Semi-automatic machines are designed for the home barista that likes to tinker and be in control of at least some of the brewing process.
Someone looking for this type of machine isn’t seeking push-button programmability and instant pours. They aren’t really looking to purge the machine by hand or extract the shot using a lever either.
Semi-auto machines are great because they create a balance that gives the user just enough control to have a hand in the success of the drink, without making it a chore.
So what does this mean for you?
To distill it down to basics, with a semi-auto, you are generally involved in tamping the grounds in the filter basket, attaching the portafilter, initiating the shot and if you’re making a specialty drink, frothing and steaming the milk. For machines with a built-in grinder, you can also select grind amount and the coarseness, which is really central to the success of the pulled shot.
These machines are a fun way to hone and develop some barista skills. I’m a fan of this type of machine and the espresso maker I own and use daily is a semi-auto. I didn’t have any actual espresso making experience prior to purchasing my Breville, but these machines are made for learning and are pretty intuitive. You don’t need to have any prior knowledge before buying.
I’ve put together a list of my top picks for this category and one of my favorites is the Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler. It’s definitely on the pricy side, but it really delivers on both experience and quality. It’s packed full of advanced features that really elevate the process.
If the Breville isn’t in your current budget, the Gaggia and Mr. Coffee machines are solid alternatives.
Weighing in at 34 lbs and 16” x 14.2” x 16” in size, the Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine is the heaviest espresso machine on this list, with a strong, sturdy construction and attractive styling.
Espresso lovers seeking an unparalleled espresso drinking experience, with a discerning palate will be blown away by the Breville BES900XL . This espresso machine comes with a myriad of features that together ensure that each cup of espresso it makes is professional-quality.
A few of our favorite features include: dedicated, dual, stainless steel boilers and 2 pumps, which together not only enable the machine to make proper espresso every time, but also enables it to give proper texture to the milk added to each cup at the optimum temperature as well as pressure; programmable functions, which make espresso preparation even easier; an over-pressure valve, which limits the maximum pressure generated throughout the espresso preparation process to the optimum level, ensuring that the pressure is regulated; and low-pressure pre-infusion function that increases water pressure gradually to expand the ground coffee beans gently, ensuring full flavor extraction.
The Breville also has programmable volumetric control, which enables the espresso machine to make espresso with fine-tuned precision; a pressure gauge that enables you to monitor the pressure generated during the espresso-making process; a dedicated hot-water outlet for making your other favorite hot beverages like Americano and for keeping your cup hot if you let it sit for several minutes; a 58 mm commercial grouphead with embedded element, which enables the espresso machine to maintain thermal stability throughout the espresso-making process; a commercial steam wand that can swivel 360 degrees and that enables you to make frothed milk with a remarkably silky texture; and a 84 oz. removable water tank with rear-integrated water filter and water level indicator, which makes cleaning the espresso machine itself a snap.
The rest of the Breville BES920XL Dual Boiler Semi Automatic Espresso Machine’s features are an auto-start function that preheats the espresso machine at a programmed time, enabling it to make espresso machines even faster; audio alerts, which enable you to keep track of your espresso even if you are away from the espresso machine; a backlit LCD that can display shot temperature, shot clock, or time, enabling you to monitor the espresso-making process easily; a drop-down swivel foot for maneuverability; a single-wall filter baskets for 1 and 2 cups; dual-wall filter baskets for 1 and 2 cups; an integrated tamper, which enables you to easily place the ground coffee beans in the tamper evenly; a stainless-steel frothing jug; water filter holder; 1-year supply of water filters; cleaning disc and tablets; and cleaning tool and allen key.
Despite the Breville machine’s wide array of useful features, some customers have aired their reservations about owning it. One says that the espresso machine needs to be serviced professionally every 4-5 years, which could become a large, unwanted expense. Another says that the espresso machine has no proven track record of reliability as it is fairly new to the market, though both of these complaints are rather nit-picky.
Nevertheless, the espresso machine received a strong rating of 4 and a half stars out of 5 on Amazon.
Coming in at 20 lbs and 25” x 13” x 12” in size, the Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine Brushed StainlessSteel is heavier and larger than most of the other espresso machines currently available.
If you aren’t a fan of waiting for your espresso to be prepared, you’ll be glad to know that the Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine comes with a 3-way solenoid valve that releases pressure from the grouphead once an espresso pull is completed, enabling the espresso machine itself to make espresso quickly and efficiently.
If you’re particular regarding how your espresso is prepared, you need not worry much about the quality of the brew this machine will produce. It comes with portafilters and a grouphead made of heavy-duty, marine-grade brass with chrome plating that together ensure coffee is brewed at a stable temperature, resulting in nothing but delicious, full-bodied espresso. The portafilters can be removed easily afterwards, making cleaning the espresso machine easy and hassle-free.
The rest of the espresso machine’s features include: a 72 oz removable water tank, stainless steel housing, and single and double-shot stainless steel filter basket, all of which make cleaning the espresso machine a cinch; 17-1/2-bar pump with high-voltage boiler, which ensures the espresso machine makes proper espresso every time; hot-water dispenser, which makes preparing other beverages that require hot water convenient; frothing wand, which gives you control over how the milk you’d add to your coffee is frothed; a tamper, which helps you make sure that the ground coffee beans are evenly spread in the container; and a measuring scoop, which enables you to use the ground coffee beans with precision.
Despite all of the Gaggia 14101 Classic Espresso Machine Brushed StainlessSteel’s useful features, it has received a few complaints from customers who have found that the water tank is hard to clean, the frothing wand doesn’t rotate 360 degrees and the boiler corrodes faster than expected.
The Gaggia, however, received a rating of solid 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon, where it’s currently being sold for $379.98, not just as one of the best semi-automatic espresso machine but also one of the best espresso machines under 500 dollars.
Coming in at 9 lbs and 12” x 14” x 12.2” in dimensions, the Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso Maker is the most compact espresso maker on this list, enabling you to place it anywhere you’d like at home without worrying about whether it might take more space than you’d like to make room for.
If you drink nothing but full-flavored espresso, the Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso Maker comes with a 15-bar pressure pump that can extract flavor from every coffee granule. The espresso it makes is strong and flavorful, rivaling the espresso from any coffee shop.
If you’re particular regarding the milk froth you add to your cup of coffee, the espresso maker comes with an automatic frother that will not only turn your favorite brand of milk into a creamy, airy foam, but this tool will also let you select the froth level, enabling you to make the foam just the way you like it.
If you’re worried about whether cleaning the espresso maker is a hassle, don’t be, because it comes with a removable water tank and drip tray, both of which make cleaning the espresso maker quick and painless.
The rest of the espresso maker’s features include: a one-touch control panel that lets you choose a single or double-shot of espresso, cappuccino, or latte with ease; a Portafilter, which ensures the espresso maker produces delicious espresso every time; a filter for single and double-shot espresso, which can help you make espresso with precision; a measuring scoop/tamper, which not only helps you make espresso with precision as well, but also helps you ensure that the ground coffee beans are distributed evenly in the container; and a selection of recipes for getting the most out of your espresso maker.
The only complaint customers have aired about the Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso Maker is its tendency to be a little complicated to use at first.
The espresso machine, however, received a solid rating of 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon, where it’s currently being sold for $162.74 and we also include it in our list of one of the best espresso machines under 200 dollars.
We hope that our breakdown of the top three Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines will help you pick the right one for your home!
Chatting about coffee is my passion! Leave me a question in the comments, I answer each and every one and would love to get to know you better.
I am a die-hard espresso fan. I love every form of the drink from straight espresso shots to lattes and cappuccinos. I currently use a Breville BES870XL Barista, it is an awesome machine. BUT, my dream machine is definitely an Italian Quickmill Andreja. Those bad boys make badass espresso. I love answering your questions, leave a comment or question below!