Making the case against Super Automatics

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NewEnglandCliff

#1: Post by NewEnglandCliff »

I have some coworkers who are convinced that Super Automatics are the way go. I'm attempting to disuade them, but having limited success since they know I've never tried one. None of them are real espresso heads, and their favorite all time invention is the microwave - convenience, convenience, convenience.

So does anyone have experience with them? What are your best arguments, anyone?
Dolce Vita,

NEC

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HB
Admin

#2: Post by HB »

If convenience, convenience, and convenience are really the top three criteria, then it's hard not to recommend a super over a semi-automatic. One of the offices I worked in had a super automatic and it made a better cup than the drip-swill my current employer offers. But even at its strongest setting and twiddingly, I wouldn't call it an espresso (imagine whisper-thin lifeless crema, zero body, and dull flavor). Still, adding enough milk or serving it as an Americano will satisify most office drinkers.

On my informal rating scale, I would give the few supers I've sampled at best a three out of ten, on par with pods (steam powered espresso machines garner a two). I re-read Mark's first look of the Jura Capresso S9. Maybe I'm reading between the lines, but it seems like he's straining not to say what he's really thinking. For over two grand, convenience better be super important!

A side-by-side comparison between your own kitchen and a store with a super-automatic (e.g., Bear Rock Cafe, Car Spa, some fancy gyms, etc.) might convince some drinkers. That was the strategy alluded to in Welcome to the Dark Side, i.e., inviting co-workers over for Friday cappuccinos. Weeks later I'd get gentle ribbing about how I "ruined" their enjoyment of Starbucks.

I can live with that.
Dan Kehn

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srobinson

#3: Post by srobinson »

I think they are best suited for environments that want to offer espresso based drinks without the staff. I spend an inordinant amount of time in international airport lounges and hotel club rooms and I think they fit well there. While recently in Australia I did find one that would do a ristretto and was pretty impressed with the outcome, but most are not close to what you can get with an independent set-up. I have a couple friends with Juras, but the shots are just not up to snuff.
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

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luca
Team HB

#4: Post by luca »

A guy, Mike, with a random super-auto brought it in to maltitude to play around with it the other day. I wasn't there, but you can read about what my boss, Andrew, and Mike thought in this thread (coffeegeek; australia, etc forum)

Mike was a complete, and self-confessed, newbie. Here is the summary that he posted after having a few hours' guidance from Andrew and the rest of the CGs at the Saturday morning forum:
Mike wrote:Summary:
As expected, the "consumer class" delonghi was no where near the type of espresso quality you'd get from a commercial class machine. Given the same type of beans, the "extraction" result was like comparing "day and night". The commercial class espresso flowed with texture like "honey" whilst the delonghi's was somewhat watery. Nevertheless, after some tweaking, we managed a reasonable result comparing to the "taste" levels of commercial class.

The integrated conical grinder system was pretty good, but the automatic frother produced bad foamy milk (large bubble). If you took off the "top" foam, there is still some reasonable small bubble foam underneath ;-)

Sadly, the unit does not have a manual frother. Not sure if one could attach a manual frother with spare parts from the other delonghi models that have a manual frother. Given the price of the unit, I'd say it's over priced. However, the electronic convenience factors such as the auto turn on, turn off, cleaning, auto froth etc etc is fantastic for the simple home user. If I had got been "educated" about espresso specifics and coffee, I'd say this was a pretty decent unit to own at home. KNOWLEDGE is Evil!!!!! Sheesh!!!
Admittedly, I suspect that this machine would have been of a lower quailty than the QuickMills, etc, are reputed to be. Regardless, my reading of this is that Mike received a $2k AUD (~$1500 US) machine that was incapable of producing anything resembling espresso without professional guidance. Even then, the espresso wasn't great and the milk, although convenient, was far from satisfying. How, exactly, is this convenient? Surely this is only adequate for people who simply aren't expecting quality, likely because they haven't been exposed to good espresso. (Poor Mike!)

Now, imagine what Mike would have been doing without dropping into Maltitude. Is it likely that he would have bought fresh beans? Is it likely that he would have been able to calibrate the grind properly? Would he have realised that the machine wouldn't actually dose enough for more than a single shot ... or, less generously, that none of the presets actually resemble anything like espresso?

I think that Chris is right on the money. Super-autos are like the Swift grinder; to get the most out of them, you have to already know the fundamentals.

Luca

'spose that I should note that this is all based on the aforementioned thread, one machine and comments from the guys.
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1

mteahan

#5: Post by mteahan »

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.

Swiss machines tend to be more reliable, but the extraction expectation in the Swiss market makes the machines not very popular in Italy. The fact that Americans maintain their machines so poorly is a good reason why the Swiss have succeeded so well in the US. It's also why super-autos have a bad rap for quality. The show settings and the real world settings are always quite different.

The REAL problem with super-automatics is a subtle one, and it's not mechanical:

The process removes the operator so much from the process of making and dressing the drink that they just don't care. There is no investment in learning or understanding what makes a good beverage. The machine can reliably produce great quality, but whoever pushes the button is ill equipped and likely inadequately trained to know good from evil.

I can setup an automated machine that (aside from latte art) would produce a drink whose flavor profile and presentation would be indistinguishable from a hand made drink by a seasoned barista. After a week on site in the hands of people who could care less about quality--or simply don't know--it would begin producing the same vending machine quality drinks it takes 6 quarters to buy.

If I were opening a shop: semi-automatics or old piston machines. Strictly old school. Take the extra $7 grand a super-auto would cost and actually spend it on TRAINING and EDUCATION.

Money much better spent.
Michael Teahan
analogue | coffee

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another_jim
Team HB

#6: Post by another_jim »

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 ....

... If I were opening a shop: semi-automatics or old piston machines. Strictly old school. Take the extra $7 grand a super-auto would cost and actually spend it on TRAINING and EDUCATION.

Money much better spent.
Al Critzer of Cimbali made the same point. They (and Pasquini) are apparently installing superautos that call for tech help when they get out of whack.

He admitted it might cost more than hiring a good barista. Seems to be a very narrow niche for really good superautos -- a cafe whose owner can't get along with talented employees but who still values great coffee.

I doubt most offices would install such high maintenance superautos.

Maybe at the Pentagon -- these machines seem a lot like hi-tech weapons systems.

mteahan

#7: Post by mteahan »

There was a big market for big super automatics in offices of high tech firms before the bubble burst and a little afterwards. It made more economic sense to offer free lattes to employees rather than have them spend the 20 to 30 minutes leaving the office twice a day for caffeine. In terms of productivity, the machines became very cheap.

When we had both traditional and SA's hooked up at the same time, the latter got more use because people are inherently lazy and the machines were always properly tuned. The purists would still pull shots on the traditional machines.

In a commercial environment where someone is actually preparing the drinks, I would resist SA's. They work for Starbucks, in part, because they still require some skill (perhaps at least perceived) in assembling the drinks and preparing the milk. While temperature controls, the steam wands are not completely automated.

There will always be room for the craft, I hope. It is the attention to detail from the barista community that is driving the increasing level of quality in the industry.
Michael Teahan
analogue | coffee

Tazza d'oro

#8: Post by Tazza d'oro »

I've used super-autos exactly twice...in the Air France lounges in both Paris and Geneva last year (June 2004). At best, the results were insipid. This whether we made espresso or cappuccino. The machines were of different brands and I have forgotten the names.

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NewEnglandCliff

#9: Post by NewEnglandCliff »

Lot's of good meat here, thanks.
Dolce Vita,

NEC

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Bushrod

#10: Post by Bushrod »

There's a Seattle's Best kiosk here at the Pentagon with a Brasilia two group. I was actually tempted to try the espresso one day. Wow, that was a mistake!

The ladies are really nice. Maybe they'll let me make my own drink one of these days...


another_jim wrote:Al Critzer of Cimbali made the same point. They (and Pasquini) are apparently installing superautos that call for tech help when they get out of whack.

He admitted it might cost more than hiring a good barista. Seems to be a very narrow niche for really good superautos -- a cafe whose owner can't get along with talented employees but who still values great coffee.

I doubt most offices would install such high maintenance superautos.

Maybe at the Pentagon -- these machines seem a lot like hi-tech weapons systems.