Super-Automatic Buying Guide

Super-automatic machines offer a measure of convenience that other categories of machines can’t match. These machines are all about pushing a button and producing a quality coffee, as simple as that. It’ll grind the beans for you, tamp the grounds, brew, and discard the dregs for easy cleanup. Machines in this category are set apart by their respective features, and prices can range anywhere from low to high depending on how many and how strong those features are.

Less Expense, or Common Features


Brew Group/Unit

On a super-automatic espresso machine, the brew group refers to the mechanism inside of the machine where the ground coffee is compacted into a puck and water is forced through it. Generally located directly beneath the grinder, the fresh grinds are deposited in the group, tamped, and then the espresso is brewed. Used pucks of coffee are automatically disposed of and dumped into the machine’s dreg drawer.

Removable Brew Group

Several brands manufacture machines with removable brew groups. The advantage of this feature is the ability to clean the group more thoroughly than you would be able to otherwise. By removing the group you can rinse/scrub away deposits of coffee grounds and oils. You can also lubricate the track inside the group where moving parts could otherwise become jammed or stuck. It’s recommended that the group be rinsed each week and lubricated as needed.

Bypass Doser

Sometimes known as a powder chute, the bypass doser is a chute typically located in or around the bean hopper that allows you to fill the brew group directly with pre-ground coffee. A key benefit of this feature is that you can brew with different coffees without having to empty the bean hopper first. This is particularly useful when you’re serving guests who want decaf coffee.

Cappuccinatore/Frothing Spout/Auto Frother

Some machines froth with a specialized spout that is dedicated to milk frothing. These spouts automatically heat and froth milk to dispense it into your cup. For standard super-automatic machines, these spouts operate separately from the brew spouts and will require you to reposition your cup to complete your beverage. For One-Touch machines, the frothers will often be integrated into the brewing spouts so that espresso will be brewed, immediately followed by milk, or vice versa. Some machines will have an easy to use wand that injects air into the milk and we call these pannarello wands. A few machines have both a one touch cappuccino system along as well as a manual steam wand so you can froth milk to your preferred style.

Programmability

Even the most basic super-automatic machines offer some degree of programmability. In most cases you can simply customize the amount of water you want to use per shot that you brew. More advanced models offer considerably more extensive customization options. Depending on the type of machine, the following variables have the potential for customization:

  • Coffee Strength/Aroma Strength
    • For super-automatics, the strength settings determine the amount of coffee in grams that are used for each shot.
  • Length (Volume):
    • This adjusts the amount of coffee brewed into your cup. This adjustment can be used to produce longer beverages like cafe cremas and conversely to make particularly bold espressos by reducing water flow.
  • Temperature:
    • Super-Automatic machines with digital displays typically have 2 - 3 temperature settings. Generally speaking, these kinds of machines do not produce espresso that is as hot as what you would get with a Semi-Automatic machine so selecting the hottest temperature is encouraged. In most cases temperature is a global value set for all drinks, though some machines allow you to program temperature on a drink by drink basis.
  • Pre-Infusion:
    • This pre-wets the coffee with an infusion of low pressure water prior to brewing .All of the machines in this class will have preinfusion. Some can be set to “On or Off”, and some machines also offer an “Extra” option for pre-infusion as well.

Mid to High Expense


One-Touch

This term refers to super-automatic machines that can prepare a specialty milk beverage like a latte or cappuccino with just the push of one button. More specifically, the machine must brew the espresso, froth the milk, and dispense it without requiring you to push additional buttons or move your cup. Different machines offer differing numbers of specialty drinks available at the push of a button. More expensive machines tend to offer a greater variety, as well as a deeper level of programmability to customize the brewing experience to your preferences.

Milk and Coffee Volume for Cappucino or Latte’s

On machines with one-touch options you can program the amount of milk to be dispensed into your drink along with the coffee. This allows you to brew your milk based drinks to your personal taste.

Milk Consistency

More advanced one-touch machines also offer the ability to program the desired consistency of the milk produced.

Auto Frothing Carafe

Some varieties of super-automatic machines have carafes that can be filled with milk and detached from the machine when not in use. These carafes feature frothing spouts or arms that must be positioned over your cup when in use. The advantage of a carafe is that it can be removed and stored in the refrigerator in the event that not all of the milk has been used.

Rapid Steam

The boilers in most super-autos are configured like the ones in single boiler espresso machine. In those cases there is noticeable wait time between brewing and steaming because the boiler has to heat up to steam temperature. Machines with Rapid Steam are able to heat up to steaming temperature more quickly with either the use of a second boiler or a special circuit dedicated to heating water for steam.