Category Archives: Q&A

How to Descale a La Pavoni

Uncle BobWe’ve descaled double boilers, heat exchangers, every superautomatic under the sun and even simple thermoblock-driven machines, but in all of our years giving scale the what-for inside espresso machines, we had not descaled a La Pavoni. So when Sam’s Uncle Bob asked us to show him the ropes, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to delve into something completely new!

La PavoniThe first part of the process, of course, was to find a willing participant, and Bunny stepped in to do the job. After working in our retail store for years and performing tune-ups for customers, she knows a thing or two about descaling machines, so we tasked her with researching how to perform it on a manual lever style machine like the La Pavoni. What she learned (and what we then filmed) was deceptively simple! It will take some time, patience, a little elbow grease and, of course, some Dezcal, but it was a very effective method for removing scale within the La Pavoni’s boiler and on its heating element.

Watch as she guides us through the process. And if you happen to have a La Pavoni or a lever machine that you descale in a different way, we’d love to learn new techniques! Post your process in the comments and we’ll share with the class.

SCG How-To Guides: Descaling La Pavoni Manual Espresso Machines

How to Program an Auber PID on the Rancilio Silvia

Rancilio Silvia with Auber PIDPerhaps more than any other home espresso machine, the Rancilio Silvia has a devoted, storied following. Originally designed by commercial espresso machine manufacturer Rancilio to give as a gift to their distributors, it quickly took on a life of its own and, for many years, was considered the go-to espresso machine for home enthusiasts who wanted to craft specialty coffee quality drinks.

Owing to its creators, the Silvia featured largely commercial-grade components, which hadn’t really been on offer for many home-class espresso machines before. With copper-plated brass internals, a 58mm standard chrome-plated brass portafilter and a traditional steam wand, it provides the tools you need to make excellent espresso-based drinks. But it does have one major design element that have caused some folks to deem it as ‘finicky.’

The Silvia is a single boiler espresso machine that employs a rather simplistic temperature regulation system — a bi-metal thermostat that engages and disengages the heating element by bending one way or the other (as determined by the machine’s temperature). So, if the machine is on the lower end of the temperature spectrum, a small metal piece will bend one way in order to make a connection and allow the electrical current to reach the element, beginning the heat up process. On the other side of the spectrum, once the machine’s internal temperature reaches a high that causes this thin metal to bend in the opposite direction, it will interrupt the current and the machine will cease heating up. This is a very common method of temperature regulation used in appliances or thermostats around the home, and while it is cheap, reliable and effective, it also lends itself to a wide arc of variable temperature.

When these temperature variables happen in your home, you put on a sweater; when they happen in your espresso machine, they can result in marked differences in shot quality. At the hottest end of the spectrum, your coffee will taste burnt and over extracted, while on the coldest end it will taste sour. One way you can ensure you’re brewing at the right temperature, however, is to ‘temperature surf’ — pull just enough cold water into the boiler to engage the heating element, then, after it’s heated up to its highest temp, wait a bit (to allow the temp to come down from its hottest level) and then brew. Another way you can manage this is to circumvent the bi-metal thermostat altogether and install a PID!

The PID will take over managing the boiler’s temperature by using a more sophisticated and programmable electronic chipset. At SCG, you have the option of ordering a Rancilio Silvia from us that already has an Auber PID installed, which offers the ability to program the boiler temperature and elements of extraction such as pre-infusion and shot timing. In the video below, Gail shows us how to get into the Auber PID unit that we install on the Rancilio Silvia, navigate through it and program it for your specific needs.

Yes, this was a rather extensive and detailed lead-up to a simple how-to video, but knowing is half the battle, friend. And the other half is brought to you by espresso.

SCG How-To Guides: Programming the Auber PID on the Rancilio Silvia

Espresso Machine Compare: Pasquini Livia G4 vs. Rocket Giotto Evoluzione

Espresso Machine Comparison - Rocket Giotto vs. Pasquini Livia G4Selecting the right prosumer-grade espresso machine for you can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. With so much gleaming stainless steel and commercial-class components, how do you determine which model is worth your investment?

Take the Livia G4 and Giotto Evoluzione, for example: These are two heat exchange espresso machines, which allow you to brew and steam at the same time, that have polished stainless steel cases and are designed to work on the 15 amp, 110 power circuits most often found in home kitchens.

Feature-wise, the Livia G4 comes in a few different configurations — a traditional semi-automatic, a semi-automatic with a PID and an automatic with a PID. The two models that incorporate a PID enable you to control the steam boiler’s temperature, which will in turn affect the water in the heat exchange that is delivered to the brew head. Pasquini designed it to also incorporate a thermoblock at the brew head, producing a consistent brew temperature while not requiring an upgrade in the machine’s power requirements.

The Giotto Evoluzione, on the other hand, is simple yet refined: A traditional semi-automatic with an E61 brew-head and the ability to either use the internal water reservoir or plumb it in to your home’s water supply. While it doesn’t have any programming options, the brew head design and heat exchange technology produce a consistent brew temperature, backed by a very hearty steam boiler.

Watch as Teri guides us through a detailed overview of the features and specs of each machine, then demonstrates how they compare, performance-wise.

Compare: Pasquini Livia G4 vs. Rocket Espresso Giotto Evoluzione

Bonavita Coffee Maker Care and Maintenance

Bonavita Coffee MakerYour trusty Bonavita coffee maker brews up batch after batch of delicious java with relatively little assistance from you. It doesn’t have a lot of moving parts, so it’s easy to overlook regular care and maintenance when it just simply works, right?

Implementing a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule will result in both increased equipment longevity and improved flavor in the cup. Certain components — like the carafe — will show their wear and tear, but other, more internal parts can’t give you a visual cue. Accordingly, it’s a great idea to come up with a schedule that you follow on a regular basis, descaling and cleaning the machine’s components at least a few times each year.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Weekly – Each week, wash the carafe and filter basket with warm soapy water. Using a food-friendly cleaning solution, wipe down the machine, paying special attention to the hot plate if your model has one.
  • Monthly – Every fourth external cleaning, wipe out the water reservoir to limit any residue build-up. If you’re using water with a higher mineral content, you should also descale at this time.
  • Quarterly – For softer water, a quarterly descale using a descaled and detergent combo like Cleancaf will improve your coffee maker’s performance.

Watch as Gail demonstrates and guides us through a thorough maintenance regimen using the Bonavita coffee maker with a glass carafe.

SCG How-to Guides: Bonavita Coffee Maker Care and Maintenance

Livia G4 vs. Musica Espresso Machines

Livia G4 vs. Musica Espresso MachinesWhen you’re dropping a couple thousand bucks on an espresso machine, your choices generally involve models with a more luxe approach to style and design, replete with commercial-grade components and sophisticated functionality. But beneath the heavy use of polished stainless steel and chrome-plated brass, these prosumer-class espresso machines feature different technical specifications that speak to the specific manufacturer’s method of getting to the same goal: You, making excellent espresso-based drinks for everyone you know.

And because you know we have a deep, abiding love for a grudge match, we’re pitting two more pieces of coffee gear against each other, for fun and profit! In the left corner, we have the Livia G4 Auto with PID by Pasquini and, in the right, we have a Nuova Simonelli Musica. While these are two Italian heat exchange espresso machines with commercial-class build quality, they have some pretty big functional differences.

First, the Livia G4 is available in a few configurations (semi-auto, semi-auto with PID and auto with PID) while the Musica is a simple, straightforward heat exchange with no temperature control options. Next, the Musica has proprietary brew head temperature regulation that produces some of the best no fuss, no muss espresso shots we’ve ever had, yet the Livia G4’s unique internal technical design (on the auto, its heat exchange is controlled by a PID and a thermoblock at the brew head maintains a consistent brew temp) means that you can play with how different brew temperatures affect your coffee. Finally, the Livia’s steam functionality, while strong, is a little more tame than what the Musica produces, giving it an edge to folks that are learning how to steam and texture milk.

Want to learn more about these two espresso machines? Watch as Teri gives us functional overview, then shows us how they compare, performance-wise.

SCG Compares: Pasquini Livia G4 v. Nuova Simonelli Musica Espresso Machines

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Mazzer Major Commercial Coffee Grinder

Mazzer MajorEach time we provide an overview of a new coffee grinder like the Mazzer Major, we feel the need to also get down to the nitty gritty and show you how to take it apart, care for it, look for signs of wear & tear, then put it back together again.

A lot of our day-to-day work involves helping people get the most from their coffee gear, and one big way that you can do that is by keeping it enviably clean. Especially if you are running a coffee-oriented business! Day in and day out, you’re serving up delicious coffee to your adoring customers and you want to make sure that it’s fresh and fully represents what you’re all about, right? Taking care to regularly clean your grinder’s bean hopper, burr set, grinder chute and doser chamber (if applicable) will go a long way to improving both the consistency and the flavor of your espresso.

In this comprehensive how-to video, Brandon guides us through how to perform regular care and maintenance on the Mazzer Major. Watch him take it apart, assess the internals, clean and then re-assemble this popular commercial coffee grinder. If you own or work for a business that uses a Mazzer Major in your operation — and you’re not performing similar maintenance on a regular basis — might we recommend that today’s the day you change that trend? Follow Brandon’s guidance and you’ll see how simple it is to do so.

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Mazzer Major Commercial Coffee Grinder

Gear Testing: Milk to Perfection Latte Art Pitcher

Milk to PerfectionFor years now, our most popular video on YouTube has been Milk Steaming Tips, our latte art classes fill up before they’re even promoted and our support interactions are rife with questions (and frustrations!) around steaming milk. While everyone has a different perspective on shot quality and which machine produces the best espresso, they all have a similar goal with their milk steaming: A beautiful heart or rosetta to serve to themselves or someone they love. From the DeLonghi EC155 to the La Marzocco GS/3, the Saeco Vienna Plus to the Jura GIGA 5, how the milk is produced and the end result is high on everyone’s list.

So when tools are invented to improve the process for folks, we have to try them out, of course! Enter the Milk to Perfection steaming pitcher, which is designed to facilitate the clockwise swirl necessary for producing high quality, latte art style milk. Some machines (such as the Rancilio Silvia or the Nuova Simonelli Oscar) are known for their rather rowdy steaming functionality — a lot of strong steam that needs to be wrassled into producing nice, tight micro foam. So we thought that experimenting with how the Milk to Perfection performed on one of these steam-forward machines would be a great test to determine how effective of a tool it is.

Watch as Bunny steams up two pitchers on the Nuova Simonelli Oscar: First, a standard 20 oz. stainless steel pitcher and then the Milk to Perfection. Does one produce micro foam more easily than the other? Can either of them tame this steamy beast? Does it matter what kind of pitcher you’re using once you’ve been frothing milk for years? Find out in this fun side-by-side test and comparison video.

Milk Steaming Test: Milk to Perfection vs. Standard Stainless Steel Pitcher

Tech Tip: Saeco Minuto Test Mode

Saeco Minuto - Test ModeWhile the Saeco Minuto offers some unique functionality compared to Saeco’s other superautomatic espresso machines — such as brewing coffee at a lower pressure to produce a more drip coffee like flavor — it still offers a Test Mode to help diagnose and resolve issues with the machine.

Knowing how to get into Test Mode is important, as it can assist you in determining what a particular error might be and how you can fix it. Since you can run each functional component separately, you can test things like whether or not the pump is working or if the grinder is grinding but not dosing. You can also learn helpful info like how quickly your grinder is rotating, how many drinks you’ve made and more.

In this video, Brendan guides us through Test Mode on the Saeco Minuto — how to get into it, navigate through it and interpret what its telling you. Once again, indispensable knowledge for Minuto owners everywhere!

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Minuto Test Mode

What is Tea Certification?

Tea CertificationYou may have heard recently that tea is rapidly increasing in popularity in America. In order to keep up with the trends, you might have considered adding tea to your cafe or store offerings, doing some research on tea to learn more about it or even taking classes to become a tea master or tea sommelier. However, since getting a tea certification is still a fairly new concept for most people, the phrases ‘tea master’ or ‘tea sommelier’ may leave you scratching your head, wondering what the programs entail or whether they are really worth the cost. To figure out what getting a tea certification is all about, we did our due diligence and took a class ourselves.

Who Should Get Certified as a Tea Master, Sommelier or Specialist?

Some of the folks that would benefit from this certification include:

  • Retailers or business owners that desire industry recognition or want themselves and/or their staff to have a deep knowledge of tea so they can increase their sales.
  • Owners of tea rooms or cafes who want advanced knowledge on how to serve tea and what to pair it with.
  • Wholesalers who are directly involved in buying or selling tea.
  • People in the food service or culinary industry, as well as those in the coffee and wine business (while they are very different beverages, there are similarities in how tea, coffee and wine are evaluated).
  • Tea growers or researchers.
  • Nutritionists, dieticians or other health care professionals who are interested in using tea to lead a healthy lifestyle.

However, getting a tea certification can also be helpful for people who are simply interested in tea or have a passion for it and would like to learn more about tea.

What is the Tea Certification Process?

Generally, the tea certification process begins by building a strong understanding of the Camellia sinensis plant and the six basic types of tea. Students learn how each type of tea is processed and produced, what differentiates each classification of tea and where and how the teas are grown. Tisanes and popular herbals like Rooibos, Yerba Mate and Honeybush are often also taught about during the class. The next step of a tea specialist’s education is usually learning about post-production processes such as naming and grading, decaffeination, blending, scenting and flavoring. The final part of becoming a tea master is discovering how to brew, taste and evaluate teas, as well as being able to create and host their own tea cuppings. Some programs also include lessons on pairing food with tea, the health benefits of tea, how to educate guests about tea or hosting specific types of tea ceremonies, while other organizations have these classes separated into additional, more advanced programs.

If you are interested in enrolling in a tea certification program, you are in luck, as there are several available in America (there are plenty of courses outside the United States as well). Depending on what program you enroll in, classes are offered either in-person, online or some combination thereof. Here are a few popular programs, and the certifications they offer:

Is Tea Certification Worth the Cost?

While there is no absolute guarantee that becoming a certified tea master or sommelier will secure you a job or increase your business, becoming more knowledgeable about the products you are selling or serving certainly can’t hurt. The more you know, the better you will be able to stock your store, pair tea with food in your cafe, educate your customers about tea and explain why it is a good option for them. If nothing else, by attending a class you will have gotten to see, learn about, taste and experiment with some new teas, and perhaps even connect with other people in the industry.

I recently attended James Nordwood Pratt’s Apprentice Tea Sommelier class at Coffee Fest, and while I thought I was decently educated about tea before, I found out there was a lot I didn’t know. I came out of the class with a greater appreciation for tea, and a head full of new fun facts, stories and information to share with my coworkers.

If you aren’t ready to shell out your hard earned cash for a tea class, you can also find a lot of written information about tea either online or in books. There are a number of tea professionals (such as James Norword Pratt, Robert J. Heiss, etc.) who have written informative books that can be found most libraries. In addition, there is a large and active online tea community with folks who are part of organizations like the Association of Tea Bloggers, who review and write about tea regularly. There are also several forums such as Steepster and Tea Trade where people can ask questions and share information with fellow tea lovers. Finally, some tea retailers like Adagio Teas have extensive information on tea that is helpful for beginners and advanced learners alike.

Tech Tip: Saeco Talea Giro Test Mode & Troubleshooting

Saeco Talea GiroWhen you have an excellent tech resource like Brendan around, you sometimes have to just lock him in a room with a bunch of superautomatics and force him to teach you his ways of diagnostics and troubleshooting! Okay, we really didn’t have to lock him in the room — he was more than willing to share his expertise with us — but we did spend an afternoon with him as he explained the Saeco Talea Giro’s test mode and errors for us.

As you may have learned from our other forays into Test Mode, this is a wonderfully helpful tool that you can use to run each functional element of your superautomatic separately, without making coffee, in order to determine what might be the cause of an issue with the machine. Is your machine not brewing because the pump isn’t working, or are you simply grinding your coffee too finely? You can find out by running the pump to see if water comes out of the machine, sans coffee.

After he guides us through Test Mode, Brendan then dives into the Talea Giro’s more cryptic errors and alarms — since it doesn’t have a display screen and only a series of symbols and lights to communicate any issues it might be having, it can sometimes be difficult to interpret. He gives us a few tips and tricks in understanding what the errors mean and how you might be able to easily resolve them.

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Talea Giro Test Mode

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Talea Giro Alarms & Errors