Seriously, another listicle?
Seriously, another listicle?
OK, so it’s been a while since 10-item lists were the big Internet fad of the moment. But that doesn’t change the fact that there really are ten tips or pointers when shopping for super-automatic espresso machines that will help you scan brochures, offers and bargains.
When choosing a machine, it doesn’t matter whether it’s cheap and cheerful or premium, the top pick in my 2021 super-automatic espresso machine review or a consumer watchdog’s recommendation: If it doesn’t work for you, you’ve thrown a lot of money away and still aren’t getting the coffee you want.
Instead, ask yourself what you want out of your machine. How does coffee fit into your home life? Or are you perhaps looking for an super-automatic espresso machine for the office? What aspects would you look at when comparing two similar models? To help you do just that, I’ve created an interactive search function for my super-automatic espresso machine reviews (currently available in German only).
I’ve not only given old guides a thorough makeover but also added very recent examples and top performers.
Table of Contents
1. Milk Jug or Coffee-Pot Function? Use it or Lose it!
It’s part of our nature as consumers to fixate on certain emotionally charged figures and slick functions when buying any kind of gadget. With smartphones, it’s how many megapixels the camera has. For computers it’s the memory. And with super-automatic espresso machines, it’s the pre-programmed coffees and personalized user profiles.
But here’s the rub: What’s the point in coughing up for a full ten preset coffees, like you get with the flashy Miele CM 5500, for example, when you only ever drink cappuccinos?
Do you honestly want to pay for the fact that you can have a full ten preset coffee drinks on demand with the swanky Miele CM 5500, even though you only drink cappuccino every day?
Does a two-person household really need the Siemens EQ 6 plus s700’s four user profiles or the three profiles plus guest account available with the DeLonghi PrimaDonna at a price tag of just under 1,000 euros?
Crunching the numbers should satisfy you that your choice of super-automatic espresso machine is really worth every cent. Remember, bigger outlays equal more functions to justify the higher price.
And while this is probably true for any individual machine, functions which end up gathering dust are wasted money.
Keen on a machine that also makes hot chocolate and has two bean hoppers, allowing for a second variety of coffee on any given day? That’s all very well, but in the end, it’s not such a different animal.
The bottom line is that a totally stripped-down super-automatic machine basically does the same job as the specced-out, high-end hunk of engineering. Just without all the bells and whistles.
There is, after all, a reason why the best super-automatic espresso machine for under $1,000 – the DeLonghi Magnifica ECAM 22.110.B – is *theoretically* on a par with the Jura Z8, which is currently the most expensive fully automatic machine I’ve reviewed.
In the end, what comes out of the spout is still the same high-quality brew. Coffee is still coffee. What costs you more money is convenience and prestige. If that’s your thing, go for it. As long as you really use it.
2. The Measure of Things: Kitchen Space is Make or Break for your Purchase Decision
Think you’ll snap up that super-automatic espresso machine on sale and then find a spot for it? Bad idea.
Every machine is built a little differently. While the bean container is always on top, it can sometimes be shifted far forward, to the side or back. And the water tank can pull out to the side, top or front.
Make sure that once in place, you’ll be able to easily reach your new machine’s controls. Ask yourself these questions about the chosen site for your coffee station:
- Can I reach the water tank?
- Can I get to the bean hopper?
- In which direction do I pull out the dreg drawer?
- Where is the service flap for the brew group?
- Do I have enough space to operate the milk frothing jug/cappuccinatore/steam wand?
- How easy is it to remove and re-insert the drip tray?
- How far away is the sink?
- How far away is the nearest power socket?
If in doubt, it’s better to go for a more compact model. This needn’t mean sacrificing all the fun of a shiny new toy. Just look at the Saeco PicoBaristo, for one.
3. Comparison Shmarison: All Grinders are (Basically) Equal
OK I’m exaggerating slightly. All I’m saying is, don’t get sucked into the madness that is the eternal debate over blade versus burr grinders, and stainless steel versus ceramic.
Any grinder is alright, as long as it produces very finely and evenly ground coffee beans and does it quickly and relatively quietly.
Bear in mind that ceramic flat burr grinders rarely feature on machines at the lower price points. The supposedly quiet ceramic grinder on the Philips EP2220/10, for instance, will definitely wake the neighbors in the morning. Despite its stainless steel conical burr grinder, the Melitta Purista is whisper quiet.
Be sure to read retailers’ product descriptions to check the exact number of grind levels. The more, the better!
4. Seeing is Believing: Why a Removable Brew Group Means Fewer Headaches
While I’m now willing to take Jura and Krups at their word that their super-automatic coffee machines with fixed brew groups are relatively hygienic, the fact is that all the other manufacturers offer removable ones. Why is that? My thinking is that they know something about the typical user’s habits.
With a removable brew group, you stand a better chance of getting a long life out of your appliance because you’re morely likely to keep it cleaner. Once you’ve figured out how to take out and replace the brew unit, giving it a daily rinse under running water takes mere seconds.
Can you really be sure that the automatic self-cleaning program has flushed all the coffee grains from every nook and cranny? My sentiments exactly.
On a practical level, it’s just not possible for the Krups or Jura one-touch process to match up to a thorough cleaning by hand. I know, I know – your idea of “thorough” and mine aren’t necessarily the same.
5. No Milk Frother? No Biggie
In the past, I’d have laughed at a super-automatic espresso machine without a milk frother. But Melitta’s excellent Caffeo Solo and Purista have changed all that.
Plus, Melitta has opened our eyes to the cost of a milk frothing system. That’s because in Europe the Melitta Avanza is a Purista but with a milk frother. The price difference? About $200. Why throw that down the drain if you never take milk in your joe?
If latte macchiato and cappuccino aren’t part of your coffee vocaulary, you can save a chunk of change on a compact, pared-down super-automatic espresso machine with a slim, sleek design. And any sudden frothy milk cravings can easily be satisfied with an automatic milk frother.
6. Less Marketing Guff Equals More of Bean-to-Cup Right Stuff
When it comes to dumb ideas for making a whole song and dance out of selling machines, Nivona and Siemens come to mind. Even though both brands are better known for low-key, “grown-up” advertising.
Even after asking at two successive Berlin Consumer Electronics (IFA) shows, Nivona still can’t help me make sense of its “barista in a box” concept.
Same story with Siemens. Two years ago, the company advertised its supposedly innovative iAroma system for the Siemens EQ 9, which proved equally inexplicable. One year later with the Siemens EQ.500, they cut the puffery and let the no-frills, user-friendly super-automatic speak for itself.
The lesson here? As soon as manufacturers get onto their soapboxes, you can be sure a feature that was previously taken at face value is getting spiced up. Never fall for this kind of marketing jiggery-pokery. It’s sole aim is to sell machines.
Also keep an eye out for fishy top performers or peculiar expressions in ads for Black Friday and other sale events. The bigger the advertising hullabaloo over a particular machine, the more likely it’s so-called unique selling point, isn’t one.
7. What you Put in is What you Get out: True of Beans and Everything Else
I’ll keep it short and to the point but I can’t say it often enough: You can buy yourself a seriously ritzy coffee machine, but if it’s loaded with bargain bin coffee beans, it’ll make subpar espresso, latte macchiato or coffee. Period.
Even the whizziest super-automatic machine with grinder and everything that opens and shuts is just a tool to save you the trouble of cranking a hand mill and operating a portafilter machine.
And it doesn’t really matter whether you go for a slightly lighter roast, the much-touted beans specifically for super-automatic machines or espresso beans. Built on compromises, these machines can handle all of them.
Only light roasts, which are recommended exclusively for pour-over coffee are wasted in your machine. When doubt, grab an omni roast, the bean equivalent of a jack of all trades.
8. Non-Coffee Conundrums: The Devil's in the Details
When shopping for a super-automatic espresso machine, ask yourself which additional functions and features are important to you. An active cup warmer? A catering-style, water-mains connection? Or maybe an extra hot water spout?
And the control panel is a biggie. Some touchscreens have a teeny font or are confusing. It’s easy to get lost in labyrinthine submenus.
Just as often, many of you feel letdown when you discover that your super-automatic machine can’t make two cups at once – or if it can, the only options are espresso or Americano. Word to the wise: Read all the specs for each machine you’re interested in.
Your best bet is always to go to the manufacturer’s website. I’ve “standardized” the spec sheets in my super-automatic espresso machine reviews so that you can compare the models. Amazon and other big online retailers only feature the promotional highlights. On the manufacturer sites, you’ll find all the relevant information.
9. Upgrading is not Leveling Up: Why Newer is not Better in Super-Automatic Espresso Machines
When a new game console with an even better graphics card and more memory drops, gamers are quick to ditch the old dinosaur.
With super-automatic coffee machines, there’s never a very good reason to upgrade to or even bother eyeballing a newer version just because it looks more cutting edge.
If your brewing preferences together with your taste for super-automatic coffee hasn’t changed and the “old” machine is still working nicely, you’re not missing anything by ignoring the shiny new versions and marketing hook.
Pretty often, what’s supposedly a new feature is borderline false advertising. The EP 5335/10 and EP 5365/10 from Philips, for instance, are little more than tarted up versions of well-established Saeco machines.
That means there aren’t any overstock or end-of-range super-automatic machines as such.
So if you spot a bargain super-automatic model that’s been around forever advertised in a brochure or online store, don’t reject it out of hand because of the model year. Ask yourself whether the machine meets your needs.
On the flip side, bear in mind that discounts are limited for the same reasons. Yes, the prices of top-of-the-line machines fall over the course of the product’s life, but don’t expect them to be slashed the way they are with not-so-hot TVs or computers that are lemons. Extreme price cuts should set off scam alarm bells.
10. Are you Sure it's a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine you Want?
Before you rush off to Amazon or nearest bricks-and-mortar store, carefully consider whether a super-automatic espresso machine is really the thing for you. Maybe they’ve just caught your eye because they sound so convenient and are in kitchens everywhere.
Time and again, I hear of people buying a machine, using it for a few weeks, brewing three cappuccinos and then deciding that they prefer drip coffee.
Others don’t yet trust themselves with a portafilter but are disappointed when the espresso and latte macchiato from a super-automatic machine can’t match barista standards.
A super-automatic machine is an engineering trade-off. And the purchase itself is often also about playing give-and-take with yourself. Weigh up how much status, convenience and “keeping up with the Joneses” matter to you.
If you know you prefer a certain preparation method, make sure you have the equipment to match. In many instances, these things aren’t as complicated as they used to be.
The thought of fiddling around with pour-over coffee makes you want to tear your hair out? Go for one of the excellent drip coffee machines that carefully filter your brew at the touch of a button. Dreaming of real espresso at home? You can now get portaflter machines that are easy to operate – even for beginners. Hybrid machines – portafilter-super-automatic mash-ups – are also constantly improving.
A super-automatic espresso machine is only a good buy if it checks lots of your coffee-making boxes and convenience trumps precision for you.
Any thoughts or questions? Please keep the comments coming.