Category Archives: Automatic

Crew Review: Saeco Gran Baristo Espresso Machine with Removable Bean Container

We’re pretty over the moon, crazily thrilled to introduce the Saeco Gran Baristo Espresso Machine with Removable Bean Container. We realize that’s a really long product name, so let Saeco Gran Baristous point out the really important part: “with removable bean hopper.” Ummmm, yes please!

We’re really excited about it, as you may have been able to tell from the first sentence of this post, but what does this mean in practical terms? Well, you can now have multiple, whole bean blends at the ready to switch up your espresso routine. As we all know, fresh ground coffee creates the best tasting shot, so you can officially say “goodbye” to a pre-ground alternate. Though the bypass doser option technically still exists with the Gran Baristo, so you can really go wild with your on-hand bean selections! Extra bonus points for the coffee empty cycle, which grinds through the leftover beans in the grinder chute, allowing your next shot to be the blend that is currently in your hopper.

There are about nine other things about this machine that we’re in love with, but we don’t want you to doze while we ramble. So, without further ado, a Crew Review to answer all of your burning questions about the new Saeco Gran Baristo!

Espresso Shot Comparison: Breville Dual Boiler v. Rocket Espresso R58

Espresso Shot ComparisonLining up a couple of espresso machines and comparing them against each other in terms of functional features, technology and build quality is one way of determining which machine is the best fit for your particular needs. Another tactic is a straight up espresso shot comparison — holding a practical, blind taste test between machines to see if you can taste a difference in the shot glass.

In response to a viewer requesting that we compare the Breville Dual Boiler against a machine with an E61 brew group, we asked Gail to setup the Rocket Espresso R58, dial both of the machines in using a Mazzer Mini coffee grinder, then pull shots simultaneously. Next, two willing volunteers from our Bellevue retail store, Michael and Kevin, donated their tastebuds to the cause and they gave us their opinion on how the shots compared, flavor-wise.

Ever wonder how the Breville’s brew head technology measures up against the classic, tried-and-true E61? Watch this fun video to see how they compared this time! Of course, the coffee you use will definitely play a part in this equation, and you could go further with this by performing several blind taste tests in a row and then averaging the opinions, but here’s our first stab. Enjoy!

Espresso Shot Comparison: Breville Dual Boiler v. Rocket Espresso R58

The Reluctant Barista: Milk Frothing Madness

Milk Frothing TechniqueHow many how-to-froth-milk videos have you watched? They make it look so easy! While my espresso shots are really improving, I still have a hard time getting milk to the right consistency for a perfect latte. My lack of consistent consistency makes me a little grumpy…even mad. If frothing milk makes you grumpy too, then follow along as I try to de-mystify microfoam. It is time for FROTHING MADNESS!

First things first, while you can use the words froth and foam interchangeably, what we are after is the ever elusive microfoam. The manner in which milk is heated produces different results. Microfoam is smooth and velvety with a texture almost like wet paint because very tiny bubbles are incorporated evenly throughout the liquid. The foam I most often produce is heated milk with a bubbly volcano of erupted meringue dolloped on top. This is not microfoam.

The more you practice on one home espresso machine, the more you get to know the timing involved. This is one of my problems. I froth milk on different machines. Teri in customer service tried to console me. She said, “just when you thought you had steaming down on one machine, you try another machine and it steams totally different! …or someone changes your steam tip from a two-hole to a four-hole!” (Which totally happens around here but probably doesn’t happen at your house.)

You are probably familiar with the basics of milk frothing:

  • Start with a chilled stainless steel milk frothing pitcher and cold milk.
  • Submerge the steam wand, start to froth, then lower the pitcher until just the steam tip is submerged. The milk should move in a circular pattern.
  • Plunge the wand lower into the pitcher and continue to roll the milk.
  • Stop at your desired temperature.

While this sounds well and good, let’s explore how this works in real-life situations with three very different home espresso machines. Armed with some additional tricks from my barista friends, we can learn together!

Rocket EvoluzioneRocket Giotto EvoluzioneA heat exchanger espresso machine with a large 60oz boiler

Espresso machine repair tech, Bryan, gave me some great advice. First, whole milk froths best. Second, on a larger espresso machine like this one, plunge the wand a few seconds sooner than you think it will take. It only took 35 seconds to froth 6 ounces of milk to 165F. I found this out the hard way because at 40 seconds it was up to 170F and the milk smelled scalded. Because it happens so fast, it is hard to make adjustments. I grabbed a gallon of milk and kept trying until I got it just right.

Breville InfuserBreville InfuserA home espresso machine with a thermoblock

Matthew Hodson, a Seattle-area professional barista, shared this via Twitter “Experiment to find the spot where the milk and foam spin in a whirlpool and integrate. Only aerate briefly (count 1,2,3 quickly) and then spend the rest of the time integrating with the whirlpool.” It took 1:15 to get 6 ounces of milk to 165F. This was enough time to experiment with different adjustments. With some extra time and careful attention spent tilting and pivoting the frothing pitcher around the steam wand, this technique produced good results.

Saeco Via VeneziaSaeco Via VeneziaA single boiler with less than 8oz capacity

To get quality milk frothing from a smaller espresso machine requires every trick in the book. Make sure the espresso machine is on and pre-heated. Clear the steam wand (or in this case the panarello) into the drip tray until it is all steam with no water. Note where the air intake hole is on the panarello sleeve and keep it even with the level of the milk in the pitcher, not above or below. Froth one drink at a time, in this case 6 ounces took 1 minute to steam but was still very bubbly.

Lastly, Miranda in customer service told me you can try to “fix” milk frothing madness by softly tapping the frothing pitcher on the counter and swirling it in a circle repeatedly to try to eliminate big bubbles and incorporate the little bubbles back into the mix. Don’t try to re-heat or re-froth the milk. When all else fails keep these two important adages in mind,
1) Don’t cry over spilt milk
2) Tis a lesson you should heed, If at first you don’t succeed, Try try again.

Rocket Espresso Steam Tips

Compare: Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

After many requests, we were finally able to get all of our dual boiler espresso machines in the same place at the same time — these guys have very busy schedules! But once we cornered a La Marzocco GS/3, Rocket Espresso R58 and Breville BES900XL at our Bellevue retail location, Gail made short work of a very thorough comparison.

First off you may be wondering why you’d choose a dual boiler machine to begin with. One of the primary benefits they offer is that you can control the temperature of the brew boiler independent of the steam boiler’s function. You can also brew and steam at the same time, producing cafe-quality lattes and cappuccinos in a snap. Each of the dual boiler machines we carry offer something a little bit different … here’s a quick overview:

La Marzocco GS/3 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

La Marzocco GS/3

Originally designed by La Marzocco for roasters to use to test their espresso roasts, the smallish stature yet commercial grade components have made the GS/3 a sought-after home espresso machine for truly committed enthusiasts. Because it technically is a commercial machine, and can be used in very low volume commercial environments, its shot and steaming performance is most like that of a much larger pro model. The steaming is fierce and forthright, the shot temperature consistent throughout and it features an internal reservoir or plumb-in option. This is the machine for those that appreciate high quality with a little brand cachet.

Rocket R58 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

Rocket Espresso R58

The R58, on the other hand, is a decidedly home-oriented espresso machine with commercial-grade components. Featuring an E61 brew head, a removable PID interface and an exceptionally polished stainless steel case design, it also has a convertible water source and a large steam boiler. While the GS/3 will steam your milk a bit faster, the R58 does enable you to work your milk a little bit, which is perfect for those with mid-range milk frothing skills. If you love the look of polished stainless steel and want a machine that recalls the classic design of early espresso machines, the R58 is a solid choice.

Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

Breville Dual Boiler

Finally, we have the BES900XL, which is Breville’s entry into the dual boiler ring. Like their entire suite of products, this espresso machine is designed from a home appliance perspective — smaller footprint, increased ease of use and some people-friendly elements like an integrated storage tray and the ability to move the machine around on a wheel that’s integrated into the bottom. It has the smallest boiler set of the trio, making its steaming functionality much slower, which can be great news to anyone just learning how to make the fine micro foam necessary for latte art. It’s also the most budget-conscious of the lot, so definitely a great choice for folks who don’t want to drop a few thousand bucks for an espresso machine.

Want to learn more? Watch as Gail gives us a detailed feature and spec overview of each machine, then demonstrates how they perform by making us lattes. If you’ve been curious about these models or the benefits of a dual boiler espresso machine, this video should answer most of your questions.

SCG Compare: Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

Espresso Machine Compare: Pasquini Livia G4 vs. Rocket Giotto Evoluzione

Espresso Machine Comparison - Rocket Giotto vs. Pasquini Livia G4Selecting the right prosumer-grade espresso machine for you can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. With so much gleaming stainless steel and commercial-class components, how do you determine which model is worth your investment?

Take the Livia G4 and Giotto Evoluzione, for example: These are two heat exchange espresso machines, which allow you to brew and steam at the same time, that have polished stainless steel cases and are designed to work on the 15 amp, 110 power circuits most often found in home kitchens.

Feature-wise, the Livia G4 comes in a few different configurations — a traditional semi-automatic, a semi-automatic with a PID and an automatic with a PID. The two models that incorporate a PID enable you to control the steam boiler’s temperature, which will in turn affect the water in the heat exchange that is delivered to the brew head. Pasquini designed it to also incorporate a thermoblock at the brew head, producing a consistent brew temperature while not requiring an upgrade in the machine’s power requirements.

The Giotto Evoluzione, on the other hand, is simple yet refined: A traditional semi-automatic with an E61 brew-head and the ability to either use the internal water reservoir or plumb it in to your home’s water supply. While it doesn’t have any programming options, the brew head design and heat exchange technology produce a consistent brew temperature, backed by a very hearty steam boiler.

Watch as Teri guides us through a detailed overview of the features and specs of each machine, then demonstrates how they compare, performance-wise.

Compare: Pasquini Livia G4 vs. Rocket Espresso Giotto Evoluzione

Livia G4 vs. Musica Espresso Machines

Livia G4 vs. Musica Espresso MachinesWhen you’re dropping a couple thousand bucks on an espresso machine, your choices generally involve models with a more luxe approach to style and design, replete with commercial-grade components and sophisticated functionality. But beneath the heavy use of polished stainless steel and chrome-plated brass, these prosumer-class espresso machines feature different technical specifications that speak to the specific manufacturer’s method of getting to the same goal: You, making excellent espresso-based drinks for everyone you know.

And because you know we have a deep, abiding love for a grudge match, we’re pitting two more pieces of coffee gear against each other, for fun and profit! In the left corner, we have the Livia G4 Auto with PID by Pasquini and, in the right, we have a Nuova Simonelli Musica. While these are two Italian heat exchange espresso machines with commercial-class build quality, they have some pretty big functional differences.

First, the Livia G4 is available in a few configurations (semi-auto, semi-auto with PID and auto with PID) while the Musica is a simple, straightforward heat exchange with no temperature control options. Next, the Musica has proprietary brew head temperature regulation that produces some of the best no fuss, no muss espresso shots we’ve ever had, yet the Livia G4’s unique internal technical design (on the auto, its heat exchange is controlled by a PID and a thermoblock at the brew head maintains a consistent brew temp) means that you can play with how different brew temperatures affect your coffee. Finally, the Livia’s steam functionality, while strong, is a little more tame than what the Musica produces, giving it an edge to folks that are learning how to steam and texture milk.

Want to learn more about these two espresso machines? Watch as Teri gives us functional overview, then shows us how they compare, performance-wise.

SCG Compares: Pasquini Livia G4 v. Nuova Simonelli Musica Espresso Machines

Crew Review: Breville Colors

Breville ColorsEvery time we walk into a recently built or remodeled kitchen, we’re immediately struck by the drab uniformity of brushed stainless steel. We definitely think it has a place when it comes to certain large appliances like your stove or refrigerator, but if you have the opportunity to give your kitchen a little pop of color or deep accent, why not go for it?

Breville was picking up what we’re laying down because, after years of brushed stainless finishes on their popular suite of products, they’ve introduced a little variety into the mix. Enter Black Sesame and Cranberry versions of the Barista Express, Infuser and Smart Grinder. Functioning in the exact same way as their silvery counterparts, these gem-like versions will give your kitchen a possibly much-needed counterpoint. In addition to their gleaming, painted metal finishes, they also sport a polished stainless steel front that gives them even more pop — and eye candy!

If you’ve been interested in their machines but have wished for some style variety, then perhaps these new, limitedly-available hues will fit your bill. Watch as Gail shows them off.

Crew Review: Breville Colors

Crew Review: Pasquini Livia G4 Auto with PID

Pasquini Livia G4 Auto with PIDWhile we’ve seen PIDs implemented on heat exchange espresso machines before (primarily as a method for managing the steam boiler’s pressure versus being able to effectively manage brew temperature,) the Pasquini Livia G4 also incorporates an additional thermoblock at the brew head so that you can actually manage the brew temperature. The PID interfaces with the steam boiler, which in turn affects the water in the heat exchange, supplying a thermoblock at the group head with pre-heated water. The result? Markedly improved temperature regulation and the ability to produce more consistent espresso shots.

The new LIvia G4 series also incorporates a few other changes: Expanded cup warming surface, weight-based water reservoir sensor, a super sexy portafilter and increased steaming functionality. It’s also available in three different formats — the standard Semi-Auto without a PID, a Semi-Auto with a PID and an Auto with a PID — so you can take advantage of some or all of the upgrades Pasquini has made to their Livia series.

Watch as Teri guides us through the features and tech specs, then takes it for a test drive by making some espresso and a cappuccino for the crew to enjoy.

Crew Review: Pasquini Livia G4 Auto with PID

How-To: Programming the Breville Infuser

Breville Infuser Espresso MachineIf we were going to anthropomorphize the Breville Infuser (BES840XL), we’re pretty sure its human counterpart is Gabby Douglas: Sleek, compact, multi-faceted and the best all-around performer in the group.

One of the features that it offers is automatic water dosing for your espresso extraction, which can take a bit of the guess work out of the process. But since programming the Breville Infuser isn’t as simple as measuring out exactly one or two ounces of water and then calling it a day, we asked Gail to guide us through the process.

Watch as she discusses with us how automatic dosing works, provides us with tips on getting the right shot volume and then shares her thoughts on why you’d want to do this. Whether you’ve been considering the Breville Infuser or already own it and just want to learn more, this how-to video dives a little deeper into one of its great, easy-to-use features.

Breville Compare: Barista Express vs. Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

Breville Compare - Barista Express vs. Dual BoilerHere’s a dirty little SCG secret: Sometimes, we’re a little shallow. We like pretty, shiny things and when we first began carrying Breville’s espresso machines, we did so only because, well, they were pretty and shiny. At the time, most of the more budget-conscious models were rockin’ plastic or powder coated metal cases, yet the Breville machines were lustrous, brushed stainless steel … and we totally went for it.

Sadly, in that first couple of years, we came to understand that their function did not measure up to their form and they just simply couldn’t get hot enough to produce a truly delicious espresso. With the release of their first version of the Barista Express (BES860XL), however, they started to address this temperature situation and haven’t looked back since.

Breville’s next entry into the home espresso enthusiast space was the beloved Dual Boiler (BES900XL) , which was a truly magnificent leap forward for the company in terms of temperature control and functionality. What they learned from developing that machine, they applied to the budget-friendly Infuser (BES840XL) about a year later, and what they learned from developing the Infuser, they then incorporated into the next iteration of the Barista Express (BES870XL): Namely, the thermocoil and PID temperature technology.

Since the new Barista Express has some great features like simple PID temperature control and an integrated grinder, folks often ask us how it compares to its larger, yet somewhat-similarly featured compatriot, the Dual Boiler. First off, of course, it’s got it’s own grinder and it doesn’t brew and steam at the same time like the Dual Boiler does, but there are a few other functional differences as well. The end cup of coffee, however, is remarkably similar … so it may just be your budget that casts the deciding vote.

Watch as Gail takes us through a feature and technology comparison of these two machines, then shows us how they perform side by side.