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How to Get the Most from your Super Automatic

Posted: 03/01/13
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Brewing with a super automatic espresso machine is one of the easiest ways to get your daily caffeine fix. Once the reservoir and bean hopper are filled, you’re basically just the push of a button away from enjoying a delicious brew. But brewing with a super is so simple that most people forget they can make adjustments to optimize their regular drink or create something new. That’s where this guide comes in. Using the tips and tricks listed here, you’ll be brewing up the best your espresso machine has to offer in no time.

The 2 adjustments that will make the most impact are the grind setting and the ground coffee dosage. Let’s start by getting familiar with these changes and the affects they’ll have on your coffee.

Grind Setting
Close up view of grinder settings on a super automatic espresso machineThe grind setting determines how quickly water is able to pass through your coffee grounds and therefore, the extraction time – how long the water is actually in contact with the grounds and is able to pull flavor from them. This has a major impact on the final brew because, as you may know, an extraction time that’s too short can result in a bland brew, whereas an extraction that’s too long generally produces a bitter flavor.

Now, the amount of time the water is in contact with the coffee – the extraction time – is also directly related to the amount of water you’re pulling through it. Think of it this way: if you’re brewing an espresso, you’re generally going to pull 2 to 2.5oz of water through your grounds. So for espresso, you would want to slow the water’s ability to flow through coffee to ensure that all of the flavor characteristics make it through to your cup and to avoid under extraction. Conversely, if you’re brewing a café crema, you’ll probably be pulling 5 to 6 oz of water through your grounds, so you want water to flow more freely through the grounds to prevent over extraction. Therefore, we can rely on this general rule of thumb:

  • When brewing with less water (espresso), use a finer grind setting
  • When brewing with more water (café crema), use a coarser grind setting

That being said, it is all about taste, so there isn’t any one magic grind setting that will produce the “perfect” espresso or café crema. Experiment a little, but keep with this general rule, and you should easily find your optimal setting.

Other Important Considerations
Before you run over to your machine and start adjusting the grind setting, keep these few additional pieces of information in mind:

  • The grinder should ALWAYS be running when you adjust the grind setting. Adjusting the grind setting when the grinder isn’t running can possibly result in damage to the grinding burrs, so change the setting ONLY when the grinder is in the process of grinding beans. To do this, you’ll need to start a brewing cycle. While the machine is grinding beans for your shot, you will be able to adjust the grind setting.

  • Grind setting changes may take a few brewing cycles to take effect. Keep in mind that you may not see an immediate change depending on the internal components of your machine--most machines take 2-4 brew cycles to flush out any residual grounds.

  • Try to avoid setting the grinder to the finest grind setting. All Super Automatic Espresso Machines are calibrated to produce an espresso grind, with some providing you with a wider range of adjustment within this range than others. While some coffees may brew correctly on the finest setting of a machine, the combination of super-fine grounds and the oils in many varieties of coffee can gum up the internals of most machines. While some have user-serviceable grinders that can be cleaned, several newer units don't--a clog in one of these could require a trip to the repair shop and is best avoided.

  • Try to avoid using particularly oily whole beans. Through our years of experience, we’ve determined that particularly oily (and usually dark roasted) beans are not optimal for use in a super auto. Again, the combination of finely ground coffee with a large amount of oil can, and generally will, cause performance issues over time. In addition, the oil can make beans stick together, preventing them from falling properly into the grinding burrs. If you do decide to use oily beans, you will need to use a coarse grind setting and keep in mind that you will need to clean the grinder very frequently.

    • What constitutes as an oily bean? As a general rule of thumb, if you pick up a bean between your thumb and forefinger and a visible residue is left on your fingers, the bean may be too oily for use in a super auto.

    • Can I use beans from the local coffee shop? We wouldn’t generally recommend using whole beans from cafés in your super auto’s grinder, however, you can purchase your favorite blend as a preground espresso and add it to your machine’s bypass doser instead. In addition, we carry several coffees that can produce an equivalent or even better flavor than the beans you’re used to that will work beautifully in your machine, so it may help to sample our selection of coffees. And remember, if you do decide to use those oily whole beans, make sure to use a coarse grind setting and clean your grinder regularly.

 

Grind setting and coffee dosage on a super automatic espresso machine

 

Ground Coffee Dosage
The ground coffee dosage allows you to determine how much ground coffee is used in a single brewing process. Each super auto’s range of dosage varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the purpose is the same: changing the dosage changes the strength of your brew. Since everyone’s preferences are different, there’s no real set standard for dosage, but there are a few things you should consider:

  • If you’re drinking your espresso straight, you may want to use a medium dosage to allow the flavor nuances of your coffee to come through without being overpowered by its strength.

  • If you’re using your espresso for a cappuccino, latte, or café Americano, you may want to use a slightly higher dosage to prevent the flavor of the coffee from getting “drowned out” by the milk or water.

  • If you’re brewing a café crèma, you may want to use a high dosage to prevent over extraction and produce a full, rich flavor.

Again, the above information is simply a guideline – if you find that you prefer a lower dosage for your café crèma, go ahead and change it. It’s all about taste.

Other Important Considerations
Although you can go ahead and change your machines ground coffee dosage at any time, here are a few things to think about before you do.

  • Dosage adjustments may take a few brewing cycles to take effect. So keep in mind that you may not see an immediate change depending on the internal components of your machine.

  • Try to avoid using the highest dosage setting. Although the machine will run smoothly when on the highest setting, it increases the likelihood of “gumming up” parts of the brew group – especially if you’re using a particularly oily bean. If you do prefer your coffee at the highest dose setting, keep in mind that you will need to clean your brew group regularly, either by removing and rinsing it like on the Gaggia and Saeco brand supers or by running a cleaning cycle like on the Jura Capresso machines.

  • The amount of coffee that is dosed at the highest setting is also the maximum amount of coffee you can add to the bypass doser. The highest dosage volume is determined by what the brew group’s capacity is, so the coffee you add to the bypass doser has the same limit. Be sure not to overfill the bypass doser, as this can possibly result in brew group maintenance issues.

Wrapping Up
Hopefully this guide has given you a better idea of what the capabilities of your super automatic are and how to customize them to your coffee-drinking preferences. With all of the convenience that a super automatic espresso machine offers, this information should help you optimize each cup to be its best.