Automatic can make a capuccino for you at the touch of a button. A semi automatic allows you to make an espresso and then steam milk.
www.wholelattelove.com shows both types of machines. I find that looking at lots of pictures help. Most of those machines are consumer and pro-sumer, but you'll get the general answer to your question.
Manual - has a heated boiler and uses a hydraulic lever that the operator pulls to create pressure and draw the shot
Semi-Auto - has a pump to provide pressure and a button or small lever that the operator pulls to start and stop the shot
Fully-Auto (automatic) - has volumetric dosing control. Does all the the semi-auto does but also regulates the volume of liquid inthe shot. The user pushes a button to start the shot and the machine does the rest
Super-Auto - does everything that the Fuly-Auto does but has a built in bean hopper and automatic grinder. It grinds and doses the beans, does the tamping for you and mkaes the shot - all at the touch of one button.
The feature that allows a machine to automatically froth the milk is a separate featuire and is typically a standalone device that is not built into the machine.
Astoria and Rio are exacty the same machine and it is an excellent brand. If you can't afford a La Marzocco and need a one group or two group machine it's a good choice.
So, the question becomes, which type is best? :grin:
I just purchased a Conti manual machine. I have to admit, part of it is because I think the levers give it a sense of ambiance- "authentic Italian espresso", and partly because I've read they're easier to clean and repair.
I can't wait to play with it! (It's still in shipping).
In the meantime, have any of you used a manual, and if so, how did you like it?
The question is really... "Which type is best for your needs?"
I'm told that the manual machines have an optimal window after a certain amount of warm-up time in which you'll have the most ideal temp for espresso brewing. Pull shots then and if you do everyhing the right way (grind, tamp etc.) the results (so I'm told) can be absolutely sublime.
I use an E61 style one group HX machine at home (Isomac Tea). It's easy to use and delivers remarkably consistent results with proper use. If I had to pick only one machine for home use I'd stick with what I have.
In a busy commercial environment an automatic mahcien is a boon as it allows you to do things pull milk or pour coffee while the shot is being pulled. In other commercial settigns where there may be difficulty in getting dedicated and well trained barista's it's even worth considering getting one of the better commercial super-auto's.
Check coffegeek.com for Mark Prince's review of the Elektra Casa Micro Lever - he makes some very useful observations.
My feeling? It's like the way I feel about cars... someday I want to have that idiosyncratic British sports car int he garage that I can tinker with and take out for fun drives on weekends but I need to have my trusty Toyota for the everyday driving. Something where I turn the key, it starts every time and I dont' have to fiddle with getting things to run the right way.
My first car was a Triumph TR-4A and it had style flowing over its curves, especially the little bump on the hood for the twin carbs, but nobody ever saw it unless they were in the gargage.
Hobbies are expensive enough without piling lost sales on top. If you love tinkering, do it on your own time. You'll come to hate it if you have a business to make a living and you're always fighting with your equipment.
This machine, however, will not be in the garage. It's suppose to be in great working condition with the owner calling it a "real workhorse that makes great cups repeatedly". The owner is actually creating a manual for me and is really helping me a lot. I am a full believer in Buyer Beware, however, and will have a back up, though I haven't chosen the model yet.
I WANT to go the extra mile of using the levers and learning to create beautiful, authentic espresso drinks. I also know my customer base enough (as I've been a vendor at the community market I will be serving for five years) to know the espresso machine will not run constantly- they are regular coffee people, so I've purchased the over-priced satellite drip coffee makers to serve their needs (and our local health departments).
The ultimate goal is for the coffee vending to finance a small coffee/book/gift store near our colleges (nothing is over there!). I'll know the manual machine well enough by then to decide if I need to step into the auto or semi-automatic world for a customer base that would be heavier on the espresso side.
My heads may be in the clouds, but my feet are firmly in the bank vault.
Goddess of War baybay! Athena rocks! Of course, being the power behind death and rebirth might not be so bad either. But ya gotta love a chick that crashed out of her dad's head, so I'll stick with Athena.
My coffee shop will be themed around the ~*Green Man*~