The 11 Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Italian-espresso-machine-on-a-counter-in-a-restaurant-dispensing-freshly-brewed-coffee-into-two-small-cups-to-be-served-to-customers

Choosing a coffee machine can seem like a never-ending decision.

For those who want to remain in control of the brewing process while enjoying barista-grade coffee at home, there’s no substitute for a semi-automatic espresso machine.

Before we guide you through all the best machines in this class intended for home use – come back soon for our guide on upscale commercial espresso machines – a few words about what to expect from a semi-automatic.

While pod-based espresso machines and fully-automatic espresso machines are remarkably convenient, they remove most of the brewing variables from your control. While this typically results in consistent espresso, many people prefer taking more charge over the brewing process.

While all super-automatic espresso machines come with a built-in grinder, this does not always apply to semi-automatics. Indeed, integrated grinders are the exception rather than the rule with this type of espresso machine, so you should invest in a decent conical burr grinder if required.

As an added kicker, most semi-automatics allow you to use your espresso as the base for longer and creamier coffees, with a milk frothing wand allowing you to create foam steamed milk, and latte art.

What, then, should you consider when you’re comparing the best semi-automatic espresso machines?

  • Home espresso machine or commercial semi-automatic: Most commercial semi-automatics are heavy, bulky, and pretty tricky to use, at least until you master the machine. As such, these are not the type of machine we’ll be reviewing today. Home semi-automatics come in a wider variety of styles. Some come with grinders baked in, just like a super-automatic. Some machines use a pod-based system or capsule-based system to deliver pressurized espresso. All that counts is finding which machine delivers the optimum combination of convenience and control for your needs. We review machines in all these styles and more today to make your life easier
  • Single-boiler or dual-boiler systems: A semi-automatic espresso machine with a single boiler is more limited in scope. You’ll need to brew and steam independently, pulling your shot of espresso, and then waiting for the right steaming temperature before adding froth and foam. With a dual-boiler system, by contrast, you can pull shots and steam at the same time, ideal for any high-demand environments. The twin boilers are independent, so they shouldn’t interact, and the temperature remains stable in each boiler
  • Portafilter: The small basket on your espresso machine is known as a portafilter. You place your grinds for brewing directly into the portafilter. The standard size for commercial portafilters is 58mm, but many on home machines are slightly smaller. For beginners, pressurized portafilters allowing you to create crema first time. Non-pressurized portafilters, on the other hand, brew coffee directly into your cup. These are more sensitive to grind size. When making espresso, you want your coffee beans finely ground. Capsule and pod-based systems contain single servings inside what amounts to an individual portafilter
  • Ease of use: Perhaps the final defining variable in your search for the best semi-automatic espresso machines is ease of use. Think about how much control you want, and whether or not you want any presets to help you make coffee at the push of a button
  • Grinder: If you don’t have a coffee grinder at home, it’s worth exploring some of the semi-automatics equipped with an integrated burr grinder, giving you a bean-to-cup experience without surrendering complete control

If you keep these pointers in mind, you should be perfectly placed to determine which of these semi-automatics, if any, makes a smooth fit for your kitchen.

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I. The 11 Best Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

1. Our #1 Pick: Breville Barista Express

Breville-BES870XL-Barista-Express-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, long coffees with manual frothing
  • Weight: 23 pounds
  • Dimensions: 12.6 x 12.5 x 13.1 inches

Our favorite from today’s curated collection of the best semi-automatic espresso machines is the Barista Express from Breville. What do you get for your money, then?

Well, the primary draw of this espresso machine is the way you get the control afforded by most semi-automatics, but with the bean-to-cup experience of a fully automatic, giving you a win-win.

The onboard grinder doses the right amount of coffee for your espresso or double espresso directly into the commercial-grade portafilter. You can tweak the size of the grind setting to suit – you want a fine grind for espresso.

A pre-infusion stage uses low pressure before the pump ratchets up to channel the water through your coffee grinds at the high pressure you need for extracting great espresso. PID temperature control ensures the water comes through at between 190F and 196F, ideal for authentic short shots.

When you get the taste for longer coffees, use the steam wand to manually froth and steam your milk.

While the build quality and lifespan of the Barista Express is impressive, the same cannot be said for Breville’s customer service. Overall, though, you’re getting one of the best semi-automatic espresso machines out there, giving you control and convenience in perfectly measured proportions.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Conical burr grinder onboard
  • Robust stainless steel build
  • Use manual settings for more control
  • Customer service can be questionable

2. Mr Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

Mr.-Coffee-Espresso-and-Cappuccino-Maker

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, cappuccino, latte
  • Weight: 10.4 pounds
  • Dimensions: 11.2 x 8.9 x 12.6 inches

Next up we have the first of a couple of entries from Mr Coffee in the form of this nifty espresso and cappuccino maker.

This brand has been in business for over 60 years since pioneering the first drip coffee machine for home use. Since then, Mr Coffee has been producing pocket-friendly coffee machines in a variety of styles, but without forcing you to compromise on quality to grab a bargain.

The push-button functionality lets you flick between espresso, latte, and cappuccino with consummate ease.

With an automatic milk reservoir, you don’t need to worry about fussing over the proportions of foam and milk: let Mr Coffee do the hard work for you.

You can also make custom coffees with this machine, so you won’t be sacrificing total control to get push-button convenience.

While most user reviews of this espresso and cappuccino machine are pretty positive, you take a hit when it comes to build quality and lifespan. If you have a high-demand kitchen, you may want to explore some of the more robust machines we review.

Make sure you prime this machine before its first use and then start enjoying great quality espresso at home without needing to spend a fortune or accommodate a hulking commercial unit.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Push-button functionality
  • Automatic milk frother
  • Powerful pump rated at 15 bars
  • Flimsy build

3. Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine

Rancilio-Silvia-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso
  • Weight: 30 pounds
  • Dimensions: 11.4 x 9.2 x 13.3 inches

The Rancilio Silvia is a classic and enduringly popular home espresso machine from a brand with a deep bench of great commercial machines.

This iteration of the Silvia is new and improved, giving you a first-class semi-automatic espresso machine, even if you need to dig deep for the privilege.

The small and compact unit works well on the kitchen counter, and the top of the machine can be used to store or warm your espresso cups, a further space-saving benefit.

Ergonomic rock switches make operating this machine a cinch, and you won’t be faced with any complicated interfaces.

You get a commercial-grade 58mm portafilter assuring you a great extraction every time.

Use the manual steam wand for frothing and steaming milk. This allows you to use your espresso as the base for longer coffees, too.

As a true semi-automatic espresso machine, the Silvia does not come equipped with a grinder. We would suggest investing in a ceramic burr grinder, the longest-lasting, most efficient, and most consistent of all coffee grinders. Blitz your beans just before you brew and you’ll get the freshest, tastiest, and most aromatic espresso.

If you prefer the convenience of single-serve coffee from time to time, Rancilio offers a pod and capsule kit, but this is available separately.

As long as you don’t mind mastering the art of pulling a shot, the Rancilio Silvia is among the best semi-automatic espresso machines out there.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Upgraded version of a classic machine
  • Manual articulating steam wand
  • Gives you maximum control over brewing
  • Slight learning curve to master

4. Gaggia Classic Pro

Gaggia-RI9380/46-Classic-Pro-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, long coffees with manual frothing
  • Weight: 20 pounds
  • Dimensions: 8 x 9.5 x 14.2 inches

Gaggia, much like Rancilio, is a brand with a heavy presence in both the commercial and residential coffee spaces. How does the Classic Pro shape up, then?

As you would expect, Gaggia takes the opportunity to use as many pro-grade components as possible, benefiting from its wide line of commercial espresso machines – you’re sure to have encountered one or two in coffee shops.

The Classic Pro is a squat and slender machine that works well in small kitchens. Choose from a handful of colors to suit, including the brushed stainless steel model perfect for modernist kitchens.

You’re obviously not buying an espresso machine mainly for its good looks, though, so how does the Gaggia perform?

Just like with all the best semi-automatic machines, the Gaggia involves mastering a slight learning curve. Using the rocket switches is easy, though, so you choose whether you want a single or double shot, and then you just need to perfect the art of timing your shot – 25 seconds is ideal for espresso.

For longer coffees, take advantage of the steam wand to froth and steam milk. This rotates to give you great flexibility.

Aside from a few gripes about quality control, you’re in safe hands with the Gaggia Classic Pro.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Multiple vibrant colorways
  • Features commercial componentry
  • User-friendly rocker switches
  • Quality control issues flagged

5. Nespresso Lattissima Pro

Nespresso-Lattissima-Pro-Coffee-and-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, cappuccino, lungo, macchiato, warm milk
  • Weight: 12.6 pounds
  • Dimensions: 13.1 x 7.6 x 10.8 inches

Nespresso machines provide you with the ultimate in push-button convenience if you don’t mind the loss of control over the brewing process.

The Lattissima Pro gives you a huge choice of capsules from the Original Line. We recommend getting the capsules direct from the manufacturer as they typically offer the keenest prices, while the machines are usually cheaper through alternative outlets.

Although this is one of the pricier models in the Nespresso range, you can pick this model up at an aggressive discount if you move quickly.

The key selling point of the Lattissima Pro is the automatic cappuccino system. If you prefer longer, creamy coffees but lack the skills to make latte, cappuccino, and macchiato, this automated system delivers foam and steamed milk in the right proportions to make your life easier.

The machine is just as easy to maintain as it to use, with automatic descaling ensuring everything runs smoothly without causing you any undue effort.

For anyone who doesn’t object to a loss of control over brewing espresso, you can get great shots and much more from this capsule-based gem.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Super-simple to use
  • Great choice of beverages
  • Automatic descaling
  • Capsule-based coffee polarizes opinion

6. Breville Infuser Espresso Machine

Breville-BES840XL-Infuser-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, long coffees with manual frothing
  • Weight: 17 pounds
  • Dimensions: 13.7 x 11.5 x 13.25 inches

Breville is a powerhouse brand producing a wide array of great coffee machines for all tastes. The Infuser is a versatile semi-automatic espresso machine in a classic stainless steel finish, so how does it stand and fall?

As with all the best machines in this class, you’ll need to put in some effort. In return, you’ll be rewarded with silky smooth and deliciously rich espresso, and much more besides.

Use a grinder to finely grind your medium roast beans then pop them into the portafilter. The Breville will dose 19g or 22g of coffee for the perfect espresso.

To achieve this, you’ll also need the right pressure and water temperature. The pump delivers low pressure during the pre-infusion stage for a delicate yet robust extraction. When you extract the shot, this takes place under the 9 bars of pressure vital for espresso like the Italians drink it.

PID temperature controls guarantee the water arrives between 190F and 196F, perfect for authentic espresso.

With all of these elements in place, you can enjoy great shots of espresso while feeling like a barista.

Manual micro-foaming allows you to continue your artistry, creating latte, cappuccino, and macchiato with your espresso as a base.

Build quality here is impressive, and lifespan is also commendable. In short, the Breville Infuser is one of the best semi-automatic espresso machines on the market.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Shot control and volumetric control
  • Sleek aesthetics
  • Perfect water pressure for espresso
  • Not the cheapest espresso machine

7. Mr Coffee One-Touch Espresso Maker

Mr.-Coffee-One-Touch-CoffeeHouse-Espresso-Maker

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, latte, cappuccino
  • Weight: 15.2 pounds
  • Dimensions: 10.6 x 13 x 14.3 inches

Another offering from the inimitable Mr Coffee next with the One-Touch Espresso Maker. Does this model promise as delivered, then?

Firstly, this machine is one of the cheapest espresso makers you can find before you start veering into sub-par machines that will let you down.

Despite the budget price tag, this machine looks great and has a space-saving form factor ideal for cramped kitchens. How does it perform, though?

Well, it’s luckily not a case of form over function here. You can select espresso, latte, or cappuccino at the push of a button here, and you can also make custom coffees if you’re feeling more creative. Those seeking maximum control while brewing should explore some of the alternative machines above and below, but for those prizing convenience and ease of use, this model is hard to beat.

If you prefer longer and creamier coffees, automatic milk frothing allows you to enjoy these without needing to worry about the ratio of coffee to foam and steamed milk. Mr Coffee does it all for you.

Remove the milk reservoir if you have any leftovers and pop it directly into the refrigerator.

Aside from an excess of plastic parts – and this is to be at expected at this price point – this is an otherwise outstanding semi-automatic espresso machine well worth popping on your shortlist.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Excellent price/performance ratio
  • Makes tasty espresso
  • Easy to use and maintain
  • Too much plastic on display

8. DeLonghi La Specialista

De'Longhi-La-Specialista-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, americano, coffee
  • Weight: 30 pounds
  • Dimensions: 14.5 x 17.5 x 15 inches

DeLonghi has a vast range of coffee machines catering to all needs, and the Specialista is targeted at those looking for a semi-automatic machine with a difference.

Above this commanding unit, you get a burr grinder that doses the precise amount of medium roast beans – optimum for espresso – so you get your extraction off to the strongest start. Most traditional semi-automatics do not come with grinders baked in, but Breville stretches the boundaries, and that’s a good thing.

The tamping station takes care of compacting your coffee grinds, so you don’t need to worry about doing anything beyond pulling a lever.

This is dual-boiler system, allowing you to extract your coffee and steam milk at the same time, something not possible on single-boiler units. If you often find yourself making multiple coffees at once, the Specialista is the ideal addition to high-demand kitchens.

The super-swift start-up time means as soon as your coffee is doses, you’ll be enjoying espresso in less than a minute – it takes 25 seconds to extract a shot of espresso.

If you want to make creamy coffees, choose flat or foamed milk and allow the machine to mix the right ratios for you.

For anyone looking for a semi-automatic espresso machine with a twist, the DeLonghi Specialista is a must, even if it’s not the cheapest espresso machine.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Eye-catching good looks
  • Sensor-grinding technology
  • Micro-foam frothing for longer coffees
  • Pretty costly

9. DeLonghi Espresso and Cappuccino Machine

DeLonghi-EC155-15-Bar-Espresso-and-Cappuccino-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, cappuccino, latte
  • Weight: 6.7 pounds
  • Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.2 x 15 inches

Yet another offering from DeLonghi as we near the end of our search for the best semi-automatic espresso machines.

If you’re looking to buy into this brand at the lowest possible entry point, this back-to-basics machine allows you to do just that.

As you would expect from an espresso machine at this price point, you take a hit when it comes to aesthetics and expected lifespan.

Functionality is limited to a simple dial, but many appreciate the simplicity of these controls.

The pump onboard gives you all the pressure you need to extract a single or double shot of espresso. Unlike with some of the more complicated machines in this class, this is a beginner-friendly unit.

You can remove both the water reservoir and the drip tray to streamline cleaning and refilling.

This machine lets you make both espresso and longer coffees with push-button ease, so if this is what you prioritize in an espresso machine, we can’t recommend this budget DeLonghi strongly enough.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Outstanding overall value
  • Make long and short coffees with ease
  • Compact footprint
  • Some lifespan issues reported

10. EspressoWorks Espresso Machine and Cappuccino Maker

Espresso-Machine-&-Cappuccino-Maker

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, long coffees with manual frothing
  • Weight: 9.7 pounds
  • Dimensions: 9 x 9.75 x 11.5 inches

We have another inexpensive semi-automatic espresso machine up next, this time from EspressoWorks.

You get a plug-in coffee grinder bundled with this machine, so you can get your beverages off to the strongest start by grinding fresh beans right before you brew. Coffee beans degrade rapidly, so avoid grinding them in advance.

Under the hood is a 15-bar pump, giving you the high pressure you need to extract an authentic shot of espresso. Choose from a single or double shot to taste without needing to master any barista skills.

A stainless steel milk frother is perfect if you want latte, cappuccino, or macchiato. You’ll need to manually create the steamed and foamed milk, but this gives you complete control over the end result in your cup, a quality of all the best semi-automatic espresso machines.

The transparent water reservoir lets you monitor the level at a glance, and this is removable to simplify refilling and cleaning.

Despite this barista bundle kit giving you everything you need down to a coffee scoop and tamping tool, it’s among the cheapest options at your disposal, so what’s not to love?

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Cost-effective semi-automatic
  • Stainless steel milk frother
  • Quite bulky
  • Not the longest-lasting machine

11. Calphalon IQ Espresso Machine

Calphalon-Temp-IQ-Espresso-Machine

Features

  • Drinks: Espresso, double espresso, cappuccino, latte
  • Weight: 23.4 pounds
  • Dimensions: 14.5 x 15.6 x 17.3 inches

Last up in our semi-automatic espresso machine reviews is a solid entry from Calphalon.

Elegant and making a commanding presence on the kitchen counter, this machine will also generate top-notch espresso, as well as giving you the opportunity to make longer coffees.

Featuring an integrated burr grinder, there is no excuse not to use fresh beans just before brewing up your espresso, one of the simplest routes to success. The grinder has a class-leading 30 grind settings, affording you total freedom.

Take advantage of the presets for single or double espresso on demand.

Thanks to the thermoblock heating system and PID controls, water gets up to temperature near instantly, and is then delivered between 190F and 196F for the optimum espresso.

The Calphalon IQ certainly isn’t the most affordable semi-automatic espresso machine, but it’s among the very finest.

Things We Like Things We Dislike
  • Clean and elegant lines
  • Integrated grinder
  • Commercial-grade portafilter
  • Excessive steam pressure

II. FAQs

1) How does an espresso machine work?

Espresso machines force hot water through a puck of finely ground coffee under high pressure. The result is a rich and concentrated coffee with a fine foamy layer known as a crema.

2) What is the ideal pressure for extracting espresso?

To extract the perfect shot, use 9 bars of pressure for between 25 and 30 seconds, depending on the size of your puck.

3) How long does it take for an espresso machine to heat up?

A cheap espresso machine might take 5 minutes or more to heat up. Thermoblock heating systems improve heating times. With the more robust commercial-grade espresso machines, you might need 20 minutes or more for the machine to warm up. The more metal the machine has, the longer it takes to reach a temperature suitable for stable espresso extraction.

4) What is the group head on a semi-automatic espresso machine?

The group head is the part of your espresso machine where you attach your portafilter. This is one of the most crucial components of any espresso machine, and will directly impact the quality of the shot. The group head influences the brew temperature, one of the pivotal factors for great espresso extraction. Coffee has a narrow band of extraction temperatures, with 190F to 196F recognized as ideal for espresso. Many of the better espresso machines we review above come equipped with commercial-grade group heads, something well worth looking out for. Rancilio and Gaggia in particular share many parts between their commercial line and their home espresso machines.

5) What’s the difference between coffee and espresso?

Espresso is a specific form of coffee. As outlined above, you need the coffee extracted under very high pressure – 9 bars is considered ideal. You can find beans designated espresso beans, but you can use any type of coffee beans to make espresso. While espresso has been made over the years with very dark coffee beans, lighter roasts have become increasingly popular over the years. A medium roast makes a great choice for espresso if you want something beyond the usual dark roasts. So, it is the brewing method that defines espresso rather than the coffee beans. Coffee, by contrast, composes all other types of this alluring beverage, extracted without pressure and served with or without milk to taste.


III. Conclusion

If you arrived here today at Madiba confused about how to pick the best semi-automatic espresso machine, that should have changed.

Not all semi-automatics are hard to use, and many offer features and functionality comparable with a fully-automatic machine.

So, if you’re looking to take complete control of making espresso at home, and if you don’t mind mastering the art of pulling a shot, you’re now spoiled for choice.

Before you leave, quickly bookmark Madiba. We have a great deal of informative guides coming your way over the coming weeks. We’re already excited about the looming holiday season, so we have lots of recommendations coming your way. We’ll see you very soon!

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