Last Updated: February 16, 2024, 12:09 pm by TRUiC Team

Why Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines Are the Best Option

Have you ever noticed that your local, third-wave coffee shop uses a semi-automatic espresso machine? For many reasons, semi-automatic machines are now the preferred choice to streamline specialty coffee preparation while maintaining the barista’s ability to control the extraction process.

To help you select the right machine for your cafe, here are the key differences between machine types as well as the main reasons why semi-automatic machines reign supreme.

Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, forming an actual company, and everything in between.

Learn about why semi automatic espresso machines are a good option.

What's the difference between automatic and manual machines?

You can typically find automatic espresso machines in second-wave coffee shops, such as Starbucks® or Peet’s Coffee®. With a completely automated build, these machines allow baristas to simply press a button to pull a shot of espresso. In some cases, these machines also will dose, grind, and tamp shots.

Coffee shops like Starbucks use automatic machines to help ensure quality control and consistency. However, such machines can’t deliver the quality level provided by specialty coffee shops. Why? They don’t allow highly skilled baristas to dial in and perfect the espresso they make in order to produce a coffee’s intended flavor profile.

As a result, manual machines may seem like the perfect pairing for third-wave coffee shops because they require knowledge of both the coffee and machine to create a quality beverage. Yet, that’s not the case.

Unlike automatic and semi-automatic machines, which use electricity to run an internal pump that controls pressure and temperature, manual machines are completely hand-powered. That means the amount of labor required to pull a single shot of espresso from a manual machine often is too time-consuming for cafes aiming to serve customers relatively quickly.

PRO TIP: Do you like the hand-powered aspect of manual espresso machines, but don’t think they’re right for your cafe’s equipment? Then consider selling manual machines in your shop. Popular brands, such as Handpresso, offer manual espresso makers for the adventurous coffee consumer.

Why are semi-automatic machines so popular in specialty coffee shops?

Semi-automatic machines deliver the best of both worlds in terms of espresso equipment.

They give baristas the flexibility of a manual machine with the consistency of an automatic machine by allowing them to control almost every aspect of espresso preparation. For example, baristas can adjust both temperature and pressure on a semi-automatic machine — and then lock in those parameters — so they can focus on an espresso shot’s grind and weight.

Semi-automatic espresso machines also eliminate the need to adjust these elements regularly. This helps baristas speed up customer service while maintaining the high quality you want for your shop.

PRO TIP: Develop parameters for temperature and pressure levels that complement your coffee, and then check them regularly to decrease the need for changes on your espresso machine. 

Buying a semi-automatic machine with automatic features

A happy medium for some business owners can be a commercial machine that is technically a semi-automatic with certain automatic features such as smart wand technology or automatic timers.

The benefits of these machines are trainability as they make coffee preparation easy even for beginners as well as their tendency to be effective during busy rush times. The negatives to buying machines like this, however, is most experienced baristas prefer having complete control over the espresso extraction process as it allows them to adjust where needed without fussing with automatic controls. Therefore, these machines can be tricky for specialty coffee shop use.

For more information about semi-automatic espresso machines, check out our guide to the top five commercial espresso machines.

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