Best Super-Automatic Espresso Machine 2022: Reviews

I’ve been reviewing super-automatic espresso machines for years now and put more than 45 models through their paces. This guide gives you an overview of brands, models and types out there, so you can decide which one is the best for your home.

DeLonghi Dinamica

Jura Z10

DeLonghi Dinamica Plus

DeLonghi Magnifica XS

Philips 2200 Series

Jura GIGA 6

Philips 3200 LatteGo

Jura Z6

Jura E8

Gaggia Anima Prestige

Miele CM 6350

Jura A1

Jura Z8

Saeco Xelsis

Saeco PicoBaristo

Espressione Concierge 8212S

Upper-class function for a middle-class price!

Sensible range of functions

Excellent espresso and frothed milk

Easy cleaning

Plastic smell when unpacking for the first time

Jura delivers an all-round success with excellent innovations in the Z10.

Very high-quality design

Fully electronically controllable

Much quieter electronic grinder

No milk container included

“Cold brew” is misleading

The Upgrades Everyone Wanted!

LatteCrema Milk Frothing System

Digital Touchscreen Display

Coffee Link App


More user profiles would be nice

It’s not the best super-automatic espresso machine, but it’s definitely the best in its class!

Exceptionally favorable

Very compact

Thoughtful details

Without display

Without stainless steel

Philips is best for pared-back basics.

Simple and intuitive handling

Good beverage temperature

Good espresso and milk foam

Relatively large bean compartment

Pump somewhat loud

All plastic

A commercial workhorse or the ultimate thoroughbred?

Superior quality

Two electronic grinders

Tons of settings

App has room for improvement

Thought-through simplicity and decent coffee.

Highly intuitive operation

Good espresso and milk froth

High-quality construction

Generally noisy operation

Very dense milk froth

The classic Jura machine is completely justifiable.

High-quality processing

Successful mix of classic and modern operation

Delicious espresso and frothed milk

App has potential for improvement

Fixed brew group

A smart, successful machine with a cleverly conceived cleaning system.

Easy to use

Good cleaning system

Fixed brew group

Good small fully automatic coffee machine with lots of stainless steel and little frills.

Lots of stainless steel used for the casing

Narrow and space-saving -- especially the milk frothing system

The espresso settings can be adjusted, allowing you control over the outcome

Very involved cleaning of the milk frothing system

A High-Quality Miele Machine.

Very easy to clean


Looks great

You can’t install a water filter

Sleek design and geek-out coffee!

Sleekly designed, high-quality machine

Very easy to operate

Delicious espresso

Fixed brew group

High price

High-end for the highbrow.

Great milk froth

Tons of settings

Best black coffee from a super-automatic

No milk jug in the box

Brew group not removable

An attractive price for top-of-the-line features.

Easy, intuitive operation

Numerous setting options

Pleasantly quiet

Poorly conceived quick cleaning

Modern and adjustable.


Classy design and look

Nice color options

No individual user profiles

Some water in the milk frothing system

A budget-friendly, space-saving coffee and espresso machine.

Very compact

Simple operation

Ideal for those who live alone

Not high quality enough in comparison

Arne with five super automatics

Coffeeness and super-automatic espresso machines go together like Arne and good coffee. While that’s unlikely to change any time soon, machines come and go. So it was high time that I gave this guide an overhaul.

What’s more, our little site has now been around the block and blogosphere, collecting nuggets of coffee wisdom. Here I’ll give you the long — and even longer — of all those accumulated insights.

Before we go any further, though, let’s make sure we’re all up to date on our super-automatics 101.

A little deeper into this guide, I go into detail on the ins and outs of cleaning fully automatic espresso machines. Since (sadly) not everyone has read my pearls of wisdom, the truth is that some owners may have been negligent in or totally neglectful of cleaning their machine. So steer clear of used machines. Aside from potential defects, you just don’t know what microbial “hitchhikers” you’ve bought with your bargain.

Time and again, Coffeeness community members report that their machines are still going strong 17 years later. Despite these machines flying off the shelves, I’d still like to believe that even the newer models will keep on brewing to a ripe old age. Of course, that’s assuming you look after the machine and don’t buy a lemon. Well-cared-for machines should give you at least (!) 10 years of service.

Sorry, no. Coffee makers and the whole system of brewing under pressure used in fully automatic espresso machines are totally incompatible. It’s kind of like asking if the car you want to buy will also work as a motorbike. If you’re looking for automatic drip coffee, though, a coffee maker with a grinder might be just the ticket.

None, at least not at the touch of a button. It’s a sheer fluke if an automatic milk system actually succeeds in producing the quality of microfoam needed to pull off this drink. Even the cheapo machines with steam wands lack the oomph to deliver results. If flat whites are the coffee you crave, you’re better off with a portafilter. Plus, you’ll be able to whip up froth in a variety of consistencies.

I’ve written volumes about water filters. So let me cut to the chase. Basically, water filters allow you to push back how often you descale your fully automatic espresso machine. Even if your water is very hard -- as is often the case in big cities -- not having a water filter isn’t exactly a deal breaker. Just be sure to descale religiously and more frequently. You could say it all boils down to how much you intend to fuss over your machine.

Refill your coffee mug and get comfy because this is going to be the long — and even longer — of fully automatic espresso machines. 

You’ll get to know my top picks in the various categories, learn about how these machines are engineered and operate, get down and dirty with cleaning procedures as well as pick up a few insider tips you won’t find in any user manuals.

Top 5 Best Super-Automatic Espresso Machines on the Market

These are my “high fives” — the best of the best in each of five (natch) price categories. Put any one of these in your kitchen, and celebratory hand clapping is sure to follow.

Best budget buyBest value for moneyBest mid-range buyBest high-end buyBest money can buy
Philips 3200 SeriesPhilips 3200 Series LatteGoGaggia Anime PrestigeJura E8DeLonghi PrimaDonna S
Touch screenTouch screenDisplay and buttonsTouch screen and appDisplay and buttons
Ceramic, flat-burr grinderCeramic, flat-burr grinderCeramic, flat-burr grinderStainless-steel, conical-burr grinderElectronic, stainless-steel, conical-burr grinder
Steam wandAutomatic systemAutomatic milk systemAutomatic system (cappuccinatore)Automatic milk system
4 drinks at the touch of a button5 drinks at the touch of a button4 drinks at the touch of a button12 drinks at the touch of a button18 drinks at the touch of a button

You’ll notice that each has quality grinders, which is key to producing a good brew. Although the jury is still out on whether ceramic or steel is the better material, my lineup is a reversal of the grinder status quo, where ceramic mechanisms are usually reserved for high-end machines.

Best Budget Buy: The Philips 3200 Series Offers the Biggest Bang for the Fewest Bucks

The intuitive touch screen on the Philips 3200 Series super-automatic espresso machine.

The Philips 3200 Series is simplicity at your service. Even the silver-haired set will have no problem getting it to give them exactly what they want. 

Sure, it has its weak points, but at $600, you can’t complain about a solidly built machine that delivers decent coffee.

Best Value Buy: The Philips 3200 Series LatteGo Is a Fully Affordable Fully Automatic

Arne and the Philips 3200 Series LatteGo super-automatic espresso machine.

If you have a sudden sense of deja vu, that’s because this is the same machine as above. But the reason it costs an extra $300 is that it has an automatic milk system. 

Think milk froth at the touch of a button. 

But while the steam wand on the basic version requires a bit more barista know-how, it also gives you more control. So you aren’t stuck with the rather dense microfoam from the LatteGo system.

Want to know more about what makes this a winner at this price point? Read my Philips 3200 Series LatteGo review.

Best Mid-Range Buy: The Gaggia Anima Prestige Is Anything But Middle of the Road

Arne and the Gaggia Anima Prestige super-automatic espresso machine.

This one is an oldie but goodie

So if you’re a sucker for stainless steel, you’ll get more of the stuff on this compact, full-metal casing than most other machines priced at $1,100. In fact, you’re practically guaranteed that your rising will be followed by a whole lot of shining. 

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that a great range of espresso settings and yummy milk froth put a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed stamp on your day.

For more reasons to go gaga, read my Gaggia Anima Prestige review.

Best High-End Buy: Get Utterly Quaffable Quality With the Jura E8

Arne and the Jura E8 super-automatic espresso machine.

Jura is a real class act

From slick designs to some of the best coffee and milk froth available from a super-automatic espresso machine, these babies tick every box but one: my hygiene bug bear, the fixed brew group. 

The roughly $1,500 Jura E8 is my pick of the crop because it’s the value-for-money sweet spot in the Swiss manufacturers’ high-priced and high-tech range.

To better understand how it pulls off that balancing act, check out my Jura E8 review.

Best Your Money Can Buy: Lap It Up in Luxury With the DeLonghi PrimaDonna S

The DeLonghi PrimaDonna S super-automatic espresso machine.

It pretty much sets the tone for this deluxe machine that aims to take all the hassle out of your hands and just leave you with a steaming cup of happiness. With its great settings that make customizing drinks a cinch, the DeLonghi PrimaDonna S does that in spades for a surprisingly reasonable $3,000.

For a full rundown on all its bells and whistles, pop on over to my DeLonghi PrimaDonna S review.

Home Fully Automatic Espresso Machines for the Best Prices

Trust me, my top five only scratch the surface of super-automatic espresso machines.

Since the first thing most of you look at before buying a machine is the price, I’ll start there with my breakdown. 

Then, we can dig into which manufacturers set the tone, which machines are the best deal in terms of features and what you’re actually paying for in a particular category.

Under $200 or $300: No Dice

Ha, I made you look!

Actually there’s nothing to see here. Sure, there are machines for a couple of hundred dollars, but those machines don’t deserve to be called fully automatic coffee machines. Now and then, you might even spot a no-name-brand espresso machine pop up on Amazon.

Swerve. Seriously. Once you get under the hood, a super-automatic espresso machine is a pretty complex piece of engineering. So to function well, it needs materials and parts of a certain quality. All in all, you won’t get that for much less than $500. 

Moving along to where the real action is …

Under $500: The Most Affordable Automatic Espresso Machines

Philips 1200 coffee machine overview

Once again, Philips does basic best — in a good way, of course. 

With its entry-level 1200 Series, Philips gives you the best features for the least dough. Even on this bare-bones, super-automatic espresso machine, you get a ceramic flat-burr grinder with 12 settings. Wow.

Unsurprisingly, your one-touch beverage choices are limited to espresso, coffee and hot water, but you can adjust coffee strength, volume and temperature. 

And thanks to the panarello milk wand, living the dream of sipping milky drinks in your pajamas is within reach.

Arne making coffee with the Espressione Concierge super-automatic espresso machine.

The Espressione Concierge attempts to knock the Philips 1200 Series off its perch but comes off second best

It all comes down to the grinders. And since the Espressione can’t produce the fine grind necessary to make espresso, its brew is a bit thin and watery.

Now you can’t see a milk wand in the picture above, but that’s just because we tested the same white-label product — minus the milk system — sold by a European brand. Check it out on Amazon. You’ll see it’s got a panarello and is fit to froth.

Bottom of the range or the top, all automatic espresso machines basically make coffee at the touch of the button. So what exactly do you get when you shell out more dough? Slicker design, better quality materials, a broader range of functions as well as a whole lot of extra bells and whistles. That’s not likely to change any time soon, either. 

Under $1,000: Maximum Espresso Machines for a Minimum Price

Arne is observing the Philips process of making a cappuccino

With the jump in price to this category, you can expect to get a solid machine. But we’re still very much in the realm of plastic-fantastic — you know, that new appliance smell when unboxing your machine. The fact that the Philips 3200 Series LatteGo didn’t get up my nose definitely earned it brownie points.

Its closest competitor, the DeLonghi Dinamica, is also just shy of $900 and seriously pungent. Based on reports from the Coffeeness community, I may just have been unlucky to end up with a literal stinker.

Aside from the stinch (for me, at least), this is one incredibly tight race. Though the Philips 3200 Series LatteGo clinched the spot in the top five, courtesy of its automatic milk system, the Dinamica makes up for its manual wand with better coffee.

Not even the LatteGo milk system is a decisive win for Philips. Sure, the tubeless system outshines when it comes to convenience and easy cleaning, but brace yourself for a hell of a racket. 

The DeLonghi Dinamica ECAM350.20B on a kitchen counter.

If you’re willing to make the effort, the DeLonghi Dinamica produces microfoam with a slightly better texture and consistency. Plus, it’s kinder to those who are sensitive to noise first thing in the morning and uncaffeinated.

Before you throw up your hands, though, let me just say that these are both great machines. 

Still, compromise is the name of the game at this price point. So with the different strengths and weaknesses, you should be able to make a choice that reflects your priorities along with some acceptable trade-offs.

Under $1,500: Delivering on Promise, Not Compromise

Welcome to the Goldilocks Zone for super-automatic espresso machines. 

The price isn’t too hot to burn a big hole in your bank balance, and the levels of convenience, quality and design don’t leave you cold. Of course, you’ll get more if you pay more. 

The $1,100 price tag on the Gaggia Anima Prestige and its rival for your favor, the Saeco PicoBaristo, get you a great machine with few compromises on core functionality.

Arne stands next to the Saeco PicoBaristo.

Despite appearing to be two very different machine brands, this showdown is a case of “a rose by any other name is still a rose.” Both brands fall under the Philips group and share a number of features, including integrated ceramic-burr grinders, removable brew units, bypass dosers for pre-ground coffee and intuitive user interfaces.

Then again, both are also slightly disappointing in only allowing for a single user profile to store your preferences.

This challenging game of “spot the difference” doesn’t end there, either. 

Each machine is housed in generous quantities of stainless steel and has a compact footprint, thanks to automatic milk carafes that slot into the front of the machine. And while you’ll get good froth from both machines, the Saeco PicoBaristo also allows you to customize this — the Gaggia doesn’t.

The PicoBaristo also maintains its edge with a greater range of drink options.

Yes, each has a high-quality, ceramic grinder, but the Gaggia Anima Prestige only offers five settings to its counterpart’s 10. 

What’s more, it can take some getting used to having to use a multifunction tool to adjust the Prestige’s coarseness. Once you’ve got the hang of it and remember to shift it in single increments while running, it works fine.

Under $2,000: More Scrummy for Your Money

In reviewing more expensive super-automatic espresso machines, I’ve noticed that the more pain you take on the price, the more pleasure you get on the palate. 

That means high-end machines really do make better coffee. Look no further than the Jura ENA 8 and Saeco Xelsis, which cost just shy of $2,000.

For my money, Jura brews up the best super-automatic coffee on the market, but the Philips flagship sub-brand’s top-of-the-line machine does nip at its heels. 

This face-off is by no means over — it’s just the beginning.

While both are very compact coffee machines for this class, the Jura ENA 8 undercuts the Xelsis by a couple of inches in all dimensions and, most notably, by a good 3 inches in height. 

That’s good news for those who don’t want to compromise on brew quality but have low above-counter cupboards — especially considering you access the bean hopper from the top.

To achieve such slim proportions, the Jura ENA 8 has had to shed more than just fat — in the form of a big water tank and bean hopper. It’s also shed some features. 

Because of that, it’s a single-serving machine. Though what you get in that one cup is truly delectable coffee and dreamily creamy milk froth. 

Still, you’ll have to start over on your partner or visitor’s drink.

With the Saeco Xelsis, you can get two cups of coffee simultaneously. Though still elegant and tasty, the microfoam from this machine’s cappuccinatore is a bit stiff.

Both espresso machines are easy to operate, but if you want to “order” your morning coffee from bed, the Jura — with its app — is without a doubt the way to go. 

Like with all of the Swiss brand’s machines, though, its downfall is its fixed brew group. So while fully automated cleaning may be appealing because it’s easy, how do you know there aren’t stray granules hiding out in the dark corners?

When it comes to hygiene, give me the Saeco Xelsis and its removable brew group every time.

The Brew Group of the Xelsis is removable.

From $2,000: Full-On Bills and Frills

Welcome to Coffee Mountain. 

The most delectable joe flows freely, and every imaginable feature and accessory blinks and shines invitingly. Of course, admission to this wonderland comes at a high price.

But just because you can afford to spend a few thousand bucks on a coffee machine, doesn’t mean you don’t expect to get the best value for your money. 

Enter the $3,000 DeLonghi PrimaDonna S, which doesn’t skip a beat in returning your investment in flavor and convenience. From its electronically adjustable grinder, through awesome espresso and milk froth, to a host of settings and customization options, there’s really nothing that can touch it, even in my top five.

Of course, the Swiss have a crack at unseating it with the undeniably fantastic Jura Z8. Then again, at almost $4,150, it’s a major jump in price, and I’m not really sure you’re getting an equivalent bump in frills and thrills.

Arne with the Jura Z8 and a variety of drinks made by the super-automatic espresso machine.

Then again, the Jura Z8 has settings up the wazoo with an almost unheard of 10 levels for the milk froth quantity and temperature as well as for coffee strength. On top of that, a stepless grinder assures extremely fine calibration. The main culprit for the cost, though, is a second thermoblock and pump.

Now you would think this means that the milk and brewing systems have dedicated heating units to achieve more precise temperatures. 

Truth be told, for most coffee drinkers that’s splitting hairs. A Latte from the Jura Z6 tastes just as good to me as one from the Z8, even without the second heating system.

Arne holds a Latte made by the Jura Z6 in front of himself.

When I say good, I mean hands down the best super-automatic coffee with spectacular froth. So if the world is your oyster and you want the pearl of espresso machines — or at least the biggest, heaviest, brag-worthiest behemoth — take a look at the ultra-high-end $6,000 (!) Jura GIGA 6.

To ensure those double takes, this machine not only has two electronically adjustable, ceramic, flat-burr grinders, each with its own generous bean hopper and (like the Z8) two pumps and two thermoblocks. In many ways, this is a pair of espresso machines rolled into one.

Do you really need all that? Not in my humble opinion but to each their own.

Arne has fun with the covers of the two bean hoppers.

Now that we’ve run through the full price spectrum, I’ve got to ask that you don’t shoot the messenger (me). I’ve categorized my machine picks based on the current Amazon prices, but those can quickly change.

Plus, any of the machines that I mention could potentially be phased out by a manufacturer or only available on the secondhand market. It happens, so please don’t rake me over the coals if retailers no longer stock machine X or Y.

That said, I check availability pretty regularly and tried-and-trusted coffee machines — even those that have been around forever — weather the market’s ups and downs well because you can’t reinvent a quality appliance overnight.

Best in Category for Specific Skills and Functions: Machines With a Certain X-Factor

By now, you should have an idea about how far your budget will stretch and you’ve moved on to the feature you consider a must-have. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. This section explores the cream of the crop, according to specific functions.

Not only is this your chance to figure out what your priorities are and where you’re prepared to compromise, but it’s also a crash course in what factors to consider when buying a fully automatic coffee machine.

Before we go any further, let me first squash the idea once and for all that there’s one super-automatic espresso machine to rule them all. This isn’t Lord of the Rings. “Best” is relative — to your budget, taste in design and preference in milk frothing system, and so much more.

Since I continually update this list, you might find something that comes along that suits you even better. So bookmark this page and keep checking back.

Best for Small Kitchens: Honey, I Shrunk the Coffee Machine

Arne sniffs an espresso made by the Espressione Concierge.

Even if you live in a tiny New York apartment with a kitchen the size of a broom closet, you can still enjoy great joe at home. 

Just ask one of my Coffeeness colleagues. Her countertop is a bit over 21 square feet, and the kitchen is not much bigger. It doesn’t even have a respectable stove, but the fully automatic espresso machine has its dedicated space. Hey, we coffee lovers have funny priorities.

At least small almost always means affordable

So when space is at a premium, pay careful attention to how you access the water tank, bean hopper and brew group. To save yourself a lot of annoyance and banged elbows, you want to be able to remove or fill them from the top or front of the machine.

A major factor impacting price and size is the milk frother since both of these integrated systems and cappuccinatores take up quite a bit of real estate. The best workaround is a steam wand, even though it does mean “work” — the operative word here — because you’ll have to get hands-on with frothing.

Measuring 15.6 x 7 x 12.6 inches, the white-label Espressione Concierge is a truly itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny coffee machiney. 

Despite its toylike dimensions, though, the $450 super-automatic espresso machine makes good (grown-up) coffee and espresso with nice crema. What’s more, you can even adjust the volume in your cup from an impressive 0.85 to 8.5 ounces.

You can get the lowdown on this tiny fully automatic espresso machine in my Espressione Concierge review.

The Quietest Espresso Machine: Fall in Love With a Strong, Silent Type

The point of your first coffee in the morning is to ease yourself into consciousness and the day. So having it delivered to you by a howling demon-robot is useless, to say the least.

Even if noise levels aren’t a deal breaker for you, these things have a way of getting on your nerves the longer you use them.

Arne with the Jura Z8 and a lot of coffee drinks.

The biggest culprit in the assault on your ears is the grinder. Think about it: metal on metal makes a huge racket. Ceramic, flat-burr grinders are generally quieter. Notice I said “generally.” That’s because grinder design and construction — from the way the mechanisms interlock to how loud the pump is — all contribute to the noise levels.

What’s more, not all noises are created equal. While the Espressione Concierge mentioned above only misses qualifying as “quiet” by a narrow margin in strict decibel terms, there’s a raspy quality to it that definitely gets under my skin.

The Philips 3200 LatteGo is another offender. Despite being a great, affordable machine, don’t look to it for coffee when you finally get your baby to fall asleep. The grinder is loud. And if that isn’t bad enough, so is the milk system.

Most fully automatic espresso machines fall into the middle ground, meaning they’re audible but not deafening. The best choices for those who value their peace and quiet are the Jura models, starting with the E8 and on to the end of the alphabet. 

Though pricey — the Jura E8 will set you back $2,200 — these machines consistently achieve levels under 70 decibels and with no nails-on-a-chalkboard notes.

If that grabs your attention, then read my Jura E8 review to get all the ins and outs on this machine.

The Best Machines for Commercial and Office Use: Welcome to the C(offee) Suite

Is work even possible without coffee? 

If the number of questions I get about choosing a super-automatic espresso machine for the office is any indication, for many people, if it’s no joe, then it’s no go.

With a good model, everyone can save their preferences in a personal profile, and since everything is fully automated, switching between totally different drinks with or without milk is quick and seamless. So a fairly fast machine is important, especially when everyone wants a Cappuccino during the lunch break.

All in all, you’ve probably figured out that the cheapo fully automatic espresso machines just won’t cut it in the workplace. 

What makes the expense easier to swallow, though, is that coffee machines and beans are tax deductible. Just remember to clarify the ins and outs with a tax advisor.

Arne points to the Jura GIGA 6 making a Latte.

If your company is looking for a team player with exceptional motivational skills, the Jura GIGA 6 comes with an impressive resume. 

The Jura GIGA 6 has two bean hoppers, each with an electronically adjustable grinder, a monster water tank and a menu of drinks and setting options sure to keep even the fussiest colleague happy.

There’s just one catch with office espresso machines: no one thinks cleaning the machine is their job. So as you can imagine, this makes Jura’s trademark fixed brew unit a double-edged sword. 

On the plus side, what could be easier than initiating an automatic cleaning program? By the same token, how effective that process is, gives me pause.

For all the Jura’s white-collar credentials, read my GIGA 6 review or check out this article on more coffee machines for the office.

The Best Automatic Milk Frothers That Won’t Burst Your Bubble

Arne enjoys a cappuccino with great milk foam.

For many coffee lovers, mounds of silky froth are what define next-level coffee.

The good news is that from the mid-range upward, almost all super-automatic coffee machines have an automatic milk frothing system. So depending on your chosen model, these can take the form of either an integrated carafe or a hose (cappuccinatore) fed into an external pitcher.

As is inevitably the case with these things, each option has its pros and cons. Fully integrated systems make life easier and won’t expand your machine’s footprint, but when it comes to cleaning, nothing could be simpler than a cappuccinatore hose.

Arne watches the Jura Z6 froth milk.

The bottom line? You choose. Both are capable of sending you floating off on a fluffy cloud of milk froth happiness.

Firmly in the carafe camp, the LatteCrema System on the DeLonghi Eletta and DeLonghi PrimaDonna S makes dreamy Cappuccinos and milky beverages. You can even adjust the ratio of microfoam to hot milk from light to medium to heavy using the froth regulating knob.

Then again, Jura plumps up for the cappuccinatore option. And the results are equally spectacular. What’s more, true to form, the Swiss manufacturer offers a slew of settings on the Jura E8 and higher-end machines with Fine Foam Technology that allows you to adjust the milk temperature and the quantity of microfoam.

There’s just one thing. Jura doesn’t provide you with a milk pitcher. Sure, you can use the carton or a jug you have lying around, but considering you pay nearly $2,200 for this machine, it’s a bit of a slap in the face.

Want to know more? Read my Jura E8 and DeLonghi PrimaDonna S reviews.

The Best Models for Flat Whites and Cappuccinos: Creamiest of the Crop

The flat white is the poster child for “third wave” or artisan coffee. 

Yeah, you read that right! I’m talking about manual skills that baristas spend hours perfecting. Have I set off any alarms yet?

Much like a cashmere sweater in a washing machine, the delicate flat white gets a bit mangled in an espresso machine. 

The problem is mainly with the milk froth, which should be much “wetter” and creamier than what you usually get from automatic systems. That’s because this allows the milk sugars and proteins to bind with the coffee in the most delectable way.

A flat white made by the Jura Z10.

The stiff, excessively hot lather that most automatic systems produce simply acts as a barrier to the coffee. Plus, the components just don’t come together in the same way on the palate.

So while you’re not going to get a truly spectacular flat white from a machine — or for that matter, a Cappuccino, which is a very similar specialty — you can enjoy a decent enough one. For those whose coffee habit revolves around the flat white and/or Cappuccino, Jura comes to the rescue.

True to the Swiss reputation for precision, Jura is a stickler for the fine points. When creating a Latte Macchiato, the E8, for one, dispenses the milk froth and then allows 30 seconds for it to settle. Only then is the espresso added to the cup. 

With that much attention to detail, it’s no wonder that Jura machines from the E8 upward do the flat white right.

If you want the full story on the pricey Jura E8 or Z8, check out my reviews.

Best Espresso and Coffee: Paint It Black

Perfect black coffee drinks made by Miele.

Coffee purists will stroke their hipster beards and tell you that fully automatic coffee machines don’t make espresso. And they’re right, technically. The process isn’t exactly the same as with a portafilter.

You know how baristas literally whack the puck out of the portafilter after pulling a shot? Well, a super-automatic espresso machine’s internal brew unit means that kind of force is problematic. Plus, the seriously fine grinds pose a clogging risk. For that reason, the beans are never ground to the almost powdery levels used in portafilters.

With a poor-quality coffee maker, that can translate into watery joe. 

Manufacturers that don’t see the convenience of coffee at the touch of a button as an excuse for a subpar brew have managed to come up with clever workarounds, though.

An espresso made by the Miele CM 6350.

Take the Miele CM 6350, for instance. This Miele allows you to pre-infuse or otherwise known as moistening the grounds before forcing the shot’s hot water through under pressure. I can confirm after a comparative test that this definitely produces better extraction.

But Jura goes one better with the Intelligent Pre-Brew Aroma System (read flashy name for a pre-infusion), plus a second, totally different approach. The Pulse Extraction Process (PEP) forces water through the grounds in several short (audible) bursts.

An espresso made by the Jura Z8.

Attentive readers might recall me mentioning that Jura makes the best coffee — and it totally does! This isn’t only true of espresso but also regular coffee or Lungo. 

The Z8 knocks black brews out of the park with a surprisingly delicate, characterful flavor profile and great body. In the final analysis, this is simply great beans doing the talking — but it also says a lot that the beans haven’t been drowned into watery insignificance.

Read my in-depth reviews of the Miele CM 6350 and Jura Z8 to get an intimate understanding of these espresso machines.

Espresso Machines With the Best Technology: Models That Flex the Specs

Who doesn’t love an all-singing, all-dancing coffee machine? 

After all, most of us are suckers for a good show. Once the novelty has worn off, though, it’s time to literally smell the coffee. 

Not all new bells and whistles are genuine advances. Jura’s Energy Save Mode (ESM) — something that every rinky-dink espresso machine has — is a pretty transparent attempt to pad out the features list.

That said, if you want the cutting edge in coffee machines, look no further than the Swiss manufacturer. Its flagship appliances are a good indication not only of the tech that will eventually trickle down to more affordable machines but also the way forward in machine developments. 

Expect to pay through the nose for the bragging rights, though.

Jura clearly believes that smart super-automatic espresso machines are the way of the future. And don’t just think of the app because that’s obviously part of it. 

The Jura GIGA 6 makes a perfect espresso.

On the almost $6,000 GIGA 6, we’re also talking about electronically adjustable grinders and artificial intelligence that learn your preferences.

Above all, this machine doubles down on tech with two bean hoppers, two grinders, two pumps and two thermoblocks. So it almost goes without saying that two coffees are part of that logic.

Set to replace the Jura Z8, the Jura Z10 is so brand-spanking new that it’s not yet available on Amazon. So watch this space. 

It takes things to the next level with a Product Recognizing Grinder (PRG — Jura loves it’s acronyms) that’s electronically adjustable and does so automatically. Since grinder adjustment is the most important calibration you make in brewing coffee, I think this is seriously impressive.

Based on its marketing materials, Jura believes it’s pulled a totally different rabbit out of the hat, namely cold coffee specialties. Let’s just take a moment here. 

True cold brew is a full-immersion process, where the grounds are left to steep in cold water for up to 24 hours. But that’s not quite the same as effortless, instant gratification à la a fully automatic espresso machine.

Well, yank my ears and call me bunny because, despite all that, Jura pulls a delicious coffee out of its new machine hat. Not quite the same as the real thing, but good nevertheless.

To discover more of the surprising and not-so-surprising aspects of these tech-heavy, feature-rich machines, read my Jura Z10 and GIGA 6 reviews.

Machines With the Best Design: A Cupful and an Eyeful

A super-automatic espresso machine is not an appliance that you hide in a cupboard. 

No, it’s going to sit on the counter because you’re using it all the time — more than the toaster, for sure. That’s reason enough to want a machine that’s a treat for the eye and the palate.

Like coffee, design is a matter of taste. Even so, Jura’s won a slew of design accolades, so it’s not just me.

The Jura ENA 8 Design.

The almost $1,900 ENA 8 garnered the prestigious 2019 Red Dot Award. Among the reasons the international jury gave for its choice were the:

Sleek styling on the compact, one-cup machine and its cylindrical water tank, which takes its cue from crystal carafes.

My personal fave is the roughly $800 Jura A1 in Piano White. 

And if your all-out devotion to minimalist aesthetics has practically earned you a Scandinavian passport, expect to fall hard for this machine, too. 

Hopefully, your purist belief in uncluttered simplicity also extends to your coffee preferences because the Jura A1 has no milk system and only makes a limited menu of black specialties.

The Jura A1 super-automatic espresso machine in Piano White with the water tank removed and placed next to it.

In fact, the lack of a milk system is just another example of the machine’s pared-down design. 

And since there’s no need for a cavity to accommodate a carafe or bulging milk wand and hose attachments, nothing interrupts the machine’s clean lines. Even the bean hopper is seamlessly recessed into the top — which is also where you’ll find the touch panel.

As you can see in the photo, another striking feature is that the front of the casing leans forward, as if to whisper sweet, black-joe nothings into your ear.

If you’re smitten and want to know more about this thing of beauty, drop by my Jura A1 review.

The Easiest Machines to Clean: Shining Examples

I get it. No one gets excited at the thought of cleaning. 

Still, you brush your teeth because the alternative is a world of pain. The same goes for your fully automatic espresso machine and, like with oral hygiene, once a year just doesn’t cut it.

Coffee grinds go moldy in no time, and milk is even worse. Even a single day is enough for bacteria to move in and throw a major house party.

Cleaning the steam wand on a DeLonghi super-automatic espresso machine.

That’s why milk systems that comprise just a few components are usually a better choice when it comes to hygiene. Based on that logic, steam wands are the solution for a clean conscience because you can easily flush them after each use, ensuring milk residue is blasted out.

Ideally, you should be able to fully disassemble more complicated systems into individual components and dump them in the dishwasher. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t always the case.

Next on the list are the parts that handle the coffee grounds and water: the water tank, grounds container and most importantly, the brew group. That’s where most of the coffee grounds — and wet ones at that — get stuck.

Used pucks in a super-automatic espresso machine’s coffee grounds container.

You may have noticed that Jura has enjoyed a pretty long winning streak through the features and functions categories. But that comes to an abrupt end here, thanks to the manufacturer’s insistence on fixed brew groups.

The Swiss brand’s die-hard fans argue that its machines have excellent self-cleaning programs, so there’s no need to remove the brew group for further cleaning. Sure, that’s true, except there’s a big but

Fine coffee particles really get into every nook and cranny, including the ones the cleaning jets can’t reach. So removing the brew group and rinsing it under running water is unquestionably the easier and better solution.

That issue aside, you shouldn’t have any problems keeping your fully automatic espresso machine nice and clean. 

The clean queen among the super-automatic brands is definitely Miele. Parts are clearly marked as dishwasher safe or not — but then again, just about everything is. So check out the CM 5300, CM 6150 or CM 6350.

Word to the wise: before leaving on vacation, always run any and all available cleaning programs. Otherwise, you’ll come back to find your super-automatic espresso machine has turned into a hotel for microorganisms. I’m not kidding. 

If you take hygiene as seriously as I do, my Miele CM 6350 review will give a good idea of the machine’s ins and outs.

The Best of Each Brand: All Tested and Reviewed Machines Sorted By Brand

Three philips coffee machines in comparison.

So many espresso machines. So much confusion. 

At Coffeeness, we know all too well that navigating this huge market is no easy task. Understanding the better- and lesser-known manufacturers is just the beginning. 

Then you have to pick through model series and machine subcategories. My head hurts just thinking about it, so I’m going to keep it nice and simple for you.

You’d think that price would correlate with quality, but no dice. It never ceases to surprise me how shoddy the build quality can be on astonishingly expensive machines. By the same token, there are very affordable appliances that are incredibly well-designed and built. Go figure.

For the sake of completeness and to give you another perspective on the machines I’ve reviewed most highly, I’m going to run through all the key manufacturers and special features below. Wherever possible, I’ll also shine a light on the more cryptic model names and offer tips on what to look for with each brand.

The DeLonghi and the Short of the Italian Brand’s Best Machines

Arne with the DeLonghi Dinamica and all coffee drinks

Even if you’ve only just begun nosing around fully automatic espresso machines, DeLonghi is probably already on your radar. That’s because the Italian brand not only has a huge global footprint and distribution network but is also a strong contender in almost every price category.

Best of all, when the brand gets it right, it delivers unparalleled value for money. Now that I’ve got your attention, check out these three awesome machines:

Not that long ago, DeLonghi ruled the lower end of the market, with its machines selling like hotcakes, ahem, coffees. Then in 2017, I got the distinct impression from the company’s staff at a trade show that DeLonghi was turning up its nose at the entry-level category.

It turns out my spidey sense was totally on the money. 

DeLonghi has subsequently shifted its focus to make serious inroads into the mid and upper ranges. And here, too, it delivers excellent quality at prices that undercut going rates in the segment.

That brings us to the model numbers, which can quickly make your head spin. To help you feel less like you’re trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code, here are a couple of pointers:

  • For starters, the ECAM series are the budget buys, while the ESAM machines are mid-range.
  • The higher the number before the first period, the more expensive the super-automatic espresso machine. Three-digit figures are usually reserved for top models or indicate a newer ECAM version.
  • On the other side of the first period, the situation appears to be the reverse. Newer, better models have just two digits. That can also indicate more lavish equipment, functions and preprogrammed coffee specialties.
  • Finally, the letter at the end simply seems to designate the machine color: B for Black, MS for Metal/Silver, T for Titanium, etc. You get the point. 

The Best of Jura: Innovation Stations

Arne is very happy with the Jura Z10.

Jura and I got off to a rocky start after I reviewed the decidedly underwhelming Impressa C60 and ended up going back and forth with the marketing department.

Long story short, after a mini coffee cold war, you guys encouraged me to re-establish diplomatic relations (and reviews), and I’ve since found a lot to like about the Swiss brand. Here are my top picks:

  • Jura Z8 review — unbeatable espresso and milk froth, all wrapped up in a luxurious package, though you should also watch out for the new Z10
  • Jura Z6 review — very similar to the Z8 but more affordable
  • Jura GIGA 6 review — totally over the top in every way, but you’ve gotta love it

Although they didn’t start out making fully automatic espresso machines, that’s now the Swiss brand’s main focus — one it pursues with an uncompromising approach to high quality and high prices.

So don’t bother looking for a Jura espresso machine for under $800. It doesn’t exist. The brand doesn’t stoop to cheap and cheerful for fear of tarnishing its “not your average joe” image.

As one of the manufacturers most focused on innovating to perfect super-automatic espresso and milk froth, you have to admit that there’s some truth to its snooty swagger.

Jura Z10 is making a perfect latte macchiato.

In keeping with that pre-eminently premium philosophy, Jura likes to emphasize that its machines are not only quieter than competing products but also so clean that removing the brew groups is totally unnecessary. I’ll buy quiet, but the jury’s still out on the clean part.

My misgivings over the fixed brew group aside, you can’t go wrong with Jura.

The Best of Miele: A Clean Act to Follow

Arne and Mauricio with a beautiful Miele machine.

When talking about coffee machine brands in Germany, it’s all about M&M. No, not the colored candies, but Melitta and Miele. Melitta is the go-to for drip coffee makers, and Miele is the one-stop-shop for everything else.

Even my parents would always buy the brand’s high-priced dryers, washing machines, etc., because they believed Miele appliances would last until the end of time.

It’s the same story with the fully automatic coffee machines. Cheap these aren’t — even compared to similarly specced machines — but from casing to cup, you won’t find a better quality package. These are the two I consider the best of the bunch:

Design is what Miele does. 

So in keeping with that thinking, high-quality stainless steel is the material of choice with plastic barely getting a look-in. Don’t think that means these super-automatic espresso machines are just pretty faces, though. The Miele CM 6350, for one, puts in a strong performance.

As a rule, Miele espresso machines are not only extremely robust and reliable but also deliver great results. That’s equally true of older models, even when compared to newer competitors.

When it comes to hygiene, Miele is the best choice for a clean conscience. Individually labeled parts make it easy to determine what can and can’t go in the dishwasher. Best of all, most parts can.

In fact, it’s hard to go wrong with a Miele from the CM series. So if you spot a good deal, it’s definitely worth a second look. Just don’t be surprised when you see your bank balance missing a few zeros.

The Best of Philips: Punching Above Its Price Point

Arne and Mauricio are comparing Philips Machines

Before I go any further, I need to nip any confusion in the bud: Philips and Saeco (see the next section) are the same company. After acquiring the espresso machine manufacturer in 2009, the Dutch giant retained the Saeco brand name for its high-end and flagship machines.

That’s why the entry-level and mid-range models, which retail as Philips, now punch above weight, thanks to Saeco components. 

Case in point: the 12-level, ceramic, flat-burr grinder built into the Philips 3200 series.No other machine in that price segment can match that.

Get a load of these excellent, affordable machines:

With its latest generation of super-automatics, Philips has adopted simple usability and its machines are all the better for it. In fact, if your budget is small, Philips gives you more good, solid functionality than just about any other brand.

The Best of Saeco: …

Saecos Xelsis super-automatic espresso machine

As you’ve just read, Saeco is a sub-brand in the Philips stable — but not for much longer. With a view to streamlining its brand identity, the Dutch household appliances giant is slowly phasing the flagship brand out. That’s why the Saeco marketing drums have gone distinctly silent as of late.

The bright side is that these top-notch, high-end machines are likely to become available at reduced rates:

Aside from the prospect of a great bargain, I have to say I think that by ditching Saeco, Philips may be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. After all, the ad-hoc brand allows the manufacturer to play in the same league as the big names in espresso machines, including Jura.

What’s more, here at Coffeeness, we give big ups to Saeco because the brand not only has benchmark products in its range but is also a source of innovations that prove hits with shoppers and retailers.

The Coffee Equalizer in the Xelsis range is a prime example. 

Saeco making a great espresso.

Just as an audio equalizer allows you to adjust the bass, treble, etc., on your tunes, you can do the same with your Cappuccino’s temperature, milk froth and coffee dosage via sliders — no need to revert to the pre-set.

The bottom line: if you see one of these great all-rounders at a good price, get it while you can.

Do You Really Need a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine? The Coffeeness Cooling-Off Period and Sanity Quiz

I know most of you are rolling your eyes at this point, thinking, seriously? Of course, I need a fully automatic espresso machine. What else would I be doing here?

I get you, but bear with me. I’ve spent a lot of time writing, thinking and discussing espresso machines and noticed a bit of a pattern. Friends, acquaintances and other consumers buy a machine and are initially totally stoked with their purchase. Then before you know it, the thing is gathering dust in a corner.

There are lots of reasons this happens — like nobody bothered to clean the machine and domestic coffee bliss turns into nasty brown, well, you get my drift. 

Maybe the proud new owners thought they’d try out a different coffee drink every day but ended up stuck in an Americano rut.

Or perhaps the machine has a couple of hang-ups — it’s too noisy, it keeps giving you weird error messages or the drip tray is too small, etc. — which eventually annoy you so much that you switch back to your trusty old French press or other coffee device.

Arne with a French press and mug of coffee.

With prices starting around $500, a super-automatic espresso machine is very much an investment. So you need to think carefully about what return you’ll get on all that money.

After all, even if you only buy cheap supermarket beans (please, please don’t), they still cost more than the pre-ground stuff, and an espresso machine chews through a lot of them.

And while quality beans are a significant expense, the coffee beans aren’t the only recurring cost for running these machines. With that in mind, I only recommend that you go down the fully automatic route if you can answer the following questions with an unqualified “yes”

  • How many coffee drinkers will use the machine and have different coffee preferences?
  • Am I willing to get familiar with the various features and settings?
  • Do I intend to be dedicated to cleaning the machine?
  • Will I make the effort to learn about coffee beans and roasts?
  • Am I ready to pay more for high-quality coffee beans?
  • Do I really want a super-automatic espresso machine — or do I just think this is a cheaper option than coughing up for a portafilter and a separate grinder?

I hope you didn’t breeze through that last point to get to the ta-da! 

There’s more to it than meets the eye. A lot of people think that a super-automatic-espresso machine will produce coffee just like what they get from the coffee shop around the corner. Um, no! And when you do realize that, it can leave you feeling pretty cheated.

Despite manufacturer’s claims to the contrary, a fully automatic espresso machine doesn’t make espresso — at least not like what you get from aportafilter. That’s because they brew coffee in very different ways.

Let’s take a moment to unpack that now.

Hands On or Hands Off? Super-Automatic Espresso Machines vs Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

The Breville Oracle Touch in an overview.

Wait, now what’s a semi-automatic espresso machine? 

Basically, we’re talking about an espresso machine with a portafilter. They have some automatic features, but you need to get a lot more involved. Read my espresso machine guide to get the full story.

On the other hand, a fully automatic espresso machine automates most of the complicated barista stuff. A good super-automatic espresso machine will take care of:

  • Grinding coffee vs getting a separate grinder with your portafilter
  • Compacting the coffee into a puck vs a separate tamper for your portafilter
  • Properly positioning the puck vs practicing this on your portafilter
  • Frothing milk vs the ton of experience you’ll need to do this on a portafilter
  • Correctly assembling different espresso drinks vs the barista skills you’ll need otherwise
  • Emptying the used puck vs doing this yourself with a portafilter machine
  • Cleaning the machine vs the endless job on a portafilter machine

It all boils down to a trade-off between convenience and control. All that automation saves you a lot of trouble, but there’s a limited amount you can do to tweak the processes. 

As a result, super-automatic coffee is always a bit of a compromise. The next section will help you to understand where corners are cut.

Brewing Differences Between Semi- and Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

For the comparison purposes, the key difference between a super-automatic and semi-automatic espresso machine is the brewing process.

Under the hood of a semi-automatic espresso machine with a portafilter, water is heated to around 195 degrees Fahrenheit and rammed through a highly compacted puck with the help of 9 bars of pressure. To offer enough resistance to that force, the beans must be extremely fine.

All that pressure goes into the portafilter basket, which sits directly above the coffee cup. And presto, you have espresso!

The key feature of this special brewing technique is the crema. So when all’s said and done, this is just a visual confirmation that you’ve pulled a good shot.

Super-automatic espresso machines are a pale imitation of this process. Why? Well, because the grounds are always slightly coarser and, while water is forced through a compacted puck inside the machine, the pressure is much lower and not exactly applied at the right location.

After extraction, the finished java has to travel from the brew unit through a hose to the spout, where it flows into your coffee cup. For all that, these may seem like minor details, but what it really means is that what comes out of your super-automatic espresso machine simply isn’t true espresso.

Since manufacturers aren’t keen to admit this or go into lengthy explanations, the results are fudged. Right before the coffee comes out of the spout, a whisk or something similar beats the brew into a froth that looks like crema — except it isn’t.

Arne holds up an espresso from the DeLonghi ECAM 23.460 super-automatic espresso machine.

True espresso crema is the result of brewing pressure, which forces carbon dioxide that formed in the beans during roasting into the water. En route to the cup, the liquid returns to normal atmospheric pressure and the gas bubbles try to escape, forming a dense foam. You’ll also notice it rises in the cup with the level of the coffee.

Fake crema is basically just whipped coffee. You might think that’s potayto, potahto, but it’s a pretty big deal. 

The “espresso” from a fully automatic espresso machine is a different beast altogether. Sure, they’re related, but only distantly. Think zebras and donkeys.

It takes a side-by-side comparison to spot the difference, but once you’ve seen (and tasted) it, you can’t unsee it — like toothpaste on your boss’ cheek.

One more thing — and I can’t emphasize this enough — a semi-automatic espresso machine is dedicated to the ritual pleasures of preparing coffee. 

It’s the polar opposite of a caffeine patch. You’ve got to put your heart and soul into each step of the process and slowly build up your barista skills. And with each tweak, you get one step closer to the perfect cup.

A super-automatic espresso machine is a mass-market product. It makes coffee, period. So forget about artisanal musings and meanderings along the way. 

Of course, you can make lots of adjustments, but there’s no altering the core automated functions. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Pros and Cons of Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to get a super-automatic, though. 

In fact, there’s a whole list. Anyone who loves their fully automatic machine will nod along to each of these benefits:

  • Coffee in less time, with less fuss.
  • The operation is child’s play — anyone can press a button.
  • Almost everyone gets their favorite drink.
  • The footprint is usually smaller than for a portafilter and a grinder.
  • Coffee always comes from freshly ground beans — the Coffeeness First Commandment.
  • It’s a good imitation of espresso — true espresso needs pressure.
  • While higher than drip and pour-over coffee, the price per cup is still significantly cheaper than for capsules or pods.
  • Cleaning is mostly automatic.

Just the mention of capsule coffee, and I’m likely to burst a blood vessel. So I’m going to spare us both the full rant. Suffice it to say there’s a reason our Coffeeness philosophy is that anyone who drinks the stuff has let their life spin out of control.

The truth is that many super-automatic espresso machine buyers have converted from pod coffee because they want better functionality and less waste, all at a better price. Congratulations, you’re no longer a servant of the dark side!

Even though we don’t just review fully automatic espresso machines at Coffeeness but also actively use them, we’re under no illusion that these machines don’t always do beans justice. Plus, fully automatic espresso machines are more than meets the eye. So expect to do a fair bit of work.

Here’s the full list of super-automatic stumbling blocks:

  • You have to clean them regularly. Repeat after me: reg-u-lar-ly.
  • Despite what looks like a ton of settings, these machines are more limited than you think, which can compromise coffee quality.
  • The grinders on many models are very loud.
  • Manual techniques for brewing fresh beans, such as a pour-over and French press, produce far superior coffee.
  • True espresso comes from a semi-automatic espresso machine with a portafilter, period.
  • Unless you get a very expensive model, most machines only make one drink at a time.
  • Replacement parts and repairs will cost you.
  • Neglect your cleaning duties, and the machine becomes a very real risk to your health.

A good fully automatic espresso machine makes up for many of these disadvantages — which is exactly what makes them our top picks.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines vs Coffee Makers With Grinders

Aside from semi-automatic espresso machines, drip-coffee machines are another alternative to super-automatic espresso machines. So don’t just dismiss the faithful old coffee maker out of hand — especially when it comes with a built-in grinder.

Arne reviews a coffee maker with a grinder.

Drip coffee can prove quite the revelation when made with fresh beans instead of pre-ground supermarket coffee.

Aside from grinding fresh beans for each pot, the coffee maker 2.0 is exactly the same as the familiar old gurgler. That means extraction without the use of pressure and no milk froth — just good old drip coffee.

So why would you choose a coffee maker with a grinder over a fully automatic espresso machine? It’s all about pot vs shot. 

For those who like to batch brew and invite a bunch of friends over or personally need a lot of refills, you can’t beat a coffee maker. Plus, you can always buy a milk frother to go with it.

Refurbished Automatic Coffee Machines: Reconditioned, Rebuilt and Reduced to Go

Hang on a minute, you say. Didn’t we decide that secondhand is bad way back at the beginning of this guide? 

And you’d be right, except, “refurbished” is not quite the same thing. Aside from a few minor scuffs and dings, you should get a machine that works like new.

That’s because you’re not buying from another consumer but from a retailer. Refurbished machines have been sent back to the vendor, usually within the return policy’s time frame.

The reasons can range anywhere from buyer’s remorse, through the machine not fitting in the kitchen nook, to faults and defects. But most often, the original buyer never really learned to use the machine properly and got fed up with it.

In other words, a lot of these machines are practically new

You know how the value of a new car tanks the moment you drive it off the lot? It’s a similar story with super-automatic espresso machines. Once the thing has been plugged in and produced a single coffee, you can no longer sell it for full price.

So keep your wits and some Coffeeness wisdom about you, and you can bag a real bargain.

Rule number one when shopping for refurbished machines is to make sure you buy from legitimate refurbished resellers only.

To get that right, you may need to learn a bit of refurb lingo and dig into the fine print. 

Words like “factory authorized” or “certified center” indicate that the machine manufacturer or approved technicians inspect, test and use original parts to get the machine in perfect working order. After all, you don’t want a cheap knockoff component that might fail.

A super-automatic espresso machine disassembled into its parts.

To top it off, reputable resellers usually offer a warranty. And while it might not be as long as what you get with a brand-new machine, you want at least 90 days to resolve anything that comes up soon after receiving your refurbished fully automatic espresso machine. 

You’ll also want to be sure to check — like I said, fine print — what exactly the warranty covers.

While we’re negotiating the details of almost-loved machines, here are a few more terms to watch out for:

  • A “rebuilt” or “reconditioned” machine has had parts replaced.
  • “Open box” and “like new” refer to machines that have barely seen any use and are in mint condition, requiring little more than a clean and polish.

Unsurprisingly, something that’s almost indistinguishable from a new machine will command a premium price. Even so, you’re still saving on the cost of an espresso machine straight off the production line.

To give you a leg up on the legwork, here’s a list of some of the most reputable U.S. resellers:

A screenshot of the Amazon Renewed storefront.

Not one to miss a retail trick, Amazon has its own storefront for refurbished electronics called Amazon Renewed. Remember, it’s not Amazon that does the refurbishing, but rather the sellers on the platform. 

So in listing products as “renewed,” the resellers agree to minimum standards outlined in the quality policy, including only using original manufacturer parts.

Unfortunately, Amazon Renewed only requires that items “look and work like new.” As a result, there’s often no distinction between reconditioned and open-box machines. That said, all goods are covered by the 90-day Amazon Renewed guarantee.

Bear in mind that little extras — like water hardness strips and even possibly the filter itself — may not come in the box with a refurbished machine. Considering the savings, though, it’s a small price to pay. Plus, you get extra eco stars for keeping good machines in use rather than letting them go to waste.

The Super-Automatic Coffee Specialty Lotto: What’s Hot and What’s Notto

Arne tries all coffee specialties of the Jura Z8.

Since you’ve been such patient and diligent readers, I think it’s finally time for what gets us all up in the morning: the coffee and all those exciting specialty beverages.

Remember how I said espresso from a super-automatic machine isn’t the same as the real thing? 

Despite manufacturers trumpeting menus as long as your arm, some coffee specialties land pretty wide of the barista mark.

So to spare you any disappointment, I’ve cataloged the various coffee drinks and preparation methods to help you separate the hits from the misses.

Don’t forget: when I talk about espresso, I mean the version that super-automatic espresso machines produce.

Espresso Drinks

Espresso drinksHow is it made?Can a super-automatic make it?
EspressoA regular espresso — usually of 1 oz. or more, depending on pre-setYes
RistrettoA very strong espresso extracted using less waterYes
Espresso MacchiatoOne shot of a double espresso with milk frothYes
DoppioA double espressoYes
LungoA very mild espresso made with extra water added after extractionYes
AmericanoRegular coffee made with at least two to three espresso shots watered down after extractionYes

Espresso Drinks With Milk

Espresso drinks with milkHow is it made?Can a super-automatic make it?
CappuccinoEspresso and freshly frothed milk in a 1:1 ratioYes, but most machines don’t make proper Cappuccinos
Caffe LatteEspresso and hot milk topped with frothYes
Latte MacchiatoHot milk and froth with espresso added to the milkYes, but many machines don’t create proper layers in the correct proportions
Flat whiteLike a Cappuccino but with less frothIn theory, yes, but in practice, machines maul this delicate drink

Drinks With Coffee

Drinks with coffeeHow is it made?Can a super-automatic make it?
CoffeePour-over, French press or drip coffeeNo, not by my definition
Red eyeSingle espresso with drip coffeeYes
Black eyeDouble espresso with drip coffeeYes
Cafe au LaitCoffee with steamed milkYes
Caffe MistoDrip coffee with steamed milkYes

Drinks Without Coffee

Drinks without coffeeHow is it made?Can a super-automatic make it?
Hot milkHot milk with or without frothYes
Hot waterHot waterYes
Chai Latte, etc.Powdered drink and hot milk, with or without frothYes and no, as it only works on models with a steam wand

If I’ve awoken your inner barista — and I hope I have — you can take a look at my detailed guides to preparing some of these drinks: 

Please give me a shout in the comments if you enjoy these drink guides. I’d be happy to write more tips and advice on other coffee drinks.

Understanding Your Machine’s Components and How to Calibrate Them

Now that I’ve whet your appetite, let’s dive into how to get the most out of your super-automatic espresso machine. 

Even though it almost goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: on highly automated appliances like these, the quality of your components not only will determine your machine’s life span and value but also the quality of what you get in your cup.

Simple settings on all Philips Machines.

The other half of the equation is settings. Otherwise, you’re just chucking beans, water and milk in a cup and hoping for the best. 

For that reason, I’m going to walk you through dialing in your machine and weave in important insights about the components in question at the same time.

Slider Image
Slider Image
Slider Image
Slider Image

Before getting into that, I’ve put together a list of must-haves based on my reviewing experiences. After all, fully automatic espresso machines are all about convenience with a capital C. These things go a long way to achieving that, so try and make sure your chosen model ticks all the boxes:

  • Go large on your drip tray to avoid the annoyance of frequent emptying and the machine going on strike when it’s full.
  • The same story applies to the used grounds collection container.
  • The spout height must be adjustable and max out at about 5.5 inches. That’s enough for a tall Latte glass — like the IKEA ones I use as a benchmark in my reviews — to fit underneath.
  • Look for a water tank and bean compartment that are neither too big nor too small and covered with opaque lids to stop sunlight from ruining your beans’ aromas.
  • Ensure you can adjust the grind texture without a tool — more on this below.
  • Get a heated cup tray because warm cups equal warm coffee.

Getting Deep Into the Water: Your Machine’s Parts and Settings

Changing the setting on the DeLonghi Dinamica.

A coffee break without water just leaves you, well, gnawing at bitter beans. And since that’s not quite what we’re looking for, no one’s going to argue that water is key to coffee.

Because it’s a pretty big deal, it’s worth driving home a few points relating to how water can impact the flavor of your coffee and determine the life of your machine.

It’s obvious when you say it out loud, but freshness matters. You don’t use old, stale beans, so why use old, stale water? Not to mention, leaving water to stagnate in your tank is a big no-no. 

As water leaves the faucet or filter, it mixes with oxygen, and the resulting bubbles in fresh water are essential to good coffee.

Just to be clear: a filter — whether built into your machine or of the separate jug variety — won’t transform your water into a magic liquid that’s better suited to brewing. The primary function of a water filter is to extend the intervals between descaling your machine. I’ll get into this in more detail when covering cleaning.

A much better freshness hack is the tank size. 

So to that end, unless you have an office full of blurry-eyed people to caffeinate, bigger is not better. Extra-large water tanks just tempt you to fill them. With a small one, you can’t help but refill it frequently — so freshness is guaranteed.

Talking about water volumes, it almost goes without saying that quantity affects the strength of your brew. In fact, this is one of my pet peeves. A proper espresso is about 1 ounce, but most super-automatic espresso machines deliver about 1.3 ounces into your demitasse. Why? Beats me.

The Philips 3200 Series LatteGo super-automatic espresso machine makes espresso.

At least, the pricier models allow you to adjust this — and to be honest, it’s one of the first things I check when pulling a shot on a new machine. 

Inevitably, though, I end up reducing the quantity. Don’t let the fact that it’s somewhat confusingly referred to as “cup size” throw you, either.

The other water parameter that you have to play with is temperature, which takes us to the next set of fully automatic espresso machine components and settings.

A Hot-Button Issue: Thermoblocks, Boilers and Temperature

If there’s one way to get a coffee drinker to boiling point, it’s serving them tepid joe. 

The hardest working component that ensures your coffee and milk are hot is usually a thermoblock. And these metal blocks with embedded heating elements are increasingly the heating system of choice in super-automatic espresso machines. 

Despite only spending a short time moving through the pipe inside a thermoblock, the water is flash heated to temperatures of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit — high enough to produce dry steam.

Although a far more complex solution than traditional boilers and consequently more expensive to repair, thermoblocks have largely replaced boilers due to the following advantages

  • Rapid water heating
  • Durable
  • Less susceptible to scale
  • Better temperature control and consistency

If you have the option of adjusting the brewing cycle temperature, optimize it in line with your other parameters. While an espresso machine with a portafilter operates at about 195 degrees Fahrenheit, bear in mind that a fully automatic espresso machine is a very different system.

As you make the first espressos with your new machine, take the opportunity to check the operating temperature. When in doubt, dial it down a fraction.

Although the same system heats the steam for your milk froth, you’re far more likely to be able to control the mercury here than on brewing.

People can get quite hot under the collar about milk temperatures, so I’m just going to stick to the facts. When milk gets hotter than 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the taste changes noticeably. I know a lot of you are saying that’s too cold, but it’s warm enough to make great milk froth.

Crush It ... With the Right Grinder and Settings

There was already quite a lot of talk about grinders in the product sections, and for good reason. This component and its correct calibration more or less define the quality of your extraction and the resulting flavor profile in your cup.

Grinder Setting Wheel Saeco Xelsis.

As a rule of thumb, the finer you grind, the closer in flavor to real espresso your coffee will be. That said, differences between various grinder’s increments and how easy it is to adjust them are huge. Worst-case scenario, you get a grinder you can’t adjust at all.

Best-case scenario, you get a stepless (infinitely adjustable) grinder. And since those are usually the preserve of seriously pricey machines — like the Jura Z8 — look for one with the maximum number of increments. An easy-to-use knob or dial is also vital. Honestly, Saeco, no one wants to fiddle with a hex key. Ugh.

Keep these points in mind when researching a machine: 

  • You want a nice uniform grind to ensure even extraction.
  • The grinder is largely responsible for how noisy a machine is.
  • As the part that sees the most wear and tear, the grinder is usually the first thing to break. So, get the best quality you can.

Grinders in super-automatic espresso machines are specced and classified according to two features: material and mechanism type.

The bean hopper and powder chute on the Jura Z8 super-automatic espresso machine.

Now let’s talk about materials. 

When it comes to materials, we’re talking either ceramic or stainless steel, while the mechanisms divide into conical or flat burrs. In both cases, there’s no clear-cut best bet — each option has its advantages and disadvantages.

Ceramic is supposedly less noisy, but don’t count on it. My top picks for the quiet life are the Jura E8 and higher models, which have stainless-steel, conical-burr grinders.

I’m also not convinced about claims that ceramic lasts longer. My sense is that stainless steel is tougher, though the one clear advantage of ceramic is you never have to worry about rust. Hey, no argument there.

The bottom line: don’t get too hung up on the material. The grinder and build quality are arguably more important.

Next, let’s take the mechanisms apart. I’ve added blade grinders into the table for the sake of comparison, but don’t go there. Seriously, don’t. These cheapos can’t deliver an even, quality grind.

Grinder mechanismConical burrsFlat burrsBlades
DesignThe male burr nests inside the female oneTwo ring burrs sit one on top of the otherBlades mounted on a knife block
How it worksBeans are crushed as they move vertically down between burrsBeans are crushed as centrifugal force pushes them horizontally outwardBlades spin like in a mixer, chopping beans as they bounce off walls
ResultsCapable of producing a consistent espresso grindCapable of producing a consistent espresso grindTerrible uneven grind, making it unsuitable for brewing coffee

You’ll notice that small super-automatics, like the Espressione Concierge, tend to have conical-burr grinders because the mechanism is more compact.

On the other hand, flat-burr mechanisms are larger because the stacked rings take up more space than the nested conical design. What’s more, supersizing the burrs has the advantage not only of reducing grinding time but also improving flavor. Why? Heat can’t build up and singe the beans.

Rather than obsessing over what material or mechanism type your super-automatic-espresso machine has, put that energy into looking after your grinder. Regular care prevents glitches and faults, so remember to

  • Adjust your grinder correctly — while it’s running.
  • Disassemble your grinder to give it a thorough clean regularly. It’s not that hard. I promise.
  • Keep an eye on your beans because little stones or other debris can wreck the grinder.

The first point is a real moment of truth for a machine as a whole. Will it literally choke on the finest grounds the grinder can produce, or will the pump pressure and brew unit come to the party? 

Remember, the finer the grounds, the more pressure is necessary to force the water through. Plus, the higher the risk of fine particles clogging parts before extraction even starts.

Of course, the grind texture isn’t the only factor that affects extraction. Higher pressure is necessary to drive water through more coffee grounds, resulting in more intense flavor.

So to keep things simple, manufacturers tend to use a simple bean scale. More beans mean more ground coffee in the puck.

Selecting a dose of four out of five beans on the DeLonghi Dinamica super-automatic espresso machine.

Combining these two settings — the grind texture and dosage — is important, especially as it’s where many people slip up. Here’s a quick summary for you:

  • Watery coffee is the result of water passing too quickly through the puck. The grind may be too coarse and the dose too small.
  • Muddy sludge ends up in your cup. The grind may be too fine and the quantity too high.

You’ll have to play around until you hit the sweet spot, but a good display with intuitive, easily navigable menus will make your life a whole lot easier.

Word to the wise: once you’ve made all the tweaks to harmonize the water volume, grind texture and dosage to create a perfect hallelujah of an espresso, stop fiddling. 

After all, a great espresso is not only a glorious thing in its own right, but it’s also the basis for all the other coffee drinks that your machine makes. So once you’ve nailed it, don’t mess with it.

Feeling the Pressure: The Brew Group and Pump

Brewing pressure is one thing, but don’t let manufacturers convince you that more bars are better.

Ideal extraction occurs with around 9 bars — that’s it. Basically, you need those extra 3, 6 or 10 bars manufacturers love to trumpet like a fish needs a bicycle. Yes, Jura, I’m looking at you!

What’s more, unless your coffee is ground finely enough and tamped firmly enough, it won’t provide sufficient resistance to all that pressure anyway. And since that’s not possible on most fully automatic espresso machines, there’s little point in getting sucked into the numbers hype.

The brew group from the Melitta Caffeo Barista super-automatic espresso machine.

In fact, the pump and brew group form the black box on a super-automatic espresso machine because you generally have zero control of what goes on in there.

Here’s a quick peek:

  • Freshly ground beans are deposited into the brewing chamber, where the beans are compacted to form a puck.
  • Pressurized hot water is forced through the puck. This extracted coffee flows through a system of pumps and pipes before trickling into your cup.
  • The spent puck is then ejected into the dregs drawer.

Add that to the fact that brewing involves a lot of mechanical processes, and you don’t need an engineering degree to figure out that quality materials and construction are vital here. Otherwise, your machine just won’t last.

While (durable) plastic is usually the predominant material, the more stainless steel there is in the mix, the better. As you’re probably already aware, stainless steel is obviously preferable when it comes to hinges and other moving parts.

Milk It for All It’s Worth: Cappuccinatores, Milk Systems and Settings

The milk frothing system on the Jura Z8 super-automatic espresso machine.

Cappuccina, what? 

Despite being more of a mouthful than the drink it’s named after, this milk frothing system is really quite simple. Milk is sucked up a hose and then frothed with steam. 

In fact, all integrated milk frothing systems are basically a jazzed-up version of this system.

If there’s a special built-in container for the milk, expect that to reflect in the price tag. On the other hand, systems that draw milk directly out of a carton or jug will be more affordable. 

Before you go pushing the credit card limits, though, you should know that simple cappuccinatore systems consistently outperform more elaborate ones in our reviews. Here’s why:

  • They’re much easier to clean and are far more hygienic.
  • Switching between different kinds of milk is easy.
  • Simple systems often reduce the machine footprint and are more flexible.

TheJura E8 and Jura Z8 are a real testimony to this, as you can read in the reviews. Sounds too good to be true? Well, there’s a bit of a catch: very few machines produce barista-quality froth. 

Surprise, surprise! You only get barista results with a barista tool — a steam wand. The only problem is that manual frothing not only requires some skill but is counter to the whole concept of a fullyautomatic espresso machine.

The milk frothing system on the Jura Z8 super-automatic espresso machine.

So what can you do to milk the white stuff for all it’s worth? 

Aside from fine-tuning the fairly common temperature and volume settings, you’d have to get the Jura GIGA 6 to be able to tweak the proportion of milk to froth. But your choice of milk is one thing you can control, irrespective of your machine.

Traditional moo juice is a sure thing when it comes to milk froth. While whole milk will deliver bolder, creamier results, products with a reduced fat content still do the job. 

As for all those so-called “barista” or other versions whose fat content has supposedly been optimized for Latte art, just walk on by. It’s not worth it.

Arne tests different milk alternatives with a Jura super-automatic espresso machine.

Since milk alternatives struggle to replicate the ratio of fat to protein found in dairy, things aren’t quite so straightforward. You’ll find that’s especially true of rice milk, which hardly froths at all.

Of the plant-based milk, soy is the froth phenomenon but still might not be your first choice. It can lack sophistication, plus there are the hormonal effects. By themselves, coconut and almond milk in cartons fall short of the mark. But if you mix them, you’ll start seeing results.

It might come as a surprise that homemade nut milks froth up rather well. Just make sure your batch is super fresh and hasn’t separated while sitting in the container.

Basically, you need to accept that you’re in trial-and-error territory and do a bit of experimenting. Bear in mind, though, that some super-automatic espresso machines with a cappuccinatore may need adjusting when changing milk varieties.

Interface Value: Controls, Displays and Apps

Now that we’ve done a pretty thorough tour of your fully automatic espresso machine’s inner workings, let’s wrap up with the outer connection to all that functionality: the user interface. After all, even an espresso machine with millions of options is useless if you can’t easily locate and use all those features.

It also almost goes without saying that big-ticket coffee machines will have swankier, more digital controls. For some manufacturers, that means looking to integrate the coffee machine into your smart kitchen through app control.

A Saeco sales representative I chatted with at a trade show a few years back pointed out that app control is just the first step on the path to kitchen appliance digitalization. Perhaps that’s why the brand has instead opted for a very generous touch screen on its flagship Saeco Xelsis.

I honestly can’t fault the manufacturer’s logic. Even with the slickest app, you still have to walk over and put a cup under the spout. While you’re there, you might as well program the machine.

Before we head down the app rabbit hole, though, let’s figure out what makes for a good interface because once the novelty of a new machine wears off, you just want to instantly put your fingers on a few basic functions. 

So no hemming and hawing over what a button or icon might do. Scrolling endlessly through menus — whether in an app or on a touch screen — gets old quickly.

While it’s not the only way to design intuitive controls, basic, no-frills buttons definitely keep things simple. It’s also why I never recommend a model with a display over the same machine with buttons. There’s just no need for a display if the controls are self-explanatory.

The display on the Saeco Xelsis super-automatic espresso machine.

I also have absolutely no problem with buttons that light up like a Christmas tree — as long as all the blinking has a purpose. In fact, many of the inexpensive machines do a great job of guiding you and communicating clearly in this Morse code.

My very simple test of whether a fully automatic espresso machine gets my yay or nay for ease of operation goes like this: if I can set all the parameters to make a well-balanced espresso and Latte Macchiato without having to go back to the user manual, it’s thumbs-up.

There’s no question that apps need to pass the same test. And with virtually every machine setting at your fingertips on a smartphone or tablet, they often do.

Honestly, I’ve got no beef with apps, but let’s not kid around — the manufacturers certainly aren’t. Apps cost you about $200 more and are ultimately a gimmick to lure serious tech heads. So for that reason, most models with apps are also available with standard controls.

The real appeal, of course, is ordering your Latte from the comfort of your couch or bed. Plus, if you really want to test out your machine’s capabilities, doing it with your feet up is pretty sweet. To enjoy that to the fullest, here’s a list of features that I think really elevate the app experience:

  • Select drinks with ease.
  • Switch on the machine (from your bed).
  • Access the user manual.
  • Initiate water hardness tests and maintenance programs easily.
  • Contact customer service.

Since there are seldom upsides without downsides, watch out for these potential headaches:

  • Apps are a great way for manufacturers to collect data, and coffee drinkers are a lucrative target market. Consider yourself warned.
  • You can’t adjust certain key parameters, like grind texture, via apps.
  • Manufacturers like to make you think all of your kitchen appliances must be the same brand and form part of the same app ecosystem. Sure, no one’s stopping you, but what’s the point in having your espresso machine communicate with your stove?
  • You can buy branded detergents, accessories and other products with one tap. I recommend taking a couple of seconds to check out third-party suppliers because you’ll get a much better deal.

For all that apps make you feel like the age of robot butlers is just around the corner, ultimately, there’s no difference with your machine’s performance or quality.

The manufacturers that currently offer apps with higher-end machines are Jura with the JOE app and DeLonghi with the DeLonghi Coffee Link app. In case you were wondering, the functionality is good on both.

Double Features: It Takes Two. Or Does It?

When investigating super-automatic espresso machines, you can quickly find yourself not just dreaming big but double. Along the lines of:

  • What about making two drinks at once?
  • What about a dual-bean compartment?

I get a lot of questions about how flexible and well-housebroken these machines are, and those two come up most often. Anybody who doesn’t just drink coffee all by themselves but enjoys sharing a cup with family or friends can appreciate the value of being able to make two drinks at once.

While this feature is typically available in the mid-range models — like the DeLonghi Dinamica — you’re often limited to coffee drinks without milk. 

Yep, it’s nice to have, but is it a deal breaker? Not in my book. I mean, the fact that each drink comes out perfectly counts for more.

Of course, the bigger the household, the more important this is. No one wants to be third in line, waiting impatiently, as the person at the machine fusses over their Latte Macchiato.

Another place I’ve noticed this “two is better than one” thinking in higher-end machines is with bean hoppers. If one person in the household drinks regular coffee and the other sticks to decaf, it’s easy to see how two hoppers could nip a lot of hassles in the bud.

The two bean compartments in the Jura GIGA 6.

Some of you will point to the powder chute that you can use for the pre-ground stuff. No, and no again. Skip ahead to the next section and read the Coffeeness First Commandment, please.

Despite the obvious appeal of having two compartments, there aren’t a lot of machines on the U.S. market that do. Maybe that’s because there’s a catch.

You’ve got two sets of beans but only one grinder. Since a few grounds always remain in the grinder, the decaf drinker is inevitably getting a teeny bit of caffeine. For someone who’s hypersensitive to caffeine, that’s not ideal.

As a workaround, you should pull at least one espresso after switching beans to clear out the system before making your coffee. The first prize, of course, is two hoppers and two grinders. For that, though, you’re looking at the eye-wateringly expensive Jura GIGA 6.

The last of the double packs are the twin thermoblocks in the Jura Z8 and GIGA 6. Now in theory, these give you better temperature control of the different temperatures required for brewing and frothing. 

But truth be told, a Cappuccino from the single thermoblock Jura Z6 tasted just as good to me as one from the Jura Z8.

The Best Beans for Super-Automatic Espresso Machines

It’s time to spill the beans … on the ones you like most. 

OK, so that was a total cop-out because flavor is very subjective. That doesn’t mean any old beans will do, though. Not by a long shot. 

Indulge me for minute while I get up on my pulpit and preach the Coffeeness Commandments:

  • Thou shalt only brew with high-quality, fresh coffee beans.
  • Thou shalt acquire the beans of small roasters.
  • Thou shalt not be seduced by supermarket coffee, regardless of what these false idols promise.
  • Thou shalt dare to experiment.

As a rule, slightly darker roasts are the best choice for automatic espresso machines. If you want more floral notes, though, pour-over drippers do a better job of teasing out that beautiful bouquet.

Be warned that espresso beans that are a knockout in a portafilter don’t necessarily lend themselves to a fully automatic espresso machine, which tends to under-extract. The results can be unpleasantly acidic.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machine Reviews: How Does Coffeeness Test and Review?

You could say that this is the Coffeeness secret sauce, except it’s no secret. 

Our top priorities are ensuring that our reviews are perfectly transparent and 100 percent user-friendly. That means digging into things that “official” reviews gloss over.

In the spirit of full disclosure, here’s what goes on behind the scenes in our test kitchen.

Cool Beans: Freshly Roasted and Put to the Ultimate Test

Fresh and high quality coffee beans for all our reviews.

When reviewing, I only ever use fresh, quality espresso beans from boutique roasters — I encourage you to the same. 

Since I don’t have a brand of choice and coffee artisans in Europe don’t usually ship to the States, I might mention the beans’ origins but won’t be more specific than that. Feel free to ask, though.

As a benchmark for the quality of the super-automatic espresso, I use the same beans and pull a shot with the La Pavoni manual-lever espresso machine. While a fully automatic espresso is all about maximizing what the machine does, this thing is the polar opposite. You do everything by hand. It’s finicky and complicated.

If a temperamental mechanical device can produce awesome espresso with the beans, then it should be an easy home run for a fully automatic espresso machine.

No Half Measures: Whole Milk

Arne enjoys a spoon of fresh milk foam.

I’ve got a bit of rep as a java purist and usually drink my coffee and espresso without milk. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also enjoy a good Cappuccino, Caffe Latte or flat white. 

Testing out a range of milky drinks is very much part of the review program, and you guys (rightly!) make sure I stay on track and don’t drift off into espresso land.

FYI: I only use whole milk when reviewing because its fat content ensures awesome froth.

Leading Questions: Key Review Criteria

Every review deals with two key concerns: what comes out of the machine and what it takes to produce that. To get a more in-depth understanding, I always ask the same series of questions:

The list of coffee drinks just keeps getting longer. Flat whites and Ristrettos are the coffees of the moment, while Cappuccinos are so 2003. 

That’s why I go to great lengths to ensure that what lands in the cup deserves to be called a Latte Macchiato or specialty of any other name. Despite all kinds of wild claims made, the results are rarely perfect.

Arne wants to try the Espresso from the Jura Z8.

For me, this is the top priority. Without good espresso, you can’t expect to make a good Cappuccino or a good Caffe Latte. The quality of the espresso is make or break for any coffee specialty from a super-automatic espresso machine — unless you just want hot water.

For that reason, no matter what else I’m testing, I always have one eye on the espresso, checking: 

  • Consistency of the crema
  • Temperature
  • Taste

Obviously, the various settings play a big role in this. How and in what increments can you adjust the grind coarseness? Can you regulate temperature? Is it possible to tweak extraction time — whether directly or indirectly?

Arne checks out the freshly made latte macchiato.

With the espresso box checked, next in line is assessing the quality of the milk froth. 

You want a nice consistent microfoam. Also, watch the temperature because overheating milk taints it and makes it taste bad.

For most super-automatic espresso machines, the milk froth is either the biggest downfall or greatest triumph. That makes seeing which side of the milk fence a machine falls on pretty exciting.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that. So aside from checking out the quality of the build and materials, I have to rely on my personal taste.

Plastic never looks quite as good as a full steel casing to me. I’m also not a fan of oversized machines. Aesthetically speaking, I want something that’s a complete package.

Yeah, I know, no one gets excited about cleaning, but hygiene is crucial to ensuring you enjoy using a machine for years to come. That’s why I go into it in a lot of detail in the next section.

When reviewing a machine, I want to know whether the manufacturer makes the job easier or harder for you. A removable brew group is a big part of that for me.

And I don’t stop there. 

It also matters how the cleaning programs work and whether it’s a cinch to run them. So you can see that I take this pretty seriously and hope you do, too.

Usability is pretty essential to super-automatic espresso machines. Anyone should be able to prepare a drink without digging out the user manual.

Effortless operation not only requires a fair bit of effort on the part of the manufacturer but also depends on a lot of factors. Whether the model has buttons or a display is less important than how intuitive the programming is for you. 

For instance, how easy is it to select a drink? How easy is it to refill the water tank or bean hopper? What about emptying the collection container? You get my point.

In addition to the practical considerations, I also take cold, hard, technical facts into account: 

  • What’s the grinder mechanism? How does it work? How finely calibrated are the grind settings?
  • Does the machine filter the water?
  • What brew group does it use, and is it removable?
  • What kind of pump does it have, and how much pressure does it create?
  • How big is the display, and is it a touch screen?
  • How large is the water tank?

Cleaning Your Super-Automatic Espresso Machine

Hygiene should be part and parcel of owning a fully automatic espresso machine from day one. Unfortunately, many users only get around to cleaning when things stop working or the coffee starts tasting bad. By then, it is too late.

Arne cleans the milk system from the Philips 3200 Series LatteGo super-automatic espresso machine.

Fact: coffee residue and milk with steam create a really nice petri dish for mold and other microbes that can change the taste of your drink, to say the least. 

Think about it. You wouldn’t drink a Cappuccino out of a cup that hadn’t been washed for a week — at least I hope not.

I know a lot of you are eyeing the automatic cleaning programs and thinking that’s the easy solution. While you should definitely run those regularly, they don’t let you entirely off the hook.

The first line of defense against mold and other nasties is cleaning your fully automatic espresso machine at the end of every single day that it’s in use. 

Here’s a rundown of my daily routine:

  • Rinse out and dry the dregs drawer, drip tray and water tank.
  • Clean the milk system.
  • Remove the brew unit and rinse it under running water. Leave it to dry overnight.

Honestly, it’s very simple and only takes a few minutes but can add years to your machine’s life.

On top of that, anyone who uses their machine every day should give it a thorough clean at least once a week. Just to be clear: that means running a cycle with detergent as well as the daily wiping, flushing and rinsing.

Arne cleans the inside of a super-automatic espresso machine.

Manufacturers recommend wildly different cleaning intervals. But with the daily routine, plus a weekly deep clean, you’re covered.

OK enough with the sermon. In the next sections, I’ll explain the clean-etiquette for each of your machine’s parts.

Cleaning the Brew Groups

This is a bit of a hot potato because you may have noticed that I feel very strongly that you need to be able to remove the brew group to get it clean properly. Jura believes the complete opposite, which is why its brew groups are firmly bolted in place.

Jura’s argument is that its automatic cleaning programs are so effective that there’s no need for coffee drinkers to worry their pretty little heads over anything.

In my experience, even highly precise programs — which will cost you — can’t entirely prevent coffee granules from collecting in the brew group’s mechanisms and other crevices. The truth is that an automatic cleaning cycle is never as thorough as washing by hand with running water.

So don’t even consider a machine with a fixed brew group unless the overall engineering and build quality are impeccable. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it. 

My only minor concession to the fixed brew group crowd is that at least users can’t break the thing by pulling it out and reinserting it. Not that this is especially tricky, but you just need to keep this point in mind, and you — and your machine — will be fine.

To avoid jams, only ever remove or replace the brew group when it’s in the neutral position and the machine is off.

Rinsing a removable super-automatic espresso machine under running water.

I remove my machine’s brew unit every day and rinse it thoroughly under hot, running water. That way, I don’t have to resort to detergent and avoid scratching it.

Even with a removable brew group, though, it’s unfortunately not all sunshine and rainbows. Cheaper models — like the DeLonghi Dinamica and Magnifica with plasticky units — can also feel pretty flimsy. So take extra care removing, cleaning and replacing them to avoid breaking anything.

Don’t get me wrong, though, that’s no excuse to skimp on cleaning. In fact, you should go ahead and redouble your efforts because these parts generate a lot of static electricity and can be very susceptible to glitches.

Cleaning the Bean Hoppers

Bean hoppers are super-automatic espresso machines’ neglected children — seldomly getting the wash and polish deserved. 

The problem is that depending on your beans’ roast and origin, they can be quite oily. Those oils then collect in the hopper and eventually go rancid.

That’s why I make a point of recommending you don’t completely fill the hopper, unless you know those beans will disappear fast. There are also other advantages to doing things this way:

  • Cleaning the container regularly comes naturally.
  • The beans won’t be subject to as much heat.
  • Switching between different roasts is easier.

Once empty, cleaning the hopper is a breeze. Just wipe it out with a dry cloth. And since coffee absorbs scents and flavors, using any kind of chemical detergents is only asking for trouble, so don’t do it.

I’ve often watched in horror as people — even those in the restaurant industry — spray tons of glass cleaner (or worse!) into the containers. For me or any other coffee aficionado, that’s a disaster in the cup waiting to happen.

Cleaning the Dregs Drawer and Drip Tray

This really isn’t that big of an issue because most fully automatic espresso machines alert you when the dregs drawer and/or drip tray are full. Depending on the machine model, the job shouldn’t take long at all.

Again, I clean these parts daily, even if the machine doesn’t ask me. Now here, using detergents isn’t a problem. So if you prefer that, go for it.

Emptying used grounds from a super-automatic espresso machine.

Cleaning the Water Tanks

While you don’t have to worry about coffee residue in the water tank, there’s plenty of other nasty stuff — like algae — that loves water. Once it’s all gross, you’ll have no option but to buy a new one.

So no free pass on cleaning it. Before refilling the tank, I recommend always rinsing it out with hot water and letting it dry. Then, fill it with fresh, cold tap water and let it drip dry.

More and more models come with a tank that can go in the dishwasher. Hooray for that! But even so, it’s good to give it a rinse by hand after it comes out of the machine to get rid of any residual detergent. 

On this front, Miele — which is very serious about making its products dishwasher-safe — leads the way.

Arne cleans a water tank from a super-automatic espresso machine.

Cleaning the Grinders

Taking a grinder apart is usually easier than you think. That’s especially the case since many models have a click-and-twist mechanism that allows you separate them into the main components for cleaning.

Sure, cleaning tablets are a quick fix, but these don’t replace manual cleaning. 

The good news is that this isn’t a daily chore. Once or twice a month is enough for intensive use by an average household.

Be warned, though, that if you’ve got a tinkerer’s itch to see each individual part laid out, you risk voiding your warranty. Disclaimer out of the way, it can be a very rewarding process — if you know what you’re doing.

Which Detergents Should I Use for an Automatic Espresso Machine?

Don’t make your life harder than it needs to be. 

Use the products recommended by the manufacturer or the cheap alternative based on the same formula. On this point, the manufacturer really does know best.

As a rule, steer clear of home remedies, too, unless you know exactly what you’re cooking up. While something like lemon juice can work wonders on water kettles, it’s much too aggressive for some automatic espresso machines.

My blog post on detergents and descaling agents goes into detail on the topic.

Descaling: Hard Facts About Hard Water

If you live in a city — and even if you don’t — listen up. 

The water that comes out of your faucet can damage your espresso machine over time.

No, it’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s what’s known as hard water, meaning it has high mineral content. 

So when you heat the water, the calcium and magnesium precipitate out to form deposits that not only block pipes but also limit a boiler’s effectiveness and can eventually lead to its failure. Not to mention, excess minerals also make your coffee taste funny.

Descaling is what gets rid of those deposits. Ergo, it’s pretty important. Doing it too often won’t hurt, but if you neglect the job, you could end up with a broken machine. So err on the side of shorter descaling intervals and save yourself the trouble.

Using the test strips that come with most machines or calling your utility company will help you figure out how hard your water is so you can calibrate your machine. For additional guidance, I’ve put this table together.

LevelU.S. Geological Survey classificationGrains per gallon (calcium carbonate)Milligrams per liter, parts per million (calcium carbonate)How often should I descale?
1Soft< 1.0< 17.1Rarely
2Soft1 to 3.517.1 to 60Occasionally
3Moderately hard3.5 to 760 to 120Occasionally
4Hard7 to 10.5120 to 180Frequently
5Very hard10.5 and above180 and aboveOften

Since this is a very common problem, many fully automatic espresso machines come with a filter already installed or at least have the option to insert one. 

Basically, these filters work just like the classic Brita system without being fully integrated into the machine. The filter reduces the water hardness to level 1.

So is a filter your get-out-of-jail-free card for descaling? Not by a long shot. Water filter or not, descaling is essential. Keep this in mind:

  • A water filter won’t eliminate the need to descale but will extend the intervals between running the program.
  • If you already have soft water, a filter is unnecessary.
  • No matter what the manufacturer says, you should still descale it at least four times a year.

For a deep dive into the topic, read my article on filters.

The water tank from the Miele CM 6350 super-automatic espresso machine.

Descaling Done Right: How and When to Do It

One of the first things you do after unboxing a new machine — even on the more affordable ones — is to set your water hardness. This requires a bit of precise programming, so the machine knows you’re using a filter and can decide how often to remind you to descale.

Can’t find your machine’s descaling program? After all, there are a few (cheap) fully automatic machines that don’t have one. In that case, you need to figure out how often to do the job and find a way to remind yourself. I recommend descaling at least once a month.

Also bear in mind that you need to replace filter cartridges on a regular basis, which can quickly become far more expensive than routine descaling.

I’m going to say it again because it’s just that important: even with a filter, you still need to descale.

My advice on choosing descaling products is much the same as for cleaning detergents: stick to the manufacturer’s recommendation — above all on the type of product — but feel free to go with a cheaper brand if it’s otherwise identical.

Greasing and Lubricating a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine

You want your fully automatic espresso machine to be a well-oiled machine in every sense of the word, and that means including lubrication as part of your maintenance. That grease keeps your espresso machine’s rails and hinges moving smoothly so that the tamping and brewing mechanisms function flawlessly.

If you clean your brew unit daily, you should grease it once a month. And, of course, check out the user manual for exactly what to do.

You need a lubricant that is food safe, so put away that bike oil. Personally, I like OKS Multi Silicone Grease.

That’s a Wrap. Ready for Some Joe?

Arne enjoys the Latte Macchiato from a Miele Machine

If you’ve read straight through from the beginning, then congrats on a job well done! 

I hope you’re feeling totally super-automatic savvy and have bookmarked this article, so you can jump back into any section if you need a refresher.

Remember, coffee is a social beverage. So that should be true not only of sharing a cup of joe with others but also exploring the world of java. 

With that, we’d love to have you in our coffee-sipping, knowledge-sharing Coffeeness community, so please hit me with all of your questions and comments. What are your super-automatic espresso machine experiences? Just because this article is long doesn’t mean it’s the final word on super-automatic espresso machines. I also learn a lot from you. Thanks for reading!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Table of Contents