Make a Great Shot AND Maintain Your Boiler

The Rancilio Silvia often gets a bad rap out in the world because a lot of people consider it to be finicky or temperamental. One of the biggest issues it has is its temperature inconsistency, but this is something that all single boiler espresso machines suffer from — including the Ascaso Dream and even the high end Quick Mill Alexia, will all have some temperature issues simply because you’re pulling water for two different processes from the same boiler.

Additionally, you have to be cognizant of the fact that these single boilers don’t have automatic boiler refills and you need to make sure you’re keeping the boiler full of water in order to maintain its health. If you’re not keeping it full, it will slowly burn out the heating element and you’ll have a costly repair on your hands. One sign that you’re not keeping enough water in the boiler is that you might be having steaming issues — it’s not steaming powerfully enough, or it starts out fine and then peters off, or it’s just not getting hot enough.

In this video, Gail talks to us about temperature surfing, demonstrates it on a Saeco Aroma and describes what can happen if you don’t do this each time you make yourself a latte on your single boiler espresso machine.

Video Crew Review: Grindenstein Knock Box

Looking for a pretty little number that won’t take up too much space and will keep your countertop clean? We’re talking about knock boxes, of course (what were you talking about?). The Grindenstein is a great choice for a home espresso setup and Gail shows us how it works, plus compares it with other knock boxes available.

Ask the Experts: Oops! I Poured Water into the Bean Hopper – What do I do?

We’ve all had a few rough mornings where we’re not sure where the floor and ceiling are in relationship to each other, so it’s no surprise that a few of us have had a tragedy occur: Accidentally pouring water into the bean hopper/grinder instead of the reservoir on our superautomatic espresso machine.

If this happens to you, the most important thing is DO NOT USE THE MACHINE. There is nothing that you can do to fix this because the grinder needs to be taken apart and cleaned as soon as possible to prevent it from seizing up. In this video, Gail shows us what happens when water gets into contact with the grinder and gives us advice on what to do — you know, after we’ve run around screaming in panic.

Recipe: Huckleberries n’ Cream Cocoa

We’re not ready to give up the huckleberry game quite yet, so we’ve been making some drinks to satisfy our need even though the season just hit the bricks. This creamy concoction is caffeine-free and is a great way to wind down in the evening.



  1. Combine milk and huckleberry syrup together in a steaming pitcher
  2. Steam the milk until it’s nice and frothy
  3. Put the white chocolate into the bottom of the cup, pour a little bit of the steamed/frothed milk into the bottom and mix together
  4. Pour the rest of the steamed/frothed milk into the cup, swirling around to make sure it’s incorporated with the white chocolate
  5. Drizzle with the dark chocolate sauce to taste; should fancy strike (ouch!), make a pretty design

Coffee & Climate Change

Last November, we wrote about how the excessive rains in India were adjusting the forecast coffee exports from that country, and they have now reported a 21% decrease in exportable coffee during the 2008 – 2009 growing season. But it’s mostly about when the rains hit — they reported in June of this year that heavy summer rains will likely result in a 17% increase in coffee exports for the 2009 – 2010 growing season that begins on October 1st.

Because we’re working with an agricultural product, the flavor nuances and fluctuations created by the weather really do inform the more artistic elements of coffee overall. The ‘third wave’ of the espresso industry (which Eric from Seattle Espresso Machine Co. and Sam of Equal Exchange talk about in this video) was largely brought about by the ability to source very specific beans from estates around the world. Instead of buying huge blended batches of beans from an exporter, roasters started to go to the plantations themselves and trying different coffee beans, charting how they changed over time — sometimes the plantations produced an amazing coffee, other times they would maybe be just good or not-so-great.

Obviously, the specific plants and the altitude/growing style, as well as how the coffee is processed, will inform the flavor, but a big unknown every year is how the weather impacts the growing cycle. Similarly to how wine vintages are known for having a particularly good weather year, imbuing the grapes with the perfect balance of sugar and acids to make a great bottle of wine, the coffee cherries themselves produce different flavors every year depending on how the weather was in a particular region. This is why a blend you loved a few years ago may have changed in flavor over time — and why there is often a little bit more art than science involved with making really great espresso.

The Fair Trade/Direct Trade movements over the past few decades have helped bring about the opportunity to appreciate coffee on this very micro level, but while they have done a lot to contribute to the sustainable and cultural development of farming communities around the world, this excellent article by The Guardian outlines how contending with global climate change will require a more comprehensive, orchestrated approach. Last year, the rains hit India at the wrong time — a long drought resulted in intense flooding once the rains finally came — and this year they arrived at just the right time. That’s not always going to be the case; in fact, the global climate change projections indicate that this bust-then-boom weather is likely to increase.

Given that coffee is the top tropical commodity in the world, and given that most of the farmers who grow it already spend a few months of year in poverty — despite Fair Trade/Direct Trade/sustainable movements — this is not a pretty picture on the horizon.

Field Trip: Slayer

Last week, we headed off to points south and visited the warehouse headquarters of Seattle Espresso Machine Co., creators of the Slayer. We’ve talked about this machine on the blog in the past, primarily because it is the first to offer baristas the ability to independently control pressure during shot extraction. It’s also a ridiculously gorgeous machine.

We filmed our field trip and you can watch all three installments here. One of the founders, Eric Perkunder, and a friend of his, Sam from Equal Exchange, were veritable fonts of information, and there was a lot we weren’t able to catch on camera. Much of the engineering theory was really cool to hear about — specifically in regard to how they started the development process of the machine by examining traditional lever-powered espresso machines that allow for a little more control over extraction. But while the levers give you more control over pressure, it’s impossible to back them off of a certain level of pressure once you’ve built that up, and the Slayer has been engineered to allow for switching between disparate pressures throughout extraction, depending on how the shot is looking. Additionally, you can control the pressure independently at each group head, so you can calibrate the two or three heads for optimum brewing of different types of coffee.

The creation of this machine was inspired by the founders’ love for really great espresso — high quality beans that are either estate specific, season specific or from a single origin were not being given a chance to shine using traditional extraction methods, so these guys decided to experiment with pressure to see how that effected the flavor. What were once ‘scorched’ shots became deliciously sweet and syrupy espresso, with a flavor and consistency that you can drink without additives like milk or sugar. It’s an altogether different experience to taste coffee prepared this way!

The Slayer is currently in several cafes around the world, according to their blog:

“Melbourne, San Francisco, Kirkland, Ann Arbor, and Calgary.  Soon more will be showing up in New York, Germany, Vancouver BC, New Zealand, Portland Oregon.”

If you’re in the Seattle area, the Slayer is in the Zoka in Kirkland and it’s definitely worth your while to experience this delicious coffee. We had an awesome — and illuminating! — time at the factory and really appreciate the guys letting us come in for a tour.

The Grind – October 2009

Ready to get your Grind on? Check out Seattle Coffee Gear’s monthly newsletter for October.

This month’s edition features a Huckleberry Slump Latte recipe, info on descaling vs. backflushing, a guide to all the videos we’ve done over the last month and some featured products like the new Bodum Brazil French Presses available in a variety of hues or the Rocket Professional series semi-automatic, plumb-in espresso machines.