A super-automatic espresso machine without a milk system is like a peanut butter sandwich without jelly -- it’s unsettling and practically unheard of, especially in the U.S.
A super-automatic espresso machine without a milk system is like a peanut butter sandwich without jelly — it’s unsettling and practically unheard of, especially in the U.S.
In Europe, though, it’s another story. A couple of manufacturers have caught on that more and more people want a fully automatic machine dedicated exclusively to conjuring black magic from high-quality coffee beans. So far, not much of that thinking has crossed the Atlantic.
The notable exception is the Jura A1 coffee machine. For those who wouldn’t dream of adding milk to coffee and shudder at the thought of a Latte or Americano, a machine that cuts the white stuff out of the equation can have distinct advantages. Not only are you saving about $150–$200 — which puts you in the $800 price range — but also a few inches of space. In kitchens where free counter space is as scarce as a subway seat on your morning commute, compact is crucial.
While establishing a foothold in this super-automatic niche may be logical for the Swiss brand, it came as a bit of surprise to me.
So, have I been missing out? Maybe. Admittedly, the uber-stylish Jura A1 in Piano Black or Piano White is further evidence that I’m slowly becoming a true Jura convert — despite our irreconcilable differences over the nonremovable brew group.
Why? Because the Swiss currently brew the best super-automatic coffee and espresso around. That’s also true of the A1.
Like it’s siblings — the Z6 and ENA 8 — “cheap” is not a word that comes to mind when you think of the $800 Jura A1 espresso machine. After all, it’s only really affordable compared to the rest of the Jura catalog. That said, there are other decent super-automatics (with milk systems) that go easier on your wallet. Take, for instance, the good but basic $550 Philips 2200 series.
Sleek minimalism for Jura fans
Sleek design and geek-out coffee!
Slickly designed, high-quality machine
Very easy to operate
Fixed brew group
The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful — How the Jura A1 Stacks Up
So, how can you tell a super-automatic espresso machine is a Jura just from scanning the specs? Well, Jura coffee machines are never just boring old black or white — they’re linguistically varnished up as Piano Black and Piano White. Doesn’t that just sound more expensive?
Even I have to admit that the high-gloss finish makes the appliance world’s most basic shades look pretty swank. Above all, when it’s all dressed up in white, the A1 makes quite a statement in the kitchen. That signature, pared-down Jura design language results in nothing short of a magnificent monolith.
From the side, you can see that the casing is tilted forward. I don’t know whether there’s a practical reason for this, but it sure is eye-catching.
|Type||Super-automatic espresso machine|
|Removable brew group||No|
|Milk frothing system||No|
|Water tank||36.8 oz / 1.1 l|
|Minimum spout height||2.3 in / 5.8 cm|
|Maximum spout height||5.6 in / 14.1 cm|
|Grinder||Stainless-steel conical burr grinder|
|Bean hopper||4.4 oz / 125 g|
|Two bean hoppers/compartments||No|
|Coffee drinks at the touch of a button||3|
|Adjustable coffee temperature||Yes (2 settings)|
|Hot water function||No|
|Water filter cartridge||Yes|
|Weight||20.3 lbs / 9.2 kg|
|Dimensions (length x width x height)||17.5 x 9.4 x 12.7 in / 32.3 x 23.9 x 44.5 cm|
With 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. If you ask me, this model is one of the slickest machines I’ve reviewed in the full sweep of my 2021 super-automatic espresso machine guide. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Under the sleek black (or white) hood, there’s a limited range of easy-to-grasp functions:
- Stainless steel, stepless grinder
- Three drinks: coffee, espresso, Ristretto
- Operation via buttons on a touch panel
- Two coffee strength settings
No bells and whistles here, folks. Since you won’t be layering a Latte Macchiato or saving settings to user profiles, you really don’t need anything more. After all, it’s precisely this stripping back down to the essentials — nothing more and nothing less than delicious black coffee — that makes this appliance category so appealing.
The unavoidable question in this Jura A1 review is: how does the machine stack up against the competition? For the sake of comparing like with like, that means the Tchibo fully automatic espresso machine.
What, after all that, no comparison table? Nope, that’s because, believe it or not, both coffee machines are very similar. So, what about the fact that the Jura A1 espresso machine has three pre-programmed drinks instead of just two?
Except it doesn’t — at least not to my mind. The Jura’s Ristretto is something of a nonentity. It’s just a slightly more concentrated espresso made with slightly less water. Maybe it’s just me, but I normally think of a Ristretto as a drink so special that you can’t get it right without an espresso machine. That’s why I don’t think it counts in the A1’s favor. The big difference then being price.
For all it’s spartan aesthetics and simple functions, you shouldn’t confuse Jura’s minimalism with a back-to-basics philosophy.
Yes, black is basic, but the Jura A1 Piano Black speaks of refinement the same way that the uninterrupted face and flashing lights on the top do. Minimalism is all about subtleties that scream “Booyah, bragging rights!” Not that Jura is all flash and no substance. The Swiss manufacturer not only has a well-deserved reputation for pumping up the volume on flavor but has also developed the Pulse Extraction Process (P.E.P.) technology to this end.
This involves forcing water through the grounds in several short (audible) bursts. Paired with the stepless grinder that allows you to adjust the grind infinitely within a finite range, this system produces a truly delectable brew. Like I said, no other super-automatic can match Jura espresso.
No matter if it’s a Jura coffee machine or bust, and you can’t or don’t want to stretch to one of the lines further down the alphabet, the A1 could be just the ticket.
Practically Plug-and-Pour — Setting Up the Jura A1
One of the main reasons people fall in love with super-automatic espresso machines without milk systems is that they’re incredibly easy to use. Even the priciest offering in this category hardly needs a user manual at all.
Unless you’ve time-traveled from 1923 and have never seen a bean hopper up close before, the only time you may need to haul out the manual is when inserting the water filter cartridge. In other words, there are no new functions to wrap your head around.
Next to the bean hopper is the grinder dial. Going by the dial’s markings, I set the grinder to the second-finest level. Remember to only ever adjust the grinder while it’s running.
Although the grinder is capable of processing coffee beans at the finest setting, I didn’t like the flavor. That’s why I’ve gone with the slightly coarser texture.
There are two coffee strength options on the Jura A1 coffee machine: one bean or three beans. Don’t ask me what happened to two beans — your guess is as good as mine.
According to Jura, the weaker version uses 7 grams (about a quarter of an ounce) of coffee grounds for one puck, while the stronger option uses 10 grams (about a third of an ounce). What’s more, you can play with those doses in relation to the water volume, which ranges from 0.5 to just under 3 fluid ounces for the Ristretto, for example.
Despite pooh-poohing the Ristretto as a genuine third beverage option, it still has its uses. For instance, if you make the Ristretto as an espresso with about an ounce of water. By the same token, you can calibrate the espresso as a Doppio or set the regular coffee to around 4 ounces. As a result, you pretty much have the full range of black specialty coffees at your fingertips.
To give credit where it’s due, the setting options and transparent dosage information mean that the Jura A1 espresso machine does a great job of catering to the type of coffee connoisseur who uses a scale rather than an espresso cup for calibration.
That prompted me to break with my usual review procedure and grab a scale. On the default setting, choosing Ristretto delivers just under an ounce of coffee into the cup. Weighing in at 1.2 ounces, the espresso is more of a Doppio. The pre-programmed regular coffee brews up almost 3 ounces, which is unfortunately a bit too concentrated for my beans.
Converting from ounces to fluid ounces can be tricky because coffee has a different density to water, and you also need to add the crema. Plus, the extraction, brewing method and other factors also play a role. As a rule of thumb: the purely numerical value in ounces is about 10 percent smaller than the volume.
Espresso and Coffee — Finally, a Super-Automatic That Produces Hot Stuff
When I start up the grinder, my meter reads 69.8 decibels. That seems to be the standard volume for Jura super-automatic espresso machines. The family resemblance doesn’t end there, as even the pump noise has a typical Jura note, which always sounds like it has the flu. At least none of this is too annoying.
Speaking of super-automatic espresso machine pet peeves, the Jura A1 coffee machine eliminates all causes for complaints about lukewarm coffee. This coffee is hot — seriously hot. Did I mention that Jura espresso also tastes incredible? The Ristretto setting brings a clean, rich, chocolatey note out of my beans, while the espresso has an even more complex flavor profile rounded out with lively acidity.
Although I’m not yet sold on the regular coffee, what I can say for sure is that it’s a cut above the typical super-automatic standard, and you definitely don’t have to worry about it being watered down. Whatever your preferred style of black coffee, this Jura A1 review is further testimony to the fact that the Swiss are currently the undisputed flavor masters. With that in mind, perhaps the pint-sized, super-automatic espresso machine is worth the additional outlay.
Of course, it too is subject to the garbage in, garbage out principle. So, don’t splurge on the machine and skimp on the beans.
Cleaning the Jura A1 — the Moment of Truth
For the record, yes, I would still like the brew group on Jura coffee machines to be removable, but there’s no point holding my breath for that to happen.
However, the fact that it’s firmly attached to the inside of the machine makes it a bit difficult for me to give you a fair assessment of the cleaning process. Sure, you can open up the case and take a closer look, but at the end of the day, you still basically have to put your faith in the coffee machine’s automatic programs.
As is typical for this class of machine, these are also fairly limited in scope. After all, you only need to remove coffee residue, descale components and change the filter cartridge from time to time. Since it’s a milk-free machine, that’s at least one less (major) source of bacteria.
Now, I want to finally get to the bottom of this whole fixed brew group debate and what the risk of mold really is. That’s why I’m running a long-term experiment with the Jura A1 coffee machine: after a full year of continuous use, I’ll disassemble the machine and see how it looks inside.
Will the inside be black with mold, or will I have to eat my words after all of these years of ranting about hygiene? I can’t wait to find out.
The rest of the cleaning is pretty dull by comparison — although that’s just as well. Thanks to the small water tank and the filter, you’re forced to refill the reservoir frequently. The drip tray is also pretty small.
Of course, you won’t be using as much water anyway. What’s more, the A1 is only designed to make a few cups a day. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that teeny-weeny components have a silver lining in that they present more frequent opportunities for cleaning.
Verdict on the Jura A1 — A Case of Price-Pleasure Ratio?
No matter what they can — or can’t — do compared to the other super-automatic espresso machines I’ve reviewed, Jura coffee machines command a hefty price, and the A1 is no different. With the A1, it’s easy to find your eyes are bigger than your wallet.
Sleek minimalism for Jura fans.
Sleek design and geek-out coffee!
Slickly designed, high-quality machine
Very easy to operate
Fixed brew group
However, if you’re happy to throw money around a bit, the $800 coffee maker sans a milk frother is a treat for the senses — from the va-va-voom factor it’ll add to your kitchen to the palate-pleasing coffee, espresso (and “Ristretto”). Sure, it takes a tiny bit of work adjusting water volumes to tease out all the notes, but it’s worth it.
Maybe the best way to think of the Jura A1 espresso machine is as giving yourself a bit of self-love — an investment in morning me-time. Is this one of those rare occasions where we should judge the machine on a price-pleasure ratio rather than straight-up value for money? What do you think?
I’d love to hear about your experiences with the Jura A1 and whether you think it’s worth every cent or a bit pricey. Give us a shout in the comments.