Buy a Soldier a Cup o’ Joe

Today’s Memorial Day in the US and while many of us are enjoying an extra day out of the office or getting our summer parties kicked off at a nice pitch, it’s easy to forget that we have a couple of wars going on right now — which means a lot of soldiers away from home.

So take a moment to send them a little bit of home by donating a bag of coffee to them via Bad Ass Coffee Company’s Buy a Cup o’ Joe for a Soldier program. You can send them a bag and include your contact info as well if you’d like them to know who you are. Whether or not you agree with the merits of said wars, these soldiers work a pretty tough job and deserve your support, period.

Ask the Experts: Which Machines Need to be Backflushed?

Cleaning and maintenance is a hot topic in this neck o’ the woods, but some folks aren’t clear on which specific maintenance routines apply to the type of machine they own. This comes up specifically in regard to backflushing — do you or don’t you?

You do backflush if you own a machine with a valve system referred to as a three-way solenoid, brew pressure release, three-way valve, solenoid valve or any other combination of these phrases. Not sure if your machine has this? If your machine has an E61 brew group (such as those on Rockets, Quick Mills, Izzos or Grimacs), it has this valve system. Other models that feature this without the E61 are those made by La Spaziale, Pasquini, the Rancilio Silvia and Ascaso’s Uno Pro and Duo series. This valve system relieves pressure post-brew, which results in a drier puck, but it sucks a little bit of coffee and water into the system each time which can build up in there and adversely impact the machine’s performance. Backflushing forces detergent and water through the valve system, thoroughly cleaning it and maintaining the system. It also has the added benefit of cleaning up behind the brew head’s screen without taking it apart.

You don’t backflush if your machine doesn’t have this system — because you don’t have the valves to clean! Some machines that don’t need backflushing include the Saeco Aroma, Via Venezia, Sirena, models made by Breville, those from Francis Francis/illy and Delonghi and Capresso semi-automatics. But since you’re not forcing detergent through the brew head, you will need to take it apart semi-regularly to clean up behind the brew screen.

The best way to determine if you need to backflush your machine is to read the manufacturer’s manual and the machine’s technical specifications to see if it has the valve system. If it doesn’t, you’re good to go; if it does, you should backflush once every 1 – 2 weeks, depending on how often you use the machine.

Not sure how to do it? Watch us backflush the Rocket Giotto E61 or the Rancilio Silvia.

Dude, Where’s my Crema?

Crema is a little bit of a Holy Grail in the espresso world — folks are talking about it all the time, searching for it, measuring their technique, equipment and coffee by it. But what the heck is it? What does the production of crema give you? And is it really that important?

Some of the bigwigs in the specialty coffee industry (such as James Hoffman) have proclaimed crema to be ‘rubbish’; we won’t go that far, because — like everything with coffee — it’s really a personal preference. When we were at the SCAA convention in April, we went to a couple of lectures that talked about coffee preparation variables and how they effect the end result. From those lectures, we picked up the following tidbits of info that play a part in the formation of crema.

First, let’s define our terms here: Crema is the initial light/tawny colored liquid that comes out during an espresso extraction. It is what causes that ‘Guinness effect’ that folks sometimes reference. As the lighter liquid infuses with the darker liquid that comes after, it filters up and ‘settles’, leaving a tan colored layer on top of the darker espresso below.

The formation of crema is a blend of a few different things: As water is forced through the coffee under pressure, it emulsifies the natural fat/oil content in the bean, suspending it in tiny microbubbles of air. Additionally, after coffee is roasted, it out-gases C02 for awhile (generally for the next 24 – 72 hours post-roast) and so coffee that was more freshly roasted will also emit some C02 during extraction.

As the specialty coffee industry has grown more and more focused on quality, distribution, craft and flavor, crema was a hallmark for two different things: First, the bean’s natural fat/oil content was higher and therefore could be assumed to be processed at the plantation in a preferable manner, and second, that the coffee had been roasted recently enough that it still had some C02 out-gassing from the beans. So espresso enthusiasts became very focused on the creation of  crema as the most important element of good espresso.

This isn’t necessarily true. You can pull a beautiful looking shot that filters down and looks quite gorgeous, but that, in fact, tastes quite sour because the crema is the result of post-roast C02. Conversely, you can pull a delicious shot that has no crema at all because of the way the bean was processed at the plantation and how darkly it was roasted. Pressurized portafilters and superautomatics feature technology that aerates the coffee during extraction, to give the illusion of crema, but the flavor doesn’t necessarily back it up.

So here are some parameters to keep in mind in regard to the creation of crema:

  • Plantation Processing – Beans that are naturally/dry or pulped natural/semi-washed/honey processed will naturally maintain more of their sugar and fat, resulting in more crema production during extraction. You’ll find beans produced in Africa and Brazil to use these processes, with a movement in other Central and South American growing countries toward ‘Honeyed’ and/or pulped natural processing. Beans from moister climates (such as Sumatra) will have a very different taste and oil content to them because they are most often wet processed.
  • Roast Date- How recently was your coffee roasted and how darkly was it roasted? While the ‘sweet spot’ for a coffee post-roast varies, pulling shots with coffee roasted less than 72 hours before will definitely result in an early blonding that is often mistaken for crema. You want some of the C02 for the emulsification of the fat, but not so much that there’s no room for the coffee solids to actually extract.
  • Roast Color – Darker roasts will bring more of the bean’s natural oil to the surface, which will then transfer to packaging containers, grinders and your other equipment, resulting in less overall oil/fat in the coffee grounds themselves that can be emulsified. So you will likely often see that darker roasts can produce less crema.
  • Espresso Machine Tech – Pressurized porftafilters aerate the coffee during the extraction, giving the illusion of crema. Similarly, superautomatic machines will often utilize technology that will produce the look of crema without it actually being the emulsification of the fat/oil and the C02. This makes these machines ‘user friendly’ but it’s also kind of a hack and often doesn’t taste as rich or complex as shots pulled via traditional extraction methods.

We’re not scientists and we don’t love following rules, but we have been reading and talking about and then experimenting with crema for the last few months, so thought we’d share our current thoughts. Certainly, there could be more to crema than we’re aware and we’re always learning.

What do you think of crema? How have you achieved your favorite shots — coffee type, roast style, equipment? Please share in the comments.

Recipe: Chipotle Pineapple Chicken

The calendar reads ‘May’ and, for all intents and purposes, summer is on the horizon — but here in Seattle, rainy spring weather is not yet ready to give up the good fight. If you’re lucky enough to live an area that is ready to rock the BBQ, then this recipe is right up your alley. Gail and co. devised this for their own home cooking and we think you’ll enjoy it, too.



  1. Combine syrup and soy sauce into a marinade, add the chicken and let it sit for at least a couple of hours, but up to overnight in the refrigerator as needed.
  2. Throw the marinaded chicken on the grill, or in the oven under the broiler if you’re not a BBQ-lover.
  3. Cook thoroughly.
  4. You can reduce over heat some of the left over marinade and use it as a side dipping sauce for your post-cooked chicken.
  5. Enjoy!

Giving New Meaning to the Phrase ‘Empty Calories’

This infographic from awhile back laid out the different caloric intake of foods and drinks and the required energy output to balance their input, but we recently ran across this blog entry over at World of Mysteries that evaluated and named what they think are the 20 most harmful drinks in the US. Comparing each drink’s sugar content to another not-so-healthy food, they list several drinks that you’d expect to find on there — and painfully outline some coffee drinks as well.

Ever thought about what sucking down 68 strips of bacon would be like? Stop into your local Cold Stone Creamery to find out. Ijole!

Yeah, we’ll stick with our straight espresso shots, thanks.

Hope for the Well Loved

The most used component of any non-superautomatic espresso machine is the portafilter — it gets poked, prodded, pounded, grabbed, tweaked and occasionally tossed a little too far. We know that it’s nothing personal, and no reflection on your sentiment toward your machine, but these little suckers do bear the brunt of the espresso extraction process.

Picking up a replacement portafilter before you need one means you can keep the java flowing, even if you got a little too aggressive in your morning coffee ritual. We have a variety of replacement portafilters for several of the machines that we carry, and we recently reworked our Rancilio Silvia portafilter product to make it a little easier to customize it with different baskets and/or spouts.

Recipe: Iced Raspberry White Mocha

This is one of Gail’s favorite summertime recipes. Enjoy!



  1. Combine white chocolate sauce, raspberry syrup and espresso shot in a glass, stir until thoroughly mixed together.
  2. Add ice and cold milk; stir to combine.
  3. Garnish with a fresh raspberry.

Talking about Water Filters & Softeners

Mineral content in your water will play a part in the coffee that you make and your machine’s longevity. In this video, Gail talks to us about a few different filters and softeners available for espresso machines, as well as explaining how a filter and softener differ.

New! Everything but Espresso – Scott Rao

In follow-up to his seminal work on professional espresso preparation, The Professional Barista’s Handbook, Scott Rao takes on all the other forms of coffee brewing and gives them their day in the sun. Broken up into three main parts, and supported by a thorough reference bibliography for folks that want to read more, Everything but Espresso covers the following:

  • Part One: Coffee extraction, measurement and methods on improving flavor by changing the brewing parameters
  • Part Two: How to achieve optimal flavor via different brew methods (such as drip, pour over, press pot, steeping and vacuum pot)
  • Part Three: Proper water chemistry and bean storage

If you’re either an espresso aficionado who wants to spread their wings or someone who cherishes their old press pot, this book is the definitive guide to making the best possible brew at home.

Better Living Through Chemistry: Caffeine

We get so wrapped up in the cornucopia of flavors it offers that we sometimes forget that coffee is also a drug delivery device. Caffeine is widely consumed around the world and is the stimulant of choice for many folks in the morning to get their day going or for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Like so many things in life these days, the geeks have taken the intake of caffeine to the limit and devised a guide on how to get the most out of it. This is a fun and fact-filled read that will teach you some tips on how to keep your caffeine use high and tight.