Manual, Semi Automatic, Automatic. Overwhelmed with choices

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.

#1: Post by Gargamel40 »

This is going to be a long one, but please bear with me.

I discovered coffee 20 years ago and started drinking milk based cappuccinos, lattes, etc. Later when i got married, my wife also started to drink coffee and we bought our first home coffee machine. It was Dolce Gusto and we used their capsule system. We actually liked it and kept at it for many years.

Then our taste changed and went from long milk based coffee to small with a touch of milk (macchiato, cortado,..). Dolce Gusto broke down and we thought it's time for "real" "beans to cup" type machine to give us more quality and better taste. I thought 300 eur is a lot of money for that type of machine and i bought DeLonghi Magnifica S. We loved it, coffee was much better then capsules from Dolce Gusto also. We started to experiment with different coffee beans also and settled with couple brands. We drink espresso or americana only now and use milk capabilities only for guests and kids.

After few years with this machine i like it simplicity, cleaning is easy and it never broke.

But, why am here then?

Well, i have a constant feeling that i could drink even better espresso at home. And i'm ready to invest a bit more money in it for better results. I'm not sure about the time yet.

So i started to look around and i got lost in in this rabbit hole of coffee machines. I know all about the grinders, espresso machines, tampering, beans, etc., and frankly, it scares me. There are two people in this house that will brew coffee and one (wife) can easily throw everything out of the window if the end result won't be better then automatic. It won't help explaining her about temperatures, pressure, tampering...noap. If machines that take a lot of counter space can't produce better espresso then good automatic, it won't last.

So my first question here is this. If i buy a very very good automatic espresso machine (Jura and Gaggia look like the top choices) how much better or worse would the end product be vs. (for example) Beratza 270wi grinder + espresso semi automatic for up to 1000 eur (Rancilio Silvia Pro x, Gaggia Pro, many others with Hx option or even dual boiler) after i would understand the machines and know how to work them? How much harder or easier is cleaning and maintaining? If i would decide for semi manual, it needs to be easy enough to produce constant espresso that is better then automatic if i hold myself (and wife) to certain recipe.

Or if i don't decide to go semi automatic route and stay in automatic world. Would buying a top of the range (Jura, Gaggia) automatic machine produce better espresso then my DeLonghi Magnifica S?


#2: Post by Marmot »


I tinkered a lot with superautomatics and still mostly drink this kind of coffee and I can tell you that with your Delonghi you already reached more or less the limit. The higher end superautomatics only differ in how they steam and deliver milk drinks but coffee preparation stays the same from entry level to top end machine. Personnaly I like the coffee from Delonghi machines more than Jura or Saeco (identical to Gaggia).
You may still be able to improve taste if you play around with grind size and dose on your Delonghi but you probably already did that?

Superautomatics can never give you the dense and thick mouthfeel and taste of espresso from a traditional machine. The problem is however that you have to find the right grind size and dose and then do a good puck preparation and at the same time use the machine at the right temperature. This gets easier with repetition but still might be too much for you or your wife to do every day.

If you think you still want to try it I would start with a conical burr grinder with stepless adjustment like the Bezzera BB005 or the Lelit Fred. As a machine I think the Lelit Mara X is a really good choice but costs quite a lot. Another good machine I can think of at the moment is the Breville or Sage Bambino Plus which has a new generation of thermocoil that heats up in 2 seconds (!). It is relatively cheap and has an automatic steam function that steams the milk for you but you can still steam yourself if you want. But it will probably not be as durable as the Lelit.

Gargamel40 (original poster)

#3: Post by Gargamel40 (original poster) »

Marmot wrote:Hi!

Superautomatics can never give you the dense and thick mouthfeel and taste of espresso from a traditional machine.

This is the exact reason why i'm even thinking about semi auto machines. When i drink a really good espresso in a bar, it gives you that thick mouthfull feeling and taste. And i don't get in my automatic at home. It's not bad at all, but i see a difference and i thought i could get that with some kind of semi auto setup in 500$ range grinder and 700$ range semi auto espresso machine. And practise.

But i still want this to be a good morning machine for me or my wife. Which means it needs to heat up quickly, grind and make coffee without problems and tinkering ant needs to be easy/quick to clean.

Main problem as i see it is that i get "ok" espresso with my automatic every time. With semi auto, i really don't know what will i get.


#4: Post by Marmot »

Superautomatics have pressurised systems which allow for grind size and dose mistakes while still producing "crema" and an acceptable taste. You have a similar system for portafilters with pressurized baskets. It will never give you a real espresso but will also not let you down as bad as when you make a mistake on a traditional machine.

When you get a traditional machine you have to be somewhat serious about preparing the coffee puck because you can easily get problems with channeling if you don't. However you can use italian blend with robusta which are usually very forgiving in that regard.

I think best would be to keep the Delonghi and use a traditional machine next to it. So if you have difficulties with it in the morning you can always do the "walk of shame" to the superautomatic. :mrgreen:

Gargamel40 (original poster)

#5: Post by Gargamel40 (original poster) »

Good idea, but hard to sell to my wife :) More machines, less space.

But yeah, if i could do that, i can practise and prove to myself and others that coffee is better from semi auto. If i can't achieve that compared to automatic, then i'm no good at this and can sell the whole thing.

Question is what grinder/semi auto combo (or even tampering machine as extra?) is the most forgiving or good for begginers?


#6: Post by BodieZoffa »

You mentioned the Silvia Pro X and I can definitely vouch for the function/longevity/simplicity. I have the non-X version, but the functionality is the same at the end of the day. If you want a rock solid machine that will perform superbly day in/out it's tough to beat it. Fire it up and it's heated and good to go in 20 mins no problem. That can be rushed by doing a bit of flushing to superheat things a bit faster. The machine is quite energy efficient, nicely insulated so no hot spots to get burned, recovers rather quickly between uses, etc. Basically preventive care is needed like an occasional detergent backflush/parts soak, clean the water tank/lid every few weeks... some complain about the small drip tray, but the Silvia Pro doesn't waste much water like many machines do. Only thing that makes it to the drip tray is 3-way flow and a tiny bit from the steam boiler if used as it will purge a small amount on startup. I use a mug to flush the group to clean the screen and never have any issues with much liquid in the tray. IMBHO the drip tray in any machine should be emptied/cleaned daily. Just a few mins of basic cleaning daily and occasional detergent cleaning as required with most machines anyway and it will perform well indefinitely. The espresso/steam quality from it is top notch without all the fuss some machines need.


#7: Post by johnX »

"Two Machines..."
"Good idea, but hard to sell to my wife :) More machines, less space."

I know the lack of space, wife concerns, but I vote for two machines. :-)


#8: Post by luvmy40 »

Just another guy with his $0.02 worth of opinion:

You are either going to love the process and the product of using good quality hardware in making your espresso or you are not.

If you love it, you WILL want more/better gear eventually. It's inevitable.

If you don't you will regret spending $$$$ on high end stuff.

My advice would be to pick up something like the Breville Bambino+ and the Baratza Sette 270. Get a bottomless portafilter and standard filter baskets for the Bambino+. I'm pretty sure the portafilters for the Infuser fit the Bambino. I know they are available as my son has the same set up on his Bambino+.

My reasoning is this; The Bambino+ is quite capable at espresso and a very good steamer at a very reasonable price. You will out grow it eventually, but it will serve you well to learn on without the HX or Single Boiler hurdles. It's automatic steam function works well and you can still steam manually if you choose. It comes with a pressurized portafilter system so you can have that for back up on lazy or rushed mornings if you need it. The Sette is a very good grinder that performs exceptionally well at a very reasonable price. The trade off is noise and longevity, though the repairs are reportedly easy and affordable. Going this route, you are not making a huge investment $ wise but getting excellent stepping stones to find out if you truly will be going down this rabbit hole.

Keep your automatic kit for a while. If you decide this isn't for you, you will be able to sell the Bambino and Sette at a minimal loss.



#9: Post by exidrion »

I am once again recommending the Breville Oracle lol. It's easy to use for those who want simplicity, while also satisfying the need for those who want to use it more manually. For example, I use a separate grinder and tamper, but I do use the auto steaming. Your wife could use the auto grinding and tamping if she chooses.

Seems like what you're looking for if you ask me.

Supporter ♡

#10: Post by kc2hje »

As someone who trudged through Espresso for fifteen years and counting, You can never go wrong starting off with a solid semi auto like the Silvia, or the Gagga Classic you have all the flexibility to do all the coffee geaking and learning then once you're ready sell it and move on to a machine that has more bells and whistles or less if you want full control.

Some more thoughts on this too, a well maintained and supported semi auto or manual espresso machine can run for decades or more a super auto prob (and this is assuming on my part) a lifespan of five to six years before parts supply dries up and becomes impossible to repair. Kinda like a quartz watch vs a mechanical both tell time and fulfill the same root goal. Quartz is easy to maintain till the mechanism fails at that point toss and buy in again where as a mechanical can run for generations and it has a soul or a personality. Each has its pros and cons for me a semi auto is the right balance I push buttons for a living so I like the ritual as much as the finished product in the cup.