For some, buying an espresso maker is about performing the art and the ritual of making excellent espresso in the comfort and convenience of one's own home. For others, owning an espresso maker is all about usability. An espresso maker can be a large even life changing purchase. While in an ideal world, you would love to have the time to practice the art and ritual of making world-class espresso using a manual or semi-automatic espresso maker, the reality is you are busy. You want the best of both worlds: excellent, authentic espresso at the touch of a button. Lucky for you, your espresso glory days have arrived. My friend, meet the super-automatic espresso maker. Let this wondrous machine be your guide into the land of delightful espresso, everyday, any day, and sometimes even twice a day!
In The Beginning...
While your Super-Automatic espresso maker will do everything from grind your chosen coffee to filter your brewing water, your machine does take a bit of actual day to day work. Not to worry, imagine the super-automatic espresso maker as a low maintenance pet. One that walks itself, washes itself, makes its own meals. If you were the proud owner of such a beast, all you would really have to do is open the door to let it out and buy it some food on a consistent basis (and of course give it lots of love praise and attention!). Well, the same concepts that apply to low maintenance pet care also apply to the care of your super-automatic espresso maker.
The first time you use a super-automatic, you simply need to pull water through the boiler like you would with semi-automatic espresso makers. This process is only required once, upon first use. With each subsequent use, your only task readying the super-automatic espresso maker involves turning the machine on and letting it warm-up. You will know the machine has hit the appropriate brewing temperature by the ready indicator light or by a message on the display screen. It simply depends on which display feature (for more on display features of super-automatics, check-out In Depth: Super Automatic Espresso Makers your machine posses. A super-automatic usually takes between one to two minutes to warm up. It is a good idea to let it warm up a little longer as this helps insure the quality of your first espresso.
Just Brew It!
As with all coffee and espresso makers, a semi-automatic requires coffee beans and water. These ingredients may seem obvious, however picking the right coffee beans for brewing espresso and using the right kind of water are two of the most important factors when it come to creating truly memorable espresso.
Since super-automatic espresso makers contain an internal burr grinder, you are guaranteed to receive the benefits of freshly ground coffee every time you press brew. With super-automatics, whole beans are stored in the espresso machine. The espresso machine automatically determines the right quantity of coffee beans needed in order to grind the perfect amount of espresso for each brew. All you, as the barista, really need to do to insure your espresso is simply irresistible is to provide the right coffee bean.
To make true espresso, your coffee beans need to have moderate to low oil content as this characteristic allows the beans to fall smoothly into the super-automatic's grinder. Oily beans on the other hand, will stick together and possibly block the grinder. Some super-automatic espresso makers do give you the option to use pre-ground espresso beans if they posses a bypass doser. While this is great added feature on a super-automatic and allows you to regain some user control that may be lost in all the machine madness, it is recommended you use the bypass doser sparingly.
Another key to both great espresso and machine longevity is the use of filtered water. Filter water provides the right balance of minerals enhancing the flavor of the espresso, and increase the lifespan of your super-automatic by preventing the wrong chemicals and minerals from plugging up or pitting your espresso machine.
As discussed in our In Depth Guide: Features of Super Automatic Espresso Makers, some super-automatics come equipped with high quality charcoal water filters which do an excellent job of removing calcium and other minerals from tap water. Built in water-filters of super-automatic espresso makers are located in the machine's reservoir and pull through the water necessary for brewing so that unfiltered water never touches the super-automatic's internal components.
Brew To It!
Now that your super-automatic espresso maker is equipped with the right ingredients (whole, high quality coffee beans and filtered water) which will brew espresso even Italian's would be jealous of, it is time to commence brewing!
Some may argue that super-automatics can not replicate the true flavor of espresso which comes only from a hand tamped pour of a semi-automatic or a hand pulled pour of a manual. While to some extent this is true, the fact is that super-automatics produce a truly wonderful brew of espresso with convenience and without room for human error. All that is required for brewing is for you to choose the volume of liquid that you would like dispensed into your cup and the super-automatic will grind, tamp, and brew it as well as eject the used coffee grounds into an internal dump box. Now that is service!
Super-automatic espresso makers make it easy to choose liquid volume thanks to their easy to read digital display or indicator lights. Some machines are pre-programmed to dispense liquid amounts as determined by the manufacturer, while others allow you to program the amount of liquid you deem fit. You can than return to this amount anytime you like at the touch of a button.
This is a wonderful feature to take advantage of if you are, like me, a fan (or fanatic) about café crème. Café crème is a hybrid brew which takes the best components of drip coffee and espresso to create the ultimate drink. Made with a liquid setting of 6 to 8 ounces, café crema gains its unique flavor because it is brewed at the same pressure as espresso with the liquid volume of a cup of coffee. The result is something you truly have to taste to believe!
Besides choosing the liquid amount of your brew, super-automatics allow you the option to alter the fineness of the grind. Changing the fineness of the grind, changes the speed of the espresso pour and effects flavor characteristics. In addition, some super-automatic espresso makers allow you to alter the brewing temperature which also changes the flavor of the final product.
Froth and Steam
Not only do super-automatic espresso makers create delectable espresso shots in a snap, but they also have the capability to create life changing lattes, cappuccinos, and any other combination of espresso drink you can imagine. This is thanks to the espresso machine's Thermobloc and Thermocoil technology both of which heat water for brewing and steaming at the same time. The temperature required for frothing and steaming milk is much higher than required for brewing espresso. For this reason, super-automatic espresso makers generally need a few extra seconds of heating time when you need to froth or steam.
Frothing on a super-automatic espresso maker usually involves the use of what is called a Pannarello wand. Panarello wands froth fantastically as they circulate air with the use of a sleeve over the underlying steam wand. This eliminates frothing's normal requirement of angling the frothing pitcher and manually moving it around otherwise known as "working" the milk.
Some super-automatics also come equipped with auto-frothers which remove milk from an external container, froth it, and deposit it straight into your cup. In other machines, you may find a two-position steam wand. With these wands you change the position of the wand depending on the function you want to perform such as steam or froth.
What type of frothing and steaming you want to learn and master is something to consider when purchasing your super automatic espresso maker. Each frothing and steaming system has its own learning curve and you may want to read our article which explores frothing and steaming in depth to help you determine which super-automatic is right for you!
One thing to remember, if your super automatic espresso maker does not come equipped with Thermobloc and Thermocoil technology; you will need to let your machine cool down to brewing temperature if you would like to pull another shot of espresso. You can expedite this process by releasing steam and hot water from the wand when the espresso maker as the espresso maker cools.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning and maintaining your super-automatic espresso maker is truly a breeze since the machine will alert with its indicator lights or display screen what you need to do. Whether you are low on beans, water, or the internal dump box needs to be emptied, your super-automatic espresso maker will let you know.
Some super-automatic espresso makers come with removable brew groups which need to be removed and cleaned often. Because it is where the entire brewing process takes place, this part is prone to coffee oil and residue buildup. Easily removable, brew groups should be thoroughly rinsed and left to air dry a few times a week depending on the frequency of use. If your super-automatic does not have a removable brew group, the super-automatic will internally rinse itself.
Attention also needs to be paid to super-automatic's drip trays. Drip trays are located underneath the spouts that dispense espresso and they frequently are filled with water discharged from the bypass valve. The tray also catches water when the froth wand is purged therefore this tray fills with excess liquid often and must be dumped and cleaned often.
As you may imagine, nobody likes old crusty milk residue in their lattes or cappuccinos. To avoid this espresso faux pas, be sure to clean the frothing wand every time you use it. This is done by opening and closing the steam knob expelling any water that may have been condensed from previous use before you begin you current steam or froth. You will also want to open the steam valve after your done froth as it cleans out any excess milk and helps cool the machine to brewing temperature. To keep the outside of the wand clean, simply wipe it with a damp cloth after steaming.
Every two to three months, you will want to decalcify your super-automatic espresso maker with a decalcifying solution. The machine will alert you when this is necessary based upon the number of cups brewed.
Super-Automatic = Super Easy Espresso!
From brewing, to frothing, to cleaning, super-automatic espresso makers truly offer the best of all worlds: doable, daily, and delicious espresso.