What’s so great about the new X7 by Francis Francis!? Obviously, its extra terrestrial stature, but it also has a few other excellent features for a machine in this class: Auto-fill brass boiler (so you don’t run the risk of burning it out like you can on other single boilers), flexible extraction options (grounds or pods) and a powerful steam wand that gets great results.
In this video, Gail talks to us about all these features and demonstrates making a latte.
Continuing our series of general comparison videos between different machines in a class, we took a look at some of the lower cost options available on the market. In this video, Gail gives us the basic rundown — pros, cons, likes, dislikes — on a few different single boiler machines, including the Ascaso Dream, Gaggia Color, Francis Francis! X7, Saeco Aroma and Breville Die Cast.
Look, we’re not joking. Yes, there are a lot of things we poke fun at and crack wise about, but scale build-up in your boiler is absolutely not one of them. And it will never be — oh no, we are deadly serious about this.
Okay, not really, but scale build-up is often underestimated by folks. They think that by using filtered or bottled water, they won’t need to descale their espresso machine, and this just isn’t the truth. While these waters may have other impurities removed from them, they often have the same mineral content (and, in the case of bottled water, it may even be significantly higher, depending on the source) as your tap water. Using distilled water, water put through a reverse osmosis or a commercial-grade water design system like Cirqua are the primary methods for keeping lime and calcium from building up in your espresso machine’s boiler and related water works, but it’s important to note that mineral content in water does play an important role: It contributes to the flavor.
So if you don’t like the way the water from these treatment sources taste, how do you think it’s going to make your coffee taste? We recommend using water you like to drink to make espresso, which will often involve a regular descale to keep everything working well. Scale build-up will symptomatically show up as failure or very slow to heat up, not enough steaming pressure and/or leaking out of the steam wand and the brew head. Here in the Seattle area, we have pretty soft water, but other areas of the country have very hard water — and if you’re pulling straight from a well instead of the municipal water supply, you likely have a high mineral content.
A few months ago, we received a Rancilio Silvia V2 that was a few years old on a trade-in. The owner lived in Southern California and had never descaled the machine, so the guys put it through a commercial level descale just to start it off — high intensity citric acid was pulled into the boiler and allowed to sit overnight. When they came in the next day and rinsed it through, the machine was still exhibiting signs of scale build up, so they decided to crack it open to see if it was something more than scale. What they found is in the pictures accompanying this post — yes, this is scale build-up that was not able to be dissolved by the citric acid over a 24 hour period. The guys cleaned it out thoroughly and now it’s working just fine — and, obviously, this is representative of scale build up using the municipal supply in Southern California and will differ by region — but if the original owner had continued to use it without descaling, eventually everything would have burned out. It was caught just in time, however, so now it has a happy home somewhere else.
Not sure how to descale? Watch Gail descale a Rancilio Silvia and give tips on how to do this on other types of espresso machines.
The Rancilio Silvia often gets a bad rap out in the world because a lot of people consider it to be finicky or temperamental. One of the biggest issues it has is its temperature inconsistency, but this is something that all single boiler espresso machines suffer from — including the Ascaso Dream and even the high end Quick Mill Alexia, will all have some temperature issues simply because you’re pulling water for two different processes from the same boiler.
Additionally, you have to be cognizant of the fact that these single boilers don’t have automatic boiler refills and you need to make sure you’re keeping the boiler full of water in order to maintain its health. If you’re not keeping it full, it will slowly burn out the heating element and you’ll have a costly repair on your hands. One sign that you’re not keeping enough water in the boiler is that you might be having steaming issues — it’s not steaming powerfully enough, or it starts out fine and then peters off, or it’s just not getting hot enough.
In this video, Gail talks to us about temperature surfing, demonstrates it on a Saeco Aroma and describes what can happen if you don’t do this each time you make yourself a latte on your single boiler espresso machine.
Over on our new resource website, Brown Bean, we have been working hard on putting up editorial reviews of all kinds of espresso machines. We’ll be eventually expanding the reviews to include other kinds of equipment — grinders, accessories, even coffee — but a big part of us being able to provide a full picture of a machine’s performance is to balance our editorial opinion with user reviews like yours.
If you have a Rancilio Silvia, we’d love it if you could take the time to fill out a review on Brown Bean. You’ll have the opportunity to share your experiences, talk about the pros and cons of the machine and indicate whether or not you recommend it.
We currently have a couple dozen machines listed and reviewed up there, so if you don’t have a Silvia and would like to review your machine, check them out to see if there’s a listing. We’re always adding to it, but if your machine isn’t listed, please email us with the make and model and we’ll promptly list and review it if possible, then let you know when it’s ready for your feedback.
Looking forward to learning more about your thoughts on your equipment!
We’ve been communicating with Rami via YouTube ever since he ran across our videos and sent us some questions about grinders. Since then, we’ve helped him with some general tips and ideas as he was tweaking his home setup in order to make an amazing Americano — his morning ritual. He recently sent us photos of his process and described what he did to achieve a really delicious espresso at home.
Creating this delectable drink actually started 15 hours before, when Rami freshly roasted a batch of Sweet Maria’s Espresso Monkey Blend to a medium roast (or right after the second crack, in roasting lingo).
He then ground up the right amount for a double shot extraction:
Next, he filled his portafilter and tamped evenly. Then he put 3 oz. of hot water into his cup and put it under the portafilter, extracting the double shot right on top:
Removing the cup from beneath his portafilter, he lovingly admired his handiwork, anticipating its delicious flavor:
Bellissimo! Finally, he enjoyed the lovely Americano that he had so expertly prepared:
Rami’s setup is a FrancisFrancis X5 by Illy and a Rancilio Rocky Doser grinder. He says, “Special thanks to Kat for the post purchase support (you don’t get that much these days), dealing with these guys has been a pleasure, I think anyone interested in this kinda stuff should definitely check out Seattle Coffee Gear.”
Thank you Rami! We’re glad we could be part of helping you make a better espresso at home.
Do you have a story about making better espresso at home that you’d like to share? Let us know!
Back in May, we wrote a little bit about Italian vs. French Roasts, but lately we have been sampling a lot of different roast and blend types and decided to read more about the basic theory behind roasting and blending. In our research, we ran across Kenneth Davids‘ excellent table describing the different roast styles and their corresponding flavor, so we thought we’d reprint it here for easy future reference.
The big question that was on our mind was in regard to dark roasts: Peet started an American tradition back in the 60′s by taking his roasts well into the very dark brown degree and we wondered why. Particularly because, for us, the darker roasts just aren’t as complex flavor-wise, so we were curious about his roasting theory — one that would ultimately be imitated by the founders of Starbucks and eventually influences hundreds of small specialty roasters around the world. It seems that it’s largely due to the fact that, when taken to a darker roast, the oils and sugars caramelize in a manner which imbues the roast with a bittersweet tone — if it’s not taken too far, it will still retain much of its richness and will also feature less caffeine. However, and we think this is where we have often found ourselves, when the beans are taken to a really dark black brown, they’re just charred at that point — dried out little husks with little to no coffee oil or sugar leftover, so very little can be imparted during extraction.
So while we personally prefer something in the medium brown range, we’re glad we now understand why all the dark roast lovers out there are such ardent fans. If you want to learn more about roasting and blending — as well as pretty much anything else to do with coffee — we highly recommend picking up Kenneth Davids’ book.
Right now, however, you can check out his handy reference table after the jump.
As the national obsession with greening our lives grows, examining how the things we love impact the environment has become a common topic of discussion. Up now: How green are different coffee beans?
The folks over at Greenopia devised a Leaf Awards rating system that is used to evaluate a coffee company’s overall greenness by gauging its percentage of organic, ethically sourced, naturally decaffeinated, eco-friendly packaged and efficiently produced and transported beans. They also looked for sustainability and environmental impact reporting. They then assessed 25 different brands from all over the US to determine how they measure up.
We can’t help but feel the findings a bit disheartening: Of the brands they evaluated, nearly half of them didn’t rank at all! Coffee that we love by the likes of Illy or Lavazza didn’t get a single leaf, while large American brands like Starbucks or Stumptown got just a couple of leaves.
One ranking that shined was Bellevue-based Kalani Organica, coming in at 3 leaves! We have a personal connection to this truly lovely coffee: In the mid-to-late ’90′s, we cut our barista teeth slinging java at the Speakeasy Cafe in Seattle’s Belltown district. The cafe was a devout supporter and server of Kalani Organica until the cafe was closed by a fire in 2002 — despite the fact that we regularly had small competitive roasters try to convince us to switch. We stuck with Kalani because of the founder Karen’s commitment to organic, ethically-sourced coffee — something that is talked about a lot these days but wasn’t seen as particularly important 15 years ago. We’re thrilled that her work is getting recognized and hope that a rating like this will help expand Kalani’s availability around the country.
If you’re like us, you might regard decaffeinated coffee as a disturbingly man-made mutation on the bland side of the flavor spectrum. Not that we’ve ever actually tasted it — we’re working largely from gross assumption here — but we often get raving reviews of Lavazza’s DEK decaffeinated coffee, so our interest was piqued: How is the caffeine removed from the bean, without it losing all it’s flavor?
We found that there are three different methods for decaffeinating coffee: Organic solvents, water or carbon dioxide. The roaster often performs each method before they begin the roasting process.