Steam vs Semi-Auto vs Super-Auto Coffee Makers: Which one is for you?

Posted on December 10 in Articles | 0 comments

Some people like it the drip-way. Some people like it the espresso-way.

Which is better? This article is not to tell you which of the two is better. If you are searching for the answer, go ahead and read the comparison between drip vs espresso coffee brew.

Steam vs Semi-Automatic vs Super-Automatic Brewing

If you still continue reading, it can only mean 1 thing. You are already made up that you are an espresso guy and you are interested only in finding the most convenient espresso machine.

Take note that we’re not referring to the best espresso machine here, but the most convenient rather.

If you ask, which espresso machine offers the greatest level of convenience, the answer is straightforward. Super-automatic type of espresso maker is the answer.

How I wish life can be so simple! Men are lazy by nature and it is easy to understand why the super-automatic breed of espresso station is the answer. But there is 1 big problem. They cost a bomb!

So as you can see, the answer to the question is determined by the budget that you have. Convenient is only relative to the amount that you are willing to fork out.

If you are a super rich brag and you can pay any price to push what technology can offer, by all means go for the super-automatic. But if you are an average joe (like myself) and need to seriously weigh every dollar spent, the semi-automatic or the steam may be the better option.

Steam vs Semi-Automatic vs Super-Automatic

At the most affordable end of the price range is the steam-based espresso maker. How it works is real simple.

First, you place the water inside the water reservoir. The water reservoir gets heated up. The water converts into steam. The steam is trapped inside a steam chamber where pressure will build up. When enough pressure is reached, a valve will open and the pressurized steam will flow through the espresso grinds.

Simple as it may, some people still find it hard to comprehend. Unless you are a true coffee geek, this doesn’t matter. What matters is to know that steam espresso maker is what you want to go for if you are tight on budget.

Moving up the price range is the semi-automatic espresso station. It works slightly differently from the entry-level steam espresso maker.

First, you still pour the water inside the water reservoir. However, instead of heating up the entire reservoir, water is pumped out of the reservoir and is passed through a Thermal-block. The advantage that Thermal-block has over the earlier method is it allows you to steam and brew separately.

Let me not go deeper into all the technicalities. I know most of you are just concerned with one thing.

“What a difference does it make to my cup of coffee?”, plain simple concern. The answer boils down to 2 simple things. First, it allows you to achieve crema. Second, it lets you make uninterrupted brews of cappucinos and lattes.

On the highest end of the price spectrum is the super-automatic espresso maker. It works almost entirely the same way as the semi-automatic type, albeit with much less hassle.

With the semi-automatic brewer, you are still required to grind tamp and dose. All this is taken care for you with the super-automatic brewer. Well, but there is one thing you still have to do on your own though. You have to buy your coffee beans and pour them into the bean compartment. Aside from that, pressing a button is all you need to do and you have your cup of espresso ready within minutes.

Now that you have seen how the three different techniques work, the next question naturally will be to ask which model is best for each technique. I’ve spent some time researching and I’ve got the following picks to recommend.

Best Super-Automatic Espresso Machine: DeLonghi ESAM3300

I particularly like DeLonghi ESAM3300. If $$$ is not an issue, I would defintely get myself this model.

As you would expect out of a super-automatic espresso maker, it is packed with a rich set of features and functionalities. What you need to is simply place your gourmet coffee beans, press on the start button and the rest is taken care for you.

One neat feature of DeLonghi ESAM3300 is the design of the frothing wand. It is designed to be adjustable in order to accommodate pitchers and cups. The DeLonghi ESAM3300 has easy-to-use rotary and accessible controls to initiate programmable settings like rinse/decalcification and individual preferences for drink preparation, as well as a compact conical burr grinder for many kinds of beans. The latter goes by the name “Direct-to-Brew” and does so because bean-grinding leads to rapid, quality drinks.

The double boiler, 62-ounce water tank and electronic steam and coffee thermostats all assist in making this possible. I also like the three-hour shutoff to ensure safety. Users don’t have to worry about turning off their machines or accidents occurring.

There is one disadvantage of having everything taken care of. No doubt it is going to produce consistent brew every time. But you have little or almost no control of the entire brewing process. The only thing you can do is to change your beans!

But my experience tells me that most of us would not be particularly concerned about this. Unless you are an accomplished coffee connoiseur who is able to tell the tiny difference between a perfectly from imperfectly roasted Kenyan beans, then I think this consistency is what most of us would ever need.

Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine: DeLonghi EC155

As far as its reputation goes, I like the Delonghi. Not only does this model produce excellent espresso, cappuccino and lattes, it also does well with coffee.

The DeLonghi EC155 comes with the brand’s patented dual function filter holder. What does this mean to you? It simply means that you have the flexibility of going with those readily packed coffee pods or you can go with your freshly ground gourmet coffee beans.

I also like the fact it is affordable, along with its manageable size. I can place it anywhere and conserve space.

I have also noticed some drawbacks. The porta-filter screen prevents easy flow of water and creates ‘soupy’ grounds that may affect taste and leave a greater mess to clean. This is likely caused by inadequate water pressure, but with adjustments to the hose leading to the tank, the passage of water just may flow better.

Of course, the unit tends to run slower over time, but I have found that frequent cleaning will rectify that issue as well. The only real problem, I believe, is ergonomics. One example is the frothing wand. It works well, but it is situated too low, so pitchers and cups are hard to fill with milk without moving the machine to froth the drinks.

Obviously, comparing the EC155 with the super-automatic ESAM3300 would be like comparing an apple to an orange. But given its price tag, EC155 is probably one of the most convenient espresso maker that you can afford.

Best Steam Espresso Machine: Mr. Coffee ECM160

This unit is much like the DeLonghi EC155 except that it is steam-driven. I agree with reviewers who say the pump-driven process creates a better drink.

This, in my opinion, is where the DeLonghi EC155 outdoes the Mr. Coffee ECM160. Some drinkers may prefer steam-driven drinks, but the taste is different. Another feature that grabbed me is the easy rotation, which facilitates a firm and solid pack of grounding so drinks are thicker and richer in both substance and taste, and lattes are excellent as well.

Of course, I have to add, the unit is small in size, just like the EC155, so it takes up minimal space, and it is quiet. The ECM160 leaves you in peace while it brews.

The negatives are not that serious, just inconvenient. Cleaning, though easy, requires vinegar mixed with water, which is an extra step in the process, and it should be practiced frequently to prevent clogging. This ties in with the reviewer complaint that the unit functions top-notch at first but wanes over time. This wouldn’t concern me, though. All you have to do is expel the excess of liquid prior to further brewing to allow for machine warm-up and subsequent start-up.

The lack of pitcher and tamper is an inconvenience as well, but not a major one, since owners can buy them to size and type. I admit that the ECM160 produces no real espresso or crema (despite the powerful stream), but it excels in coffee, cappuccino and hot chocolate. I wouldn’t buy this for espresso, but for the other three, I would find it a nice choice.

Your Turn

You have now seen the various breeds of espresso maker. I’m sure you are in the best position to decide which breed is best-suited for you.

If budget is your #1 determinant, stick with the steam espresso brewer. If lifestyle is your #1 determinant (and budget is last), then go for the super-automatic breed. If you are sandwiched in between (like majority of us), the semi-automatic option is probably your best type of coffee maker.

Like your coffee brewed the drip-way instead? Check out our pick for the best drip coffee makers.

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