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Super Automatic Buying Guide

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 25, 2011 at 4:53 PM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

Unlike semi automatic and manual espresso machines that require you to put ground coffee in the portafilter and attach it to the machine in order to brew, a super automatic only requires that you supply the coffee beans – the machine handles the rest. At the touch of a button, the machine performs the entire process of making the espresso from coffee bean to cup. The processes of grinding the coffee, filling the brewing chamber (instead of the portafilter), and tamping the grounds are automatic. And once the machine has finished making the espresso, it dumps the used grounds into an onboard waste box for later disposal. No mess, no fuss – just good espresso.

But super automatics are still like other espresso machines in that you can make all of your favorite coffee house drinks like cappuccino, lattes, mochas and more. Super automatic espresso machines come with either some type of steam wand or an automatic milk frothing system, both of which allow you to steam and froth milk to create these specialty coffee drinks. In addition to all of the “standard” espresso based drinks, super automatics are very popular for making café crème, which is a delicious cup of coffee brewed in the same manner that espresso is, but isn’t as strong. Most folks who sample café crème coffee usually retire the ole drip coffee maker instantaneously.

The unique flexibility of super automatics is what makes this all possible. There are many options and features available on these machines that will have you looking like a pro in minutes. And depending on which model you choose, you will have varying capacity to program options that control coffee strength, quantity, and temperature among other things. Because of the multiple options available, super automatics can range in price from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. But before you learn about the “upgrade” features that cause these price differences (a detailed description of which can be found in our article “Advanced Features of Super Autos”), it’s important that you fully understand which features found on super automatics are standard and the different forms they may take.


Basic Components of a Super Automatic Espresso & Coffee Center

A super automatic machine has all of the same basic components that semi and automatic espresso machines have like an electric water pump, boiler, water reservoir, switches and dials, and a steam wand. What makes super automatics different is that they have an automated internal brewing system and a high-quality burr coffee grinder built right in. all of these components come together with the help of an onboard computer to quickly and effortlessly produce perfect and consistent espresso without the mess and guesswork that one might experience with either a semi or automatic espresso machine. Like other espresso machines, they will need to be cleaned and maintained to ensure proper function for long life.


Internal Brew Group

The significant and amazing component of a super automatic is the automated brew system commonly known as the “brew group.” This device acts as the “heart” of the super automatic espresso machine, accepting freshly ground coffee from the built-in coffee grinder. It tamps the coffee perfectly, pre-soaks the grounds with a special “pre-infusion” step (described below), brews the coffee, and then dumps the used coffee grounds into the internal dump box. Once the brewing cycle has been completed, it resets itself for the next cup of coffee.

Removable Versus Non-removable Brew Groups
The super automatic machines manufactured by Gaggia, Saeco, and Solis have a brew group that is removable. To access the brew group, you simply open the service door, push a release lever, and simply slide it out. It weighs about 2.5 pounds and it’s made of tough plastic. As part of routine maintenance, you will want to remove and rinse the brew group when possible because coffee residue and coffee grounds tend to collect on the filter screens and other components. Maintenance is a cinch and should only be required once a week or less depending on usage.

The super automatic machines manufactured by Jura and Capresso contain non-removable brew groups. Instead of allowing you to physically remove the group for cleaning, you have to rely on an automated cleaning cycle programmed into the computer on board. The system works very well and it is more convenient than removing the brew group and rinsing it, however you do lose the ability to remove and “inspect” this key component. To clean the group, you simply drop in a cleaning tablet with special detergents that clean and remove coffee residue from the filter screens. The process is quick and clean.

Coffee Grinder

The machine is equipped with a coffee grinder that is fed by whole coffee beans held in the machine’s bean hopper. All super automatic machines use conical burr grinders that are ideal for use in these machines because of their long life span and reliability. The high quality conical burrs feature tempered steel cutting surfaces that deliver the perfect grind for producing a superior espresso. The grinder’s fineness level is adjustable, allowing for easy switching between grinding required for espresso (finer grind) and café crème (coarser grind). The grinder is activated when you press the brew button, and once the proper amount has been ground, it will automatically stop grinding.




Adjustable Liquid Volume

When we’re speaking about “liquid volume”, we’re referring to the amount of coffee that the machine will dispense into your cup when you press the coffee brew button. All super automatics have the ability to adjust or program the amount of water that will be infused through the coffee grounds each time the brew button is pressed. Some machines use a dial selector, but others feature a series of programmable liquid volume buttons. This is one of the features that truly allows you to customize your coffee drink, be it a shot of espresso or a big cup of café crème.


Pre-infusion System Ensures Better Flavor

A pre-infusion cycle moistens and conditions the ground coffee, which maximizes flavor extraction to increase the thick crema on your espresso. This is usually accomplished by infusing (or presoaking) the fresh coffee grounds with a dash of hot water for 2 seconds. Thereafter it completes the brewing process by infusing the remainder of the predetermined water through the coffee grounds. The result is a superior cup of espresso or coffee.


Steam and Hot Water Dispensing

Steaming Capability
Like all other espresso machines, super automatics come equipped with an attachment to froth and/or steam milk, the most common of which is a steam wand. A steam wand is the visible, external pipe found on espresso machines through which steam is released from the machine’s boiler. These wands are also used to dispense hot water. To dispense steam or hot water from the machine, you will need to turn the steam knob, which opens and closes the steam valve inside the machine. The steam wands on super automatic machines usually have some sort of frothing aid, like the Saeco Pannarello Wand or Jura Capresso Dual Position Frother, which make frothing a very easy task that requires little skill.

As if that was not enough, some of the higher-end machines have built-in automatic milk frothing systems. At the push of a button these machines siphon milk from a milk carton (or a milk container that may be provided with the machine), combine the milk with hot steam, and then dispense the hot, frothed milk right into your cup. All you have to do then is add your espresso and you are done.


Instant Hot Water Dispensing
As long as the machine is at brewing temperature, hot water can be instantly dispensed from the steam wand either by turning the steam wand or by pressing a button, depending on what model you choose. This is a nice feature for teas, hot chocolate, or other beverages that need hot water. Many users make a shot of espresso and then add hot water from the steam wand to make a popular “americano” espresso drink.




Lots of Removable and Washable Parts

All super automatics give you the ability to remove various components for easy maintenance. The most common removable parts are the dump box that holds the used coffee grinds, the dip pan that collects spilled water and waste water from the machine, the cup tray where the cups sit while coffee is being dispensed, and the water tank, which simply lifts off any of the models for refilling or cleaning. Other parts such as milk frothing tips, automatic milk frothers, and the brew group (found on Gaggia, Saeco, and Solis brands) can be removed for maintenance as well.


Is a Super Automatic Really for Me?

After learning about what a super automatic really does, most folks ask us if a super automatic espresso machine can make espresso as well as a “conventional” espresso machine. The answer is yes and no. If you are not accustomed to or willing to perfect the process of making espresso using a conventional espresso machine, then a super automatic is a good choice because they make very good espresso with little or no effort. However, if you are willing to spend the money on a good espresso machine and a good coffee grinder, and you are willing to practice the art of espresso brewing, you should achieve a better shot as compared to a super automatic.

In making a decision between a conventional espresso machine and a super automatic you have to decide how much work you want to do to get a cup of espresso. A super automatic can brew espresso or a cup of café crème in 30 seconds and clean up after itself. It will make the same cup of brew consistently time after time and the maintenance is just as easy, if not easier. On the other hand, a conventional machine requires you to grind the coffee yourself or buy pre-ground coffee or pods. You have to deal with putting the coffee into the portafilter then cleaning it after the shot is done. It takes longer and it’s less convenient. It boils down to whether you prefer the ritual of brewing espresso the “old fashioned way” or if you want the convenience and consistency provided by a computer inside your coffee machine.

We like and recommend any of the super automatics we sell. All of our machines have very good reliability records as long as the customer takes care of the machine per the manufacturer’s instructions. They are easy to use and the learning curve is small. So if convenience and great coffee are what you’re looking for, a super automatic is your key to coffee bliss.
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