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Automatic Espresso Machines



I get a lot of email from people asking about the difference between automatic espresso machines and manual espresso machines so I thought I'd write a guide to clear up any confusion and put the matter to rest once and for all.


So what exactly is the difference between these two types of machines (besides hundreds to thousands of dollars!)? It usually has to do with the coffee beans and the water flow.


Manual Espresso MachineBut before we get into that I want to clear something up. Technically speaking, a manual machine is really one with a big lever on it that you pull down and manually churn out a shot of espresso like the one shown here. No one really uses those types of machines, I mean come on.


Out here in the real world we sort of ignore those machines. Yes, those are "manual machines" but that's not what we mean when we say "manual" these days. These days when we say manual, what we really mean is semi-automatic. So if you hear someone talking about a manual machine (myself included), what we're really probably talking about is a semi-automatic machine.


Confused yet? Yeah, I sort of lost me there too....let's look at a manual/semi-automatic machine.


Manual Espresso Machine


Manual Espresso MachineHere's a picture of a basic manual espresso machine (technically a semi-automatic but we call these manual machines). You've probably seen a hundred variations of this machine in stores.


Basically we've got a single basket/arm to hold coffee beans, and a button to turn the machine off and on. There may or may not be a digital clock or LED screen of some sort.


These machines are manual because you have to grind your coffee beans yourself, put the grounds into the basket/arm, turn on the machine, turn off the machine once the shot has been poured, and then empty out the basket/arm to dispose of the used coffee grounds.


Automatic Espresso Machine


Automatic Espresso MachineOn the other hand, here we have an Automatic Espresso Machine. Notice that there is no basket/arm to hold coffee grounds!


With this type of machine, you simply dump a bunch of beans in a hopper. Whenever you want a shot of espresso you just push a button. The machine will grind your beans, turn itself on to pour a perfect shot of espresso, turn itself off when the espresso has poured out, and then dispose of the used coffee grounds itself!


Want three shots of espresso? Press the "3" button on the front of the machine.


Let's Talk About Price


As you would expect, manual machines are much cheaper than automatic ones. You can pay anywhere from $100 up to $500 for a really nice manual machine.


Companies that specialize in manual machines include:

  • Cuisinart
  • Briel
  • Krups
  • Breville
  • Capresso
  • DeLonghi
  • Gaggia
  • Saeco
  • Rancilio


Automatic espresso makers tend to start at around $500 and can easily shoot up to the several thousand dollar range.


Companies that specialize in automatic machines include:

  • Jura-Capresso - Probably the leader
  • Gaggia
  • DeLonghi
  • Saeco


* Apart from these two distinctions, there is also another newer type of machine - the single cup automatic brewing system that runs using E.S.E. pods, capsules, cups, or discs but that's a whole other type of beast and usually tends to be more coffee focused than espresso focused. Those types of machines include; Nespresso, Senseo, Tassimo, and Keurig. Generally these are considered "automatic" as well, but aren't the same as the "automatic" espresso machines we've just been talking about.


So there you have it. Most of the time, when you see an espresso machine in a store, it's going to be a manual machine. You'll easily recognize it because it has a readily identifiable basket/arm for espresso grounds sticking out the front of it.


Plus another easy rule of thumb...if it costs less than $300-$500 it's almost certainly a manual machine. And if it looks like a microwave or toaster oven and costs $2,000 - there's a good chance it's an automatic machine!


And now you know the difference between the two!








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