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Super-Automatic vs Automatic vs Semi

Postby teeler on Sat Apr 29, 2006 12:37 am

Dare I use the term "fully-automatic" here? Is it a sin or cheating to go this route? I have a Presso manual and am considering a La Pavoni Europiccola. However.....I have been reading about the Saeco Incanto S-Class Sirius. Any opinions on this machine?

Some say a fully-automated machine doesn't produce true espresso. The Incanto Sirius has a double boiler, which is SS, and the grinder is a ceramic burr grinder.

Help please! I am getting more and more frustrated in choosing which direction to go!
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Postby Mark08859 on Sat Apr 29, 2006 1:20 am

Don't confuse automatic or fully automatic with super automatic. An automatic espresso machine dispenses liquid w/o you having to watch the pour. You still need to grind tamp and dose. A super automatic does everything for you once it is set-up.

That being said, if you like what's coming out of a super auto, or it meets your needs, than no - it isn't a sin. This type of machine produces a consistent good shot, but never a great one. The other types of machine can produce a god shot, but can also produce junk. You need to determine what you want out of a machine. Then you can choose what is best for you.
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Postby mybs on Sat Apr 29, 2006 3:34 am

There are literally hundreds of people out there using super automatics that often don't know or care that there better tasting espresso can be made with machinery that is often cheaper and more reliable. There is no particular sin or cheating involved. It really comes down to your priorities. Here's my partial list of benefits and disadvantages for the Super-Autos:

Benefits
1. It's EASY and convenient. I mean how much easier can it get than putting in beans, putting in water, and pressing a button. Hell, even milk frothing can be automated by some of these machines. For the busy person that is always in a rush, the super-auto cuts back on the time you need to make a drink, and it basically eliminates any need for training or practice in the process.
2. The shots that it puts out are extremely consistent. It makes its very best straight out of the box. No need to optimize the machine...you'll continue getting that same quality shot as long as it remains somewhat clean.

Disadvantages
1. Because the machine provides its very best out of the box, any hopes that you may have for a better quality shot from the same beans is essentially nil.
2. They are far often far more EXPENSIVE than equivalent quality semi-autos and yet are unable to compete with the shot performance of a semi-auto once you've practiced for a little while.
3. Maintenance is often very high for said machines. The more gadgets you add into a single machine, the more likely a single part is going to fail. The individual components are usually not the best of their class, and thus money spent on a HQ grinder and semi-auto will indefinitely beat out the super-autos on today's market that can be purchased at similar or even higher prices.

A super-auto produces "true espresso" but for most of the people that visit coffee forums, it's often "not good enough espresso."

As far as manual versus semi-auto go, it comes down to your ultimate goal in espresso. Do you just want your good shot of espresso, or do you want to feel like you're in control of the whole espresso extraction process? If you're even considering the purchase of a super-auto, I wouldn't bother too much with a manual. IMO, it adds another variable to the whole process of making espresso, which makes it much more difficult to produce the kind of shot that you want when you first start.

My recommendation would be for the semi-auto with a high quality grinder. The grinder is VERY important if you're going to use a semi-auto. Fresh beans are essential with whatever machine you end up deciding. There have been times when I've suggested pod machines and super-autos to friends or relatives, because I KNEW that they were not interested in the process of making espresso or getting the best shot. Time and simplicity were far more important to them than espresso quality (IMO even a super-auto with fresh beans can at least beat the $bucks). Of course, the choice at the end is yours. If you go with the semi-auto route, you'll find a lot of online support. Go with the super-auto, you'll likely not need the support, but you'll always be free to ask questions if you do. Hope that helps. Good luck with whichever route you go.
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Postby Paco on Sat Apr 29, 2006 4:43 pm

I am thinking of buying one of these said Super Autos mainly for the convenience and time factor. I have originally been looking at a Jura Model, perhaps Saeco or Delonghi models. Looking to spend around 1k, but was wondering if anyone had suggestions and why? Thanks in advance for the help. I have looked for reviews online, but people dont say much about the super autos it seems. Just want to make a good decision for the money being spent.
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Postby HB on Sat Apr 29, 2006 11:41 pm

teeler wrote:Some say a fully-automated machine doesn't produce true espresso.

Super-automatics... sigh. I've argued both sides of the case, most recently in Overextracted. My experience with super-autos is limited to an office Saeco, a friend's, vendor demonstrations, and several espressos served from commercial establishments. Based on my limited experience, it's charitable to call what they produce "espresso." That said, one can't deny the convenience factor, and if you always drink coffee with milk, they're not bad, especially compared to typical office drip coffee.

Paco wrote:I am thinking of buying one of these said Super Autos mainly for the convenience and time factor.

If I were in the market for a super-auto, I would give heavy weight to its ability to froth well under the assumption that all drinks would be milk-based. Another option would be to choose another less demanding preparation (e.g., French press) for those days you're running short on time and save espresso for a weekend treat, either prepared at a good cafe or at home on a semi-auto.
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Postby egghead on Tue Nov 14, 2006 9:36 am

At home I have a new E61 machine (Vetrano Rotary). I have pulled great shots, I have pulled okay shots, I have pulled sink shots. I think I pretty much have got a handle on what I do wrong when I have less than ideal shots, and I am pretty happy with my setup.

We just got a Solis 5000 here at work. The shots from it have been consistent. There has been none of the bitterness, or sourness that I have gotten at home. There has also not been, how should I describe it...flavor. Even though we are using good beans, I just don't taste the bean as much as I do at home. Is this just a property of this machine, or is it that I am doing something wrong at home, and the shots should taste kind of mild?

Thanks,

Larry
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Postby jesawdy on Tue Nov 14, 2006 11:11 am

I think that the taste profile from machine to machine is just different. And a Vetrano to superautomatic, very drastically different. I will hazard a guess that there are taste profile differences from E61 box to E61 box. I have a a Silvia, a Cimbali, a Gaggia Factory lever, and a Saeco Vienna superautomatic. They all taste quite different. At the moment, my order of taste preference for these 4 machines is Cimbali, Silvia, Factory lever (close to Silvia, likely my lack of skill with it), and finally the Saeco superautomatic.

More directly to your assessment of your superautomatic....

The Saeco I have is very consistent. It is pretty much the same every single time. On occasion, it will pull a slightly better or worse shot, I think based on how recently another shot has been pulled and where it may be in temp swing. There are three variables one can control on the Saeco Vienna superautomatic... the beans used, the grind, and the shot volume (four if you count the water, we use Brita filtered). On this model, you can't change the dose, but some Saeco models feature what they call "Opti-dose" which allows an adjustment from ~6-9 grams (my suspicion is the dose on mine and others is actually based on volume and not weight though). I have my Saeco set to pull a 1 ounce single, and I only occasionally change the grind. The 25 second extraction is pretty much out the window, you *might* get it to do it, but it usually is faster. I've never pulled into a shot glass but I always feel like I get more crema on the second shot than the first. The crema is typically lighter in color than I get on Silvia, but sometimes comes close.

Ok, now to the taste. It is not Silvia, or La Cimbali, or Vetrano I'm sure. It is not very complex. However, it is not tasteless, just not as tasteful. There is much less body and mouthfeel. I find it to be milder, "smoother", less jagged and less interesting, but still pretty good. I always find the machine to pull something much more drinkable on non-espresso blends, or coffees that are too wild or bright on Silvia. The coffee is so much better than the office coffee service, that I could never give it up, not that I ever drank the office coffee except in an act of desperation.

In my situation, I would not be comfortable using anything other than a superautomatic at work. I would worry too much about someone hurting themselves with a semiautomatic machine. The traditional semiauto and grinder setup is also quite messy. Also, most people just aren't all that interested in controlling all the variables that you need to in order to make consistently good espresso The superautomatic is quite clean. You do get some grinds on the counter at the end of the day when you pull it apart to clean, but nothing drastic. Mine is not located near a sink, and it is a simple one trip to the sink at the end of the day with drip tray, brew group, spout, and bean dump box to clean up.

We have a pool of about 6-7 people who use the machine on and off. At most, it pulls about 15 shots in a day I would guess. Often less if folks are out. It pulls two and sometimes three doubles for me every work day. Lately, I most often have an Americano, but straight shots from time to time.

It has been interesting to watch other people discover espresso-based coffee with this machine. I have three people in the office that now go in with me on bean orders. One guy stopped using his drip, and uses a steam toy with the same beans we use at work. Another, just bought a slightly better Saeco superautomatic model and dumped his steam toy (after already dumping his drip machine), so he can start his day with the same coffee experience, before he gets to work (or if he is headed out of town). His major justification was to stop ordering out coffee in the AM from the likes of Port City Java or Starbucks.

(Dan, depending on the direction this thread takes, a merge to or a link from "Making a case for superautomatics" may be justified.)
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Postby HB on Tue Nov 14, 2006 9:52 pm

(As jesawdy suggests, this is a good topic to merge with a prior discussion...)

egghead wrote:Even though we are using good beans, I just don't taste the bean as much as I do at home. Is this just a property of this machine, or is it that I am doing something wrong at home, and the shots should taste kind of mild?

Michael Teahan summed it up nicely in Making the case against Super Automatics:

mteahan wrote:I have spent the better part of 4 years working with a very large espresso manufacturer in Italy trying to revise and improve automated espresso machines. The ability to produce barista quality espresso is actually quite easy; the difficulty is getting the machines to do so reliably.

In order to make an automated machine produce quality, the settings have to be adjusted to create the most stress on the components of the machine. Passageways easily clog with coffee, tamp pressures push the limits of materials and construction and maintenance requirements increase dramatically.

You can make great coffee for a few days or mediocre coffee for a month; that's the trade off.

On the other hand, I worked at an office in Vienna and the cafe cremas from the super-automatic were better than the drip-swill at my current office.
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Postby another_jim on Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:21 pm

Super-autos, at the current state of the art, make highly acceptable "push-button" coffee beverages. But these beverages fall very short when compared to either espresso (on body and concentration) or to well brewed regular coffee. Nobody, nowhere, never, has said "WOW!" when drinking anything from these contraptions.

A lot of R & D money is being thrown at this technology, so this may change. I'll start getting interested when somebody does say "wow."
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Postby egghead on Wed Nov 15, 2006 2:11 pm

Thanks for the confirmation of what I had already guessed.

As Jeff said, I wouldn't have chosen a E61 for my work. This machine is simple. The only adjustment is the amount of water that flows. And while it doesn't produce the flavor that I get at home, it is still pretty good. This morning we were out of good beans (hopefully they are in the mailbox when we get home), so we made grocery store-drip coffee. Yuck! The stuff from this Solis tasted like ambrosia by comparison.

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