Category Archives: Automatic

SCG’s Most Popular Coffee Gear – 2012

Even if you don’t buy into New Year’s resolutions, there’s nothing wrong with thinking about little ways to improve your quality of life and that of those around you. (We know what you’re like without your morning coffee. It’s okay, this is a safe place.) Why not start with a commitment to make better coffee in 2013? Here’s a list our best selling gear from last year to help you get started!

new-years-resolution coaster

Under $500
Saeco Aroma Black – $229 Stainless Steel – $259
Compact and durable, the Aroma is a great entry-level espresso machine. It’s extremely easy to use, and the pressurized portafilter and included pod adapter will have you brewing with E.S.E. pods, pre-ground espresso, or freshly ground beans with ease.

Saeco Via Venezia Black – $299 Stainless Steel – $349
The Via Venezia and Aroma share the same internals therefore they function almost identically, but the Via Venezia offers some slight improvements: larger capacity water reservoir (98 oz), steam wand with more mobility, and more clearance between the drip tray and brew head so you can brew into larger cups. This little workhorse will keep you caffeinated with no problems.

Breville Infuser BES840XL – $499.95
The Infuser is the only espresso machine in this price range to offer an internal PID, and while it’s not programmable, it stabilizes the brew temperature for perfect shot extraction. With built-in pre-infusion, commercial style steam wand, and compact stainless casing, you’ll be proud to have this on your counter top.

Under $1000
Rancilio Silvia – $629 with PID – $879
Simple, reliable, durable. The Silvia is one of the best sellers in the home espresso market and it’s a great machine on which to hone your craft since you’ll need to be precise with your grind and tamp. Upgrade to the installed PID version for programmable temperature control.

Saeco Syntia SS Superautomatic – $849
The Syntia is a compact and stylish superauto that offers the convenience of automatic espresso brewing paired with manual milk steaming – perfect for folks who order extra-hot lattes. With Saeco’s removable brew group and Intenza water filter system, it’s also easy to maintain and a great option for those who need a little extra help in the morning. ☺

Crossland CC1 – $699 (now 10% off!)
A PID comes standard with this single boiler, which let’s you customize brew and steam temperature, pre-infusion time, and volume. We love the stainless steel casing, thermo-block enhanced steam to switch quickly between brewing and steaming, and the programmability for this price point.

Under $1500
Breville Double Boiler – $1199.95
When you’re ready to brew and steam simultaneously, you’re ready for this bad boy. With an easy to use interface, you can program the electronic PID with extraction temperatures, volumetric control, and pre-infusion duration.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar – $1050
If you think you need a dual boiler for simultaneous brewing and steaming, think again. Heat exchangers like the Oscar provide similar benefits at a lower price point. This machine has great steam pressure, a large water reservoir, and is also available as a direct connect machine. It’s available in a sexy metallic red as well – vroom vroom.

DeLonghi 23450SL -$1499.95
This is one of DeLonghi’s newer superautomatics on the market, and if you are a bleary eyed zombie before your morning java, you will appreciate its one-touch functionality. It produces some of the hottest coffee we’ve seen from superautos.

Under $2000
Saeco Exprelia -$1899
This one-touch dual boiler is streamlined and compact, and we love that if offers both one-touch functionality for auto-frothing milk or manual steaming with a stainless steel steam wand – no panarellos here. Right now we are offering a year’s supply of coffee with the purchase of a new Exprelia!

Rocket Cellini Premium Plus – $1799 Giotto Premium Plus – $1899
Hand craftsmanship, a commercial grade E61 brew head and high polished stainless steel seduce many an espresso lover to bring the Cellini or Giotto Premium Plus into their lives. You’ll be extracting delicious shots and impressing all your friends with this one.

Sky’s the Limit
Rocket R58 – $2699
You’re ready to take it to the next level with this powerhouse. The dual boilers work independently to stabilize the espresso boiler, and maximize steam pressure without compromising shot quality.

Saeco Xelsis – $2999 or Xelsis ID – $3199
The only thing missing from these superautomatics is the ability for them to read your mind…coming in 2015 (Just kidding!) Right now you’ll have to be satisfied with the ID’s fingerprint recognition technology to access your drink profile and create beverages at the touch of a button.

Izzo Alex Duetto II – $2250 Duetto III – $2495
This dual boiler has commercial quality components, electronic PID control, and the option to plumb into your water line. It’s new older brother, the Duetto III offers an upgraded fit and finish, larger drip tray, and stainless steel cup rails. Both solid performers can take your java to the next level.

The Reluctant Barista: Xelsis SS One Touch Espresso Machine

xelsisIs there more than one coffee drinker at your place? How do you decide on an espresso machine that works for everyone? For this review I enlisted my significantly caffeinated other, Chris, to take a look at the superautomatic Saeco Xelsis One Touch for home use. [Ulterior motive alert! It’s holiday time and mama wants a new espresso machine.]

First off, Kat and Gail’s video covers how quick and easy it is to make drinks and to clean up on the Xelsis.  I brought Chris into the Seattle Coffee Gear store in Lynnwood to show him the features and hopefully win him over with one-touch espresso.

The Xelsis is a really attractive machine, something we wouldn’t mind leaving on the countertop.  Our upper cabinets are 18 inches from the counter and the Xelsis is 15 inches tall, which means I’d have to scooch it out to refill the water tank. It has a good size water reservoir, but I use fresh filtered water each time as Gail has mentioned for best shot flavor.

We turned it on and the Xelsis menu buttons were easy to navigate. I placed a cup under the spout and turned the milk carafe spout to point into the pre-warmed cup as well. After pushing the cappuccino button, hot frothed milk filled the cup and then, after a brief pause, the espresso followed. I like mine a bit stronger so I added an extra espresso shot — at the push of a button!

Next, we used the attached steam wand and a frothing pitcher to see if we could get a latte with hotter milk and a finer microfoam than the milk carafe provides. This produced the type of latte we prefer but took more time and effort. There are also ways to dial in the shot flavor to your preferences on superautomatics, which Kat and Gail explore here.

We sipped our drinks and considered what factors were important to us.  We have a small semi-automatic at home now, which is not as quick to make drinks. This comes into play because Chris works early and does not always have time in the morning for a mid-week latte. Also, there is a little bit of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ since Kaylie has an Xelsis espresso machine at home.

What is important to you? For us it boils down to budget, time and milk foam quality. Your needs may vary. How does the Xelsis compare? It’s got stylish looks, a high quality build, an easy user interface that remembers how you like your favorite drink, great coffee quality and push button convenience. For us, a mid-level semi-auto and espresso grinder is more budget-friendly, though. Perhaps one that is compatible with E.S.E. espresso pods to save time on weekdays. As much as I really really really want a superautomatic, I will reluctantly — and with much complaining — continue pulling my own espresso shots (for now!).

Compare: Rancilio Silvia vs. Breville Infuser

When discussing small home espresso machines that can produce a great shot despite their diminutive frames, the well-known Rancilio Silvia is often compared against Breville’s newer upstart, the Infuser.

While the Silvia features several commercial-grade components backed by a design that is sometimes equated with a tank, the Infuser has features to spare and excellent temperature control. Choosing which one that is right for you is largely a virtue of longevity vs. precision — and price tag. While they’ll produce similar shots at the end of the day, the Infuser is more than $100 cheaper than the Silvia, so if you’re looking for something under $500, it may meet your budget a bit better.

In this video, Gail runs through their features and compares their functionality. Then she demonstrates making a latte on both so you can watch them in action.


Playing with Preinfusion on the Breville Dual Boiler

It’s fun to play with parameters! If you didn’t learn that in the 2nd grade, life has probably been pretty rough for you — but now is your time to shine.

One of the elements you can control on the Breville Dual Boiler is both the pre-infusion pressure and the duration prior to shot extraction. Factory setting is 60% of the overall pump pressure for 7 seconds, but what happens when you change the pressure? Or if you keep the pressure the same and change the timing? Of course, all coffee will react differently to these settings, so we decided to experiment with Equator’s Espresso Blend to see how making changes to this parameter affected the overall flavor of the shot.

Watch Gail try different pressures and different pre-infusion times to determine if the factory settings are the best bet for Equator Espresso.

The Reluctant Barista: Jura J9 One Touch TFT Superautomatic

Fast forward…one month later and my budding barista skills are still negligible. Secretly, when the SCG Crew isn’t looking, I use superautomatic espresso machines! Muahahaha! I’m such a rebel. Until my hand-pulled espresso shots improve, I am happy to ‘push button, receive coffee.’ Please meet my new best friend: The Jura Impressa J9 One Touch TFT superautomatic espresso machine that does all the work for me!

Although there is a video guide available for the Jura J9 that covers all of the features, this time I went in cold turkey. I punched buttons just to see what happened. On the top of this stylish silver espresso machine was the power button and a rotary dial. I double-checked the water reservoir on the side and the bean hopper in the back. It took 58 seconds from ‘on’ to ‘ready.’ The color display panel then listed six drink choices, while the rotary dial on top toggled the strength and volume of the drinks.

I did not realize the Jura slogan Never-Move-The-Cup meant that I needed to position the cup under the milk/coffee spout on the left. Lights illuminated where to put the cup, but no, my cup was under the espresso spout in the center when my cappuccino poured forth into the ample drip tray.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That was clearly a case of user error. My only legitimate complaint was the cup clearance, while adjustable up to 5 inches, would not fit my Monday Mug — a Bodum behemoth. Although I have seen SCG Crew members remove the drip tray grate to accommodate taller cups, this drip tray did not have an even surface on the bottom to rest the cup.

I pushed all of the buttons in turn and received: A cappuccino, a latte macchiato, an espresso, plain coffee, along with milk and water options. Very scientifically I stuck my finger in the hot water as it streamed out. Oh yes, it was boiling! Like other superautomatic espresso machines with automatic frothing, the milk did not get as hot or as frothy as I prefer. [Pro-Tip: Warm your cup first to keep your drink hot longer.] And although the machine self-rinses the milk spout, it does not rinse the tube between the included stainless steel thermal milk container and the machine.

The pre-set drinks were all good and can be further customized. I used Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean, which will work well in any superautomatic espresso machine. Much like Goldilocks, none of the creations were to my exact taste so I did some tinkering and eventually landed on a delicious combination of a 6 ounce coffee pour with a 1.5 ounce espresso shot in the same cup — a drink that is known throughout the world under several different names … A Shot in the Dark, Red Eye, Depth Charge, Sludge Cup or by my favorite moniker, Mother Of All Coffee.

Who else besides me, the Reluctant Barista would want a Jura J9 superautomatic coffee robot to make her drink? I imagine anyone who wants to save time (it’s faster than a trip to the espresso drive-thru,) or receive better coffee than their current skill level allows (me!) or who wants a variety of people to be comfortable making consistent and delicious drinks on an easy to use machine (in an office setting or the SCG break room, for instance).

Crew Review: Breville Cleaning & Maintenance Supplies

Given that she had to coerce us into cleaning our bedroom by rather surreptitiously hiding small change in the corners (and encouraging us to ‘find what the fairies left!’), our mother would be quite relieved to know of our passion for cleanliness in adulthood! And while you won’t find nickels and dimes in the brew head or the water tank — at least, you shouldn’t — Breville’s maintenance supplies make it easy and almost as fun to keep your espresso machine clean.

First, watch as Gail shows us how to use their cleaning tablets to clean the brew head of the Breville Dual Boiler.

She then discusses their charcoal/resin filters, shows how to install them and explains why they’re necessary — especially with the Dual Boiler.

Selecting a Commercial-Grade Espresso Machine

You wake up one morning and think, I want to open up my own cafe! Or perhaps you’re already running a small business and you want to add espresso as a complementary service. Or you’re the operations manager at your company and you think espresso in the break room would be an awesome idea. But how do you choose from the plethora of machines available? Do you need a one group, two group — four group?! — machine? What do the terms ‘semi-automatic’, ‘automatic’ and ‘volumetric’ mean in terms of actual functionality and your business’ workflow?

In this overview, Gail walks us through a few things you should consider as you’re researching commercial espresso machines. She discusses how to plan for your busiest times, your budget, your workflow needs and — of course! — grinders! If you’re just getting started and don’t know where to start, this video primer is the place for you.

The Reluctant Barista: Crossland CC1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compare: Heat Exchange Espresso Machines

Heat exchange espresso machines offer simultaneous brew and steam functionality by employing a large steam boiler with an embedded brew boiler and a dual pump. They’re easy to use and work well for the majority of home espresso enthusiasts who aren’t interested in dialing in and playing around with different temperatures.

In this video, Gail explains to us what a heat exchanger is and how it works, then talks to us about models from Pasquini, Rocket Espresso and Nuova Simonelli.

Compare: Double Boiler Espresso Machines

It’s time to get serious people.

If you want to make excellent espresso drinks at home, a double boiler machine allows you to demonstrate both your dedication to the cause and your enviable skills. Featuring separate boilers for steaming and brewing, these machines offer excellent temperature control and simultaneous brew/steam functionality.

In this video, Gail talks to us about four different models — the Rocket Espresso R58, Izzo Alex Duetto II, La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi II and Breville Dual Boiler — including their features, pros & cons and why you might purchase one model over another.