If you’ve just picked up a new grinder or an espresso machine/grinder package and you’re wondering how to get it setup for that perfect shot extraction, check out this video. Gail shows us how to calibrate a grinder with an espresso machine and discusses tips for determining the extraction level and tweaking your puck.
A. Unfortunately, there is no standard setting for grinders and machines. Each grinder is going to be engineered a little bit differently, so while we could give you a rough estimate of the range, the best way to determine your grinder’s setting is to go through the calibration process.
To calibrate your grinder to your espresso machine, you need to time your shots. The standard timing for a double shot is between 25 – 30 seconds for two shot glasses filled to the 1.5 oz line. When you initiate your shot, you want the extraction to begin 7 – 10 seconds after, and then the espresso should run smoothly into the shot glasses until they’re full at that 25 – 30 second range. Note that this is for a standard shot and there are other shot styles out there (ristretto or luongo) that have shorter or longer extraction timeframes. For the purposes of calibration, however, we’ll stick with the standard.
Start with your grinder in a lower end setting — for stepped grinders, maybe start around 5 or 10. Grind and tamp and then time the shot: If it’s coming out too slowly, you know your grind is too fine and you’ll need to make it courser; if it’s coming out too quickly, then the converse is true and you’ll need to make that too-course grind finer. Keep an eye on your tamp because that could also being affecting it — too hard means too slow, too soft means too fast.
Continue to experiment until your shot extraction occurs within the standard timeframe. Once you have calibrated your grinder to produce a shot at the rate and consistency described above, make a note of it. This is something that will need to be tweaked regularly — especially if you live somewhere with extreme temperature fluctuations throughout the year, as the environment and weather will impact the nature of the bean. You’ll also need to recalibrate if you try different beans, as they will have unique grind requirements.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that calibrating and getting familiar with your grind is a crucial element to producing delicious espresso, so don’t be afraid to experiment or change it often! Espresso is as much art as it is science — tweak it to your individual preferences, regardless of any tenets you may read elsewhere…after all, isn’t that why you decided to make espresso at home in the first place?
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’re all looking for ways to stretch our loot a little further these days. Keeping your home espresso machine in excellent condition means you can enjoy high quality espresso for years to come at a significantly reduced cost than what you’d pay at a local cafe.
To that end, our techs offer a Tune Up service for both superautomatic and semi-automatic espresso machines. This is a popular service that we wanted to share with more people around the country (yes, you can ship your machine to us for this service) and so we asked Gail to describe how this service works, what we do, etc.
For those of you not into watching videos or if you’d like to contact us about having your machine tuned up, we have full detail on the service and a contact form here.
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.
One of the best things about investing in a higher-end semi-automatic espresso machine, such as the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Rocket Cellini Premium Plus, is the improved steaming functionality. Larger boilers and professional-grade steam wands make producing velvety microfoam the standard in your home or office — but you can always improve on a good thing, can’t you?
Check out the steam tip upgrade available for any of the Rocket Espresso machines including the Rocket Cellini Classic. This 4 tip set features different hole patterns that will improve the aeration of your milk while steaming, allowing you to easily make creamy steamed milk, every time. We love the ability to experiment above and beyond the factory-provided steam tip and think it’s an excellent accessory to your already excellent machine.
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.