Difference between (super) automatic and manual espresso machines

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#1: Post by LAF »


I'm new to the world of Espresso.

What is the difference between automatic and manual espresso machines?

Can I make a good espresso with an automatic machine?

Is Saeco a good brand of machines?



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#2: Post by HB »

The terms can be confusing. Since you're new to making espresso at home, I'll direct you to the site's FAQs and Favorites Digest; it summarizes the best forum discussions and recommended reading. As to your question, the thread Super-Automatic vs Automatic vs Semi describes the differences between them. Having read that, which ones are you referring to?
Dan Kehn

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#3: Post by LAF (original poster) »

Well I guess mine would be Super Automatic.

It's the Saeco Talea Ring Plus espresso machine.

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#4: Post by Abdon replying to LAF »

A super automatic machine can be called a "super convenient" machine. You put a cup in, and it rewards you with a cup of coffee. Quite addictive beyond the obvious caffeine rush :D A local restaurant has one on their drink bar; it makes a tasty brew from strong coffee to americanos to a number of other things I haven't bothered to try.

It couldn't make even a mediocre shot of espresso to save its hide but then again, that's not the purpose of the machine :wink:

Do you really like espresso? This is a honest question, as my wife (at the risk of my eyes rolling out of their sockets) prefers the brew from the super automatic. Some folks are more in love with the idea of espresso than with the taste of espresso.

Only you know how much effort you care to dole out in order to get a cup of coffee. Or seen from a different angle, only you know how far you are willing to go for that mythical perfect shot.

Me, I enjoy hunting for the perfect shot at home and enjoying the convenience at the restaurant. Others would rather enjoy the convenience at home and pay a visit to their local barista for a shot of the sublime.

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#5: Post by HB »

Abdon wrote:Some folks are more in love with the idea of espresso than with the taste of espresso... Me, I enjoy hunting for the perfect shot at home and enjoying the convenience at the restaurant. Others would rather enjoy the convenience at home and pay a visit to their local barista for a shot of the sublime.
I have wondered if some people (myself included) are as much intrigued by the "challenge" of producing espresso as the drink itself. If it was easy, would I like it as much? Back to Marc's question, below is an actual transcript from an after hours online chat with one of my co-workers. It's a bit rougher than my more reflective online posts, but it's topical:
Wassim: coffee question
me: Finally something I know about.
Wassim: I was looking at your reviews
me: Right. You in the market?
Wassim: yes
Wassim: I was thinking about the Capresso j7
Wassim: I want an automatic unit.
me: No, you don't.
Wassim: really?
Wassim: push a button man. drink
me: If you love convenience and mediocre coffee, I guess it's ok.
Wassim: is there really a diff?
me: Is there a difference between McDo's and Ruth's Chris prime rib?
me: It's about the same difference, but hey, McDo's gets your burger in 2 minutes.
me: I'm not knocking them... they have their place. But be aware that they're McDo coffee.
Wassim: hmm
me: OK, back to your superauto.
me: Super-automatic espresso machine purchasing advice
me: Help choosing a superauto for my parents
me: And of course my favorite: Like kissing your sister
me: I laughed so hard writing that one. Funny sort of humor, I guess.
Wassim: I thought it tasted good, better than my coffee maker
Wassim: :-P
me: True, it's all relative.
me: Take for example Matt. He thought his was good. Really good. I sent him some of my coffee.
me: Guess what he said?
me: "Dan, that coffee you sent was unf**king unbelievably good s**t."
me: Matt talks like that, if you haven't noticed. So like I said, it's all relative.
me: If you're happy with the Saeco, I would not overspend. Jeff Sawdy (jesawdy) has some good experience with super-autos.
me: Gaggia Syncrony Digital - anyone else using one? Opinions? ideas?
me: My boss got a SOLIS Master Top - is good coffee possible?
Wassim: there are some refurbs
me: How much?
Wassim: 499 and 599
me: For a super-auto, that's not bad.
me: Be aware that they are prone to breakdown.
Wassim: really? how bad?
me: It's all over the map, but unfortunately at that price point, they're not easily repairable.
Wassim: ok.. so what would you recommend?
me: Well, to be honest, I'd recommend a kick a** grinder and a French press.
Wassim: a 39$ french press? I have one of those
me: Or an Aeropress + a kick a** grinder. It will beat the pants off that super-auto so bad, you'll choke.
me: Do you want coffee or espresso/lattes?
Wassim: lattes
me: Ah, well, that's a little trickier. Personally I would still get an aeropress and a steamer then.
me: There is ZERO chance of it breaking and it costs about 1/2 as much.
me: But if you want to try the super-auto, go for it. But know that they have a spotty track record. The good ones cost...
me: wait for it....
me: around $15K.
Wassim: I saw that. thats nuts
me: Those are built like tanks, made for Starbucks places, and have no plastic.
me: The $500 units are lots of plastic chutes and gears that are not going to last long. But sometimes they do plug along for a few years, but many die sooner.
Wassim: I'd need a new mortgage
me: The cheapos also leave stale gunk in their transit areas. You're brewing with yesterday's sludge unless you toss the first shot.
Wassim: hmm
me: But hey, they are very convenient. They just happen to make average (at best) coffee. As one of my friends said, "I have never, every anywhere heard anyone say 'wow, that's good' from a super-auto".
me: Most say "It's not bad." or "It's better than the office swill."
Wassim: ok.. so send me a link to what you'd get
me: Well, you want convenience, right? Super super convenient? You see, I don't mind work if it's good. If I had to drink super-auto swill, I'd rather skip it or drink tea. But that's me.
me: Keep in mind that I once thought super-autos were 'pretty good'. But I have become much more discriminating, so the downside is that I recognize coffee swill. Sort of like being a kid and thinking a McDo cheeseburger is a real treat.
Wassim: hmm
Wassim: I can see going down a tube, becoming a coffee nut
me: For guys that want convenience, I recommend French press and a great grinder.
me: The "problem" is the espresso part. That's where all the time and money goes. If you only want good coffee, it's dirt cheap.
me: I mean a good grinder will outlast you.
Wassim: I want a machine and lattes
me: Too bad you're not local, I would show you the light.
me: Unfortunately I've ruined several people that way. They used to love Starbucks. Now they spit it out in disgust. I choose chai tea. ;)
Wassim: I was just there last week. damn
me: Yeah I take it a bit more seriously.
Wassim: how much was all your stuff?
me: A top-end setup goes for around, I dunno, two grand.
Wassim: damn
me: Well, I always say this: Two grand and you'll have nowhere to upgrade to.
me: How many hobbies can say that?
Wassim: dude, I have the capresso auto grind maker. it cost 199
Wassim: its been ok
me: Sure, I understand, and I'll help you get what you want. But it's nice to be informed.
me: I mean there's nothing wrong with McDo's, I was just there last week with my kids.
Wassim: I could get approval for say 500 from the boss
me: Don't laugh, but I still recommend a stovetop frother ($65), aeropress ($35), and good grinder ($300).
me: But if you want push-button convenience, Jeff says the Saeco line is OK. To be honest, I think all the Saecos are basically the same inside.
me: Even the Miele build-in unit is in fact a $300 Saeco inside, or so I've heard.
Wassim: so go the least
me: Yes, that's my advice. You can spend $1000+, but it's a waste. If you want to try for yourself, go to William-Sonoma on a slow night.
me: They have a few $1500-$3000 units on display. I think you'll find they taste no better than what you've tried before.
me: They just have fancier cases and programs. The coffee production part is unchanged.
me: If you go to WS, bring your own coffee. Theirs is frequently stale, nasty swill. Gawd, I cannot remember a worse coffee in years than from there.
Wassim: ok
me: Did that help?
Wassim: yes thanks
me: Dumb question: Where do you buy your coffee?
Wassim: costco or trader joes
me: Anyway, I recommend trying some primo coffee with your current setup. That may help reset the bar.
me: How do you drink it now?
Wassim: milk and little sugar
me: Do you prefer nutty or chocolate flavors?
Wassim: nutty
me: Ah, that's unusual, but good. So many people are choco fanatics. Do you prefer heavy or lighter blends?
Wassim: heavy
me: Something like a Kenya?
Wassim: yes dark roast
me: Hmm. Not sure about that part, but Intelligentsia sells a really good Kenya. Even in half-pounds. Get two half-pound bags, try them, see if it turns your crank.
me: If it doesn't, back to Costco with a clear mind.
Wassim: ok barista man... I gotta crash
Dan Kehn

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#6: Post by barry »

FWIW, the $15,000 superautos DO have plastic.

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#7: Post by LAF (original poster) »


But Can I get lots of crema from a Super Auto machine?

See, I already bought the Seaco Talea Ring Plus, to put under the Xmas tree.

Now, I'm starting to wonder !



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#8: Post by cafeIKE »

LAF wrote:But Can I get lots of crema from a Super Auto machine?
The 'crema' ain't. :(


Super autos are popular in airport lounges, pubs in the UK and upscale bars and restaurants the world over. As often as not, they are inoperative. The chances of getting a drinkable espresso from an operating machine is a single digit percentage.

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#9: Post by LAF (original poster) »


I'm not talking vending machine here (I have Saeco Talea Ring Plus), but I get your point.

What would you recommend?

See, I want a good espresso but I don't want all the fussing around.



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#10: Post by jesawdy »

LAF wrote:(I have Saeco Talea Ring Plus)
If this post (link) rings true with you, you may have what you need now.
Ohji wrote: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...
FWIW, my Saeco automatic never pulled anything that looked as vile as Ian's posted picture above.
Jeff Sawdy