We do spend a lot of time talking about coffee in this blog — what do you expect?! — but we also do have a soft spot for tea. So we’re kicking off the first recipe of 2011 with a sweet and spicy tea recipe, certain to keep you warm on these chilly winter days.
We are not ashamed to admit that we have been diggin’ hard on the Francis Francis machines lately. We really love their auto-fill boiler and their sophisticated temperature control — with only around a 2 degree variance instead of the 15-ish degree variance we sometimes see on single boiler espresso machines in this similar price class.
Watch Gail take us through the features of the X1 — a stainless steel counterpart to the X7:
Now watch her compare the functional and feature differences between the X1 and the X7:
While working on a Francis Francis in our repair center, we found out it’s awesome little secret: It comes with an internal PID! You can’t adjust it yourself, and some of the newer models like the X7 aren’t designed to be adjusted at all, but it will keep the boiler’s temp within 1 degree of the set temperature — unlike less sophisticated thermostats that have a varying range of about 20 degrees and, thus, require temperature surfing.
Josh and Gail cracked open an X7 to show its guts and glory!
In answer to the oft posed question ‘can’t I just use pre-ground coffee from __[insert your favorite store/roastery/cafe here]__?’, we have held an aging test.
We’re big on freshly grinding your coffee before each shot, as pre-ground starts to dry out (even in air-tight containers) within the first 24 hours. To show you how the shots degrade, we dialed in and ground a bunch of coffee, then pulled a shot the day of for baseline purposes. We then pulled shots 24, 48, 72 hours and 1 full week later to show how the shots measured up — and to give our unequivocal vocal and facial feature responses to their flavor. Yowza!
Watch Gail as we go through the initial testing and then check in throughout the subsequent week.
Where do espresso machines and coffee makers go to die? Not in the landfill, if we can help it! At Seattle Coffee Gear, we launched a recycling program last year in an effort to keep as many fully assembled machines from landing in the trash. Many of these are pretty complex — they have circuit boards, electrical wiring and miscellaneous metals that are best kept out of our ground water supply.
Our partner in this venture is Uesugi USA, a Japanese company that (as luck would have it) have a US presence here in the Seattle-area. We pulled Henry into the mix and headed out to their facility to talk about what they do and see how they take these machines apart, break them down to their components and funnel them back into the commodity supply chain as cleanly as possible.
Mineral content in your water will play a part in the coffee that you make and your machine’s longevity. In this video, Gail talks to us about a few different filters and softeners available for espresso machines, as well as explaining how a filter and softener differ.
Creating a silky microfoam can be a challenging enterprise: Even with the higher end prosumer machines we sell, it is arguably the most difficult skill to learn and sometimes takes more practice (and patience!) than folks expect from the outset.
The technique involves infusing the right amount of air and steam at the right pace to ‘stretch’ the milk, ultimately resulting in that wet paint texture that can be used in latte art, if you’ve got the skillz. You rest the tip of the steam wand on the surface of the milk and ‘ride’ it as the milk is slowly expanding with tiny air bubbles and coming up to temperature via the machine’s steam. You’ve got to keep a steady roll going, the bubbles to a minimum and eventually you’ll submerge the wand completely once you’ve achieved the amount of foam you want and need to simply bring it up to temperature.
Navigating the available options in the world of home espresso machines can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Functionally speaking, there are a few different basic variations:
Manual/Lever: With these machines, you are the pump. You grind, tamp and control the pressure during the extraction. You also manage the whole steaming process.
Semi-Automatic: Semi-automatics have 15 – 17 BAR pumps involved, which will settle down to about 9 BARs of pressure if your grind/tamp is accurate. You will grind & tamp, then initiate the shot on and off. Steaming is also up to you.
Automatic: Still grinding, tamping and steaming on your own, but you can program these machines to dose out a specific amount of water, so it will automatically end the shot.
Pressurized Portafilters: Automatic and semi-automatic machines can have a variation that includes a pressurized porftafilter. This makes the machine a little bit easier to use because you don’t have to be super particular about your grind and tamp.
Pod-Friendly: Another variation of semi-automatic and automatic machines are those that allow you to use what is basically a ground coffee version of a tea bag. These single serving pods make for easy, mess-free brewing.
Superautomatic: These machines manage the whole grind and tamp process for you, but on most of them you will still be required to steam your milk. Some of them (usually called ‘One Touch’) provide automated frothing and shot extraction into your cup at the touch of the button; others have an automated frothing system that will froth the milk separately and you can pour it into the cup after it’s automatically extracted.
Capsule: Probably the most simple machine in terms of materials and labor, these guys use a proprietary capsule filled with pre-ground coffee and extract it at the touch of a button — no grinding and tamping. Some of them have automatic frothing options.
We asked Gail to talk to us about these different machines, why someone would want to buy a specific type and why perhaps they wouldn’t want to buy it. Hopefully, this video will function as a good primer for learning the basic functional differences and help you as you research which machine best suits your needs.
DIY lovers are all into the idea of using lemon juice or vinegar to descale their machines, but while the latter will leave a nasty residue and we don’t recommend it for that reason, the former just isn’t concentrated enough to do as an effective job in as an efficient manner as a concentrated citric acid solution like Dezcal. This is what we find out from Gail, plus she makes freaky faces and it’s worth watching just for that.
We’ve added a few more listings and reviews of several espresso machines to the Brown Bean Community.
If you own any of these machines, we’d love it if you could take the time to provide your own perspective on what you like and don’t like about it. We play around with and test them, but if you’re using one of these day-to-day, you have a much better feel for how it is to use this machine at home. Why not share those experiences with other coffee lovers looking for a machine?