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Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines, Pod Espresso Machines
- Cheap Espresso Machines
- Espresso Maker Reviews
- Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines, Pod Espresso Machines
- Stainless-Steel Espresso Makers
- Discount Espresso Machines Features Comparison Table
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines: Ease of Use
No matter which espresso machine winds up on your kitchen counter, it's bound to be a complicated device. There's a lot to learn about making a mouth-filling cup of espresso; you can read a complete treatise on the art and science of it at Home Barista.
Finding a rich, luscious drink in your cup requires that both you and the machine do your parts. The human role involves dosing, distributing, and tamping the grinds, not to mention using only top quality coffee. The espresso maker is responsible for maintaining temperature and pressure while you, the at-home barista, pull the shots.
Of course, all this is much easier with a pod espresso machine. Sealed, single-serve, paper-filter discs packed with carefully measured espresso grounds eliminate guesswork from the process. Loose grounds are messier, and the end result is somewhat less consistent. Die-hards, however, insist that loose grounds produce a superior cup, and they're certainly cheaper; a single-serve pod can cost anywhere from 40 cents to $1.50.
Most semi-automatic espresso machines these days boast dual-brewing capabilities; that is, they're compatible with non-proprietary E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pods as well as loose coffee grounds. Three of our top picks -- the DeLonghi EC155, Capresso EC100, and Saeco Aroma 00347 -- fit this profile, while the Nespresso Citiz C110 is a pod-only espresso machine that calls for proprietary coffee-filled capsules. For one longtime espresso drinker who posted a review at Amazon, the simplicity and quality results of a pod espresso machine were a game changer that prompted an investment in the Nespresso Citiz C110.
Novices who hope to hone their coffee-making talents over time may appreciate the versatility of a machine that brews both ground and pod espresso. One consumer who posted a review at Kohl's first looked at pod-only espresso machines but found the Capresso EC100 so easy to master that pods proved unnecessary. Still, another purchaser admits in a post on Amazon to nearly throwing the machine against the wall in frustration before finally figuring it out. The DeLonghi EC155 appeals to first-timers, partly because it's cheap, but also because it's easy to learn on, as a post on Coffee Geek points out. Some reviewers argue that you get the best results with filtered water and loose grounds, while others express a liking for the pods.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Portafilters.The portafilter is the long-handled attachment that holds espresso grounds or E.S.E. pods. Pressurized water flows through this gizmo and produces the espresso and the crema.
A commercial portafilter gives the most control over the brewing process. It also has the steepest learning curve and is far more susceptible to user error. A pressurized portafilter -- featured on the DeLonghi EC155, Saeco Aroma 00347, and Cuisinart EM-200 -- requires less expertise than a commercial portafilter but has its own drawbacks. Pressurized portafilters tend to be lightweight and less durable, and they aren't as good at maintaining heat. They also produce a messy, soggy "puck" -- the hunk of grounds left over after the pressurized water flows through. Users find that aggressive tamping or over-grinding can clog the portafilter and cause the grounds to explode out of it.
On some semi-automatic espresso machines, including the Saeco Aroma, it's possible to change out the pressurized portafilter for a non-pressurized one. Still, that's an extra expense, and a reviewer at CoffeeGeek explains how you can easily tinker with the machine to depressurize the portafilter. (Understand that if you undertake this enterprise, you will void the warranty.)
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Frothing.Most semi-automatic espresso machines come with steamer wands for steaming and frothing milk for cappuccinos and the like. These wands sometimes draw complaints for their low clearance, which makes it difficult to fit a cup or pitcher underneath. Some cappuccino lovers solve this problem by sitting the machine on top of a chopping board. Experts recommend avoiding models with froth aiders, which continuously heat the foam and damage the sweetness of the milk. Experts also suggest choosing a machine with knobs, like the DeLonghi EC155 or Saeco Aroma 00347, which allows you to control the amount of steam.
The Nespresso Citiz C110 is the one model on our list without an attached frothing device; a Nespresso Aeroccino milk frother is available separately for about $95. The Citiz D120, a Nespresso machine with an Aeroccino attached, starts at $299, about $70 more than the C110.
Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Cup Warming Tray.An inadequately warmed ceramic cup will absorb the heat of the beverage and make for a less-than-ideal espresso experience. In a forum at Home Barista on the subject, commenters agree that a hot cup makes for a far better brew. For this reason, many semi-automatic espresso machines offer some type of cup warming tray. The DeLonghi EC155, Capresso EC100, Saeco Aroma 00347, and Cuisinart EM-200 all come with this feature. Cup warming trays are either passive (heat from the boiler warms the cups) or active (there's a separate heating mechanism). Most machines in the budget price range feature passive warming trays, which may not be all that useful. As one review of the Saeco Aroma points out, by the time the machine is ready to brew, the warmer has only just started to heat. A better alternative, the review continues, is to run a cycle with just water to warm up the cups and then proceed with the espresso.
Capresso EC100 Review
Saeco Aroma 00347 Review
Nespresso Citiz C110 Review
DeLonghi EC155 Review
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