Category Archives: Q&A

Selecting a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

One of the things that sets the crew here at Seattle Coffee Gear apart from the rest is that we have a storefront that features over 60 machines on display for anyone to come in and check out during their selection process. The experience of coming into the store, asking questions, working with Gail and understanding which machine meets your needs and your budget is fairly unique in this space, so we thought we’d make a movie in an attempt to replicate that experience for folks that don’t live in the Seattle area.

If you’re in the market for a semi-automatic espresso machine and aren’t sure where to start, this video is a great primer for what we think are the best in class machines that will fit in anyone’s budget.


Part 1: Gail talks about the different types of machines and then discusses the Saeco Aroma and the Rancilio Silvia semi-automatic espresso machines.


Part 2: Gail continues up the semi-automatic espresso machine line with an introduction to the Quick Mill Alexia and Rocket Giotto Premium Plus.

The Grind – March 2009

Our monthly newsletter, The Grind, shipped out today! Covering a special St. Patrick’s Day recipe (Paddy’s Mint Latte), a synopsis of the heat exchange vs. double boiler debate, a compendium of the YouTube videos that we have posted in the last month and tips on removable brew group maintenance, March’s edition is chock full o’ fun facts.

It also features a special March Grind Special — 10% off orders over $99, good through 3/31/09. Check it out!

Heat Exchange vs. Double Boiler

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Get the Extinguisher Ready

From music to gadgets, we’re hearty supporters of the lo-fi movement — we love the simplicity and classic elements often employed in its design. We’re also fans of DIY projects and figuring out how to do seemingly complex activities easily at home, so when we ran across this article on home roasting, it tickled our lo-fi/DIY fancy and we just had to share.

Utilizing the sophisticated Heat Gun/Dog Bowl method, this step-by-step guide will lead you through roasting your beans at home without investing in a roasting machine. All you’ll need is a heat gun (available at any hardware store — basically, the tool version of a hair dryer that can cost between $15 – $100), a stainless steel bowl (the aforementioned dog bowl is quite popular, but the guide’s author prefers mixing bowls with a little more of an egg shape) and some green coffee beans.

Now, we haven’t tried out this method and did read some critical reviews of the technique, namely that it doesn’t provide uniform results and is kind of a headache to manage. Also, you’ll need to make sure you do this activity in a fire-resistant environment, as hot coffee beans could fly out of the bowl and ignite any flammable materials. So, clear the oily rags and the open jugs of paint thinner out of the garage before you start.

Let us know if you’re brave enough to take this project on — we’d love to hear about your results.

Tech Tip: Removable Brew Group Maintenance

This tip goes out to all of you Saeco superautomatic espresso machine owners out there. Keep your machine humming along by taking regular care of the removable brew group — we suggest performing the following tasks about once a week (more or less depending on your usage):

  1. Remove the group and thoroughly rinse with very hot water — do not use soap
  2. Older models with a removable screen: Take it off (by unscrewing the screw in the middle) and wash it thoroughly — you will find there is a fine coffee silt behind it
  3. Lubricate all moving parts with a food grade lubricant (give us a call if you need ideas on where to get this)
  4. When the group is out of the machine, thoroughly wipe down the interior chamber to make sure all of the connection points are grounds-free

UPDATE: Watch Gail perform maintenance on the Saeco Talea Giro superautomatic espresso machine

Brew Tip: Half Double Decaf in a Half Caf (with a Twist of Lime)

He may have been poking fun at the overly complex ordering practices of his fellow Angelenos, but Steve Martin’s humorous cafe scene in LA Story is a (semi-)appropriate backdrop for our tip today: Brewing rich, delicious espresso with just a bit of a kick.

When we’re craving the taste of coffee but still need to get to bed before 2am, we meld together a blend of 1/2 Lavazza Super Crema and 1/2 Lavazza DEK espresso. Mixing the caffeinated with the decaffeinated takes things up a notch, but not the full whammy we usually find at the bottom of our cup. And while Lavazza’s DEK is some of the tastiest decaffeinated coffee out there, we love the added creamy dimension of the Super Crema.

One Touch Lattes with the Jura Impressa S9

If simplicity is key, you may be interested in the one touch functionality of the Jura Impressa S9 superautomatic espresso machine. Setup your cappuccinotore with your favorite milk, fill up your hopper with your preferred beans and then, at the touch of a button, you’ll be enjoying a delicious and frothy latte or cappuccino.

Check out Gail as she shows us how easy it is to use this awesome machine!

The Jura Ena Series – From Tip to Tail

In the market for a superautomatic? Jura’s Ena series provides speedy and delicious shot extraction, an easy-to-use milk frothing wand or cappuccinotore system and a relatively small footprint. But don’t take our word for it — check out Gail’s guided tour of the Ena 3, 4 and 5 features and functionality.

Using the Handpresso Wild

We’ve had the Handpresso Wild in the store since October, and it’s one of the most handled objects on display. People are often tickled by the thought of taking their espresso anywhere they want — and we’ve had avid backpackers, day hikers, car campers and international (wo)men of mystery who travel extensively pick them up to make their lives a little bit easier and much more caffeinated.

Last week, we decided to film this awesome contraption — and the ever-suffering Gail went toe-to-toe with it. Check it out!

Brew Tip: Temperature Surfing on the Rancilio Silvia

While single boiler machines are extremely cost effective, they do suffer from wide temperature fluctuations which can result in poorly extracted espresso. As such, the technique for ‘temperature surfing’ was developed by home espresso enthusiasts and you can watch as Gail goes through the process on a Rancilio Silvia. This technique can be applied to any single boiler machine — such as the Saeco Aroma, Ascaso Basic or Dream and any of the Gaggia semi-automatic espresso machines.