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Updated for 2021. If you're seeing this, you probably have a lot of questions about getting into home espresso. With countless choices on the market between this coffee maker or that espresso machine, you've likely discovered that making the correct choice isn't quite as simple as a single online search and making a purchase. With that, you may already know that there are a few types of espresso machine that describe, in broad strokes, what they're capable of and how they're used. We would like to simplify all of that.
So, let's figure out who these machines are for and what they're all about.
Put simply, semi-auto espresso machines are excellent choices for beginner and intermediate coffee lovers who are starting to take their coffee more seriously, while providing options for more advanced users who don't need the capacity of larger machines. You could be someone with zero experience or quite a bit, but you have a growing interest in preparing your own drinks. Larger, more expensive machines may seem intimidating or even unnecessary, and that is perfectly okay. You're content with a more compact machine that's suitable for your needs and making drinks for a tight-knit group of friends.
When we talk about semi-automatic espresso machines, we're looking at the early to mid-range of more manual-style products. With a semi-auto, you can expect to grind your own beans, tamp, lock in the portafilter, and brew on your own. This hands-on preparation allows you to get much better results out of your coffee because you have more control than you would with more automated coffee makers. You'll need to be mindful of dosage, the angle and pressure of your tamp, and shot times, but it all comes together to make a better espresso. You're not completely left on your own, however, as many semi-automatic machines have features that make the process easier.
Things like pressurized portafilters and baskets make for consistent, crema-rich espresso, whereas auto-frothing wands and cappuccinatore attachments take all of the guesswork out of lattes and cappuccinos. That is to say, you're going to get a great drink with just a little bit of effort.
For more serious users, some semi-automatics are all stainless-steel and come with commercial-style steam wands, pressure gauges, and even PID controllers. These are great tools for users with more particular tastes who don't need the capacity that larger Prosumer machines offer. The PID is especially useful, as most semi-automatic machines use a single boiler for both steaming and brewing, and won't have the temperature stability that dual boilers have.
If you enjoy preparing drinks and expect to brew a few times a day, then semi-automatic espresso machines are certainly for you. There are semi-autos available for any skill level, so even if you're a true beginner, you can still get plenty of mileage with these machines. You won't be hosting large parties, but small get-togethers are absolutely possible and you can be sure your friends will be happy with the quality of your drinks.