The Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machine In 2021

There comes a point where you’ll want to start flexing your home coffee-making muscles a little more.

That’s where semi automatic machines come in, providing you with plenty more control over the brewing process, from bean to cup.

In this article I’m going to review nine of the best semi automatic espresso machines on the market today.

If you just need a snapshot of the big winners though, I’ve put together a quick summary just a little further down the page.

(My guide to brewing coffee at home contains plenty more tutorials and buying tips!)

Why Buy A Semi Automatic Espresso Machine?

Two things happen when you start using a semi automatic espresso machine.

First, you get a much, much better espresso shot, as there’s more fine control over the brewing process.

Second, you’ll start developing your home barista skills, as you’ll have to go more hands-on with the whole process.

Depending on the machine you choose, you’ll need to prepare your grounds, tamp them, determine the right amount of water to use, and then provide any finishing touches you want with the steamed milk.

If that sounds intimidating and you just want a spectacular shot, then be reassured that some machines are “button-press”-friendly. You still get amazing espresso but you don’t have to do as much work.

(You might also look into super automatic makers if you’re looking for a truly hands-off experience.)

Whatever approach you take, you get access to so many more coffee-based drinks: lattes, cappuccinos, espresso shots, Americanos and more. It’s pretty much the best way to get a much better cup of coffee in your life.

All of the espresso machines in this round-up do a great job of what really matters: making incredible coffee.

You just need to think about what you really want to get out of the experience, and how far you want to develop your skills.

Review Summary

If you’ve not got time to read all of the reviews and just need a highlight, here’s a quick overview of the machines I found to be the big winners for this guide.

BEST OVERALL – Breville Barista Express

Sale
Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Express delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: Integrated precision conical burr grinder grinds on demand to deliver the right...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

“Breville dominates in the world of semi automatic espresso machines, and I think the Barista Express is its best offering. Many thousands of happy owners agree, and I’ve no hesitation in recommending this as the best overall choice if you’re ready to take your espresso to the next level.”

BEST COMPACT – DeLonghi EC680M

Sale
De'Longhi EC680M Espresso, Stainless Steel,...
  • EVERY CUP TO YOUR LIKING: 15-bar professional pressure assures quality results every time, and adjustable...
  • EASY TO CLEAN: Removable water tank and drip tray make for easy cleanup, and the parts are dishwasher...
  • BREW LIKE A PRO: Whatever your preference – single or double espresso, cappuccino or latte – the...

“The EC680M packs an awful lot of punch into its small form factor. It’s extremely easy to use and heats up very quickly too. If you’ve got a small kitchen but don’t want to compromise on great tasting espresso, I highly recommend this entry level machine.”

BEST BUDGET – Mr Coffee Cafe Barista

Sale
Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker |...
  • Semi automatic 3 in 1 espresso maker, cappuccino maker, and latte maker
  • 15 Bar Pump System Brews Rich Tasting Espresso Coffee
  • Trouble Free Automatic Milk Frother Removes the Guesswork. Do not wash the water reservoir in the...

“OK, Mr Coffee might not exactly be the first name that comes to mind when you think of prestige espresso makers. Don’t be put off by the name though! If you’re working to a budget, I think the Cafe Barista produces some of the best espresso for super-easy lattes and cappuccinos.”

(This article includes affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.)

Espresso Machine Reviews & Comparisons

Want more detail on these semi automatic espresso machines?

In this next section I’m going to review each of them in detail, as well as the others that have caught my attention.

Breville BES880BS Barista Touch

Breville automatic espresso machines feature several times in this round-up, and that’s because the company has earned itself a solid track-record when it comes to making some of the best machines on the market.

The Barista Touch (or BES880BSS as it’s more formally known) is one of the most popular in the company’s highly regarded range.

Breville BES880BSS Barista Touch Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Touch delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: With a single touch, the integrated precision conical burr grinder with dose...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

Although you have lots of options to play around with, the machine’s pretty easy to use. The touchscreen is large and simple to navigate, with options to tweak the grinding, brewing and milk options exactly as you want them.

Once you’ve found a favorite espresso brew, you can then save it for later use. That makes the process even quicker, and I like that different people in my house can have their own best brews ready at a button push.

You can also make fine adjustments to the temperature and texture of the milk, before the machine creates a microfoam of it. This will be particularly beneficial to you if you want to turn your espresso shots into very rich, very smooth lattes.

Getting the brewing temperature of the espresso just right is vital if you want to get a truly barista-quality cup of coffee.

To aid this, the Barista Touch uses something called Digital Temperature Control. This controls the water temperature as it passes through the coffee. The end result is the best possible extraction you can get from each puck.

Before you get to that point, of course, you need to actually grind your beans. To help with this the Touch draws on its conical burr grinder which ensures an evenly-brewed cup of coffee.

How many espresso shots can you get from it before a refill though?

The water tank in the Touch maxes out at 67oz. I think that’s good for around eight average cups before you’ll have to top it up.

As for the bean hopper you’ll be able to store around half a pound of beans at any given time.

Pros

  • The milk steam wand purges itself after each brew, so you don’t get any gunk building up.
  • Produces consistently good, full-bodied home espresso shots.
  • An automatic milk frother takes the pain out of one of the fiddlier parts of working with home espresso machines.
  • Only takes around three minutes to get the first cup of coffee out of the Touch each morning.
  • Looks great and is pretty easy to clean as well.

Cons

  • No dual boiler heating system! That means you can’t pull a shot of espresso and steam the milk at the same time.
  • Water reservoir is situated at the rear, which can make it a little tricky to remove and refill.
  • A little trial and error is required to get your drink personalized just how you want it.
  • Big cups don’t fit under the spout very easily, and you may need to transfer the shot from a smaller cup.

Breville Barista Express Espresso Machine BES870XL

The Barista Express espresso maker does away with a touchscreen to put you squarely in control of proceedings. This is a great option if you really want maximum control – and responsibility – for the end result!

Again, the Express makes use of a conical burr grinder to help you get a really smooth and rich brew from the machine.

You control how much actually goes in using a manual dial at the top of the machine, so you’ll need to experiment a little bit to get things right.

Sale
Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Express delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: Integrated precision conical burr grinder grinds on demand to deliver the right...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

Before the espresso brew actually happens, the Express puts the grinds through a pre infusion process, using water at a low pressure. This means the ground coffee is soaked evenly, before it expands to make a rich extraction.

The same temperature control technology of the Barista Touch is also found in the Barista Express. As the coffee is brewed, the heat is adapted to deal with fluctuations. The result? A perfectly balanced cup of coffee.

You can tweak the settings to make either a single or a double espresso shot. If you want a really quick start to the morning you can amp up with a two shot brew, but wind things down a bit as the day wears on.

You’ll need to go a little more hands-on with the steam wand though. If you want to get that super-smooth microfoam effect (and perhaps dabble in a little light latte art), you’ll need to spend a fair bit of time practicing.

Still, that’s half the fun of these things I reckon, and part of the reason you’re looking at them!

Pros

  • A high quality coffee machine that will likely provide you with years of service.
  • Comes with everything you need right out of the box.
  • A fantastic milk frother once you’ve mastered it.
  • A clear pressure gauge is a big help in getting your shot just right.
  • Can be used as a hot water dispenser if you want to make other drinks like hot chocolate or tea.

Cons

  • You need to clean all elements regularly for it to remain working to a high standard.
  • The frothing cup is a little on the small side, and you may want to pick up a larger one.
  • The top and bottom parts of the machine are made of plastic, which detracts from the otherwise elegant design.
  • Water tank filter costs can mount up over time, although you can bypass this by using water that’s been filtered by other means.

DeLonghi EC680M Dedica 15-Bar

DeLonghi’s EC680M Dedica espresso machine is a much more compact unit than the other semi automatic machines I’ve reviewed so far. It’s only about 6 inches wide!

That’ll be a big plus if you really struggle for spare countertop space, but don’t want to compromise on your coffee.

Sale
De'Longhi EC680M Espresso, Stainless Steel,...
  • EVERY CUP TO YOUR LIKING: 15-bar professional pressure assures quality results every time, and adjustable...
  • EASY TO CLEAN: Removable water tank and drip tray make for easy cleanup, and the parts are dishwasher...
  • BREW LIKE A PRO: Whatever your preference – single or double espresso, cappuccino or latte – the...

The coffee brewed by the EC680M tastes really good too. 9 bar pressure is recommended as a minimum for espresso machines, and the Dedica’s 15 bar pump more than delivers on that front.

It also includes technology DeLonghi calls Flow Stop. This delivers either one or two espresso shots – and not a drop more – which means the coffee you brew remains consistent in flavor and strength.

There’s no grinder included with this machine though. You’ll have to either buy a separate burr grinder, or use pre-ground coffee instead.

Whatever route you take, the machine comes with a multi-size filter which makes it quite easy to set a single or double espresso shot.

Something else to keep in mind is that the milk steam wand is a completely manual affair.

Make sure you’re ready to work on your foaming skills if you decide to buy this machine. If you are up for the challenge though, you’ll be able to get your milky brews exactly how you want them.

One of the unexpected advantages this machine has over the previous coffee makers in this round-up is its ability to accommodate very tall cups.

The drip tray comes out easily to make a little extra space, although you’ll need to make sure the machine has finished completely if you want to avoid a real mess!

(You can read my detailed DeLonghi Dedica EC680M review if you’d like more info on this particular espresso maker.)

Pros

  • A super-compact semi automatic machine that can be accommodated even in tiny kitchens.
  • Extremely easy to use. If you want to make the very best froth though you’ll need to spend some time mastering the wand.
  • Heats up incredibly quickly, and is ready to brew after around 30-40 seconds of waiting.
  • Amazing espresso considering the investment. It’s one of the best semi automatic espresso machines you can start off with.
  • User manual contains a handful of recipes so there’s no excuse not to push yourself!

Cons

  • I’ve not experienced this myself but some owners have reported problems with the machine leaking water over time.
  • Although quiet, the machine vibrates quite a lot during the brewing process, which you may find annoying.
  • When the machine needs to be descaled, you have to run it through the cycle before brewing again.
  • The plastic tamper provided with the Dedica really isn’t the best, and you may feel the need to buy one separately.

DeLonghi La Specialista Espresso Machine

At the other end of the spectrum lies DeLonghi’s La Specialista Espresso Machine.

This semi automatic packs in everything lacking in the Dedica, including a built-in burr grinder which monitors the fineness of the grinds throughout the process.

That means you get the right amount of coffee each time, and you can be sure that it’s been evenly ground too.

Sale
De'Longhi La Specialista Espresso Machine...
  • Sensor grinding technology: Exclusive segsing technology delivers precise, consistent grinding and the...
  • The smart tamping station: Simply pull the lever to tamp the ground coffee with the right pressure for...
  • Active temperature control with dual heating system: The best temperature stability for optimal coffee...

If you’re not confident at tamping your coffee with just the right amount of pressure, there’s a lever to the left of the machine which helps you apply the right force. There’s also less mess to clean up as a result.

The steam wand has a couple of settings which are designed for either lattes or cappuccinos.

I think it’s neat that you can start off with these automatic settings while you’re getting used to the machine. Once you’ve observed the process a few times though, you can take over and froth manually.

The Specialista also has two separate tanks. One’s for the water and one’s for the milk, which means you don’t have to wait to steam your milk. This also means that the milk is steamed at the correct temperature.

The water tank can also be used as a hot water dispenser (useful for things like Americanos). If you’re making non-coffee drinks like tea, you also don’t have to worry about any coffee flavor getting mixed in.

Overall I think the Specialista is one of the best true “hand-holding” espresso machines. You get really good espresso from the moment you’ve set it up, but you can take more control as your confidence grows.

Pros

  • Self-tamping feature will be really helpful for newcomers in particular.
  • You can froth your milk and brew your espresso at the same time.
  • DeLonghi’s YouTube channel is fantastic for getting new owners up to speed.
  • Accessories have a real weight to them and they feel very durable.
  • A really beautiful-looking stainless steel espresso machine.

Cons

  • No water softening filter included, so you’ll need to pick one up. This is particularly important if you live in a hard water area.
  • Takes around six minutes to go from putting coffee beans in the grinder to drinking your first cup.
  • Requires regular cleaning to stay in top working condition.
  • One of the bigger learning curves of the machines I’ve reviewed.

Breville BES840XL The Infuser Espresso Machine

Breville’s Infuser is another very popular espresso machine.

The main difference between this machine and the other Breville makers is that it doesn’t have a built-in grinder.

Breville BES840XL Infuser Espresso Machine,...
  • The Breville Infuser delivers optimal flavor in every cup creating third wave specialty coffee at home...
  • VOLUMETRIC AND SHOT CONTROL: Control the volume of each pour at the touch of a button and choose 1 shot,...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

If you already have a separate grinder that you’re really happy with then this won’t be a problem. Otherwise you’ll need to either pick one up, or be content with using pre-ground coffee.

Despite the absence of a grinder, you’re still getting all the other benefits of buying a Breville espresso machine.

Microfoam milk texturing is present and correct, you have the easy option of a single or double shot, and that espresso is brewed using the company’s fancy temperature monitoring technology.

As the name suggest, this is another semi automatic machine that goes big on pre infusion. The grounds get soaked just-so before the extraction starts, which results in a truly killer cup of coffee.

As a bonus, with the Infuser you have more manual control over how much espresso is brewed – you’re not just stuck with standard one or two-shot presets.

Personally – and looking at the machines overall – I prefer the Barista Touch or the Express. If controlling the size of your espresso shot is the most important factor though, then the Infuser is a really good option.

(Take a look at my Breville Infuser review if you’d like to learn more about this machine in detail.)

Pros

  • Provides fine control over the amount of coffee you can pour.
  • Hot water dispenser makes it very easy to produce milk free coffee drinks.
  • Provides lots of learning opportunities – a plus or a minus, depending on how you feel about that!
  • Pressure gauge really helps to manage the whole process, and help you get more out of the machine.

Cons

  • Requires a dedicated, high-quality grinder for best results, and it’ll take you some time to get the quantities just right.
  • Oily beans in particular have a tendency to clog the machine up.
  • A rather blunt stainless steel design, but it’s built to last.
  • After general use the drip tray fills more quickly than other machines.
  • Some owners find the foaming wand to be a little wanting. It really depends on how much fine control you need.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II Espresso Machine

Nuova Simonelli machines are more commonly found in commercial environments – and they have a price tag to match.

If you’re really determined to recreate that authentic barista experience at home though, it’s an espresso machine that’s at least worth considering given its popularity.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar II Espresso Machine
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 16" x 12" x 16"
  • Espresso Machine Type: Semi-Automatic
  • Voltage: 110

Like the Breville Infuser, the Oscar II makes use of a pre-infusion process. This soaks the coffee grounds gently before the full extraction, to produce an immensely flavorful espresso shot.

Unlike many espresso machines, the Oscar II features an enormous water tank – nearly 95 ounces.

That obviously serves a commercial environment well, although if that’s still not enough for you it is possible to plumb the machine directly into your water supply.

(Seriously though, rethink your espresso consumption if you think this might be a problem!)

The espresso quality is exceptional, as you’d expect, but it’s the design that will strike most people first.

For the most part the build quality behind that awesome look is stainless steel, although there are rather dull gray elements on the sides. A bit of a disappointment, but I don’t think it detracts too much from the overall look.

The boiler itself, however, is made from copper. This both conducts and retains heat really well, which minimizes the amount of time you spend waiting for that first vital espresso of the day.

The steam arm on the Oscar II is easier to operate than usual too. A push-pull design puts less strain on the mechanism over time (minimizing wear and tear), and its easier on your own arms too.

That’s obviously more of an issue in busy cafes, but overall it’s just a lot easier to use and angle as you perfect your lattes and cappuccinos!

The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II obviously isn’t going to be for everyone. If you’ve very deep pockets though, and a thirst for nothing but the best espresso, it’s an intriguing option.

Pros

  • An incredibly generous water tank with a clear water line.
  • Pre-infusion ahead of the extraction process produces great results.
  • Can froth and brew at the same time when making multiple drinks for guests.
  • A high end machine that’s built to work hard.

Cons

  • High price tag makes it more suitable to a commercial environment.
  • Can take up to 15 minutes to get ready for brewing.
  • Good frothing takes more practice than the average espresso maker.
  • Larger glasses will not fit beneath the portafilter.

Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine

The Gaggia Classic has undergone a number of revisions over the last few decades.

There was a stumble in the mid-2010s that led to a distinctly underwhelming machine, but this latest Pro version has done much to restore confidence in an evergreen favorite.

Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso...
  • Rugged Brushed Stainless Steel housing
  • Commercial three-way solenoid valve. Capacity water tank - 2,1 liter
  • Commercial-style 58mm chrome-plated brass portability and brew group

Gaggia is, of course, one of the grand old dames of the espresso world. The Classic Pro brings the best of its old and new technology together to create an espresso machine line that many owners will never depart from.

The commercial steam wand is perhaps the biggest improvement I’ve seen. Unlike the old, rather unreliable Panarello steam wand of old, the Pro’s frothing potential is now up there with the best.

The water tank is also much easier to remove, and has a generous capacity of 72 ounces. That’s not as big as the Oscar II reservoir, for example, but this is very much a home espresso machine first and foremost.

Although not designed as a commercial espresso machine, the Pro does feature a commercial-quality 58mm group head and portafilter.

This all helps to deliver the Gaggia promise of barista-quality espresso in your own home.

Is there a flipside to the Gaggia Classic Pro?

Some people love the distinctly industrial feel of the Gaggia design, others hate it!

If that’s not a deal breaker for you though, this is a tried and tested semi automatic espresso machine that has an awful lot of fans.

Just be aware that the Classic Pro is quite a slow machine. It takes around five minutes of warm up before you can get your first espresso of the day, and for some that’s just too much waiting around.

(My Gaggia Classic Pro review has more detail on this popular entry level espresso maker.)

Pros

  • One of the all-time greats given a fresh lick of paint.
  • Powerful but compact on your counter top.
  • Commercial-grade components produce outstanding espresso.
  • Large water reservoir.

Cons

  • The Gaggia design is a little “love it or loathe it”.
  • Water tank placement makes it hard to view how much is remaining.
  • Only around 3 inches of clearance for cups beneath the portafilter.
  • Sharp edges on the drip tray, which itself is made of rather flimsy plastic.
  • Owner instructions get a little lost in translation.

DeLonghi EC155 15 Bar Espresso & Cappuccino Machine

DeLonghi’s EC155 is another popular home espresso machine with an affordable price tag.

It’s not a complex machine by any means, with just a few simple controls. That makes the EC155 a good choice if you’re just getting started with fine espresso brewing and don’t want to break the bank either.

DeLonghi EC155 15 Bar Espresso and Cappuccino...
  • EVERY CUP TO YOUR LIKING: 15-bar professional pressure assures quality results every time, and adjustable...
  • BREW LIKE A PRO: Whatever your preference – single or double espresso, cappuccino or latte – the...
  • YOUR FOAM, YOUR WAY: A manual frother mixes steam and milk to create a rich, creamy froth for evenly...

The EC155 also self-primes itself. All you need to do is switch the machine on, and wait for a light to come on which indicates it’s ready for brewing.

The 15 Bar pressure brew system produces pretty good results, but I think there’s something lacking in the brewing temperature here.

This lack of oomph holds the machine back from making truly outstanding espresso shots. I don’t think that will trouble the average drinker, but it’s something that true espresso lovers should be aware of.

The EC155 features something called a Swivel Jet Frother. This small steam wand is pretty easy to use, and although it’s not quite up to the job of making fine latte art, it makes a pretty good milk finish with a little practice.

The EC155 also includes two thermostats for adjusting the temperature between brewing and frothing.

That’s welcome for getting the right temperature for the right job, but does mean you have to wait a while to switch between operating modes.

Overall I feel like the EC155 is trying to do just a little too much at a price point that can’t really keep up with the ambition.

(See my DeLonghi EC155 review if you’d like to learn more about this machine.)

Pros

  • Excellent water pressure in an affordable espresso maker.
  • Dual boiler system brews and froths at separate temperatures.
  • A very simple espresso maker for beginners.
  • Frothing wand is easy to use.

Cons

  • Brewing temperature isn’t quite high enough to get outstanding results.
  • A rather clunky, industrial appearance which you might find off-putting.
  • Can only accommodate small espresso cups.
  • Small water reservoir.

Mr Coffee Cafe Barista Espresso & Cappuccino Maker

You might be tempted to turn your nose up a little at the thought of buying a Mr Coffee machine.

Truth be told, this isn’t exactly the first name most espresso fans will think of when shopping around for a semi automatic espresso machine.

Sale
Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker |...
  • Semi automatic 3 in 1 espresso maker, cappuccino maker, and latte maker
  • 15 Bar Pump System Brews Rich Tasting Espresso Coffee
  • Trouble Free Automatic Milk Frother Removes the Guesswork. Do not wash the water reservoir in the...

BUT.

I think there’s a lot to like about this machine.

First of all, if you’re working to a budget, this is one of the more affordable espresso machines I’ve reviewed.

More than that, the quality of the espresso is surprisingly good for the cost involved. A lot of that is down to the 15 Bar pump system, which is surprisingly powerful considering the price tag.

Secondly, this is a very convenient machine if you’re going to be making a lot of lattes and cappuccinos.

It comes with a detachable milk container that slots very cleanly into the front of the machine.

Even better, you can pop it out if there’s any leftover and store it in the refrigerator. That’s great if you’re like me and hate to waste a single drop of anything in the kitchen.

It’s also very easy to use, thanks to a simple control panel that lets you choose all of your drink preferences with just one or two button presses.

Truth be told this is somewhat closer to a fully automatic machine. The only real fine control you have here is over the beans you use, and the consistency of the grind.

On that note, you’ll need to buy a separate grinder to get the best results from the Cafe Barista.

Still, I think this is an impressive little machine. If you’ve only got a limited budget, but you want a much better espresso experience, you should definitely take a closer look at this clever coffee maker.

(I have a more detailed Mr Coffee Cafe Barista review elsewhere on Viva Flavor if you want to learn more.)

Pros

  • A clever all in one latte and cappuccino maker.
  • Easy to clean and care for.
  • A generous water tank and a removeable milk reservoir.
  • Simple controls get the job done well.

Cons

  • You have limited control over the fine finish of the milk.
  • Doesn’t have a great reputation for durability.
  • Quite a noisy machine overall.
  • Milk finish can be inconsistent across multiple drinks.

The Final Verdict

There are actually two machines that I consider fantastic picks if you’re looking for the best semi automatic espresso machine: the Breville Barista Touch and the Breville Barista Express.

They differ in function, but crucially they both make exceptionally good coffee. They also feature a built-in burr grinder which ensures the espresso you brew is as fresh as it can be from bean to cup.

The Barista Touch lets you customize every aspect of the espresso just how you want it, but handles the heavy-lifting after that. If you’re not fussed about manually controlling the actual brew – and don’t mind paying a premium – it’s an excellent choice. Click here to find out more and read owner reviews of the machine.

Breville BES880BSS Barista Touch Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Touch delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: With a single touch, the integrated precision conical burr grinder with dose...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

The Barista Express, on the other hand, puts you firmly at the controls. It’s a great option if you want more manual control over the whole process, and you’ve also got one eye on your budget at the same time. Click here for more details on this very popular machine, which I lean towards as being the best semi automatic espresso machine overall.

Sale
Breville BES870XL Barista Express Espresso...
  • The Breville Barista Express delivers third wave specialty coffee at home using the 4 keys formula and is...
  • DOSE CONTROL GRINDING: Integrated precision conical burr grinder grinds on demand to deliver the right...
  • OPTIMAL WATER PRESSURE: Low pressure pre-infusion gradually increases pressure at the start and helps...

What To Look For In A Semi Automatic

To help you with your own research, I wanted to go through some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a semi automatic espresso machine.

The Quality Of The Build

With very few exceptions, these sorts of espresso maker aren’t exactly cheap. It pays to pick one that’s well built, and from a manufacturer with a reputation for durability.

The better the materials used, the longer the machine will carry on providing you with a superior coffee experience.

Look for sturdy, stainless steel construction wherever possible. This sort of well-built semi espresso maker will pay for itself in longevity.

Is It Easy Enough To Use?

Regardless of your own current skills, it’s important to check if the espresso machine is relatively easy to use, and not needlessly fussy.

Can you clearly see all the indicator lights? Even if you’re just starting out, do you at least know what all the features are for?

This isn’t an exam, it’s supposed to be fun, satisfying, and rewarding!

For each of the espresso machines I’ve reviewed in this article, I’ve explained what each feature is designed to do as clearly as possible.

Use this information to determine which machine will be right for you at this stage of your journey.

What About The Coffee Grinding?

Some semi automatic espresso machines come with a built-in coffee grinder, while others don’t.

If you want to grind your own beans, I highly recommend getting an automatic espresso machine with a burr – rather than a blade – grinder.

Alternatively you can buy one separately later down the line if you feel it’s really missing from your set-up.

Burr grinders can be a little more expensive, but they really are the best and produce much more consistent coffee grounds. That just means a better cup of coffee all-round.

Where You Will Put Your Espresso Machine?

Put simply, the bigger the water boiler your semi automatic espresso machine has, the less time you’ll have to spend refilling the thing.

I recommend buying one that’s going to be big enough to accommodate the largest gathering you’re likely to host.

Alongside water capacity comes the need to check how much space you actually have to spare on your kitchen counter.

Unlike simpler, compact coffee machines, you’re going to need a little more wiggle room to work with here.

Check you’ll have enough space to actually add coffee to the machine, and access all sides so it’s not a chore to clean.

You’ll likely have this machine for a while, and they’re worth taking care of.

Consider Your Budget Carefully

The very best semi automatic espresso machines typically cost more than your average coffee maker.

If you have very deep pockets, the most advanced machines take care of the nitty-gritty brewing details. You still get to customize your coffee just how you want it, but the actual process of getting that coffee into your cup is much simpler.

As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive machines also tend to be made of sturdier stuff, and have the potential to provide you with years of great service.

If you scale your ambitions down a little, you’ll have to put more effort into getting the grinding and dosing just right. I’d argue though that you’re learning more in the process though, so it’s a question of how much control you really want.

Whichever coffee machine you settle on, I find it useful to actually calculate how much money you spend at Starbucks or other coffee shops.

You might be surprised at how much those daily coffees really add up to over time, and you’ll make your investment back surprisingly quickly.

Plus you’ll have the satisfaction of developing your coffee skills, and knowing that you can make your perfect coffee any time you want it (and without even getting out of your pajamas!)

Frequently Asked Questions

With the reviews and the verdict out of the way, I thought it would be fun to finish up by answering some of the most common questions people have about semi automatic espresso machines.

What Is A Semi Automatic Espresso Machine?

A semi automatic espresso machine gives you a certain degree of control over the espresso brewing process, without requiring you to manage the entire process.

You still need to grind and tamp the coffee, but once you’ve started the brew the machine takes over.

There’s no manual pulling of shots here. You choose the grind consistency and beans, and finish the extraction process by telling the machine when to stop.

A more advanced superautomatic is a still more hands-off machine. These typically grind the beans automatically, and take full control over the extraction.

All you have to do is drink the end product!

Who Are The Biggest Semi Automatic Brands?

There are quite a few brands in the world of semi automatic espresso machines, but here’s an overview of the most highly regarded:

  • Breville – Although known for a wide variety of kitchen appliances, Breville is no jack of all trades when it comes to quality. The company’s espresso machines of all types are frequently cited as the best in class (and often prove a big hit in my reviews).
  • Gaggia – Very much a trendsetter. Where Gaggia innovates, others follow. The company has been pioneering the essential components of espresso machines for nearly 100 years now, and shows no signs of taking its eye off the ball.
  • DeLonghi – Like Breville, DeLonghi makes a collection of appliances. Nevertheless, it’s acquired a hard-earned reputation for producing exceptionally high quality espresso machines that last for years and years.
  • Rancilio – Roberto Rancilio produced his first espresso drinks device all the way back in 1927 when he founded the company that bears his name. That puts Rancilio even ahead of Gaggia when it comes to world firsts and quality machines.
  • Nuova Simonelli – Better known for catering to commercial environments, this is nevertheless a big name in the world of espresso machines. Not as familiar a name as others on this list, but you’ve almost certainly enjoyed an espresso courtesy of the brand.
  • Mr Coffee – Don’t be sniffy about this commercially friendly name! Mr Coffee has carved out a solid reputation for producing espresso machines that punch above their price tag. This isn’t the sort of brand an espresso connoisseur will gravitate towards, but its behind some of the best budget-friendly, high quality espresso machines on the market.

What Brewing Temperature And Pressure Ranges Do I Need?

The coffee experts at the Specialty Coffee Association have some clear guidance on what it considers to be the optimal brewing temperature for high quality espresso.

To be precise, that temperature range is 195-205 degrees.

Lower than that and you’ll have a weak, under-extracted espresso on your hands. Higher and you’ll have an over-extracted drink.

Both are unpleasant drinking experiences, to put it mildly.

Any semi automatic espresso machine worthy of the name will brew within this temperature range, and every machine I’ve reviewed for this guide is up to that task.

What about the pressure though?

Unlike drip brewing, a semi automatic espresso machine works by applying high water pressure to the coffee grounds.

The bare minimum here is 9 Bar pressure, but you should look for a machine that goes up to 15 Bar.

Different grind consistencies require different water pressure levels for a good extraction, and so you need to have this flexibility.

Why And How Should I Descale An Espresso Machine?

Let’s start with the why.

Any time you add water to an espresso machine, you’re also introducing the various minerals from your water supply.

Most of these are fine for us to drink – and many are outright beneficial – but over time these minerals will start to build up inside the espresso machine.

The big culprit here is calcium. If you live in a hard water area, your water will contain more of this stuff, along with other minerals.

At first, the build up of these inside your espresso machine will start to affect the flavor of your coffee.

Go long enough without descaling, however, and this build-up can cause irreparable damage to the mechanisms of your espresso machine.

Fortunately, you can solve this problem by descaling the machine from time to time.

For most of us, a good descaling every few months is fine. If you live in a hard water area, however, you might want to up this to a monthly maintenance.

The best advice on how to go about this is to consult the owner’s manual (you know, that thing most of us throw away or lose behind a bookcase…)

In short though, the process simply involves adding descaling solution and water to your espresso machine, and then running it through one or two brew cycles.

This helps to break down and flush out the mineral build-up, meaning a better cup of coffee for you, and a longer-lasting espresso machine for your kitchen.

Once I’ve descaled an espresso machine, I always run fresh water through another brewing cycle. That gives confidence that I’ve properly flushed out the solution!