Manual or automatic? Which coffee machine should you choose?
Choosing a coffee machine is not a trivial matter, especially if you are a connoisseur or admirer of this black drink. Even if it is true that the best place to have a good coffee is the bar, nowadays it is possible to have high-level machines at home. And a good coffee machine allows you to make the most perfect espresso and cappuccinos at home.
How to choose the right coffee machine among those available on the market?
Espresso coffee machines can all be divided into two broad categories: manual or automatic ones. They have many differences, and the automatics are divided into other sub-categories. So, first of all, it is necessary to understand the technical characteristics of espresso machines and learn the different pros and cons.
Manual machines, aka the purity of espresso perfection
Nowadays, being a coffee lover can give you a lot of satisfaction. You can choose from very refined selections of ground coffee to be able to prepare drinks of the highest level at home. Those who truly love coffee usually choose manual machines, because they can better control coffee making. On the other hand, the production of this aromatic drink takes place through several steps that include checking the quality of the water at the time of its entry into the machine, its heating, the choice of the coffee blend, and extraction. So, being able to manage each of these aspects guarantees that you have a truly perfect drink.
For this reason, the lever machine is the favorite of purists. Once the extraction technique has been perfected there is no alternative to having the best espresso, of which you can control every step, including the delicate one of pressure and extraction, up to the brewing.
There is also another important aspect that you must take into account while analyzing manual machines: their presence and role in your kitchen furnishing.
The aesthetic aspect is incomparable: these machines are much more beautiful and effective in a kitchen. The best machines are made of stainless steel, made to last over time without being damaged, constituting a unique and unmistakable piece of furniture that will always remain fully functional.
How to choose a manual coffee machine
If you want to drink a good coffee, like an espresso in a bar, the manual coffee machine can help you make it happen. It is a device that allows you to extract a drink with excellent organoleptic characteristics and to adjust the parameters according to your tastes.
Professional coffee machines have different characteristics and many aspects must be taken into account when purchasing them:
- Materials: the manual machine must be built with durable and high-quality raw materials such as steel or brass.
- Technical assistance: the best brands make their technicians available to solve any type of problem or malfunction.
- Pump pressure: it is important to ensure the right density of the espresso. The optimal one is 15 bar, however, it mustn’t be less than 12 bar.
- Boiler: it is used to bring the water to the right temperature. Those made of steel are more resistant to heat and limescale. They generally require very little maintenance.
- Filters and portafilters: they regulate the delivery of coffee and can be both pressurized or classic.
- Tank capacity: based on the volumes of coffee you plan to consume, you can calculate how large the tank should be. Consider that with a large tank you will not have to top up the water too often, however, you must not leave it standing for too long.
- Cappuccinatore: it is the fundamental tool for preparing a delicious cappuccino.
Some accessories can not be missing in your coffee corner in the kitchen. The best brands, generally, deliver the coffee machine together with the additional filters to prepare more cups, pod filters, cup warmer tray, tamper, measuring cup and funnel.
Depending on the space you have, consider a compact machine, with a design that fits your home coffee counter.
The price of manual coffee machines varies based on materials, functions, accessories, and brand.
Manual machine, pros and cons of this choice:
- you have total control of the extraction phase;
- fine and classic aesthetics;
- you have the personal satisfaction of personally and manually extracting your coffee;
- allows you to use many customizable gadgets;
- make every single step important, bringing your coffee to become a ritual.
- you have to practice to learn how to use it well;
- once you have achieved manual skills it will be difficult to drink other coffees.
The alternatives to the manual machine: the automatic ones
Automatic machines, in all their different sub-categories, are much more present on the market, this is because in some respects they are certainly less artisanal in their components, and therefore tend to be faster and more practical to put into production.
In addition, many models are simpler to use and therefore can be useful for those bars that have more inexperienced baristas as staff who would risk serving a coffee that is not well prepared. But if you believe that automatic machines represent a minor investment in economic terms, you may be surprised. Due to the high degree of technology required to produce these models, their costs often lead to higher prices.
The category of automatic coffee machines includes several sub-categories.
Automatic machines: all it takes is to press a button
Automatic machines have a simplified user interface and therefore tend to show a very intuitive front part and are often designed for coffee pods (which are practical but have the defect of not being very varied in choice, while with lever machines you can just choose the type of coffee). This is the kind of machine where you press a button and watch it make your coffee. They are not very satisfying from the point of view of preparation, but in fact, they are practical and fast, especially if you have to make two coffees at the same time.
How to choose an automatic coffee machine
The automatic coffee machine does not allow you to change the preparation of the drinks. So if you want a coffee that meets your tastes, you have to evaluate some important characteristics during the purchase phase:
- the coffee grinder incorporated in the machine: this is a very useful plus that allows you to obtain a blend always fresh and fragrant. Some have metal blades while others have ceramic blades. The former may overheat, so it is better to opt for those of the second type.
- The material plays a fundamental role: the steel interiors are to be preferred over other materials as they are more resistant and durable. There are also automatic machines made of plastic elements, but they are less resistant than metal.
- The budget: depending on whether you need a high-performance appliance to be used for intense use or not, you can evaluate the amount to spend.
- The type of use: for intensive use, you will need to opt for a piece of durable equipment suitable for high performance. While for home use, you can choose a more suitable machine.
- Fast heating: this is a feature much appreciated by those who are always in a hurry because it allows coffee to be dispensed in a few moments after switching on the machine.
- The design: automatic coffee machines are generally larger than those for pods or capsules. However, you can also find some more compact models on the market.
- The buttons: some models are touch-screen while others have old-fashioned buttons.
- The drip tray: some models have a very small drip tray so they need to be emptied more often.
- Removable tank: it is easier to wash and keep clean.
- Pressure: the type of pressure affects the aroma of the coffee.
Some automatic coffee machines are sold with different accessories, such as the cup warmer and automatic descaling.
Automatic machines, pros and cons of this choice:
- simple and intuitive design.
- inability to customize the machines or any extraction step;
- high price for the performance.
Super automatic machines: even less effort
Super automatic machines: pro and cons
The super-automatic machines are the next step of the fully automatic ones: in some of these you don’t even have to refill the coffee beans, and they have many programmable functions.
Therefore, once the initial programming complexity has been overcome, they are trusted machines that mechanically perform the same coffee extraction system every time. Usually, these models are the ones that, losing in all respects the gestures and practice of the original espresso, that is, made with lever machines, compensate by trying to offer as many varieties of preparation as possible.
These machines tend to give you different possibilities, for example to froth milk, which lever machines can also do. In addition, they try to provide you with a more futuristic design and digital rather than analogic temperature measurement systems.
They have a rather robust instruction manual because, in face of total automatism, they are complex machines that must be well programmed, otherwise they end up fatally ruined.
How to choose a super automatic coffee machine
Super-automatic coffee machines allow you to prepare different types of coffee drinks without any effort. After the initial setting, just press a button to obtain your espresso.
With some models, it is also possible to store customized settings to suit your tastes. Unfortunately, this is to the loss of all the rituals linked to the preparation of coffee with the traditional machine.
Let’s see what are the features you need to evaluate to buy a super-automatic coffee machine:
- types of customization: generally these appliances allow you to adjust some parameters such as temperature, harmony, blend, coffee length, and have a standard coffee.
- variety of drinks: depending on the model, you can offer your guests a cappuccino, espresso, black coffee, strong coffee, macchiato, or latte.
- drip tray: capacity is important, be sure you don’t have to empty it every time.
- material: it is a very important parameter that affects durability and cost. The best equipment is made of stainless steel which guarantees its durability and resistance to high temperatures.
- coffee grinder with ceramic blades: they do not overheat the coffee beans, preserving the original taste of the blend.
- boiler: the best machines have a stainless steel boiler, extremely resistant to high temperatures.
- tank: the capacity must be evaluated based on daily consumption.
- a timer for automatic shutdown.
These devices take care of everything, but they are often prohibitively expensive. Every additional feature contributes to increasing the price.
Aesthetics are also an element that varies depending on the type of brand.
Some houses offer a series of options, such as the cup warmer, automatic descaling, and cleaning products.
In addition to being expensive, super-automatic machines consume a lot of electricity.
- guarantees every time a more or less perfect espresso without physical effort once it has been programmed.
- it is in no way customizable;
- the cost is very high, bordering on prohibitive;
- the cheaper models are not that good.
Semi-automatic machines, something in between
The category of semi-automatic machines, on the other hand, includes those machines that have both automatic functions and some manual phases. They can be completely autonomous, for those times when you are too sleepy to do it yourself, and they still can manually follow certain steps, such as stopping the dispensing of the drink. These machines tend to end up being the ones that show more maintenance problems, because you will only be able to interact with the machine up to a certain point, so there will be operations that you can do alone and others for which you will necessarily need an expert technician.
How to choose a semi-automatic coffee machine
Semi-automatic machines are a combination between automatic and manual. For the purchase you need to evaluate:
- The material: in this case too, you should choose steel. Some brands also use aluminum to make the water heating faster, but it does not ensure the same resistance over time.
- The brand: a semi-automatic machine must be of good quality otherwise you risk throwing it away very soon. Some brands have more experience in making coffee machines and it is good to opt for those.
- Pressure: the pressure must be between 15 and 12 bar. You should buy a machine that automatically regulates the pressure.
- The quality of coffee: depending on the operations you will have to carry out manually, the drink will have a different taste.
- Maintenance: semi-automatic machines require maintenance, in particular for the cleaning phase.
- The cappuccinatore: the presence of the cappuccinatore, also called milk frother, is used to create the froth of the cappuccino or creamy and thick milk.
- The size and design: semi-automatic machines generally have a heavier weight than others. So consider where you intend to place it and if you need to move it frequently.
- The functionalities: some semi-automatic coffee machines have built-in functions for the preparation of multiple drinks. They usually stop automatically at the end of the brewing.
- The complexity of use: depending on the machine, you will need to be able to manage some stages of coffee preparation, including the setting of various parameters.
The cost is very variable, depending on the model, brand and accessories supplied.
Semi-automatic machines, pros and cons of this choice:
- it is often a cheaper choice than the other alternatives.
- you will need to learn how to use it. So, if you are looking for a coffee machine easy to use, you should choose a fully automatic machine;
- it is not completely manual to give the right satisfaction in the extraction phase, so if you are interested in the gestures and rituals of traditional espresso, it may not be the right choice for you.
Evaluating pros and cons to be able to choose your coffee machine
Preparing an espresso that satisfies you in all its aspects is not something that depends only on you. It depends on the type of blend, on it is stored, on the water, and it depends a lot on the type of machine you will use.
It is clear that, in choosing the best coffee machine, you will take into account the level of involvement that you will want to have in the preparation. It is up to you to decide how much you want to feel the espresso you prepare “yours” since the first big choice you will make will be between manual coffee machines or automatic ones.
With automatic models, you will certainly have much less work to do, because with some models you will simply have to press a button. But inevitably there will also be less participation in the whole process of extraction and pouring of the drink. Another aspect that you will have to consider is that this type of technology could become obsolete, a problem that manual machines do not have. The mechanics of manual machines have been fundamentally the same for many years, and are the result of a process of constant improvement that was first and foremost artisanal for all of its first steps. Which means years of micro-interventions, chiseling, and finishing. Interventions that do not upset the concept and operation of the machine, but that improve the details from time to time.
The technology on which the automatic models are based, on the other hand, is relatively young and therefore it could be said that it has also been tested for less time. It also involves the use of many technological components that are not produced directly by the company that produces the coffee machines. The production chain becomes complicated, and if years later the machine starts to malfunction and you want to repair it, maybe you may have the problem of not finding that part you need.
On the other hand, with manual machines, you will have to face a short period of initial practice, after which, however, you will be able to manually prepare your espresso coffee according to the tradition. This is the choice generally made by those who want to maintain a direct link with the drink, taking care of every aspect of its preparation, from the choice of the beans to the extraction method. In addition, this category has models that have greater resistance to damage, also because their maintenance is more practical.
A common mistake is to think that to have a perfect espresso, you have to go to a bar. Many models of lever machines, which represent the traditional method of extraction of espresso coffee, are now also within the reach of a domestic investment or a bed & breakfast. Pontevecchio lever coffee machines come in many varieties of colors and models, managing to satisfy the needs of a large part of the public of connoisseurs.
The different models mean that you can choose the one that best suits your production needs: the professional lever machines of Pontevecchio can keep a high pace of production and you will never run the risk of a malfunction that will compromise the quality of the coffee, its aromas or its organoleptic properties.
The fact that they come in a wide range of colors, together with their traditional and elegant design, makes them a perfect item for your kitchen, where they can find a place not only as a functional element but also as a piece of furniture.
You can find out very easily on the website and explore the selection of machines to find the right one for you among the Pontevecchio lever models, to make the best espresso coffee at home as per tradition, enjoying all the aromas and rituals of your favorite drink.