We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Temperature, temperature, temperature. For truly great espresso, there is a fine balance between too hot and not hot enough — and maintaining the temperature from portafilter to lips is very important. Oh yes, yes it is.
The first step is to let your machine warm up all the way; often, folks think that as soon as the light goes out (generally around 1 – 2 minutes after turning it on), the machine is ready to rock. Not so! In fact, all that means is that the machine has reached ideal boiler temperature, but all of the other parts of the machine have not, so if you pull espresso right at that time, the water is going to cool significantly as it travels through colder apparatus to reach your cup. Depending on your machine, we recommend waiting anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes to allow your machine to reach an even heat.
Next step is to pull some water through the system to warm up the brew head, the portafilter and — if it’s a heat exchange — the copper tubing that pulls water from the reservoir to the brew group. Let it run through and fully warm up all the metal components.
Finally, make sure you’re pulling into a preheated cup; you can easily preheat by using the cup as the container to catch the water you just pulled through the brew group, or you can keep your cups on top of your espresso machine and let them toast as your machine warms up.
Do you have any tips on how you maintain ideal temperature for your espresso extractions? Drop us a comment here if there’s something we didn’t cover that you think is essential.
With so many different kinds of espresso machines on the market, researching which is the best for you can sometimes feel like popping open a big ol’ can of worms. Superautomatic or semi-automatic? Single boiler, heat exchange or double boiler? Is the E61 brew group really that great?
Our goal here at Seattle Coffee Gear is to provide as complete of a picture as we can about as many machines as possible. We read through user reviews to develop general pros and cons, have our techs test out the machines, experiment with different grinders to see how they perform with different machines and, ultimately, drink way more coffee than we should. All of this informs our YouTube videos, the writing we do here, our product descriptions and — one of the best resources we have — our Selecting an Espresso Machine Video.
If you’re just learning about espresso machines and aren’t sure what will meet your needs and budget, this video is a great place to start. We’ve organized the different machine classes by price range and compared their performance against each other, so you can see technical facts like how hot they brew or which type of pump they have and more subjective assessments such as the ease of use or quality of shot.
We’re constantly updating and adding machines, so definitely check out updated Crew Review videos once you hone in on the right machine for you.
We’re all more conscientious these days about our environmental footprint — what we do every day and how that impacts the world around us — and our pocketbook. What started as a random inquiry every now and again eventually developed into a dull roar…people want to find a way to keep their fully intact machine out of a landfill.
So we developed our Recycling Program to fill this need: we will break it down into all of its components, reuse any parts that are still good and then recycle most of the rest.
If you’re interested in the program, just contact us and let us know the make, model, age and condition of your machine. We’ll get back to you on how to deliver your machine to us. Feel good when you choose a new, upgraded model that your old machine is still being green!
We sent Gail out on a little recon this past weekend, to the International Home & Housewares show in Chicago. Here’s what she’s reporting back:
Delonghi: Charity Auction
Delonghi had a few artists design different front panels for a limited edition Artista machine — only 5 of each design will be made. They plan to auction these babies off on eBay, with the proceeds benefiting Oxfam International. We’ll post an update here with photos and details once this goes live.
We wrote about this machine last week, and Gail had a chance to meet with this group at the show. No samples yet, but it is one of only two products at the show that are made with BPA-free plastic.
Handpresso in Color
One of our favorite gadgets for delicious espresso on the go, the Handpresso team has now added different colors to their available models, plus they’ve developed a travel pack that includes a thermos for hot water, 4 demitasse cups and a carrying case — we’re looking into adding some of these to the store.
On Chicago, and Her Cheap Date Ways
“I did go to a pub called Dublin last night and experienced quite a few characters. It was one of the local hang outs. Does that count? One guy bought a round for the bar, myself included. He was well lubed up. I had already had one beer and was quite full from that, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to choose my second poison. I hadn’t had much food all day so wandered out for chow. It was interesting and Chicago is pretty cool.”
The show ends tomorrow, so we’ll post a follow-up later this week with Gail’s final notes on the show and possibly photos of the grand event.
We admit it, we’re guilty. We thought that size did matter with regard to boilers on a semi-automatic espresso machine — namely, that two boilers was better than one. The hierarchy in our mind was:
- Single Boiler: From the Saeco Aroma to the Rancilio Silvia, the single boiler is a great little semi-automatic espresso machine that requires special attention to boiler temperature so that you’re brewing well below the steaming temp and not burning your espresso. With a single boiler, you’re not able to brew and steam at the same time — we recommend steaming first, then brewing.
- Heat Exchange: Instead of pulling your brewing and steaming water from the same vat, per se, heat exchangers like the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Quick Mill Andreja Premium transports fresh water from the reservoir through the boiler via a copper tube that is specifically designed in length and girth to heat the passing water to the optimum brewing temperature, not the steaming temperature. We are talking about a nearly 40F degree difference, so this improved temperature regulation significantly upgrades the espresso shot quality. This functionality also allows for simultaneous brew and steam.
- Double Boiler: Only a few models on the market, such as the La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi or Izzo Alex Duetto, feature absolutely separate boilers for steaming and brewing, which allows you to maintain disparate temperatures and brewing and steaming at the same time. You can generally program your preferred brew boiler temperature on these machines and, in the home espresso machine space, they generally feature a quicker recovery time than their heat exchange counterparts.
So, based on those assessments, you’d understand why we were confused by the more is better idea — that maintaining temperature is significantly easier when you’ve got two separate boilers doing their own thing.
However, in our recent research and education around the new line of commercial Faema machines we’re now carrying, we learned that our hierarchical view was incorrect — in fact, Italians haven’t been using double boiler technology for decades, believing that the heat exchange technology provides for significantly improved espresso due to one major reason: It’s alive!
Boiler water is considered ‘dead’ water because it’s sitting in a little metal unit cooking away. Over time, this results in a significantly increased alkaline content in the water (ah yes, that lovely scale we keep talking about so much) and a mineral imbalance in extraction. Basically, the flavor’s different.
Since heat exchange machines are continuously cycling fresh water through their siphoning system, they have an improved mineral balance and cannot become stale like the water in the double boilers might. So the flavor is significantly better and, therefore, preferred by connoisseurs the world over.
If you’re in the market for a ‘prosumer’ machine, this is definitely important information for you to mull over. Not only is the footprint smaller on a heat exchange machine vs. a double boiler, but it just might pull a better shot.
In the world of espresso machines, there are two different directions to take: Pump or steam. A lot of the machines we carry are pump driven and that’s pretty much the preferred method for quality espresso extraction, but we do carry a model that utilizes steam pressure and so we wanted to talk about why.
More than anything, our goal is to provide a wide selection of espresso and coffee related gear in a fairly vendor- and goal-agnostic environment. Whether you’re looking to artisan craft excellent espresso each morning or are simply interested in replacing your Starbucks habit, we want to be able to help you find the best tools to achieve your goal. We don’t judge, baby — we’re not snobs.
To that end, we added a DeLonghi coffee-and-espresso combination machine, which is a great solution for folks who battle it out for one type of java over the other in the morning. What may lack in ultimate taste is more than made up for in the convenience of a single unit.
Because these machines combine coffee and espresso makers, DeLonghi used steam pressure because of size and cost limitations. Utilizing one technology for both brewing coffee and pulling espresso makes for a sleeker design and a lower cost overall. But steam doesn’t get the same amount of pressure as a pump-driven machine and the steam pressure temp of 230-240F is well above the recommended espresso extraction temp of around 204F. The result? Burnt espresso.
Steam pressure is older technology and more affordable overall, so you will likely find it in some of the lower end espresso machines on the market. Just be aware of what you’re getting into — if price means more than flavor, steam pressure espresso machines may be the match for you.
Lime, calcium and other trace minerals exist in nearly every water supply, leaving behind white scaly deposits when the water has evaporated. Removing this scale on a regular basis is an essential component of any coffee maker or espresso machine maintenance regimen — even if you have ‘soft’ water, there will be trace amounts left over time that can build-up and hinder your machine’s performance.
Some folks suggest using filtered or distilled water from the get-go, so that you don’t risk pitting your boiler through repetitive use of the acid required to remove scale. That’s certainly one tack to take, but we’ve found that we prefer the taste of espresso made with water that has some mineral content to it. Because of that, we descale our machines about every three months to ensure that no deposits build up and ultimately burn out the boiler.
If you prefer minerals in your java as we do, there are a couple of products on the market that will help you keep your espresso machine or coffee maker in tip-top shape: Cleancaf or Dezcal. Which is better? Again, it depends on your preferences.
Billed as a cleaner and descaler, Cleancaf combines descaling acid with a detergent that will also break down the oils left behind by coffee beans. It also features a blue dye that helps with thorough rinsing.
Dezcal, on the other hand, is a straight-up descaler — and an incredibly powerful one at that. While it doesn’t have a detergent component, it’s a much stronger product and removes more scale; also, it doesn’t have a blue dye, which we think is a good thing.
Of the two, we recommend Dezcal over Cleancaf, but we carry both of them so you can determine which product is right for you.
We sell several semi-automatic espresso machines (such as the Saeco Aroma or Via Venezia, any of the Brevilles or DeLonghis that feature a pressurized portafilter basket. This is a major functional difference from other machines, like the Rancilio Silvia or Rocket Espresso semi-automatic espresso machines, which have non-pressurized baskets similar to commercial-grade machines. In the photo to the right, you can see the physical difference between a non-pressurized basket (on the left) and a pressurized basket (on the right).
OK, so they look different — but what do they do that’s different? Well, we think it’s all about forgiveness.
Continue reading Ask the Experts: What’s the Difference Between Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Filter Baskets?
We have read user reviews of the DeLonghi DCF210TTC and DCF212T drip coffee makers that have referenced issues with water on the counter top or coffee not brewing into the carafe mess-free. When a customer of ours came in the shop with a similar complaint, we decided to figure out what the cause of this issue is — and if there is any way to keep it from happening. After all, who wants a coffee pot that leaks all over the counter?
After experimenting a bit, we determined that it’s a carafe design issue: To ensure that the coffee brews directly into the pot, you need to make sure that the carafe is inserted with the spout lined up to the back of the machine. We have found that if the spout is off to the side, the carafe doesn’t trigger the water release correctly and ends up brewing outside of the pot and sometimes leaking water during the brew process.
A poor design issue? Possibly. But with a little bit of extra attention before each brew, it’s definitely easy to work around.
If you’re looking to rock like a pro barista, you need to perfect the art of microfoam — that glossy smooth steamed milk that makes latte art possible. It’s really not that difficult to pull off once you know the step-by-step process:
- Keep your steaming pitcher in the refrigerator/chilled
- Start with icy cold milk (about 34F degrees)
- Begin steaming by getting the milk to spin rapidly clockwise, then
work the surface of the milk for about 15 – 20 seconds in one of the
- Standard Steam Wand: Bring the tip of the steam wand to the top, so that it just barely breaks the surface to suck in air and milk
- Panarello Steam Wand: Submerge the wand so that the top of the
milk and the air intake slot or hole are even, allowing milk and air to
be drawn in evenly — if you submerged it above the air intake, you’ll
just steam the milk; if you submerge it well below the intake, you’ll
end up with fluffy, bubbly foam
- Plunge the steam wand all the way into the milk and then roll the milk for the remainder of the steam
- Temperature-wise, your milk should measure between 140F – 180F
degrees — if it’s too cold, it will be chalky; if it’s too hot, it
will be scalded
- Tap the pitcher on the counter to settle the milk and force any air bubbles to the top
- Prior to pouring, roll the milk slightly around the pitcher to
incorporate the foam and the milk. The milk should have a shiny, glassy
smooth surface that is free of any bubbles
- Pour to make your favorite latte art
More visually inclined? Check out our video.