Automatic VS Manual – A Professional Opinion

Automatic VS Manual – A Professional Opinion on Which Machine Is Best

Coffee! We all know what it is, what it smells like and where it comes from. For the masses that drink it – whether it is for energy, to stimulate focus or for pure enjoyment – we all have our own personal way that we like our coffee prepared. Coffee professionals around the world strive to produce the best quality coffee, customer service and experience on a consistent basis. This is great! And something I strive towards when working as a barista. But two areas that have given many café owners and Barista’s headaches and problems over the years. Speed and consistency. The recent impact of “the coffee push” in the food industry (especially the fast food industry) has been that consumers expect a high quality product produced at a ridiculously rapid pace. This in turn has led to impatient and difficult customers that we as café owners and barista’s experience on a daily basis. With the advancement of technology, it has also created a nuance of laziness among the population globally, which has in turn created a high demand for technology to do a lot of the work for us. This has allowed for development of coffee machines that deliver accurately with speed and quality consistently. This has opened a market for super automatic coffee machines, and in turn allowed global coffee chains to utilise this technology, and to invent the term “hire who you want”. The concept of “hire who you want” has become a key concept when hiring a customer facing representative for your business. Business (especially coffee business) is driven by a great product, but also by the human interaction when this product is delivered. That is why some of the world’s biggest coffee chains have been delivering coffee automatically for years. It allows them to have the same high quality product delivered with speed the world over, while the barista has time to make sure the customer is happy and served with a smile. Every time. Saying that, over years working in this amazing industry, I have heard and seen some very interesting and negative blogs and articles on the automated world of coffee. And now that leads to this article being written: What is better? Automated or Manual? In my opinion (currently working and testing both areas) there is not “better” but only positive and negatives in both spectrums. Fit for purpose is really the concept that should be considered.

Automated Coffee Machines

The automated espresso machine started off with one particular goal: to bring convenience, speed, consistency and (later on) quality with a touch of a button. Since the ’70’s and ’80’s automatic filter coffee has been one of the biggest beverage domestic commodities purchased globally! But why? Purely because it brought a level of convenience and quality, that back in the day was not an easy thing to find. From the early 2000’s – and with the achievements Starbucks accomplished – coffee (especially espresso based drinks) started to grow on a mass scale which educated and brought even more demand for quality and consistency. For the automated sector, more and more manufacturers came on board to bring all the above aspects together in unison for home users. And for the coffee franchises that had such high store volumes it became very difficult to sustain a high level of consistency and quality Starbucks, who are one of the most respected and well-known brands in the world realised that with the amount of stores globally, delivering high quality and consistently would be impossible to maintain without fully automated equipment. Now with only some of their high level speciality shops, like their “Reserve” concept with more traditional equipment.

WMF 1200 S

WMF 1200S


WMF 8000S







I have been working very closely with WMF, who are currently one of the world’s best and leading innovators of fully automated equipment.

WMF have been striving to perfect all the elements that make a good coffee, and with the most unbelievable consistency and convenience I’ve seen – the technology and design that has gone into these machines is nothing short of mind blowing. The first area many automated machines fall short on is the quality of the crucial espresso shot – and this was the first area I dived into (having my reservations starting off.) To give you a quick technical idea of how they work. They have a brewing unit that receives freshly ground (from high quality grinder blades) coffee, tamps, pre-infuses and extracts your espresso shot all from the press of a button. Grind size, water temp, volume and tamp pressure are only a few of the adjustable features. The result is a very surprising quality that has good balance, depth and body which is a phenomenal achievement. When we look at the milk side of things WMF has patented a milk system – called dynamic milk – which creates milk that is well-textured and naturally sweet. In fact, when it comes to it, I use the dynamic milk system to pour latte art (yes I’m lazy I know!). One of the interesting features of many automated systems is the insistent cleaning system designed in each machine. After a certain period of time, the machine expects a full clean from the milk system to the espresso and piping. It won’t allow you to work on the machine unless it has run the cleaning cycle, which is a very effective feature that has been one of the biggest issues in most coffee shops with a manual machine. Each year automated machine manufacturer’s move ever closer to getting the same beverage quality that a high-end manual machines has to offer. A recent model called the “WMF Espresso” for example brings that exact feel and quality to the fully automated coffee world. With high-end technology this particular model still provides an automated system but with the espresso extraction occurring in the portafilters. With a grind, tamp and extract system built in the machine. It enables the Barista to still use the portafilters by placing them in the group head however once placed the machine automatically senses whether it’s a double or single basket. You press the extraction button and all the work is done for you (tamp, grind etc.. The extraction system works on a volumetric method adjusted on the computer board. By alleviating the manual version of; Tamping and grind distributing, a more consistent product is produced on high volumes with final results receiving a thumbs up from some of the world’s best coffee professionals. What about the home user? This is where the Formula1 concept comes into play. New technology is tested and perfected in the fast paced, high demand world of business. And then it finds its way to the high volume consumer side of things. Formula1 cars have been the testing ground for new technology since its inception. So, for the home user the big factors like convenience, practicality and quality is now also readily available. Let’s be honest, most home owners are not interested in grinding, weighing, extracting and steaming milk in their own home.




This reason has given rise to NESPRESSO, JURA , WMF, KRUPS and many more. “Pods” have played a huge role in the coffee market, and many roasters and café owners have designed their own style pods in order to penetrate this massive consumer market. So at the end of the day, fully automated machinery has accomplished so much and assisted in areas that were in desperate need of attention. For huge establishments that stretch on a global level, they have played an important role when it comes to improving coffee quality and consistency. For the home user it has brought convenience and better quality to your own home which has assisted in educating the end user on certain areas of coffee.

Manual Coffee Machines

For coffee professionals out there it is definitely true when I say that it’s an exciting time to be part of this amazing industry.


Sanremo Opera


With the modern scientific approach to coffee giving us a greater understanding of coffee, we are finding new flavours and delivering more fantastic coffee than ever before. Industry leaders like Simonelli, La Marzocco, Della Corte and SANREMO have utilized forward-thinking and experienced coffee individuals for their assistance when designing and creating their machines.

Victoria Arduino Black Eagle

Victoria Arduino Black Eagle

La Marzocco - Evan Robinson Photography

La Marzocco – Evan Robinson Photography








This has given way to some of the most interesting and innovative espresso machine technology available. Machines like the Black Eagle gravimetric, SANREMO Opera and the La Marzocco PB Linea.

“Auto Brew Technology” has given the barista more stability and control over the extraction process. When it comes to overall taste and quality manual has been the dominating force in this respective area, and with new technology developed it allows us to push espresso quality to new levels. This technology has also given us deeper understanding of extraction, and what effects good and bad qualities of an espresso. With a high demand for a good cup of coffee and the boom of cafés opening up it has assisted in many areas, including employment. For South Africa with our high unemployment rate it has created job opportunities, and created exceptionally talented baristas. This demand has also opened a window for barista training academies such as Red Band Barista Academy run by Ryan Le Roux and Shaun Aupiais. The craft and science of making coffee (manually) is an area that has always excited me and motivated me to stay in this industry. This constant innovation allows coffee to shine in new ways, and drives the quest for that “perfect coffee”. This leads to that one difficult area when it comes to the manual machines. And this is the effort and cost it takes to maintain that exceptional quality on a regular basis. As a Barista trainer who has trained some large national coffee franchise groups, and talented individuals in the speciality department, it is very easy to see the amount of work it takes to maintain that “consistent quality” the customer expects every time he drinks that morning coffee. New café openers thrive on showcasing their coffee and what good quality is, and tastes like. This continues to be key for business to flourish, but also for customers to develop their pallets, and grow with this amazing industry. To deliver this “perfect cup” every time I believe 3 major areas come into play: Machine (fit for purpose), Barista (hire who you want) and Roast consistency (amazing coffee). These 3 areas need to be at the highest level in order to bring out the best in your coffee, and ultimately bring customers running to your doorstep. We all know this takes time and a massive amount of attention in each area.

Automatic Coffee Machines VS Manual Coffee Machines – Conclusion

In the end both manual and full automatic machines has a role to play in this amazing industry. Both have the capabilities to deliver fantastic coffee products…. It just has to be “fit for purpose” Article Submitted by: Byron Keet – New Business Development – Coffee


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