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Demystifying the Different Types of Espresso Machines

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 28, 2011 at 10:19 AM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

Finding your espresso soul mate is no easy feat. If a machine does not walk that fine line between offering convenience and optimal user control, you’ll undoubtedly find it to be a bad match. We’d like to offer our assistance to help you avoid any missteps. As you personal matchmakers, we’re going to give you a rundown of what’s available, compare and contrast the different types of machines, and send you on your way to a match made in Java Heaven.

Super-Automatics: Fast, Easy, Consistent
If these bad boys capes, you’d probably mistake them for Superman.  Super-automatic s can perform the entire espresso brewing ritual with just the push of a button. And, they’re the fastest machines on the market; we’re pretty sure they’d give a speeding bullet a run for its money!

Super-automatic espresso machines come with integrated coffee grinders and water reservoirs—they’ll take care of you from beginning to end. All you have to do is press the brew button to kick things into gear; the machine will grind the right amount of beans, apply the perfect tamp, extract your coffee, then toss the leftover puck into an internal disposal unit.

These are the easiest espresso machines to use, which may explain their growing popularity; hands down, super-automatics are the fastest growing segment of the market. Being user-friendly doesn’t mean the super-automatic is a slouch when it comes to taste. On the contrary, it is known for delivering consistent coffee, whose quality exceeds that of the java produced by the average person.

Depending on your preferences, some super-automatics will give you the ability to control the strength of your brew by dictating the amount of coffee used in each extraction. You can use this feature to make crema, double shots, as well as made-to-order espresso.  Select super-automatic models even offer enhanced flexibility by providing a bypass doser. This nifty feature will allow you to skip the grinder in favor of using pre-ground coffee. This is key for the occasional decaf drinkers; helping to avoid the temptation of dumping the beans out of the hopper.

All super-automatics come with frothing adapters, which help aerate the milk—producing a thick froth. Instead of boilers, these espresso machines use thermablock technology, heating up water as it moves through a tube enclosed in an aluminum block. This is a very effective system that allows for continuous steaming and is great for hot water dispensing.

For those who dislike the cleanup that invariably comes with brewing a shot of espresso, the super-automatic comes bearing good news. These are the among the most low-maintenance machines on the market. Some models are self-cleaning, with automated decalcification and auto-rinse cycles, while others are no-tools-required systems. If you’re the type that likes to check under the hood, the entire brew group can be removed on some super-automatics. These machines will also alert you if it is out of water and when the internal dump box is full. 

While users lose ability to manipulate brew pressure manually with a super-automatic, this will, in turn, help eliminate human error. Another tidbit to keep in mind, you cannot control the tamp pressure with these automated machines. However, the super-automatic will deliver a consistent tamp, each and every time.

Semi-Automatics: Most Popular Machines for Home Use
With a semi-automatic, you’ll be able to participate in the brewing process—firing things up with an on/off switch and stopping the pump when you’ve got your desired extraction. There’s an average learning curve, you should be able to have things figured out relatively quickly.

A separate water reservoir is standard with most semi-automatics, giving users easy access to hot water for teas or café Americano. Some semis use a boiler to heat up water, while others come equipped with thermoblock systems. Unless you’ve got a preference, consider the machine, not the boiler style when making your decision.
All of our semi-automatics will steam at least 14 oz of milk, which should be more than adequate for normal use. Machines with frothing adapters will make the aeration process much easier, however those featuring steam wands are a cinch to use once you’ve mastered the technique.

There are a few things you should look out for when choosing a semi-automatic, one of which is the steam wand’s range of motion—a tall steaming pitcher may prove to be a challenge for some models.  Also it may be difficult for the steam wand to reach low levels of milk (4-8 oz).

The Fully-Automatic: A Super-Semi Hybrid
These guys extract and froth in the same manner their semi-automatic counterparts; however, they also offer the convenience of a one-touch system. Once you’ve started the process with a touch-pad switch, the fully-automatic will extract until it has met a preset volume of espresso. Since these machines will stop on their own, you will have the freedom to attend to other tasks without having to watch over the extraction process.

Fully-automatics are great for cafes and restaurants, but the selection available for home use is limited and usually based on modified semi-automatic models. You should compare and contrast the overall price and performance of a fully-automatic to that of a semi-automatic when making a buying decision.

The Piston: The Godfather
This is the device that gave us espresso, as we know it. The piston is a classic, old-world espresso machine—considered to be functional art, some models have even been known to make appearances as museum displays!

These machines are usually reserved for people who truly take delight in the ritual of making espresso. There’s a high learning curved associated with pistons, but they are just as capable of extracting a great shot as their high-tech offspring. To make a beverage, pull down on the piston’s handle to force hot water through the coffee. Be prepared to put some elbow grease into it, as consistent pressure is necessary to produce a good extraction.

Some pistons come with auto-frothers, while others do not, regardless you should have no problem making a cappuccino. But, since these guys don’t come with a water reservoir, you may have trouble keeping with drink orders at a large social gathering.

Before you take the piston home, make sure you’re prepared for its cleaning and maintenance needs. These machines usually come with copper, chrome, or brass finishes—which will show every bump, scratch, and fingerprint mark if not meticulously cleaned. But then again, they make breath-taking showpieces!

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of the type of machine that will best meet your needs. If you need more information, check out our Buyer’s Help Center, where you can compare different espresso machines, coffee makers, and grinders before making a buying decision.
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Quick Look: Super Automatic Espresso Machines

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 28, 2011 at 10:14 AM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

What is a super automatic?

The big idea behind super automatic espresso machines is, in a word, convenience. Super automatics are designed to grind, tamp and brew your espresso for you, so all you have to do is supply your favorite coffee beans and cup. Though all super automatic machines share a supreme goal of making consistent, great-tasting espresso, each machine has its own unique features. Since all super automatic machines utilize similar brewing techniques, it's best to compare the different features of each model to decide which one suits you best.

Is a super automatic right for me?

The ease of using a super automatic machine may make you wonder why there's any other kind of espresso machine, and for coffee lovers that prefer the effortless approach to espresso making, it's a fair question. After all, super automatic machines are designed to go through the entire brewing process internally, so in addition to being easy to use, there's no major clean up. However, the automated espresso making process has its disadvantages for those who wish to perfect the art of making espresso. Though super automatic machines are known for making consistent, great-tasting espresso with almost no personal effort, the potential for even better tasting espresso exists for those who prefer to grind, tamp and brew by hand. When deciding between a super automatic machine and a semi-automatic or manual machine, it's important to consider your personal needs. If having consistent, great tasting espresso at the press of a button outweighs the joy and precision of making it yourself, then the super automatic espresso machine was designed just for you.

Diagram of a super automatic espresso machineWhat makes super automatics so super?
The essential features found on all super automatic machines:
  • A fully automated brewing system means there's no manual grinding or tamping.
  • Each super automatic features a built-in burr grinder to grind your beans when you're ready to brew, so you don't have to worry about losing freshness as you would with preground coffee.
  • The internal brew group is the heart of the brewing system, making brewing a quiet, hands-free operation without any exterior mess.
  • An internal dump box collects the used coffee grounds and can be removed and emptied when full.
  • All super automatics have an alert system to let you know when your dump box is full, when your machine needs more water or beans, and when there is a problem.
  • Adjustable liquid volume control lets you change the amount of espresso you brew at a time, so you get just the right amount in your cup.
  • If you want a cappuccino, latte or Americano, super automatic machines feature a built-in steam and hot water dispenser for all of your frothing and steaming needs.
Can it get easier?
Additional features that make some super automatic machines a cut above the rest:
  • Instead of blinking lights, machines with a digital display or touch screenexplain the alert system in text, in your language of choice.
  • Upgrading to a machine with dual heating elements, or Rapid Steam, lets you switch between brewing and steaming without wait time.
  • Super automatic machines with a water filtration system make it even easier to get high quality espresso while keeping your machine in great shape.
  • If automatic brewing isn't enough, some machines even have an automatic cleaning cycle.
  • Many super automatics feature a bypass doser so you can brew a different type of coffee without emptying your bean hopper.
  • A built-in cup warmer compliments most super automatic machines, eliminating any need to manually preheat your cups before brewing.
  • Machines with programmable brewing features can be programmed to remember several different volume presets, so you'll always have just the right amount of espresso.
  • Adjustable dosing gives you even more flexibility by regulating the amount of ground coffee used in a single brewing cycle, and allowing you to fine-tune the strength of your coffee.
  • Some super automatic machines even feature adjustable temperature control so you can modify your water temperature to suit your needs.
  • When you buy a machine with an auto frothing attachment to eliminate manual frothing, you can fully take advantage of the true value of a super automatic machine.
What does it all mean?

Super automatic machines are designed to take the effort out of espresso making, and owning a machine with added features can make the process even easier. If you like the idea of a one-stop espresso shop in your very own kitchen, there simply is no substitute for a super automatic espresso machine.
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Advanced Features of Super Automatics

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 28, 2011 at 10:12 AM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

Many of our customers ask us why there is such a price difference between different super automatic espresso machines. After all, they all do the same thing – grind whole beans, tamp the grounds, and brew at the touch of a button. So why all the variety? Well, the short answer is features. Some super automatic machines come equipped with other features that increase the amount of control you have over the brewing process and the final product. These features are not found on every machine, and generally, the more of these “optional” features a machine has, the more expensive it is. The key in keeping within your budget is to decide which of these features is necessity versus something that would be “nice to have”. And to help you make your decision, here are some detailed descriptions of the most common “extra” features that you’ll find on super autos.




Adjusting The Amount of Ground Coffee For Each Cup


Several of the super automatics we sell have the ability to adjust the amount of ground coffee that will be dispensed into the brew group from the grinder. Depending on the manufacturer and model of your machine, you may set the coffee dosage at anywhere between 5 and 16 grams of coffee per brewing cycle. Since the average dose of ground coffee to make a shot of espresso is 7 grams, being able to adjust the dosage allows you to make a stronger or weaker espresso (or cup of coffee) without changing the amount of water. When you push the coffee brew button the grinder will automatically begin grinding the amount of grams you have specified, and then places the ground coffee into the brew group before brewing begins.


A Bypass Doser For Use With Pre-ground Coffee

A bypass doser is a small chute on top of a super automatic that accepts pre-ground coffee. This allows you to use any type of coffee you’d like, regardless of the type of beans that are in the bean hopper. If you have a “favorite” type of bean that you always keep in the hopper, you can use a different blend, flavor, or decaf pre-ground coffee in the bypass doser for something different. And after brewing the pre-ground coffee, the machine will reset itself to use the beans in the machine.


Digital Displays

To let you know when to perform various maintenance functions, as well as when to fill the water reservoir and bean hopper, super automatic machines will have one of three systems: indicator lights, digital displays, or touch screens. The indicator lights sometimes have shared meanings, so a digital display or touch screen make things extremely simple – they clearly display a message telling you exactly what needs to be done. Most machines that feature a digital display will give you the option of programming or monitoring the following parameters:

  • Adjust the brewing of the espresso and coffee temperature from medium to maximum.
  • Choose the language for the display.
  • See the total number of coffees brewed by the machine.
  • Turn the pre-brewing (pre-infusion) cycle on or off.
  • Adjust the volume brewed by each brewing button.
  • Program the machine for the water hardness in your area.
  • General warnings like Empty Dump Box, Fill Water, Fill Beans, and messages that let you know if components are out of place like the drip tray or dump box.
  • Provide status messages like Energy Saving, Warming Up, Brewing, Steam, Hot Water, Rinsing, Programming and more!


Coffee Cup Storage and Warming Feature


Espresso is brewed in very small amounts, which makes it very susceptible to the cooling affects of the ambient air. By dispensing the espresso into pre-warmed cups, precious heat is preserved. That’s why many super automatic models have a place on top of the machine where you can store cups to keep them warm. This cup warmer is most commonly heated by residual heat from the machine’s boiler, but some models do have an independent heating unit for this purpose.


Water Filtration Systems

A great cup of coffee starts with clean water, free of impurities and additives such as chlorine - the taste of which can be amplified by the brewing process. Manufacturers like Capresso, Jura, and Krups now provide water filtration systems built into their machines. These filters remove chlorine, lead, aluminum, and copper for a better tasting coffee. A special organic additive removes almost all carbon and eliminates the need to decalcify altogether. The system was specifically designed for use in super automatic coffee centers. Made from purely organic materials with no chemical additives, there is no danger of substances harming you or your machine.

The primary reason to use a water filter is improve taste and to eliminate the need to perform periodic descaling required by other espresso machines. Use of the filter is optional, but we recommend it.


2 Heating Elements

Super automatics with one heating element require a wait time between brewing and frothing. This wait time is used to heat the boiler from brewing temperature to steaming temperature, and can take up to about a minute, depending on the machine. However, having two heating elements eliminates this wait time and lets you move right from brewing to frothing to enjoying your tasty coffee drink. This is a great feature if you’ll frequently be making multiple drinks in a row and will noticeably decrease the amount of time you spend in the kitchen.


Convenient Automatic Milk Frothing Systems

If your budget allows you might consider machines that feature an automatic milk frothing system that makes foaming milk for cappuccinos and lattes a snap. These systems eliminate the need to steam milk the traditional way, so there’s no need to master the technique of frothing milk with a steam wand. Simply attach the auto-frother to a container of milk and when you activate the steam option on the machine, it sucks milk out of the container, froths it, and drops it right into your cup. No mess, no waste!


But They All Sound Like Good Features…

For a complete list of which machines have which features, you can compare any of our super autos side-by-side by clicking on the “Compare All Super Automatics” link on the left navigation column. It’s always tough deciding between what you want and need, but hopefully this will help to clear it up a little bit for you. Also, keep in mind that our sales representatives are also available to give you any further information you need to help you with your decision. Good luck, and happy coffee!
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Super Automatic Buying Guide

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM
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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What is an Espresso Machine?

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 28, 2011 at 8:33 AM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

What is an espresso machine? The short answer: A machine that makes espresso. Okay, so you probably already figured that out. However, espresso is a specific thing that is made in a specific way, and so to make it, you need to have a machine that produces a specific environment for a proper brew. So maybe we should start with a quick recap of what espresso is. Specifically.

Espresso is a beverage that is produced by pushing hot water (between 190F and 195F in temperature) at high pressure (between 8 and 9 bars, or 135 PSI) through a bed of finely ground, compacted coffee. A normal single shot of espresso is approximately 1 to 1.5 ounces of liquid, using approximately 7 grams of ground coffee. A normal double shot is between 2 and 2.5 ounces, using double the volume of coffee grounds. When brewed properly, the resulting beverage is topped with a dark golden cream, called crema.

Therefore, at its simplest, an espresso machine must do all of the following:

  • Produce brewing water that is between 190 and 195 degrees F in temperature by means of an internal boiler or a thermoblock device.
  • Channel water into the brewing chamber (grouphead).
  • Deliver the water to coffee grounds (in the portafilter attached to the grouphead) at approximately 9 BAR or 135 PSI of pressure by using a pump, a spring system, or a lever.
  • Provide an exit for brewed espresso to be released into your cup.

That's pretty much what an espresso machine is. The result of the above parameters is that using an espresso machine, a shot of espresso can be brewed in under 30 seconds. When you consider most automatic drip coffee makers take 8 or 10 minutes to brew, espresso, which means fast or quick in loose Italian translation, suddenly seems very appropriately named. You should also keep in mind that all espresso machines also include a steam wand that can dispense hot water for tea or hot chocolate or steam so that you can froth and steam milk for delicious cappuccinos and lattes.

But even though espresso machines are similar in all the ways listed above, different types of espresso machines use different means to reach the same end. Let’s take a closer look at these varying methods.


Manual or “Piston” Espresso Machines

Manual machines were the first “real” espresso machines (those that met the requirements above) to be developed, and are still widely popular today. The machines consist of a large boiler that holds and heats all of the water necessary for brewing and steaming/frothing milk. When the boiler is at the correct temperature for brewing espresso, the operator simply lifts the lever, which raises a piston inside the grouphead. Water begins to flow from the boiler into the grouphead and seeps down through the coffee grounds in the portafilter. The coffee begins to drip from the spouts into your cup. When this happens the lever is then pressed down - also pushing the piston down and plunging the rest of the water through the coffee grounds. When the lever is pushed all of the way down, the brew cycle or extraction of espresso is complete and then you can repeat the process to make more espresso. With a piston lever espresso machine, you act as the machine's pump, applying direct pressure by means of the lever and pushing brew water through a finely ground, compacted bed of ground coffee at pressures of 8 BAR or greater.

These machines are not very easy to figure out at first, but they reward the diligent. Those who invest hours or days of practice with the machine can become true espresso connoisseurs that can literally "pull" the most amazing shots possible. As you can see, these machines are not necessarily for weekend warrior espresso fans. These machines are for the diehard espresso lover. But if cappuccino, lattes, or mochas are your thing, then their large boilers provide ample steam for producing perfect foamed and steamed milk.

For the most part, lever style machines have been pushed aside by modern technology and the desire for great espresso with less effort. Electric pump driven machines with sophisticated temperature and pressure monitoring devices and computers are the way of the future it seems, but it will be tough to replace the old world charm and reliable function of the lever espresso machine. La Pavoni and Gaggia continue the hand build the functional work of art to this day.

Semi Automatic Espresso Machines

Semi automatic machines use an electric water pump as opposed to the lever and piston design. They have a separate water reservoir where water is stored until it is pulled into the boiler to be heated and used for brewing or steaming/frothing milk. In short, these machines make the production of espresso much easier and consistent. Semi autos automatically regulate the activity of the water temperature for brewing and steaming as well as the activity of the built in electric water pump.

Semi autos are named as such because there is still a bit of work that you need to do in order to brew. Just like manual espresso machines, semi autos have a portafilter – an attachment that holds ground coffee during the brewing process. Before brewing, the portafilter will need to be filled with ground coffee. Then this coffee will need to be tamped, or compacted, in order for the coffee to fit properly and to create additional resistance during brewing. Then the portafilter is attached to the machine. To start the brewing process, you simply push the coffee brew switch causing the electric water pump to draw water from the boiler and force it under pressure through the portafilter and coffee grounds. When the proper amount of espresso has been brewed, just turn off the brew switch and you are done.

In the same family of semi automatic machines are automatic espresso machines. This term confuses most people because they may think automatic implies the machine does everything including grinding, tamping, and disposing of the used coffee grounds. This type of machine does exist, but is called a super automatic (you can read more about these machines below). An automatic is essentially the same as a semiautomatic except that it automatically controls the volume of water that is dispensed through the coffee grounds. As a matter of convenience you can choose among two to three programmable brewing buttons. The buttons can be programmed by you to tell the machine to run a certain amount of water though the coffee grounds in the portafilter, then automatically stop. Since it can take up to 30 seconds to brew two shots of espresso this automatic feature frees you to prepare other ingredients for your beverage while the machine is brewing the espresso. Many commercial machines use automatic systems such as this to give the drink better consistency and to allow the Barista to prepare other beverages in a timely fashion. However, all of the steps of preparing the coffee for brewing, including adding and tamping the coffee grounds, will still be the same as a semi automatic model.

Super Automatic Espresso Machines

Simply put, super automatic espresso and coffee centers are amazing. Yes, they make espresso, café crème, and they are capable of making all coffee house drinks like lattes, mochas, cappuccino and more. But most of the preparation for brewing is completed automatically by the machine – all at the press of a button.

A super automatic machine has all of the same basic components that semi and automatic espresso machines like an electric water pump, boiler, water reservoir, steam wand, and a variety of dials and switches. What makes super automatics different is that they have an automated internal brewing system and a high-quality burr coffee grinder built 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.

When you push the coffee brew button, coffee beans held inside the machine will be ground and placed into the internal brewing system. The pump will automatically start the flow of hot water through the coffee grounds and then result in espresso being automatically dispensed into your cup from spouts located on the front of the machine. Immediately after brewing has finished, the internal brewing system will take the used coffee grounds and discard them into the onboard waist box for later disposal. From start to finish you can have a fresh cup of espresso or café crème in 30 seconds.

One shining ability of super automatic espresso machines and the reason they are dubbed “coffee centers” as well, is that they can produce a coffee beverage called café crème. This coffee is brewed in the same manner as espresso. However, where espresso is brewed relatively slow (about 15-20 seconds for 1.5 ounces), cafe crème is brewed at a faster rate. Espresso brews slower because the coffee grounds are required to be very fine, which restricts the water flow through the grounds. This helps give espresso its intense flavor and strength. For café crème, simply make a small adjustment to the coffee grinder to make the coffee grounds coarser. This in turn will allow the water to flow more freely through the coffee grounds as required. The result is a wonderfully aromatic and flavor-rich coffee that is a smooth replacement for the same-old drip coffee.

As you can see, espresso machines can be rather diverse despite their similarities. Figuring out which type will suit you best will mainly come down to how involved in the brewing process you’d like to be. If you’re a really hands-on person, a manual or semi automatic machine is probably for you. If you’re into quick and easy, a super automatic is something you should consider. But no matter which type you choose, you can be sure that your machine will be perfectly equipped to make those espresso drinks you’ve been craving.

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Quick Look: Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 25, 2011 at 5:03 PM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

What is a semi-automatic?

Brewing a shot on a semi-automatic espresso machineTo truly get the best from your espresso, you need to have full control over your machine. Semi-automatic machines are designed to brew superior espresso by combining the reliability of an electric pump with the benefits of personal touch. The electric pump eliminates any margin for error by generating consistent water pressure, while the design of the semi-automatic gives you the freedom to be creative with your grind, tamp and brew time. Thanks to this unique combination, you're in full control of your espresso from start to finish, so you can fine-tune your technique until your espresso tastes just right. Though all semi-automatic machines are based on the same brewing concept, each machine has its own unique style that sets it apart. When shopping for a semi-automatic, it's best to compare the different features of each model to decide which one suits you best.

Is a semi-automatic right for me?

The precision and flexibility that come with owning a semi-automatic are unmatched by any other kind of espresso machine, but it's important to understand what these benefits mean for you. Getting the best espresso takes practice, and a big part of the joy of owning a semi-automatic is perfecting the art of making espresso.

Though semi-automatic machines are capable of producing the best tasting espresso, many coffee lovers prefer the consistency and ease that come with owning a super automatic. Super automatic espresso machines are designed to perform the entire brewing process, from grinding to pouring, at the press of a button. If convenience is your main goal in making espresso, perhaps a super automatic espresso machine is right for you, but for many espresso connoisseurs there's just no substitute for a semi-automatic.

While semi-automatic machines are lower in price than super automatic machines, a stand alone grinder is an essential accessory. Grinding your own beans is a sure way to get the freshest coffee possible, and if your goal is to make the perfect espresso, consider a stand alone grinder a necessity. Unlike super automatics, semi-automatic machines put the brewing process in your hands, and no matter which one you choose you'll always have full control. If you enjoy the art of making espresso as much as you enjoy drinking it, then a semi-automatic is the perfect match.

Diagram of a semi-automatic espresso machineWhat makes a semi-automatic so great?
The essential features found on all semi-automatic machines:
  • Every semi-automatic comes with a specialized portafilter, a key component in hands-on espresso making.
  • A removable water reservoir makes refilling fast and splash free.
  • Each machine comes with a removable drip tray to eliminate spills and to make cleanup simple.
  • If you want a cappuccino, latte or Americano, all pump driven semi-automatic machines feature a built-in steam and hot water dispenser for all of your frothing and steaming needs.

Can it get better?
Additional features that make some semi-automatic machines a cut above the rest:
  • A marine brass, 58mm chrome coated commercial portafilter was only found on professional machines in the past, but now it's featured on high quality home models as well.
  • For machines that feature heat exchanger boilers, there's absolutely no wait time between brewing and steaming.
  • A pressure gauge is the most precise way to monitor the pressure inside your boiler, so you can be sure every shot you make gets the proper amount of pressure.
  • When you brew with machines featuring E61 Brew Groups, temperature control is truly at its best as your espresso follows a preheated path, all the way to your cup.
  • Machines with a solenoid, or 3-way valve will eliminate the excess water and pressure in the brew group so you can remove the portafilter without any mess.
  • A built-in cup warmer compliments most semi-automatics, eliminating any need to manually preheat your cups before brewing.

Can it get easier?
Optional features and accessories that will add more convenience to your brewing routine:

  • Some semi-automatic machines feature a pressurized portafilter to eliminate the need for precise tamping, so you can always be sure you're brewing with the proper amount of pressure.
  • Pod or capsule capable portafilters can use single shot, pre-packaged espresso inserts for a clean and convenient brewing experience.
  • Although all semi-automatics come with a steam device of some sort, some machines include a frothing aid to make frothing and steaming an easy part of espresso making.
  • Some models are compatible with auto frothing attachments to eliminate manual frothing altogether, so you can be sure you're getting the best froth every time.
What does it all mean?

Semi-automatic machines are designed to bring out the true joy of espresso making. If pulling the perfect shot gives you as much satisfaction as enjoying the results, then a semi-automatic espresso machine is just what you're looking for.
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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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What is an Espresso Machine?

Posted By: Aabree Coffee
Posted At: Nov 25, 2011 at 4:45 PM
Related Categories: Espresso Machine Guides

What is an espresso machine? The short answer: A machine that makes espresso. Okay, so you probably already figured that out. However, espresso is a specific thing that is made in a specific way, and so to make it, you need to have a machine that produces a specific environment for a proper brew. So maybe we should start with a quick recap of what espresso is. Specifically.

Espresso is a beverage that is produced by pushing hot water (between 190F and 195F in temperature) at high pressure (between 8 and 9 bars, or 135 PSI) through a bed of finely ground, compacted coffee. A normal single shot of espresso is approximately 1 to 1.5 ounces of liquid, using approximately 7 grams of ground coffee. A normal double shot is between 2 and 2.5 ounces, using double the volume of coffee grounds. When brewed properly, the resulting beverage is topped with a dark golden cream, called crema.

Therefore, at its simplest, an espresso machine must do all of the following:

  • Produce brewing water that is between 190 and 195 degrees F in temperature by means of an internal boiler or a thermoblock device.
  • Channel water into the brewing chamber (grouphead).
  • Deliver the water to coffee grounds (in the portafilter attached to the grouphead) at approximately 9 BAR or 135 PSI of pressure by using a pump, a spring system, or a lever.
  • Provide an exit for brewed espresso to be released into your cup.

That's pretty much what an espresso machine is. The result of the above parameters is that using an espresso machine, a shot of espresso can be brewed in under 30 seconds. When you consider most automatic drip coffee makers take 8 or 10 minutes to brew, espresso, which means fast or quick in loose Italian translation, suddenly seems very appropriately named. You should also keep in mind that all espresso machines also include a steam wand that can dispense hot water for tea or hot chocolate or steam so that you can froth and steam milk for delicious cappuccinos and lattes.

But even though espresso machines are similar in all the ways listed above, different types of espresso machines use different means to reach the same end. Let’s take a closer look at these varying methods.


Manual or “Piston” Espresso Machines

Manual machines were the first “real” espresso machines (those that met the requirements above) to be developed, and are still widely popular today. The machines consist of a large boiler that holds and heats all of the water necessary for brewing and steaming/frothing milk. When the boiler is at the correct temperature for brewing espresso, the operator simply lifts the lever, which raises a piston inside the grouphead. Water begins to flow from the boiler into the grouphead and seeps down through the coffee grounds in the portafilter. The coffee begins to drip from the spouts into your cup. When this happens the lever is then pressed down - also pushing the piston down and plunging the rest of the water through the coffee grounds. When the lever is pushed all of the way down, the brew cycle or extraction of espresso is complete and then you can repeat the process to make more espresso. With a piston lever espresso machine, you act as the machine's pump, applying direct pressure by means of the lever and pushing brew water through a finely ground, compacted bed of ground coffee at pressures of 8 BAR or greater.

These machines are not very easy to figure out at first, but they reward the diligent. Those who invest hours or days of practice with the machine can become true espresso connoisseurs that can literally "pull" the most amazing shots possible. As you can see, these machines are not necessarily for weekend warrior espresso fans. These machines are for the diehard espresso lover. But if cappuccino, lattes, or mochas are your thing, then their large boilers provide ample steam for producing perfect foamed and steamed milk.

For the most part, lever style machines have been pushed aside by modern technology and the desire for great espresso with less effort. Electric pump driven machines with sophisticated temperature and pressure monitoring devices and computers are the way of the future it seems, but it will be tough to replace the old world charm and reliable function of the lever espresso machine. La Pavoni and Gaggia continue the hand build the functional work of art to this day.

Semi Automatic Espresso Machines

Semi automatic machines use an electric water pump as opposed to the lever and piston design. They have a separate water reservoir where water is stored until it is pulled into the boiler to be heated and used for brewing or steaming/frothing milk. In short, these machines make the production of espresso much easier and consistent. Semi autos automatically regulate the activity of the water temperature for brewing and steaming as well as the activity of the built in electric water pump.

Semi autos are named as such because there is still a bit of work that you need to do in order to brew. Just like manual espresso machines, semi autos have a portafilter – an attachment that holds ground coffee during the brewing process. Before brewing, the portafilter will need to be filled with ground coffee. Then this coffee will need to be tamped, or compacted, in order for the coffee to fit properly and to create additional resistance during brewing. Then the portafilter is attached to the machine. To start the brewing process, you simply push the coffee brew switch causing the electric water pump to draw water from the boiler and force it under pressure through the portafilter and coffee grounds. When the proper amount of espresso has been brewed, just turn off the brew switch and you are done.

In the same family of semi automatic machines are automatic espresso machines. This term confuses most people because they may think automatic implies the machine does everything including grinding, tamping, and disposing of the used coffee grounds. This type of machine does exist, but is called a super automatic (you can read more about these machines below). An automatic is essentially the same as a semiautomatic except that it automatically controls the volume of water that is dispensed through the coffee grounds. As a matter of convenience you can choose among two to three programmable brewing buttons. The buttons can be programmed by you to tell the machine to run a certain amount of water though the coffee grounds in the portafilter, then automatically stop. Since it can take up to 30 seconds to brew two shots of espresso this automatic feature frees you to prepare other ingredients for your beverage while the machine is brewing the espresso. Many commercial machines use automatic systems such as this to give the drink better consistency and to allow the Barista to prepare other beverages in a timely fashion. However, all of the steps of preparing the coffee for brewing, including adding and tamping the coffee grounds, will still be the same as a semi automatic model.

Super Automatic Espresso Machines

Simply put, super automatic espresso and coffee centers are amazing. Yes, they make espresso, café crème, and they are capable of making all coffee house drinks like lattes, mochas, cappuccino and more. But most of the preparation for brewing is completed automatically by the machine – all at the press of a button.

A super automatic machine has all of the same basic components that semi and automatic espresso machines like an electric water pump, boiler, water reservoir, steam wand, and a variety of dials and switches. What makes super automatics different is that they have an automated internal brewing system and a high-quality burr coffee grinder built 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.

When you push the coffee brew button, coffee beans held inside the machine will be ground and placed into the internal brewing system. The pump will automatically start the flow of hot water through the coffee grounds and then result in espresso being automatically dispensed into your cup from spouts located on the front of the machine. Immediately after brewing has finished, the internal brewing system will take the used coffee grounds and discard them into the onboard waist box for later disposal. From start to finish you can have a fresh cup of espresso or café crème in 30 seconds.

One shining ability of super automatic espresso machines and the reason they are dubbed “coffee centers” as well, is that they can produce a coffee beverage called café crème. This coffee is brewed in the same manner as espresso. However, where espresso is brewed relatively slow (about 15-20 seconds for 1.5 ounces), cafe crème is brewed at a faster rate. Espresso brews slower because the coffee grounds are required to be very fine, which restricts the water flow through the grounds. This helps give espresso its intense flavor and strength. For café crème, simply make a small adjustment to the coffee grinder to make the coffee grounds coarser. This in turn will allow the water to flow more freely through the coffee grounds as required. The result is a wonderfully aromatic and flavor-rich coffee that is a smooth replacement for the same-old drip coffee.

As you can see, espresso machines can be rather diverse despite their similarities. Figuring out which type will suit you best will mainly come down to how involved in the brewing process you’d like to be. If you’re a really hands-on person, a manual or semi automatic machine is probably for you. If you’re into quick and easy, a super automatic is something you should consider. But no matter which type you choose, you can be sure that your machine will be perfectly equipped to make those espresso drinks you’ve been craving.

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