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Can a Super Automatic Produce Good Espresso?

Can a Super Automatic Produce Good Espresso?

For those looking for a no-fuss espresso machine, can their be quality?
By Bill Walsh

Many coffee lovers either own or covet their own home espresso operation. To have stellar shots and scintillating lattes in the comfort of one’s living quarters is almost as good as having your own personal butler-barista (kind of like Kato in the recent Green Hornet film).

Yet many folks who strongly love espresso seem to go without an espresso machine simply because to get a quality espresso machine (like a La Marzocco or Rancilio), a micrometrical-adjustable burr grinder and the other necessary components (tamper, steel milk jug, etc) not only costs a handsome cent, but pulling quality shots takes practice and passion, calling for time and energy. Some folks just don’t want to or cannot make such an investment.

But if you’re willing to compromise on quality, the good news is that the obstacles of cost, time and complexity go right out the door. Appliance empires have churned out thousands of no-skill-needed, super automatic espresso machines, allowing the average coffee drinker access to mediocre – palatable espresso, cappuccinos and the like at the push of a button.

This all brings the obvious question: can a super automatic machine (one that grinds, tamps, pulls the shots, steams the milk and cleans itself without human aid) concoct decent espresso and cappuccinos? To try to address this query, the folks at Philips Saeco and at Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia agreed to allow me to compare and contrast a high-end super automatic machine (Saeco’s Syntia) next to Ultimo’s high-end commercial La Marzocco.

Heading over one brisk night to Ultimo coffee, joined by owner Aaron Ultimo, we set up the super automatic on a free bar top and began the experiment. We used the same water, milk and beans (Counter Culture‘s Toscano) to keep the variables low.

As a higher priced super automatic, the Syntia machine boasts being certified by Italian coffee tasters as being able to produce an authentic espresso and cappuccino (sadly, I can’t say that this means much as I’ve had horrible espresso from such “certifications”). The Syntia is also truly super automatic, as one button grinds the beans and pulls the shot for you; similarly if you want a cappuccino, you hit a different button and it grinds, pulls the shot and steams the milk too.

Keeping the espresso function on the “short pull” setting, the shots were of a 3-4 ounce volume (a little high for “short”) with an even, light brown crema. The flavor was reasonable, as it held all of the prominent flavors of the Toscano espresso blend but it fell flat after that, really lacking the subtler nuances of a good espresso. The body was dry and the drink overall proved lackluster. Adjusting the grind wasn’t really too effective in changing the outcome, as the shots remained similar as we made the grind finer (to accommodate for the initial high volume). Overall, the espresso proved fair, with the flavors none too bitter and of a mediocre level.

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Testing the cappuccino, the machine steamed the milk first and then dropped the shots in, creating an odd vampire bite in the milk. Once again, the flavors were fair, with the milk and espresso producing a dry beverage with a muted sweetness and bit of cardboard. The machine produced little in the way of microfoam and overall, the integration of the espresso and milk was haphazard at best. Still, I have to admit that the beverage was still drinkable and on par with what I’ve had at some 2+ or 3+ cafes.

Moving onto Ultimo’s La Marzocco, one of Ultimo’s baristas pulled some glorious shots that embodied a complexity of flavors including bittersweet chocolate. The shots were balanced and smooth, with a brown crema and velvety body. Ultimo’s cappuccino also proved stellar, with a creamy texture of sweet milk complimented with notes of cocoa and honey. The latte art also showed strong integration of the elements.

Clearly Ultimo’s professional baristas made better drinks, yet in comparing their product to the Syntia’s, I have to submit that a non-coffee geek would probably be satisfied with this super automatic. Using top notch milk, fresh well-roasted coffee beans and filtered water, the espresso and cappuccinos were decent enough in taste to make the average coffee drinker happy (especially if one plans to laden said drinks with lots of sugar and syrup).

If you’re looking for a simple (though expensive) espresso machine to make you a fair cappuccino, you would be justified in getting something akin to Saeco’s Syntia. But if you have hopes of duplicating a drink you’ve had at a shop like Ultimo Coffee, try out CoffeeGeek’s guide here on what equipment to buy.

To see more pictures, see the post on the Pure Coffee Blog.

View Comments (22)
  • Varying the fineness of the grind, the amount of pressure used to tamp the grinds, or the pressure itself can be used to vary the taste of the espresso. Some baristas pull espresso shots directly into a pre-heated demitasse cup or shot glass, to maintain a higher temperature of the espresso.:^

    Catch you around

  • The Syntia Cappuccino uses Saeco’s Adaptive System to adjust the espresso shot based on the type of bean and grind. It may require multiple shots for the machine to perform at its best. By default the volume of espresso delivered on a short shot is 1.2 ounces. This is user adjustable. In time the Syntia will deliver an excellent shot of espresso. As far as the frothed milk for cappuccinos, the only machine adjustment is volume. Very cold milk and a clean cappuccinatore are required for optimum product.

  • Hey Bill Walsh, Your article is really very informative for me because i love espresso coffee. And now it’s very easy for me making a cup of espresso coffee. This is great and thanks for sharing. Thanks Ignatius

  • Both of them (Syntia & Ultimo) could make great espresso. But I prefer the flavor of chocolate and sweet milk, so it seems that I will buy an Ultimo for better drinks. Anyway, thanks for informative, vivid comparison

  • Great stuff for Coffee lover….

    I really like these ways to make coffee.
    I’m also the coffee addicted person and loved to write about the coffee-related post.
    I liked the ways of making true espresso shots.

    According to recent research, Espresso shots can also be useful for health-conscious people.
    And when it comes to espresso health risks, there is nothing to worry about unless you are drinking an insane amount.

  • Espresso has really a great taste. My most favorite taste of coffee, this is really great reading for my to know more about espresso coffee. Thank yo for sharing this wonderful article.

  • Bill, thank you so much for this great post. Looking forward to receiving my super automatic espresso machine from Breville. Will update you with my findings once I used it. Have a great day!

  • this is really very tasty and delicious coffee for workers. its easy to make in coffee makers. i really like your article. thanks for sharing this amazing article on super automatic good espresso.

  • wow, it’s a really amazing article about super-automatic produce good expresso. before it, I don’t use any expresso machine but now I am buying this one and using it. thanks for sharing this article and is very informative about super-automatic produce good espresso.

  • Amazon has the best Espresso Machines for the money. Here is a list of espresso machines with the best reviews and discounts site. Really happy with mine.

  • I had no idea they could produce such high-quality espresso with convenience. Definitely considering getting one for my home now!” thanks for sharing.

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