The 7 Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machine Picks In 2020

When it comes to choosing an espresso maker, you’ll likely feel bombarded by many different brands, and the choices can be overwhelming. 

Nonetheless, the best espresso machines mostly have the same level of specs. There’s always some variations depending on what you consider ‘best,’ especially if you enjoy milky coffee!

Below we detail 7 of our favorites, but if you’re in a hurry, here’s our top pick:

Breville The Barista Express Coffee Machine, Black Sesame
$699.95

If you’re looking for a coffeeshop at home, this one’s pretty close. Grind, tamper, froth and brew to your hearts content!

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Alternatives At A Glance

Best Semi Compact Pick
Breville BES500BSS Bambino Plus Espresso Machine, Brushed Stainless Steel
$499.95
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Best Stainless Steel
Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso Machine, Solid, Brushed Stainless Steel
$449.00
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Perfect For Milky Coffee
Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker | Café Barista , Silver
$313.49
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Best Super Value Pick
De Longhi EC155 15 bar Pump Espresso Machine
$99.99
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Best Budget Multifunctional Brewer
Capresso 116.04 Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine EC100, Black and Stainless
$123.60
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Most Cup/Mug Compatible
De'Longhi ECP3220R 15 Bar Espresso Machine with Advanced Cappuccino System, 11.4 x 9.5 x 14.2 Inches, Red
$138.76
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The 7 Best Semi Automatic Espresso Machines 2020

1. Breville BES870BSXL The Barista Express Coffee Machine

Breville’s first entry on this list is also the best overall! I’ve even recommended this for small cafes. You can make great coffee with this with the right knowledge and skills. In one instance, they were able to obtain a positive ROI on the espresso machine investment in one day.

Breville The Barista Express Coffee Machine, Black Sesame
$699.95

If you’re looking for a coffeeshop at home, this one’s pretty close. Grind, tamper, froth and brew to your hearts content!

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PROS (+)

  • Built-in conical burr grinder
  • Stable steam wand for good milk frothing 
  • Built in pre-infusion to brew process for added consistency
  • Auto regulated bar pump pressure for decent extractions in every shot

CONS (-)

  • Non-dual boiler so you can’t steam while pulling a shot
  • Drip tray overflows if you forget to clean it out after a busy morning at home

The built-in burr grinder is a space saver. Bonus is you get ground coffee into your portafilter with the push of a button. This is a popular choice for many espresso enthusiasts and is a safe pick as any.

2. Breville BES500BSS Bambino Plus Espresso Machine

Breville has thought of all the neccessities for the perfect brew, all while being compact!

Best Semi Compact Pick
Breville BES500BSS Bambino Plus Espresso Machine, Brushed Stainless Steel
$499.95
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PROS (+)

  • Adjustable milk temperature and texture
  • Built-in pre-infusion for more even extractions
  • Digital temperature control for more extraction possibilities
  • Auto-purge capability after each espresso pull

CONS (-)

  • Needs an excellent grinder to produce good espresso consistently
  • Some design and machine limitations with speed, power, and durability

Not every machine has milk temperature control. That’s an important feature for some. The auto-purge feature makes it easy to use, and makes it quite easily one of the more simple machines to operate.

The temperature control gauge makes it beginner-friendly. This makes it a good pick for a first-ever espresso maker at home.

3. Gaggia Classic Pro Espresso Machine – Best Stainless Steel

Gaggia has been in business since the 1930s, and they’re still operational today because their brewers make damn good coffee!

Best Stainless Steel
Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso Machine, Solid, Brushed Stainless Steel
$449.00
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PROS (+)

  • Great minimalist design
  • Easy to use buttons
  • Rotating steam wand
  • 58mm portafilter

CONS (-)

  • Some production-related issues with the new machine models
  • Longevity has been a concern for some

This particular pick has a minimalist, functional design that has the house brewer’s space interests in mind. It doesn’t have a dual boiler system, so you need a simple workflow to maximize speed and quality. Although, there have been little-to-no complaints with the quality of espresso that it makes when working properly for all intents and purposes.

Check out our in-depth Gaggia Classic Pro review to learn more about this brewer.

4. Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

Mr. Coffee is usually known for drip coffee makers. Here they have an entry that has pre-programmed best sellers in the espresso category.

Perfect For Milky Coffee
Mr. Coffee Espresso and Cappuccino Maker | Café Barista , Silver
$313.49
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PROS (+)

  • Automatic milk frother
  • Programmable cleaning cycle
  • Elegant design feel
  • Pre-programmed drink selections

CONS (-)

  • Automatic functions take away from the fun capabilities of most semi automatic espresso machines
  • Drip tray has a tendency to mix milk and coffee spillage

It’s easy to use on the one hand, but it also takes away from the creative process in your coffee routine. The saved recipes almost have an all rights reserved hold on the type of latte you’re drinking. But if you’re happy to not worry about technique, then this is a hybrid between auto and semi auto.

If you like the above description, this could be a great looking pick on your kitchen counter.

5. De’Longhi EC155 15 Bar Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

De’Longhi is another one of the industry leaders that you see with drip coffee machines. They do have the tech and the knowledge to come up with serviceable espresso makers.

Best Super Value Pick
De Longhi EC155 15 bar Pump Espresso Machine
$99.99
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PROS (+)

  • Dual boiler system allows for water and steam pressure to have their own controls
  • Powerful for its space-saving size
  • Self-priming option

CONS (-)

  • Cups don’t always fit under the machine portafilter
  • Some concerns on the durability of the newer machine models

It’s supposed to be a time-saver with the self-priming option. Alongside this, one of the best things about this coffee machine is how small its footprint is.

If you’re into espresso and want it fast and easy, this is a good enough pick.

6. Capresso 116.04 Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine

Capresso is a brand name using the combined words “cappuccino” and “espresso”. Coincidentally this is exactly what you can make with this machine.

Best Budget Multifunctional Brewer
Capresso 116.04 Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Machine EC100, Black and Stainless
$123.60
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PROS (+)

  • Espresso pod compatible
  • Easy to maintain machine design
  • Swiveling frother
  • Easy to clean drip tray

CONS (-)

  • Mugs don’t fit under the machine portafilters
  • Some leaks have been reported from the group head

Design and longevity issues aside (which I believe can be addressed with proper maintenance and handling) it seems to be able to churn out good espresso!

You’ll have to use a good frothing technique to obtain a decent amount head from this. But once you learn at this difficulty level, you can steam well on any machine!

7. De’Longhi ECP3220R 15 Bar Espresso Machine with Advanced Cappuccino System

The second entry for De’Longhi on this list has a feature that addresses an industry pain point: cup compatibility.

Most Cup/Mug Compatible
De'Longhi ECP3220R 15 Bar Espresso Machine with Advanced Cappuccino System, 11.4 x 9.5 x 14.2 Inches, Red
$138.76
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PROS (+)

  • Single or double shot capability
  • Pod compatible
  • Small counter footprint
  • Compatible with most cups and mugs

CONS (-)

  • Known to be underpowered
  • Frequently reported electrical problems

Most espresso makers (even at the commercial level) tend to scrimp on the space they provide to catch the espresso shots. This makes for a complicated workflow or a lot of bar mishaps.

I believe that proper maintenance and care can address the said issues for all the limitations and complaints about this particular machine.

Since it’s also a hybrid, the easy fit capability can be a huge deciding factor for some brewers. Especially those who have experienced sleepily pulling a shot only to forget that your go-to mug doesn’t fit after half of your espresso has bled onto your drip tray.

Semi Automatic Espresso Machine Buyers Guide

Now that you’ve been presented with some good picks to choose from, let’s take a closer look at some areas you may want to understand better about semi automatic espresso machines. Remember that the key to selecting the best one for you should be an efficient extension of how you want to brew. But as always, it starts with good beans and a consistent grinder.

At the end of the day, the man (or woman) makes the coffee.

What is a semi automatic coffee machine?

A semi automatic espresso machine is the best of both brew worlds. 

It automates the functions that are tedious or time-consuming. The rest it leaves for you to tinker with so you can make an amazing espresso with a 7-second pre-infusion, at a specific temperature, with a particular dose, within a certain time.

To understand what semi automatic is, let’s briefly discuss what it isn’t.

Automatic machines fully automate your brew process. You switch it on with one touch, plug in the ground coffee or beans to grind (some can also use coffee pods), and just wait for your espresso. It’s an easy to use brewing option.

The coffee grounds are pre-measured, the water temperature is preset, and you get the same cup each time for as long as you use the same mineral water and pods.

An automatic espresso machine is great for those who want light and easy coffee routines. It’s the perfect match for people who have busy mornings or those who drink coffee functionally. 

It’s important to note that the best automatic machines can also churn out good espresso, so figure out for yourself if it’s a viable option for your lifestyle and preferences.

A semi automatic machine requires more thought for your coffee, in exchange for excellent, personalized results.

You will have to grind the beans yourself, so make sure you get a quality grinder. There is so much fun in figuring out the best grind size for your coffee!

After figuring grind out, you have to figure out the appropriate dose. It’s best to use a digital fine weighing scale with a variance of 0.5 grams for maximum consistency. If your goal is good coffee regularly, this makes it easy.

The fun with semi automatic espresso machines is developing a technique within your workflow.

Tamping 

When you know the grind size and dose, the coffee brewing starts. You load the portafilter that comes with the espresso machine with the coffee. Your first technique to learn and develop is tamping.

Tamping is compressing the grounds in the portafilter so that water doesn’t easily pass through. This results in a good extraction. Having the water pass through the grounds too fast (due to grinding too coarsely or tamping softly) will result in under-extraction while having it pass to slow (due to over-tamping or grinding too finely) will result in over-extraction.

Proper tamping is bending your arm at a right angle and pressing down with your sides. This is the best way to do it. I used to work in a cafe that required me to make 300 espresso shots during the morning rush, and I can vouch for how much lousy technique contributes to a painful elbow in the long run.

Make sure to check if your tamp is level along the x and y-axis of your coffee puck. Once nice and level, remove excess grounds around the top and opening of the portafilter and lock it in place!

When you lock the portafilter in place, remember that you’re usually good with leaving it at the 6 or 7 o’clock position. Locking it too tightly can significantly affect the longevity of the gaskets of your group head. This is an understated key to longevity with the semi automatic espresso machine. You will barely need maintenance work if you care for it like a barista!

Pull The Shot

With the portafilter sealed, it’s time to pull an espresso shot. You can set the temperature with some semi automatic machines, while in others, it is preset. If your pick comes with temperature control, great. If it doesn’t? 

Purge water out by pressing brew while the portafilter isn’t locked in place yet. This forces the machine to flush out the hot water, and as it reaches into its boiler for more water, you actually lower the overall temperature that you’ll end up brewing with.

After a good 5-10 second purge, just lock the portafilter in place and brew as usual.

Once you’re happy with the extraction, simply switch off the brew button to get the machine to stop forcing water through your coffee grounds. Your last step is to enjoy with or without milk! It’s great to have the capability to be able to make so many different coffees at home.

The Benefits of Semi Automatic Espresso

What I love about semi-automatic espresso machines is how they’re easy enough to use daily while also being manual enough to understand coffee principles better.

My barista career started with a semi automatic espresso machine, and it allowed me to really taste the effects of grind size, water temperature, water ratio, and time.

Another benefit is how the flavor-packed espresso really takes you through the different tastes you can encounter in coffee. When water comes into contact with coffee grounds, the acids dissolve first, followed by the sugars. 

Extracting past the sugars will bring you that balanced espresso that gives you an umami mouthfeel. Past that point will result in a bitter, over-extracted brew since only 30% of a coffee bean is pleasantly soluble.

Aside from being one of the best ways to learn about brewing coffee, espresso machines are probably the best way to allow yourself to create different coffee recipes!

The espresso is a good base for most drinks because it’s a concentrated coffee flavor carrier. You can be sure that it will cut through water, milk, and even alcohol in some cases. This is why most cafes launch with espresso machines! Once you perfect your espresso, you can come up with a myriad of different sauces to add to your creamy lattes.

Speaking of creamy lattes, another benefit you obtain from semi automatic machines is how much you can manipulate your milk to suit your preferences. With the right steaming technique, you can make your milk nice and frothy. You can even control the milk temperature! For beginners, investing in a food thermometer would be the best way to understand milk science.

You can hold so much coffee creating power in the comfort of your own home! If that is something you want, then a semi automatic espresso machine could be just the pick for you.

The final benefit we’ll discuss in this article? The best semi automatic espresso machine will allow you so much potential to make different coffees without adding too many complications with cleaning! In fact, it’s easier to clean than some manual coffee brewing equipment, and about the same as an automatic espresso machine.

Semi automatic vs fully automatic espresso

Now let’s discuss both types of machines head-to-head.

A semi automatic espresso machine is great for people like me who enjoy the process of brewing coffee. Aside from drinking, I am absolutely in love with understanding what I’m drinking. All the extra focus needed while brewing helps me focus and feel accomplished to start my day.

An automatic espresso machine is an easy, one-touch option for those of you who like espresso as a beverage more than a brew method. It allows you to drink a quality cup of coffee with a push of a button. Your coffee homework starts more with selecting the pods that the grounds come in more than actual brewing.

In terms of similarities, they both have the potential to produce good cups of coffee. They are both reasonably easy to maintain, and they are both great machines to have at home or in a cafe.

The differences lay in how high “quality” can reach, and how consistent you want your coffee to be.

The best semi automatic espresso machines allow you to get the best out of your beans. If you have the proper knowledge and technique, the sky is the limit for each pull. On the other hand, with automatic espresso machines, you basically get what was pre-selected and preset for you. 

Discussions on potential and consistency go hand-in-hand, with technique and skill determining what semis can do, while availability will dictate how consistent autos can be.

With espresso machines, as with other types of machines, remember that the more automated things are, the more your world stops if something breaks down. This is one of the most significant deciding factors for cafes in deciding to go for the best semi automatic espresso machine within their budget versus a fully automatic one. It’s also a consideration to be made for home use!

Again these are discussions on preference more than right or wrong.

The Final Verdict

I would suggest going for a semi automatic espresso machine with mostly stainless steel parts and an easy to clean drip tray to pair with a good burr grinder. 

I like making my coffee, and I also like sensing all the little nuances with each cup I make. I also enjoy taking on the challenge of consistency manually.

With that, I would pick the Breville Barista Express. It is my top home machine recommendation and gives the extra bang for your buck. It is powerful enough to power a tiny cafe and precise enough to allow you to make good espresso anywhere consistently. It’s bigger than the other options here, but the built-in grinder is a definite space-and-effort-saver for me overall.

Breville The Barista Express Coffee Machine, Black Sesame
$699.95

If you’re looking for a coffeeshop at home, this one’s pretty close. Grind, tamper, froth and brew to your hearts content!

SEE NOW ON AMAZON Learn More
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you. 11/28/2020 03:56 am GMT

It is also fully semi-automatic, so it allows me to experiment with and understand basic coffee principles, from pre-infusion to milk steaming. It also lets me toy with different recipes that I see or give me a chance to recreate my favorite drinks right at home.

If your coffee preferences are similar to mine (I enjoy the process and creating recipes), then it is worth investing in..

Frequently Asked Questions

Is 15 bar enough for espresso?

8-9 bars of pressure for brewing via the espresso method is enough. 

15 bars of pressure is too high. Perhaps the only allowable instance for brewing at this pressure is if it’s only for a quick stage, much like how pre infusion lasts only for a few seconds. Otherwise, you’d do your coffee and your machine well by adjusting to a maximum of 9 bars of pressure.

Look at the owner’s manual or contact your supplier to adjust the pressure. After-sales service is always a significant consideration with espresso machines for home use. Aside from all the force hitting the parts regularly, since it isn’t handled professionally, it’s great to have the manufacturer on speed dial in case your espresso machine breaks down and needs some troubleshooting or repairs.

The more they make things like servicing easy to get, the better it is for you! It’s a principle I hold up for all types of machines.

How do you use a semi automatic espresso machine?

STEP 1: Prime your espresso machine.

Make sure that the machine is warmed up and operating within the proper pressure ranges. Check if the water reservoir is loaded with enough mineral water. 

Make sure the top of the machine is clear of liquids (even inside containers). The espresso machine should also be planted securely on a flat, stable surface. Lastly, remember to purge the group head before inserting a loaded portafilter. This clears the group head of grounds from the last shot.

STEP 2: Dose, Tamp, Brew.

Get to know your coffee beans. Guess and check until you draw out the flavors advertised by your friendly neighborhood roaster on the bean bags. 

Once you’re decided on the proper grind size, figure out your dose. This will depend on your portafilter capacity and the brew strength you prefer. Next, work on your tamping form. Remember 90 degrees at the elbow, and push down with your sides.

Familiarize yourself with the sounds and shakes that your espresso machine makes typically. If any weird sounds or movements start, immediately consider cutting the shot short and switching your machine off. Consult the manual or troubleshoot with a professional to protect for your cafe or home investment.

BONUS: Milk is magic.

If you like lattes, practice frothing milk! Get to know the correct angle, strength, and depth that your steam wand needs to aerate and stretch properly.

You want to achieve microfoam that makes your flat whites silky and your cappuccinos frothy. Getting your steaming right makes your milk naturally sweeter (so you’ll be needing less sweetener) and makes the body absolutely delightful. 

Bring the cafe experience to your home with a good semi automatic machine!

STEP 3: Reset, reset, reset.
 
Remember to rinse your group head and portafilter after every shot. This makes the stainless steel easier to clean before the gunk hardens. The same goes for the steam wand. Hardened milk is hard to clean on stainless steel. However, if you wipe the steam wand right after steaming milk, you can easily wipe it down with a towel.

After every 100 shots, use machine detergent to clean your espresso machine, submerge your wand in hot water and detergent to clear it of milk residue at the end of each day.

Miguel Papa

Miguel Papa

Barista and coffee writer

Miguel Papa is a coffee fanatic with a passion for brewing. During the weekdays, you can find him experimenting with different drinks while he works as a barista. Otherwise, he’s likely writing here for Sip Coffee or enjoying the outdoors.