CYBER EVENT: NO SALES TAX

Whole Latte Love Blog

Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

by Marc Buckman Updated: October 18, 2021 16 min read

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive promotions and regular updates on everything coffee!

Updated for 2021 Hey espresso lovers, today we reveal our picks for the top 5 best espresso machines of 2021. These are our picks in 5 different categories ranging from the best entry-level machines up to our favorite plumbable rotary pump dual-boiler boiler machine. We’ll also give picks for best overall value, best heat-exchanger machine, and best brand design. Along with our top machines in each category, we’ll have a couple of honorable mentions along the way for your consideration.

NOTE: These picks and opinions are based on our staff's experience testing, using, and servicing just about every home-use semi-automatic espresso machine available in the U.S. Our technicians service hundreds of machines every year and we work directly with manufacturers on machine design and upgrades, so we are really very familiar with these machines inside and out.

Marc Buckman and Michael Hauck at the ECM Factory

Marc Buckman discusses the Profitec Pro 600 with ECM/Profitec CEO Michael Hauck.

We should also mention that we are not considering extreme entry-level espresso appliances at the low end or saturated group pressure profiling machines at the high-end. With that out of the way, let's start with a quick background on semi-autos and then get to the picks.

What is a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine?

Semi-automatic machines are the most popular espresso machines at Whole Latte Love—they put the brewing process entirely in your hands and unlike super-automatics, allow you to grind your own beans fresh, as well as tamp and extract your own espresso. For this reason, many entry-level, intermediate, and pro-baristas love semi-automatics: being able to build up your skill level and see the results of your progress is undoubtedly a rewarding feeling with semi-autos.

Because there are so many semi-automatic machines available, there is a wide range of machines to choose from in terms of features, functions, design, style, capabilities and more. If you’re just starting out, our most popular entry-level semi-automatic machine is the Gaggia Classic Pro, if you’re a seasoned barista, many people go with the Profitec Pro 700 or Rocket Espresso Appartamento.

Custom Color Panels Offered Exclusively by Whole Latte Love
Custom Colors for the Rocket Appartamento

Custom Colors for the Rocket Appartamento

The Rocket Appartamento has always been a stylish espresso machine, giving us either the copper or white panel inserts to admire. Now, Whole Latte Love has released ei...
Read Article 

But, we’ll get more into details about the best home espresso machines below. For now, it’s important to know that semi-automatic espresso machines are great for anyone who would love the opportunity to bring the cafe home and brew their own espresso and milk-based drinks like a pro-barista.

The Complete Guide to Milk Based Coffee Drinks

The Complete Guide to Milk Based Coffee Drinks

Are you a newbie as a home barista? Read our complete guide to milk beverages for everything you need to know to create delicious lattes, cappuccinos and more.
Read Article 

What to Look for in a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine?

Some key features that you should look out for in semi-automatic espresso machines include:

E61 Brew Group

E61 group heads promote temperature stability by circulating heated water from a thermosyphon system. This is a great feature to look out for if you really like having things warmed up and ready to brew a hot cup of coffee throughout the day.

Intro to Calculating Flow Rate on E61 Group Machines

Intro to Calculating Flow Rate on E61 Group Machines

Flow control is the latest trend in espresso. It’s a tool to help you get more out of your coffee by extracting specific flavors, aromas, and nuances out of your favorite coffee and now it’s more accessible on prosumer-level home espresso machines from manufacturers including Profitec and ECM, as well as high-end home and commercial machines like Dalla Corte’s Mina.
Read Article 

Commercial-Style Portafilter

Brands like Rancilio feature commercial-parts both in their commercial espresso machines and home and office machines. Machines like their Rancilio Silvia M feature a commercial-style portafilter, giving you high-quality parts and the feeling like you’re behind the bar like the pro-baristas.

Rancilio Silvia M Espresso Machine

Rancilio Silvia M Espresso Machine

387 Reviews
Updated for 2020 the Rancilio Silvia M, features an updated black brew group cover, stainless steel steam wand, and includes a 58mm wood handle tamper.

Single Boiler

Single-boilers are quite popular in semi-automatics. The one boiler is used for both brewing and steaming which usually requires a little bit of patience to allow the machine to heat up to appropriate steaming temperatures after pulling a shot of espresso.

Heat Exchanger and Dual Boilers

Dual boiler and heat exchanger machines feature two boilers, one for brewing and one for steaming. This allows you to brew and steam at the same time without any wait, which is a great feature if your machine is used in a medium to high-volume environment. Heat exchanger and dual boiler machines also keep the brewing and steaming boiler from interacting with each other, which keeps temperature pretty stable.

Best Entry-Level Machine: Gaggia Classic Pro

Gaggia Classic Pro and Baratza Sette 270

The Gaggia Classic Pro is our definitive pick for the best value entry level machine.

The Gaggia Classic has been around for a long time and for a bunch of good reasons. There’s just no other machine at this price that comes close in capabilities, and now we've seen the Classic take a big step forward as the Classic Pro. It still has all the features like a commercial size and weight portafilter, a 3-way solenoid valve for dry, easy-to-knock-out coffee pucks, and no power limitations. Now, it has a streamlined housing, updated rocker switches with separate temp-ready lights, a refined drip tray with rounded edges, and a more accessible water reservoir.

One key development with the Classic Pro is the introduction of a little color! Inspired by our custom paint jobs for the Classic Pro, Gaggia quickly introduced their own series of painted machines that are known overseas as the Classic Color Vibes. Available in Cherry Red, Classic Blue, Industrial Grey, Polar White, Thunder Black, and of course Stainless Steel, the Gaggia Classic Pro has never looked better.

bannerimage

3-Way Solenoid Valve

If you have a budget semi-automatic espresso machine, you pull a shot and remove the portafilter you may notice it’s like the machine sneezed out a messy, muddy mix of coffee water and grinds.
Read Article 

Now, probably the biggest step forward is the steam wand. The Classic Pro comes with a commercial-style steam wand for true barista-quality micro-foam. People have been wanting a commercial wand on the Classic for years, and now it's finally here. I can tell you, from my own personal testing, the wand is a fantastic upgrade.

The Classic Pro is really the best place to start an espresso journey. It comes out of the box ready to brew using pressurized filter baskets, so you can go without the grinder to start and use pre-ground coffee or ESE pods. Then when you’re ready to up your espresso game, it comes with a standard non-pressurized basket. Add a grinder and suddenly you can brew exceptional shots on par with much more expensive machines.

Compared to cheaper entry-level espresso appliances, you will appreciate the Classic as a true machine. It’s built to last. Rugged, easy to service and retains its value. It’s capable of making barista-quality shots while cheaper espresso appliances are limited by smaller coffee doses and pressurized basket brewing which fakes the crema.

There’s simply no other true machine with the capabilities of the Classic at this price.

Best Value Entry Level
Gaggia Classic Pro Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Gaggia Classic Pro Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

849 Reviews
The Gaggia Classic Pro improves on the decades old reputation of its predecessor. With an updated commercial steam wand, rocker switches, temperature ready lights, and a streamlined frame, the 100% Italian made Gaggia Classic Pro is the best entry-level espresso machine on the market.

Honorable mentions in the entry-level machine category are the Bezzera New Hobby and the ECM Casa V. Both are somewhat more expensive, have larger boilers, and are manual milk frothing only. They are worth a look if you’ve had some experience and are looking for a first home machine. As these are non-pressurized brewing only, you will want a decent burr grinder as well.

Incredible Steaming Performance
Bezzera New Hobby Espresso Machine

Bezzera New Hobby Espresso Machine

25 Reviews
The Bezzera New Hobby is a compact semi-automatic espresso machine equipped with impressive steam power, a 3-way solenoid valve, and an impressive 3-liter water reservoir.
Premium Aesthetics and Design
ECM Casa V Espresso Machine

ECM Casa V Espresso Machine

50 Reviews
The Casa V from ECM is the premier semi-automatic machine, and we’re happy to say it’s best-in-class under $1000. German design and Italian craft reflect in the clean, exquisite construction expected from ECM, inside and out.

Best Bang for the Buck: Bezzera BZ13

The Bezzera BZ13 Espresso Machine

The Bezzera BZ13 PM is an incredible value heat exchanger espresso machine with a PID and NSF Certification.

By no means a new machine, we decided on the BZ13 when it was announced that the BZ07 was going to be discontinued. We knew that we needed an affordable heat exchanger espresso machine, and a PID was a must. The BZ13 delivered not only that, but the opportunity to add an NSF certified espresso machine to our Bezzera lineup. If you’re looking for an espresso machine with rapid heat up time, stable brew temperatures, and powerful steam, it’s hard to beat the awesome value of the BZ13.

Available in two styles, PM for manual control and DE for programmable volumetric control, the BZ13 is available at $1,549 and $1,749 respectively. Unlike many of our heat exchanger espresso machines, the BZ13 abandons the traditional E61 style brew group for one of Bezzera’s own design. Their “BZ” group is heated by a dedicated heating element, which dramatically reduces the amount of time and energy it takes to heat up to temperature. Its unique design uses less brass than a traditional brew group while still retaining heat. As a result, the BZ13 heats up and is ready to brew in roughly 8 minutes.

While brewing, our informal scace tests found that the PID controller keeps the BZ13 accurate within 1 degree of the temperature programmed on the display. Unlike most manufacturers, Bezzera’s PIDs display a temperature offset from the steam boiler. The offset is programmed to predict the brew temperature, meaning the BZ13 is a great machine for when you want accurate brew temperatures but still enjoy milk drinks.

One of the hallmarks of Bezzera’s espresso machines are their powerful steaming capabilities, and the BZ13 is no slouch in this category. Set to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, the BZ13 can steam 5oz of milk from refrigerator temp to 140 degrees in roughly 15 seconds.

A final highlight is the machine’s NSF certification, a rare feature among products in the price range and category. Simply put, the certification is proof that the BZ13 has undergone rigorous independent testing to verify its durability, performance, and quality. As a result, the BZ13 is suitable for service in light commercial capacity, such as restaurants and ice cream shops.

Best Value in PID Temperature Control
Bezzera BZ13 PM Espresso Machine

Bezzera BZ13 PM Espresso Machine

18 Reviews
The Bezzera BZ13 PM is a NSF and ETL-certified PID heat-exchanger espresso machine with incredibly fast heat-up times, phenomenal temperature stability, and rock-solid durability thanks to Bezzera’s in-house manufacturing team.

Rosewood Accents

Available for all Prosumer Bezzera espresso machines are rosewood accent kits that replace the traditional plastic components  including the steam and hot water taps, E61 lever knob (if applicable), and the portafilter handles. The wood accent kits can be selected using the “wood accents” section of our bundler, or the machine can be ordered preconfigured in our Wood Accented Machines collection.

The Bezzera BZ13 Espresso Machine with Rosewood Accents

Bezzera's Espresso Machines can be Tricked out with Rosewood Accents.

Honorable mentions in this category go to Rocket Espresso for their Cronometro R and Cronometro V Mozzafiato and Giotto machines. They are PID machines as well, with the same accurate brew temps as the Pro 500 PID. Now depending on the model, they cost a bit more than the Pro 500. That gets you the Rocket branding and, in the Cronometro R versions, rotary pump plumbable machines.

Best Branding Design: Rocket R Cinquantotto & Rocket Appartamento

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine and Rocket Espresso Maccinatore FAUSTO Coffee Grinder

The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is a compact and stylish heat exchanger espresso machine.

Our winner for best branding design is a tie between the updated R Cinquantto which replaced the R 58 and their compact Appartamento. We're also thrilled by the introduction of the Appartamento's alter ego, the Serie Nera. Rocket upped the ante on the Serie Nera with matte black side panels and the addition of a metal cup rail and eco mode switch for good measure.

The R Cinquantotto is a dual boiler, PID, rotary pump, plumbable machine, and perhaps Rocket’s most recognizable prosumer machine. From the iconic R on the steam knob, to the long, swooping steam and hot water wands, badging on the face and gauges, dynamic cup railings with Rs in the corner, and the new feet which depart from the previous curved and conical design of machines past.

Rocket Espresso R Cinquantotto Espresso Machine

Rocket Espresso R Cinquantotto Espresso Machine

3 Reviews
The Rocket Espresso R Cinquantotto features dual boilers, each regulated by a PID temperature controller for consistent brewing. Its rotary pump is near-silent and lets you plumb the machine directly into a water line for even easier operation.

Another design principle with Rocket machines are no visible digital displays. It’s a PID machine but temperatures and other settings are adjusted using a detachable control box. The control box on the R Cinquantotto has been dramatically overhauled with a full color touch screen that makes it far less of an eyesore to leave attached to the machine.

Something else Rocket does that’s a little different: the PID controls on all their machines are set using the actual temperature in the boiler. With most manufactures you set the desired brew temp and there’s an offset which converts the boiler temperature to the temperature at the group. With rocket machines, you use a chart in the manual to get the in-boiler temperature which produces your desired brew temperature.

How Coffee Brewing Temperature Affects Flavor

How Coffee Brewing Temperature Affects Flavor

Is your coffee or espresso turning out sour or bitter? Marc and Morgan tell you how to adjust brew temperature based on flavor in your cup and the roast level of your beans.
Read Article 

Rocket is another innovator in espresso machine design. The Appartamento, just like the R58 has the iconic "R" branding on the steam knob and the Rocket badge on the front. The clean lines and the stainless steel puck-style feet do a lot to distinguish the Appartamento from similar machines, but it's the circular cut-outs in the side-panels that win it a spot for Best Design.

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine - Copper Panels

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Espresso Machine - Copper Panels

75 Reviews
The Rocket Espresso Appartamento features a heat exchange boiler, E61 group head, and an integrated dual pre-infusion system. Powerful steaming pressure, a large reservoir, and cutout panels help the Appartamento stand out as stylish and efficient.

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Serie Nera Espresso Machine - Copper

Rocket Espresso Appartamento Serie Nera Espresso Machine - Copper

11 Reviews
The dapper Rocket Appartamento Serie Nera features a heat exchange boiler, temperature stable E61 group head, and integrated dual pre-infusion system. Its large 1.8 L reservoir and powerful steam pressure are now available in timeless black housing.

A little bit about the Appartamento; it's a heat-exchange machine with E61 group, it has a large 1.8-liter copper boiler, and a strong 1200 watt heating element. It's a good choice if you're looking for a compact yet powerful no-frills machine with some style.

The Appartamento and Serie Nera variant come stock with your choice of copper or white inserts. However, here at Whole Latte Love, you also have the choice of black, gold, rose gold, ruby, sapphire, aquamarine, amazonite, emerald, amethyst, and iridescent inserts as well.

Best Value Dual Boiler: Profitec Pro 700 w/ Flow Control

The Profitec Pro 700 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine and Ceado E37S Grinder

The Profitec Pro 700 is a great value for a rotary pump, dual boiler espresso machine.

The Profitec Pro 700 has seen lots of upgrades over the years, including best in class steaming power while somehow staying well under the 3-K mark. This year it got one more incredibly important upgrade: Flow Control. There's no doubt about it, it's a game-changer.

Profitec Pro 700 Espresso Machine with Flow Control

Profitec Pro 700 Espresso Machine with Flow Control

119 Reviews
The Profitec Pro 700 Flow Control is the best in show from Profitec when it comes to dialing in your perfect extraction. Manually profile shots with the new flow control valve to tease the best flavor possible from your espresso.

But first, if you're not familiar with the Profitec Pro 700, it's one of the best home espresso machines you can get your hands on; dual stainless steel boilers, rotary pump, all stainless steel housing, dual pressure gauges, PID controller right on the front that functions as a shot timer when pulling shots, low ear spring-loaded valves, copper water lines on the inside, and of course the iconic E61 group. The Pro 700 is all about stable temperatures and tweaking that extraction to get the most out of a specialty or high-altitude coffee. That PID controller helps with both of those and, thanks to an earlier upgrade, you've got best in class steaming power running at about two bar in the boiler.

bannerimage

Profitec Pro 700 Review

Marc reviews the Profitec Pro 700 and its newest features, including its redesigned group head and black pressure gauges.
Read Article 

But let's talk flow control. It lets you adjust the flow rate of water through the group. It's a simple change with a really, really big impact. With Flow Control, you can essentially change the flavor of your drink, opening up a range of possibilities with any one coffee. All you need to do is flip the lever to start brewing and adjust the knob that sits on top of the E61 mushroom cap to open the valve. Open it a little bit and you get a soft pre-infusion which you can extend for as long as you like, fully saturating the puck for a deep extraction.

Hands-On with Flow Control - A Brief Look at What to Expect

Hands-On with Flow Control - A Brief Look at What to Expect

The newest thing here at Whole Latte Love is flow control, and it's something you absolutely need to know about. So what is it? In basic terms, flow control allows you to change the flow rate of your water as it passes through the puck of coffee in your portafilter. If you haven't had the chance to try it yourself or if this is the first time you've heard of the concept, you might think okay, no big deal, but trust us. This is important.
Read Article 

Now, if you have the Pro 700 plumbed in, you can get that true line-pressure pre-infusion, but the added control is nice to have, too. While brewing, you can go ahead and open up the valve more and more, increasing the flow rate as you like and then maybe reduce the flow at the end to avoid over-extraction. There's a lot of room to experiment here and if you're a coffee geek like me, you'll have a great time experimenting.

Best Dual Boiler Machine: ECM Synchronika w/ Flow Control

ECM Synchronika With Installed E61 Flow Control Device

Flow control technology further cemented the ECM Synchronika as the best prosumer espresso machine.

Dual boiler, plumbable machines with PID and rotary pumps are the top of the line in home espresso. Our pick for best in category is the ECM Synchronika. It's got best in class steaming power just like the Pro seven-hundred. But once again the big news is Flow Control. The extra steaming power really makes a difference in the speed and potential quality of milk frothing.

ECM Synchronika Espresso Machine With Flow Control

ECM Synchronika Espresso Machine With Flow Control

242 Reviews
The ECM Synchronika with Flow Control is a powerful upgrade over an already adept dual-boiler machine. Impeccable build quality is complemented by Flow Control, giving you further access to the nuances hidden in your coffee.

For Flow Control, we went into that a bit for the Pro 700, but I'll repeat here. It's a feature we've wanted for the Synchronika for a long time and have been working on behind the scenes with ECM/Profitec to make happen. The flow control device is an aperture that replaces the mushroom cap on top of the E61, with a knob you can turn to open and close the valve. The valve controls flow rate through the group to your coffee puck. With that you can do longer pre-infusions and slowly (or quickly) ramp up flow for different results in the cup. With a single coffee you can extract a spectrum of different flavors. It's huge, and anyone who likes to tinker with all the variables in preparing a coffee or espresso will get a lot of value out of it.

Single-Origin Coffee: How Location Affects Flavor

Single-Origin Coffee: How Location Affects Flavor

What is single-origin coffee? How does origin affect the flavor of your coffee beans? We answer all of your questions and more in this article.
Read Article 
Beyond those upgrades, the Synchronika still has all the features we love. It’s by far the easiest machine to open up. Remove six totally accessible screws from the top of the machine and, in less than a minute, you can have the side and back panels off the machine for total access. The PID display becomes a shot timer when pulling shots, the sprung lever valves are easy to operate, and the Synchronika, like the Pro 700 is one of the few machines that does a true line pressure preinfusion when plumbed to a waterline.

We love the added touches as well, like the angled and balanced portafilters with accents to match the E61 lever and drain, dual gauges mounted high for visibility, and the silver finish of the PID display which blends well into the face of the machine.

ECM Synchronika PID Display

The ECM Synchronika features a PID display that doubles as a shot timer.

The Synchronika has some of the finest finishing of external panels and seams. All are smooth and polished to perfection. Even the internal seams are polished with no visible weld marks — something you just don’t find on other machines. Internally the machine is, well, perfection. Simple engineering that’s well laid out, reliable, and easy to work on. High-quality components are laid out to protect sensitive electronics from excessive heat and moisture. If you are looking for the best available dual boiler machine, the Synchronika is it.

So, those are our picks for the best semi-automatic home espresso. These machines offer a variety of styles and features so you can truly customize your home setup to fit your personal tastes. If you're looking to experience true cafe style espresso at home, a semi-automatic espresso machine might be just the thing.

Marc Buckman
Marc Buckman

Marc is one of Whole Latte Love's resident experts on everything coffee. He built our YouTube channel from the ground up in 2009, demystifying the world of coffee for upwards of 250k subscribers by producing over 1,600 in-depth videos. Marc enjoys hiking, scuba diving, and saving the lives of his coworkers when the kitchen runs out of coffee by sharing some of his own.