Woman placing a portafilter on a semi-automatic espresso machine

ESPRESSO MACHINE DIFFERENCES: MANUAL VS SEMI-AUTOMATIC VS AUTOMATIC

There are few things more satisfying than pulling a delicious shot of rich, dark espresso with a thick layer of crema on top. The journey of espresso to your cup varies quite a bit based on what type of espresso machine is used. Learn the difference between the three main types of espresso machines and which one is the best option to keep fueling your passion for coffee.

Espresso drink on counter with slices of bread and fruit

WHAT IS A MANUAL ESPRESSO MACHINE?

A manual espresso machine is operated by pushing and pulling a lever. As you raise the lever, it draws water into the brewing chamber to saturate the coffee grounds (a step known as pre-infusion). Pulling the lever back down creates pressure, forcing the water through the coffee grounds and into your cup below.  The term “pulling a shot” comes from this type of manual espresso machine.

The exact design varies between models, but the basic idea is the same. With a fully manual espresso machine, you can control the pre-infusion period, the pressure and the water flow rate to customize it for each type of coffee or desired flavor profile.

ARE MANUAL ESPRESSO MACHINES BETTER?

If you are an espresso aficionado, you may prefer a manual espresso machine for the amount of control it gives you. The trade-off is that the quality depends largely on your skill level and can be inconsistent from shot to shot. Many manual espresso machines don’t have temperature sensors, automated pressure or other features to ensure consistent water temperature, pressure and timing during brewing. Getting the right pressure and timing are in your hands, making this type of espresso machine the most difficult to use.

PROS OF A MANUAL ESPRESSO MACHINE

  • Full control over every aspect of the brew
  • Ability to vary the pressure profile
  • Eye-catching machine design

 

CONS OF A MANUAL ESPRESSO MACHINE

  • Can produce inconsistent results

  • Can be difficult to use without expertise

  • Requires constant monitoring

Black semi-automatic type of espresso machine with cappuccino on counter

WHAT IS A SEMI-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE?

This type of machine helps you create delicious espresso at home without needing to be an expert. All you’ll need to work a semi-automatic espresso machine is a love of coffee and a little curiosity. With a semi-automatic espresso machine, you'll grind and tamp the coffee beans, lock in the portafilter, and choose your settings (number and size of shots). Then, just press a few buttons and an electrical pump automatically moves water through the brewing chamber at the right pressure, temperature and time—no manual pulling or timing required.

Some semi-automatic espresso machines allow you to manually control the pre-infusion time and amount of water used, but these are usually found on commercial models in professional coffee shops. Residential semi-automatic espresso machines are known for producing consistent results with ease while still giving you enough control to experiment and get creative.

PROS OF A SEMI-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE

  • More consistency through automated processes

  • Still allows for control and customization of some factors

  • Easy to use, even for beginners

  • Mid-range price point options

CONS OF A SEMI-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE

  • Less control over some variables

  • Requires some manual skill

  • Large variation of features within the category

KITCHENAID® SEMI-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE

The KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine is thoughtfully designed to control the most critical variables of espresso for authentic-tasting results at home while putting the shot size, grinding and tamping in your hands for the freedom to craft your perfect cup. The KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine helps you consistently pull flavorful shots through a balance of automated processes and features designed to aid your at-home barista journey.

Profile of KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine with temperature sensors

Residential First - Dual, Smart Temperature Sensors

Sensors actively communicate with each other throughout the brew process to ensure optimal temperature and an authentic tasting espresso.​The fast-heating, thermocoil technology heats water up to the ideal brewing temperature in less than 45 seconds. Auto-vidange cools down water heater after steaming.

Red KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine with a shot of espresso

Pre-Infusion and 15-Bar Italian Pump

The low pressure pre-infusion, which slowly and steadily adds water to ground coffee to expand before extraction, and the optimal pressure from the 15-bar Italian Pump work together to make a deliciously rich, thick crema.

Woman tamping coffee in an espresso machine portafilter

Flat, 58-mm Commercial-Grade Portafilter

The uniquely-designed portafilter helps maintain optimal heat through extraction. It features 2 recessed spouts to enable a flat base for easier, more stable tamping vs. traditional residential espresso portafilters. Choose between single wall baskets for greater control of full-bodied shots, and double wall, pressurized baskets that help reduce extraction variability.

Two shots of espresso next to a croissant and oranges

WHAT IS AN AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE?

Automatic espresso machines give you espresso at the touch of a button, but lack some ability to customize your beverage. They often have built-in coffee grinders with brewing mechanisms that will automatically grind coffee, fill, and tamp the basket, then brew a predetermined amount of espresso. These hands-off automatic espresso makers can produce highly consistent results, but leave little room for experimentation. If you prefer to hand craft your coffee, this type of espresso machine may not give you enough control.

A super-automatic or ultra-automatic espresso machine is also known as a pod espresso machine. This type of at-home espresso maker simply requires dropping in a capsule with pre-measured ground coffee inside, then pressing a button. Ultra-automatics are very convenient, but you’ll be limited to the types of coffee available in the pods that fit your model. There are also generally very limited options for customizing your brew to your preference.

PROS OF A AN AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE

  • Extremely easy to use

  • Produces very consistent results

  • Offers all-in-one systems

CONS OF An AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINE

  • Virtually no control over results

  • Can’t optimize factors for specific flavor profile

  • More limited in coffee bean options (if opting for a pod machine)

The KitchenAid® Automatic Milk Frother Attachment making a cappuccino

THE KITCHENAID® AUTOMATIC MILK FROTHER ATTACHMENT

The KitchenAid® Automatic Milk Frother Attachment brings automatic frothing and dosing capabilities to the KitchenAid® Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine. The attachment replaces the steam wand and prepares milk for delicious lattes, cappuccinos and more with the adjustment of just a few dials. The programmable dosing and a variable micro-foam adjuster allow you to customize the milk amount and texture to match your taste and preference. Add the Automatic Milk Frother attachment to your machine, or bundle them together for the best of manual and automatic features.

Woman pouring frothed milk into an espresso drink next to an semi-automatic type of espresso machine

FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING AN ESPRESSO MACHINE

Your perfect shot of espresso is unique to you and your needs. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which at-home espresso machine is best for you.

EASE OF USE VS CONTROL

In general, you’ll give up some control for ease of use and consistency when it comes to different types of espresso makers. A manual espresso machine allows you to tweak nearly every aspect but requires a higher skill level. Automatic espresso machines can produce the same quality over and over at the push of a button, but you won’t be able to customize your brew. Semi-automatic espresso machines automate some of the most important aspects like temperature and pressure to produce a consistent results, but do require some input from you. How involved you want to be in crafting your cup is a major factor to consider.

ESPRESSO MACHINE GRINDER

Great espresso starts with great beans and a fresh, precise grind. If you want to automate this part, opt for an espresso machine with a built-in grinder, but keep in mind that settings may be limited. A standalone burr grinder might offer you more control to vary your grind and quantity per type of bean and shot. The KitchenAid® Burr Coffee Grinder offers 70 precise settings for a variety of brewing methods while the Automatic Smart Dosing Technology takes the guesswork out of dosing and automatically adjusts grind time to deliver the proper volume and consistency.

Man frothing milk with a red espresso machine

WHAT CAN YOU MAKE WITH AN ESPRESSO MACHINE?

Espresso forms the rich coffee base of a range of cafe favorites like lattes, cappuccinos and Americanos. Most espresso machines include a steam wand or milk frother that helps you create creamy milk and thick foam to mix in, but you can also buy milk frothers separately. A less traditional use is brewing tea with an espresso machine for a calming cup or a tea latte.

TYPES OF ESPRESSO DRINKS

If you want to create lattes, cappuccinos and more at home, look for an espresso machine that includes a steaming wand. To make this part even easier, you can find types of espresso machines with automatic milk frothers that create your favorite beverages at the push of a button.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for latte

LATTE: ESPRESSO + STEAMED MILK + FOAM

This popular drink consists of 1/3 espresso and 2/3 milk, plus a thin layer of foam on top. The latte can be enjoyed on it’s own or can serve as the base for other popular drinks like mochas and lavender vanilla lattes. Try a new take on fall’s most popular espresso drink with a Pumpkin Spice Latte Smoothie.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for cappuccino

CAPPUCCINO: ESPRESSO + STEAMED MILK + FOAM

A cappuccino uses equal parts espresso, steamed milk and foam. This allows the coffee flavor to dominate while still incorporating the silky textures of milk and foam. Try this classic cappuccino recipe.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for flat white

FLAT WHITE: ESPRESSO + STEAMED MILK

A flat white has less steamed milk than a latte, but more steamed milk and less foam than a cappuccino. You’ll add 3.5 oz. of steamed milk to 2 oz. of espresso. This is a great choice if you want a more coffee forward drink with a bit more milk than a cappuccino.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for mocha

MOCHA: ESPRESSO + CHOCOLATE + STEAMED MILK + FOAM

A mocha is essentially a latte with chocolate in it. You’ll add chocolate directly to the espresso and plenty of milk to create a smooth, sweet coffee drink. Variations on this include caramel mochas, white chocolate varieties and even warm espresso cocktails.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for macchiato

CAFFÈ MACCHIATO: ESPRESSO + FOAM

A traditional caffe macchiato is a shot of espresso and just a dollop of dry milk foam, or a 2:1 ratio. This shouldn’t be confused with a latte macchiato which is espresso added to steamed milk, sometimes offered with flavored syrups.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for con panna

ESPRESSO CON PANNA: ESPRESSO + WHIPPED CREAM

A delightful and simple way to sweeten up your drink, the espresso con panna has gained popularity in recent years. Just pull a shot or two of espresso and top with a spoonful of fresh whipped cream. Try this Cinnamon Infused Espresso with Spiced Whipped Cream for a cool-weather warmer.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for frappé

FRAPPÉ: ESPRESSO + MILK + ICE CREAM

Enjoy your espresso as dessert with this drink that uses a 1:2 espresso to milk ratio and adds a scoop of ice cream on top. Get started with this frappé recipe from Yummly® . For an even more indulgent take on ice cream and espresso, try a chocolate affogato.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for Americano

AMERICANO: ESPRESSO + HOT WATER

This option offers the bold, complex flavor of espresso but the volume of a drip coffee. The ratio is usually 2 parts water to 1 part espresso—no milk frother needed! Learn how to make an Americano at home.

Graphic of coffee cup with ingredient ratios for tea latte

TEA LATTE

You can use hot water from your espresso machine to brew tea as well. Select the hot water setting (if available), brew tea and follow the ratios for your favorite espresso drink to create a variety of tea lattes.

Learn more about different espresso drinks and how to make them with our guide.

SHOP KITCHENAID® SEMI-AUTOMATIC ESPRESSO MACHINES AND ACCESSORIES

Browse the full lineup of espresso machines and accessories from KitchenAid, or explore the entire coffee collection for grinders, auto-drip machines and cold brewers. We studied with top baristas to ensure that our collection of kitchen coffee products will help you easily brew exceptional coffee at home.

 

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