Manual or automatic espresso machine: which one to choose?

Choosing the perfect espresso machine: manual vs automatic

Coffee is a unique beverage, part of the most diverse cultures all over the world. Every place has its own special ritual: from the Italian espresso enjoyed in the morning to the flat white sipped on a chilled afternoon in Australia, to the American coffee or the cafè au lait.

With an espresso machine, you can prepare all these drinks and even much more, in the comfort of your home, whenever you prefer.

Amongst the many models on the market, which is the best coffee machine to use? Do we suggest to buy a manual or a fully automatic machine? Here, in this article, you will find all you need to know to pick the best solution for your needs!

Manual or automatic coffee machines: the technical features

Coffee machines can be subdivided in two main categories: the manual (or “semi-auto”) and the automatic ones.

The biggest difference among them is the technology and way of working. The manual espresso machines have a filter-holder, that could be pressurized or professional. They can be used with ground coffee – that the user needs to manually dose and tamp – or with single-use coffee pods. Thanks to the pressure of the pump, these machines extract coffee oils naturally, and brew traditional espressos with crema.

On the other hand, the automatic machines have integrated grinders, a brew group that tamps and doses coffee, and a menu with pre-set and customizable drinks. In some models, there is also an automatic milk frothing system: just one click and the machine can froth milk for cappuccinos and much more.

Manual machines: how to use

As the name itself says, a manual machine requires more efforts than an automatic one. It makes you live, at home, the traditional barista rituals. So, you will discover the gestures and movements to make and recreate, with a traditional approach.

A signature feature of the manual machines is the filter-holder. A good portafilter is fundamental to get a great espresso with crema naturale. Inside the filter-holder you need to place a filter, for ground coffee, or an adaptor and a specific filter, if you use coffee pods.

It can be traditional with professional features (such as the one of our Gaggia Classic, for example) or pressurized (as the one of our Carezza, Gaggia Viva and GranGaggia). If it is pressurized, even the less expert users can make incredible espressos, thanks to its technology. On the contrary, if you use a machine like Gaggia Classic, you need to try and experiment correct grinding, dosing, tamping before getting the perfect espresso…but it will be worth it.

Automatic machines: how to use

The heart of the superautomatic machines is the brew group. It is positioned inside, on one side of the machine, and it doses and tamps coffee after grinding it with the integrated grinders. For all Gaggia fully auto machines, the grinder is 100% ceramic, a resistant material which prevents overheating and burning coffee beans.

Usually, these models have a graphic interface to make it easier to personalize and brew a wide variety of beverages. In some machines it is possible to set the grinding level, the intensity of coffee, the quantity of coffee, milk and water too. For what concerns the maintenance, it is crucial to keep the machine clean. In most models, the cleaning procedures are guided by directions on the screen.

For milk-based drinks lovers…which is the best espresso machine?

If you are looking for a more traditional approach, manual machines are the right choice. Thanks to a pannarello (steamer) or a professional steam wand, you can froth milk and try latte art. First, select the “steam” function (by clicking the specific button or rotating a knob). Then, rotate the steam knob to adjust the steam flow so you can froth milk properly, just like a true home barista. Want to know more? Watch our videos.

On the other side, the automatic machines offer a wider variety of beverages at your fingertips. You can find many different milk systems on the market. For example, there are automatic one-touch “cappuccinatori” that draw milk from a container, froth it and pour a velvety cream into the cup. You can also find several machines with an integrated and removable milk carafe, that, with one click, can prepare many drinks, from the latte macchiato to the flat white. In some machines, it is even possible to adjust the level of milk froth! To get the best of both worlds, you can opt for superautomatic machines with manual milk frothing systems like the pannarello, or, even better, the professional steam wand, that you activate with a click. Just like our Gaggia Cadorna Plus Barista, or the Magenta Plus.

Manual vs automatic: which is the best option, and for whom?

In the end, we can say that the manual or “semi-auto” machines are thought to be used by what we call “the coffee aficionados“, people who like the traditional approach, for a creamy espresso. Choosing the right blend, dosing, tamping…everything is in your hands. With a click or by rotating a knob, you activate and then stop the brewing of your coffee as you like. You can experiment and try, test yourself and improve your skills, day by day.

While the automatic machines are perfect for the ones who look for more immediacy and a wide beverages variety at their fingertips. You can make many coffee and milk-based drinks, customize and save them for the next use, with a few click. With some machines such as Gaggia Cadorna, for example, you can even save the customized beverages in different user profiles, to share your coffee experience.

The maintenance and cleaning operations are a must-do for both types of machines, but for a fully auto you should take more care, considered the structure of the machine.

Another difference is the average selling price, which is lower for manual machines, as the complexity of the technology of a superautomatic espresso machine is higher compared to a manual one.

The Gaggia philosophy

Whether it is manual or automatic, with a Gaggia espresso machine you are the protagonist of a bespoke coffee experience. You are always the one who chooses your own favourite blend, beans or pre-ground. With a manual machine you can then decide to grind coffee beans or use a pre-ground coffee, then you dose and tamp according to your abilities and preferences. With an automatic one, you can select a wide range of settings to customize your drinks with a few clicks, and share them with your friends and loved ones. You will always have the greatest freedom of choice, and the opportunity to create, experiment, learn and grow!