One of the first demonstration videos we did was Gail using how to pull a shot on the La Pavoni Europiccola 8 manual/lever espresso machine, which we followed up on several months later by demonstrating that same machine’s steaming functionality.
We recently decided to take the Stradivari 16 out for a stroll to see how it compared to the other version. Watch as Gail pulls shots, steams and uses the included cappuccinatore attachment with this machine.
Seattle Coffee Gear’s monthly newsletter, The Grind, landed in an email box near you today — and if it wasn’t near enough for you to actually read it, you can do so here on the site or make sure you get up close and personal next month by signing up for future editions.
This month, we talk about the different functional types of espresso machines, include a recipe for Indochine Lemon, point you to our manufacturer manual resource on Brown Bean and introduce you to a few new products we have in the store. What you won’t see, however, is The Grind Special, which is for subscriber-eyes-only. Sign up to get that little bit o’ goodness every month.
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.
Single and double boiler espresso machines can have greater temperature control if a PID is installed to more minutely manage the thermostat on the boiler. In this video, Gail talks about what a PID is and gives us the lowdown on why you might want one and how you can get one.
We really love the shots produced by La Pavoni’s manual lever machine the Europiccola, but the steaming isn’t as easy to get the hang of. While the boiler seems to produce enough steaming power, the angle of the wand is a little bit tricky to use. In this video, Gail tries a couple of techniques to see how close she can get to microfoam.
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!
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.
Q. I have a Rocky Doser grinder and would like to know what the standard setting is for my Quick Mill Alexia espresso machine. Can you tell me what number you have your demo model set to?
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 time frames. 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 coarser; if it’s coming out too quickly, then the converse is true and you’ll need to make that too-coarse 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 time frame. 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?