Taking Home A Semi-automatic Espresso Machine
In our previous post, we focused on finding the right machine for you by asking how committed you are to your espresso. Are you just friends? Or are you in a series relationship? If you’re ready to be committed to your coffee, then read on! In this post, we’re continuing our journey to help you make coffee you love at home by focusing on semi-automatic espresso machines.
Whether you’re an entry-level or experienced barista, it’s more important to ask yourself about dedication. Do you have barista skills? If not, are you willing to practice? We’ll discuss what features you should consider when you’re picking between different semi-automatic espresso machines.
Ready And Willing To Brew!
You’ve decided that you’re dedicated to learning how to brew espresso—sweet! Then consider a semi-automatic with a non-pressurized portafilter and traditional steam wand for cafe-quality espresso. A non-pressurized portafilter is designed so that the pressure that extracts your coffee is based on the coffee grind size and how much force you tamp with. That means for you, coffee connoisseurs, it’ll require dedication to learning how to dial in your grind consistency and learn to time the extraction—you may be pulling a few shots before you get the flavor you want.
Let’s be honest, we probably all want to make latte art. A traditional steam wand offers full control over technique from how much air you incorporate to how long you steam your milk. With a little know-how, you can create latte art-worthy milk! The hardest part of frothing milk is not incorporating too much—to pour latte art, you’re looking for texture that’s paint-like. Grab a gallon of milk and try your hand at frothing! If anything, you’ll be able to create a foamy, coffee shop quality cappuccino in no time.
At a local cafe, peek behind the counter and you’ll likely see baristas knocking coffee pucks out of portafilters and whipping down steam wands with vigor. Semi-automatics require more maintenance. You’ll spend more time adjusting settings—for instance, if you purchase a machine with a PID, you can change the temperature—and cleaning the machine from daily chores like wiping the steam wand to more in-depth maintenance like backflushing and descaling. Generally, we see these machines last longer than their automatic counterparts—if properly maintained. With more control comes great responsibility, but it’s well worth it for the quality of espresso you’ll be able to make with a little dedication.
Practice? I Just Want Coffee…
Fair enough! There are plenty of semi-automatics out there that are capable of pulling quality espresso with little effort. Some features we look for are pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands. We like to think of these semi-automatics as entry-level. A pressurized portafilter (most often the basket is pressurized) assists in pulling quality espresso thanks to a double wall that compensates for pressure—meaning that if the grind is slightly off, it has got you covered. That doesn’t necessarily mean your espresso will be cafe quality—you’ll still want to experiment with settings to find coffee you love.
With a panarello steam wand, just stick it in your milk pitcher and let it go! It froths milk by pulling air in from a small slit at the top and incorporating steam for you. That does mean you get what you get. On most machines, you can’t control the steam power and you’ll generally end up with cappuccino foam. You can really only control how long the panarello steams your milk. Of course, if you’re not interested in learning how to froth milk, then you won’t mind the lack of control or features.
If you’re looking for an easy experience, then we recommend looking into machines that have these user-friendly features! Probably the biggest appeal is the ease of use and, of course, the affordable price that’s is due in part to fewer features. Although, some entry-level machine have both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter options or even traditional steam wand that is designed to allow brewers to hone their skills.
If you’ve decided you just want coffee without practicing, then it’s the end of the journey for you. We have a few entry-level espresso machines that we’d think you’d enjoy. Remember, these machines have features like pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands that help beginners make coffee they love effortless. Check these machines out:
If you’ve decided to be in a committed relationship, we’ve got a couple more tips for you in our next post—so stay tuned! Semi-automatics offer home baristas more control over their espresso with commercial-inspired accessories like traditional steam wands and non-pressurized portafilters.