The Espresso machine: which one to choose?


Quale macchina Espresso scegliere? Manuale, semi-automatica o automatica?


Which is the best Espresso machine, automatic or manual? Which one should I use in my home, but above all, which one will make the best Espresso coffee that comes as close as possible to the Espresso in the Bar?

These are the questions that are often asked when talking about Bar-type Espresso machines but with "home" use.

Let's try to distinguish the types of Espresso machine, to get towards the end of our article, to understand which of these can be closest to our tastes!

Manual Espresso Machines

The word says it, manuals, that is, all those machines that allow one manual adjustment of the Espresso machine, including all those activities that allow us to obtain a completely personal Espresso, we would dare to say "tailor-made" for our taste!

It is useless to deny or overlook the fact that all this requires a certain familiarity and time to achieve good results, but this is precisely the beauty of manual Espresso machines, namely the Italian tradition and daily gestures that transform these phases into an almost magical ritual. , a moment of relaxation and personal emphasis that only manual Espresso machines can offer.

What are these adjustments or activities on which we can interact manually:

  • the grain relative to the coffee grinding
  • amount of coffee to put in our filter holder
  • the pressing provided to our coffee cake
  • the phase of regulation of the quantity dispensed
  • the cleaning steps of our manual machine, including descaling

for many they may already seem too many, tiring and almost boring, but still others know well the pleasure of dedicating time to their own Espresso and that of others, the taste and pleasure of rituality in grinding their own coffee, testing the grain and deciding the weight that suits us best (obviously respecting the 7/10 gr range), up to the pressing and the final phase in which our Espresso, completely personal, is released into the cup.

Also keep in mind that manual Espresso machines can have classic or pressurized filters and filter holders, therefore professional, according to the brand and the final price of the machine.

In addition to the above, we now find dozens of very different manual Espresso machines; we go from the more traditional manual Espresso machine with lever equipped with pressure switch, where the only force necessary for the extraction of the coffee is that of our arm, up to the most current manual machines equipped with a few simple buttons, more or less constant temperature and pressure pre-set.

We not only find the delivery buttons, but often also a double button for Espresso coffee double / long, the steam button that allows us, using a pannarello (vaporizer), to dispense boiling water or to emulsify our milk to obtain an amazing cappuccino!

Depending on the complexity of the manual machine, you may or may not find other "contour" functions, or dedicated buttons for dispensing your coffee or for cleaning the Espresso machine, but they must still be manual, otherwise we enter the world of semi-automatic machines.

Surely for those who love aesthetics and the tradition linked to the daily gesture, the manual Espresso machine remains the non plus ultra, especially if we have the possibility to expand our budget and buy one of those semi or ultra professional, then here you really start having fun, both in terms of aesthetics and adjustment of the brewing parameters of our Espresso; you know those machines in steel or brass, with the double pressure gauge (water pressure in the boiler and delivery pressure), and with all those beautiful knobs or buttons always in steel? Exactly, these are all manual machines that have a rather high price (generally starting from 5/600 euros upwards ...), precisely because of their originality, delivery precision and reliability!

The advantages of these manual Espresso machines? Let's see them:

  • flexibility and customization of the delivery of our Espresso coffee;
  • originality of the manual Espresso machines on the market today;
  • solidity of materials: most of these machines are built with quality solid materials, such as steel and brass, even if a small part can contain a lot of plastic ... so be careful what you buy!
  • price: we start from rather low prices and by looking well we can buy a manual machine type Bar with not even 150 euros, and perhaps with a pressurized filter holder;
  • reliability: usually the "not very complex" mechanics and electronics of these machines allow them to last over time or to be able to intervene thanks to technical assistance (obviously the higher we go with the prices, the more we will have a guaranteed professional assistance! )
  • interchangeability of the filter, from single to double or with ESE type pods (see our article on Espresso coffee pods). 
  • removable and washable water tank separately
  • upper cup holders for their heating
  • simplicity and immediacy (not of use! For a good Espresso, practice and patience are the main factors for obtaining an Espresso like at the Bar ... or almost!)


Semi-automatic machines

What are the semi-automatic Espresso machines and what is the difference from the manuals? Let's try to understand something more ...

They are very similar to the manual ones but let's say they have "something more" such as:

  • digital memory or adjustment buttons and choice of various other options, such as automatic shutdown, time or temperature dispensing of our coffee and other options depending on the production house, on their complexity but above all on the price!
  • Milk container, with "cappuccino" function that is able to emulsify our milk and combine it in a manner almost completely automatic to our coffee, in order to obtain a cappuccino, a latte macchiato or similar drinks;
  • any integrated coffee grinders that allow you to always grind fresh coffee with the use of whole beans instead of ready-made blends (to avoid overheating of the grinders and therefore of the bean, look for devices with ceramic grinders ...)

Practically if you are looking for a product that you commit "marginally" and that is provided with some options more on a technological level, then you can counting on semi-automatic Espresso machines, you will surely find the one that's right for you, both in terms of ease of use and advanced settings in the delivery of your Espresso type Bar!

The semi-automatic Espresso machine can be a valid purchase if we intend to have some "optional" more than the more traditional manual Espresso machines, even at low prices and with increasingly attractive aesthetics; also in this case pay attention to the materials because steel and brass remain the best par excellence in terms of reliability and durability.


Automatic machines and Super Automatics

Let's now enter the world of automatic and super-automatic Espresso coffee machines and try to identify the main features of these devices:

  • digital display also touch (depending on brand and price)
  • more or less advanced functions for the delivery of our Espresso coffee such as:
    • type of coffee dispensed (single or double)
    • type of products such as:
      • capuchins
      • milk-based beverages
      • coffee of various types
    • brewing temperature
    • grain related to grinding
    • memorization of various utilities
    • aroma "control"
    • automatic descaling
  • hot drinks such as tea or chocolate
  • integrated coffee grinder
  • ceramic grinders (increasingly popular)
  • integrated sweeteners

Obviously, all these functions can attract the curiosity of many who do not like manual skills in making Espresso coffee with the classic manual machine type Bar as described above, but it is good that all the factors of this choice are evaluated; let's see in detail ADVANTAGES and DISADVANTAGES of automatic or super automatic machines.


  • possibility of obtaining various types of coffee and drinks based on milk and water;
  • multifunctionality;
  • simplicity and speed of dispensing for those who do not have much manual skills;
  • display touch;
  • use of coffee beans
  • automatic coffee grinding
  • automatic cleaning of the brew group + filter


  • we cannot act as we want on the coffee grind
  • the "ritual" of the manual machine is totally missing (just press a button)
  • surely we cannot speak of "traditional Italian coffee" in this case, and we will not have the possibility and the fun of personalizing our coffees, varying the dose (weight), the pressing of our blend and not even the possibility of creating our own cap, playing with our "barman" equipment !!
  • not always having a touch display is synonymous with simplicity: you need to know how to use it, read the instructions carefully and understand all its features (there are not a few!)
  •  the materials are NOT as solid as those used for many of the manual machines currently in circulation (steel / brass), but are often made of plastics or plastic derivatives
  • they are rather BULKY:
    • we need to find the right location for our automatic Espresso machine
  • the price:
    • if we want an automatic or super-automatic machine of a certain level, we will not spend less than 500 euros (except for offers in progress ...), to also reach values that are around 1,000 euros for a technologically advanced machine from all points of view
  • the delicacy of the components used in the construction of these machines:
    • like all advanced technologies, and super-automatic devices, the more electronics we have, the easier any "technical" problem or system error will be ... something that certainly cannot happen in manual machines
  • complexity:
    • the user must necessarily understand all the functions of the Espresso machine, carefully reading the technical manual with the instructions contained therein

We have reached the end, hoping to have clarified with some more data and some technical knowledge, any doubts or questions concerning the world of Espresso machines.

In conclusion, what we can recommend is to think carefully about what we are really looking for from our machine and in particular on three factors:
  • what is the final result we want to achieve?
  • how much time are we going to dedicate to our Espresso coffee and its "derivatives"?
  • what's our budget?

 if we have a clear answer to these questions then we can easily arrive at a definitive choice of our Espresso machine par excellence!  

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