground. 
  • The cup warmer can hold four-five small espresso cups. 
  • The sides of the cup warmer have handles to carry the machine easily. 
  • Front display for water reservoir. 
  • Auto-rinsing of the group head, shower screen, and portafilter. 
  • Descaling alert.
  • The machine does an auto cleaning cycle.
  • The brew head tamps automatically.

Cons

  • The water reservoir only has 1.4 liters of capacity. 
  • The rinse cycle is frequent, and the water tank needs refilling often.
  • The whole machine is made of plastic with a couple of stainless steel installs. 
  • The machine is light, and you will need to hold it tightly to adjust the portafilter in the group head. 

Breville Dual boiler

Another Breville to hit this list is the Breville Dual boiler. As the name suggests, it has two separate boilers for brewing and steaming with PID controller and pressure controller (OPV) 

Breville dual boiler is a classic stainless steel machine with the old school buttoned interface and an LCD screen to display functions. These buttons include a power button, manual, one shot, two shots, and menu. 

The manual button allows you to enter the manual programmability and the menu button allows you to surf through the various features of the machine. 

The programmable options include changing the temperature of the brew, auto start/auto shut off, shot volume, shot temp, timer, clean cycle, preinfusion, steam temp, audio alerts. 

Pros

  • The 58mm stainless steel portafilter, group head, and tamper allow the perfect coffee puck for preinfusion. 
  • The machine comes with four filter baskets (two pressurized and two non-pressurized), a milk pitcher, stainless steel tamper that can be adjusted on the machine, a dedicated water spout, water filter, cleaning kit, etc. 
  • The LCD presents every function going on and inside the machine. It shows numbers, words, and functions all-in-one. 
  • The dual boiler has a center pressure gauge to read and understand your grind size. 
  • A separate water spout for an Americano and long black.
  • A manual steaming wand for a personalized milk beverage experience.

Cons

  • The machine offers so much programmability that it can be confusing for some users. 
  • It’s bigger than most machines 
  • The machine is noisier than other options.
  • The temperature can be inconsistent. 

Gevi Espresso Maker

For an affordable option, Gevi espresso maker offers to brew and steam at $100. As a novice, this machine will introduce you to espresso-making and coffee art. Gevi has three simple buttons- power, brewing, and steaming. 

A knob allows you to adjust the steam and a center temperature gauge displays the temp of the unit. 

The temperature gauge also has an optimal brewing temperature mark and steaming temp displayed for your convenience. The machine can drop or elevate the temperature quickly.

The manual steaming wand froths brilliant milk for the price tag. It’s present at the right of the machine and can rotate 360 degrees.

The overall build is mainstream with a plastic casing, a plastic water tank, and a plastic drip tray. The size of the machine is fairly big, allowing a bigger drip tray and an adequate water tank. 

Pros

  • It has a dual temperature control system.
  • The machine is easy-to-use and easy-to-clean.
  • It’s affordable. 
  • It comes with 1.5 liters of the water tank. 
  • A floater floats up when the drip tray is full. 
  • Three-in-one portafilter. 

Cons

  • The machine is made of plastic. 
  • The machine is light, and you will need to hold it in place while locking in the portafilter.
  • Zero programmability.

What features should you look for while buying an espresso machine?

There’s a lot to think about while buying a high-end semi-automatic espresso machine. Although the coffee game is in your hand with a semi-automatic, the machine’s capability plays a big role in brewing the perfect shot. 

For instance, the temperature stability will determine the sourness of espresso.

The colder the brew, the sourer it is to drink. To brew hot espresso, make sure your machine offers temperature stability, hot rinsing, PID (if possible), etc. 

Not only the temperature, the bar pressure, filter baskets, portafilter, group head’s stability, steaming wand’s dry air, etc., are equally crucial. 

A high-end espresso machine will be an expensive purchase with minimal aspects. Thus it’s of utmost importance to look for quality installments in your machine. 

The basic features of a semi-automatic espresso machine are:

  • The group head.
  • Portafilter.
  • Filter baskets (pressurized/non-pressurized).
  • Steaming wand, boiler, heating element.
  • Additional features. 
  • boilers

These informed features will allow you to choose an espresso machine that’s worth the price tag. 

E61 group heads on a double boiler semi automatic espresso machine.

E61 group heads

E61 brew heads are known to be the top choice while engineering an espresso machine. It has been the oldest group head model and by far the best amongst many other engineered group-heads for domestic espresso machines with a single boiler. 

A single boiler can support E61 group heads. The design is as such; the group head is connected to the boiler through two heavy copper pipes. One pipe is attached to the top of the boiler, and the second is attached to the bottom of the boiler.

E61 is incorporated with heavy 4kg chrome-plated brass that heats slowly but also cools slowly. Thus, allowing the group head to stay warm for a longer period compared to other group heads. 

The chrome-coated brass acts as the sole provider for high thermal inertia, thus maintaining temperature stability. 

E61 offers two exclusive features: thermosyphon and passive-pre-infusion. 

  • Thermosyphon: When the espresso machine is turned on but not brewing, the boiler allows hot water to reach the group head, heat it properly, and leave the group head through the bottom tube. 
  • The upper tube takes the hot water to the group head chamber, heating it nicely, and the bottom tube takes the water back to the boiler. It helps maintain the group heads’ constant temperature stability. 
  • Passive Pre-infusion: E61 automatically pre-infuses the coffee ground with a jet spray of 1mm water at low pressure and then applies absolute strength. 

Please note: E61 group heads are found in domestic espresso machines that have single boilers. Dual boiler machines often use standard group heads to maintain the temperature within seconds. 

Nonetheless, if you are alright with brewing and steaming separately, buying an espresso machine with an E61 group head will save you money. Dual boilers can be demeaningly expensive. 

Pro tip: If you are using a single boiler, steam and froth your milk before pulling the shot. 

A spouted or bottomless portafilter

The portafilter is the medium through which the brewed coffee steams out of the group head into your cup. A bottomless portafilter or a spouted portafilter can tell a lot about your coffee. 

Before we dive into the benefits of a bottomless portafilter, let’s learn what a spouted portafilter is and how it’s still a good choice. A spouted portafilter will have a closed bottom with two/one spout to flow the coffee easily. 

Every machine will have an exclusive design of the spouted portafilter. Still, unfortunately, a spouted portafilter can never tell you how the water mixes with the coffee ground and if it’s evenly extracting or not. 

Fortunately, bottomless portafilters do just that! Unlike spouted portafilters that look like a basket holder, bottomless/naked portafilters look like a big ring with a handle. 

When you adjust the basket in the bottomless portafilter, you can witness the full absorption through the basket’s holes. 

Most companies will have centered holes to avoid spraying the coffee in all directions, but that will hide most of the function. To observe a bottomless portafilter, you must make sure the baskets’ base is completely pinched with holes. 

Fresh espresso coffee brewing through the bottomless portafilter in white ceramic cup in artisan cafe shop. Vintage professional coffee machine, front view in center, mirrored background

How is bottomless portafilter beneficial?

  • An even absorption will start at the rim of the basket. 
  • It will start to move inwards and at the center of the basket. This stage is pre-infusion when the ground gets wet. 

The brewed coffee will extract out of the center like a silky-wavy liquid with a dense body and striped espresso-crema texture in and around the bottomless portafilter.

  • If you notice your coffee is extracting from more than one stream, it is uneven, with hidden holes addressing a bad tamp and a bad grind. 
  • If the machine brews a thin espresso shot, the grind is coarse; tune it to a finer setting. If your machine brews too concentrated coffee, choose a coarser grind for your espresso shot. 

Demerits of a bottomless portafilter

  • Since the baskets are not enclosed to steam out of a dedicated spout, they will spew out in all directions leaving a big mess behind. 
  • Not every machine (most of) will offer a bottomless portafilter, so you will need to invest in a new one or experiment with the old portafilter you have, which can lead to another waste. 
  • Bottomless portafilters are unforgiving. Although they tell a lot about the grind, grind size, and tamping, they lead to a lot of wasted coffee. 
  • The nakedness introduces coffee to air, cooling it down faster than the spouted portafilter. 

Dual boilers or single boilers

The sole purpose of a dual boiler machine is to offer simultaneous brewing and steaming without wasting time taking intervals between them. This brews a hotter espresso shot, especially if you are brewing an espresso milk-based beverage. 

Single boilers take longer to heat the machine for steaming. The steaming temperature must be between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. 

A single boiler will also be less efficient with low steam power. This slow steaming leads to a lot of time difference between brewing and steaming. Once you are done frothing, the machine will take additional 2-5 minutes to adjust for brewing. 

Although brewing only takes 25 seconds, the prep time cools down the milk, leaving bland microfoam that will further reduce your shot’s temperature.

Fortunately, many single boilers have started to add PID controllers, thermoblock coils, heating elements to control the temperature and heat the machine quickly with an advanced steaming wand for faster and stronger foaming and brewing. 

If you don’t mind an efficient single boiler, it will save you a fortune! 

  • Dual boilers

The two separate boilers focus on two separate tasks. One boiler heats the water, and the group heads for brewing, and the other heats the water for steaming the milk. 

Dual boilers are one of the most expensive additions to espresso machines. It can add around $500-$1000 to your machine’s overall cost.

Nonetheless, it will deliver a hot espresso shot. You will never get to taste a bland, sour, cold espresso drink with dual boilers. 

Dual boilers also have standard group heads that are directly connected to the boiler for constant heat. 

Most of the dual boiler machines are equipped with PID controllers, OPV, etc., to maintain temperature stability. 

Expensive dual boilers will have a brass heating element. The next best material is copper, followed by aluminum, and then stainless steel. The single boiler will always be aluminum/stainless steel. 

Portrait of smiling owner standing near espresso machines in a cafe.

Usability

High-end espresso machines are built to serve for a longer period. Most of the single boiler stainless steel semi-automatic espresso machines will offer 1-2 years of guarantee. 

Semi-automatic espresso machines have minimal usability: a brewing unit, a steaming wand, and sometimes a dedicated water spout. 

With advanced technology, many manufacturers, especially Breville, introduced multi-functional features in an espresso machine.

These features included precise programmability and usability like temperature adjustment, brewing time modification, pre-programming brews, steaming wand temp, pre-infusion timing, etc.

Not only this, Breville and Delonghi offer a built-in grinder, a super-automatic feature in a semi-automatic espresso maker. 

So, if you want to experiment and play with the device, Breville espresso machines have many usabilities to offer. 

  • It brews.
  • Semi-automatic machines steam (Many companies offer automatic steaming wand)
  • It grinds
  • It tamps and doses automatically (La specialista)
  • Pre-programs and reprograms whenever you’d like.

Brewing capacity

Dual boilers can brew back-to-back without disturbing the temperature or the pressure buildup inside the machine. Such is not the case with single boiler espresso machines.

If you want to brew back-to-back cups with single boiler machines, expect an interval for 2-5 minutes after pulling a single shot because these machines will need to adjust the boiler to steaming, then to brewing and back to steaming, and then back to brewing. 

Nonetheless, it’s advised not to exhaust your machines with over-usage. Over usage can lead to internal damages no matter how strong the espresso machine is. 

It is said and studied not to consume too much coffee as it might lead to anxiety, overdosage, depression, brain dysfunctioning, etc. Coffee has many benefits when consumed right. The right dosage of caffeine content per day is 400 mg.

A single espresso shot of 30 grams will have 64 mg of caffeine. You can consume six shots of espresso per day, but that shouldn’t be back-to-back. Take your time and split these shots with an hour gap. This will not lead to a fatal overdose. 

A dual boiler may or may not lead to hotshots, but once the single boiler is heated enough, expect hotter shots with every brew. 

The second capacity barrier is the water reservoir. The bigger the water tank, the more you can brew with machines. Most of the espresso machines mentioned in this article have big water reservoirs! 

Material

The material used to build the machine plays an important role in its life expectancy, quality delivery, BPA-free lifestyle, and looks.

Most high-end espresso machines will have a stainless steel exterior and a brass/copper/aluminum/stainless steel interior. 

That being said, all these machines will have a little to more plastic (BPA-free) for construction purposes.

Make sure the plastic stays at the exterior surface and doesn’t disturb your internal wares. While choosing an espresso machine, make sure the plastic used to build the machine is BPA-free. 

The top-quality material for building espresso machines remains stainless steel. Many machines will either have complete stainless steel panels or stainless steel over-plastic panels. 

The exterior material matters for the presentation and the machine’s overall life expectancy, but internal material allows a better and healthy brew and determines its age. 

The internal parts must always be metal for safety concerns and the long life of the machine. Among the internal parts, the heating element and boiler’s material is the most important installment in the machine. 

A high-end espresso machine will offer brass boilers; brass boilers take longer to dissipate heat and, thus, stay hot for a longer period. Stainless steel/aluminum/copper are also A-quality materials while building the boiler. 

Design

Semi-automatic espresso machines usually have a smaller footprint since they are not as programmable as other super- and fully-automatic espresso machines. 

Albeit many Sage’s and Delonghi models, especially those with a built-in grinder, will have a bigger interface. 

Depending on your choice for more programmability or less and the space on your kitchen counter, you can either choose a small footprint semi-automatic machine with minimal functions or a high-functional big espresso machine. 

A stainless steel espresso machine will compliment your kitchen, but many plastic espresso machines also come with beautiful exteriors like Gaggia or Saeco.

If you are comfortable with a classy plastic exterior, you will save a lot compared to a stainless steel model. 

Most espresso machines come with two elements- horizontally long espresso machines or vertically long espresso machines. Make sure to measure the space your kitchen counter allows vertically and horizontally. 

They come with illuminating buttons. Some machines like the Breville dual boiler offer an LCD/LED screen to show the continuous functions. 

Espresso machines like the Rancilio come with switches instead of buttons. Whatever system you prefer, there’s a wide variety of models to choose from. 

Maintenance and Cleaning

Please note: the bigger the machine, the more you’d need to clean it. Semi-automatic espresso machines demand internal as well as external cleaning. 

A stainless steel espresso machine will be easier to clean with fewer scratches and dents outside than a plastic exterior.

Plastic tends to be more fragile when it comes to scratches and dents. Plastic also is porous and thus invites a lot of germs and bacteria to sit on the surface. 

External cleaning 

  • Metal exterior: If your machine is stainless steel, wiping it with a damp cloth is enough. You don’t need to use abrasive cleansers to clean the stainless steel parts. 
  • If your machine is aluminum, water is enough to wipe it off completely. 
  • If it’s plastic, make sure it doesn’t get many scratches. Please keep it in a safe location and do not use hard chemicals to clean the exterior surface. 
  • Make sure you completely wipe off the coffee stains/milk stains immediately. Do not allow the stains to rest on the machine.
  • Steaming wand: Stainless steaming wand is easy to clean. Purge the wand internally with hot water and wipe the milk off the rod with a damp cloth. 
  • Occasionally, dismantle the parts and sock them in the cleaning solution your machine offers (if they do). Let the parts soak in water for half n’ hour, rinse, and dry it nicely. If your machine doesn’t offer a cleaning kit, hot water should be enough to dissolve residue waste.
  • Water tank: The water tank must be refilled every day to avoid descaling and stagnant water. Please check if the water reservoir is dishwasher safe or not. If it’s not, wash it with less-scary chemicals and rinse the soap off completely. 
  • Group head and portafilter: After rinsing, wipe off the surface with damp water. Never allow the coffee puck to stay in the baskets for longer, as it might clog the holes. 
  • Grinder: Never use water with your conical burrs. Brush the coffee grounds off the burrs. Occasionally, vacuum the burrs to remove difficult coffee grounds. 
  • Hopper: Check if the hopper is dishwasher safe. If not, use light chemicals and rinse properly. 

Internal cleaning

Internal cleaning is very important. 

The two main internal cleaning cycles include rinsing and descaling. Descaling is lengthy. So, please use soft water to avoid descaling often. 

Please note: Higher-end machines will require self-cleaning a lot, which might lead to a lot of water wastage and energy wastage. Choose a bigger reservoir if you are a frequent coffee drinker. 

Rinsing: Rinsing is easy. Many top-quality machines offer a separate rinse button. Rinsing removes all the coffee grounds stuck on the baskets, the group head, or shower screen. Rinse before and after the brewing is done. 

Descaling: You will need to descale frequently if you use hard water. The machines offer a descaling alert. Most of the descaling is done with a descaling solution and the whole water tank. These machines offer manuals, clear instructions, and a descaling kit to go with. 

Steaming wand: Purge your steaming wand every time you steam milk to unclog the holes of any residual milk leftover. 

Maintenance 

It’s rare for a high-end machine to break down when you take good care of the product. But, if for some reason it does, you can always call the company for replacement under the guarantee period. 

Stainless steel milk frother on an espresso machine

Milk frothing

Manual steaming wand and automatic steaming wands both have their own merits, and neither can be compared. A person who invests barista time while brewing will demand a manual frothing device rather than an automatic rod. 

On the other hand, a novice will expect something simpler, like the automatic steaming wand that does the job without learning much of the steaming skills. 

Fortunately, many semi-automatic espresso machines have started to offer automatic steaming wands.

Not only this, machines like the Gaggia offer dual steaming wands, one for manual frothing and another Panarello steaming wand for automatic foaming 

Dual boilers will come with a high-end steaming wand supporting 3-4 holes (commercial) and making very dry steam.

The drier the steam, the better the milk. Machines like the Delonghi will also let you choose between foam/flat steaming. Foam steaming is for cappuccino, and flat steaming is for a latte. 

If your steaming game isn’t precise and you’d still like to test and try your skills, it’s best to choose a machine that offers a manual and automatic steaming wand. 

Suppose you are fine without the manual steaming and want your milk-based beverage ready without hard work; an automatic wand will do just fine for you. 

Please note: Automatic steaming wand will have higher power steam compared to manual rods.

Manual steaming wands are featured to have a lower power so that the user doesn’t hurt himself with the strong steam since your hand will be too close to the steam. 

Price

Some semi-automatic espresso machines will cost you more than a fully-automatic espresso machine.

Despite the lack of programmability, high-end espresso machines use expensive group heads, boilers, and materials, making them an overall expensive purchase. 

Depending on your budget, you can either choose a simple single-boiler espresso machine or a dual boiler device.

  • Suppose you are on a tight budget and still want a high-end semi-automatic espresso machine. In that case, we suggest starting with a minimal espresso brewer with less to no programmability like the Rancilio. The more the program, the complex the machine, and the higher the prices. 
  • The most expensive expense in any espresso machine is the boiler. Suppose you are fine steaming first and then brewing, then a single boiler will cost you a fortune. There is a whopping difference of $700-$1000 between single boilers and dual boilers. 
  • Automatic steaming wands will be more expensive than manual steaming wands. If you are fine steaming at a low speed, manual wands will be an affordable choice. 
  • The material used: Plastic will be cheaper than any metallic exterior. If you want to save money, choose a classy plastic exterior with a metal interior. This will offer you quality without the additional cost of the exterior. 
  • Every high-end espresso machine will brew for you. If you demand only to brew a cup in the morning, it’s best to avoid highly-functional espresso machines. 
  • The size of the machine. Choose a machine that’s compact with a smaller water reservoir and a smaller drip tray if you are not an avid drinker. The smaller footprint will save you dollars. 

Does it come with a knock box, tamper, or milk jug

Knock box, tamper, and milk pitcher are essential equipment of a coffee maker. Without either of them, you won’t be able to process the espresso shot. 

The most crucial of them being a tamper. Tamping decides the extraction of your coffee. The right tamping will form an even coffee puck.

A wrong tamp will over stuff coffee at places and under stuff at others. What exactly is tamping?

A tamper is a small apparatus of a stainless steel thick disc connected with a handle. The size of the tamper matches the size of the baskets your coffee ground is. To even out the coffee ground, you use the tamper to stamp the ground with gentle pressure. 

The tamping transforms your coffee ground into a nicely packed coffee cake/puck. It allows water to flow through the puck evenly without overriding some of the zones. 

Most of the high-end espresso machines will come with a stainless steel tamper. The tamper is crucial, so you must not adjust with a plastic tamper. If your machine offers a plastic tamper, it’s best to choose a different machine. 

Breville offers a stainless steel tamper and a stainless steel razor to make sure the coffee puck has an even surface. 

  • Knock box: A knock box is used as a coffee dispenser. When you grind the coffee, you can remove the extra ground in the knock box; you can also settle down the coffee ground by banging the portafilter lightly on the knock box. Knock box is also used to dispense used coffee puck after brewing. 

Most of the manufacturers will either offer a knock box or a milk pitcher. If you are fine dispensing the extra coffee wastage directly in your preferred dustbin, a knock box can be eliminated. 

  • Milk pitcher/jug: A milk pitcher is crucial to steam milk. Although you can use any stainless steel pitcher present at home to steam milk, it’s still a piece of nice equipment to come with the machine. 
  • Most of the manufacturers will label min and max lines to fill the jug. Some manufacturers even add a temperature strip to determine milk’s temperature from the jug itself. 
Picture of a professional barista brewing espresso in a corner cafe

Does it have a built-in grinder?

As discussed, semi-automatic espresso machines now come with a built-in grinder. Only Sage/Breville and Delonghi have introduced semi-automatic espresso machines with them. It’s an exceptional feature, but it doesn’t come cheap. 

These high-end built-in grinders have conical burrs and exclusive grind size settings for a finer grind suitable for espresso shots.

Grinders are usually present at your left with hoppers at the top and a portafilter cradle beside the group head. 

These built-in grinders facilitate pre-programmed dosage, grind size, and sometimes even automatic tamping. You need to attach the portafilter in the cradle, push and hold for manual dosing, and push and leave for automatic dosing. 

These built-in grinders come with 1-10 grind size settings (one being the finest and ten being the coarsest), dosing of 18-22 grams with the manual option to grind the amount you’d prefer.

Delonghi la Specialista even offers a hand-free and mess-free tamping in a closed system. 

Please note: Built-in grinders will take more space on your kitchen counter than a grinderless machine. If your budget and kitchen allow a grinder, it will be a great feature in your espresso machine. 

Built-in grinders are specially designed for espresso machines, so you might not get coarse grinds for other brewing methods like the french press.

If you already have a grinder that grinds fine for the espresso shots, avoid a built-in grinder.

Size of the water reservoir

Are you an avid coffee drinker? If so, a bigger water reservoir will give you more cups. Most of the high-end espresso machines will have 2-2.5 liters of water reservoir. 

Smaller machines will have a smaller water reservoir with 1 liter of capacity. Please note: A machine with higher functionality and programmability will have more cleaning cycles using the most water.

SO, you might need to refill your machine again and again. If it does seem like a chore to you, it’s best to choose a brewer with fewer features to avoid frequent rinsing and descaling. 

Descaling is a result of hard water. The level of hardness decides the number of times your machine will descale. If the water is too hard, the machine will demand descaling in a month or even less.

If the water is soft, the machine will demand to descale once every fourth month. 

Fortunately, many espresso machines offer water filters to soften the water’s hardness. If your machine doesn’t come with one, it’s best to invest in a nice water filter/softener to avoid descaling as often.

Semi-automatic Vs. automatic espresso machines

There’s no comparison between the two machines. 

A semi-automatic espresso machine will serve you a barista experience. Automatic espresso machines will give you faster brews without much effort. 

Depending on your choice for automation or no automation, you can either choose semi-automatic or fully-/super-automatic espresso machines. 

Semi-automatics have an electric pump but give you the liberty to adjust the many settings you cannot work with an automatic machine.

Some of these include choosing the brewing time, temperature, steaming the milk, tamping, dosing, etc. 

Fully-automatic espresso machines

  • After semi-, fully automatic espresso machines offer you top-level automation. These machines will brew for you without putting any effort at all. 
  • Fully automatic espresso machines may or may not have a built-in grinder. 
  • These machines allow you to tamp and dose according to you. 
  • You can brew with a single click/touch. 
  • Fully-automatic espresso machines come with an automatic steaming wand!

Super-automatic machines

  • The most upgraded level in espresso machines is super-automatic espresso machines. With this machine, you do the bare minimum. From grinding to dosing, tamping, brewing, steaming, the machine does everything for you.
  • Not just that, super-automatic machines are also customizable. You can switch the pre-programmed setting to your preferred setting. 
  • With a super-automatic, you cannot tamp or dose manually if you use the grinder. The machine does it in a closed system right after grinding. 
  • The most expensive machines you will come around. 
  • It has a touch screen feature that you cannot find in other automation. 

Semi-automatic machine:

  • These machines are the most affordable addition to your kitchen. 
  • Everything is in your hand. You grind, dose, tamp, brew, steam. 
  • The machine has a smaller footprint. 
  • You will need to invest a lot of time with every shot. Also, you will need to invest time in learning the correct skills of a barista.
espresso machine with a double boiler to steam milk and brew espresso at the same time

Single boiler or dual boiler 

As discussed, a single boiler cannot brew and steam at the same time. Contrary to that, dual boilers can steam and brew at the same time.

Dual boilers are way more expensive than single boilers. So, you must check your budget before landing on either one of them.

Single boiler

  • They use the E61 group head. Single boiler maintains the temperature of the E61 group head by continually transferring hot water in the group head.
  • Single boilers can take a while to get heated up, but they are made of strong brass material and do not cool down easily. If not optimized with a temperature controller, a single boiler can get too hot.
  • They cannot brew and steam at the same time. 
  • Single boilers take a little time to adjust between steaming and brewing. You will need to sink heat by switching off the machine before switching between steaming and brewing.

Dual boiler

  • Dual boilers use standard group heads and keep the temperature stable around the group head since both of them became a part together. 
  • Dual boilers heat up instantly and are ready to brew in three-second seconds after switching on the machine. They do not need to switch between steaming and brewing and thus don’t need to sink or raise the temperature. 
  • Dual boilers are always equipped with Pid controllers to maintain temperature stability. 
  • They brew and steam at the same time. 

Who should use a semi-automatic espresso machine?

Semi-automatic espresso machines demand patience, precision, practice, and many espresso shots to learn the art of brewing.

If you are someone with the patience to try different adjustments, if you are highly precise, and most importantly, if you love the art of brewing espresso shots, then these semi-automatic espresso machines are the one for you. It takes a barista to operate a semi-automatic and brew something splendid out of it. 

You can also get a semi-automatic espresso machine if you are a complete novice as long as you have the time to invest and cherish the whole craft of brewing. 

Semi-automatic espresso machines are also inexpensive compared to other levels of automation. So, you can still enjoy a tailored espresso shot on a small budget. 

Direct connect or pour-over

Direct connect attaches your espresso machine to a freshwater source. It can be anything from your tap water, filtered water, or a water tank that offers freshwater.

A machine that comes with a direct connection may or may not come with a water reservoir. Some machines might offer both, but it’s rare. Don’t switch from direct connection to water reservoir unless your manufacturers say so. 

Direct connect requires space, a soft water line, and setup. Although it can be set up within an hour or so, you must make sure the location of the machine is close to the water source. 

Benefits of direct connect:

  • You will be using freshwater all the time. Most machines have plastic water tanks, and plastic degases ruining the water’s quality and taste. Direct connect sources water when you brew. 
  • You don’t need to worry about refilling the water tank again and again. 
  • Forget the spills and short circuits because you won’t be spilling water anywhere near the machine.

Demerits of direct connect:

  • Extra expenses. Direct Connect will be more expensive than a water tank. 
  • You will need to set up a direct connection properly near the water source. 
  • You cannot shift the machine freely around the counter.
  • You will need to find a location that provides you both a water source and an electric connection.
  • Direct connect needs a water softener connection to avoid hard water.

Pour-over 

Pour-over or using a water reservoir is the same thing. Water reservoirs aren’t bad, but they have less capacity, are prone to spills, and are made of plastic. 

But, if you are fine refilling the water tank every day after cleaning and rinsing it properly, water tanks are a good choice as well. 

Unless you are an avid drinker, high-end machines consume a lot of water in the auto-rinsing cycle; you might need a bigger source like the direct connect. Beware, direct connections are expensive. 

Three shots of espresso in glass cups lit on fire referring to the proper temperature they should be during brewing

What is the best water temp for espresso?

A cold espresso is a bad espresso.

The colder your brew gets, the sour it will start to get. With decreasing temperature, the acidity of coffee beans starts to process out, resulting in a bitterly sour and highly acidic coffee.

Thus, it’s important to ask your machine at what temperature it brews and steams. 

The optimal temperature for brewing remains 190-204 degrees Fahrenheit. For steaming, the temp must be between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit.

You are bound to lose a couple of degrees while pouring and adding milk to the coffee. The optimal temp for drinking espresso or espresso-milk-based beverages is 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Anything higher than 180 degrees will scald your tongue and deprive you of coffee’s taste; anything lower than 160 degrees will leave a bland, cold coffee behind.

Thus, your espresso machine must maintain temperature stability. 

It will be harder for a single boiler to maintain temp stability if it isn’t equipped with a PID controller or thermoblock coil.

Breville offers a PID controller or thermoblock technology with every machine it has manufactured. If your said machine doesn’t have a temp controller, you can get it installed easily. 

As for the dual boiler, dual boilers can sometimes leave your coffee a little too cold while trying to maintain the temperature.

On the other hand, a single boiler can get too hot for steaming and brewing because it’s usually hard to cool down the heavy single boiler. 

Rinse your group head, shower screen, portafilter, baskets, and cup with hot water to maintain the metal parts’ temperature. Colder instruments will further reduce the temperature of the brewed coffee. 

For cooling down the single boiler when it’s too hot, purge the steam off through the steaming wand and switch off the boiler for a couple of minutes to bring it down. 

What is the best pressure needed for correct extraction?

The exact pressure needed for brewing the perfect espresso shot remains 9-Bars. You must have heard manufacturers offer 15-Bars of the pump or even more for precise extraction, but that’s a hoax. 

Your coffee doesn’t need more than 9-Bars to extract a flavorful taste. Even the most known manufacturer offers a 15-Bar pump pressure to maintain the stability of 9-Bars without wearing it off easily and allowing it to run for a longer time. 

A 15-Bars of the pump can easily afford 9-Bars of pressure for many years without rubbing or wearing off. 

The pump only ever uses half (more than half) so that your pump stays protected and provides service for a longer period.

Don’t invest too much attention or money on entry-level espresso machines that advertise 19-bar to 20-bars of pumps; it’s to get your money with false information. 

No machine should charge extra money for pumps because that’s the sole accent of electric espresso brewers, and hauling people into admitting more money is a cheap tactic.

Please avoid paying extra for extra bar pressure because it does nothing to accentuate your coffee.

Pre-infusion Pressure

Pre-infusion is just as equally important as complete pressure extraction. Pre-infusion allows the coffee ground to soak in water completely before extracting. 

Pre-infusion preps your coffee puck for a better and even extraction. 

Many espresso machines might not allow you a different option to pre-infuse, but thanks to single-boiler machines and E61 group heads, they pre-infuse automatically. 

As for the semi-automatic, you can turn on the switch for a couple of seconds (7-8), switch off the machine, and then turn it back on for the rest of 18-19 seconds.

Many high-end espresso machines like Breville will offer the programmability to change the pre-infusion time and pressure. 

The optimal pre-infusion time for espresso shots is 2-3 Bars of pressure for 7-8 seconds. 

How to descale an espresso machine?

Espresso machines usually come with a descaling powder/agent, descaling/cleaning tablets to clean and descale the whole unit. If it doesn’t come with one, please refer to the manual as to how to descale the unit. 

If your machine has a descaling outlet, switch off the machine, unscrew the outlet and allow the steam to be out. Please use safety gloves while handling steam and heat. Once the steam is out, screw the outlet back. 

If your manual suggests descaling when the machine is off, please allow the machine to rest for 4 hours at least. 

To descale the unit, 

  • Add water to the water reservoir up until the mark it’s suggested for descaling. Please note: the descaling level is different from the water tank’s level. 
  • Now, add a descaling solution to the tank and allow it to rest. Most of the high-end espresso machines will show all the steps one by one.
  • Purge the descaling solution through the steaming wand. This way, the boiler will start to heat the descaling solution. Allow the temperature to build up in the boiler before releasing it through the steaming wand. This temperature build-up will descale the boiler completely. 
  • The manual will refer to the time you must maintain the temperature in the boiler. Purge the steaming wand once done. 
  • Rinse the group head, shower screen, portafilter with the same descaling solution present in the tank. Rinse for a long as the manual instructs. Also, make sure to use a tub above the drip tray to accumulate all the water. Your drip tray isn’t enough for descaling. 
  • Continue to purge and rinse the steaming wand and group head until the whole of the descaling solution is used. 
  •  Once done, clean the water tank with soapy water and rinse it clean with hot water. Make sure the descaling agent is completely washed. 
  • Fill the water tank with fresh soft water and adjust it back to the position. 
  • Backflush the whole group head and steaming wand to remove the descaling residual completely. 
  • Make sure to empty the freshwater through the group head and steaming.

Descaling is done to remove scale build-up in and around the boiler. Hard water loses magnesium and calcium that builds scale over the boiler ruining its capacity and longevity. 

Although hard water is not harmful to you, it’s actually very useful with dissolved minerals. Unfortunately, these dissolved minerals are not good for your espresso machine and its boiler.

Thus, it’s recommended to use soft water to avoid mineral build-up. 

A light brown  espresso cup on a saucer with chocolate and cinnamon laying next to it on a burlap covered table

Tips to make the perfect espresso shot

Brewing espresso is art, the craftsmanship that requires utmost precision at every step of brewing.

From selecting the perfect medium-dark roasted beans to the fine grind size settings, dosing, and tempering, espresso demands dedication and practice. 

It’s not difficult to select the correct beans and find the grind size’s right choice, but blending every setting to brew the perfect espresso shots will take a couple of trials and adjustments. 

Once you are done picking the right beans, there are a few settings and changes to make inside the machine to make it customary for the shot.

These steps include preheating, choosing the correct water, frothing the right amount of milk at the correct temperature, etc. 

These tips will help you eliminate the rough blind spots while brewing. Make sure you choose a machine that can be reset from the factory preset adjustment.

Factory preset guides you to better understand the settings you’d need to change. So, before disturbing the factory pre-setup, brew a couple of shots and understand your machine.

Every machine is different and will have different settings. Thus, it’s important to learn its base through stepped stages. 

Preheat

A sour, acidic coffee will ruin your tongue’s taste, hurt your stomach and leave you with a bad, burning, and itching aftertaste.

To avoid a sour coffee, you must choose low-acidic coffee beans to start with- a Sumatran blend will give you low acidic coffee. 

If you are not tolerant to Sumatran coffee beans, its blend with other origins will give you a sweet taste, full-body, and low acidity. 

After choosing the beans, the temperature of the coffee determines the acidity. As discussed, a cold coffee will be sour. So, make sure you heat your machine properly before brewing. 

Preheat up is simple. 

  • Turn on the machine and allow it to heat for 30 minutes (less or more) if it’s a single boiler. Once your machine is ready to brew, it will illuminate buttons. 
  • Rinse your group head, shower screen, portafilter, and empty baskets with hot water. How to rinse your brewing unit? Attach the empty baskets with the portafilter and then lock the portafilter with the group head. Click the brewing button and allow clear hot water to pour out. This hot water will preheat your brewing unit. 
  • While doing so, keep a cup below the portafilter, so you warm the cup with hot water as well. Switch off the brew button when the cup overflows. 
  • Empty the cup and place it upside down on the cup warming plate. This will not allow the heat to escape. If you are brewing a milk beverage, warm it the same way and keep it upside down. 
  • For the steaming wand, purge it with hot water. It’s good to go.

Soft or filter water 

50% of your espresso shot is going to be water. So, the water must be picked carefully. Now, you might think water is water, but there are many degrees to the water.

The most-concerned water degrees while brewing espresso shots are soft water and hard water. 

Hard water carries many minerals and is probably the most healthy water you will be using. Unfortunately, hard water is not as healthy for the machine as it is for you.

Hard water carries calcium and magnesium, including many other minerals. These minerals are bad for your boiler as they might scale it up and jam the boiler’s capacity and capability. 

Hence, you should never use hard water while brewing. Soft water is the first best option while brewing.

Soft water has no minerals and cannot scale your machine with minerals. Using soft water will keep your machine healthy for a longer period without the need for frequent descaling. 

That being said, filtered water will also have minerals, including Mg and Ca, but they will not carry harmful chemicals, minerals, microscopic waste. It can be called clean, filtered, hard water. 

If you use hard water, your machine will need to descale every two weeks to remove the scale build-up from the water.

If your area cannot avail soft water, you can use a water softener and a water filter to keep yourself and your machine protected. 

Surprisingly, many machines offer a water softener/filter as well. You can detect water’s hardness with a hardness strip test. 

Froth milk manually

No one can deny the capability and quality of manual hard work. A custom-made antique will always remain superior to a commercial look-alike. 

The same can be seen between manually steamed milk and automatically steamed milk. 

While manually brewing, you decide the hotness of the milk, the amount of froth and foam you want, the type of foam you want, and how much quantity you want. You tailor your milk, but that’s not the case with the automatic steaming wand. 

An automatic steaming wand will decide the temperature, the froth, the foam, and the microbubbles; you have no control whatsoever over the milk.

You might end up with good milk, but will it be of your choice? No, and yes. 

Thus, a manual steaming wand will always remain superior. It’s not hard to steam milk when you know your brew.

If you want a latte, you want more milk and less foam (just a thin layer). If you want a cappuccino, you need less milk and more foam. 

How to create microfoam with the right proportion: 

Suppose you want a cappuccino. Cappuccino needs more foam and less hot milk. So, you will need to take less milk and then foam its volume. 

  • Take a pitcher and fill it below the max line. ⅓ of the jar to have enough space for the foam. 
  • To steam/heat the milk, dip the rod completely in. When the rod is deeply buried in the milk, it will not source any air from the surface.
  • To make microfoam for the cappuccino, you will need to bring the tip of the wand at the surface, only ½ inch below the surface. 
  • This location will facilitate enough air to create a microfoam with no big bubbles. 
  • You swirl the pitcher to get all sides of the milk heat up, or you can use a location that creates a whirlpool. 
  • To create a whirlpool, hold the pitcher slightly tilted towards the machine and let the rod transverse the center. 
White demitasse cups sitting next to a burlap bag spilled over with espresso  beans falling out

Use the correct beans.

Beans are the first and foremost selection that decides how your coffee is going to taste. Before any brand and online purchase, make fresh beans your number one priority.

Even from the smallest local roastery, fresh beans will taste a lot better than old-roasted beans from a branded manufacturer. 

Many roasteries offer roast-after-order features to deliver fresh beans. Choose wisely. After fresh beans, next comes the taste and flavor profile you’d prefer in your coffee. 

If sweet is your taste, Arabica beans will give you a semi- to full-bodied taste with sweet, fruity undertones and chocolate flavors. On the other hand, Robusta will give you a stronger punch of caffeine with a great boost and fewer flavors. 

Sometimes, arabica gets too sweet and less robust, killing the real flavors of coffee. Robusta beans can get too robust and less sweet as well. If you want a dark punch, highly caffeinated, without being too bitter and too sweet, choose a robusta-arabica blend! 

After choosing the species, you must choose the correct location. Depending on the location, beans can either have a single origin (like the Sumatra) or blend origin that is a mix of many origins. 

Single-origin will give you authentic coffee with a single flavor profile that gives you consistency. Blend origin will give you a mix of flavors that can vary from tangy to sweet, spicy, chocolate, etc. 

Packaging: Packaging plays a crucial role while protecting the freshness of your beans. Choose a roastery that seals your beans in a zip bag or a stainless steel container.

Never buy open bags of coffee beans; it will leave you with a stale-tasting coffee. 

Use a fine grind

A fine grind will provide an open surface for the water to soak in properly, providing enough surface area to extract all the coffee ground flavors.

Unlike other brewing methods, espresso takes 25-30 seconds which is very little compared to others. 

To extract full flavors at such a short period, you must grind your beans to the finest level for proper saturation and even extraction.

If you choose a built-in grinder semi-automatic espresso machine, you will be introduced to a wide range of fine settings. 

You will need to select a concise setting between 1-5 to get the finest ground with a separate grinder because a separate grinder will be built for all the brews and not just espresso. 

Please note: not every fine setting will be perfect for espresso. Sometimes, too fine can over-concentrate your coffee, leaving bitter dark coffee behind. It will take 4-5 shots before you fall on the perfect grind size setting. 

If the coffee you brew is runny and watery, switch to a finer setting, but if it’s too thick and doesn’t flow with ease, switch to a coarser setting. 

Why are they so expensive?

While espresso machines might seem expensive, these high-end semi-automatic machines offer top-quality services. Semi-automatics are not much programmable; nonetheless, they are equipped with expensive internals. 

  • Brass/copper boilers: Brass is the most expensive and top-quality material while building boilers, way more expensive than a stainless steel boiler. So, if you come across a brass dual boiler machine, the price is legit.
  • Group heads and the brewing unit: Whether it’s a standard group head or an E61 group head, both are expensive additions to the machine. E61 is made of chrome-plated brass. Similarly, standard group heads are the upgraded version of E61 and are an integral part of the dual boilers.
  • The material used to build it: Stainless steel is expensive because it’s unbreakable, doesn’t get scratched easily, has a long life, serves nature, and is built to last. It gives your machine sturdiness, look, elegant appearance, etc.
  • Programmability: That’s expensive; the smarter features your smart machine offers, the more expensive it will get.

Please note: study your machine and its footprint before buying yourself a hoax. This list will guide you ten best espresso machines that will offer many great features.

Breville vs. Delonghi

Delonghi is the most popular name for affordable entry-level espresso machines and a greater starter pack. On the other hand, Breville is known for the high-end espresso machines that are very expensive but masterpieces for technology. 

Both Breville and Delonghi stand at different aisles. While DeLonghi serves the entry-level demand and high-end demands, Breville has no mercy when it comes to quality and expense. 

Breville is an Australian-based company. It started long back in 1932 and is now one of the leading espresso machines in many countries, including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, etc. Breville is known as Sage in the U.K. 

Delonghi is an Italian-based company and serves the general public with a variety of machines. 

Delonghi

  • Delonghi has a vast price range starting from $100-$2000. IT has a vast range for every budget. 
  • Delonghi manufactures semi-, super-, and fully-automatic espresso machines.
  • Its super-automatic espresso machine has a built-in grinder with an enclosed system for grinding, dosing, tamping, and brewing. Unlike other models with a visible hopper and cradle, DeLonghi’s super-automatic has a closed system that grinds directly in the baskets present inside the brewing unit.
  • Delonghi doesn’t come with a portafilter in super-automatic espresso machines, only adjustable spouts. 
  • Delonghi comes with a steaming jug that steams directly in the cup placed below the spout. You don’t need to manually hold the pitcher and pour the milk with DeLonghi super-automatic espresso machines. 
  • It features buttons to operate the machine. 

Breville

  • Breville offers machines in the range of $300-$2000. Although misunderstood, Breville has affordable rates, too, if we look at the features it offers.
  • Breville also manufactures semi-, super, and fully-automatic espresso machines. It also offers a built-in grinder in many of its machines. 
  • Breville’s built-in grinder has a hopper and a cradle for manual dosing and tamping(in semi-automatic) and a hopper with an enclosed cradle for automatic dosing tamping. Unlike Delonghi, Breville makes sure the brewer feels like a barista every time it uses a Breville product.
  • Breville comes with a portafilter in every machine and also offers stainless steel temper and milk pitcher complimentary.
  • It offers various interfaces, including touchscreen, LED display, LCD, buttons, knobs, etc. 

Conclusion

While entry-level espresso machines will cost you hundreds of dollars with zero to no longevity, high-end espresso machines are a one-time purchase and serve you in the long run with quality without compromise. 

If you have had a blasting experience with entry-level espresso machines, these high-end devices would be a beautiful start for your upgraded espresso shots.

Not only will these machines draw perfect shots, but they will also polish your barista skills and sit beautifully on your countertop. 

If your budget allows you to invest in something more, these machines will give you the commercial barista feel and experience.

With the detailed information and multiple Q&As, choose yourself the perfect morning partner and brew authentic cups every day. These espresso machines are a lifestyle worth saving for!