Espresso Machines: Semi-Automatic VS Automatic VS Superautomatic

Exploring the options for a home espresso machine can be a bit daunting. One of the most confusing things you must decide is what type of espresso machine you’d like when it comes to how hands-on you want to be.

The three main types - Semi-Automatic, Automatic, and Superautomatic - all offer a different set of benefits, but they can be hard to differentiate when you’re new to the espresso space.

I don’t know who named these machine types, but they didn’t do you any favors - they just made it more confusing by using “automatic” in every single name.

Don’t you worry. I’m going to break down the differences between these espresso machine types so you can easily decide which one is right for your lifestyle and preferences.

Read: The Ultimate Guide To Brewing Espresso

But first, let’s start from the beginning to create some context.

Espresso In The Beginning

The first espresso machines were not automatic. They required a barista to manually pull down a lever to generate pressure and pull the shot. You can still find these machines around, but they’re not too common since they take a lot of effort and can be quite tiring.

But things changed in the 1940’s when an Italian inventor changed the world of espresso forever. His new machine was user-friendly, not exhausting, and ushered in a new era of espresso.

These days, we call it the semi-automatic espresso machine.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Semi-automatic machines were different than manual lever machines. Instead of having to pull down a lever to activate the piston, an electric pump was used instead. Now, all you needed to do was press a button to pull the shot.

automatic vs superautomatic

This eliminated the strength and endurance needed to be a good barista, which enabled espresso to boom around the world.

Read: What Is Espresso?

However, it’s not fully-automatic. You still have to grind the coffee, load the portafilter, tamp, and start the shot with the press of a button.

Though there’s still a handful of steps, they give you a high level of control over the shot. You get to determine the grind size, you decide when the shot starts and stops, and you choose how little or much coffee to use.

With semi-automatic espresso machines, you’re the boss.

Semi-automatic machines are the most common espresso machine type in specialty coffee shops and the homes of enthusiasts.

Pros

  • Complete control over brewing variables
  • Ability to grow and refine your skills

Cons

  • More user-friendly than manual machines, but there’s a learning curve

For some people, this level of control can be a bit too daunting. That’s where automatic espresso machines come in.

Read: The Golden Ratios in Coffee Brewing

Automatic Espresso Machines

Realistically, automatic espresso machines are very similar to semi-automatic ones. You grind the coffee, tamp the coffee, and press a button.

Here’s the main difference:

You don’t have to press the coffee again to stop the flow of water. The machine uses an internal timer to cut off the shot after a certain amount of time - usually 25-30 seconds.

This is handy because it allows you to step away and know you won’t return to espresso all over the floor. It also takes away the pressure of cutting off the shot at the perfect time.

Read: The Perfect Water Temperature For Coffee Brewing

However, it also means you lose some control over how long the shot pulls for. While almost all coffee shops pull shots in 25-30 seconds, that 5-second range can mean big differences in flavor. With automatic machines, you can explore how your coffee will taste in that range because the machine controls the time, not you.

Pros

  • Control over most variables
  • Consistently timed
  • You can step away once the shot starts

Cons

  • No control over the shot timing

For some, this time automation doesn’t quite do the trick and it still seems too complicated. If that’s you, let’s move onto superautomatic espresso machines.

Superautomatic Espresso Machines

Superautomatic machines are a more modern invention. They’re designed to be all-inclusive.

  • They grind the coffee for you
  • They set up the portafilter and tamp for you
  • They pull the shot for you
  • They even steam the milk for you

automatic vs superautomatic

Read: Can The Aeropress Make Espresso?

It’s hard to beat a superautomatic machine in terms of convenience. You can rely on it to pull the same shot just about every time. The only thing is, if you don’t like how the shot tastes, there’s very little you can do about it.

If the machine allows you to make grind size adjustments, they’re usually very limited. If it gives you the power to change the shot timing, you’re usually limited to about a 5-second range there (adequate, but not really empowering).

And these machines definitely don’t let you steam your own milk to create latte art. No matter how they’re advertised, they’ll never produce steamed milk as creamy or smooth as you can get with manual steaming.

Superautomatic machines are commonly found in non-specialty cafes, convenience stores, and the homes of casual coffee lovers who don’t mind dropping some extra money for the convenience.

Pros:

  • Convenient and hands-off
  • Very consistent

Cons

  • Little to no control over any variables
  • Usually require professional cleaning

Read: How To Read Coffee Packaging Like A Pro

Which Is Right For You?

All three of these espresso machine types have their place in the world, but they’re not all right for your particular lifestyle or circumstances.

Let’s look at some values and goals to see which type matches up with you.

Do you want easy, consistent espresso made without much tinkering? Sounds like a superautomatic machine will satisfy.

Are you interested in exploring the depths of espresso brewing and flavor? A semi-automatic will give you the freedom to play with the variables and explore your own way.

Do you want some control over your espresso without having to be super focused every morning? An automatic machine sounds like a good middle-ground.

Do you want to learn to steam your own milk and create latte art? Gotta go with semi-automatic or automatic here.

Are you on a tighter budget? Don’t both with superautomatics!

Do you want anyone in your family to be able to use the machine easily? The user-friendliness of superautomatic machines sounds like something your family may appreciate.

Personally, I suggest you seriously consider semi-automatic and automatic machines They take some getting used to, but learning to brew great espresso is a very rewarding (yet, sometimes frustrating) process.

Read: How Manual Coffee Brewing Can Change Your Life

You’ll have control over your coffee, you’ll be able to learn milk steaming and latte art, and drinking shots you’ve made by your own skill is fun and exciting.

No matter what kind of espresso machine you go with, don’t skimp on the coffee! Freshly roasted, high-quality beans are the only way to go with espresso. They’re ripe with flavor, deliciously balanced, and are so much more forgiving than old, stale beans when brewed as espresso.

Check out the JavaPresse Coffee Subscription. We source beans from the best, most sustainable coffee farms in the world and ship them directly to your door. There’s no better way to stay stocked with fresh, tasty beans.

Our own Take Wing espresso blend is specifically designed for espresso, but you may fall in love with one of the more exotic single trade coffees.

Why don’t you subscribe and find out?

#STAYGROUNDED

Each week, we’ll be gifting 1 lucky person with the best picture and caption about how they use our products to #StayGrounded a JavaPresse Bundle - 1 of EVERY product we have!

Check out the pictures below for ideas, & use #StayGrounded or #JavaPresse to enter!

As seen on