The Ultimate buying guide for the best automatic espresso machines

When looking for an espresso machine for home use, many users love the simplicity of an automatic model. These tend to offer the best compromise between the simplicity of a super-automatic, and the extensive customization available with manual machines.

But how do you know what the best automatic espresso machine for you will be? There are a number of things you should know when looking through the reviews online. We have gathered and organized some of the most important information in order to help you make an informed buying decision.

Matt the master brewer

Easier to use than a manual Espresso Machine more control than a Super Automatic Espresso Machine

Which Automatic Espresso Machine would we recommend?

Read on for all the information you'll need to choose the Automatic Espresso Machine that's perfect for you.

If you don't want to spend too much time researching, just pick one of the Automatic Espresso Machines below and you will not be disappointed

Gaggia 14101

Espresso Cappuccino Maker

  • Sleek Design
  • Small Footprint
  • Great Coffee

Our Review

Breville 800 ESXL

Our Top Pick

  • Pro machine
  • Simple Design
  • Easy to use
  • Small Footprint
  • Great Coffee

Our Review

Delonghi EC155

Classic Espresso Machine    

  • Accepts Pods
  • Value for money
  • Good Milk Frother

Our Review

What is an automatic espresso machine?


An automatic espresso machine is one that seeks to take a lot of the work out of the espresso-making process. With these machines, there is often one button to brew your coffee (after you’ve packed your portafilter and filled your water tank). In machines that also have a milk steamer, this may be a separate button.

The term “automatic” is a bit misleading, however, as there are different steps necessary to make the perfect cup of espresso (although there will be less steps than with a manual machine). In automatic machines, the water temperature and pressure are usually factory-set and automated to ensure your coffee is brewed perfectly. Steam production and water flow may be adjusted for personal preference. Additionally, you must grind your coffee on your own, as freshly-ground coffee is generally preferred over pre-ground coffee.

Most of all, automatic espresso machines are created for those who are particular about their coffee, but don’t want to make their espresso on a stovetop. It will take a little longer than a super-automatic machine, but the end result will be a fine beverage that’s tailored to your specific tastes.

Automatic Espresso machines - The Good

  • Simpler to use than manual machines
  • Quick and convenient
  • Consistent Results
  • More control than a Super Automatic

Automatic Espresso Machines - The Bad

  • More expensive than entry level machines
  • Portafilter needs regular cleaning
  • No inbuilt grinder

How is an Automatic Espresso machine different to Super Automatic or Manual?

Matt the master brewer

Easier to use than a manual Espresso Machine more control than a Super Automatic Espresso Machine

While automatic espresso machines take a lot of the work out of the process, they don’t remove all of the work, like a super-automatic machine does. Super-automatic machines often do everything at the press of a button – from grinding the coffee in a predetermined amount, pumping the water through, and even steaming milk. These machines take all the guesswork out, but they also remove the customization that espresso lovers crave.

Manual espresso machines, on the other hand, offer the highest level of customization, but will require more work on your part to achieve the perfect cup of espresso. In most cases, manual machines will also require more time, and you will have to be actively monitoring the machine the whole time. These are precision machines, and they are generally not well suited to beginners.

Automatic espresso machines balance the two – offering you more control with less work. There is no single answer as for what’s better – it’s just a matter of what’s better for you.

A Brief History of Automatic Espresso Machines

In short, espresso machines were born in 1884, from a desire for better coffee with a faster brew time. This turns the art of coffee making into a science – and to make this process easier, automatic espresso machines were created. These machines help to control the finer scientific points of the brewing process, and helped lead to the widespread success of espresso machines outside of their original Italy.

Although espresso machines have undergone a number of changes since their earliest inception, the biggest innovation happened in 1961, when Ernesto Valente created the prototype for the first automatic espresso machine. This machine used an internal pump to regulate the pressure put forth on the coffee puck. After the water left the plumbing line, it would go to a heat exchanger to keep it at the perfect temperature for coffee extraction. These machines (branded the Faema E61) had a smaller size than traditional espresso machines, and could be operated with much less expertise than the old system, which required the barista to pull a lever.

Since the 1960s, espresso machines have undergone a significant number of additional changes, including computerized measurements, mechanical upgrades, better electrical components, and portable pneumatics. These improvements vary from one manufacturer to the next, but in most cases, modern espresso machines are much better than their traditional counterparts.

Automatic Espresso Machine Boiler Types

Boiler type is one of the key considerations when choosing an Automatic Espresso Machine. There are three main boiler types which are are often referred to by their acronyms

SBDU

Single Boiler Double Use


  • Least  expensive
  • Simple to use
  • ​Increased cool down time
  • ​Shared heating element
  • Unable to Steam and brew in parallel

HX

Heat Exchange


  • Parallel steam and brew
  • Medium price
  • 1 Boiler
  • ​Shared heating element
  • Learning curve

DB

Double Boiler


  • Complete control
  • Configurable
  • Hard to Master
  • Expensive

SBDU: This acronym stands for “single boiler, double use”. These boilers are unable to steam milk and brew espresso at the same time, as the heating element is shared between the two processes. Espresso machines which use SBDU boilers will usually take a long time to reach steam temperature – as much as two minutes per drink. This can add up quickly if you will be making multiple milk-based drinks back to back, as you will also need to wait for the water to cool down to the appropriate brewing temperature before you can pull another shot. However, they are generally less expensive than other boiler types.

HX: This acronym stands for “heat exchange”. While these boilers use a single boiler, like SBDUs, they are able to brew espresso and steam milk at the same time, due to the boiler being kept at a constant steaming temperature. The water used for brewing is sent through a different system, so that it stays at a lower temperature. The specifics of this boiler design will vary from one manufacturer to another. These machines offer a lower price than dual boilers (below), but experienced users can learn to use timed flushes to regulate their temperatures in order to pull the perfect shot every time. Some love being able to do this, while others may just like the lower cost.

DB: This stands for “dual boiler”. As you might guess, this machine uses a separate boiler for the brew water and the steam wand. Because the heating elements are separate, the barista will have complete control over the temperature of each – which might mean it takes longer to adjust for different preferences. Since different manufacturers use different setups to implement their DB systems, experience with one might not translate to an understanding of another, either. However, they generally keep temperatures more consistent once set. These machines are generally the highest priced machines on the market, as well as the most difficult to master.

Milk Frothers

The milk frother on an automatic espresso machine is often automated, to an extent. You will need to pour the milk into the container, of course – generally a stainless steel pitcher that’s small enough to fit underneath the steam wand. It’s important that you leave room when filling, since the milk will expand when heated. For a latte, the milk will only need to be steamed for a short amount of time. Cappuccinos require that the milk is steamed until it turns into a microfoam with nearly double the volume.

If you want a milk based coffee you need a milk frother

The process used for frothing and steaming are different, despite using the same tools, and you may need to experiment with your machine in order to find the way that works best for you. Additionally, different machines use different types of wands for milk frothing. The two main varieties are steam wands and panarello wands. Your machine’s instruction manual may come with information on using the included frother, so be sure to read up and make sure you know what you’re doing.

What you should think about when choosing an Automatic Espresso Machine

While most espresso machines will share the same basic features, some machines offer additional features that set them apart from the rest.

This could be something as simple as a removable drip tray, which makes cleaning much easier, or a larger water tank to make more than one cup before refilling.

Other features, such as the ability to fit a larger mug or to brew two cups at a time, should be considered if they are important to you. Generally, these features are not necessary for good espresso making, but deciding which features you like can help you decide between otherwise equal machines.

Here's a few things you should consider when choosing an Automatic Espresso Machine

· Convenience: Automatic espresso machines are meant to be convenient, so if your machine doesn’t offer you the convenience you need, consider buying a super-automatic machine instead.

· Cost: While higher-priced machines are usually better quality, you should not spend more than you can afford on an espresso machine. There are often optional features that you can forego if you need a less expensive machine.

· Durability: Less expensive machines may be unable to meet the day-to-day demands of their users for an extended period of time. If you will be using your machine more than occasionally, it’s best if you get a solidly-built machine that will last for years.

· Design: Design is largely a personal preference. You should choose a machine that complements the décor in your kitchen. There are modern and more traditional designs to choose from, as well as a variety of finishes.

· Size: Do you need the convenience of a large water tank, or would you prefer a smaller footprint? In most cases, you will have to choose one or the other, although some machines may be able to tap directly into your faucet.

· Noise: Espresso makers can be quite noisy – but thankfully, machines without grinders are usually slightly less so. Consider how loud your new machine will be when running.

· Customer reviews: Whenever possible, it’s advised that you look through previous customers’ reviews of the product you plan to buy. After all, the manufacturer can say whatever they want – it’s up to the users to determine if they’re telling the truth.

Tips for making a great drink with an Automatic Espresso Machine

Once you've bought your Automatic Espresso Machine you want to make the best coffee possible. Although you have limited control over an Automatic Espresso machine you should still bear these in mind if you want to make a great coffee.

Matt the master brewer on his top tip for making excellent coffee

If you don't want to spend out for a bean to cup machine get a great grinder; freshly ground coffee just tastes so much better

· Preheat your portafilter by pulling a “blank” shot (without any coffee). Warming your portafilter ensures that your coffee grounds stay at a consistent temperature throughout the brewing process.

· Preheat your cup by running hot water on the inside before putting it in place on top of the drip tray.

· Grind your coffee right before you’re ready to pull your shot. It’s well-known that freshly ground coffee produces better drinks, but there is a huge difference between one-hour grounds and one-day grounds – so resist the urge to prepare your coffee ahead of time.

· Your grind should be roughly the texture of granulated sugar. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you will learn the best grind for your machine in time, but you can achieve the best results by using finely ground coffee beans.

· The tamp of your coffee is very important, as well – you should apply roughly 30 lbs. of pressure (about 13.6 kg) evenly to all of your grounds. Neglecting to evenly tamp your coffee can affect the consistency of your water contact – resulting in inconsistent shots.

· If you will be making a latte or cappuccino, steam your milk before brewing your espresso. Frothing your milk will take longer than pulling a shot, which means doing the milk first leaves less time for cooling.

Our favorite Coffee grinder

Matt the master brewer

You'll taste the difference in your morning coffee

Experiment with your machinery to find out what works best. Although there are general guidelines that are great in most situations, each grinder, espresso maker, and steam wand will operate a little differently. Even if you’re a professional, it might take a few tries to pull the perfect shot

· Don’t overfill your portafilter. This will not give you stronger coffee, but will instead overflow and leave more dregs (or sludge) at the bottom of your cup. Most machines come with two filters: One for single shots, and one for double shots. If you want a stronger cup of coffee, you can try running a single shot’s worth of water through a double shot portafilter, but espresso is already highly concentrated, so this is not recommended.

· Don’t use pre-ground coffee, if at all possible. Since espresso is a very scientific drink, stale grounds will not produce a high-quality cup.

· Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right away – it takes practice and patience to pull consistently great shots, even with automatic machines. Once you do get your perfect cup, you’ll appreciate every failed attempt for the things it taught you.

Looking after your Automatic Espresso Machine - Cleaning

Every day, you should empty your drip tray – even if it seems to have a large water capacity (or an indicator that it’s time to dump it), there is generally no good reason to not clean it out daily. If your espresso machine has a reservoir for dregs, it’s best if you empty this, too. The steam wand should also be cleaned daily – preferably immediately after use, since milk can be difficult to clean once it’s dried on. If your machine has a “rinse” function, it’s probably a good idea to run some hot water through all the spouts. If there isn’t a rinse function, wiping down the outside of these areas with a wet cloth is generally sufficient.

Once a week, you should actually wash your machine – including all reservoirs. If you haven’t dumped your water reservoir in the past couple days, empty that, too. Even clean water can begin to grow bacteria if left sitting for long enough. Pay careful attention to areas that hold coffee grounds and milk, since they may be harder to clean than the areas that only get touched by water. As long as you’ve been keeping up on your daily maintenance, there shouldn’t be too much to be done at the end of the week. This is a good time to wipe down the outside of your machine, too.

Roughly once per month, you should do a deep cleaning on your machine. If it has a self-cleaning button, this can be incredibly helpful, but not all machines have this feature. If you have been using tap water, it might be time to descale the machine, too. For those who only use purified water, you can probably go about three months between descalings. (Hint: Using purified water will not only cut down on your maintenance time, but it’ll also make your coffee taste better.)

While you’re doing your deep cleaning, you should also take a look at all the components of your machine – O-rings, seals, filters, brew screens, hoses, etc. You’ll want to catch anything that’s starting to show excess wear. Catching these things before they fully break will allow you to purchase the appropriate replacement parts ahead of time.

Looking after your Automatic Espresso Machine - Maintenance

It’s best if you use the manufacturer’s own replacement parts whenever possible. If your machine has been discontinued, you may be able to find aftermarket replacements, but your use of these parts is at your own risk, as it may void any warranty you have on the product. Consult your user manual or the manufacturer for your machine for more information, and to see exactly what they would recommend. In many cases, once your machine has been discontinued, they will advise getting a more recent machine, as there may have been significant reasons for its discontinuation.

To keep your machine running like new, year after year, it’s best if you take it to an authorized repair center once a year for a full check-up. If you have bought a warranty for your machine (or if the manufacturer included one in the purchase price), you might be able to send it back and have it professionally maintained. Keep in mind that many warranties don’t cover the shipping to have it cleaned, and some don’t even cover all maintenance – make sure you know what to expect before you try to send it in.

The Best Automatic Espresso Machine - Our Pick!

Matt the master brewer

An exceptional easy to use Espresso Machine that's worth every penny

Although personal preferences are likely to impact your final choice in espresso machines, we feel that the Breville 800ESXL is one of the best automatic espresso machines currently on the market. With features like an automatic purge for optimum espresso extraction temperature, a triple-prime pump to moisten the coffee grounds before brewing, and a front-fill water tank that holds an impressive 2.2L, it’s no wonder current customers are so impressed with their machines. For a more in-depth look at the Breville 800ESXL, read our thorough review and decide for yourself.