Category Archives: Accessories

Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica

Tune-up kit for the Oscar and MusicaNuova Simonelli how much do we love you? Let us count the ways. With their beautiful design and professional functionality it is really hard not to love these machines. However, if you want to ensure your machine has a good long life, you’ll need to give it a little tender loving care. Part of that TLC (no, we don’t mean T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli) is replacing some of the parts of the machine that see a bit more wear and tear, like the brew head gasket and screen. Since Nuova Simonelli machines are some of the more popular espresso makers we have around, we decided to help you out and create a tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica. This kit includes a brew head gasket, shower screen and show screw. These parts will work for both the Oscar and the Musica; the installation is just slightly different.

Replacing your brew head gasket and screen may sound difficult, but it is actually pretty easy. When it comes down to it, your main tasks are just removing a screw and puling out a gasket. If you have an Oscar, we recommend laying down some soft towels and flipping the machine over to have better access to the brew head. Unfortunately, you can’t do this if you have a Musica due to the way the boiler is set up. Your next steps are to remove the old, worn out brew gasket and screen, clean the brew head and install the new parts from the kit. Easy peasy! How do you know when to tune-up your machine? Some customers said they have noticed they need to replace these parts at about every six months or so, but if you use your machine less frequently you may find you only need to replace them once a year. You can also watch for coffee and water leaking around the top edge of your portafilter or for lots of coffee grounds building up around your screen.

Inspired to give your machine a tune-up but want to see the process in action before attempting it yourself? Check out Brendan’s video on how to use the tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica and pick up a few tips and tricks.

 

Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica

Quick Review: aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils & RSVP Shaker

When it comes to latte art, we know there often can be a steep learning curve. Heck, just getting your milk to the right consistency to make the perfect latte can be challenging enough. Not only to do you have to figure out when to plunge the steam wand into your milk, but you also have to simultaneously work the milk to produce smooth and velvety microfoam. On top of that, you then to hold your wrist at a certain angle and pour your milk at just the right speed to create your design. Whew! It makes those of us who haven’t yet mastered this technique tired just thinking about it.

If you too haven’t quite refined your latte art making skills, never fear! The aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils are the answer to your problem. These six stencils come in an array of patterns, including a cute winky face and a pretty spiral, and allow you to create art of your own without having to worry about perfecting your pour. There’s nothing wrong with faking it until you make it, right? Besides, these whimsical designs are sure to stop any naysayers in their tracks. After all, you are still creating art.

Best of all, these stencils are incredibly easy to use. Just place them on top of your latte or cappuccino, use a shaker, such as the RSVP Endurance Fine Mesh Shaker, to sprinkle on anything from chocolate powder to cinnamon on top of your drink. We like using red velvet cake mix to top our lattes since it adds a pop of color to the drink. After you have topped the drink with powder, remove the stencil and you’re good to go! You’ve just created a latte that is sure to impress your guests at your next dinner party as well as entertain any kids in your home. To see the aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils in action, watch as Miranda uses them to decorate her drinks.

Quick Review: aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils & RSVP Shaker

Brew Tips: How to Store Your Coffee Beans

Coffee BeansYou’ve found the perfect espresso machine or coffee maker for you and gotten some tasty coffee beans to brew with. However, now you’ve started to use your beans, you may be wondering how to store them so that they retain their flavor and stay in the best shape possible. This subject can be quite confusing, as there almost as many ideologies on the best way to store coffee beans as there are roasts. In the hope of clearing things up, we completed a variety of tests to determine the best way to keep your coffee fresher longer.

The Freshness Factor

You may have heard that coffee has a short shelf life, which is mostly true. After the beans have been roasted, they outgas carbon dioxide for about 72 hours. As such, many local roasters will package their beans in bags that feature one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while protecting them from contact with oxygen, which can make the beans go stale. While this allows you to experience the coffee’s peak flavor, but it will start to lose its freshness once its bag has been opened. Thus, as a general rule, we have found that it’s best to consume your coffee within one or two weeks after opening the bag.

If coffee wasn’t already complicated enough, it is important to keep in mind that every coffee has it’s own sweet spot for when it tastes the best after it has been roasted. Thus, if you ask a number of different roasters when you should drink your coffee beans by, you will get a variety of different answers. Since everyone has different tastes, so we highly recommend that you experiment with your coffee and find your own sweet spot for your roasts.

Storing Your Coffee

Due to the reasons mentioned above, we have found that is best buy your coffee in small quantities, as you need it. Likewise, if you are using whole bean coffee, you should only grind your beans as you make your coffee or espresso, instead of grinding the whole bag all at once. This will ensure the coffee keeps more of its flavor.

However, if you buy your coffee in bulk or need to store it for some other reason, you do have options.  For starters, you may want to divide your coffee supply into a small container for daily use, and a larger container for the bulk of the coffee (which will only be opened to refill the small container). This will allow you to reduce the amount of air the larger container of coffee is exposed to, enabling you to keep it longer. Another thing to keep in mind is generally whole beans will have a longer shelf life than ground beans, which go stale at a faster rate since they have more surface area. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t store ground coffee, you may just not be able to keep it quite as long, depending on how sensitive your taste buds are.

In fact, this same rule applies to how long you can store your coffee in general. In short, it depends on you and how you like your coffee to taste. Some people will notice a change in the flavor of the coffee after a week and want to replace it, while others won’t notice a difference in the coffee until it has lost most of its flavor.

When it comes to storing your coffee, the best environment to keep it in is an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Why is how you store your coffee so critical?  If you don’t store your coffee in this manner, you risk exposing your coffee to the five “coffee killers” listed below, which decrease the lifespan of your coffee and cause it to go stale.

  • Air: When roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavors in them are oxidized, causing the coffee to go stale.
  • Moisture:  One of the worst things for coffee, moisture taints the oils in the beans, causing off flavors or even making the beans deteriorate.
  • Heat: Exposing the beans to heat before they are brewed will cause them to lose flavor.
  • Light: Direct light can cause the beans to go stale and lose flavor.
  • Odor: Coffee is porous, which means if coffee is near other fragrant items, like fish, it can absorb these flavors. As a result, your coffee could end up tasting like seafood instead of coffee.

Luckily, there are some pretty nifty containers on the market that you can use to store your coffee in and keep it out of harm’s way. We have found that the best options are metal, ceramic or even darkly colored plastic canisters. In addition, it is important to use coffee containers that are airtight, which will keep out air and can prevent moisture and odor from contaminating your beans as well. One of our favorites is the Airscape Coffee Bean Canister, which has a specially designed lid that you push down to remove air from inside the can.

What about glass or clear plastic containers? While these options do look pretty on your counter and let you to see the contents inside, they also allow in one of the biggest coffee killers – light. If you really want to keep your beans in a clear container, make sure to store it in a pantry or drawer where it won’t be exposed to sunlight. Another alternative is to use a polarized canister that will allow you to see its contents while keeping light out.

Is it Ever Okay to Freeze Your Beans?

Freezing beans is a contentious topic in the coffee world. Some people adamantly oppose ever freezing your beans, while some claim it’s okay in certain circumstances. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), “It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.” This is a valid point, since every time you open the bag of coffee, which is likely at least once a day; you will be exposing the beans to oxygen and whatever humidity is in the air. Neither of these things is good for coffee and can impact the coffee’s flavor. This effect is even worse when open bags of coffee are stored in the freezer. The humidity forms ice crystals, which essentially freezer burns the beans and causes them to go stale even faster.

However, when it comes to storing unopened coffee, the NCA states it okay to keep it in the freezer as long as it is in an airtight bag. However, once you remove this bag from the freezer and thaw the coffee, do not put the bag back in the freezer. If you do, you will encounter the issue mentioned above, and will likely have freezer burned coffee. Instead of returning the coffee to the freezer, the NCA suggests that you “move [it] to an airtight and store in a cool, dry place.”

While we like the NCA, we couldn’t just take their word for it, so we decided to conduct a couple of tests ourselves. While we did notice a slight difference in the taste of the beans and did have to tweak our grind for the beans a bit, overall we found that coffee beans can be frozen, as long as the package is tightly sealed and unopened the entire time.

Through our research and quasi-scientific experiments, we have discovered a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when storing your beans. While we prefer to use our coffee sooner rather than later, we have found it is possible to prolong the life of your coffee if you take the time to store it properly.

 

SCG Crew Review: Frieling Milk Frother

Frieling Milk FrotherTurn ordinary milk into extraordinary milk with the Frieling milk frother! If you are looking for a quick and easy way to make creamy, foamy milk, this manual frother may be the device for you. To froth your milk, all you have to do is pour about half an inch of milk into the carafe, place the lid on top and then pump the handle up and down about 20 times. Made out of stainless steel, with a swanky mirrored finish, this little guy will not only froth your milk but also add some serious class to your beverage set.

We wanted to see this little beauty in action, so Bunny put it to the test and frothed up both warm and cold cow’s milk, as well as warm and cold vanilla soy milk. Check out the video for her assessment and to learn what drinks you can use the frother to make.

 

 

SCG Crew Review: Frieling Milk Frother

Gear Testing: Milk to Perfection Latte Art Pitcher

Milk to PerfectionFor years now, our most popular video on YouTube has been Milk Steaming Tips, our latte art classes fill up before they’re even promoted and our support interactions are rife with questions (and frustrations!) around steaming milk. While everyone has a different perspective on shot quality and which machine produces the best espresso, they all have a similar goal with their milk steaming: A beautiful heart or rosetta to serve to themselves or someone they love. From the DeLonghi EC155 to the La Marzocco GS/3, the Saeco Vienna Plus to the Jura GIGA 5, how the milk is produced and the end result is high on everyone’s list.

So when tools are invented to improve the process for folks, we have to try them out, of course! Enter the Milk to Perfection steaming pitcher, which is designed to facilitate the clockwise swirl necessary for producing high quality, latte art style milk. Some machines (such as the Rancilio Silvia or the Nuova Simonelli Oscar) are known for their rather rowdy steaming functionality — a lot of strong steam that needs to be wrassled into producing nice, tight micro foam. So we thought that experimenting with how the Milk to Perfection performed on one of these steam-forward machines would be a great test to determine how effective of a tool it is.

Watch as Bunny steams up two pitchers on the Nuova Simonelli Oscar: First, a standard 20 oz. stainless steel pitcher and then the Milk to Perfection. Does one produce micro foam more easily than the other? Can either of them tame this steamy beast? Does it matter what kind of pitcher you’re using once you’ve been frothing milk for years? Find out in this fun side-by-side test and comparison video.

Milk Steaming Test: Milk to Perfection vs. Standard Stainless Steel Pitcher

$20 Thrift Shop Challenge – Coffee Edition

thrift shop coffee cupsSeattle is home to the singer Macklemore and his song ‘Thrift Shop’ was the theme for a really fun and unique birthday party I attended. The birthday party activity was a thrift shop challenge: Who can find the best present at Goodwill for under $20? With a tight budget and 45 minutes to shop, it was a great reminder that it really is ‘the thought that counts.’ We spent quality time together, had fun and didn’t spend much money.

This led me to wonder: Is a twenty dollar thrift store coffee challenge possible? I studied the aisles of previously owned houseware products to see which types of coffee accoutrements are commonly found. Based on SCG experience, here are my top tips for what thrift shop coffee items to try — and, possibly more essential, which items to avoid.

Storage – Yes!

Whether you use whole coffee beans or ground coffee, proper storage will help your coffee stay fresher and taste better. As coffee beans age they become harder and stale, the oils oxidize and can add a bad taste to the brewed cup. The best way to store coffee is in a cool, dark and dry place. Airtight storage is ideal and while decorative ceramic canisters are easy to find, make sure to select one with a tight fitting lid. Once the coffee is opened and stored, use it within 30 days for best taste.

Cups – Oh Yes!

Cups are easy to inspect for visible damage prior to purchase and easy to clean. This is the best coffee item to find at a thrift store because it shows your individuality at home or at work. I attended a wedding where thrift store coffee mugs served as the place cards on the tables. Each mug was specially selected by the bride and groom. Mine had my home state on it, which made it a very special memento of the day.

Drip Coffee Maker – No

I purchased a ‘vintage’ mini drip coffee maker for 4.99 to see if it worked. There are two factors to consider when making a delicious cup of drip coffee: Temperature and evenness of how the coffee grounds are wet. Expensive coffee makers have boilers that ensure the water is around 200F/93C for the entire brew process, which is in the ideal temperature range. Some also have fancy shower heads to evenly wet all of the coffee grounds in the filter basket. This creates an ‘even extraction’ which is necessary for the best tasting cup of coffee possible. After using coffee care products to clean and descale the internals, the little mini drip still didn’t work great. A better value for the same price is a new manual cone dripper. These simple cones are made out of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass and require a kettle and a filter. With this method, it’s you — not the coffee maker — that makes sure the water is the right temperature and all of the coffee grounds are evenly wet. Talk about quality control!

Espresso Maker – Maybe

A very traditional style stovetop espresso maker can often be found second-hand. This is a tried and true method for making delicious espresso coffee at home. There are two pieces that screw together with a small basket and a gasket in between. Inspect the unit to make sure there are no dents, that the pieces screw together easily and the gasket is intact. Replacement gaskets are available too. Most of these stovetop espresso makers are made out of aluminum, some are made out of stainless steel and they also come in different sizes. Make sure you are getting a good deal second-hand because you can also find some for less than twenty dollars brand new. Stay away from semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines unless you are a repair pro and you have access to replacement parts.

Other Coffee Brewing Methods – Depends

French press, cone drippers, immersion brewers, AeroPress, cold brew pots, Turkish coffee, the list of fancy coffee brewing methods goes on and on…These are all fun (and tasty!) manual methods of making coffee and espresso. Many of these ideas are under twenty dollars new, so make sure you are check the quality before you try one second-hand.

stove top

 

Crew Review: Breville Crystal Clear Kettle

Breville Crystal Clear KettleIf we had to choose between mad science and madcap magic, we’d be hard pressed to explain the difference between the two and, therefore, would choose both! Thankfully, the Breville Crystal Clear Kettle doesn’t force us to choose, offering up some serious science (er, boiling water) in a rather magical way.

Sure, there’s all manner of different electric kettles available on the market, from models that allow precise temperature control (such as Breville’s Variable Temperature Kettle) to those that actually make the tea for you at the touch of a button (Breville One-Touch Tea Maker, anyone?), but if you’re simply looking for a quick boil, no bells and whistles, plus a bit of a show as well, the Crystal Clear Kettle will definitely fit the bill.

Watch as Teri shows us how simple it is to use, then times how long it takes to boil 44 oz. of water for her large Frieling coffee press preparation.

Crew Review: Breville Crystal Clear Kettle

Crew Review: Jura Cool Control – Redux!

Jura Cool ControlA superautomatic isn’t authentically one-touch if you have to bother preparing the milk first, right? You can take all the guesswork out of your cappuccino crafting by employing one of two Jura Cool Control countertop refrigerators.

Designed to work with all of their one-touch superautomatics, the Cool Control and Cool Control Basic will keep your milk supercool, which results in delicious foam creation without risk of the legendary blue cheese latte. These are also highly recommended for small offices that are using a Jura one-touch in their company kitchen, as you can fill it up with milk throughout the day and then do one thorough cleaning at the end of all of it.

Watch as Teri shows off these updated versions of the Cool Control!

Crew Review: Jura Cool Control – Redux!

Crew Review: Pallo Cleaning Tools

PalloKeeping your coffee equipment clean doesn’t have to feel like a chore! Pallo’s purpose-built tools make short work of this sometimes unsavory task. Their array of gear includes:

  • The Grindminder – designed to clean up all the gritty little grinds that get in / around your grinder and keep it so fresh and so clean!
  • The Steamy Wanda – if steam wands had a best friend and / or patron saint, it would be this tool.
  • The Coffeetool – available in a variety of colors, this is your go-to brew head cleaning tool — brush, detergent measuring tool and steam wand hole cleaner.
  • The Caffeine Wrench – this little dude does it all, from popping out filter baskets to popping open a cool post-cleaning celebratory beer!

Watch as Bunny shows us these fun and highly useful tools!

Crew Review: Pallo Cleaning Tools

 

Crew Review: OXO Gear

While we each have a deeply personal love for OXO products, much of their awesome gear just doesn’t make sense for us to sell as purveyors of coffee and tea related equipment. Sure, you could be the hardest working manual grinder in the business by utilizing your OXO chef’s knife to finely chop your specialty coffee, but … that’s kind of ridiculous (sorry).

Consequently, we were thrilled to be bringing on a selection of their products, which are more oriented toward coffee and tea preparations: Two different tea kettles, a tea infuser and (our personal favorite) a measuring beaker set. Watch as Teri shows off these fun and highly functional pieces of kit; isn’t it time you experimented with a little mad science? We thought so.

Crew Review: Oxo Gear