About the Super-Automatic Espresso Maker
In the good ‘ole days (late 80’s), it was pretty easy to choose a super automatic espresso maker. After all, there was only one brand, Saeco, and a limited number of machines. Saeco continually innovated through the early to late 1900s, introducing the first two-cup automatic espresso maker, the warming plate, and an automatic milk siphon. Then came the mid to late nineties and the digital revolution; machines began to look and act like the machines with which we are familiar today.
But the digital era also saw the emergence of a new kind of super automatic espresso center, and a new kind of company. Capresso entered the coffee maker arena with its flagship C series; the Capresso C1000 and C2000 revolutionized coffee making in America by offering its user the ability to make up to 16 oz of “crema coffee”, a coffee drink made the same way espresso is made, with high temperature and pressure, but with more water and a coarser coffee grind. Capresso positioned itself as the leader in high-end super automatic units by providing the most reliable machines, outstanding service, including call tag pick-ups for merchandise that required repair, and a sleek look. As the founder of Capresso, Michael Kramm, explains, “Frankly, our machines are not for everyone." He continues "But for those who won't settle for second best, we produce high-quality European products that deliver superior performance with utmost convenience and reliability."
Fast forward to 2002 and witness the joining forces of Jura AG, of Switzerland, a company at the fore of super automatic technology, and Capresso Inc. Now all of the Rolls Royce espresso centers in Europe can be sold in America with the Capresso seal. By this time, Saeco International acquired Gaggia of Italy, and began producing super automatic machines under each brand name.
Soon enough, commercial companies like Nuova Simonelli and Rancilio began producing super automatic machines for café use, and now even most Starbucks use super automatic units in their cafes.
In the home market, 2005 marked the beginning of a new era in super automatic technology, as companies like Solis and Nespresso begin to take advantage of existing Jura and Saeco technology and start marketing their own super automatic espresso centers.
2006 through 2007 is the time of the inexpensive supers. Under the Espressione name, a $400 super-automatic is available.
So what makes all of these machines different? Why buy one and not another? Is one more reliable than the rest?
In the home market, there are primarily two kinds of machines: small, removable brew group machines and more robust, permanent brew group machines. Saeco makes the former, while Jura-Capresso is best known for the latter.
Although these units may look similar in shape, they actually function differently. The Jura-Capresso group is what is known as a variable brew group. That means that it has the technology to accommodate a variety of different drink types, from 5 to 16 grams of ground coffee and up to 16 oz of water per brew. The Saeco group, on the other hand, is standardized so as to allow only 5 to 8 grams of coffee per brew.
Hence, the Jura-Capresso unit will be capable of producing a larger cup of coffee than the Saeco-type group since it is built to hold and brew more ground coffee and water than the Saeco type. Yet, given the build of the Jura-Capresso group, it is essentially a permanent group, so it cannot be removed for maintenance as the Saeco group can.
In addition, although both the Saeco and Jura-Capresso super automatics use conical burr grinders, each has a different mechanism for dosing out coffee grounds. Saeco machines have a sensor that tells the unit when the brew unit is full of grounds. Jura-Capresso units, given that their groups can hold so much more coffee, use a timing mechanism to dose out the amount of ground coffee. That means that the grinder grinds for a certain amount of time, a time that the user controls.
In terms of the dosing mechanism, there are different views on which system is more efficient. One view is that the Saeco system is superior, since a gummed up grinder (gummed up with coffee oils) may grind less coffee in a given amount of time. So, suppose a machine uses the Jura method of dosing out coffee grinds. If a brand new grinder grinds for 3.5 seconds, it will churn out more ground coffee than a clogged-up grinder, grinding for the same amount of time. However, assuming that the proper type of coffee bean is used and assuming that a machine is maintained correctly, others believe that the Jura-Capresso system is more efficient, given that burrs dull over time. That is, grinders will always wear down, and a dulled grinder will actually grind coarser than a brand new, fully functioning grinder. However, a dulled grinder also grinds more coffee per second than new sharp grinder. Therefore, so this line of reasoning goes, a time-based grinding system actually compensates for dulled burrs by producing more ground (albeit coarser) coffee per grinding cycle, whereas a sensor-based grinder will only grind to fill the grounds chamber, and in the case of coarsely ground coffee, it will fill it with coarse grounds. So, the sensor-based unit will make a weaker cup than the time-based unit since the time-based unit has more grounds (albeit coarser) in its grounds chamber.
It should be noted, however, that although tempered steel conical burrs are used by both types of machine, at the time of this writing some new units will be using porcelain grinders, which are more consistent, and much more quiet; not to mention extremely durable.
Over 90% of your coffee drink is water. So you should start with the best stuff. Furthermore, scale build-up is still the number one cause of machine break-down. Even triple reverse osmosis filtered water will send impurities into your machine if it is left to sit in the machine's water reservoir for a day or longer. For this reason, it is important to filter the water that enters your machine or regularly descale your machine with a good scale remover. Although some Saeco machines can be used with filters, called the Aqua Prima filter, these filters are not included with the purchase of most Saeco machines, and are often difficult to purchase in the United States. More readily available and also more functionally efficient is the Claris water filtration system from Capresso. These filters are actually manufactured specifically for use in espresso coffee units. They have an organic additive that cuts down on water impurities and creates the ideal water composition for entry into an espresso machine. The downside is that the filters can be expensive, anywhere from $13 to $17 dollars depending on which machine the filter is for. However, Capresso is very adamant about using some type of filtration with the machine, or regularly descaling the machine. For this reason, every Jura-Capresso machine has a built-in calendar program that keeps track of when it is time to either change the filter or descale the machine. When it is time, a friendly reminder tells you so.
Even with advances in water filtration, and the integration of these filtration systems into your machine, JL Hufford does recommend that super automatic espresso machine owners both use a filter and regularly descale their units about once every 8 to 12 weeks, depending on the water hardness in your area.
Temperature and Pressure
Both Saeco and Jura-Capresso style machines produce exceptional crema coffees and espresso-based drinks. In order to do this, the proper temperature and pressure must be achieved. Generally, Jura-Capresso machines use a max rated 18 bar pump, whereas Saeco machines use a 15 bar pump. This pump difference is not an issue in terms of the quality of the espresso produced. Given the right grind and right temperature, 8 bar of pressure is the industry standard for producing an excellent cup of crema coffee or espresso.
With regard to temperature, our lab tests show that the Jura-Capresso S series makes the hottest cup of crema coffee and the Impressa series from Jura-Capresso consistently produces coffee several degrees higher than the Saeco brand machines. However, the temperature at which both Saeco and Jura-Capresso units brew usually differs by only several degrees. Normally, by the time the coffee hits your cup it is somewhere between 184 to 190 degrees.
Both Saeco and Jura-Capresso machines will produce an adequate amount of dry steam for frothing milk. Our tests show that the Jura-Impressa series do steam a bit quicker than the Saeco Royal and Vienna series.
In addition, there are frothing add-ons for both types of machines. The Capresso Impressa models are all equipped with the Dual Frother Plus, a steam wand which can be used as a traditional wand or attached to an automatic milk siphon called the Froth Xpresso Plus. The Froth Xpress Plus is a mechanism with a variable dial, reservoir, and connective hosing which allows you to steam milk by pressing a button and placing your cup under the milk spout. The variable dial setting lets you control how much foam comes out as opposed to merely steamed milk.
Saeco also offers a smaller add-on called the Cappuccinatore for some of its units. This device has a flexible hose that comes off of it which you can submerse in your own container of milk. It screws onto the wand and can deliver foamy milk into your cup.
Clean-Up & Maintenance
No matter which type of super automatic machine one has, JL Hufford always advises super automatic owners to regularly descale his/her units (using Jura Descale tablets for Jura-Capresso and a good third-party descaler made for super automatics by Saeco), and regularly run cleaning cycles of his/her unit. Some of the newer Saecos, and all of the Jura-Capressos indicate when it is time to run a cleaning cycle. We recommend running a cleaning cycle at least every 200 cycles (where a cycle is any instance of brewing). Jura-Capresso sells cleaning tablets for their units, and a variety of third-party cleaning products can be used for Saeco machines.
In addition, after each time the frother is used, it is important to submerse the steam wand in hot, soapy water in order to remove the milk scale that builds up outside and inside the steam wand. If you do use the automatic frother device, all components should be soaked in warm, soapy water as well.
One of the best features of the super automatic machine is that it disposes of used coffee grounds and extra water/coffee for you. When it is time to empty the dump box that holds the used coffee portions or the drip tray, the machine will indicate this. It is very important to always empty both the used coffee portion container and the drip tray when so prompted.
Both Jura-Capresso and Saeco offer limited parts and labor warranty and wonderful toll-free customer support. Capresso, in particular, has built its name as much on customer service as it has on the quality of its machines. In fact, in addition to evening support hours, Capresso support also does what Saeco does not do; Capresso pays for shipping both to and from a repair facility for units that require service during its warranty period. In addition, for any time after the year warranty period, Jura-Capresso often offers extended service plans for a minimal fee.
Whatever machine you choose, JL Hufford's staff is here to answer your questions. Please feel free to contact us at 877-554-8336.