For many busy households the super-automatic coffee machine is relied upon to produce a consistent, good tasting brew to give that caffeine filled jolt to the beginning of every day. However just like a traditional semi-automatic espresso machine these too require tweaking and dialling-in to ensure you are getting the most out of your machine. The plus side is, programming these to their full potential is almost as simple as using them to brew a coffee - the push of a few buttons. The following few steps are all it takes to ensure you get a tasty drink, time after time.
The general basics of preparing a good espresso apply here, just like they do when brewing on a semi-automatic and ensuring that the grinder is set correctly is critically important. Super-automatics perform the key step of grinding on demand perfectly and give you freshly ground coffee everytime, but by taking a few seconds to adjust your grind you will enhance your results greatly.
The aim here is to find a setting that gives you the finest grind while still allowing your machine to brew coffee, this will ensure you are drawing the maximum flavour out of your beans. Each machine will be different but start by taking your grinder setting as fine as possible and run through one or two shots. If your machine fails to produce a shot of coffee, step the grinder to the next notch up (coarser), run through two or three shots. Continue this process until coffee is being extracted slowly, but smoothly - aim for a syrupy appearance to the liquid being produced similar to that of honey being poured.
Super automatic machines allow you to select the amount of coffee you want to be ground per shot produced. This is the amount of coffee beans (in grams or ounces) that are ground for each extraction that your put through your machine. Regardless of how strong you like your coffee this should always be set at the maximum setting for your machine - I will explain why shortly. Certain manufacturers may refer to this setting as the 'aroma' so keep an eye out for this in your settings and dial it up to the max!
The reason for using the maximum amount of coffee is to ensure that the coffee that you produce is as full bodied and flavoursome as possible. Super automatics are renowned for making espresso that is considerably less full bodied compared to their manual counterparts. For this reason if you lessen the amount of coffee used (while it might reduce your $'s per cup costs) it will produce a less than desired, watery and weak brew. If you like your coffee a little weaker - as in you are the one ordering 1/2 strength latte's at the coffee shop (no judgement I promise), then you will be better served by stopping the brew halfway through and only using half of espresso for your drink.
The volume refers to the quantity of liquid that your machine is going to give you for the brew you choose. A good rule of thumb here would be around 30mls of liquid for a double shot & 15 mls for a single shot. This gives you some flexibility depending on the size of the cup you will be using. Depending on your machine you may be able to program it to exactly how many ounces/millilitres to produce per shot, otherwise it may be a general setting you will have to experiment with to get the right setting.
When a super automatic brews based on volume it pumps all of the water through the coffee grounds, and grounds will only produce quality espresso for a certain volume. After this if you keep drawing water through it you will stop extracting the good flavours and it will instead draw out the undesirable flavours of the coffee. For this reason if you like drinks such as americano or long black you will find better results by brewing your 30mls of espresso and then topping up with boiled hot water.
This is imperative if you want to both extend the life of your machine and get the best espresso out of it for a long time to come. Now I don't mean you have to clean this after every use, but I would recommend a thorough clean once a week. Refer to the manual for your machine here but generally you will have a few key components to give a once over.
The drip tray and dregs box (where the spent grounds go) simply need to be emptied and washed with soapy water to keep them from overflowing and growing mould on you. Many machines will use a removable brew group which you can take out for cleaning, these require rinsing with water as hot as you can stand - but without soap. The brew groups have a food grade lubricant on them needed for smooth operation, if you use a soap it is going to remove this. Generally you will only need to reapply the lubricant when you can no longer visibly see signs of it. If your machine doesn't have a removable brew group, you will need to follow manufacturers directions to clean it - usually a tablet is required to be placed in the bypass doser for this. A periodic wash of the water tank, where possible is also beneficial.
One last tip, this is necessary for every coffee preparation method and this is the use of fresh filtered water in your machine. This will ensure you produce the best tasting coffee possible but also assist with minimising build ups as much as possible. Like any espresso machine your super automatic will need descaling, probably two times a year dependant on your usage and water hardness. For this you should check with your machines operating manual for directions on how to perform a descale.
By using these few key tips to program your machine you will be confident in the knowledge that your machine is producing the best coffee it can. If you have attempted all of this and the brew is still mediocre, it may be time to experiment with different coffee beans to ensure they are fresh and suited to this style of brewing.
If you are the owner of a super-automatic and have any tips or tricks you use to improve your brews we would love to hear about them, let us know in the comments below. Happy brewing!