Articles From Whole Latte Love

Picking the Perfect Espresso Machine

Posted: 11/14/03

Espresso machines are fairly simple to figure out, but when you are going to buy one for someone else it can get a little tricky. We are going to try to get you headed in the right direction. As with any gift, there are a couple of things you have to know in order to pick out the best one. We are going to discuss these and give you some great places to go on our website that will help you as well.

super automaticFirst, you have to decide whether you will be looking at a semi automatic machine or a super automatic machine. Making this decision is fairly simple. Basically, will the person you are buying this for want to push a button and have everything happen for them? semi automaticOr, will this person want to be involved in the process of making their morning coffee drink? If you think they will want the convenience of pushing a button, a super automatic machine will do the trick. If they are the type of person who will spend hours delicately slaving in the kitchen over a delectable treat, it will be a semi automatic machine. Another way to look at it is like this: Is the person you are buying this for simple looking for an easy way to make espresso or are they looking for the machine that will give them the most control when making their drinks? An easy, fast way to make espresso and other drinks is the super automatic machines. Semi automatic machines can take a little longer to get used to, but they will give you the most control.

Once you have that figured out you can go to the next step. This step is looking at the machines and figuring out which features are going to best suit the needs of the person using the machine. We will start with super automatic espresso machines. These machines differ by features. You will get almost the same espresso from all of them, but the features make the price difference. So, you will need to ask yourself a couple questions. Is a digital display important? A digital display on the machine can give you many different options, like setting a time for the machine to either go in to "energy savings" mode or to turn off, setting different water amounts and coffee amounts for the different programmable buttons, adjusting the temperature of your espresso, and setting the water hardness level so you can be reminded accurately when to decalcify your espresso machine. displayMost simply and obviously, a digital display will in plain English display the function and status of the machine. This can be helpful in the groggy early hours of the morning. Machines without a digital display will have indicator lights. Some lights are shared. That means that one light will indicate that you need to fill the beans, fill the water, or empty the dredge drawer. Figuring out what the lights mean isn’t difficult, but if your purchasing for someone who entertains frequently the digital display is recommended, guests can help themselves. Other features that have to be taken into consideration are these:

-Bypass doser-This feature allows you to use ground coffee. This works very well when you need to use a different kind of coffee. For example, switching between caffeinated and decaffeinated. You will be set as long as one of the two are preground.

-"Rapid Steam" or double heating element-This allows you to go between brew temperature and steam temperature in a very short period of time, usually no more than 10 seconds. Without this feature there will be a wait time of 30 to 45 seconds to heat to steam temperature. Also, after steaming and frothing there is a cool down period, which usually takes 30 seconds.

-Adjustable dosage-If an espresso machine has this you can adjust the amount of coffee that will be ground. With Gaggia and Saeco machines it can be adjusted between 6 and 9 grams per single shot of espresso by adjusting a sliding lever on the side of the machine. In Capresso, Jura, and Jura Capresso machines it can be adjusted between 9 and 13 grams per single shot with the touch of the brew button.

There are many more features as well. For more information on features you can go to:

If the super automatic machine doesn’t fit your specifications, then lets talk about semi automatic machines. The first way to break these down is by the kind of portafilter handle each machine has. The portafilter is the handle that holds the filter basket with the coffee in it. Don’t worry there are only two different types: the pressurized portafilter and the commercial-style portafilter.

pressurized portafilterThe pressurized portafilter one has a crema enhancing disk or ring in it that will adjust the water flow as needed. What this means is that if your grind setting is a little too coarse, it should not be a problem because the water flow is slowed down. This is the best way to make espresso yourself without having to be concerned too much about grind setting and tamp pressure.

The commercial-style portafilter is just a metal holder with a plastic handle. There is no disk or ring to create extra pressure when you make your espresso. Grind setting, tamp pressure, and timing are more important here. commercial-style portafilterThis kind of handle will make espresso similar to that in Italy or in most coffee shops; it’s all dependent on the talents of the Barista. The one thing to keep in mind is that learning to make espresso with a commercial-style portafilter requires patience for the first few shots. In order to get a shot of espresso with good crema you have to follow the "Golden Rule". This is not difficult as long as the person making the espresso truly wants to be involved in the entire process.

Once you have decided which of the two handles would work best, the rest is fairly easy. There are only a few different features to choose from between these machines. The ones with the commercial-style portafilter will be the Gaggia machines, the Rancilio Silvia, and the Francis Francis machines. There are also semi-commercial machines that have commercial-sized handles the Expobar, Pasquini, etc. These machines have a heat exchanger in the boiler, so there is no wait time between brewing and steaming they are available simultaneously. The Gaggia semi-automatic machines, Rancilio Silvia, and Francis Francis machines will have a wait time to go from brew to steam temperature of about 40 seconds and will have to be cooled down after steaming and frothing. A good starting point for machines with pressurized handles is the Capresso Espresso Pro.

Our goal is to get you started in the right direction. We have created buying guides to help you as well. These guides give you articles and information about all the different types of espresso machines. There are also more links to helpful information below. If you get confused at any time or have questions to bounce off of us, we are here to help. You can either email us or call us. Either way, we will get you the answers you need.

Some additional articles that will help you:
-What is a Super Automatic?
-Prosumer Espresso Equipment
-Jura Capresso S9, S8, S7