An Expert Guide to Superautomatic Espresso MachinesPublished on 02/01/2023 · 12 min readConsidering investing in a superautomatic espresso machine? Check out this guide from Coffee and Espresso Expert Janelle G. for everything you'll need to know!
Photo by Onno
Super-automatic espresso machines fully automate the espresso-making process, allowing you to make an espresso-based drink (like a latte, americano, or latte macchiato) with the press of a button. They are a quick and easy way for users with no previous expresso experience to get their morning fix. These machines can vary widely in price, with higher-cost machines coming with more premium features—including user profiles, preprogrammed drinks, drink customization options, self-cleaning features, and app compatibility. Finding the right machine for you is a question of what your budget is and what features are important for your everyday use.
What Is a Super Automatic Espresso Machine?
At its most basic, a super-automatic freshly grinds coffee beans, doses the proper amount of ground coffee, brews an espresso shot, and may even steam milk and add it into your mug. Super-automatic machines deliver the taste and experience of your favorite cafe drink with very little time and effort spent. This makes them a great choice for people who want to limit trips to their local coffee shop but still get out the door quickly on busy mornings.
- Fast to heat up and make drinks
- Easy to use with no espresso experience necessary
- Consistent drinks with more variables controlled
- Can only make drinks that are available on the machine
- Less drink customization than a semi-automatic machine
- Harder to achieve cafe- or barista-quality drinks
- Less ability to experiment with espresso and different coffees
What to Consider When Buying a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine
What Is My Budget?
Be honest with yourself and think about how much you would be comfortable spending on an espresso machine. Machines (for home use) can vary widely in cost—from around $600 to more than $5,000. Machines at higher price points have additional features (explained below) such as increased customization, more preprogrammed drinks, user profiles, and other features. More expensive machines also tend to be more durable (and sometimes include a longer warranty), which may be a compelling reason to spend a bit more on a machine that will last you longer.
What Types of Drinks Do I Like?
Do you have a cappuccino every morning, or are you an americano person who never adds milk to their coffee? Do you love an afternoon latte macchiato, or do your kids need their hot chocolates and steamers? If you have a couple of drinks that you know you'd want, keep those in mind when looking at options. Machines have different types of pre-programmed drinks, and you want to make sure that you'll be able to make your daily drink easily. It's worth noting that even if a drink isn't a preprogrammed option, you may still be able to make it by changing some of the drink settings. If you’re not sure, a Curated Coffee and Espresso Expert can help you figure out if a machine is capable of making the drinks you like.
How Many People Will Be Using the Machine Regularly?
First off, the number of users and number of drinks per day can help to determine the size of the water tank, waste bin, drip tray, and other features you require. For example, if you know you'll be making several drinks a day for several family members, you may want a larger water reservoir—so that you don't have to refill it after making a couple of drinks.
Secondly, the number of users—and their different drink preferences—can help you decide if user profiles are a feature that you want in your machine. Some, but not all, machines offer programmable user profiles. These save preferences such as strength, volume, and temperature of espresso; amount of foam in steamed milk; and amount of water in an americano. Machines offer different numbers of user profiles (some have a "guest" profile as well), so think about how many people will regularly use the machine and if you often have other friends or family members who will be using it.
Do I Have Any Size Limitations?
Some super-automatic machines can be BIG. Do you have low cabinets over your counter? A small kitchen with limited counter space? Make sure that you take measurements of your viable space, and compare those measurements with the machine’s dimensions. You'll also want to consider where you refill beans in the bean hopper, and where the water reservoir is refilled from. If you have a tight fit under a cabinet, you may want a machine whose water tank can be pulled out from the side, rather than from the top. Otherwise, you may have to move the whole machine each time you need to refill the tank.
Features to Look for
There are a few features that all super-automatic machines should have:
Super-automatic machines have a bean hopper to store beans. Hoppers can vary in size, with larger sizes needing to be refilled less often. Most bean hoppers are sealed to protect the freshness of beans, allowing them to be stored in the hopper for several days. Some machines feature a detector to alert when it's time to refill the hopper. Otherwise, you'll need to keep an eye out and refill when you notice it's nearing empty.
Super-automatic machines feature built-in grinders, which grind the appropriate amount of beans fresh for each drink. Some machines feature ceramic grinders ("burrs"), and others have stainless steel grinders. Ceramic grinders are more durable and high quality; they are considered the preferred type of grinder for super-automatic machines.
Grinders can either have flat or conical burrs. There isn't necessarily a better option, but they can have slightly different flavor profiles. If you're not sure which one you'd prefer, chat with a Curated Expert, or find a cafe that has your favorite-tasting espresso, and ask what type of burrs their grinders have.
One of the most important aspects of the grinder is the number of grind settings. The more grind settings you have, the more control you'll have over your espresso—and you'll be more able to dial in your espresso for each type of coffee bean you use.
Almost all contemporary super-automatic machines offer a bypass doser—a chute to bypass the grinder. This allows you to use pre-ground coffee (ground on a fine or espresso setting). Most people use this to brew decaf espresso without having to fill the bean hopper with decaf beans.
Machines come with a water reservoir (or water tank), which needs to be refilled when empty. The size of the water tank can vary widely between machines, with most falling between 37–64oz (though some higher-end or commercially capable machines have a much larger capacity). Another feature to consider with water reservoirs is where they remove from. Some water reservoirs are removed from the front, from the side, or from the top of the machine. This can be important depending on the layout of your counter space and kitchen—if there will be anything blocking one side or another.
The brew group is responsible for making the espresso. It performs all the steps needed to brew a shot of espresso, all within the internal brew group. Some machines have a removable brew group, while others have a non-removable brew group. For machines with a removable brew group, it is recommended to remove and rinse the brew group regularly to remove any potential coffee grounds or residue. Machines with brew groups that are NOT removable (e.g. Jura brand machines) have automatic cleaning cycles that will rinse the brew group for you at regular intervals.
All of these machines have a built-in waste bin where the puck (used grounds) will be automatically discarded. The grounds accumulate in the bin as you make drinks, and you'll be alerted when it's time to clean out the waste bin. You'll want to make sure you keep the waste bin as clean and dry as possible to avoid mildew or mold from accumulating in the grounds.
The control panel will vary widely from machine to machine, ranging from physical buttons to touchscreens. The control panel is where you'll select drink options, customize settings, and utilize other optional features (like user profiles and cleaning and maintenance reminders).
Super-automatic machines will come with a range of pre-programmed drink options. Some of the simplest machines will only have a couple of options (espresso, americano, latte), but some machines may have a lot of options pre-programmed. This can be a big differentiating factor between different machine options, so think about how many drinks you'd regularly use, and how important having those options are to you. Some small differences might be really important to you: do you want hot water for tea, or steamed milk for hot chocolate?
In addition to pre-programmed drinks, super-automatic machines also feature various settings to customize your drinks. These include brew temperature, amount of froth on steamed milk, strength (sometimes called "aroma") of espresso, and volume of espresso and milk or water in your drink. Espresso makers with more settings will provide more customization options, and therefore more ability to tailor your cup of coffee tightly to your preferences.
There are also features that some (but not all) super-automatic espresso machines will offer:
The vast majority of super-automatic machines offer some way of steaming milk. The most common is a milk frother, which will automatically froth milk and dispense it into your cup with the touch of a button. Some machines have a steam wand instead, which is a slightly more manual version. With a frothing wand, you'll have to hold a pitcher, wait for the milk to be steamed to create your desired amount of milk foam, then add the steamed milk to your cup yourself. For a truly super-automatic experience, a milk frothing system is the best choice.
Some machines offer multiple user profiles, which enable you to save your specific drink settings for one (or more) users. So, think about how many people regularly use your machine, and how different their drink preferences are. For one user, user profiles may be unnecessary. For a couple with very different preferences (one likes traditional 6oz cappuccinos, while the other prefers larger milky drinks), user preferences may be a worthwhile timesaver to avoid having to change settings each time you make a drink.
All super-automatic machines require regular cleaning, but some machines have programmed features to take care of some of those cleaning steps for you. This can be particularly helpful if you know that you hate cleaning, or think you might forget to clean your machine at regular intervals. Self-cleaning features include self-rinsing the brew unit (which is often the case for machines with a non-removable brew unit) and cleaning the milk system after each use. Milk-frothing systems can be particularly challenging to clean thoroughly, so self-cleaning capabilities can help ensure you're keeping your milk system clean.
App Programmability and Other High-Tech Features
Some higher-end or newer machines will offer various WiFi- or Bluetooth-enabled features that allow you to use an app to control the machine. These features include being able to remotely turn on the machine or make a drink (say, from bed or from your home office), or receive reminders to refill the water tank or bean hopper. Sometimes additional accessories are needed to utilize these features, so make sure you double-check if any add-on accessories are required.
How to Choose the Right Super Automatic Espresso Machine for You
Choosing the best espresso machine for you can be challenging. If you're looking for a more in-depth dive into different super-automatic machines and their pros and cons, check out this video.
Below are three example customers looking for a super-automatic machine, and what features they may want to look for.
Ahmed: High-Tech Espresso Aficionado
A techie who loves high-tech features in all his machines and gadgets, he is also a self-proclaimed espresso snob and wants a super-automatic machine that makes espresso as close to cafe-quality as possible—regardless of price.
Features Ahmed should look for:
- A high-end machine with top-notch espresso
- App-enabled and programmable
Russell: Budget Basics
Hoping to save some time and money by making his lattes at home rather than stopping at his local cafe every day, Russell likes the simple espresso drinks, and pretty much sticks to lattes, flavored lattes, and americanos. He doesn't want to spend too much and is hoping to keep his new machine under $1,000. Russell has never made espresso before and wants a machine that will be very easy to use and requires minimal work—although he doesn't mind cleaning and maintaining the machine himself.
Features Russell should look for:
- A limited range of drinks (only the basics are needed)
- A budget-friendly machine under $1,000
- A machine with a fully automatic milk-frothing system
Antonio and Jackie: Two Preferences, One Machine
Antonio and Jackie have a large kitchen with plenty of space for a new espresso machine. Antonio loves his espresso strong and intense, while Jackie prefers her’s with lots of milk or water. They are looking for a machine that will be easy for them to use and maintain, let them make their favorite drinks, and will last them a long time. They have a wide budget between $2,000–5,000.
Features Antonio and Jackie should look for:
- A high-end machine with top-notch espresso
- User profiles (2+ profiles)
- Lots of drink settings and customization options available
- Self-cleaning features to make maintenance a breeze
Having Trouble Deciding? Connect With Us
Super-automatic machines are a great option for people who want a fast, easy-to-use, and no-skill-required machine to make espresso-based drinks at home. However, super-automatic s may not be the right choice for someone who wants ultimate control over their espresso or wants to learn the ins and outs of coffee and espresso.
Super-automatic machines can vary greatly in their price and in the features that they offer. Finding the right one for you can be daunting, but a Curated Coffee and Espresso Expert can help to narrow down your choice with free, customized advice. If you're unsure what the best machine for you is, reach out and send me a message! I'd be happy to help you find the best espresso machine for your home.