As fun as fine home coffee brewing can be, not everyone has the time to spend delicately managing every stage of the process.
From grinding to precision extraction, to crafting a milky microfoam, it can be a tall order.
That doesn’t mean you have to settle for sub-par coffee that gets your day off to a distinctly lackluster start though!
Super-automatic espresso machines take all the hard work away from you, without compromising on the quality of the final drink. One of the more popular options in this category is the Gaggia Accademia.
I’ve wanted to review this machine on Viva Flavor for a while now. Let’s see how well it solves this thorny problem of combining absolute quality with ultimate convenience.
(Want to learn more about home coffee brewing? Take a look through my guide for other brewing methods, buying guides and more.)
Super-automatic espresso machines are designed to handle all the hard work involved in producing a barista-quality cup of coffee.
You select what you want and how you want it, and the machine then handles everything else. It grinds the beans, brews the espresso shot, and then adds a milk finish where it’s needed.
Who Are They For?
They’re ideal for those of you who want an amazing cup of coffee, without having to master the necessary skills and put them into practice.
If you do a lot of entertaining, you’ll also find a machine like this very useful. You can grab all your coffee requests, and look after your guests while the machine does the hard work.
They’re also a popular option in offices. Again, they work quickly and effectively, which minimizes downtime at work.
Who Aren’t They For?
I can think of two scenarios where a machine like this probably won’t appeal to you.
First, if you need to keep a close eye on your budget, a super-automatic espresso machine may not be an accessible option. They tend to be quite expensive, and I’m not aware of a budget super-automatic that’s going to tick all the boxes.
Although some super-automatics let you take manual control of certain functions, they’re also not really designed for this purpose.
If you want to flex your home barista skills a little more, you might instead prefer to look into a semi-automatic espresso machine. These make really good coffee, but require much more hands-on involvement over the brewing process.
Exactly how much extra effort depends on the particular machine. I recently wrote a guide to the best semi-automatic espresso machines on the market. You might want to read that article if you think this sort of machine might be a better option for you.
Assuming you’re in the market for a super-automatic though, here are some things you should keep an eye out for.
- Reservoir Size: How big are the milk and water reservoirs? Think about your consumption levels and how often you’re going to have fill the thing up.
- Drink Options: Does the machine cover all the bases you love? Think cappuccinos, lattes, lungos and so on. Likewise, as much as we all love options, it’s not worth investing in features you’ll never use.
- Bypass Doser: Super-automatic machines will handle the grinding process for you. If you want to continue using your current pre-ground brands, make sure the machine features something called a bypass doser. They’re also really handy if you want the occasional decaf brew without having to clean out the grinder.
- Grinder Quality: On a related note, you should only buy a super-automatic that features a burr grinder. These produce much more consistent brewing results. The quality of your final drink depends very much on the first step you take here.
- Frothing: Not all super-automatic machines allow you to take manual control of the frothing process. If you’re not quite satisfied with the automatic results, it’s very useful to be able to tackle this final stage of drink preparation yourself.
Gaggia’s reputation is without equal in the home espresso machine world.
It all but invented the modern espresso extraction method, and it’s a brand that puts quality at the forefront of its machines.
The Accademia is one of a number of semi-automatic machines produced by the company.
It claims to produce a high-quality espresso extraction using precision-ground whole beans. It’ll then top the drink off with a milk finish where it’s required.
Plain espresso, caffe lungo, latte, cappuccino – all the classics the average home coffee enthusiast would care to indulge in are present and correct here.
- A classic chassis design that feels sturdy and durable. It’s not hard to see the engineering and design effort that’s been put in here.
- Very easy to use. Push a couple of buttons, get an excellent version of your favorite espresso drinks. No skills required.
- Enough preset drink options to cater to pretty much every taste.
- Self-cleaning function, along with clear alerts for the very occasional manual maintenance that’s required.
- A high quality, ceramic burr grinder that produces very consistent results. A bypass doser allows you to continue using your favorite pre-ground coffee.
- Auto-frother produces an impressive microfoam. You also have the option to take control over the frothing process when you’re ready to stamp your own mark.
- Fast to heat up and get going, minimizing downtime between drinks.
- As with all super-automatic machines, you’ll pay quite a premium for the quality and convenience of the Accademia.
- The milk isn’t quite as hot as I’d like it to be, although this can be remedied with manual control of the frother.
- A disappointingly small drip tray, which requires emptying after just a few cups of coffee.
- The grounds capture tray is similarly small, which means you’ll be emptying it more often than you might like.
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Gaggia Accademia Features
That’s hopefully given you a good overview of what the Gaggia Accademia espresso machine is all about.
In the next section of my review, I’m going to take a closer look at some of the specific features of the machine.
Hopper & Bypass Doser
The bean hopper at the top of the machine holds your whole beans ready for grinding.
In the case of the Accademia you’re looking at a maximum capacity of 12oz. It’s not the largest on the market but I think it’s going to be enough for the average owner.
What I really like about the hopper is the double-lid design. That keeps the beans fresher for much longer, and means you don’t have to worry about removing them at the end of the day.
Even more useful is the bypass doser that’s built into the Accademia.
With one of these, you can carry on using the pre-ground coffee brands you like. I always use fresh beans where possible, as they pack in so much more flavor, but the option’s always nice to have.
If you like the occasional cup of decaf coffee, you’ll also appreciate this feature as it means you can use the doser without having to clean out the hopper.
When it comes to the grinder in your machine – any machine – a burr grinder is always preferably to a blade grinder.
Blade grinders generate a lot of heat, which can have a major impact on the quality of the final drink. They also tend to produce an inconsistent grind, which likewise affects the brew.
The Accademia makes use of a high quality burr grinder. This grinds the coffee beans against rotating burrs, which results in a much more consistent grind.
The ceramic build of the burrs also helps prevent heat build-up – again, great for preserving the flavor and aroma potential of the beans you’ve bought.
Milk Carafe & Frothing Wand
The milk carafe that’s built into the Accademia is easy to detach and then snaps cleanly back into place once you’ve refilled it.
It’s quite easy to store in the refrigerator as well, so if you’ve any left over at the end of the day you can just pull it off and chill it. Much better than having to decant it into your milk bottles!
The milk frothing mechanism also automatically rinses itself out after each use as well. That stops it getting gunked up, and prevents stale dry milk building up on the inside. Eurgh.
Overal I’m impressed at the quality of the microfoam produced by the Accademia, but it’s worth noting that the milk isn’t quite as hot as you’ll get from other machines.
This may not be a problem for you, but if you don’t mind rolling your sleeves up you can take manual control of the frothing process and amp things up a little.
Obviously the thing we’re most interested in here is the quality of the brew.
The Accademia brews at 15-bar pressure. That’s generally considered the minimum threshold for achieving a high quality espresso extraction.
The results are impressive, and I think the Accademia produces one of the better super-automatic espresso extractions. When it comes to hands-off high-quality coffee, this is about as good as it gets.
Obviously much of this depends on the quality of the coffee you feed the thing, but there are a few other things worth mentioning.
The Accademia features something that’s known as pre-brew infusion. This means the coffee is gently and evenly soaked in hot water before the extraction proper begins.
This gives the coffee a chance to bloom before it’s fully saturated, and helps to deliver a really intense aroma and flavor in the final drink.
A lot of machines feature this kind of technology, but it’s a welcome addition to see here nevertheless!
Another clever touch is the adjustable dispenser, which means you can fit a wide variety of coffee cup sizes underneath.
I’ve lost count of the coffee machines I’ve reviewed that only provide a very limited amount of height adjustment. The Accademia can fit cups from between 3” and 6.5”, which I think should be ample for whatever drink you’re pulling from it.
Finally, here’s a quick reference list of all the drink options that are available with the Accademia:
- Espresso Lungo / Caffe Lungo
- Coffee / Caffe Crema
- Latte Macchiato
- Hot Milk
- Hot Water
Although a super-automatic machine takes control of the brewing process by design, the Accademia provides quite a few options for tweaking your drink.
The temperature, strength and volume of your drink can all be programmed ahead of the brew. You can also play around with the milk frothing options to get your lattes just how you like them.
Handily, you can store these preferences as presets as well. If everyone in your household likes their cappuccino prepared just-so, you can add these options to the Accademia.
Crucially, the Accademia uses something known as a dual boiler system. This means that the espresso and milk sides of the brewing process are heated separately.
There are two main benefits of this approach, although it does contribute to the higher cost of the machine.
First, you don’t want to extract your coffee and heat your milk at the same temperature. You get the worst of both worlds when you go down this route.
Secondly, because the machine doesn’t have to adjust its temperature constantly, drinks are produced faster and there’s less downtime between individual brews.
On the subject of heating, I should mention here that the Accademia gets going surprisingly quickly. Not all super-automatics are fast to get the first drink of the day ready, but I’m impressed at this machine’s performance.
From a design perspective the Accademia is kind of at odds with itself.
On the one hand you have the chassis, which I think is beautiful.
It’s made of hard-wearing industrial stainless steel, softened by round edges right where they’re needed. It’s a classic look and Gaggia have knocked that side of things out of the park.
I’ve no objection to chunky buttons – ultimately it’s about ease of use – but I think the font Gaggia’s used here looks a little like something from a 90s Word Clip Art newsletter.
It just feels a little odd, and it’s made worse by the many more elegant design touches that have been applied everywhere else.
As for the display screen, it’s functional and easy to navigate which is the most important thing.
It’s not as crisp and colorful as you’ll get on other super-automatics at this end of the market though. It’ll do, but that’s about it.
Is all this nit-picking? Perhaps, but it’s frustrating nevertheless. This is the only area where I think the Accademia lets itself down a little. It lacks that final level of polish.
Cleaning & Maintenance
Given the investment required you’re going to want to look after this machine. I think the Accademia does a very good job of letting you know exactly what it needs, when it needs it.
It has an automatic descaling function built in, which I highly recommend you allow to run whenever the machine requires it.
If you don’t descale the machine, you run the risk of mineral deposits building up in the machine’s internal mechanisms. That will affect the quality of its performance as well as its longevity.
This becomes even more important if you live in a hard water area, as the machine gathers this sort of gunk much faster.
Both the dregs drawer and the drip tray also have built-in alerts which helps prevent mess. What I would say here though is that they both require emptying on a fairly regular basis, so just be aware of that before buying the Accademia.
The brew group itself comes out nice and easily for a manual clean, which I recommend doing on a weekly basis. Just add it to the weekend chore list as it’s important for keeping that quality coffee flowing!
Finally, I always recommend holding onto the manual when it comes to high-end coffee machines. They contain useful maintenance information, and you never know when you’ll need it.
If you’ve lost yours, you can find an online version of the Gaggia Accademia manual here.
There are a few related machines that are worth having a look at before settling on the Accademia.
I recommend checking out some other Gaggia coffee machines that are similar, but go about things in slightly different ways.
The Velasca Prestige has a slightly more compact form factor compared to the Accademia, but that does mean compromising in a few areas.
- The hopper capacity is a little smaller at 10.58oz.
- You can only fit a cup with a maximum height of 4.5”.
- A single boiler is less efficient when it comes to making multiple cups of coffee.
- On the plus size, the Velasca has 10 grind settings compared to the Accademia’s 8.
The Gaggia Babila really excels at offering many more grind settings than the Accademia. That’ll be of interest if you want really fine control over the consistency of your coffee.
- A slightly smaller water reservoir at 50.07oz. The Accademia’s already smallish tank has a maximum capacity of 54oz.
- Like the Accademia, the Babila makes use of a dual boiler.
- 15 grind settings provide maximum control over the coarseness of the coffee.
- Again, a smaller hopper capacity. Like the Prestige you can store a maximum of 10.58oz.
- Marginally smaller than the Accademia, but slightly larger than the Prestige.
In terms of budget, the Anima Prestige is typically a little more accessible than the Accademia, but you’re not compromising in too many areas.
- A hopper capacity of 8.8oz. Not so much of a problem if you don’t have a lot of coffee drinkers in your household.
- A smaller build size, but a bigger water reservoir! 60oz is the capacity here.
- Another Gaggia machine with a single boiler, rather than a dual boiler system.
- Maximum cup height of 5.9”.
The whole point of a super-automatic espresso machine is to provide you with fantastic espresso drinks, but with the minimum effort from you.
In that sense it’s easy to see why the Gaggia Accademia has proved to be such a popular choice. It produces the most popular espresso drinks to a very high quality, and it’s as hands-off as you want it to be.
I have some reservations about some of the finer design touches, but in all other regards I consider the Accademia to be an excellent super-automatic machine.
Click here to learn more about the Gaggia Accademia, and read more reviews from its owners.