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There are many brands and styles of the espresso machines on the market today. The more money you spend the more bells and whistles you will get with your machine. There are 4 types of espresso machines: manual, semi-automatics, super-automatics and built-in espresso machines.
Manual espresso machines are the most difficult to use, but they make an excellent coffee. These are actually the first true espresso machines on the market and they are still used in many coffee shops. For this type of machine you can only use ground coffee. You have to fill a porta filter handle, tamp down the coffee, brush off any loose coffee grounds and lock the handle into the filter holder. After that, you have to pull the handle that's on top of the machine. It may sound simple, but if you pull handle too fast or too slow the coffee won't taste good. Also, if your coffee grounds are too fine or too coarse it may spoil your enjoyment. If you are a type of person that is not afraid of the challenge than you should consider this kind of an espresso machine.
Semi-automatics are similar to the manual espresso machines. You fill the porta filter with ground coffee, but instead of using your arm power, the machine uses pump to create the pressure. A pump is very consistent in its delivery, so even if there are slight variations when it's brewing, it will make a taste of the coffee different. Most of the semi-automatics have a frothing feature on the side, so you can froth or steam your own milk, mix it with espresso shot and make cappuccino or latte. These machines have a tank in the back and needs to be filled up with water. The only downside of this type of machine is that it doesn't store your coffee grounds. For every cup of coffee you have to fill the porta filter with ground coffee.
Super-automatic espresso machines allow you to store coffee directly in the unit as well as grind it freshly each time you use it. Super-automatic machines tend to be bigger than semi-automatics, so make sure that you have enough space in your kitchen (or wherever you might place it) . They are designed for speed, convenience and less mess or maintenance. Super-automatics will grind a pre-measured dose of espresso beans and extract a specific amount of coffee, from demitasse espresso to full cup of coffee. The used coffee grounds are placed into an internal bin that you need to dispose once it's full.
When you are choosing an espresso machine, you want to make sure that it has a display that tells you what you are doing or what you need to do. For example, it can tell you when water tank is empty, when you need to empty the coffee ground bin, when to clean and decalcify the machine, etc. All super-automatics have a frothing feature if you want to make your own cappuccino or latte. You can also get an instant hot water for your tea or soup. Some super-automatics have an automatic frothing feature which lets you mix coffee and milk at the same time with the push of a button. If you are serious cappuccino or latte drinker, we strongly recommend a super automatic espresso machine. It's very easy to use and in the matter of seconds you'll have your favorite drink. When it comes to cleaning, most models are self-cleaning. Every couple of months you need to use the cleaning solution that will clean your machine internally. This process is called decalcifying and it's very important to follow it through if you want to enjoy your cup a coffee for a long time.
Built-in coffee machines are pretty much the same as super-automatics except that they need to be built into a kitchen cabinet. You can make espresso, regular coffee, froth or steam your milk, get instant hot water in addition to grinding beans. When it comes to water, there are built-in espresso machines that come with the water tank that you need to fill up once in a while, but there are also ones that can be hooked up to your water line (plumbed). In this case you don't ever have to think if the water tank is empty or not. Cleaning is done the same way as with super-automatic espresso machines.
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