Super-Automatic Espresso Machine Myths and Preconceptions

Super-automatic espresso machines are contentious. There are two extremes in terms of their evaluation.

Proponents vs. Critics

Super-automatic espresso machines are contentious. There are two extremes in terms of their evaluation.

Proponents vs. Critics

  1. Super-automatic machines bring the cafe to you, at the push of a button.
    Electric baristas ready and waiting for you in the kitchen at all times.
    Super-automatic espresso machines simplify coffee preparation and improve people’s lives. What must I do? Simply tip in some espresso beans, then let them run on their own. The machines even clean themselves. They are also durable and enhance the look of every kitchen.
  2. Super-automatic coffee machines can do everything, but nothing very well.
    They produce watery espresso and bad coffee.
    They consume lots of everything: electricity, space and coffee beans. What’s more, you can’t clean them very well, either. They go moldy and disperse bacteria into the drinks. If you want real espresso, you need a portafilter.

These types of extreme “portafilter-isms” can also be found online.
It’s an emotional topic. In forums with a focus on portafilters, new members with an interest in super-automatic machines can sometimes also be pounced on pretty hard. They’re told they’re wrong to join the group, have no taste and asked to search the previous conversations, where they will see how others also so stupidly asked about super-automatic machines were cyberbullied away. German forum culture somehow beautifully illustrates the reasons why these forums are dying. For sure, you can exceptions with these forums, as well as dedicated members, moderators and pools of knowledge. Most of them, though, I won’t miss at all.

Table of Contents


Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Don't Make Real Espresso.


I think this preconception can be debated. Sure, espresso is produced by an espresso machine. However, can it be produced by a super-automatic machine, too?

What’s necessary to make an espresso?

  • Pressure
  • Finely ground coffee
  • Espresso beans
  • About 25 milliliters (5 teaspoons) of espresso

Super-automatic machines often have a specified maximum pump pressure of either 15 or 17 bars (218 or 247 psi). However, 9 bars (130 psi) are sufficient to make espresso. It’s just that the theoretical pressure is not what actually builds in the brew group. I have often read that brew groups made of plastic are too fragile to withstand such pressure.

In my opinion, the shortcomings lie elsewhere.

You use more coarsely ground coffee with super-automatic machines than with portafilters.
This is due to a mechanical problem. With very fine grinds and high compaction, the puck in a portafilter must literally be knocked out. Some of you must have experienced this before or at least seen it happen.

Hence, super-automatic espresso machines have a problem: There’s a risk that the brew group will become blocked. It’s for this reason that you need to use coarser grinds. This is especially true for super-automatic machines with non-removable brew groups. In this case, logging results in an immediate malfunction and the need to exchange the whole machine. The Krups and Jura brands can be mentioned in this regard.

However, even super-automatic machines with removable brew groups are affected. The cheapest Delonghi models are unable to build enough pressure to push water through even the finest of grinds. You must use a coarser grind instead.

That said, there are big differences between models and price brackets.

On average, super-automatic espresso machines use a coarser degree of ground coffee than portafilters.

Because of this, a super-automatic espresso machine uses larger amounts of coffee grounds.

The espresso from a super-automatic machine is slightly under extracted compared to that from a portafilter. The brewing time is often too short.

Additionally, the factory “espresso” settings in many automatic machines are often completely useless. This certainly contributes to the second point of criticism (described above). Super-automatic espresso machines often have 40 milliliters (3 tablespoons) pre-programmed for a simple espresso. However, even if I brewed 40 milliliters for a simple espresso from that amount of coffee grounds in a portafilter machine, it wouldn’t be an espresso.

That’s why it’s important to find the right settings. I’ve been testing and comparing super-automatic espresso machines for quite some time, placing special emphasis on the espresso setting.

The machine’s set-up, as well as having the right espresso beans, is crucial. I also often speak of “super-automatic espresso” because, on average, it does differ slightly in structure from the espresso you get from a portafilter.

Super Automatic Espresso

Personally, though, I find it totally fine to simply say “espresso.” After making setting adjustments to many super-automatic espresso machines, I’ve succeeded in producing espresso that could certainly convince one or two critics.

DeLonghi ECAM 23.420.SB Espresso

Portafilter users (which I am, too) claim sovereignty over the interpretation of what an espresso is. For this reason, I’m trying to introduce an expanded concept of espresso:

In the case of stove-top espresso makers, though, it’s a different story.

They don’t make espresso at all, but rather brewed coffee! However, a Chemex, French press or a pour-over dripper all make brewed coffee, albeit with different brewing structures. This comparison in coffee is how I see the difference in espresso made with portafilters and super-automatic espresso machines.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Break Easily


A super-automatic espresso machine contains a lot of technology, so a lot can also go wrong. This is a plausible theory. My experience is somewhat different, though. If you take good care of your super-automatic machine, clean it and — above all — regularly decalcify it, you will enjoy your machine for a very long time.

I’ll go ahead and throw some numbers around now, without proof of any kind. I’d estimate that more than 80 percent of all the faults of super-automatic espresso machines are avoidable. Most faults can be attributed to users not regularly decalcifying or descaling their machines.

Even in the case of cheap Delonghi machines, the manufacturer dares to offer a two-year warranty. (A third year is granted via online registration.) A super-automatic machine should, of course, last longer than three years, but the stated warranty period already somewhat indicates this.

Thanks to mass production, the quality of most super-automatic espresso machines, relative to their purchase price, is quite good.

To generally state that super-automatic espresso machines break easily is certainly not true.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Go Moldy


Now and again we see horror news coverage on the television regarding super-automatic espresso machines, where whole new ecosystems have started to develop inside. Journalists often interview people who fix the machines. I immediately tend to believe that these are extreme cases. After all, machines that work perfectly don’t end up on the workshop table.

I think that this problem basically boils down to the same thing as in the previous point. Good and competent cleaning helps. I recommend super-automatic espresso machines with removable brewing units. They should be cleaned regularly and often. Before a holiday, you should clean everything, dry each part, and pack it away individually so there’s no condensation left in the machine.

Miele CM7500 Brew Group

Those who do need not fear mold in their machine.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines are a No-Go for Coffee Connoisseurs


As previously described, there are many emotions evoked by this topic. Sure, at first glance, super-automatic espresso machines offer little incentive for a die-hard fan and portafilter lover.

However:

  • It’s also incredibly fun getting the best out of super-automatic espresso machines — playing with the coffee coarseness, the settings and calibrations. Riding a tandem bicycle might be fun, yes, but riding a high-performance road bike is better on many levels.
  • I have many times seen the sad existence that portafilters endure with families and small offices. Often, one ambitious person purchased the machine, but no one else dares touch it. I know couples where one person says to me, “Don’t say anything, but I would have preferred a super-automatic espresso machine. Now, I just don’t drink coffee at all.”
  • Ever since I’ve been working with super-automatic espresso machines, more and more bean lovers have outed themselves to me, saying that they also have a super-automatic at home.
Anyone freshly grinding their coffee is doing things right! We should focus on the true enemies of good taste: the trash that is coffee capsules, pods and instant coffee.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Don't Produce Good Milk Froth


This is not true. However, the results certainly differ, depending on the system and the price bracket. On the one hand, you have super-automatic machines with steam wands that manually froth milk. These function comparable to an espresso machine. In this case, the end results largely come down to the technique of the person doing the frothing.

DeLonghi ESAM 3000 steam lance

On the other hand, there are machines with automated cappuccinatores, which suck up milk and froth it into your cup at the push of a button. These days such models work perfectly — it’s not easy to manually produce milk foam that’s any better.

Siemens vs. Krups Latte

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Don't Make Proper Cappuccinos or Latte Macchiatos

Of course, this very much depends on expectations. Many people (most, I would argue) can’t explain the difference between a cappuccino, a latte macchiato and a latte. With some knowledge on the subject, I must respond to this matter by saying:

Super-automatic espresso machines can’t produce what I understand to be a good cappuccino. However, they can produce what I understand to be a good latte macchiato.

Milk Froth Krups EA

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Can't Make Good Drip Coffee


This is true, unfortunately. Anything made using a super-automatic machine’s “coffee” settings isn’t really all that good, even when using quality espresso beans. Although the espresso settings are usually easily adjustable, what the machine produces when you press the “coffee” button is rather quite sad. Those wanting classic drip coffee should rely instead on a pour-over dripper, French press or Chemex.

However, I’m also not really a fan of long — and thus, over-extracted — espresso. For me, anything that’s drawn through a puck must have a volume of 20 to 25 milliliters (4 to 5 teaspoons). Anyone wanting black coffee from a super-automatic machine should make some regular espressos and top it up with hot water. This makes you a caffè americano.

Super-Automatic Espresso Machines Consume Lots of Coffee


This is also true. It happens so easily and quickly, too. Just the push of a button and the mill already eats up a decent few grams of coffee beans. Consumption varies depending on the model, but generally, the beans do disappear decidedly quickly.

These then are my responses to both accurate and inaccurate preconceptions regarding super-automatic espresso machines. I hope that they are somewhat helpful — perhaps you have something to add? I’m always happy to receive comments and tips. Do your opinions differ drastically from mine? I’d find that particularly interesting!

5 Comments

    This is an entirely decent blog with a lot of cool data. I visited your blog while I am looking for Gaggia Classic Pro Coffee machine then i found this article this is so amazing to read , much obliged for your bits of knowledge on the processor. But the information you stated there is amazing to read. I liked your post. [Link was removed by editorial staff]

    Reply
    Arne

    Hello Katie,

    thanks a lot for your comment and your kind words :). Greetings Team Coffeeness

    Reply

    I am awaiting the arrival of a jura z8. You mentioned adjustments to the grind settings. Do you have specifics on what you suggest the settings are changed to?

    Reply
    Arne

    Hi Scott,

    thanks for your comment. Great choice! We suggest to set the grind level on the finest and then check the coffee and work yourself to a coarser level. Greetings Team Coffeeness

    Reply

I look forward to your comment