It doesn't look good, doesn't run through properly – and doesn't taste very nice either. Even the best super-automatic machines only produce decent espresso if you get to know them and properly set them up.
It doesn’t look good, doesn’t run through properly – and doesn’t taste very nice either. Even the best super-automatic machines only produce decent espresso if you get to know them and properly set them up.
Since you’ve continually bombarded me with specifics on this question, I’m finally summarizing all my tips for making perfect super-automatic coffee and espresso in this guide.
For those of you wanting to watch, not read, there’s also a video:
Unfortunately, this video is only available in German.
As you can see, I’d theoretically have to write a separate text for each of the devices tested in my super-automatic machine review. That’s because every manufacturer approaches things slightly differently – in terms of the machine’s menu, dial or touch-button controls and whether or not it has double cup functionality.
The basic parameters always remain the same, however, and that’s what this guide is all about.
Table of Contents
What Super-Automatic Settings Require Adjustment?
It doesn’t matter whether you get a cheap DeLonghi Magnifica ECAM 22.110.B or an ultra-high-priced Jura Z8: every super-automatic espresso machine must be individually calibrated – and each one comes with the necessary setting options to do so.
There are certainly differences in the detail though. Not every manufacturer offers you as much freedom as the DeLonghi super-automatic machine models, with their 13 different grind settings, for example, however.
But even three grind settings are there for you to understand, adjust and calibrate correctly in relation to the other parameters.
When unpacking and filling your machine for the first time, take note of the following factors in either my super-automatic machine reviews or the respective operating instructions:
- Grind size – as fine as possible
- Brewing temperature – around 200 degrees Fahrenheit
- Quantity of coffee – more is usually better
- Reference amount – for a simple espresso preferably 25 ml (5 teaspoons)
- Coffee beans – no industrial crap
If you really wanted to do everything wrong when brewing with a super-automatic machine, you’d thus have to keep the grind coarse, the coffee quantity small and the reference amount high. Strangely enough, this is the factory setting on many machines.
Crap In, Crap Out: Which Coffee Should I Use?
Spending hard-earned money on a super-automatic espresso machine and then filling it with cheap industrially roasted espresso beans? Anyone who economizes this way is saving money in completely the wrong places!
Quite apart from the fact that industrial beans from Melitta to Tchibo represent a supply chain of horrors, they won’t do any good in your machine either. At least not if you want more than just a “hot caffeinated drink”.
Super-automatic machines, as trade-off devices, strip a lot of the actual flavor profile of your coffee or espresso beans away. The more unsuitable the settings, the more flavor is affected. That’s why it’s necessary to use extremely aromatic beans.
But aromatic diversity can’t be found on the supermarket shelf, where the coffee has been slowly going stale for weeks or even months. You need beans that are as freshly roasted as possible, ideally processed a month before consumption. That’s how much time espresso beans need to degas and develop their full flavor profile.
For my video, I again ordered beans from Quijote, one of the best coffee roasteries in Germany. What the team there accomplish is highly recommendable from beginning to end.
You can use any trustworthy and transparent roastery though really, the main thing is that you heed all the factors I’ve detailed in the coffee bean reviews.
Don’t let labels proclaiming things like “coffee beans for super-automatic machines” confuse you. Roast profiles, in this sense, don’t exist. Light beans, and not only dark espresso roasts, can theoretically work well in super-automatic machines as well.
However, experience shows that stronger flavor notes such as cocoa, chocolate, caramel, etc., are brought to the fore better. Super-automatic machines are simply too crude for the flowery nature of many third wave coffees.
Do go ahead and get yourself a (!) package of industrial beans though, because you won’t want to waste quality beans setting up the machine. I did that in the video too, but don’t usually.
Adjusting the Grinder: Which Grind Setting Should I Use?
The grind size determines how tightly the ground coffee can be compacted into a puck in the brew group. In this way, you determine how much resistance the puck creates against the water as its pumped through. That in turn also then determines how much pressure the espresso is extracted with.
With portafilter machines, the optimal 9 bars (approx. 130 psi) is usually achievable without any problems – you are (hopefully) using a decent stand-alone coffee grinder, after all. With super-automatic machines, though, you’ll just have to live with whatever your model’s capable of.
As mentioned previously, DeLonghi is one of the market leaders when it comes to grind settings. Should you want to adjust the grinder, you have 13 different levels to choose from – even in the case of the inexpensive DeLonghi Magnifica.
Your first move on any super-automatic machine should always be towards the grinder, regardless of whether your model is from Saeco or someone else. In most cases, grind settings are controlled by a dial which you’ll find in the bean container. The markings are usually self-explanatory, using symbols to represent fine and coarse.
You can ignore coarse completely, always orientate yourself towards fine. However, inexpensive super-automatics, especially, are sometimes not able to cope with grinding at their finest settings. The grinding mechanism just becomes clogged.
You’ll be able to tell by the strange noises or the fact that a suspiciously tarry brew emerges from the outlet with some difficulty. Sometimes the machine only manages to deliver a few watery drops because the coffee, which is too finely ground, hasn’t properly been able to reach the brew group.
Either way, you’ll now need to adjust the machine’s grind settings (the minimum number of notches possible) back towards coarse. The following applies to all super-automatic machines:
- Only ever adjust the grinder while it’s running! Doing otherwise risks making your machine kaputt.
- It takes some time for the new setting to take effect. You’ll usually need to wait two or three shots before seeing a difference.
By the way, Melitta like to tell tall tales by advising you not to touch the grinder on their super-automatic machines for about 100 shots. What a load of baloney.
The first time you use your machine, fill it with water and coffee beans, turn it on and start brewing espresso after espresso – during which time you can first adjust the grind settings.
How Do I Adjust the Reference Amount and Coffee Quantity?
When referring to ‘coffee quantity’, I usually simultaneously mean the reference amount (i.e. the serving of coffee that ends up in the cup) and the amount of ground coffee needed for one shot of espresso. These two factors are closely related.
A perfect, single shot, espresso has a volume of 25 ml (5 teaspoons) and uses between 7 and 9 grams (approx. 1 heaped tablespoon) of ground coffee. Super-automatic machines are generally a bit iffy when it comes to minimum serving size, sometimes delivering 30 ml of espresso, other times 40 ml (between 6 to 8 teaspoons).
The Melitta Purista, for example, is exemplary in this respect, however, making adjustment very easy: the serving size can be continuously adjusted simply by turning the “coffee quantity” dial.
Since the average person can’t envisage measurements that small and super-automatic machines can’t weigh inputs, a bean scale representing the amount of ground coffee is usually used – one bean denotes a small quantity of grinds (“mild”), three beans is therefore “strong”.
Even though a happy medium often turns out to be the best setting to use with various roasts and for everyday life, you should still set the super-automatic machine to the highest/largest amount at the very beginning.
In combination with the selected serving size, the espresso may then turn out a little strong. But just as we felt our way from fine to coarse in terms of grind setting, in this case, overkill is the ideal starting point for adjusting a machine’s coffee strength.
Does the Brewing Temperature Require Adjustment?
There’s a good reason why manufacturers either don’t allow the brewing temperature to be adjusted or bury this option deep within the operating manual: you don’t actually have to adjust it.
The ideal brewing temperature for espresso is around 200 degrees. Whether or not the machine is able to achieve this with pinpoint accuracy is of little relevance to the final extraction quality, however.
With a portafilter machine, you’d immediately taste the effect of this being slightly wrong, but not in the case of a super-automatic.
However, many of you often (rightly) complain about the coffee being too cold – even if the problem doesn’t necessarily lie with the machine, but with using cold cups instead.
The brewing temperature is also usually displayed using an amateur-friendly scale (low, medium, high, or the like). If you want to correctly set up your Jura coffee maker, for example, you can do this using three different temperature levels. In general, three levels are standard for super-automatic espresso machines.
There is, however, no standard procedure for actually adjusting the brewing temperature. You’ll often have to spend a lot of time reading through the operating manual. Usually this menu option is hidden in the settings for hot water or tea – which makes sense.
I’m also a little unsure whether this factor might only have an indirect effect on the coffee, since hot water for tea is a bit different. In other words, it’s not explicitly to do with the brewing temperature for coffee! But if you’ve cranked the boiler up a bit anyway, it will certainly have an effect on your espresso too.
Has My Super-Automatic Been Set Up Correctly? Learn How to Tell!
If you want to find out whether you’ve done everything right, all you have to do is trust your five senses. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a perfect espresso from a super-automatic machine anyway – your personal sense of taste plays the main role here. However, portafilters, for example, are far less forgiving of objectively setting the parameters incorrectly.
You can see whether everything really is right with your machine, and not only first when the warning light comes on. Take a close look at your espresso as it’s being prepared:
Relatively Slow, Uniform Stream
Too fast usually indicates too coarse a grind (and only in the second instance, too few coffee grinds). However, too slow usually means too much coffee grinds. The grind in super-automatic machines is rarely too fine.
Dense, Stable Crema
Even if I am not ‘crema mania’ fan – especially not in the case of super-automatic machines, which cheat – a nicely flecked, not toooo overly thick crema with a uniform closed surface is a very good indication of your settings being spot on.
Let the espresso stand for a moment and see how quickly the crema dissipates. The longer it lasts, the better. If it seems wrong, you should (if possible) reduce the serving size and increase the quantity of coffee used. Or, alternatively, you may need to descale your super-automatic machine!
Dense in Color
One thing’s clear: espresso should look dense and black in the cup. If you’re able to see through it, you should definitely check the grind settings, reference amount and coffee quantity.
Uniform Background Noise
Your ears are another good indicator of whether you have done everything correctly, especially when it comes to adjusting the grind settings. Even though the grinder may make some noise, this noise should be uniform. In addition, nothing should jerk or sound rickety during preparation and dispensing. The Siemens EQ.9, with its whisper-quiet ceramic grinder, is exemplary in this respect.
If there is an acoustic problem, I recommend starting over and checking all the settings again – the grinder should be your first port of call, as always.
Decent Tasting Coffee!
It goes without saying: if the espresso tastes great, you’ve done everything right (for you). Whether or not these are the ideal settings isn’t important.
The ideal throughput time for a single shot is normally 25 seconds. But since a super-automatic machine has to grind and then also make the coffee, you should use this as a reference value only. Sensory impressions are a much safer bet!
Still have questions or have I forgotten something? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise have fun and happy brewing!