Superautomatic Espresso Machine Buying Guide
Looking for a superautomatic can be a daunting experience. Many of the comparison charts we have seen confuse more than help. Reviews by so-called experts sometimes just add to the uncertainty of which machine to choose. Which of the many options offered are really necessary for you and your particular application?
We will try to simply give you a review of the features and what they do - so you can decide whats important and what’s not. More detailed reviews can be found on each of the machines own product page.
Since the most basic machine and the top-of-the-line machines will both “make” espresso (coffee) and “steam” milk, deciding on which machine to pick really comes down to your budget, options and features you need or want, the overall speed, performance and finally - the “look”. It is a lot like buying a car – what you need and what you want rarely match. Happily though, even the most basic superautomatic will easily get you to your coffee destination!
Its an all-in-one espresso and coffee machine that with a push of a button: grinds whole beans, meters the correct dosage of ground coffee for brewing, places and tamps the ground coffee, brews the coffee and finally dispenses the used coffee in an internal dump box. One step espresso. Essentially, all you do is add espresso beans, fill the water reservoir and the machine does the rest - from bean to cup.
In short, it takes the (for some) work out of making an espresso or coffee and certainly all of the mess. Convenience is always mentioned as a main benefit and it is. Probably the most overlooked advantage is the consistency in cup after cup, whether the operator is experienced or a first timer (and you need not fear guests using your machine, especially if it is a digital machine).
Hot water is also available, as is steam for frothing milk. Many machines now come with more than one type of system for frothing milk - for even more flexibility. Aside from the ability of making all your favourite espresso drinks - espresso, latte, cappuccino - a superautomatic can also make a very long espresso. This has come to be known as a cafe creme or creme cafe. This is stronger than a drip or french press coffee ( maybe more flavourful is a better description) but much weaker than an espresso. Many find this drink a great improvement over drip coffee and quickly retire their "old" coffee makers.
Superautomatics are gaining a lot of popularity. A lot of it has to do with the consistency, simplicity and convenience that these machines have to offer. While some purists give these machines less than their due, we firmly believe that consistency, simplicity and convenience are what many of our customers want!
Fast - They are faster than drip coffee, faster than a French press, faster than making instant, and faster than traditional espresso machines. If you need to get out of the apartment or house in a hurry and every second counts from a cold start, not much will beat a superautomatic. Factor in the no cleanup part and you are way ahead of the game.
Convenient - No mess, no coffee grounds on the counter, no grinding, and no dumping of the portafilter puck. No preparation time to speak of.
Fool Proof - Not just fool-proof but almost child-proof (one of Saeco’s ads says “so simple, even a child can operate it”), almost idiot proof and guest proof! There are a lot of folks out there that no more want to learn the art of espresso making than want to reformat their computer. Don’t discount the fact that neighbors, friends, and dinner party guests can usually all operate the device without you hovering nearby and worrying (often with good cause). We quite often service traditional machines with burnt out elements that house guests have inadvertently run dry.
Consistent - Superautomatics make very consistent espresso (some will argue consistently mediocre, but we will cross that bridge that in the next section).
Practical - If all of us were the espresso purist that some "purist and hobbyist" websites and discussion groups would like us to be, everyone would spend their days questing for tiger-flecked espresso or micro-foamed milk in every session. Fact is, most people have lives to live and for every purist and hobbyist there are 99 regular folks who just want a consistent, easy to make espresso, latte or cappuccino. And face it – the average machine probably makes 1,000 drinks a year. This moves the art of espresso for many from the category of gourmet oneupmanship to a daily, practical and hopefully enjoyable experience. A lot of folks don’t want an "espresso session" they just want an espresso break! Never overlook the practical side of life and what it is you want out of the espresso experience - not what others suggest you need.
The Cost - Not necessarily a reason unless your budget is less than the cost of a basic superautomatic. Dollar for dollar you will usually get more machinery in the traditional category. But more machine does not translate to better espresso in every case. In the traditional category it is user-dependent; in the superautomatic it is not.(although better results are still obtained from fine tuning the machines to your particular brand of bean) Regarding cost, it is almost always a fact of life that speed and convenience cost more whether it is a faster, more powerful microwave, computer - or an espresso machine that does most of the work.
The Quality - of the espresso, that is. We will say it here first – a short espresso on a Superautomatic is not “perfect”. It is not as good overall as can be obtained on a good traditional machine. But as we have said before, and will continue to say, consistency is often higher for casual users – balancing out the gains of the traditional machine. Only you will know how much effort you are willing to put into the “art of espresso making”. Remember, this is a process that can be repeated many times a day - obviously a superautomatic in a office setting can make a lot of sense.
Some who ONLY drink short espresso’s may find a superautomatic not perfectly to their high quality standards, but then again you should weigh this against the convenience and mess factor. Having said that, the more liquid (milk or hot water) you add to your drink, the less the difference, since the espresso nuances become more muted in milk (and long espresso too). If you enjoy Café Crème ( or Americano’s), the differences also become negligible (since more hot water is added). If you drink cappuccino, latte’s or mocha’s the average user will not likely see any noticeable difference.
The "I like Control and I like Cooking factor" - A very important and often overlooked consideration. There are people who like to cook and there are people who like to eat. It is not always the same person! Making espresso could be compared to cooking or preparing a meal. Some people love it; some don’t. Remember, this is coffee and the average espresso machine probably makes 1000 to 2000 drinks a year or more per year. For some, that turns the process - no matter how much they appreciate the ritual - into a “chore” that they would prefer ( by choice or time necessity”) to eliminate.
If the journey is as important as the destination, then a more traditional setup is for you. For many, making the espresso drinks is the journey. You will know who you are.
If the machine is a gift try to anticipate where the new owner would be “coming from”. Again, whether you are a purist or not, don't let the "aficionado websites" (or your friends) cloud your thinking - coffee through the ages has always been about enjoyment - mainly yours!
The same basic components that you would find in a "manual or pump" machine will still be found in a superautomatic. A water pump, boiler (or dual boiler), a steam wand and control dials and switches are all still found. The main difference in a superautomatic is that the removable portafilter and brew basket ( the handle assembly) is replaced by an internal brewing chamber. Additionally, a high quality conical or burr grinder grinds and dispenses the coffee into the brewing chamber. A small computer board controls all the various functions of the machine (with your customized input, of course). On many machines, the digital display will prompt you through all programming functions and even automate the cleaning cycles for long lasting, trouble free operation!
Although the operation of most machines is quite similar there are enough differences that a brief description and explanation of them is in order.
The choice is either a single heating system (Saeco Odeo Go II, Jura ENA5, for example ) or a dual heating system on other models (actually a boiler plus a heat exchanger). With the "dual boiler" system, when you switch to steam mode, steam is available within about 10 seconds. The single element system usually takes about 50 seconds. After steaming milk on the dual element system the machine is immediately available to make more coffee. With single element systems, you must either wait 5 minutes for the boiler to cool down naturally, or purge the boiler of steam by running hot water through the steam wand for 10 seconds, before making any more coffee. Again, the more milk - based drinks you make in a day (or dinner parties you have) the more likely you are to choose the faster dual element system. If you primarily use the machine for making espresso or Cafe Creme, a single boiler is fine. A few Saeco machines (Saeco Odeo Giro) and all the Jura ( except S9 - double boiler) and Bosch units while having a single boiler have a function called Rapid-Steam which acts more like a double boiler system, but not quite as fast. A boiler and a half might be a good description for these systems!
The brew group is a very important component of a superautomatic - it contains the coffee brewing chamber -and performs the function of tamping the freshly ground coffee from the grinder, pre-infusing the coffee grounds, extracting the espresso under high pressure and finally dumping the spent coffee puck into the removeable grounds container (dump box or dregs drawer).
Removable and Non-Removable Brew Group
There are two main systems of Brew units on the market today - as you may have surmised by the heading. Saeco and Gaggia use a brew unit that can be removed for easy cleaning. After opening the service door and pressing the release lock lever, the brew group can be removed for daily rinsing out of coffee residue and the occasional cleaning of the screen with the supplied brew screen "key". Typically, these units are very rugged, however one drawback is that the brew chamber is designed for a single shot of coffee. To make a double espresso or coffee the machine will brew two consecutive espressos - one after the other.
Jura uses a non-removable brew unit. Since these units are "built-in", these machines typically have a more sophisticated (and automated) cleaning cycle which is controlled by the machine. In some ways, this system is actually more beneficial to the longevity of the machine, since the machine itself determines the optimal cleaning frequency. This could be a benefit for those locations where cleaning may be inadvertantly neglected. In addition, the built-in brew units of the Jura hold much more coffee (up to 16 grams vs. 9 grams for Saeco) and can therefore make a true double shot at once. The Franke Flair, a more commercial machine, also features a rugged brew unit based on the Jura.
The bypass doser allows you to feed the machine a second type of coffee (usually decaf or a specialty coffee), in addition to the “regular” coffee beans which the machine grinds. The bypass doser only accepts pre-ground espresso coffee. This feature would be very handy if there are two types of espresso drinkers using the machine, or for offering a choice to guests. Almost all machines have this as an standard feature, but many of the basic Saeco machines do not.
The grind adjustment is pre-set at the factory and usually works perfectly right out of the box. All the machines have about 5 settings, for fine-tuning the grind if necessary, and for compensating for grinding burr wear over the years. All new Saeco machines have quiter ceramic grinders, which Saeco claims will last longer than steel burrs. Because ceramic grinders should stay sharper longer, Saeco has moved away from grind adjustment knobs and instead uses time (actually motor rotations) to determine the correct grind and dosage for the brew unit. So with Saeco, no user adjustment to the grind setting are available, instead the SBS knob and Aroma adjustment are used on some models.
A digital display gives a description of every function of the machine (out of water, out of beans, when to de-scale, adjusting coffee brew temperature, determining proper settings - the list is long). It does make the machine nearly foolproof to understand. The only time this might be an issue is when you might want the digital display most -when the machine is new and you are still “learning the ropes”. It might take an extra minute or two to figure out what needs to be done.Also try to anticipate who will be using the machine. The more “operators”, the more a digital may be preferred, since those people are less likely to know the machine, and will have an easier time using it.
This is mostly a function of the digital display listed above, since with the digital display comes an increase in the number of adjustments and features that can be accommodated in the machine. For instance, the temperature of the brewed espresso can usually be changed, energy saving modes and pre-grinding can be activated on some machines. As a rule, the more expensive the machine the more features offered. Think of the other appliances in your home such as a dishwasher or microwave - are they loaded or basic - do you use all the features and functions available?
The dosage is the portion amount of coffee that will be ground and brewed. The adjustment allows you to control the strength of the espresso shot, although it can also be controlled indirectly by varying the amount of water. Still, for those who like a stronger or weaker shot, the adjustment is a useful feature. On Saeco and Gaggia machines, double shots are obtained by pressing the brew button twice, so a double contain anywhere from 7 to 12 grams of coffee depending on the Aroma setting chosen. Jura machines have a wider range of dosage available (from 5 to 16 grams) and therefore are able to brew both single and double shots in one cycle - a real time saver for those who need it. The (Jura ENA 9 OTC) also have 2 Aroma settings
Saeco, Gaggia and Solis machines have a drink capacity of about 25 to 200 ml (1 to 8 ounces). This will make you anything from a strong, short espresso to a cup of Americano or Café Crème. The drink size can be further varied by adding hot water, adjusting the SBS and Aroma controls (if equipped) and of course by adding steamed milk etc. Dial machines (Saeco Odeo line and Saeco Talea Giro Plus II have a simple, convenient dial to control drink size. Saeco and Gaggia digital display machines have 3 pre-set sizes (6 sizes if you include doubles). By simply holding down any of the brew buttons during the full brew cycle, reprogramming of that particular button is accomplished. Both methods work well – the more people that are using the machine, the more likely the digital will be appreciated.
Most machines except the basic ones have a cup warmer which can be turned on or off. In addition to warming the cups, the flat surface is a very handy shelf for showing off your favourite espresso cups! If you prefer, you can always heat up your cups the traditional way by preheating them with the hot water dispenser.
This is Saeco's ultra compact full size super-automatic espresso machine. Great unit for those who have limited counter space. The compact unit contains a ceramic burr grinder that ensures a consistent fine espresso grind. Saeco also, equipped the unit to heat up within 90 seconds and produce steam in under 45 seconds. The Xsmall allows you to program up to 2 beverage coffee volume size. This unit has all the basics you require in a super-automatic coffee, steam & hot water!
Saeco Intelia Focus
The Intelia focus is housed in a sleek matte black ABS plastic body. Saeco engineers have insulated the housing to reduce noise, making it possible to brew a cup of fresh espresso or latte early morning. The Intelia line up all come with a new display screen, displaying any errors and allowing the ease of use for any guest/ family member. You can program twp beverages by adjusting the coffee strength and water volume. Press the coffee button twice and you can override you personal settings to extract a much stronger shot. Can't handle caffeine towards the end of the evening? Now, the Intelia line comes standard with a bypass doser, to allow pre-ground decaffeinated espresso. The Intelia is still equipped with ceramic grinder burrs for longer lasting and to reduce grinder noise. In 15 seconds the Intelia produces dry steam to create a silky milk texture.
Saeco Intelia Class Metal
The Saeco Intelia Class Metal is identical to the Intelia Focus, but with a little bit more upgrades. The front panel is now upgraded to match all your stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. Instead of using the original Pannarello, enjoy the re-designed chrome cappuccinatore. Simply insert the hose into cold milk and click steam. Watch the milk automatically dispense out silky milk for the best cappuccinos. With a new menu button, explore more options and automated cleaning cycles in the Class Metal.
Saeco Intelia Cappuccino Metal
Combine the features from the Intelia focus and Intelia Class Metal and add a automatic milk frothing system and you get the Saeco Intelia Cappuccino Metal. A detachable milk carafe, which attaches on the front of the machine, allows you to make milk-based drinks at the touch of a button, without having to steam milk yourself. The carafe enables the machine to operate as a one-step espresso machine, meaning you can make a cappuccino or latte in one cycle. The machine includes both automatic and manual cleaning cycles to keep the carafe clean. If you would like to clean it yourself, the carafe can also be easily disassembled to allow you to rinse individual parts separately.
Saeco Minuto Focus
The Philips Saeco Minuto Focus is the first unit to dispense both drip coffee and traditional-style espresso at the flip of a switch. The Minuto is equipped with the quick heat boiler technology, allowing the unit to be ready in under 90 seconds and steam in under 15 seconds. With the largest range of cup clearance you can now allow tumblers and larger travel mugs to fit under the group head. Customizable length and strengths for espresso, medium coffee and large coffees. Go ahead and have decaffeinated coffee towards the evening with the equipped by pass doser allowing you to add 1 scoop of pre-ground coffee. The Philips Saeco Minuto Focus is the perfect machine for any house that wants espresso and drip coffee from one unit.
Saeco Royal B2C
The Saeco Royal B2C (bean to cup) is designed for home or office and includes all advanced Saeco super automatic coffee machine features, including one touch cappuccino and latte buttons. The Royal B2C is a redesign of the ever popular Royal Professional and Royal Coffee Bar which reigned as the staple office espresso machine. As a top of the line super automatic machine it is fast, reliable and user-friendly. Automatic milk frothing system insures a perfect & consistent cappuccino/latte every time.
Saeco Exprelia Energica Focus
This is the newest addition into the Saeco line up, equipped with newer features. Saeco has decided to change their design and make more square units, opposed to their circular units in the past. The Energica functionality's is to make a great cappuccino with one touch of a button. Simple programming of the unit allows you to make a single shot or a double shot, simply by pressing the button twice. Customize the Espresso, Coffee, Long Coffee and Cappuccino. The milk beverages can be personalized by adjusting these parameters: Coffee Amount, Prebrewing, Coffee Temperature, Coffee Length and Milk Length. Saeco equipped the Energica with dual stainless boilers, so they can deliver steam in under 15 seconds. Another new feature on the Energica is the Saeco Adapting System.. With this feature, the machine automatically adjusts itself to optimize the extraction of coffee to produce perfect crema on your espresso, and maximize the release of aromas from the coffee. After several coffees, the machine will know the correct compression (tamp) pressure of the coffee to obtain a creamy, delicious espresso coffee. The Energica also features a new Eco-Mode option. This feature turns off the steam boiler when not in use reduce energy consumptions. No more worrying about clean the espresso machine. With simple automated rinsing, cleaning tablet, descaling, milk carafe purging and milk carafe cleaning cycles.
Saeco Exprelia EVO SS
All the features from the Exprelia Energica Focus and then some more. Right off the bat you can see that the Exprelia Evo is fully stainless steel. The display screen is equipped with a crisp o-led screen which adds style and usability with clear text. Saeco has also given brilliant white illuminated buttons. Now you can manually control the SBS knob to deliver bold taste or a smooth taste. The EVO gives you one extra button to program a Latte Macchiato. The Evo has a removable Dual Chamber Milk Caraf. When preparing the milk just rotate the top dispenser towards the center and get rich, velvet like milk directly into your cup. If the automatic milk frothing system isn't hot enough, you can manually steam with the steam wand. The grinder seal lid on the Evo is designed to preserve the beans fresher for longer.
Saeco Xelsis EVO
Its performance and features match its stunning looks, this combination makes it a highly desired unit in the Saeco lineup. Equipped with all the features from the previous machines, plus more! Now you can program up 6 user profiles. Allowing each user in the household to access their own personalized beverages. Each user can program 9 beverages with characteristics such as strength, coffee volume, and milk volume. The Xelsis is given a large touch screen display that gives it style and usability with large recognizable icons and clear text. Even the Dual Chamber Milk Carafe is given a new chrome make over. With the automatic milk carafe, Saeco also gives you the ability to manually steam using the steam wand.
This was Gaggia's top of the line machine ( until the Platinum line came along) and has all the features of the Syncrony Compact digital plus a cobalt blue display and all metal exterior including brushed stainless steel finish. Three coffee presets are available and can be easily reprogrammed by holding down the "button" during a cycle untill the new volume is obtained. Swivel base, dual boiler, digital; programming, decaf chute and more.
Jura ENA Micro 1
This is the new micro line introduced by Jura. It's the slimmest super automatic espresso machines offered on the market, at just 9.5 inches wide. The Micro 1 is a perfect machine for anyone that just enjoy espresso's and Amerciano's. With simple operation and 3 programmable buttons you can create ristresstos, espressos and coffees. If the coffee's to weak, change the strength from normal to strong. This is from the help of a durable stainless-steel conical burrs that deliver consistency every shot. It also includes a by-pass Doser chute so you can scoop your pre-ground decaf coffee. NOTE: this unit does not steam milk, strictly coffee.
Jura ENA Micro 9 OTC
The new Micro 9 is equipped with a newly developed brew unit, which reduced the machine in size by 11% from the previous ENA line-up. The Micro 9 has a automatic milk frother built right into the Grouphead dispenser making it a One Touch Cappuccino espresso machine. Program up to 4 buttons' latte, cappuccino, espresso and coffee/americano. With a compact size, it still packs a big punch, with adjustable coffee strengths levels (6-10 grams). It's still equipped with a by-pass doser. The display has 3 main colors to make operations simple to understand. Green indicating that the machines ready for use, yellow notifies you that you've entered into the programming menu and finally red to let you know if the grinder or water tank is empty. Jura has made cleaning simple and downright idiot proof. Automatic cleaning cycle reminder after 200 beverages. Program the unit to turn off after a certain time the machines not in use to preserve energy.
Jura ENA 9 OTC
The ENA 9 is equipped with everything from the ENA Micro 9 OTC. They've give you now the ability to produce espresso with anywhere from 5 to 16 grams of coffee. Giving you a bigger range if you're a mild coffee drinker or enjoy it very strong. This is all possible due to the "aroma boast" button. When making a shot click the button and extract a 16 gram shot! This ENA 9 has also got cosmetic upgrades. It comes in a Ristretto black side panels and metallic silver front panels. The automatic milk frothing system is intergraded with the grouphead. For tea and americano lovers the hot water tap is located on front right side of the unit, with the on/off tap right above it. The ENA 9 is also, capable of making cappuccinos or lattes at a touch of a button.
Jura Impressa F50 Classic
Now with a improved user guidance and equipped with a Rotary Switch, allowing navigation through the menu a breeze. Program the front 2 buttons from coffee strength, volume and temperature. Adjust cups sizes now from 1 to 8 ounces, which is clearly shown on the digital display screen. The F50 Classic comes standard with a high quality hardened steel conical burr grinder with up to 6 fineness settings. The large 200 gram bean hopper allows grinding of up to 30 coffees. The top of the unit still has a by-pass doser for decaf or for sampling a new coffee. The Jura F50 comes with a Dual Milk Frother Plus. This is a fast and easy system that helps you prepare the perfect cappuccinos and lattes cup after cup. You can control the temperature of milk by adjusting the dial on the FrothXpress towards the plus sign for a hotter and colder towards the negative.
Jura Impressa F7
This is an ideal choice for anyone who takes their coffee seriously. The F7 uses state of the art brew technology on the market. This is equipped with a 50% more faster grinder than any of the Jura machines. With a 310 gram bean hopper they gave this F7 a Aroma preservation lid to lock in the coffee flavors. Control up to 4 different coffee strength levels (Mild, Medium, Strong & Extra). The front display allows you to program up to 4 different beverages such as ristretto, espresso, americano and cappuccino. This cappuccino is not a one touch like some of the other units, on the F7 you have to turn the dial to allow steam to automatically steam the milk. The F7 gives you to capability to program the water button volume and the steam duration for the steam button. The F7 makes cleaning a breeze with the auto rise ever time the unit is turned on and off. It also has a integrated cappuccino frother rinsing and cleaning programs. Lastly the maintenance status and counters can accessed in the display menu.
Jura Impressa C9 OTC
The Impressa C9 espresso machine is impressive to say the least. This unit features the ability to automatic create cappuccinos or lattes at a push of a button. Eliminating the need to learn how to create rich, velvety milk again. The left side of the menu allows you to program espresso and coffee while the right side allows you to program a latte or cappuccino. This full size unit has a 1.9 L water tank and a 200 gram bean hopper. The bean hopper is equipped with a electronic bean sensor that will never let the bean container completely run out of beans. The C9 features a "La Carte" button which allows you to create your own cup size and strength just before brewing. This is one of the quietest automatic coffee machine on the market today.
Jura Impressa S9 OTC
The S9 OTC is equipped with everything from the c9 OTC and then some more. The S9 has a 2.7L water reservoir to reduce frequency of refilling. This is the only Jura unit that offers a cup warmer. With the Dual stainless steel lined ThermoBlock heating system you can make coffee and steam with no downtime without any contact to aluminum. If the one touch cappuccinos or lattes are not hot enough for your desire, you can manually steam with the S9. Simply attach the 2 stage frother and insert your milk below. Jura includes a 600 Ml stainless steel milk container that keeps milk cold for up to 8 hours.
Jura Impressa J9 OTC
The new best in the class of the IMPRESSA J line is easy to get to grips with right from the word go. Its ingenious operating concept couldn’t be easier or more self-explanatory: simply use the Rotary Selection to choose the specialty coffee you want, press the button, sit back and savor the taste. The only unit in the impressa line that features a modern display screen. They've upgraded the cappuccino spout to now deliver exquisite quality of milk. This insures that the milk foam quality of a fine, feather light consistency. With the J9 you can fit a 15 cm tall cup underneath the cappuccino spout. The Impressa J9 has the ability to make up to 10 different drinks by simply turning the rotary dial.
Jura Impressa Z7 OTC
The unmistakable design combines pure luxury, elegance and sophistication. The carefully finished solid aluminum front panel, front spout, and heavy duty die cast hand-polished chrome platform beautifully reflect the premium quality. They've equipped the Z7 with amber cup illuminations for stylish coffee presentations and gleaming white LED's for milk specialties. The Z7 allows you to program up to 11 different products at the touch of a button. The intelligent pre-heating system ensures that every drink is at optimum temperatures, even after long breaks in preparation. Control coffee strengths from 5-16 grams of coffee per shot. Thus making the strongest shots from a super automatic. The Z7 includes the following: Claris filters, milk system cleaner, descaling tablets, 2 phase cleaning tablets and a 0.6 L stainless steel milk container.