What is a piston machine?
When is a semi-automatic machine right for you?
A semi-automatic machine enables you to play around with various coffee beans and their grind size. That way, you'll tailor your perfect espresso exactly to your taste. On top of that, you can keep varying around, because every new coffee shop you discover will offer a choice of new options. If that's too much work for you, our you don't have much time, a fully automatic machine would be better for you, since you won't need to look at it much. If, on the other hand, you want to have even more control, even over the brewing process, choose a piston machine. This is operated by hand, so it takes practice and costly time, but it will give you full control over the preparation of your espresso.
How do you prepare espresso with a semi-automatic machine?
It starts with the coffee. Choose your favorite kind of coffee beans. To find the nicest beans and new discoveries, go to a specialty store, but you can of course also make coffee with beans from the supermarket. This way, you'll eventually find out which beans you prefer. Let the store grind the coffee beans for you, or buy a coffee grinder and grind them yourself. Put the ground coffee into the filter and screw it, along with the filter holder, down tightly below the machine. Now it's just a matter of pressing the button, and the machine will pump the water you filled the tank with through the coffee, so don't forget to place a cup underneath.
What kind of coffee should you use in a semi-automatic machine?
The choice of coffee beans is up to you, of course, but the grind especially matters a lot when brewing a good espresso with a semi-automatic machine. You'll need a fine grind, but not too fine, because the brewing time will be too long and the coffee will get bitter. When the grind is coarse, the water will run through the coffee too fast and you can look forward to a bland cup of coffee, with a sour undertone if you're unlucky. Find the perfect, fine grind, and truly: practice makes perfect.
Semi-automatic coffee machines come in many shapes and sizes. For example, virtually all machines have a steam pipe for frothing milk, and there are also models with integrated coffee grinders. With a steam pipe, you'll have the option of turning your espresso into a foamy cappuccino or a latte macchiato. While drinking coffee with milk after 11am may be considered a sin in Italy, it's still really good at other times of day too.
Just like anything involving water, limescale is a semi-automatic machine's biggest enemy. Just like with any other neat things, this appliance requires maintenance too. Be nice to it daily by rinsing the filter holder well and filling the reservoir with fresh water. While you're at it, rinse the pipes and clean the drip tray, too. Did you use the steam pipe? Clean it right away, because you really don't want it to get caked with leftover milk. If you use the machine daily, descale it monthly according to the instructions in your machine's manual, and always use special descaling liquid. Never use vinegar, it contains components that are way too aggressive and may even damage the machine's interior.
Something for you?
A semi-automatic machine combines the art of coffee brewing with ease of use. You can focus on the search for the perfect bean and grind, while the machine takes care of the actual extraction. That way, you'll feel like a real barista.