What Info Do I Need to Make A Good Choice?
Good question! If you’ve developed a ‘taste’ for modern Italian-style coffees, you’ll know that being a coffee enthusiast can be an expensive hobby. So, before buying a latte coffee maker, you’ll need to know what types of machine are available to you and the features and benefits of each.
You’ll find there are three main classes of automatic espresso machine, all of which will make you a Latte … some better than others. There’s also a category of automatic espresso machines that specialize in creating Lattes.
Since this article is on the best latte makers, we’ll cover this category after the three main classes below:
The three main classes largely differ in how much each type of coffee maker does for you and how much you must do for yourself.
At the top end of the range, we have the super automatic machines, which cost more but with one of these, you can get a latte prepared exactly to your taste, automatically, at the touch of a button.
At the other end of the range you have coffee makers that brew coffee over milk, and then use an immersion mixer to froth the mixture. OK! It is café au lait (or caffe latte as some call it), which is coffee milk rather than a real latte, but hey, it IS delicious!
What Types of Coffee Maker are Available?
As a coffee lover or connoisseur, your choices will be influenced by what is important to you. You may be more interested in a machine with less automation since this allows you more control over how your coffee is made, thereby ensuring your cup of Latte meets all your requirements.
You’ll not be surprised to hear that you generally have to pay more for a higher level of automation, so you need to have a rough idea of how much you’re willing to spend on a machine.
When you decide on your budget and which category of automated espresso machine you’re most interested in, the search for your ideal coffee maker will be narrowed down a lot.
We’ll now look at the three classes of coffee maker and tell you a little about each of them.
These machines are the entry level for any aspiring barista and offer the least automation. Having said that, even in this class most of the coffee brewing process still occurs automatically.
The machine’s pump has a separate switch so you decide when to turn the pump on and off, thereby manually controlling the water flow in every shot of espresso you make. In this way, you control the strength and taste of your coffee. The other operations, such as temperature control and turning the boiler on and off are all automatic.
With most semi automatic machines, you need to grind your own beans and add the milk and any flavorings on your own. This gives you even more control over every shot, because you can flavor it to your own taste.
The major advantages with semi-automatics are the machine’s reliability, the price for the equipment, and the ability to tweak your beverage for a new experience with every drink you make.
You can get good quality semiautomatic espresso brewers for home use in the price range of $70 to $600. The reason for the big price range is there are many items to consider when making your selection. Number and range of features, reliability, noise, drinks per hour, are just a few of the aspects you need to consider.
Automatic Espresso Machines
While the boundaries of this category are not clear-cut, it does sit midway between the semi-automatics and super-automatics in the amount of control you have.
Despite the pump and boiler temperature controls being automatic, there are usually still some programmable features. Although you’re not controlling the pump physically each time, you do get to choose the amount of water used. A lot of these machines have a semi-automatic feature, whereby the machine turns the pump on automatically, while you choose when to switch it off.
The automatic espresso machine offers a great range of options from it doing all the work for you to letting you choose the strength and taste of your brewed coffee. This is particularly useful for those busy people who want a great drink but don’t have the time to program their machine every day.
There are so many automatic espresso machines available offering a range of features, which can vary by machine. For instance, some machines have both a semi automatic option as well as an automatic one for the same feature so you can have more or less control whenever you choose to.
Some automatics allow you to control the settings set everything from pump pressure to water volume and more, while others will simply ask you what size of coffee drink you want. With the most common choices being:
- one short shot
- two shots short
- one shot normal or long
- two shots normal or long).
…and will then create the brew of your choice.
Similar to the semi-automatics, most automatic machines need you to grind your own beans or insert an espresso pod, which of course allows you to retain control over every mug of latte or espresso you brew.
Super Automatic Machines
Super automatic machines are the most expensive, sophisticated, and convenient, are the easiest to use, and have the most features.
With a super automatic espresso machine, things like grinding your beans, micro foaming, and milk steaming are done automatically for you. You don’t need to know about the tamping technique when pulling the shot, or know how to steam or froth milk. The machine does all of these tasks for you at the touch of a button. Some of these machines allow you to adjust the settings to make a latte or cappuccino to your own taste and then and save the settings for later use.
But you still have some control if you want it because many super automatic machines will do as much of the work as you want them to. You will have to let the machine know how much espresso to use. You’ll likely have other options too (if you want to use them), but after that you can just relax and let the machine do what it does best .
Unlike the semi- and automatic-espresso machines, super-automatics aim to take as much control away from you possible, when it comes to brewing your coffee. It does this for consistency so that you get the exact same brew every time. You need to choose whether this is the convenience you want.
Even though convenience is one of the most looked for features for many people, there are a couple of other factors to consider. Regular consistency of your latte is probably the second most important aspect for the majority. Unless you change the beans, or the milk, you will consistently get the same beverage every time you press that button on your super-automatic coffee machine. It’s also worth checking out the reliability of these machines. To do this, you can go online and read previous customers’ feedback; they’ll soon tell you if there any reliability issues.
Since this article is about the latte making machines, we’ll now look at specialized latte machines.
Specialized Latte Machines
I’m often asked what’s the difference between an espresso machine and a specialty latte machine? The answer is, not a lot. However, here’s a brief explanation.
The high-end super-automatic espresso machine will have special features built in for creating the full range of popular Italian-style coffees (including Latte).
A specialized latte maker is a machine that can automatically steam and froth milk. Latte makers are just as sophisticated (where it matters) as the super automatics, but with less espresso related features. The coffee side is not that important when fixing a latte, so most of the features for coffee brewing are just kept at a minimum, in order to reduce the cost of the machine.
Most of the features of semi-automatics and automatics are for brewing the espresso coffee, so for the latte lover these are largely irrelevant. For you the most important aspects in your choice are: reliability, single or double boiler, and the steaming wand tip. Most machines have a great steam tip, so you don’t have to worry about this.
However, it comes down to:
- Price and convenience (effort): do you want to just press a button for your perfect latte or are you happy to do much of the preparation yourself?
- Price and convenience (time): can you manage with a single boiler or do you need the time-saving aspect of a double boiler?
These are your most important considerations so bear them in mind when deciding which latte machine is best for you.
Be aware though that buying the cheapest “latte maker” is a false economy and they don’t give you a true latte either.
They might be less expensive, but they don’t really steam, or froth the milk. All they do is heat the milk and mix it with the coffee. Real steamed milk has both a distinct taste and texture. The temperature of the steamed milk is also highly important. The lactose (sugars) in milk taste best at 135-160 °F (57- 71°C).
While the subject of this articles has been about about coffee machines, do remember though that the taste of your coffee relies more on the beans that you use rather than the machine. So, for best results, always buy freshly roasted coffee beans from a local roaster.
We’ve covered the types of coffee maker available to you and highlighted features to look out for. If money’s no object and you like the idea of a great tasting drink every time you push that button, then a latte maker will be right for you and it will cost considerably less than a super automatic espresso machine.
If you’re happy to do the manual work, and want learn to brew a latte like a barista, a semi automatic machine is ideal for you. They provide a great compromise between price and features, and allow you to tweak your latte to your own taste.
If you wish to make a few lattes at a time, you might prefer a machine with two boilers: one for the espresso extraction and one for steaming/frothing the milk. It can be very time consuming if you have to make a few lattes and cappuccinos one-at-a-time with a single boiler machine. If you usually tend to make only one or two drinks at a time, you’ll be fine with a single boiler machine.
While super automatic latte machines cost between $600 and $3000, you don’t need to buy the fanciest or most expensive one. The best value for money ratio between convenience, price and features is from $1,000 to $1,600. If you want a super-automatic or automatic (with the emphasis on ‘Automatic’), that’s the price range you should target. If you only need to brew a single cup at a time, machines in the $150 – $300 range will do well for you.