Category Archives: Semi-Automatic

Selecting a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

One of the things that sets the crew here at Seattle Coffee Gear apart from the rest is that we have a storefront that features over 60 machines on display for anyone to come in and check out during their selection process. The experience of coming into the store, asking questions, working with Gail and understanding which machine meets your needs and your budget is fairly unique in this space, so we thought we’d make a movie in an attempt to replicate that experience for folks that don’t live in the Seattle area.

If you’re in the market for a semi-automatic espresso machine and aren’t sure where to start, this video is a great primer for what we think are the best in class machines that will fit in anyone’s budget.


Part 1: Gail talks about the different types of machines and then discusses the Saeco Aroma and the Rancilio Silvia semi-automatic espresso machines.


Part 2: Gail continues up the semi-automatic espresso machine line with an introduction to the Quick Mill Alexia and Rocket Giotto Premium Plus.

The Grind – March 2009

Our monthly newsletter, The Grind, shipped out today! Covering a special St. Patrick’s Day recipe (Paddy’s Mint Latte), a synopsis of the heat exchange vs. double boiler debate, a compendium of the YouTube videos that we have posted in the last month and tips on removable brew group maintenance, March’s edition is chock full o’ fun facts.

It also features a special March Grind Special — 10% off orders over $99, good through 3/31/09. Check it out!

Crew Review: Izzo Alex & Alex Duetto

The Izzo Alex & Alex Duetto are semi-automatic espresso machines that have one very powerful distinguishing characteristic: You can set them to draw water from the reservoir or from your directly connected plumbing. Having such flexibility is an awesome feature for folks who might want to plumb-in their machine in the future, or who have plumb-in capability in their kitchen at present but might not in the future.

Learn all there is to know about the Izzo Alex & Alex Duetto as Gail walks us through the finer points of these unique machines.

Heat Exchange vs. Double Boiler

We admit it, we’re guilty. We thought that size did matter with regard to boilers on a semi-automatic espresso machine — namely, that two boilers was better than one. The hierarchy in our mind was:

  1. Single Boiler: From the Saeco Aroma to the Rancilio Silvia, the single boiler is a great little semi-automatic espresso machine that requires special attention to boiler temperature so that you’re brewing well below the steaming temp and not burning your espresso. With a single boiler, you’re not able to brew and steam at the same time — we recommend steaming first, then brewing.
  2. Heat Exchange: Instead of pulling your brewing and steaming water from the same vat, per se, heat exchangers like the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Quick Mill Andreja Premium transports fresh water from the reservoir through the boiler via a copper tube that is specifically designed in length and girth to heat the passing water to the optimum brewing temperature, not the steaming temperature. We are talking about a nearly 40F degree difference, so this improved temperature regulation significantly upgrades the espresso shot quality. This functionality also allows for simultaneous brew and steam.
  3. Double Boiler: Only a few models on the market, such as the La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi or Izzo Alex Duetto, feature absolutely separate boilers for steaming and brewing, which allows you to maintain disparate temperatures and brewing and steaming at the same time. You can generally program your preferred brew boiler temperature on these machines and, in the home espresso machine space, they generally feature a quicker recovery time than their heat exchange counterparts.

So, based on those assessments, you’d understand why we were confused by the more is better idea — that maintaining temperature is significantly easier when you’ve got two separate boilers doing their own thing.

However, in our recent research and education around the new line of commercial Faema machines we’re now carrying, we learned that our hierarchical view was incorrect — in fact, Italians haven’t been using double boiler technology for decades, believing that the heat exchange technology provides for significantly improved espresso due to one major reason: It’s alive!

Boiler water is considered ‘dead’ water because it’s sitting in a little metal unit cooking away. Over time, this results in a significantly increased alkaline content in the water (ah yes, that lovely scale we keep talking about so much) and a mineral imbalance in extraction. Basically, the flavor’s different.

Since heat exchange machines are continuously cycling fresh water through their siphoning system, they have an improved mineral balance and cannot become stale like the water in the double boilers might. So the flavor is significantly better and, therefore, preferred by connoisseurs the world over.

If you’re in the market for a ‘prosumer’ machine, this is definitely important information for you to mull over. Not only is the footprint smaller on a heat exchange machine vs. a double boiler, but it just might pull a better shot.

New! Saeco Non-Pressurized Portafilter Upgrade

Arguably the best little workhorse in the business, the Saeco Aroma is a robust machine that had really only one major flaw (in our opinion): Its pressurized basket. Lauded as a triumph for non-grinding, quick-n-dirty espresso lovers everywhere, the pressurized basket gives merely the illusion of crema by aerating the espresso as it’s extracted. People that don’t want to put the time and effort into learning how to fine tune their grind and tamp love this contraption because it does give a fairly good shot without much fuss.

But if you’re a geek like us and love yourself some rich, thick crema, you’re going to be thrilled with the latest release out of the Saeco camp — a non-pressurized portafilter handle that uses the same baskets that came with your original pressurized portafilter. You can pull a delicious shot with this new non-pressurized portafilter — one that may rival the Rancilio Silvia!

In addition to the Saeco Aroma, this portafilter is compatible with the following machines:

  • Starbucks Barista
  • Starbucks Via Venezia
  • Estro Profi
  • Saeco Magic Cappuccino
  • Saeco Gran Crema
  • Saeco Via Veneto

Watch Gail pull a shot with the new non-pressurized basket on the Saeco Aroma:

Rocket Giotto Premium + From Box to Cup

Our adoration for Rocket’s Giotto Premium Plus semi-automatic espresso machine really knows no limits and maybe that’s a little bit embarrassing, but we’re not sure we care!

In our quest to fulfill our dream of a Rocket in every home, we filmed Gail walking us through this gorgeous machine from opening the box to making a latte. Watch for its awesome packaging (an OCD-lovers dream!), learn about its boiler which features 40% more steam power than other comparable models on the market and see Gail whip up a delicious latte in no time — replete with ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ latte art!

New! Ascaso Brew Head Upgrade Kit

Love your Ascaso Basic, Dream, Arc or UNO Special Edition espresso machine but wish that it produced a better shot? Well, we did, too — so we talked with Ascaso and asked them about creating an upgrade kit! While the original screen and water delivery works well for E.S.E. pods, its concentrated-stream functionality just doesn’t properly moisten ground coffee to the level required for a great extraction, so the upgrade kit includes an improved screen that showers water more evenly across the coffee.

The resulting espresso is rich, creamy and has a thicker crema — as good as any shot you’d pull from a Rancilio Silvia. This easy-to-install upgrade is essential, we think, but especially so if you dig using ground coffee in your Ascaso.

Crew Review: 4-Hole Steaming Tip

One of the best things about investing in a higher-end semi-automatic espresso machine, such as the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Rocket Cellini Premium Plus, is the improved steaming functionality. Larger boilers and professional-grade steam wands make producing velvety microfoam the standard in your home or office — but you can always improve on a good thing, can’t you?

Check out the steam tip upgrade available for any of the Rocket Espresso machines including the Rocket Cellini Classic. This 4 tip set features different hole patterns that will improve the aeration of your milk while steaming, allowing you to easily make creamy steamed milk, every time. We love the ability to experiment above and beyond the factory-provided steam tip and think it’s an excellent accessory to your already excellent machine.

Brew Tip: Temperature Surfing on the Rancilio Silvia

While single boiler machines are extremely cost effective, they do suffer from wide temperature fluctuations which can result in poorly extracted espresso. As such, the technique for ‘temperature surfing’ was developed by home espresso enthusiasts and you can watch as Gail goes through the process on a Rancilio Silvia. This technique can be applied to any single boiler machine — such as the Saeco Aroma, Ascaso Basic or Dream and any of the Gaggia semi-automatic espresso machines.

New! Rocket Giotto Premium Plus

Some people may consider the moment that you plunk down nearly $2k on an espresso machine a moment of personal reflection: Is excellent espresso so important to you that you can justify this expenditure? We consider it simply a moment of truth — while others may end up spending over $2k on their coffee throughout the year, they’d prefer to do it in $4 increments that seem like a negligible investment. You, on the other hand, have vision.

If you’re serious enough to get into the ‘prosumer’ class of home espresso machines, we can’t recommend the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus highly enough. It could be our favorite machine…and while we do try to remain machine-agnostic in our quest to ply you with the best coffee gear to suit your needs, our own moment of truth tells us that the espresso machine waiting on the other side of nirvana must certainly be the Giotto Premium Plus.

With its excellent temperature control, powerful steaming functionality and extremely functional design, the Giotto Premium Plus makes amazing espresso and silky foamed milk every time you go toe to toe. We love the separate water tank lid and its molded design — although we do wish that the drip tray was a bit bigger and we think the hot water nozzle sometimes gets in the way.

The Rocket stars in many of our YouTube videos, so check them out to see it in action — and then maybe it will be time for your own moment of truth: Yes, excellent espresso is that important.