All posts by Sam

The Reluctant Barista: Baratza Grinder Groove

baratzaThere are many reasons why I remain a reluctant barista. Over the past year, my caffeinated knowledge has greatly improved and my skills have marginally improved but there remains a hole in my espresso education: Coffee grinders have me particularly perplexed. I understand the working parts, I have even taken them apart (and put them back together again) for cleaning purposes. However, when I see a fluffy pile of fresh coffee grounds and compare it to another pile, it all looks the same to me. Sure I can tell French press coarse from Turkish fine but the micro-adjustments have me stumped.

So, here I stand with the full line of Baratza coffee grinders in front of me. This is a quality coffee problem to have, except I only know how to use the Encore grinder! It is a sturdy little workhorse that pairs well with my Technivorm coffee maker. Instead of regurgitating RPMs and clump tests — which really isn’t my style — let’s start with what’s in it for you — which really is my style. How will you get your groove on with a Baratza coffee grinder?

Entry level/Drip Coffee = Encore. This is my not-so-secret weapon for successful office coffee. The Encore has an on/off knob, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. This is great for coffee preps like drip, pour-over, AeroPress, French press, Siphon and Chemex. It can also be adjusted finer for espresso grind if you are using a pressurized portafilter.

Mid-level/Multiple Brew Preps = Virtuoso. The Virtuoso is very consistent. It has an on/off knob, a timer, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. The particle size uniformity makes it well suited for coffee preps like espresso in addition to drip and manual brewing methods. This versatility is great for anyone who enjoys multiple brew preps.

Mad (coffee) Scientist/Espresso = Preciso. More fine-tuning options and a little bit faster output make the Preciso a conical burr home grinder with commercial functionality. There are 40 step adjustments multiplied by 11 micro-adjustments within each setting. I can’t even do the math or my brain will explode! Suffice it to say, if you enjoy playing around with different coffee and espresso blends, then this grinder is optimized for your caffeinated brewing adventures.

Pro Version/Multiple Brew Preps = Vario. So where does this grinder fit? The 54mm ceramic flat burrs provide accurate, fast-grinding performance. This is a professional-grade machine with optimal consistency within a very small footprint. It has 230 distinct grind settings from fine grind for espresso to coarse grind for French press. With a digital timer and three programmable buttons, the Vario has accurate one-touch dosing. Small cafes and roasters report a solid track record with the Vario and the Vario-W model, which adds weight-based functionality.

Cafe Version/All Purpose = Forte AP. While the Vario does a great job, the brand new Forte models are bigger, beefier and have digital touch screens. The AP features 54mm ceramic flat burrs which stay accurate longer than metal burrs and grind finer. The weight and time based functionality provides repeatable grinding results. Designed for long lasting cafe use and abuse, the AP shines for espresso and can grind for coarser settings also.

Cafe Version/Pour Over Preps = Forte BG. This model features 54mm flat steel burrs. Why offer a choice of burr sets when ceramic lasts longer and grinds finer? Metal burrs reduce ‘fines’ in the mid to coarse range of grinds. Pour over preps require particle consistency, which is harder to achieve in the coarser grind settings. The Forte BG is a specific solution to a problem that high end/Third Wave coffee bars have had — they demanded the highest quality burr grinder available for everything but espresso. The BG can still technically ‘do espresso’ but it has been designed to tackle mid-range particle quality and quantity.

forte grindsOnce you have selected a grinder for your intended usage, then you can dial it in. This had — up to now — been my downfall, then I realized I was rushing it. It takes time, patience and a pound of beans … and that’s asking a lot from an impatient person like myself. I tried the Forte AP since it is new and fancy (and I love new and fancy) and I paired it with the Pasquini Livia G4 Automatic espresso machine because that is also new and fancy. The process involves picking an initial setting and noting the results with each incremental change. Instead of visually inspecting the grind, this is a combination of timing the espresso shots and tasting the results. Word to the wise: Just sip — otherwise you are in for a sleepless night! I filled a frothing pitcher with discarded espresso shots before I felt comfortable with the right setting for particle size and dosage.

One final note before I leave you up to your elbows in coffee grounds … Sadly for me, this process needs to be repeated if you change your beans or the machine you are using. Grinders are not universally calibrated so there is no cheat-sheet to tell you what number or setting will be optimal. This is a situation where trial and error, er I mean to say, highly scientific methodology is the only way to help any grinder find its groove.

Specialty Coffee for $20 or less?

Coffee Power, Activated!Time, counter space and budget may all be concerns, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a delicious cup of coffee. Fresh, locally roasted whole bean coffee is a step up from capsule coffee and miles above instant. If you take the time to find a specialty coffee blend that you like, then by all means take the time to properly store and brew it! You will notice your coffee tastes better, without spending extra money. Here are some tips.

Storage

Coffee is best stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Any freezer bag or airtight canister you already have in the pantry will do. After the bag of coffee is opened, use it within 30 days. Try not to buy more than a 30-day supply, even if it is on sale. ‘Waste not, want not.’ The beans harden and eventually become bitter as they go stale. Darker roasts don’t keep as well as lighter roasts because the oilier beans are quicker to oxidize.

Coffee Grinder

If you do not already have a coffee grinder in your arsenal, it is okay to ask the roaster to open the bag and grind it for you. This saves a large investment. Blade grinders are inexpensive but they are not able to make consistent size coffee grounds. An uneven extraction of the coffee can give it a strange taste. Burr grinders are more expensive, but you can always use someone else’s — the grocery store’s, a friend’s or your roaster’s — until your coffee budget increases. Just make sure to mention how you are brewing the coffee because the size of the grind varies for the following preparations.

Cone Shaped Dripper

This style is also called ‘pour over style’ coffee and brand names such as Melitta, Hario and Kelita have become synonymous. The cone can be made of plastic, ceramic, glass or metal. Hot water is poured gently and evenly over the ground coffee in the cone repeatedly until your preferred coffee to water ratio is attained. This method requires hot water, the dripper, a filter, ground coffee (fine drip) and a cup or carafe. Prices start at $3 plus the other necessary items.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Easy clean up. Most models make 1-2 cups.
  • Cons: Some models require a very careful directional method of pouring the hot water over the ground coffee to make sure the extraction is even. It will taste watery if this is not done with care. And it only makes a little bit of coffee at a time.

Immersion Dripper

This style is also called the Clever Dripper although there are other brands of immersion style brewing devices available. Instead of pouring the water over the bed of ground coffee and letting it drip through, this cone shaped dripper is filled, stirred and steeps like a French press. Then a lever is released and gravity flows brewed coffee into a cup or carafe. This method requires hot water, the dripper, a filter, ground coffee (fine drip) and a cup or carafe. Prices start at $18 plus the other necessary items.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Easy clean up. Most models make 1-2 cups.
  • Cons: Some, but not all, coffees taste better with this method as the coffee grounds are allowed to stay in contact with the water longer as they brew.

French Press

This is also called a press pot, cafetiere, coffee press or coffee plunger. It has a long and interesting history if coffee history is your jam! Of these budget brew preps, the French press tends to be the most forgiving and easiest to learn. Prices start around $7 and it only requires the addition of ground coffee (coarser than drip) and hot water.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Portable. Fun to make. Available in larger sizes.
  • Cons: Kind of a pain to clean up afterwards. Some people do not like that the filter allows coffee sediment through.

Cold Brew

This method is gaining popularity in the US and is already big in Japan. The benefit to this method is that it produces a cup of coffee with little to no acidity. As the name implies, it is cold brewed and served cold. This is a great budget option for warm weather climates. All you need is a cold brew filter pitcher, ground coffee (medium drip) and cold water. Pitcher prices vary, from about $18.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Easy to make. Available in larger sizes.
  • Cons: Requires 12-24 hours so you have to plan ahead! Some people do not like that the filter allows fine coffee sediment through. This method requires you to use a larger proportion of ground coffee than hot brews, but the result is concentrated and can be diluted with additional water.

Stove Top Espresso

Say you are in the mood for something stronger, darker and bolder…You can afford an espresso maker! A stove top espresso maker is where most people start their love affair with homemade espresso coffee. These affordable devices are intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is a very consistent and easily repeatable process. Prices start around $8 and all you need is ground coffee (espresso fine), water and a stove.

  • Pros: Cheap! Delicious. Homemade espresso!!
  • Cons: Tricky to learn at first. Also the espresso coffee grind size has to be very fine and consistent, not a job for a blade grinder.

Barista Snapshot: Jake at SteamDot Coffee

Jake SchmutzlerWho: Jake Schmutzler, Barista

Where: SteamDot Coffee Company, Anchorage, Alaska

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting, did you like it?

I remember loving the smell and the sounds of my dad’s morning coffee ritual: stoking the wood-stove, boiling water in the brass kettle, grinding K-Bay beans by hand with his Spong while I stayed in bed and the wood-stove heat and steamy coffee wafted up to my loft. But I hated the taste of the stuff.

What do you drink now at home?

I actually don’t make coffee at home. I live half a mile from my shop and coffee is a great incentive to get out of the house in the morning. During the summer, when I’m not in Anchorage, my French press is hard at work every day.

What do you drink at work, if different?

I open the shop 4 days a week so my first coffee is usually tasting the house espresso blend and our single origin espresso of the day. Mostly I like a cortado or a Chemex of whatever we have fresh. Our Columbia La Virgen is pretty fantastic right now. Sometimes I’ll go for a small Americano with a dash of heavy cream, but just a dash.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

Every step matters. There isn’t a ‘darkest roast’ or a ‘strongest coffee.’ Good coffees are roasted just enough to bring out their inherent positive flavors. They’re roasted so you don’t need to mask negative flavors with cream and subdue bitterness with sugar. Certainly there is a spectrum of coffee flavors, but within that there is a world of subtleties to explore. Black coffee is not one flavor.

What’s cool about the Anchorage coffee scene?

Haha nothing. Well, us.

Nooo, in Alaska there isn’t much of a coffee culture. Kaladi’s has been the biggest thing going for quite awhile [since 1986] but they really offer a different product and cater to a different crowd than SteamDot. It’s exciting to see people come into our shop for the first time and watch their face as they sip a Chemex brew and they realize why we don’t have brewed coffee waiting out all day. Anchorage is unique because we get to give a lot of folks their first single origin, or their first real cappuccino or macchiato.

As a barista what are your thoughts on coffee skills versus customer service skills?

Anytime you go out to a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop you’re paying for an experience. Part of that experience is the food, the booze, the coffee, part is the service, part is the place; it’s a mosaic. While each aspect takes more or less energy, the whole picture is ruined if any one piece is missing. Which aspect is the most important is going to depend on each customer and what experience they’re after. But why not be a decent person and try every time to pull a damn fine shot? I love coffee and I love talking about it, being rude just makes people go away; I try hard to be inclusive and informative.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

We’re all here to enjoy our own beverages, some folks are more excited about drinks with coffee in them, while others are stoked to enjoy and explore the spectrums of flavors coffee has to offer on its own. I can’t fault someone for enjoying espresso covered in 16 ounces of scalded milk and stiff foam, white chocolate, raspberry and caramel sauce.

Are the espresso shots your dad pulls better than yours?

On our 3-group Strada? Hell yes mine are better. On his La Pavoni? Nope, his mad 2-stroke mechanic skills got me beat on the manual machine. But I taught him everything he knows about espresso!

SteamDot Coffee roasts coffee and espresso fresh in Anchorage, Alaska and operates two ‘slow’ coffee bars there.

photo by Tehben Dean
photo by Tehben Dean

Hot Blog On Bog Action: Coffee Your Way

Laila-GhambariWe are all for having fun brewing coffee and tea however you like it — we love how personal/meaningful/medically necessary it is … It can be all things to all people and we don’t judge (except for my not-so-secret campaign to stop the current #pumpkinspicelatte craze but that’s a whole different story). Here’s some inside scoop on coffee, tea, and having it your way.

Interview: Laila Ghambari, Caffe Ladro Director of Education (via Food GPS)
Our coffee friends at local Seattle roastery Caffe Ladro focus on quality. We talked with Laila about how ‘coffee culture is changing and progressing so rapidly’ and how that effects everyone in the chain from growers to customers. She aims to make high quality coffee that is approachable to consumers — without  coffee elitism.

Tea Cupping Versus Tea Tasting (via T Ching)
Tea cupping is serious business. There are rules. Protocol. Necessary accoutrement. Yikes! But a tea tasting is a social get-together where you can break those rules and still have a lovely cup of tea … your way.

Tea Bags Get a Bad Rap, What’s a Solo Sipper to do? (via Drink Tea)
Be kind to yourself. If you drink tea, make it a good cup of tea. Pick loose leaf black tea, green tea, white tea, Oolong, Pue-erh or herbal blends that float your boat and have the right tools on hand for home, work or travel.

Map of Seattle’s Best Tea Houses (via Eater)
We’ve gone to Cederberg Tea House before, see other places Brenna found around Seattle to tempt your tastebuds. Or re-create the tea house experience at home with these goodies.

If you want a daily dose, we spill the beans about National Coffee Day 9/29, a coffee comic strip, cats that need coffee and other items of caffeinated interest on:

What’s Your Signature Espresso Drink? Episode One: The Bob-uccino

spilled milkThe Crew at Seattle Coffee Gear knows what it feels like to spend hours practicing latte art while family members scratch their heads in confusion at so much spilled milk. Sometimes it feels like a lonely life for the home barista on a mission to master espresso drinks. Who is there to understand your triumphs and tribulations? But you are not alone in your caffeinated quest! In the spirit of coffee camaraderie, we offer insight into how other coffee friends use their coffee gear. If you would like to share the recipe for your signature drink, send us an email!

The Bob-uccino

What do you get when you find a La Pavoni Europiccola 8 and a Rancilio Rocky doserless grinder squirreled away in the kitchenette above a remotely located chainsaw retailer? If you are lucky, and I mean VERY lucky, you will get a ‘BOB-uccino.’ This is the best drink in town and nobody knows it! Here’s the secret recipe revealed:

Bob-uccino

Ingredients

Required Equipment

First, you need an Uncle Bob. These are getting harder to come by. I encountered one in the far reaches of Alaska this summer — a crusty old dude on the exterior with a hidden soft spot for a properly prepared cappuccino.

Directions

Froth the milk to your desired consistency, tap and swirl the frothing pitcher to decrease bubbles if necessary. Set aside. Extract the espresso shots. These are perfectly timed, perfectly executed manual shots. It takes time, patience and the skill of a master mechanic to consider humidity, roast date and moon phase (or other factors he will make up and explain to you in all seriousness).

Presentation

Uncle Bob’s preferred glass is not commonly used in the US; it is the Bormioli Rocco Verdi Oslo Cappuccino glass. They are the right size (7.2333 ounces) and proportion for a cappuccino. ‘This allows approximately .321 inches of lip engagement at the rim for full oral satisfaction,’ explains the master.

Taste

The flavor is very special because the milk foam is light and airy while the dark rum adds more depth and caramelization than vanilla alone. Remember our family motto, ‘You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning,’ so try a Bob-uccino this weekend!

Hot Blog On Blog Action: Seeing Double

Hot Blog on Blog Action: Zoka Coffee Profile
Dana Foster (left) Celeste Clark (right)

Is two better than one? With the fast approaching opening date of our second retail store, we sure think so. All that is left to decide is: Should we clone Gail? This month’s Hot Blog on Blog Action covers this (our new store, not cloning Gail) and much more coffee & tea news that you may have missed from SCG.

Update: Seattle Coffee Gear to Open Bellevue Location  (via Seattle Magazine)
We are getting the word out. And the word is … A second retail location for Seattle Coffee Gear! Beginning on September 3rd, we launch our caffeinated invasion of Bellevue, Washington. Help us celebrate said invasion during our Grand Opening event on September 14th, during which we’ll have tastings, giveaways, prize drawings, discounts and more!

Interview: Coffee Pros Dana Foster + Celeste Clark (via Food GPS)
In this fun blog article, we interview the heart and soul of Zoka Coffee, Dana Foster, Director of Coffee, and Celeste Clark, Head Roaster. This dynamic coffee duo injects professionalism and compassion into a longstanding Seattle-favorite roastery.

Giving Used Espresso Machines a Second Life (via Ground to Ground)
From humble beginnings, refurbished coffee makers and espresso machines are given a new lease on life under the care of trained technicians. Read how the Refurb Crew reduces, reuses and recycles onsite at Seattle Coffee Gear.

A Tea Time Moment in the Office (via An International Tea Moment)
It takes all kinds! And for Brenna that means the chance to make tea she loves at home and at work. We don’t judge, especially when she makes delicious Rishi Tea for us, too!

If you want a daily dose, we spill the beans about new store opening events, a coffee comic strip, sharing latte art and other items of caffeinated interest on:

The Reluctant Barista: Jura Versus Jura

Jura Impressa C5My job at Seattle Coffee Gear allows me to try all of the demonstration models, just like a customer. I try to do it before the store opens when no one is watching because I generally make a mess. Today Gail found me trying to figure out the steam wand on the Jura Impressa C5 Superautomatic Coffee Center. ‘You have to twist the knob AND push the button on this model,’ she explained. Easy for her to say! I had hot water squirting out of the wand for Americano coffee or tea instead of steam for my frothing pitcher. I’m used to the Jura ENA 4 which is very straightforward.

With additional programmability comes a little more head-scratching the first time facing the espresso machine control panel. Lots of folks consider Jura espresso machines are the Cadillac (or insert any fancy auto brand here, maybe a Tesla!) of superautomatics. The quality and temperature of espresso shots produced is consistently delicious from the most basic to the most programmable model.

Because there are so many different models, let’s talk about what makes the C5 different from my simple standby, the ENA 4. The C5 takes the standard choices of coffee or espresso, volume, plus it offers additional manual control so you get your drink just how you want it. From my personal pre-dawn experimentation, it has better milk frothing capabilities as well. The water tank is much larger on the C5 (64 oz compared to 37 oz), so is the bean hopper and the dregs box, but it is only 2.5 inches wider. The C5’s sleek case and controls, larger capacity and better froth is hard to beat.

Which Jura wins? If you’ve got multiple users who care for cappuccinos, the C5 is a crowd pleaser. Don’t need the fine foam, the fancy case or capacity? Go ENA4 for a tried and true superauto — or the smaller, coffee-only Micro 1 for a bit more space saving. No matter which route you choose, the espresso from the Jura 15BAR stainless steel thermoblock is delicious in any ‘case.’

Hot Blog on Blog Action: Tea Time — What?!

velton rossLast month something strange happened at Seattle Coffee Gear (well, stranger than usual): A bunch of the SCG Crew started drinking *gasp* tea! And with this new found appreciation for tea, we discovered the basic preparation fundamentals are similar to coffee prep.  It starts with fresh water, a quality product and the right gear. Check out the lovely links you may have missed about all things coffee (and tea!).

  • Here Is My Handle, Here Is My Spout via 39Steeps.blogspot.com – Don’t settle for a drippy tea kettle when you can harness the power of fluid dynamics, no lab glasses or Bunsen burners required!
  • Interview: Coffee Pro Velton Ross via FoodGPS.com – Our ace reporter Brenna tracks Velton’s success from barista to renown roaster.
  • The Controversy Over Crema via TheShot.CoffeeRatings.com – Shocking but true stories about espresso crema. Some people scoop it off! Some people have been known to mix it altogether! And some naughty people call blonding from a pressurized portafilter, crema.
  • The Art of Making Flowering Tea via LeafJoy.com – Grab a glass teacup or glass teapot and watch the magic unfold. Flowering teas are more fascinating to watch than Sea-Monkeys and more enjoyable to consume (we’re just theorizing here, though, because we’ve never consumed Sea-Monkeys).
  • Be A Coffee Pro At Home: Vertical Tastings via ChicagoCoffeeScene.com – Take the best whole beans you can find and then do a little side-by-side challenge with your favorite coffee preps. AeroPress, Chemex, French press … it’s all good!

If you want a daily dose, we spill the beans about serving espresso in brandy snifters, the Kaffeologie S-Filter upgrade and other items of caffeinated interest on:

The Reluctant Barista: A Tale of Three Rockets

cellini classicRocket Espresso makes highly polished stainless steel home espresso machines in Milan, Italy. And we really mean highly polished: You can actually see your reflection in their gleaming surfaces. We have a row of Rocket demo models standing at the ready in our store, which can sometimes give the visual affect of a row of funhouse mirrors.

My go-to Rocket machine is the Giotto Evoluzione, which sits next to the R58 Dual Boiler and the Cellini Premium Plus. While I’m often found crafting one of my favorite drinks on the Giotto Evo (a Shot in the Dark), I also occasionally experiment with the other models — like firing up the R58 just to watch an espresso extraction with a bottomless portafilter (yes, that’s what we do for fun around here). But I hadn’t played much with Rocket’s entry-level model, the Cellini Classic, so decided to find out how it stacked up against my other favorites.

First, a little background: The only difference between the Cellini series and the Giotto series is their case styles. The Cellini has straight sides and the Giotto has more angled, diamond-shaped sides. In accordance with its name, the Classic has a straight design like the other Cellinis, however the sides are brushed stainless steel and the top and front panels remain polished. Next, ‘Premium Plus’ refers to models with an internal water reservoir only, while ‘Evoluzione’ refers to models that have a convertible water source — either the internal reservoir or plumbed to the main water supply. The Classic has an internal reservoir only and a few less features than the other models overall, but still sports the well-loved E61 brew group of its compatriots.

So I wondered, would I notice if a few Rocket Espresso features were left off? I gave the machine a chance to warm up and then I made Dori a latte. While the functionality was similar to the other Rocket models, the feel was different. The machine felt stiffer to use and the knobs were more plastic-y. Yes, I know espresso knobs are generally made of plastic, but this felt more plastic than usual, with sharper edges and none of the tactile luxury associated with other Rocket models. Looks aside, I felt like the performance was on par — my shots were great! The Classic operated very intuitively on my first and subsequent attempts, and I did not miss having a PID nor did I mind that I had only a single manometer instead of two gauges. When things go so smoothly right out of the gate, I don’t feel the need to fuss or fine tune.

For the price, I still prefer the slightly smaller stature and slightly larger boiler of the Nuova Simonelli Oscar, another heat exchanger model. Even though the Oscar case is all-plastic, oddly enough, it does not seem plastic-y (at least not to me). It is interesting how we each have our own notions about the look and feel of espresso machines! The taste of the espresso produced is usually the main qualifier, but price, quality — and yes, even looks — all play a part in the decision.  The Cellini Classic will perform like a Rocket and that’s what counts, right? And you can always sink the savings into a high quality burr grinder, like the Rocket Mazzer  (for a sweet countertop set-up).

Hot Blog on Blog Action: We’re Back!

Kerry Park SeattleWant to know what’s on our collective mind? Much like the Borg we are single-minded in the pursuit of … coffee! Here’s where we comb the interwebs and report back to you on the the weird and the wonderful coffee-related things we find.  After a three-year hiatus, our highly curated and highly subjective links to the coffee blogosphere return with a vengeance.

If you want a daily dose, we spill the beans about Bacon Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s coffee date with David Letterman and other items of caffeinated interest on: