There are four classes of espresso machines:
- Manual Machines
- Semi Automatic Machines. These feature an automated pump, automated temperature controls for the boiler, and activation switches to engage and disengage the pump. That's what makes it "semi-automatic" - you decide when to turn the pump on and off.
- Automatic Machines. These feature a pump, automated temperature controls for the boiler, and automated (and frequently programmable) preset water volumes selected by pressing a button. That's what makes it "automatic".
- Super Automatic Machines. These machines do it all with the press of a button - grind, dose, tamp, brew, and eject the spent puck. This is about as hands off as you can get and still have espresso. This buying guide doesn't address super autos much.
There is a fifth type of machine often called an espresso machine; these are the steam driven machines.
Rather than producing authentic espresso, these machines produce a strong coffee, more akin to what a moka pot or Bialetti stovetop device brews.
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