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If you’re a first time buyer, this is definitely a question worth asking before making a purchase. These high speed machines have undergone a number of changes over the years and today they sport a number of fantastic features that have taken the home brewing experience to new levels. In most cases, it will actually be these features that ultimately determine how much you’ll wind up spending on your machine.
At Whole Latte Love, you can find a listing of each machine’s features on both its product landing page and by using our Compare-O-Matic. Now, while this is an excellent source of quick information, simply knowing that a machine has a certain feature won’t really help you if you don’t know what it does. The main purpose of this article will be to educate you on the numerous available features of current Super-Automatic espresso machines so that you know what you’re aiming for when it comes time to pull the trigger.
Before getting into special features however, it’s important to know what the standard functions of a Super-Auto are. 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 can also dispense hot water and steam through the steam wand. Super-Automatic machines usually rely on removable reservoirs as their water supply.
With that taken care of, let’s move on to some of the features you can find on modern Super-Automatic espresso machines.
The bypass doser is found on nearly all models of Super-Automatic espresso machines these days. Simply put, it’s a hatch generally located on the top of the machine where pre-ground coffee can be inserted in lieu of using the beans in the bean hopper. The bypass doser is especially convenient if you’ve got a guest that prefers decaf or if you simply want to change things up. Some machines will come with scoops to measure the amount of coffee you add to it, and in most cases the machine will tell you if you haven’t added enough pre-ground coffee.
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.
More and more, machines are beginning to feature LED and full color digital displays in lieu to the traditional indicator lights. Digital displays have helped a great deal in simplifying the process of brewing with and maintaining your espresso machine as it can display its status to you in plain English as opposed to a blinking light.
These are just a few of the machines that have a digital display:
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.
Another way to adjust the flavor is by controlling the amount of coffee that is ground. As you can imagine this will be very helpful for adding or subtracting strength based on the size of the coffee you will be brewing, or for whom you are brewing! This control is great for tailoring to each coffee lover’s individual tastes. The machines with the removable brew groups provide for a wide option of dosage control; between 6 and 9 grams per single shot. A typical shot of espresso is about 7 grams, so you have the ability to go stronger or weaker. The built-in brew groups are configured to allow dosages of between 5 and 16 grams per shot depending on the machine. You could use the 16 gram dose as a double shot espresso, a very strong cup of crema coffee or two regular crema coffees.
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.
Many 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.
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:
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 your coffee will taste weak and lack the robust flavor you are striving for.
Another way to adjust the flavor is by controlling the amount of coffee that is ground. As you can imagine this will be very helpful for adding or subtracting strength based on the size of the coffee you will be brewing, or for whom you are brewing! This control is great for tailoring to each coffee lover’s individual tastes. The machines with the removable brew groups provide for a wide option of dosage control; between 6 and 9 grams per single shot. A typical shot of espresso is about 7 grams, so you have the ability to go stronger or weaker.The built-in brew groups are configured to allow dosages of between 5 and 16 grams per shot depending on the machine. You could use the 16 gram dose as a double shot espresso, a very strong cup of crema coffee or two regular crema coffees.
A number of machines sold these days feature automatic milk frothing functions to simplify the process of making frothed milk for drinks like cappuccinos. Some machines use attachable carafes that connected to a preexisting frothing system, whereas others utilize special peripheral attachments that connect to the machine’s steam arm.
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.