Different Types of Espresso Machines - Manual vs Super vs Semi


So, you've decided to invest in an espresso machine.

You begin looking at options with excitement, dreaming of the delicious that will soon be at your disposal.

Strong espressos. Tasteful lattes. Exquisite cappuccinos.

But after a quick search, you realize you have no idea where to start.


Do you get a pump machine? Automatic? What in the world is "super automatic"?

Why are there so many kinds and types of espresso machines?

But don't worry. We've got you covered.

We'll go into the full range of espresso machine types, from manual to that impressive-sounding super automatic variety.

Overview of Different Types of Espresso Machines

Several types of espresso machines exist on the market today. You can choose from these options:

  • Manual
  • Semi-automatic
  • Super automatic

While these types can produce excellent coffee, they vary in convenience, flexibility, and investment.

What is a Manual Espresso Machine?

Manual espresso machines are also called lever or piston espresso machines.
They operate with either a direct lever or spring piston lever.

Manual espresso machines have a classic look.

In fact, they were the first real espresso makers that allowed baristas to exert the amount of pressure needed for an authentic espresso, or about 8 to 10 atmospheres of pressure.


Main Components & How Does a Manual Espresso Machine Work

Usually a lever espresso machine main components include:

  • Water Reservoir + Heater: holds and heats the water.
  • Portafilter: contains the ground coffee beans.
  • Lever: pushing down on the lever releases the water through the ground beans, which basically makes an espresso. (in this process you can control the water pressure)

Watch this short video to see what it's like to work with a manual machine

The Good

Manual models let you take your time with the brew. You have full control over all aspects of the espresso, from grinding to tamping, water temperature to brewing pressure.

The Bad

A manual espresso maker isn't for everyone.

They take longer to brew than any electric varieties. There are more variables to consider, as well as room for human error, especially in extraction pressure.

Your first few cups with a manual machine might not be as tasty as you hoped, but in time you'll learn to improve your brew.

Who Should Use a Manual Espresso Machine?

Most of the lever espresso machines are not plug and play and there's
definitely a learning curve.

If you're buying a manual machine to save money on a semi-automatic or super- automatic machine, manual machine is not the machine for you.

People who choose a manual espresso machine should be willing to spend time on their morning espresso.

Baristas-in-training may also find a manual machine useful to not only learn each step of the process but experiment with flavors.

However, if you're looking for convenience and a quick cup of coffee to get you going, consider an automatic option.

      Key Takeaway

Manual Espresso machines give you total control over your espresso, from grinding your coffee and tamping to controlling the water pressure.

Great for those who are looking to learn and spend time on their espresso.

What is a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine?

Semi-automatic espresso machines use an electric pump to automate the water temperature and pressure.
It adjusts water flow and any steam used.

This machine maintains the right temperature for your brew.
Semi-automatic models store water in a boiler. If the temperature in the boiler changes, it will automatically turn off the heat to keep the appropriate temperature.

Pressure is the other big advantage of using an automatic pump. This pump reduces the chance of human error. Regulating pressure allows for a consistent coffee blend. (In manual machine you control the pressure with the lever).


How Does a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Work

Semi-automatic espresso machines don't include a grinder, so you'll have to spend time grinding fresh beans. After you have your grounds, you also need to fill the portafilter properly.

The art of compacting coffee grounds into a compartment is called "tamping" and is important in the brewing process. Proper tamping ensures that there is enough resistance to brew your espresso properly.

After grinding and tamping, your work is done. Just press the On button for an amazing brew.

Watch this video on grinding, tamping and brewing on a semi automatic

The Good

Semi-automatic espresso machines control the water temperature and pressure used for extraction. Constant pressure can be difficult to achieve manually.
Semi-automatic machines take care of this difficult component, but still let you do your own grinding and tamping.

The Bad

For those who want to make espresso before the start of a busy morning, grinding and tamping might be an inconvenience.

For those who want control over the pressure (8-10 bars through the shot) not all semi automatic machines will be able to keep a consistent pressure, depends on the price.

Who Should Use a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine?

A semi-automatic espresso machine is perfect for those who want to be able to adjust the quality, taste, and feel of their espresso.

The freedom to grind your coffee beans to your taste personalizes the taste of your coffee. You can make an amazing espresso using a semi-automatic.

      Key Takeaway

Semi Automatic Espresso machines give you less control than the manual espresso machine. You can't control the water pressure, but you still need to grind & tamp you coffee, which means you can adjust the quality, taste, and feel of your espresso.

What is a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine?

Super automatic espresso machines do nearly everything with just the push of a button.

You can customize a few settings, like the coarseness of your grind, but most machines are programmable, so you only need to enter your preferences once.


How Does a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine Work

There's no need to worry about grinding, measuring doses, tamping, or any other aspect of the brew. If you want to create milk-based coffee drinks, make sure your machine includes milk frothing capabilities.

Watch this video on super automatic espresso machines

The Good

Out of all the types of espresso machines, super automatic espresso machines are the most convenient. You only need to push a few buttons to choose the drink of your choice, at the desired strength.

Strong espresso, weak espresso, and decaf are just some of the options this machine can offer.

Many high-end models also include an automatic milk frother, which allows you to create lattes and cappuccinos.

The Bad

Super automatic espresso machines are the most expensive choice, with high-end models getting into the thousands of dollars.

They are incredibly easy to operate but may require additional effort for maintenance. It's best to choose a company that offers reliable support, in the event that your machine stops working properly.

Who Should Use a Super-Automatic Espresso Machine?

A super automatic espresso machine is for the espresso lover who doesn't have much brewing knowledge, but can't do without their coffee drinks. They're perfect for busy people who aren't interested in developing barista-level skills, but need a good cup of coffee.

      Key Takeaway

Super Automatic Espresso machines give you a great coffee with the push of a button. They are very convenient and easy to use, but also expensive.

Great for those who want a great cup of coffee, but don't want to spend time on it.


To recap, no one espresso machine is objectively better than the other.

Automatic varieties give the user more convenience and a standard of quality assurance. Manual and semi-automatic models are perfect for those who want the ability to customize their cup o' Joe and learn every step of the process.

Now that you've got a basic understanding of espresso machines get out there and start making that fantastic coffee.

James Taylor

Chief editor here at My Cup of Joe, a husband, a father and a coffee lover.

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