The Reluctant Barista: Crossland CC1

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it?’ This is my mantra in a sea of professional coffee quaffers. The words crema, micro foam, portafilter and panarello were not previously in my vocabulary. I enjoy any coffee that I don’t have to make myself. And after such a confession, you can now see why I approached the Crossland CC1 with trepidation.

At first glance the Crossland CC1 had a nice compact size for a serious espresso machine. It was not a countertop hog. I flipped the switch on and watched Gail’s video while the machine warmed up. Miranda walked by and gave me a pro pointer: ‘Pre-heat the portafilter in the group head.’ There are two knobs on the front of the machine which I pushed with hilarious results as 202°F water streamed through the empty portafilter and into the drip tray; I’m glad the drip tray had good capacity. I glanced at the water reservoir level, visible from the front, and there was still plenty of water left to try again.

Next, I unfolded my Seattle Coffee Gear cheat sheet and began with renewed hope that I could pull a decent shot my first time out. The included 58mm portafilter felt heavy in my hand as I used an Ascaso grinder that had been dialed in already. The delicious smell of freshly ground Velton’s Bonsai Blend filled me with anticipation. I tamped the fluffy grinds using an Espro calibrated tamper that Teri had told me about. This is a great beginner tool since I am not familiar with what 30 pounds of pressure feels like.

Now, the Crossland CC1 was ready, and so was I. From the menu, I selected the one-cup option (which is programmable) and positioned my lucky cow cup to catch the espresso. What I observed was that more dripped out one side than the other — a rookie mistake! My dosing and tamping skills needed much more practice. Before anyone noticed, I used the knock box to discard my mucky puck. This was user error, not the fault of the machine or the grind. My crema looked alright and the espresso was tasty, but I would not win a barista competition any time soon.

The Crossland CC1 was ready to go for milk frothing with no delay, thanks to a large boiler and thermoblock combination. If you like milk based drinks like I do, this is important because you don’t have to wait long to steam your milk. I scored a chilled stainless steel frothing pitcher from the SCG break room (a magical place where countless cups of coffee are consumed) and filled it 2/3 of the way full.

The tip of the traditional steam wand was just under the milk when I turned the front button to ‘steam’ and turned the dial on the side of the CC1 to inject the milk with perfectly heated steam. It made my milk much foamier, much quicker than I expected. I was impressed! *Procedural Note: I had previously frothed my milk prior to pulling the shot, just like Gail has advised us to do on a machine like this, but Kaylie stole my milk for her latte. Hence the CC1 steamed two pitchers of milk and pulled a nice shot of espresso without hesitation.

Although I did not brag about my first attempt, or even my second attempt the next morning, the CC1 is a great machine to learn on. It felt solid and there were no delicate parts for me to break. It was forgiving of my lack of skill! Imagine what it could do for someone who actually knows how to pull an espresso shot — the possibilities are endless.

Crew Review: Saeco Poemia with Non-Pressurized Portafilter Upgrade

There’s a lot we love in the world; we’re just Pollyanna like that. But if we had to pick something we love a bit more than other things (and we’re working on a well developed sliding scale and/or bell curve here), upgrading something lo-fi into something a bit more hi-fi is definitely one of them. Maybe it’s the McGyver-esque shape and feel of it, we don’t know. Whatever it is, the Saeco Poemia was an excellent candidate for a little soupin’ up — especially given our awesome non-pressurized portafilter!

So this is how it went down: We asked Gail to pull shots with it, she did so and we filmed all the action for your viewing pleasure. Really, it’s a blast — so sit back, relax and watch the crema ensue.

 

Crew Review: Behmor Brazen Brew

There is time for meekness and there is time for boldness; a time for sweetness and a time for sassiness (admittedly, we have difficulty telling these times apart). And then there are times when one should be simply brazen.

If you’re Joe Behm, the creator of the incredibly popular Behmor home roaster, you’ve been working hard on brazenness for the past couple of years. With a goal of creating the most accurate drip coffee maker available, he has developed this new brewer that features temperature control, pre-infusion, brew time and even altitude adjustments. You can use it with the included thermal carafe, or manually to easily craft a pour over at a flat line brew temperature. Plus, its simple interface was so much so, Gail didn’t even take a look at the manual before brewing her first pot!

Watch Gail take us through the features of the new Brazen brewer, then test it out by brewing up a batch o’ java.

 

Overview: Rotary vs. Vibratory Pumps

In The Great Espresso Machine Wars of 2011, the bloodiest battle was that between the rotary and the vibratory pump. Seriously; things got real.

You didn’t hear about it? Well, it’s really not something we like to rehash — and there were definitely lessons in there for all of us. But even though we’re not yet prepared to talk through it (too soon!), we don’t mind taking a couple of pumps apart and asking one of our favorite engineers for his input on how these bad boys work.

Watch as Gail and Bill Crossland go through the internals of a vibratory and rotary pump, discussing how they work, why you might select one over the other and what to expect from them. Then we measure the sound differential between the vibratory pump on the Rocket Espresso Premium Plus and the rotary pump on the Rocket Espresso Evoluzione to learn if the whole ‘it’s quieter!’ argument really holds water. Finally, we pull shots to see if there is a noticeable, practical difference in flavor between the two styles of machines.

Back to the Roots: Putting coffee grounds to work

What do you do with your coffee grounds?  Compost them, toss them in the garbage, leave them in your knock box and forget about them until you get yelled at by your house mate? Don’t do the latter, mold is a serious health concern, people. ;)

Co-founders Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora put recycled coffee grounds to work every day at their company Back to the Roots. The pair met at UC Berkley, and were inspired by a lecture that discussed the potential to grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds. Sparked by this fun fact and a little entrepreneurial spirit, they started growing mushrooms in a bucket of used grounds, and eventually developed mushroom growing kits that you can use in the comfort of your home.

The kit comes with a cardboard carrier, bag of recycled coffee grounds, mushroom spores and a water mister.  With a little TLC (mist the bag twice a day) and in as few as 10 days, you can harvest your first batch of oyster mushrooms and most kits yield at least two crops.

Check out my first batch after 14 days. These mushrooms ended up on my plate sautéed with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes and tossed with angel hair pasta. Delicious!

Back to the Roots is on track to recycle 3.6 million pounds of coffee grounds from Peet’s Coffee and Tea in 2012, and help families grow over 135,000 pounds of fresh food in their own homes. Sustainability + yummy mushrooms = many happy tummies. I bet you’re going to think twice before tossing out your coffee grounds now – am I right?

Brewin’ with Brandi: Coffee Punch

You’ve got pals over for the big game, the end-of-summer barbecue, the block party — or all three — and you need something to serve up that is both sweet and caffeinated, right? Right. Well you know that Brandi’s got you covered with a sumptuous treat that will have you cheering for more.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of brewed coffee – we used Velton’s Twilight Blend
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • 1/4 gallon chocolate ice cream
  • 1/4 gallon vanilla ice cream

Directions

  1. Brew up a batch of your favorite coffee and, while it’s still hot, dissolve sugar into it.
  2. Chill for at least 45 minutes — more if you can do so.
  3. Add heavy cream and stir well, then chill until you are ready to serve.
  4. To serve, pour coffee mixture into a punch bowl. Scoop the ice cream into the mixture and blend together. Enjoy!

Compare: Hot Water Kettles

Tea lovers, pour over aficionados, French press geeks and cup noodle fanatics know that you can’t beat a good electric kettle. But with so many to choose from, how is one to decide which is the best for their needs?

Watch as Gail takes us through the paces of several different models that we carry. She goes over their features and specs, then we perform a (not-so) madcap race to see how quickly they boil 20 oz. of water.

New Product Round-Up!

Yeee-haw. We wanted to take a moment to let you know about a slew of new goodies we’ve added over the last few weeks.

Quick Mill QM67 Dual Boiler
A double boiler for under $2k? Quick Mill’s latest model features the E61 brew head, separate boilers for simultaneous steaming and brewing, an integrated PID for controlling the brew boiler temp and a simple case design. If you’ve been thinking about upgrading to a prosumer-class machine but your budget hasn’t allowed it, the QM67 is definitely worthy of your consideration.

Bonavita Variable Temperature Gooseneck Kettle
We did a crew review of this featuring the engineer, Brian, a few months back, but the kettles themselves finally hit the market at the end of August! Select a specific temp and the kettle will heat until it reaches it, then hold it at that temp as well. With the curved gooseneck, it’s an excellent option for precision pour over preparation (say that three times fast!).

Refurbished Jura Superautomatics
If you’re a fan of Jura’s superautos — or want to be — you can pick up a factory refurbished model at an awesome discount! We’ve added three new models to our refurb line-up: The space-conscious ENA 5, the ultra sleek J6 and the straight-forward C9 One-Touch.

Saeco Tune-Up Kits
Love your Saeco semi-automatic? Keep it tuned up and in excellent working order with one of our three new parts kits. These include everything you need for a regular cleansing of your Aroma, Sirena or Via Venezia, plus instructions on how to get the job done.