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Super-automatic espresso machine purchasing advice

Postby habitant on Mon Nov 12, 2007 1:58 am

Howdy all -

I'm considering purchasing a super-automatic machine for the family this Christmas, and was considering the Jura or Saeco lines. Anyone have any baseline feedback? I'm looking in the E8-F8 range of Juras, but I'm curious as to the quality of coffee & espresso that they produce with never having used one.

Thanks in advance!
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Postby uscfroadie on Mon Nov 12, 2007 3:41 am

Please excuse my brutal honesty if you are offended by my response as that is not my intent, but the thought of a machine that produces quality espresso at the push of a button is nothing more than a dream. Looking at the literature and perusing the websites for such machines will show you a great deal of crema and frothing ability, but your results will vary greatly. I've used an F9 and an E8, and the results were...poor. With fresh beans and the settings on the machine set to extra strong, the best I could get from these two machines was weak espresso.

Sound recommendations from this forum will require more information. For instance, are you wanting the best coffee you can get (within reason), or are you looking purely at convenience? What kind of coffee do you and the rest of your family drink? Please try to give detail of your family's routine when it comes to drinking coffee. Are you limited by counter space? What is your budget?

Before you buy anything, I'd try to find a place that carries machines you are interested in so you can "test drive" them. When you compare the super automatics to the machines you see normally discussed here, you'll see a huge difference in the end product, which should help you determine if a super automatic is really what you are looking for. Also, you might want to hop on youtube or Google videos to see a few machines you are considering in action. These videos will hint to the noise level and complexities (or lack of) when it comes to operations and maintenance and will give you a truer picture of what you can expect from the machine.

There is still plenty of time before Christmas to make the right decision, so take your time choosing. Good luck.
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Postby habitant on Mon Nov 12, 2007 8:29 am

Thanks for the quick feedback. And believe me, I'm looking for brutal honesty & am thankful for it.

A little about what we do:

I'm a 4 cup a day coffee drinker who enjoys espresso, but I have to leave the house to get it. I work at home, so there ya go. My wife is 2 cup a day coffee drinker that enjoys espresso, but doesn't like spending the $4 for whatever pumpkin-dolce-mint-double-whip-alatte thing is currently on 'limited edition'.

I brew my coffee in a presspot, and I brew coffees from Ritual, Stumptown, Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia. I like a bolder profile in flavors, but in the last year have started to appreciated brighter coffees. For parties / gatherings, I have a drip machine (gah) but it helps for crowds.

My thoughts on the Super-Automatic concept was that I could get fresher coffee all day long rather than thermal mugging my way through the day and eventually making another pot in the afternoon. I also thought the wife might like making a quick cap/latte/whatever before leaving the house and not dropping the $4. My budget is up to $1,000 but ease of use & clean-up are certainly factors. I have a grinder (but am probably replacing it as its a cuisinart and the burrs seem to impart a ton of static).
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Postby HB on Mon Nov 12, 2007 8:53 am

habitant wrote:Anyone have any baseline feedback? I'm looking in the E8-F8 range of Juras, but I'm curious as to the quality of coffee & espresso that they produce with never having used one.

My experience with super-autos is limited, but my overall impression is that they brew mediocre coffee with great convenience at great expense. Below are a few threads from the FAQs and Favorites Digest with prior discussions:
If I were in the market for a super-auto, I would head down to Williams-Sonoma mid-week on a slow evening with coffee beans in hand for a demonstration.

habitant wrote:My thoughts on the Super-Automatic concept was that I could get fresher coffee all day long rather than thermal mugging my way through the day and eventually making another pot in the afternoon. I also thought the wife might like making a quick cap/latte/whatever before leaving the house and not dropping the $4.

We had one at work and it made a drinkable cup (much better than the employee drip swill!). But an inexpensive Solis Maestro + presspot would be much, much better. An Aeropress is another no-mess alternative. If your wife isn't fussy, she may like the quick cappuccinos from a super-automatic.
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Postby Mark08859 on Mon Nov 12, 2007 11:46 am

I'll mimic some of the other replies here and state that super-autos are all about the convenience. If you are willing to give up some taste for that convenience, at least as far as espresso goes, then that is fine. A super-auto should serve you well. The espresso out of these machines will certainly match what one can get out of their local *$'s (especially these days).

My "regular" coffee drinking friends seem to like what comes out of my own super-auto as far as standard coffee goes. Perhaps they do a better job with that type of coffee drink. I use my own super-auto prior to my morning commute. I use my Alexia or Pavoni all other times.

A $1,000 budget will get you a decent digital super-auto (such as the Saeco V'spresso). A digital machine will "speak" to you in English (or other languages if you prefer) and is far easier to work with than other machines with blinking lights. Your budget won't get you one of the newer digital machines out there, but that really shouldn't be a big problem.

When you shop for a super-auto, make sure you can get to the grounds chute in order to clean it. I know this can be done with Saecos, I'm not sure about Juras. If you can do this, you'll be able to use oiler darker roast coffee beans, which you're not normally supposed to do in a super-auto. This may help compensate for the lighter flavor of the drink.

Good luck.
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Postby Ohji on Tue Nov 13, 2007 1:01 am

I just wanted to give my perspective on your situation. Superautomatics are very unpopular on this and other coffee forums. When I started out on my search for equipment, I was looking at a Gaggia Titanium versus an entry level Jura machine. After reading a lot of the sales literature on these machines, I became quite excited that I would be able to brew espressos and cappucinos myself at home without having to pay for them at the Au Bon Pain at work. As I began to delve deeper, I found this forum and CG, and after just a couple of days, I had been converted to the realm of the semi-automatic machine.

I am fairly type-A, and after all I had read, I decided that I wanted CONTROL of my coffee. :) I ended up purchasing a Vibiemme Domobar Super and a Macap M4 stepless for about $1800. When the equipment arrived, I could not stop playing with grind settings, tamping pressure, etc. Unfortunately, I became frustrated, as I could not get a shot I was happy with, and I really didn't like the mess. The Vibiemme is a phenomenal machine, but it takes an hour to heat up and the pressurestat makes a loud click every 110 seconds or so that I could hear in every corner of my apartment. I therefore couldn't leave the machine on when I was sleeping as I would sit there just waiting for the inevitable, infernal click! :)

In the end, I had an extended period of time where I just didn't use the machine as it took too long to make coffee in the morning (I was still paying for coffee at work after my substantial investment!). The hassle of trying to turn the machine on early enough so it would be warm, then doing the cooling flushes, grinding, tamping, etc. was just too much. I sold my equipment online to two wonderful people who are getting much more use out of it than I would have, and I purchased a Saeco Talea Ring Plus with the money I received from the sale. I have gained a great deal of respect for users here who work with E61 HX machines, but I have also realized that I was not meant for a semi-automatic. What others will likely say is that the use of a semi-auto gets much easier with practice and experience, and that is likely true. The sad truth is that I am just NOT a morning person. I wake up at the last possible second that I can, and am rushing to get out on time. With my Saeco, I can turn the machine on, have it heat up in 60 seconds, perform a blank shot to warm up the machine, and then brew my espresso. If I want a cappuccino, I take the milk island out, turn a knob, and I have foamed milk with no fuss. I can do all this while I brush my teeth, it is so easy. Another plus is that on the weekend, I can fiddle around with the steam wand and produce decent microfoam.

As this message is already insanely long, I will summarize by saying this: a manual or semi-automatic machine will give you better espresso with more control over the grinding/brewing variables, but at the cost of a steeper learning curve and more preparation time. Think hard about what your needs are -- there's no use in having equipment that is capable of producing regular "god shots" if it is never used...

Good luck!
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Postby Ohji on Tue Nov 13, 2007 1:58 am

Oops. I just realized that I forgot to address the meat of your question.

I think you can't go wrong with either the Saeco or the Jura. The Saeco Talea line ranges from $900 for the Giro to $2100 for the Touch Plus. The Giro doesn't have adjustable temperature settings, programmable beverage settings, the electronic "touch lift" drip tray adjustment, or the milk island auto frother. The Ring Plus and Touch Plus add these options. The Saecos have a removable brew group that allows for a dose of 7 to 10.5 grams per cycle. While the Jura brew group is non-removable, there are built-in cleaning cycles and the fixed nature allows for a larger puck size with a higher dose per cycle (up to 18g). Therefore, with the Saeco, you'd probably want to brew a 1.5oz espresso shot max whereas with the Jura you could brew a full double shot with one cycle. Fortunately, with the Saeco, if you want a double shot, you can just press the brew button twice and the machine will automatically perform two single shot cycles back-to-back.

I can't speak to the Jura's coffee quality, but I'm enjoying the beverages I'm getting from my Saeco. The coffee is not weak or bitter, I have great crema, and the drinks are hot as long as I pull an empty shot first (running a preground brewing cycle without putting preground coffee in the bypass doser). The grinder is quiet and has 5 grind settings (as opposed to the 3 that are advertised all over the internet). You can make espresso, cafe crema, or cafe americano with ease. You can froth milk either by using the Panarello frothing wand or the milk island. An added plus is that you can remove the Panarello adapter, and you have a single-tip frothing wand that allows for fairly easy microfoam.

The Saeco does have a few negatives. It has a pitifully small water reservoir (57 oz.) -- due to the empty shots, I feel like I am constantly refilling the water tank. A larger reservoir would have been nice. Also, the automatic rinse feature is helfpul in that it rinses the internal circuits with hot water every time the machine is started when cold. It does not, however, rinse on shutdown, meaning that old coffee stays in the machine until it is started again. Other machines rinse on power down as well. I just run another empty shot manually after I've finished my brewing session, so it's not a big deal. Finally, the machine is largely made out of plastic, and the panels have a tendency to rattle loudly when the pump is active unless you embrace the entire machine (which looks somewhat ridiculous). I think I will be able to fix this with some tape or rubber strips, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Overall, I am very happy with my purchase, but I will qualify my statement with the disclaimer that I do not possess an advanced palate like many of the members here. Hopefully others with superautomatics will chime in with their input as well. An opinion from someone who went from superauto to semi-auto might be a nice contrasting argument. Oh, and also consider the DeLonghi models. I was leaning heavily towards the EAM3500, but the frothing adapter on the milk reservoir had no manual mode, so I ended up with the Saeco.

Good luck again with the search...
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Postby habitant on Tue Nov 13, 2007 8:00 am

Everyone has offered lots of great perspectives thus far, and plenty of reading options. Thanks so much for everyone's input. As it stands, I'm still not sure my exact course of action, but I am much more informed.
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Postby lespresso on Tue Nov 13, 2007 5:27 pm

I have DeLonghi EAM3500 Magnifica Super Automatic Espresso/Coffee Machine I purchased at Bed Bath and Beyond with 20% off coupon with one touch Cappuccino/Latte button.I don't like a fufu drinks like latte I drink just espresso at least 3-4 times a day but I would recommend that machine for whole family use.My second half like it a lot.I forgot the best taste for espresso I got from Lavazza.
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Postby LAF on Wed Dec 05, 2007 11:45 am

Ohji,

Nice post about the Seaco Talea Ring Plus...

Now, I can't wait for Xmas morning. I just bought one to put under the tree :-)

And, I'm just like you. I don't want to fuss around for a long period of time before getting my espresso. But I also want a decent quality (with crema) shots from the machine. Your post just made me a bit more positive on my purchase.

BTW, When you say that you do a BLANK shot before and after your espresso. How do you do that?

Thanks, very informative post.

Marc.
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