Part of a collection of coffee machines from Dualit featuring the 3-in-1 system, the Express-Auto is its top-of-the-range offering. The 3-in-1 functionality enables it to work with three coffee formats – ground, ESE pods and Dualit's own NX capsules, which are also Nespresso compatible and available in Fine Tea varieties.
Ultimately, the Espress-Auto's a bit of hybrid between a bar pump model and a pod machine, giving a huge amount of choice on how you brew your coffee, or the option of a one-touch perfect espresso.
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The styling of the Espress-Auto is pure bar pump, from its twist-in portafilter to its milk-frothing steam wand and cup-warming plate. Available in black with chrome details or polished chrome throughout, the design evokes a professional feel, but with more user-friendly controls, extra height for taller cups, and automatic operation.
The overall look of the fascia is clean and uncluttered, with a row of neat dosing/function buttons – espresso, double espresso, cup and steam – and a simple on-off switch. The steam wand controls are on the right side instead of the front.
There are also plenty of thoughtful touches that help to keep the Espress-Auto pristine. A non-slip mat guards the metal drip tray from accidental scrapes and scratches as well as keeping your cup in place, while the rubber-clad steam wand dismantles easily for cleaning after every use.
Unlike many pod machines, the Espress-Auto comes with a generous water tank that holds 1.5 litres. This means there’s no need for constant refilling, even if you perform the recommended priming before each use, which involves running hot water through before making coffee. If not, there’s an auto-start function – ideal if you’re in a hurry for caffeine.
From switching on, the machine’s thermoblock heats up in under 45 seconds. Making coffee using capsules is relatively simple – each is sandwiched between the NX holder and adapter before locking the whole into the machine, much like a bar pump machine. The height of the drip tray limits how tall a cup can be fitted beneath the holder but espresso cups fit comfortably, as do most small mugs.
It’s recommended that the cup is warmed beforehand by running hot water into it from the machine, but the cup-warming plate on top also does a reasonable job if it’s left there for a few minutes. One feature that’s worth experimenting with is the temperature boost, which allows you up nudge your brew up by 1, 2 or 3 degrees C and keep it at that setting.
While each of the three dosing buttons can be set to dispense a preferred amount of water, they come preset, which is handy for those not disposed to test their barista skills. After pressing the desired dosing button, the machine stops automatically and the capsule can be thrown away. There’s a little water left in the holder when removed but otherwise the process is mess-free.
Using ground coffee is more of an art. Brewed with the filter holder and either the single or double filter insert – an ESE filter is also supplied for use with pods – it’s recommended that a circle of filter paper is used below the coffee grounds to keep the filter from becoming clogged. A spoon for measuring ground coffee and tamping it down is supplied. Inserting this portafilter into the machine follows the same process, and its ‘Pure Pour’ filter holder ensures two even espresso shots with straighter flowing crema streams. There’s a bit of mess on removal, as some water is retained within the holder.
A stainless-steel jug is included and great for frothing milk using the steam wand – just select the steam button, turn the control at the side and dip the wand in the milk. The resulting froth was hot, creamy and consistent.
Velvety smooth and moreish, the coffee from the Dualit Espress-Auto’s capsules is as good as that made from ground. The golden crema produced by both methods is indistinguishable, meaning that even if you want your coffee quickly, there’s no need to compromise.
If you believe that variety is the spice of life, this is the machine for you. Not only does it tick the box for convenient café-quality coffee for busy mornings, but there’s also the option to create bespoke drinks at weekends or batch-brew delicious coffee when you’re entertaining.
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The Espress-Auto is a little more complicated to use than straight pod machines, but given the versatility, the effort is richly rewarded.