2020 Getting Started Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines - Part 1
The semi-automatic espresso machine is the cornerstone of the serious home barista setup. A semi-automatic machine is the sort that requires the user to manually grind, tamp, and brew espresso. It takes finesse and practice that a superauto cuts out, but the reward is worth it. While superauto machines make some great drinks, there's nothing like pulling just the flavor you're after from a tricky single origin.
But it can be daunting to get started with semi-autos. There's a lot to choose from! For this reason, we're taking a look at some great initial buys in part 1 of our guide. Next time we'll cover some upgrade options. For now, we're going to talk about a couple of first time grinder and machine options to get you brewing!
Choosing a Grinder
Choosing a grinder is one of the most important parts of your first espresso setup. Grinders can elevate a less powerful machine by producing perfect, consistent grounds. This is why we recommend budgeting around your grinder first, if you're not looking at an all in one machine like the Breville Barista Express. So what are the best options? One of the most solid options for your first espresso grinder is a Breville Smart Grinder Pro. This grinder is easy to use, offers features that punch above its price point, and most importantly, will grind fine enough for unpressurized espresso brewing. That last point is key, because many other grinders that do this are well above this price point. Another option is the Rancilio Rocky, which is also a consistent, excellent grinder that may last you longer than the Smart Grinder Pro. It does come at a higher price point and with less fancy features, though. Either way, both of these grinders will provide a solid foundation for years, and allow you to upgrade big on your machine choice!
Choosing a Machine
Here it is, your big choice, what machine will you start with? Thankfully, recent years have provided some excellent starter options. First of all, there are the Breville machines. The Barista Express combines grinder and brewer into one affordable package. This is a great way to get started, but is inflexible, you can't upgrade the grinder separate from the machine, or vice versa. The other Breville options is the SCG Exclusive Breville Bambino Plus. This is the same machine as the Bambino Pro you can find at other retailers, but includes an unpressurized portafilter. We've talking about filter pressurization in the past, but having the option to go unpressurized is really great! Paired with the above grinders, you'll be able to pull delicious, cafe quality shots from the Bambino Plus.
Odds and Ends
There's some other odds and ends that you might want to consider with your first setup. First of all, a knockbox like this one from Dreamfarm is a great addition to your set up. It'll allow you to eject pucks from your portafilter without carrying it to the trash can. A tamping mat like this Rocket Espresso offering will also help you keep your station clean. Finally, it might have to be an upgrade option, but a scale like the Brewista Smart Scale II is a great way to weigh your shots to dial in the perfect flavor with your machine.
We hope this helps you make some choices for your first machine! We'll be back soon with some fantastic upgrade options for those jumping up to a more expensive machine.