Super-automatic espresso machines

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

#1: Post by dmorgan »

I have a 13-year-old Solis espresso maker and Rancilio grinder. They have both been workhorse pieces of equipment. I think I am at the end of the life of my espresso maker and have been wondering about a replacement. Does anyone like any of the semi-automatic super-automatic espresso machines that grind, tamp, and then deliver a good cup of espresso with lovely crema?

geoffbeier

#2: Post by geoffbeier »

I'm not aware of any semi-automatic espresso machine that grinds and tamps. And I'm not aware of any espresso machine of any kind that grinds and tamps then delivers a good cup of espresso. Are you asking about a particular model?

dmorgan

#3: Post by dmorgan »

I was wondering about the machines I see in, say, a Williams-Sonoma catalogue or Sur la Table catalogue that are made by Jura or Breville--they have a built-in grinder, and then the machine tamps, brews, stops and cleans. They aren't cheap. But I'd be disappointed if they delivered a poor quality espresso.

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HB
Admin

#4: Post by HB »

I'm certain you mean super-automatics (and have corrected the topic title accordingly). They're expensive and convenient, but don't compete well against a modestly skilled barista using a semi-automatic. For a good overview of the cost/benefits, see Super-Automatic vs Automatic vs Semi. For my take on them, see Like kissing your sister inspired by a comment about super-automatics by Steve Robinson.
Dan Kehn

geoffbeier

#5: Post by geoffbeier »

dmorgan wrote:I was wondering about the machines I see in, say, a Williams-Sonoma catalogue or Sur la Table catalogue that are made by Jura or Breville--they have a built-in grinder, and then the machine tamps, brews, stops and cleans. They aren't cheap. But I'd be disappointed if they delivered a poor quality espresso.
What Dan said ;-). I will add that I've never owned one, but on those occasions where I've sampled espresso made on the super-automatic machines at Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, it's been pretty bad. I think they're pretty liberal about letting you try them out, though, so you should bring some beans into one of their stores and see if you agree.

dmorgan

#6: Post by dmorgan »

This is all good advice. I'll take beans and give these machines a try and report back. I'm an espresso snob and order my beans from Fonte coffee in Seattle. My husband and I make americanos in the morning. I really don't make lattes or other milk-based drinks because I am lactose intolerant--so a steamer for milk is less important to me.
My next question is: if cost is not an issue, what should I buy??? I read an earlier post about the the fellow who bought expensive cars and watches! Space is an issue though--I have this cool appliance garage and prefer the espresso machine/grinder to fit in it.

Dodger1

#7: Post by Dodger1 »

From what I've read, if you simply must have a super auto Quick Mill makes one that supposedly isn't all that bad. MSRP is $2,395, which is slightly higher then the Alex Duetto II and Vivaldi II price range and frankly I'd rather have one of those machines then a super auto but to each his own.

CC is currently out of stock but you can evaluate the features @ http://www.chriscoffee.com/products/hom ... ssuperauto

If you're still interested in the Quick Mill, I'd suggest calling CC and speak to Chris regarding what machines he'd recommend for your specific needs, when he's expecting another Quick Mill super auto shipment and would he personally buy a super auto.

BTW, if you haven't been able to ascertain my feeling on super auto's, they echo Dan's to a T. However, as another HB notable said:
another_jim wrote:Our reviews are based on the pursuit of godshots and 3 star espresso. But the overall commitment and context this requires has forced me to reconsider what I would tell a non-hobbyist. My advice to people who don't want to be hardcore, but who do have some taste and some money to spend, is to get a good quality super auto and then use the very best coffees available. While they still don't achieve close to the mouth feel or flavor density of real espresso, they are beginning to do justice to the nuances of good coffees.

jlhsupport

#8: Post by jlhsupport »

Since it is my job to know and understand the differences in espresso technology, I'll offer you the same advice I am trying to train our sales staff into understanding. If you are truly looking to purchase a super automatic machine, understand that you are giving up one key element in the entire process: mano (that's you). Super automatics take away most of your control over brewing espresso, and this is by design.

For the manufacturers to squeeze in a bunch of technology inside a small box and charge $700 to $3000 (relatively modest compared to $9K-$12K for your average commercial super auto), they have to set strict upper and lower limits on what you can do with the machine. There is a dual purpose for that thinking: one is for the non-hobbyist, as Jim put it, and the other is to keep the user from trashing the appliance.

Temperature is one factor that has the tightest limits. On most machines, there is only one temp setting, and there's no way to surf it. The best you can hope for is to run some rinse cycles (if available) to heat up the brew unit as much as possible, which happens to be confoundingly placed beneath or offset from the thermoblock boiler. All the rising heat from the boiler is wasted rather than being used to keep the brewing unit hot. I have tried to express to the product designers at the big 3 (Jura, Saeco, and DeLonghi) that the first one of them to find a solution to that shortcoming will gain tremendous market share over the others. I can only hope that one of them will put something out like that in the next couple years.

Two other very limiting factors are grind and dose of ground coffee. These machines cannot accept a pure espresso grind for a host of reasons. Number one is it would make too much of a mess inside and cause premature failure of the motor or other moving parts. Some brands grind finer than others (DeLonghi and Saeco are finer than Jura). They are also very limiting on dosage of ground coffee. Sure they give you the right range (6 to 9 for a single; 12 to 16 for a double), but there are large leaps between the mild, medium, and strong settings. Next, by design, these machines are made to produce consistent beverages, so they have a built in pressurized brewing system. There is no way around that system, as these companies are catering to different clientele than are the serious semi-auto manufacturers. Everything they do is designed to take the user out of the equation as much as possible.

The other major limitation is the ability to make the killer milk froth. The thermoblock boilers these all come with don't have a reserve of steam from which to release into your pitcher. A thermoblock is a big chunk of aluminum with an embedded heating element and a stainless steel pipe running through it to heat your water. The upside of this design is that you always brew with fresh water assuming you put fresh water into the tank. The downside is less than stellar temperature stability throughout the brew and the anemic steam power. 6 to 8 ounces is all you want to attempt to froth in a pitcher at a time. The more expensive ones almost exclusively have auto frother/steaming attachments. Those tend to do fine for the outward appearance of the froth, but the texture in your mouth is definitely different than that of manually frothed milk. They also cannot get steamed milk for lattes very hot (typically below 150 degrees), as the steam/milk/air mixing ratio is set in a manner to avoid scalding milk to the internals of the mechanism.

People ask us if these machines will produce the same espresso they can make in a good semi-auto, and we of course say no, but at least with a super auto, you always know what you are going to get in your cup. That being said, not every espresso blend is going to like a super auto, so don't expect that the beans you have grown to love in your Solis will taste the same in a super auto. They might be close, but there's no guarantee.

If I were to recommend for you one of these machines, it might surprise you to hear from a dealer that you shouldn't pick one of the more expensive ones. Don't get me wrong, there are some nice ones, but it has more to do with what you want it to do for you. The entry level units tend to make as good (good is a relative term here) of an espresso as the top end units within a brand. I find that the Saecos (Gaggia and Saeco are the same company) and DeLonghis create the most drinkable espressos, but Saecos only brew singles, which is good for some people and annoying for others. DeLonghis produce the best espresso shot temperatures because they have the best brew unit rinsing system. Not every Saeco has one, and the Juras leave way too much water in the lines afterwards. If you want to froth your own milk, Saecos and the one DeLonghi that still has a steam wand all do better than the Juras. The Juras are quieter and prettier, and they do hold your hand through most every step, but they do take you out of the equation more than any other brand. If you decided on one of them, I would seriously recommend looking at their refurbished offerings. It's like getting a brand new machine with a few scuffs.
Joshua Stack
JL Hufford

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RapidCoffee
Team HB

#9: Post by RapidCoffee »

Joshua, thank you for an excellent summary of superautos. Your observations tally well with my (limited) experience on these machines. A few more pros:

* Superauto technology is quite remarkable. It really is push-button espresso.
* Other than filling the water reservoir, there is no need for a sink or water supply.
* Cleanup requires little effort. Dump the grinds container and rinse the brew group at the end of the day.
* Superauto thermoblocks heat up very quickly.
* Microfoaming small amounts of milk is easy (if you remove the frothing attachments).
* The average coffee consumer loves the resulting brew.

And unfortunately, one major con:
* An educated coffee palate makes it difficult to stomach superauto swill.
John

dmorgan

#10: Post by dmorgan »

To Rapid Coffee and Joshua,

I am wowed by these thorough and thoughtful explanations. I am a cookbook author and do have an educated palate and will know the difference between good espresso and not. I live in Portland, OR home to coffee fanatics and barista competitions. I am getting convinced not to go after a super-automatic. So, now what? In some ways, I want a knowledgeable person to say, here's the espresso maker you should buy and the grinder you should buy. I really need to replace both. My Solis has been, and still is, a darn good machine that extracts a lovely, creamy rich espresso with great crema. I'm game to step up but don't really know what to buy. No price constraints. I just can't have a machine that takes an advance degree in engineering to figure out!

Many thanks!
Diane