With all of the major differences between super automatic, semi automatic, and manual espresso machines, it’s usually pretty easy to decide which of the three you will ultimately purchase. The hard part starts when you have pick between the numerous machines that fall into that category. In theory, super automatic espresso machines all function the same, so how is it that there are so many available at such different price points? It all comes down to one thing: additional features.
Everywhere you go, you can find a listing of the features that are available on each super automatic machine. That’s great, but if you’re not an expert in the field of espresso machines, it only solves half of the problem. Knowing what each of these features can accomplish is the only way to decide if each one is a necessity or a luxury for you.
First we’ll lay down some guidelines for what we consider standard functions of a super auto. All super automatic espresso machines will grind whole beans that are put into the machine and deposit the grounds into the brew group, where they will be tamped and brewed. The user chooses the liquid volume that is dispensed using controls on the machine. Super automatic machines will also provide hot water and steam through a steam wand. Water to brew and steam comes from an attached reservoir and is pulled through a small boiler that heats the water to the appropriate temperature of the function you are performing.
The things we’ll be discussing in this piece are what we’re considering the extra or additional features. These are processes, settings, or physical elements that are not included on all super automatic machines, but are available on some.
Bypass dosers were created for those of us who like a little variety. This feature allows you to use ground coffee in your super automatic instead of the whole beans that are already in your hopper. Say, for instance, that you have a bean hopper full of regular beans, but a guest comes over who would like a decaf cappuccino. You can’t exactly turn the machine upside down and dump out the beans, so what do you do? You grab the preground decaf you keep in your cupboard for such an occasion, and put a little in the bypass doser. The amount of ground coffee you can use at one time with a bypass doser is dependent upon the amount of coffee the brew group can hold. Most machines with a removable brew group can dose between 6 and 9 grams of coffee per shot, so you wouldn’t want to use any more than that in the bypass doser. If you’d like to brew a double with this type of machine, you would add the 6-9 grams of ground coffee, wait for the first brewing cycle to finish, and then repeat the process. Depending on the machine, non-removable brew groups generally dose between 5 and 16 grams of coffee, so you can make a double shot in one step. The specific dosing amounts for each machine can be found in our Compare-O-Matic. Keep in mind that bypass dosers will only accept preground coffees, and can never be used with whole beans.
These are just a few of the machines that have a bypass doser: Jura Capresso S7 Avantgarde, Saeco Primea Touch Plus, Gaggia Syncrony Compact
Single vs. Dual Heating Elements
Super automatic machines average about 43 seconds * to heat up from brewing to steaming temperature, but the inclusion of two heating elements practically eliminates this wait time. Super autos commonly utilize Thermobloc heating elements. These systems pull small amounts of water through at a time. Hence, single Thermobloc systems experience a bit of lag time when switching between brewing and steaming temperature. Dual heating elements make it possible to produce cappuccinos and lattes in a snap and also get rid of the necessity to cool the boiler (letting excess steam and water out of the steam wand) after steaming.
These are just a few of the machines that have dual heating elements: Gaggia Titanium, Saeco Vienna Deluxe, Jura Capresso S9 Avantgarde
Digital Display vs. Indicator Lights
If blinking lights annoy you, this is the feature for you. A digital display tells you what the machine is ready to do, what it’s doing, and what needs to be done, all in plain English. Like machines with shared indicator lights, the display will tell you when you’re out of beans or water, but a digital display allows for much more information. Each indicator light usually represents more than one issue, so the digital read outs present an advantage of specificity. On certain machines, the digital display will also show you the coffee volume that is being prepared, provide prompts for programming options, and will even indicate how many cups have been made since the day you started using it.
These are just a few of the machines that have a digital display: Gaggia Syncrony, Jura Capresso E9, Saeco Incanto Sirius
Many of our super automatic machines have programmability options, but the number and type of these settings varies from model to model. Here are some quick descriptions of programmable options that are relatively common:
Liquid Volume Control
Every super automatic will allow you to control the amount of water that is dispensed, but not all machines provide this as a programmable option. With this feature, you can program each button to dispense a specified amount, so the machine is, in essence, tailor made for you. One of the most popular uses for this feature is to program one of the buttons to dispense 6 to 8oz of coffee to make café crema. Café crema is a drink that is very similar to drip coffee, but benefits from espresso’s pressure brewing process. One sip of café crema and you’ll be convinced to drop the drip forever!
This feature helps to speed things up a bit when you’re making multiple drinks. While you’re brewing, it will grind the next shot and keep it waiting in the brew group. The next time you hit the brew button, the brewing process will begin automatically, rather than needing to wait for the beans to be ground first.
When you use the pre-brewing option, ground coffee is moistened with water and steeps for a second before the brewing process begins. This helps to more fully extract flavor from the coffee grounds, but is not necessary for brewing. In addition, pre moistening the coffee helps to avoid channeling, which is when the water finds only one or two paths through the coffee rather than evenly saturating it. You will notice that when the pre-brewing process is activated, the grinder will run, and during a slight pause a few dribbles of water will emerge from the spouts. After this, brewing will commence.
The typical preset temperature of espresso is about 184 ¾* degrees upon outlet from the machine. After it drops into your cup, however, the temperature lowers to around 165 ¼*. Pre-heating your cups can reduce this change, but if you are still unsatisfied, temperature control is probably for you. Setting the temperature to "high" will, on most machines, bring the in-cup temperature of your espresso to around 171* degrees. As you can see from the numbers above, espresso is brewed at a significantly lower temperature than drip coffee. Espresso may seem cool in comparison to drip coffee, which is brewed between 195 and 205 degrees. Specific in-cup and outlet temperatures for each machine can be found in the performance specs of our Compare-O-Matic.
These are just a few of the machines that have these programmability options: Jura Capresso Z5, Gaggia Syncrony, Saeco Magic Comfort +
Removable vs. Non-removable Brew Groups
The brew group is the portion of the machine where brewing takes place. The advantage to the removable brew group is that you have the ability to physically inspect the system for cleaning and maintenance. Removing this type of brew group is a painless process that requires no tools. You will need to do this fairly often to rinse it of any coffee oils and residues that may be clinging to it. Machines that have non-removable brew groups replace manual rinsing with an automatic rinse cycle that is performed both on start up and shut down. Additionally, you may want to take a damp cloth to the shower screen periodically.
These are just a few of the machines that have..
Removable brew group: Gaggia Syncrony, Saeco Royal Professional, Gaggia Compact Digital
Non-removable brew group: Jura Capresso S9 Avantgarde, Bosch B30
4Many super automatic espresso machines have cup warmers, but they are not always a standard feature. Using cold cups is one of the biggest opponents of hot coffee. Using a cup warmer to preheat your cups can only make your coffee better. The most efficient cup warmers are active; they have their own heating element. Passive cup warmers utilize residual heat from the internal components of the machine, so they take a bit longer to be truly effective.
These are just a few of the machines that have an actively heated cup warmer: Saeco Magic Comfort +, Gaggia Syncrony
Water Filtration Systems
Using filtered water to make your espresso not only improves the flavor of the product, but also helps to lengthen the life of the machine. Internal water filtration systems accomplish both of these ends, and reduce the amount of decalcification that needs to be performed to clean the machine. The filters usually need to be changed every 3 to 4 months.
Jura Capresso is the only manufacturer who includes a water filtration system that will eliminate lead, chlorine, aluminum, and copper. A few other machines come with large particle filters, but these only keep larger foreign objects from making their way into the boiler system.
These are just a few of the machines that have a water filtration system: Bosch B20, Jura Capresso F9, Saeco Incanto Rondo
It’s All About Taste!
The following options are available to give you control:
Most super automatic espresso machines allow you to change the grind setting. If your shots of espresso or café crema taste weak, too strong or bitter this is one adjustment that will come in very handy. For instance, a finer grind will bring out more flavor. However if it is too fine the coffee can taste bitter. On the other hand, if the grind is too coarse you coffee will taste weak and lack the robust flavor you are striving for.
The dosage of coffee is the amount of ground coffee that is actually used to brew a shot. Adjusting this amount makes it very easy to change the strength of the product based on the amount of water you’ll be brewing with or who you’re brewing for. Machines with removable brew groups allow you to move between 6 and 9 grams of coffee for a single shot. Those with non-removable brew groups are configured to allow dosage between 5 and 16 grams of coffee depending upon the machine. This higher dosage capability will let you brew a double shot at the touch of a button.
These are just a few of the machines that have adjustable dosing: Saeco Incanto Rapid Steam SBS, Jura Capresso F9, Gaggia Syncrony Compact
Hopefully this has helped to clarify what benefit these features can provide. Considering what drinks you will be preparing the most and what environment the machine will be in will aid in choosing the combination of features that’s right for you. If you would like to compare super automatic machines by their features, our Compare-O-Matic should be your first stop. You can also check out our Research Center or watch the QuickTime Videos to see how some of these features work in action. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to give our sales staff a call!
* Averages based on performance specifications listed in the Whole Latte Love Compare-O-Matic
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