Navigating the available options in the world of home espresso machines can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Functionally speaking, there are a few different basic variations:
Manual/Lever: With these machines, you are the pump. You grind, tamp and control the pressure during the extraction. You also manage the whole steaming process.
Semi-Automatic: Semi-automatics have 15 – 17 BAR pumps involved, which will settle down to about 9 BARs of pressure if your grind/tamp is accurate. You will grind & tamp, then initiate the shot on and off. Steaming is also up to you.
Automatic: Still grinding, tamping and steaming on your own, but you can program these machines to dose out a specific amount of water, so it will automatically end the shot.
Pressurized Portafilters: Automatic and semi-automatic machines can have a variation that includes a pressurized porftafilter. This makes the machine a little bit easier to use because you don’t have to be super particular about your grind and tamp.
Pod-Friendly: Another variation of semi-automatic and automatic machines are those that allow you to use what is basically a ground coffee version of a tea bag. These single serving pods make for easy, mess-free brewing.
Superautomatic: These machines manage the whole grind and tamp process for you, but on most of them you will still be required to steam your milk. Some of them (usually called ‘One Touch’) provide automated frothing and shot extraction into your cup at the touch of the button; others have an automated frothing system that will froth the milk separately and you can pour it into the cup after it’s automatically extracted.
Capsule: Probably the most simple machine in terms of materials and labor, these guys use a proprietary capsule filled with pre-ground coffee and extract it at the touch of a button — no grinding and tamping. Some of them have automatic frothing options.
We asked Gail to talk to us about these different machines, why someone would want to buy a specific type and why perhaps they wouldn’t want to buy it. Hopefully, this video will function as a good primer for learning the basic functional differences and help you as you research which machine best suits your needs.
DIY lovers are all into the idea of using lemon juice or vinegar to descale their machines, but while the latter will leave a nasty residue and we don’t recommend it for that reason, the former just isn’t concentrated enough to do as an effective job in as an efficient manner as a concentrated citric acid solution like Dezcal. This is what we find out from Gail, plus she makes freaky faces and it’s worth watching just for that.
The final installment of our series comparing different classes of espresso machines is the second part of our reviews on single boiler espresso machines — this time, four models that also feature a three-way release valve. Watch Gail as she talks to us about the features, benefits, similarities and differences between the Rancilio Silvia, Ascaso Uno Pro, Gaggia Baby Class and Quick Mill Alexia.
More than just another pretty face, the Andreja Premium is a semi-automatic heat exchange espresso machine with excellent features like the patented E61 brew head, anti-burn steam wand and a convenient drawer-like drip tray. Check out Gail as she shows us its features and gives us a demonstration of making a latte.
For espresso purists out there, a Quick Mill Alexia with a PID interface installed might be the best of all worlds — not only do you have excellent temperature control of the single boiler when you have the PID involved, but the Alexia also offers the patented E61 brew group technology, which significantly improves the shot.
A step up from the Rancilio Silvia and not quite into heat exchangers, the Alexia is a great choice for espresso shot and Americano drinkers — of course, you also have a powerful copper boiler for steaming, if necessary, but you’ll still need to temperature surf on this baby between steaming and brewing. Check out Gail’s review and demonstration in this video.
Looking to soften your water a bit without completely removing the mineral content? Try out one of these in-take resin water softeners. Not only are they rechargeable, so they’ll last basically forever, but they easily fit on any machine that uses an intake tube to pull water from the reservoir into the machine — such as the Rancilio Silvia, any of the Quick Mill machines or the Saeco Aroma.
It’s not super sophisticated, but it will reduce the hardness of your water and, in turn, how fast it takes scale to build up in your boiler and related waterworks. You can recharge it by putting it in a glass with water with a few tablespoons of non-iodized and additive-free salt (like kosher) and let it hang out once a week.
Over in the Brown Bean Reviews area, we’ve been adding new product listings and reviews for your research, reading and (hopefully!) reviewing pleasure. If you’re researching any of the below machines, please check them out. If you own one, we’d love it if you could write a user review to help others pick the machine that is right for them — your experiences are priceless.
A lot of folks want to know some of the similarities, differences, pros and cons of the heat exchange espresso machines we carry, so we asked Gail to walk us through several different models and give us the goods.
In this video, she discusses the Rocket Cellini & Giotto, the Quick Mill Anita & Andreja, the Grimac La Valentina and the Pasquini Livia 90. The latter two come in either semi-automatic or programmable automatic versions, while the first four are lever-controlled semi-automatic only.
The Rancilio Silvia often gets a bad rap out in the world because a lot of people consider it to be finicky or temperamental. One of the biggest issues it has is its temperature inconsistency, but this is something that all single boiler espresso machines suffer from — including the Ascaso Dream and even the high end Quick Mill Alexia, will all have some temperature issues simply because you’re pulling water for two different processes from the same boiler.
Additionally, you have to be cognizant of the fact that these single boilers don’t have automatic boiler refills and you need to make sure you’re keeping the boiler full of water in order to maintain its health. If you’re not keeping it full, it will slowly burn out the heating element and you’ll have a costly repair on your hands. One sign that you’re not keeping enough water in the boiler is that you might be having steaming issues — it’s not steaming powerfully enough, or it starts out fine and then peters off, or it’s just not getting hot enough.
In this video, Gail talks to us about temperature surfing, demonstrates it on a Saeco Aroma and describes what can happen if you don’t do this each time you make yourself a latte on your single boiler espresso machine.
We’ve all had a few rough mornings where we’re not sure where the floor and ceiling are in relationship to each other, so it’s no surprise that a few of us have had a tragedy occur: Accidentally pouring water into the bean hopper/grinder instead of the reservoir on our superautomatic espresso machine.
If this happens to you, the most important thing is DO NOT USE THE MACHINE. There is nothing that you can do to fix this because the grinder needs to be taken apart and cleaned as soon as possible to prevent it from seizing up. In this video, Gail shows us what happens when water gets into contact with the grinder and gives us advice on what to do — you know, after we’ve run around screaming in panic.