Whole Latte Love Blog

Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

by Marc Buckman Updated: March 11, 2020 15 min read

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Hey espresso lovers, today we reveal our picks for the top 5 best espresso machines of 2020. These are our picks in five 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, tamp and extraction your 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.

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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.

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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.
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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

342 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. The previous version of the Classic was rated a best-buy by consumers digest and was a long-term bestseller, and now with the upgrade to the Classic Pro, it's only gotten better.

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3-Way Solenoid Valve

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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

307 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

4 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

40 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: Profitec Pro 500 PID with Flow Control

The Profitec Pro 500 PID Espresso Machine

The Profitec Pro 500 PID helped popularize the inclusion of PID controllers on heat exchanger espresso machines.

The original Profitec Pro 500 was a long time best seller in the heat-exchange boiler category. And for good reason! With legendary Profitec design quality it's simply one of the most reliable machines in its class. But Profitec never rests. A couple of years ago they upgraded the Pro 500 with PID. And this year, it's available with flow control of brew water. That PID upgrade brought a new level of brew temperature accuracy to heat exchange boiler espresso machines. With that, you can set the exact brew temperature for your coffee. In heat exchange machines without PID, the brewing process requires flushing out overheated water prior to making espresso.

On the Pro 500 PID, no flushing is required. Just set your brew temp and that’s what you’ll get. Now it takes some good engineering of internal components to make that happen, and that’s what the team at Profitec has done.

This year the big deal is flow control. It gives you the capabilities of machines that are much more expensive. Flow control is huge. And you'll see it's a common feature of some more expensive machines deeper in our list. When we get those I'll have more on what you can do with flow control. But for now, think about precise control of long pre-infusions and capabilities similar to high-end commercial cafe machines.

Like many innovations, flow control is an upgrade we worked directly with the manufacturer to bring to market. For now, flow control is a whole latte love exclusive on Profitec and ECM machines. We regularly visit their manufacturing facility in Italy outside Milan to give our input on their latest designs. I can tell you without question, of all the manufacturers we work with. Profitec and ECM are the leaders in innovation. They produce machines that are beautiful inside and out with features users want.

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Honorable mentions in this category go to Rocket Espresso for their Evo R and Type V Mozzafiatto 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 Evo R versions—rotary pump plumbable machines.

Snag the Pro 500 with Flow Control
Profitec Pro 500 PID Espresso Machine with Flow Control

Profitec Pro 500 PID Espresso Machine with Flow Control

116 Reviews
The Profitec Pro 500 PID with Flow Control is a highly capable heat exchanger espresso machine, packed with commercial parts, a quiet vibration pump, and equipped to compete with more expensive machines. The PID and Flow Control are stand-out features that put this heat exchanger espresso machine a cut above the rest.

Best Branding Design: Rocket R58 & 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 Rocket R58 and their compact Appartamento. Now, I've known Andrew Meo of Rocket who is responsible for their branding design since they introduced the R58 about eight years ago. Back when it came out, he told me his intention was to create a machine that had a certain sexiness, and I think he's done that.

The R58 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, the curved top edges of the side panels, and the feet which, to me, resemble rocket engine nozzles, there’s no mistaking this machine.

Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

17 Reviews
The Rocket Espresso R58 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. Andrew has told me he didn’t want a modern digital display interfering with the overall look of 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.

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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. The Appartamento comes 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, and iridescent inserts as well.

Rocket Espresso Appartamento - Ruby Panels

Rocket Espresso Appartamento - Ruby Panels

23 Reviews
The exceedingly stylish Rocket Espresso Appartamento 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 make it the perfect entertainment centerpiece.

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.

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

69 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.

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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.

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

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Now, if you have the Pro 700 plumbed in, you can get that true line-pressure pre-infusion, but that 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

135 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 it 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.

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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 100k subscribers by producing over 1000 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.