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Gear Guide: Convenience Rules With Superautomatic Espresso Machines

Find Your Dream Espresso - Superautomatics

Taking Home A Superautomatic Espresso Machine

In our last post, we asked you how committed you were to your espresso. If you’re the one running out the door empty-handed and caffeine deprived, then you’re in the right place—we’re about to revolutionize your life—enter the superautomatic espresso machine. Superautomatics do all the heavy lifting and will grind, tamp and brew delicious espresso for you. It’s the perfect solution for coffee lovers who are “just friends” with their cup.

Of course, there are a variety of superautomatics, so while they make getting a cup of coffee a snap, you still have some choices to make on how committed you’ll be to your machine. The way we like to decide between models is to use this simple scenario: You walk into your favorite coffee shop, what do you order?

Espresso, Americano Or Drip For Me!

So, you take your coffee black? Then we recommend checking out some introductory superautomatic espresso machines. These machines focus on convenience and are incredibly easy to learn and are built with fewer features and programmability. Before you jump to any conclusions, remember that saying “less is more?” We tend to see people favor an introductory superautomatic for its ease of use, affordability and small footprint. The coffee options are usually espresso, coffee or, sometimes called, lungo. Generally, you can program the volume but you really don’t see settings for temperature, coffee strength, etc. There are some doubts that superautomatics produce good espresso. While there will be quality differences between semi-automatic and superautomatics, we have definitely made delicious espresso with superautomatics.

If you like your coffee with milk, no worries—there are introductory superautomatics with milk options. A panarello-style steam wand is the frother of choice because it does all the frothing for you. Panarello’s work by aerating milk through a slit in the top. No skills required! Since it’s doing all the heavy frothing, you won’t have to worry about controlling the milk texture. It’s easy to achieve fluffy cappuccino foam without any technique. Occasionally, some superautomatics won’t have a milk frother, in which case you could look into getting an external frother.

Another benefit of these introductory superautomatics is their small footprint and maintenance. With fewer features, these machines tend to run small; small enough to fit into any kitchen or even squeeze on your desk at work (you’d be a hit at the office). Maintenance is also a breeze. If there’s no steam wand, then you’ll never need to worry about properly cleaning off the milk. And if you have a panarello, it’s easy to disassemble and clean. Most superautomatics will have an automatic rinsing cycle before and after brewing, keeping your machine in tip-top shape. But you’re not off the hook completely. You’ll still have to descale and clean the brew group (if accessible) as the manufacturer recommends, but it’s nice to have some of the maintenance handled.

Latte Or Cappuccino, Please!

If you crave control, then we recommend bumping up to a mid-range, intermediate or advanced superautomatic espresso machine. A lot of these machines will allow you to adjust the temperature, volume, coffee strength, etc. Many feature a user-friendly interface, such as a digital display or labeled buttons, to make programming effortless. One of our favorite features is customizable profiles that allow a select number of users to program and save their drink preferences (of course, it’s only available on some machines. More on those in our next post). The amount of customization offered in superautomatics makes it easier to tailor your drink to your liking.

Latte and cappuccino lovers, get ready to jump for joy—there are machines that blend coffee and cream directly into your cup. One-touch superautomatics have an attached carafe that siphons milk to steam. When you’re done, you can remove the carafe and store extra milk in the fridge.  Some machines even let you adjust the milk temperature, milk foam texture or milk foam amount. There can also be a more traditional steam wand, so if you wanted to improve your frothing technique, here’s your chance!

With the additional customization, there will be a learning curve. Occasionally, the settings aren’t intuitive and you’ll find useful features buried under lists or icons. We recommend referring to the manual to learn the ins and outs of the machine—it can even help with troubleshooting. There are alerts or lights that’ll indicate when something’s amiss, like when you run out of water or the coffee ground  bin is full. Typically, we’ll find a troubleshooting section in the manual that provides instruction to fix the common issues . These machines will also automatically perform or recommend daily maintenance, such as rinsing milk pipes or descaling. Like the introductory superautomatics, these built-in features keep your machine well maintained.


If you’re just friends with your coffee, then a superautomatic espresso machine is the choice for you! Since there are a variety of superautomatic espresso machines we have another post coming out for you. We’ll dive into mid-range, intermediate and advanced superautomatics and what sort of features and functions you’ll find on those machines.

If you’re looking for caffeine on the go, an introductory superautomatic is the machine for you. These machines offer a balance of convenient features without the fuss of programming. Some may only offer espresso options, but you will find some with panarello-style steam wands. If you’re satisfied with those features, we recommend checking out some of these machines.

Saeco Xsmall Superautomatic Espresso Machine

Gear Guide: Expanding Your Skills With Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines


Taking Home A Semi-automatic Espresso Machine

In our previous post, we focused on finding the right machine for you by asking how committed you are to your espresso. Are you just friends? Or are you in a series relationship? If you’re ready to be committed to your coffee, then read on! In this post, we’re continuing our journey to help you make coffee you love at home by focusing on semi-automatic espresso machines.

Whether you’re an entry-level or experienced barista, it’s more important to ask yourself about dedication. Do you have barista skills? If not, are you willing to practice? We’ll discuss what features you should consider when you’re picking between different semi-automatic espresso machines.

Ready And Willing To Brew!

You’ve decided that you’re dedicated to learning how to brew espresso—sweet! Then consider a semi-automatic with a non-pressurized portafilter and traditional steam wand for cafe-quality espresso. A non-pressurized portafilter is designed so that the pressure that extracts your coffee is based on the coffee grind size and how much force you tamp with. That means for you, coffee connoisseurs, it’ll require dedication to learning how to dial in your grind consistency and learn to time the extraction—you may be pulling a few shots before you get the flavor you want.

Let’s be honest, we probably all want to make latte art. A traditional steam wand offers full control over technique from how much air you incorporate to how long you steam your milk. With a little know-how, you can create latte art-worthy milk! The hardest part of frothing milk is not incorporating too much—to pour latte art, you’re looking for texture that’s paint-like. Grab a gallon of milk and try your hand at frothing! If anything, you’ll be able to create a foamy, coffee shop quality cappuccino in no time.

The Rocket Giotto Premium Plus with PID features a hidden PID under the drip tray and sleek, kicked out side panels.
The Rocket Giotto Premium Plus with PID has advanced features like the a hidden PID under the drip tray.

At a local cafe, peek behind the counter and you’ll likely see baristas knocking coffee pucks out of portafilters and whipping down steam wands with vigor. Semi-automatics require more maintenance. You’ll spend more time adjusting settings—for instance, if you purchase a machine with a PID, you can change the temperature—and cleaning the machine from daily chores like wiping the steam wand to more in-depth maintenance like backflushing and descaling. Generally, we see these machines last longer than their automatic counterparts—if properly maintained. With more control comes great responsibility, but it’s well worth it for the quality of espresso you’ll be able to make with a little dedication.

Practice? I Just Want Coffee…

Fair enough! There are plenty of semi-automatics out there that are capable of pulling quality espresso with little effort. Some features we look for are pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands. We like to think of these semi-automatics as entry-level. A pressurized portafilter (most often the basket is pressurized) assists in pulling quality espresso thanks to a double wall that compensates for pressure—meaning that if the grind is slightly off, it has got you covered. That doesn’t necessarily mean your espresso will be cafe quality—you’ll still want to experiment with settings to find coffee you love.

The Breville Duo-Temp Pro features pressurized and non-pressurized baskets for the portafilter.
The Breville Duo-Temp Pro features pressurized and non-pressurized baskets for the portafilter.

With a panarello steam wand, just stick it in your milk pitcher and let it go! It froths milk by pulling air in from a small slit at the top and incorporating steam for you. That does mean you get what you get. On most machines, you can’t control the steam power and you’ll generally end up with cappuccino foam. You can really only control how long the panarello steams your milk. Of course, if you’re not interested in learning how to froth milk, then you won’t mind the lack of control or features.

If you’re looking for an easy experience, then we recommend looking into machines that have these user-friendly features! Probably the biggest appeal is the ease of use and, of course, the affordable price that’s is due in part to fewer features. Although, some entry-level machine have both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter options or even traditional steam wand that is designed to allow brewers to hone their skills.


If you’ve decided you just want coffee without practicing, then it’s the end of the journey for you. We have a few entry-level espresso machines that we’d think you’d enjoy. Remember, these machines have features like pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands that help beginners make coffee they love effortless. Check these machines out:

Breville Duo-Temp Pro
DeLonghi Dedica EC680

If you’ve decided to be in a committed relationship, we’ve got a couple more tips for you in our next post—so stay tuned! Semi-automatics offer home baristas more control over their espresso with commercial-inspired accessories like traditional steam wands and non-pressurized portafilters.

Gear Guide: Finding The Right Espresso Machine For You

Finding The Right Espresso Machine: Semi and Superautomatics

Start Here: Welcome to Gear Guide!

If you’re ready to bring home an espresso machine but don’t know where to start, then you’re in the right place. We’ve created a simple buyer’s guide to espresso machines to help you make the coffee you love at home. This series is designed to help you choose which espresso machine that is right for you. We’ll start here with this simple question:

How Committed Are You?

Are you just friends or are you in a serious relationship with your espresso? We know, it sounds silly, but understanding your level of commitment is the first step to finding the right espresso machine for you. Think about your morning routine: Are you usually rushing out the door or do you cook a balanced breakfast? How you’ll be using your machine—basically, your relationship with it—is the best way to determine what you should take home.

Take a superautomatic espresso machine. This type of machine is for people who are rushing out the door. Most require little to no barista skills and typically operate at the touch of a button. It’s like having your own personal barista right in your kitchen. Depending on the model, some machines offer basic drink options such as espresso or Americanos while more advanced options offer a range of menu items, customized temperature or milk texture and more. Superautomatics have a variety of milk frothing options like a panarello-style steam wand, traditional steam wand or carafe, so you can choose which option is right for you. For instance, one-touch superautomatics whip up lattes right into your cup thanks to integrating milk systems like an attached carafe.

The Miele CM6310 Superautomatic comes with an attached stainless steel carafe to easily store milk in the fridge.
The Miele CM6310 Superautomatic comes with an attached stainless steel carafe to easily store milk in the fridge.

On the other side, we have the semi-automatic machine for the chefs out there. With semi-automatics, you should be willing to get involved and grow with it—to a degree. There are several entry-level semi-automatic machines that offer beginners assistance with features like the pressurized portafilter, that helps you pull a consistent shot every time or a panarello steam wand for thick, rich milk with little skill involved.

If you’re ready to expand your barista skills, the higher level semi-automatics let you control just about every aspect of your espresso shot and milk. High-level machines typically feature a traditional steam wand and non-pressurized portafilters, which require a level of skill, technique and preparation. For instance, on a non-pressurized portafilter, you’ll need a consistent grind, which requires a quality grinder and the senses (taste, sight, etc.) to dial in your grind. That means you have more control over how fine-tuned your espresso is! For those latte and cappuccino drinkers out there, you’ll appreciate the flexibility of a traditional steam wand. You can texture milk to be dense, dry foam or paint-like for latte art. Then sometimes there are advanced features like PIDs to regulate the boiler temperature or the ability to set the pre-infusion time.

Hello, steam power. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is a semi-automatic machine with programmable volume buttons.
Hello, steam power. The Nuova Simonelli Oscar II is a semi-automatic machine with programmable volume buttons.

Of course, some features and functionalities are found on both superautomatic and semi-automatic such as a panarello-style steam wand. That’s why we ask people to focus on their commitment level. Are you ready to learn how to dial in your grind? Do you want your machine to remember your drink preferences? Figuring out how committed you’ll be using your machine is the first step, now it’s time to think about coffee.

How Do You Like Your Coffee?

Tall, dark and…smokey? If you love Italian or French roast blends, then you’ll want to stay away from superautomatic machines. The reason being is the oils coating the coffee beans will clog the superautomatic’s grinder over time, creating a mess and may require extra maintenance. We always recommend avoiding an oily bean on a superautomatic to keep it in tip-top shape. That does mean, however, that you could enjoy a dark roast on a semi-automatic! You’ll want to make sure you clean the grinder a little more frequently with a grinder cleaner, but otherwise, a semi-automatic will have less trouble with dark roast. Also, we strongly discourage using grinder cleaners on a superautomatic because it could potentially damage the grinder or brew group.

Intelligentsia's Black Cat Classic is a medium, full bodied roast that's great in a superautomatic or semi-automatic.
Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Classic is a medium, full bodied roast that’s great in a superautomatic or semi-automatic.

Looking for a unique flavor to try as an espresso? If you love single origins, go ahead and try it out on a semi-automatic! You can change the temperature, grind, tamp—you get the idea. With more control over brewing, you’re able to dial in and find your perfect shot. Since single origins’ flavors benefit from hotter water than a blend, it’s harder to pull a shot on a superautomatic than a semi-automatic. Of course, a blend will be easier to perfect on either type of machine since it’s designed to have a balanced flavor.


Are you ready to commit to your espresso? Again, think about your morning routine and ask yourself how often you’ll use your machine. What sort of drinks will you be making on it? If you have a specific coffee roast preference, then that could also influence your decision. Have you made a decision? Good! In this next couple of posts, we’ll split off into several topics.

Check out the next post in the series:

Gear Guide: Expanding Your Skills With Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Seattle Coffee Gear Rewards: Get Rewarded For Drinking Coffee!

Program Review

The Seattle Coffee Gear Rewards program is designed to reward coffee lovers like you with, you know, more coffee. Once you create an account, the savings are automatically stored in your SCG Rewards. We made it easy to see how much you’ll make by including the points earned under eligible products on the website. Rewards are earned with each purchase on eligible products after all the discounts (coupons, store credit, rewards, gift cards) and other deductions are applied.

We’re pretty open here at Seattle Coffee Gear, but you already knew that from our videos and blog. As with any Rewards Program, we have rules to keep it fair and keep all the caffeinated goodness flowing.


  • You can earn and redeem points with each purchase
  • See estimated points that will be earned on product purchases before buying
  • Points are earned on the total purchase after discounts and deductions


  • Easily redeem points at checkout for maximum savings
  • Points will expire after 365 days from the date of earning
  • Gift cards expire after 90 days from issued date

Point System

The minimum value of rewards points before a gift card is issued is currently 250 points or a $5 balance. Once you reach the minimum—that’s an easy feat to achieve in the 365 days—you can use your rewards to purchase all the caffeinated goodness you desire. If you’re wondering what 250 points look like in products, that’s about two months worth of coffee and some cleaning supplies—coffee friends, descale those machines for the freshest coffee! We swear by our (more than) gently used office Technivorm that when we clean it, the coffee’s just oh-so-good.

After 35 days, recent purchase points will go into your Rewards stash until $5 is reached. Ready points will be sent as a digital gift card to your email in increments of five. On orders that exceed the minimum $5 value, you’ll be issued one gift card with your balance, but in increments of five. For example, a rewards balance of $54.50 will send a gift card with a $50 value. The remaining $4.50 will remain in your Rewards until the minimum $5 balance or 250 points is met.

Can points expire?

Points currently expire 365 days after the date they are earned. Issued gift cards expire 90 days after they are sent to you. We recommend saving to your address book to ensure your gift cards are received in your inbox.

Sign Up

To start earning SCG Rewards, sign up for an account. Yep, that’s it! Once you sign up, Reward Points will automatically accrue with each purchase whether you’re in store or online—make sure you’re logged in to earn those points, though!

Or, on the off chance you don’t wish to participate in SCG Rewards, you can opt-out at the time you sign up for an account or contact our support time.

We’re all treats and no tricks here—we’ve included everything we think  you’ll need to know to take advantage of the sweet savings. However, if you’re so inclined, you can read up on it even more here. We want to honor our fellow coffee fiends by creating a rewards system that helps you save in the long run and satisfy that caffeine craving.

Burundi Coffee Tour – The Story Behind The Coffee


In the Headquarters of Seattle Coffee Gear, we’ve been dying to put together a special package of coffee that would excite your taste buds. This couldn’t be any ordinary package of coffee. We wanted to take you somewhere—somewhere luscious banana groves sway in the wind and coffee tree rows stripe the earth. One ticket to Burundi, please.

Olympia Coffee Roasting sent us an amazing selection of three coffees from Burundi with different processing techniques: washed, natural and honey. Each process changed our experience of Burundi. We noticed the washed was bursting with citrus notes and sugary tea. The natural—oh man—the natural, smelled and tasted like grandma’s blueberry cobbler. And the honey was, as the name suggested, thick bodied with notes of honey and fruit. As we leaned back in our chairs and relished each cup, we knew these coffees deserved a one-way ticket to Burundi—in the form of our Limited Edition Burundi Coffee Tour.

Our Burundi Coffee Tour comes with three 12-ounce bags of Olympia Coffee Roastings Nkonge Honey, Long Miles Reserve Natural and Mikuba (washed) for the ultimate journey that you can share with family and friends. Or perfect for adventurous coffee drinkers seeking to experience and compare the different processing techniques.

Olympia Coffee Roasting & Long Miles Coffee Project

Of course, after blissfully sipping a toasty cup from our Burundi Coffee Tour, we grew curious about the origin of these delectable coffees and did a little more research. As it turns out, all three coffees were produced by the Long Miles Coffee Project, one family’s dream to change the local coffee industry. This project has captured our hearts and brought attention a side of coffee we don’t always encounter—the coffee farmers. At Seattle Coffee Gear, we work closely with our roasters to taste their latest blends or single origins. Our roasters, on the other hand, build relationships with the coffee farmers. Olympia Coffee Roasting has supported the Long Miles Coffee Project from the beginning of their journey to help transform Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world. This was a chance for us to understand the world of coffee farming—and they filmed it all to share with everyone.

Video produced by the Long Miles Project and Olympia Coffee Roasting.

While continuing to savor the warm aroma of blueberry cobbler coffee, we watched their 10-minute documentary of coffee in Burundi. The Carlson family; Ben, Kristy and their kids, Neo, Myles, and Ari, had a dream to produce amazing coffee and care for the community who grew it. It goes without saying, to have the coffee thrive, the community needed to thrive too. We’ve been following their journey through their blog posts, too, and there’s a connection between the family and the farmers that you can sense through their posts.


In the video, Ben explains one of the hardships Burundi coffee farmers face is the dreaded potato defect—where the coffee truly tasted like a raw potato and not the delicious, golden fried ones we all love. Over 20% of the crops are affected by this potato taste and it’s all because of this little bug, the Antestia, which bores into the coffee cherries and leaves a hole for bacteria to enter. The solution was simple. The Carlson’s moved their family to Burundi and started the Long Miles Coffee Project to collaborate with Burundi coffee farmers and educate them on how to maintain their coffee trees to reduce the Antestia bug. “Our challenge is actually our opportunity,” Ben says in the video.


From there, the transformation can only be described in the way this coffee tastes. You truly get to experience the fruits of their labor through the quality of these cups. Burundi, as we learned through reading the Long Miles Coffee Project’s blog posts, is in political turmoil. The coup d’état uprooted the Carlson family and it’s only this April that we saw another blog post from Kristy and learned they’re ready for harvesting their coffee for another year. We’re excited to see what next year’s coffees will be. For now, we’ll continue to enjoy our Burundi Coffee Tour.


SCG Rewards!

We have a very exciting announcement this morning: The launch of SCG Rewards!

Sure, shopping for caffeine-inducing coffee products is fun in and of itself, but wouldn’t it be better if doing so earned you a discount on future orders? That’s where SCG Rewards come in. We think our customers (that’s you!) are pretty much the bees knees and we want to give you a big ol’ hug. Given our inability to do so, we’ve decided to thank you with every purchase!

How Do You Earn Rewards?

If you’re signed up for SCG Rewards (get the deets below), then you simply shop as you normally would!

Here are the basics: Earn 1 point for every dollar you spend, with 50 points equaling $1 to be used on a future purchase. Each product, and your cart, tell you what you’ll earn with the purchase.

Each product shows what you can earn on the purchase!
Your cart let's you know how many points you'll earn and how to redeem them!
Your cart let’s you know how many points you’ll earn and how to redeem them!

Note: Commercial products and customers are excluded from earning reward points – sorry! 

For more details on how the program works, check out this page that’s completely dedicated to the nitty-gritty details!

How Do You Sign Up?

We don’t want anyone to miss out on an opportunity to earn reward points, so customers that created an account prior to today are automatically enrolled in SCG Rewards!

If you’re new to shopping at Seattle Coffee Gear, you can sign up while you’re creating an account. Just leave the “I’d like to start earning rewards – sign me up!” box checked and you’ll be up and running!

Sign me up, please!
Just leave the box checked to become a part of SCG Rewards!

How Do You Redeem Rewards?

You’ll need a minimum of $5 to redeem on an order, at which point you’ll be able to apply them as a payment during checkout. If you’re logged in, your cart will let you know how many points you currently have and will remind you how to apply them if you’ve reached the minimum.

If you're logged in, your cart keeps you in-the-loop on your reward points!
If you’re logged in, your cart keeps you in-the-loop on your reward points!

You can also check your balance, see a full history of earning/redeeming reward points and change your notification subscriptions at any time by logging into your account!

How Excited Are We?

We’re going to be really honest here: We squeal a little bit every time SCG Rewards get brought up around the office. We’ve wanted to implement something like this for awhile and we’ve put a lot of thought into the earning and redemption process. Our sincerest hope is that you like the program and that it provides value to you. After all, this is our ‘thank you hug’ substitute!

To get started today, just start shopping! If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us via phone or email – we’re here for you!

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Savrika Tea Review

IMG_1795After a year of writing tea reviews, I have visited quite a few different tea shops and houses in the greater Seattle area. While none of the other tea shops I visited were bad, in fact all of them served great tea and food, it was apparent that the owners of some tea shops hadn’t invested the same amount of knowledge or time into learning about the products they sell. Or if they have, they haven’t quite figured out how to share that information with their customers. However, when I recently stumbled upon Savrika Tea in downtown Kirkland, I realized I had discovered something really special.

You can tell that the owner, Rupa D. Gadre, is passionate about tea. This love for tea is evident from the second you step into Savrika Tea. This is not only because the numerous tea certifications she has earned, Rupa has been taking specialized courses since 2011 and officially became a Certified Tea Specialist in the Fall of 2013, but also due to the tea wall focal point and huge variety of tea with something to suit every taste.

IMG_1821Rupa’s entry to the tea world and entrepreneurship was somewhat unexpected. She originally worked as a Web Analyst for Cisco Systems, but took a hiatus from work to have children. As a mom, Rupa often visited the mall for her kid’s play dates and stopped at Teavana while there. Yet, while the store introduced her to a variety of wonderful loose leaf teas, she soon realized there were major drawbacks with the experience. One, there was no place to actually sit and enjoy the tea she purchased, so Rupa was forced to take the tea home and drink it by herself. Two, Rupa explains that she had a lot of questions about tea that the store staff couldn’t answer. Thus, disappointed in the lack of the social aspect and wanting people to be able to learn more about the tea they were drinking, Savrika Tea was born.

When it was clear that the store was going to be a reality, Rupa told me that she lucked into meeting an architect, who also happened to be an ex-Starbucks employee, through a fellow parent. Rupa explained that, while not a designer, she knew she wanted “a modern and clean look and feel.  That is evident also in the tea wall focal point, the furnishings I chose, the concrete design on the floor, and the bathrooms.” Rupa adds that “because I’m the one making the final decisions, there was no committee to restrict my colors or themes,” which was nice since it allowed her to make the space truly her own.

IMG_1818The appearance of the store definitely accomplishes Rupa’s goal. The shop is a modern oasis, with shiny granite tables and a cozy nook to one side of the space that is excellent for curling up with a good book. The clean lines of the shelving put the tea ware and tea that is sold on display. Aside from the giant wall of tea, my favorite part of the store was the tea sampling station that is set up in the center of the room.  Here, all 200 varieties of tea the shop sells are stored in small, color-coded tins (black tins for black teas, green tins for green teas and so on). Customers are able to open these tins in order to smell and examine the teas inside to find one or more that they would like to drink. There is a directory of all the teas that the store offers, which lists the ingredients and a description of each tea to help you get a better idea of what each one contains. If you still aren’t sure what tea you would like to try, Savrika’s knowledgeable staff can help you find a tea that is a good fit for you based on what flavors you enjoy. To ensure her staff remains knowledgeable about tea, Rupa says that, “after every training [I go to], I bring back my coursework and notes and educate my staff. That way they have more information at hand when speaking with customers.” In addition, Rupa states, “ I encourage my staff to try a new tea on each shift; that way they can give personal recommendations as well make their way through all 200 varieties.”

After exploring a number of the different teas on offer, I ended up deciding upon a black-green tea blend called “Roxie’s Passion” at the recommendation of a staff member. This blend includes black tea, green tea, papaya cubes, rosehip peel, flavoring and sunflower blossoms. Since it is summer, and has been hot out, I opted to have Roxie’s Passion brewed iced.  The tea arrived at my table in a to-go cup and was a pretty golden peach color. The flavor was even better. The tea tastes of a nice, smooth traditional black tea, except slightly lighter, perhaps because of the green tea that was also in the brew. There were fruity notes, such as peach and passion fruit, in the tea that made it even more delicious. In addition, the tea shop sells quite a few desserts and tea sandwiches, which can be hard to find nowadays. I didn’t sample any of these goodies myself, but they looked pretty tasty.

IMG_1812While Savrika Tea is Rupa’s first foray into selling tea on her own, it is not her first experience with tea. According to Rupa:

As far back as I can remember, tea was always around and part of my life.  When we had guests, my Mom would bring out the nicer teapots.  At parties, chai was always the last item served.  When we’d go on vacations, my parents would stop the car for afternoon tea time. It didn’t matter where we were, but the tea break came to be expected. It was the tradition that followed from India to their new country, from their parents’ houses to our home, and now to my home and business.

Since tea has long been a part of Rupa’s life, she decided she would combine another important aspect of her background, her Indian heritage, into the store. As such, “the base of the [store’s] name is ‘Sarika,’ which is a Sanskrit woman’s name meaning beauty in nature. I added the ‘v’ to make it Savrika – wholly mine and unique, but with an Indian base. “

IMG_1823Savrika Tea is rapidly approaching its second birthday; the store opened its doors in September of 2012, and shows no signs of slowing down. Even on a Wednesday afternoon, when I visited, there were quite a few people in the shop sipping tea while reading or working on their computers. Besides selling tea, Rupa offers frequent tea tastings and classes so customers interested in learning more about tea have the opportunity to do so. It seems the abundance of knowledge Rupa provides her customers is likely what makes Savirka Tea so successful. Rupa said it best when she stated, “I have no agenda except to provide high-quality tea and perhaps educate customers along the way.”

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Review of High Tea on an Alaskan Cruise

premium teaThe end of May and the beginning of June are not only the beginning of the camping and backpacking season for many people, but they are also the start of the summer vacation season. While many people in the greater Seattle area travel to warmer climes, another popular vacation destination is Alaska. After all, Alaska is considered part of the Pacific Northwest, albeit a very far northern part of it. In fact, a few of our other crew members have already made the trek, so I decided it was my turn and booked myself on a cruise. Besides, in addition to getting to explore the beautiful scenery, I thought it would be a great chance to check out the coffee and tea scene up north.

Before I left on my trip, a few of my co-workers gave me some advice on things to do while traveling. One of the most important pieces being to make sure to see if my cruise ship offered high tea on of the days during the trip. Once I was onboard, I glanced at the schedule and was excited to find that there indeed was a high tea planned for the next day and made a note to attend.

tea treatsTo my surprise and delight, the tea was far fancier than I expected. Arrayed on at least two-dozen, if not more, platters were hundreds of sweet and savory teatime goodies. These treats included sandwiches made with smoked salmon, cucumber, prosciutto, turkey and roast beef combined with either cream cheese or mayonnaise. In addition, there were a variety of muffins, breads, éclairs, brownies, cookies, cakes, tarts and fruit. There was even a snack that was new to me for teatime – biscuits and gravy! Behind this gigantic spread of food were six beautifully hand-carved watermelons and an ice sculpture of a windmill. In short, the display was stunning.

With so many different snacks available, it was difficult to take them all in, let alone decide which ones to sample. After much deliberation, I ended up picking up a salmon sandwich, cucumber sandwich, éclair, fruit tart and a chocolate covered strawberry. All of which were very tasty. The tea served, although good, wasn’t quite as impressive as the food. The tea was a pretty common brand that you could likely find at your local grocery store. However, I did pick up a little secret for others that also prefer to have premium teas at teatime. You can bring your own tea and brew it at your table. Hot water is readily available at every table, so all you need is your loose leaf tea and an infuser. The beauty of this approach is that you can use whatever travel brewer you prefer, be it a tea filter, a small tea infuser or travel tumbler. Even without this remedy, the high teas were definitely worth revisiting. There was one held at the same time each day of the cruise and some even had different themes, such as a cupcake tea.

Alaska Wild TeasWhile I wasn’t able to go to high tea every day, I did get a chance to check out some local Alaskan teas while I was on land. The brand of teas I stumbled upon is, not surprisingly, called “Alaska Wild Teas.” These teas are not “true teas” but are rather tisanes made out of a blend of wild Alaskan herbs, fruit and berries. Even though they aren’t true teas, they sure are tasty! The teas come in flavors like blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, wild rose and strawberry, and can be served hot or cold. I even brought some back home with me to continue to enjoy and share with friends and family.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and it was interesting to sample and learn about teas from another part of the country. Will you be traveling somewhere exotic this summer that will also allow you to partake in local coffee or teas? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House Review

Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee HouseWhen it comes to the oldest teahouses, the historical Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House probably has most other locations in the greater Seattle area beat. Built in 1910, the Panama Hotel is over 100 years old. However, the Panama Hotel wasn’t always a tea and coffee house, that particular feature was only added on in the past 15 years, around 1999. As the building’s name states, it was originally a hotel.

According to the historical information found on the website for the Panama Hotel, it was originally built by Sabro Ozasa, a Japanese Architect and graduate of the University of Washington. The hotel was built as a “workingman’s” hotel and has served as a home for generations of Japanese immigrants, fisherman and international travelers. One of the most notable features of the Panama Hotel is the bathhouse found in the basement that was a huge part of the Japanese community before World War II. In fact, it was this bathhouse that attracted many of the hotel’s visitors in the early 1990s, as it was a place to relax after work with their friends. Interestingly, the bathhouse is now the only remaining Japanese bathhouse left intact in the United States, which you can arrange to tour when you visit the Panama Hotel or Tea and Coffee House.

The Panama Hotel itself is still in existence, and unlike the bathhouse, the hotel rooms are still serviceable, so you can stay in one the next time you visit. However, while the Panama Hotel has interesting background, part of the building’s history is bittersweet. Just 31 years into the hotel’s lifespan, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sending thousands of people of Japanese decent to internment camps in 1942. These families were only allowed to bring what they could carry with them to these camps, so a lot was left behind. However, many people also turned to friends they knew that had a lot of space, and asked if they could store their belongings with them. This is how the former owner of the Panama Hotel, Takashi Hori and his family, came to have the possessions from a number of Japanese families stored in his basement. Sadly, many of the belongings were never claimed after the war ended in 1945.

Peach teaAs a result, many of these belongings now decorate the Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House, providing a look back at the first couple of decades in the 1900s. In keeping with the historical feel of the hotel, the cafe has an old and unique design. There is a lot of exposed wood and brick, black and white pictures of Japantown prior to WWII cover the walls and there is even a window in the floor that allows you to look into the basement where the possessions were stored.

Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to talk to the current owner of the Panama Hotel, Jan Johnson, to find out how she came to own the hotel or what inspired her to add a tea house to the building. However, I did take advantage of the opportunity to sample their tea. I stuck with my usual white tea for this review, and tried one called Peach Blossom. My tea arrived in a glass mug with a net-like infuser full of nearly whole tea leaves. I immediately fell in love with the smell wafting from the cup; it smelled very sweet, like peach nectar or juice – perfect for spring! After the tea had steeped for about three to four minutes, I decided to go ahead and try it out. The flavor was very light, I tasted mostly peach (much like the smell) but the tea had a few floral notes as well. This tea is definitely one of the best ones I have tasted by far, and will definitely have to return for another cup in the future.

I couldn’t let my tea go unaccompanied, so I sampled the Panini Panama. This Panini is made with cheese, tomatoes, artichokes, roasted red peppers, olive tapenade and seasoned with basil and other spices. Just the smell alone made my mouth start to water all over again. Of course, it was excellent, and tasted like a veggie pizza but in sandwich form. Besides tea and Paninis, the shop serves pastries and traditional Japanese desserts like mochi and manju. If you come between 6-8 pm you can also get a tea based cocktail. While the focus of the café is primarily on tea, the café also serves Lavazza coffee and espresso based drinks for all you coffee lovers out there.

SandwichPerhaps it is the old-timey feel of this café, but time simply seems to slow down at the Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House. The slower pace and laid back atmosphere makes this a great place to relax and soak in some Seattle history. The latter of which makes this café a nice spot to take visitors, since it is one of the few places in the area where you can get a history lesson along with your cup of tea.

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Baicha Tea Room Review

Baicha Tea RoomOn a recent quest to find teahouses outside of Seattle proper, and explore lesser-known opportunities for delicious tea, I stumbled upon Baicha Tea Room in Edmonds. This city, which is north of Seattle, has always been full of coffee shops, but actual teahouses have been few and far between. As such, I was excited to discover that there now was one in the area and to get a chance to visit one of our “neighbors.”

Located a few blocks down from the heart of Edmonds, Baicha may be slightly challenging to find if you haven’t heard of it before. However, this hidden gem is definitely worth the trek. According to Ann Budharaksa, who owns the store with her husband Joe, Baicha sells 90 different teas, which include white, green, oolong, black, blooming and flavored and scented teas. Ann and Joe have also concocted some tasty sounding tea lattes and smoothies, the latter of which I’ll have to come back and try once it starts to get warmer. However, Ann says the shop’s most popular teas are their specialty wellness blends that have been created to help alleviate colds, stomach aches, joint pain, hangovers and even skin problems. In fact, Ann and the rest of the staff are more than happy to help recommend a tea to help cure what ails you.

IMG_1314I had the opportunity to talk to Ann further, and she explained that they opened Baicha, which means tea leaf in their native Thai, because her husband was interested in tea and wanted to get into the business. It is not only Joe that enjoys tea though; Ann says she drinks tea every day, varying the type depending on what her mood is. The tea room has been open for a little over three years, as it had its grand opening on the auspicious day of 11/11/2011.  The day must have been lucky indeed, since they have been doing well ever since, with people frequently coming in to study, work just to meet a friend for breakfast or lunch. According to Ann, the store is busiest on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the peak times being from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. This makes sense since the shop serves breakfast and brunch all day as well as soups, salads, paninis and traditional tea sandwiches.

Tea sandwiches can be surprisingly hard to find at even some tea houses, so I tried a plate of the cucumber parsley cream cheese ones. They were delicious, and came with seasonal fruit (in this case a bowl of strawberries) and chips. I had tea too, of course, and sampled the Pai Mu Tan or “white peony,” which is a white tea. The tea was served in a Bodum glass and infuser, and came with a sand timer so I knew how long to let the tea steep before drinking. When the tea was done steeping, it was a light yellow color and had sweet, floral flavor with a hint of peach.

IMG_1321After snacking on the sandwiches and tea, I decided to check out the rest of the shop at Ann’s urging. The main entrance, and upstairs, of the tea house is where you’ll find the counter for ordering tea and food, as well as a long bar that runs nearly the length of it, where you can sit and sip some tea. Although the upstairs is fairly small, there is also plenty of seating along the windows as well. However, as Ann pointed out, the downstairs area of the store is really what makes the tea shop unique. The space is surprisingly large, especially when compared with the upstairs, and is somewhat unexpected. In fact, the downstairs is large enough to house three rooms; a large room with a long table that would be great for meetings or studying, medium-sized room with cozy couches and a fireplace and a small side room with a fish tank and love seat. The décor in the rooms is modern, with an Asian feel. There are also canvases with pictures of tea or tea kettles hanging on the lightly colored walls that lend a calming vibe to the space. Every room looked so inviting, I actually had a hard time choosing where to sit. With so many options for seating, tea and food, it is no wonder so many people have made this tea room their secret spot for relaxing and hanging out. I just may have to make Baicha Tea Room my secret hideaway as well.