Best Fully Automatic Espresso Machine Reviews

You might be thinking, “the best fully automatic espresso machine on the market is probably expensive. Why on earth would anyone, like myself, ever want to buy one when all I have to do is walk over to my nearest nation-wide chain like Starbucks, PJ’s Coffee, or Tully’s Coffee, just to name a few?”

There are many good reasons to head down to your local coffee shop. You could bring your tech gadgets, tap into the usually free wifi, and listen to some tunes, do some work, or both. What’s the problem you ask?

I’ll give you two reasons:

Your Precious Time 

lineup

Let’s start with the lineup. I took the liberty to randomly visit a very well-known coffee establishment you may have heard of, snapped a shot, and just look at the line-up. It looks like a 5 – 6 person line and I went as far as to time it.

The person at the back of the line would’ve waited about 5 minutes before s/he ordered. This isn’t too bad since it was about 5:00pm when I took this photo and not many people were ordering sweet delicacies.

But what you may have noticed by now are the red arrows on the photo where I’m trying to draw your attention. The beverage lineup backlog. This was where it was frustrating because not everyone understands the barista calling out. Perhaps the barista had a weak voice, a hard to understand

This was where it was frustrating because not everyone understands the barista calling out. Perhaps the barista had a weak voice, a hard to understand accent, or patrons not paying attention. Maybe the drink combos are too complicated like the one below and no one understood it:

valium_cafe

This is exactly why you occasionally see people looking cluelessly at each other near the espresso machine station shortly after the barista yells out some convoluted beverage combo. Assigning names to cups do help. But that does depend on whether people with similar names or difficult names are on the cup.

Back to the topic.

The point of the matter is this: it took over 10 minutes just for Bob to get his coffee and this was a less busy period. Now let’s look at the second reason.

Your Hard-Earned Money

First, let’s address the average cost of a fully automatic espresso machine. The average range is about $700 with $1,500+ reserved for the upper-end models. That’s certainly not something most people will gleefully walk into a store and buy spontaneously. Not unless you got a big raise or a significant inheritance on the horizon is backing up the purchase.

But, how does the cost of going to your nationally reputable coffee shop measure up? Let’s look at some stats:

  • Average cost of a coffee beverage: $3.25
  • Assuming you buy one beverage a day and work 5 days a week: $16.25
  • Average cost per month (simplified by assuming 4 weeks in a month): $65
  • Average cost per year: $780.00

*this cost does not factor in other costs associated with driving or public transit just to get your coffee.

Do you drink two cups a day? Double it up to $1,560.00 per year!

Finally, let’s revisit the wait time. If we use the less busy period of 10 minutes to calculate the wait time from lining up for order to the actual beverage in hand, and using the same metrics as the consumption frequency above, we will have:

  • Average wait time per week: 50 minutes
  • Average wait time per month: 200 minutes
  • Average wait time per year:  2,400 minutes or 40 hours

* this does not include travel time to or from the coffee shop.

In short, the average consumption will cost you 40 hours of your life lining up and $780 per year. Did you say two cups of coffee? You do the math.

Hate math? Here: 80 hours of your life and $1,560 per year. Why else do you think those coffee shops have awesome decoration, ambiance, and funky baristas who could possibly spell your order backward?

What is next?

Take some time to learn about the different types of espresso machines on the market today. This is in the next section that follows.

If you know all the machine types and just want to check out some reviews, refer to the table of contents at the top of this article for some top picks ranging from semi-automatic to superautomatic. Or just skip to the review section.


What is The Best Fully Automatic Espresso Machine? First, Know The Machine Types!

By now, I hope you will have at least opened your mind to the prospect of considering buying one for your home or office. But which is the best one? Before we start listing out the best fully automatic espresso machines, or even what constitutes as the best, ask yourself this:

Do you know the different types available on the market today? What their differences are?

More importantly, the best one on the market is not nearly as important as the best one that suits your needs.  

Espresso machines are becoming an important part of homes, offices and organizations due to their amazing features and fast ‘bean-to-cup speed’. As you are here, the chances are great that you may also be considering buying one.

But, choosing an espresso machine among so many available options is a little challenging. It is not only the different brands among which you need to make a choice, but also there are different types of espresso machines which you should learn more about. This increases the likelihood of getting one that best fits your requirements.

So, how many different types of espresso machines are there?  Although there are many varying functions which may make it hard to distinguish, there are basically four types summarized here:

Manual Espresso Machine

The manual espresso machines, also known as lever espresso machines, are just like 1990’ car models, which are surprisingly much more complicated compared to the feature-loaded models available today. In these espresso machines, the users are required to pull the lever which forces the water into a bed of ground coffee, resulting in varying degrees of quality espresso.

Moreover, the components of these manual machines can also stop working anytime for no obvious reason and have been known to completely burn your coffee. The flip side is these machines have been known to produce the best espresso in human history. As such, these machines should be considered only by the experienced home baristas searching for the perfect espresso.

The main components of manual espresso machines are a water reservoir, heating element, portafilter, a lever and a pressure gauge. There are actually two more subcategories of these types of machines, namely the Spring Piston Lever and Direct Lever.

Some specialty coffee shops may still sell these types. But for the purposes of this article, I’ll suggest some brands and models for the semi-automatics and up.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

Sometime during the 1940’s, these machines popped up when someone named Mr. Achille Gaggia had a “Newton” moment and decided to invent something easier to use than the manual machines. As the name suggests, the semi-automatic espresso machine needs some manual task, more so than just pushing a button, for making espresso.

The word automatic denotes the use of an electric pump with automated electrical temperature controls for the boiler unit. There is no lever like the one used in manual machines.

But where semi-automatic differs from fully automatic is the pump switch. Users of are required to turn on the machine and activate the pump to begin the espresso making process. Once the espresso has been made, the pump needs to be disengaged unless more beverages need to be made.

Although the entire process is taken care of by the machine itself, users are still required to ensure that the water reservoir has a sufficient amount of water. The semi-automatic espresso machines also contain a portafilter. Grounded coffee are “tamped” (compacted) into the portafilter, which is then attached to the espresso maker, where the pump is engaged.

As semi-automatic espresso makers offer functions that are easy to learn and carry out, they are the perfect choice for home use. Here are some reviews of top-rated examples:

Review: Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine

Gaggia 14101 ClassicI can’t mention the inventor if I don’t mention this classic. Moreover, all around the world, many coffee aficionados agree is a must for serious espresso lovers. This is one of the best-selling models of all time.

The commercialized brew group paired with a marine brass portafilter that is chrome-plated will reduce any significant heat deviations and assist with overall ease-of-use. In addition, this portafilter is compatible with both ground coffee and coffee pods (ESE type).

This classic machine boasts two stainless steel filter baskets offering up to two shots and the stainless steel design is a given.  The standard 7g scoop together with the coffee tamper is included. This leaves a good burr grinder you ought to marry with this timeless classic. This short review doesn’t do this machine justice so do check out the in-depth review of the Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine along with a few tips.

Review: Breville Barista Express BES870XL

Breville Barista ExpressThis is a Winner of the Best New Product awards (2013) from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). The award was under the Coffee or Tea Preparation and Serving Equipment category. The BES870XL promises to deliver espresso that’s arguably better than what you get from your local coffee shop or big chain.

What I have learned from the office coffee service I currently own and operate, is that espresso is best made with fresh beans that are grounded and extracted as soon as possible. The waiting time should be seconds, not minutes or more.

Ask any experienced barista worth her or his salt to confirm.

The benefit of the Barista Express is that the bean hopper with the burr grinder (conical) is built-in. The resulting grind gets deposited straight into the portafilter for extraction. How is that for speed and for holding as much taste and aroma as possible? If you are curious about this machine and want more information, check out the thorough review of Breville’s Barista Express BES870XL here.

Fully-Automatic Espresso Machine

The difference between the fully automatic and semi-automatic espresso machine is somewhat blurred in the industry and people often confuse the two types. But it is distinguishable as we will see. As the name implies, the fully automatic machine executes the entire process on its own.

The only notable difference is that users are not required to engage a pump switch like the semi-automatic version to push the water through the coffee.

The fully automatic machine is essentially a one-touch solution to espresso making. Another important difference is, unlike semi-automatics, the fully-automatics will automatically control the flow of water through the grounded coffee. The machine will disengage itself after the user-determined amount is brewed.

If you are a busy body and have loads of tasks and responsibilities, then preparing an espresso or two should be done a fully-automatic machine. It provides you the freedom to move away and finish your other tasks as the machine will stop working on its own.

This small yet key feature is not provided by the semi-automatic espresso machines. This is why you will often see fully automatic machines at coffee shops except large chains that have barista overcrowding and use semi-automatics; I’m sure you can conjure which ones.

Most fully automatic machines can usually brew two cups at the same time. As such, home applications for the fully-automatics are somewhat limited. But the trends seem to defy this thought as more and more households stock up on fully-automatics. More companies are also offering a growing range of household versions of these machines. Here are concise reviews of some top contenders:

Review: JURA ENA Micro 5

Jura ENA Micro 5JURA is a Swiss company that has been developing high-end and innovative appliances since 1931 and are considered pioneers when it comes to automatic espresso and coffee machines.

A unique feature of this machine is the height-adjustable smart or “intelligent” spout.  You can simply adjust it to make two cups instead of one. The amount of dispensed espresso is automatically adjusted for two cups. Plain awesome.

Fresh beans are crucial so this machine boasts an air-tight 4 oz hopper and beans are processed through their proprietary Aroma+ grinder.  There are 3 simple touch panel and 2 programmable options each (so 6 strength levels in total), for the cup you deserve.

The design is professional with its front panel stainless steel design and ultra-compact at just a little over 9″ wide and about 12.7″ tall. The depth is a bit more at 17.51″ but should easily fit on most home countertops; most home countertops are usually 23″ plus deep. In short, superb espresso or espressi at the push of a button. Barista experience unnecessary.

Review: KRUPS EA8442 Falcon

KRUPS is a German brand with a long line of espresso machines, notably: the Espresseria, EA8250 Coffee Center, the EA9010 Barista One Touch, and of course the Falcon EA8442. KRUPS EA8442 Falcon is a revolutionary system that offers a high-pressure pump (15 atmospheres) thanks to its unique “Thermoblock” system. The one-touch espresso and coffee-making feature of this machine allow new users, with little experience in gourmet coffee, to prepare one like a pro and with ease. Although it still is not as simple as the one button “does it all” superautomatics.

KRUPS EA8442 FalconWith a metallic burr grinder and a manual knob, you can adjust the grind settings to get the coffee strength you desire, and you have the option to adjust the froth density by using the milk froth system.

The end result is a beverage you experience at your favorite local coffee shop.  Touch screen features simple programming and is easy to use. Different size cups are easily accommodated due to the height-adjustable spout.

You may also notice this machine is quite black, unlike the other machines out there with their stainless steel covers. Some users also claim the grinder is quieter than others.

Here’s a side note (pun intended) – the milk jar is on the right side and fed into the machine, but what you don’t see is that the coffee waste is ejected from the left side. So wherever you put this machine, just account for that  extra space.

Super Automatic Espresso Machine

What constitutes the “super” in this category of espresso machines? As the name suggests, the super automatic espresso machines offer superb functionality in the sense that they do everything:

  • It grinds the beans.
  • Has its own doser with tamp in most cases.
  • Brews it.
  • Outputs the marvelously brewed coffee whilst ejecting the coffee waste for later collection and disposal.
  • This is ultimately the differentiating factor and what makes it the most “automatic” of all the automatics.

Let’s dig into a bit more detail.

All the components of a superautomatic are the same as that of the fully automatic machine. But the addition of an automated brewing system, which usually houses a high-quality burr grinder, makes its superior. We can actually write an entire article on just the grinder itself (or differing types of grinders).

But for all intents and purposes, just know that burr grinders come highly recommended.

With the push of a single button, the right amount of coffee beans are collected and ground to the finest level or if the model features such a function, to a coarseness level you set. The ground coffee is then automatically dumped into a doser or brew group making ‘your’ perfect brew.

Some units may still require filter paper. Saeco, and other brands have models that skip the paper filtering step altogether. Once the espresso is prepared, the coffee remains are automatically disposed into a dump box.

Thus, you are not required to do any frequent work apart from filling the hopper with beans and disposing of the waste. You will get your espresso with just one push of the button.

Here are 2 short reviews of popular machines in this class:

Review: Philips Saeco Minuto Class

Any coffee expert, especially Italians if I may add, know the Saeco brand. Saeco is now part of Philips and well established in Europe but in North America, they are not as well known to the masses. This may be due to their weaker marketing efforts insofar as their competitors are concerned, but the brand is solid.

Philips Saeco Minuto ClassThe Minuto features 5 grinder settings offering you the experience between the range of a heavy, full-bodied espresso all the way to feather-light coffee. It uses a ceramic grinder for heat management which ensures you will never spit out burnt coffee again.

Tired of repeating your order to a barista day after day? This machine allows you to store your favorite espresso strength from 5 different settings so you can have that perfect cup consistently.

The unit also houses a 1.8 liter (just under half a gallon) boiler with quick heating technology. You can enjoy your first cup quickly and immediately brew a second one if your partner shows up behind you and needs that “waker-upper”.

Finally, their proprietary milk frother allows you to brew up to six gourmet options including cappuccinos and Latte Macchiatos.

Review: DeLonghi Magnifica Xs 22.110.SB

DeLonghi ECAM22110SBDe’Longhi (DeLonghi) is a global presence and brand leader in coffee as well as select kitchen and household appliances.  This is yet another company with deep Italian and familial roots with a key brand quality in usability.

Imagine a large, full-size automatic espresso machine with all the great features and now reduce it to just 9.4″ x 13.8″ x 17″ (W x H x D). So, it’s more compact than a full-sized monster and it’s just a bit bigger than the JURA Micro ENA 5 above.

The main difference is the Magnifica is a super automatic machine. Armed with its own “Cappuccino System”, this machine brews the most popular gourmet options such as creamy and rich cappuccino and lattes.

Equipped with its own burr grinder, it features an easy-to-use control panel that allows you adjust up to 5 coffee strength settings, temperature, and 4 cup sizes. The bean hopper has a separate section allowing you to use decaffeinated or some specialty pre-ground coffee. I suggest you use the latter sparingly if freshness and aroma are important to you.

Like the Philips Saeco, this machine has its own proprietary and patented brewing system and can be removed for easy cleaning. Another neat feature is the integrated cup warmer so your beverage stays hot longer. This is especially useful for the winter!

One last thing I’d like to point out about this machine – it has its own energy saver mechanism that touts power savings of up to 77%. Not good enough? How about an auto-shut off feature after 3 hours for safety and further power savings? Like this one but want more details? Check out a more thorough review of the De’Longhi Magnifica Xs 22.11.SB.

One Last Category – Not Really Espresso

Lastly, and technically speaking, there is one category I was rather reluctant on mentioning because it’s not really an espresso machine per se: Steam-driven machines.  These are more like stovetop or something like a “Moka Pot”, whereby hot water is forced with power and steam into a layer or bed of coffee. The yield is a “strong coffee” but not espresso.

Just for comparison, moka pots use about 1.5 atmospheres of pressure while today’s modern espressos require 9 atmospheres or thereabouts. Companies like Braun or Krups marketing moka pot type brewing devices.

Pod or Capsule Machines

Nespresso D121-US4-BK-NE1I have left this category as last as possible. These machines use pre-ground coffee is stuffed into little capsules. Keurig Coffee system or Nespresso machines typically use such capsules.

These little compact machines can actually be classified as somewhat fully automated in a single-serve context. This is because you just insert the coffee pod, press a button, and out comes your coffee. If you’re not big into taste, aroma, and just want something cheap, easy, and satisfies your moderate coffee crave, this might be for you.

There are a number of issues I have with these types of machines including environmental concerns. The combustion techniques to make your cup of coffee is questionable as well. This depends on the brand, the mechanism, the pod itself, and some other factors.

That said, and since they are considerably cheaper, it may be worthwhile to keep one as a back-up just in case. The more robust “semi to super range” of espresso machines are great, but nothing is perfect and I’ve had my experience with faulty machines (lemons).

Which one should you choose?

The answer depends on what you want to use it for, where, and how frequently. For instance, fully automatic machines may be more suitable for commercial use as they do not require as much effort from the user side. Whereas semi-automatic machines are considered more applicable for home use due to less frequent consumption or requirements.

But if budget is not a concern and you don’t want to perform any manual function then you should go for fully or super automatic espresso machine.

Another factor that you should consider is your cup requirements i.e. how many cups you want to make at a time. Although one to two cups is the norm, some machines are capable of making 4 cups of espresso, like the Gaggia GD Compact Commercial Grade.

If your mind is set on a fully automatic espresso machine, it is worthwhile to consider some important factors summarized below.

What should you look for in a fully automatic espresso machine?

Not all fully automatic espresso machines provide the exact same features or qualities. So, in order to choose the right one, consider the following criteria:

  • Ease of use: This may sound obvious but some machines come with functions that you will never or seldom use. Focus on the main use you have for the machine. In fact, this is the first criteria you ought to weigh against all machines.Check all its programmable settings and associated features to determine how easy-to-use they are and if a steep learning curve is involved.
  • Beverage range: Does the unit offer a unique frother? Is it easy to clean?
  • Capacity: Different models have different boiler components as well as yields. Different models are available depending on whether you need one or 4 cups at a time. Moreover, the espresso machine should also be fast in making the coffee regardless how many cups it makes at a time.
  • Size & Placement: Along with capacity, the size of the machine also matters. Some espresso machines are so big that they can consume a lot of space. So, if you have limited kitchen space, a smaller machine may be wiser.
  • Boiler: A whole article, and then some, can be dedicated to boilers. I have humungous commercial grade machines and when the boiler goes bonkers, it is a royal pain. But to keep this simple, boilers can be divided into three groups or classes:
    • Single Boiler – Dual use. This is what is found in most machines about $1,000 or below. It allows you to either brew a beverage or switch to the secondary thermostat for steaming milk but not simultaneously.
    • Single Boiler – Heat Exchanger. As you may have guessed, machines with the $1,000 price tag may house this type of boiler. Without getting too technical with the coils and tubes, let’s just say this type of boiler allows you to brew a beverage AND steam at the same time.
    • Dual Boilers. The name gives it away – there are two and they are independent. One boiler is set at a brewing temperature while the other is set higher for steaming. Some units use something called a “Thermoblock” which heats on the fly. Newer more expensive models use a more efficient “Thermocoil”. These are better than the heat exchanger with a single boiler unit. But it could also be double the trouble, albeit rare, if both fail.
  • Cost: Cost matters to most of us. As fully automatic espresso machines also come with different features, their cost varies accordingly. So, if you have a fixed budget, choose a machine with the features that closely match your needs. If the price is still too high, you may have to eliminate a feature at a time, starting with least desirable one.It could also mean that a fully-automatic is not the right choice for you. Perhaps, a semi-automatic may be a good compromise. But if you can, don’t hesitate to increase your budget a little more to get the fully automatic espresso machine you have always been waiting for.

Conclusion

Thanks to Mr. Gaggia, espresso machines have come a long way. Not only do they make outstanding coffee shop quality espresso and other gourmet options, they can even improve the look of your kitchen if you choose the right size and finish.

There are a lot of brands and models available so there is certainly one on the market that should fit your budget and preferences. Technology is constantly improving to the point that even someone oblivious to espresso making can churn out unbelievable espresso at the press of one button. No more waiting at lineups, the perfect espresso right in your home where convenience is key.

No more waiting at lineups, the perfect espresso right in your home where convenience is key.

 

About This Research and Review:

* More than 40 project hours* invested researching and producing this article.
* The Research & Analysis component of the project is usually a combination of:

  1. Analyzing country-specific appliance manufacturer’s / authorized distributor’s documentation and websites.
  2. Cross-referencing e-retailer’s listed specifications of the appliance against the manufacturer / authorized distributors.
  3. Only Assessing Verified customer reviews and comments (positive & negative) from reputable e-retailers.
  4. Physical inspection of the small appliance where possible / available.

* Stated hours may increase due to our constant checking for manufacturer’s updates, news, etc.

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