Category Archives: Q&A

Tech Tip: Saeco Syntia Test Mode & Troubleshooting

Saeco SyntiaWhile it’s true that the Saeco Syntia offers a display with icons and text that will signal to you when something is going wrong, we often hear from folks that aren’t clear on what’s going on with it. Is that a close up of a fly’s head or a symbol telling you to descale? Is it signaling that the tap is open a smidge or is it warning you that snakes are coming out of your espresso machine? These are the big questions, folks.

In our next series of Saeco superautomatic espresso machine troubleshooting, Brendan takes on the Syntia series. Using the SS model, he first guides us through Test Mode, which is the highly useful diagnostic tool that enables you to run each functional component separately, and without making coffee, so that you can deduce what might be going on with your Syntia. Then, we dive into interpreting the rather cryptic symbols that appear as errors or alerts on the machine.

Even though we used the SS model for this demonstration, much of this applies to the Syntia Focus and Syntia Cappuccino models, too. If you’ve wanted to learn more about the inner workings of your machine, these are your go-to videos!

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Syntia Test Mode

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Syntia Alarms & Errors

Crew Review: Pallo Cleaning Tools

PalloKeeping your coffee equipment clean doesn’t have to feel like a chore! Pallo’s purpose-built tools make short work of this sometimes unsavory task. Their array of gear includes:

  • The Grindminder – designed to clean up all the gritty little grinds that get in / around your grinder and keep it so fresh and so clean!
  • The Steamy Wanda – if steam wands had a best friend and / or patron saint, it would be this tool.
  • The Coffeetool – available in a variety of colors, this is your go-to brew head cleaning tool — brush, detergent measuring tool and steam wand hole cleaner.
  • The Caffeine Wrench – this little dude does it all, from popping out filter baskets to popping open a cool post-cleaning celebratory beer!

Watch as Bunny shows us these fun and highly useful tools!

Crew Review: Pallo Cleaning Tools

 

Tech Tip: Saeco Intelia Focus Test Mode

Saeco Intelia SuperautomaticsSince the Saeco Intelia Focus features a pretty darn clear menu screen that will alert you specifically to any issues and errors, we thought that going over them was of very little import. Instead, we wanted to focus on its Test Mode, which is cool because it allows you to run each of the functional components separately and independently of actually making coffee. So if your machine is behaving badly (naughty machine!) and you want to find out what might be the source of its bad behavior, test mode can be a helpful deduction tool.

Watch as Brendan guides us through test mode — how to get into it, navigate through it and then use it to diagnose any functionality or performance issues with your machine. And while we did use the Saeco Intelia Focus as the demo machine for this troubleshooting video, this process applies its Cappuccino and SS counterparts, too.

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Intelia Focus Test Mode

Barista Snapshot: Cort Kern aka Barista Maniac

cortkernWho: Cort Kern, Professional Barista/Consultant

Where: Head Barista, Christ Church Of Oak Brook

What is a coffee consultant?

Someone who steps in to guide and restructure a current or new coffee shop. I provide training at a professional level to increase sales and run an effective business custom tailored for each shop owner.

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting? Did you like it?

It was an Americano. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but to be honest with you I just saw The Talented Mr. Ripley in the theatre that day and loved the song Americano. So it inspired me to order it. The barista behind the counter was singing the song without knowing I just saw the film.

What kind of coffee do you drink at home?

A black cup of coffee, no cream, no sugar. I use many different brewing methods at home including Chemex, Hario V60 dripper, Bodum siphon, AeroPress and Bunn Trifecta. I’m glad to have these at my disposal in the morning.

What kind of coffee do you drink at work, if different?

At work in the morning, I enjoy making myself a Cortado. Yes! Yes! Yes! My name is Cort. Many people at the church probably think I named the drink after me … I wish.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

There are still quite a handful of people out there using drip coffee brewers. My first pour over coffee brewer was the Clever coffee dripper. I thought it was a unique way of brewing and it’s not very complicated. I’d gladly teach anyone how to use the Clever dripper effectively and by doing so it might open them up to try other delicious brewing options.

What’s cool about your local coffee scene?

The suburbs of Chicago are getting much better about coffee. There are some tiny hole-in-the wall places nearby, but the real meat and potatoes is in the city. I love Caffe Streets and Gaslight Coffee Roasters. So many independent markets are beginning to carry single origin coffees and fantastic cold brew options as well. I find it quite unique that I have the opportunity to serve professional espresso drinks at a church on Sundays.

As a barista, what are your thoughts on coffee skills versus customer service skills?

If you live in the suburbs, you need to do both to the best of your ability. But in Chicago I’ve dealt with nasty service and still had the most amazing cup. Personally, I like quality and great service and I try to share that philosophy as a coffee consultant.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

Not at all. To each his own.

Whose espresso shots are better than yours?

On a Rancilio Epoca and a Faema X1 Granditalia Auto Steam, I got my dad beat. But at home his craft coffee and drink-making skills surpass mine. He finds it amazing what I can do with coffee and espresso these days though.

You can find Cort in his free time blogging about coffee and posting impressions on his website at www.baristamaniac.com and Twitter @BaristaManiac

photo by Ethan Paulson's Photography

photos by Ethan Paulson’s Photography

Rebuilding the Rancilio C-Lever Steam Arm Assemblies

Rancilio C-Lever TechnologyIf you’re running a fast-paced coffee business, slinging a high volume of milk-infused espresso drinks throughout the day, you’ll be giving your commercial espresso machine’s steam wands a serious workout. This results in some degradation of a few of its internal parts, which will require replacement in order to maintain full steam functionality.

But performing this regular maintenance doesn’t have to mean a tech call if you know your way around your machine’s steam arm assembly. In fact, since performing this maintenance can be required sometimes as often as every 6 months, learning how to do it yourself will save you money, in addition to extending the life and performance of your machine. Sure, it sounds a bit daunting, but we’re here to help!

The first demonstration we have for you is on the Rancilio series of commercial espresso machines that feature their C-Lever functionality. We asked our commercial expert, Brandon, to guide us through how to remove, disassemble, replace parts, reassemble and then reinstall the steam arm on the Rancilio Classe 9, but this process applies to the majority of their machines. If you’re starting to notice water or steam leaking from the wand when it’s in its ‘off’ position, this is a hallmark sign that it’s time to perform this maintenance. So watch this video and then dive in!

SCG How-To Guide: Rebuilding Rancilio C-Lever Steam Arm Assembly

Crew Tip: Rancilio Rocky Doserless Adjustment

Rancilio Rocky GrinderIf you own a Rancilio Rocky doserless coffee grinder, you sometimes might wish you were blessed with as many arms as Blinky is with eyes … how else do you hold down the adjustment lever, turn the hopper and then also run the grinder when you’re making the grind more fine?

First off, let’s cover why you should do this. Whenever you’re adjusting a burr grinder to a finer setting, you’re essentially bringing the burrs closer together. If you do that without running the grinder at the same time, you run the risk of compacting coffee beans in the grind chute and even warping or permanently damaging the threads. This is such a costly repair, it really means that you’re looking for a replacement grinder.

To avoid such horror, you need to run the grinder as you bring the burrs closer together. On the Rocky model that includes a doser chamber, this is easier, as you have an on / off button to use. The Rocky without a doser, however, simply has a rocker switch that must always be engaged in order to grind. So how do you manage all three at once? Watch Teri as she demonstrates her trick for adjusting the Rocky doserless more finely when you’ve only got your own hands to spare!

SCG Crew Tip: Rancilio Rocky Doserless Adjustment

The Reluctant Barista: Baratza Grinder Groove

baratzaThere are many reasons why I remain a reluctant barista. Over the past year, my caffeinated knowledge has greatly improved and my skills have marginally improved but there remains a hole in my espresso education: Coffee grinders have me particularly perplexed. I understand the working parts, I have even taken them apart (and put them back together again) for cleaning purposes. However, when I see a fluffy pile of fresh coffee grounds and compare it to another pile, it all looks the same to me. Sure I can tell French press coarse from Turkish fine but the micro-adjustments have me stumped.

So, here I stand with the full line of Baratza coffee grinders in front of me. This is a quality coffee problem to have, except I only know how to use the Encore grinder! It is a sturdy little workhorse that pairs well with my Technivorm coffee maker. Instead of regurgitating RPMs and clump tests — which really isn’t my style — let’s start with what’s in it for you — which really is my style. How will you get your groove on with a Baratza coffee grinder?

Entry level/Drip Coffee = Encore. This is my not-so-secret weapon for successful office coffee. The Encore has an on/off knob, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. This is great for coffee preps like drip, pour-over, AeroPress, French press, Siphon and Chemex. It can also be adjusted finer for espresso grind if you are using a pressurized portafilter.

Mid-level/Multiple Brew Preps = Virtuoso. The Virtuoso is very consistent. It has an on/off knob, a timer, a pulse button and an adjustment ring on the collar. The particle size uniformity makes it well suited for coffee preps like espresso in addition to drip and manual brewing methods. This versatility is great for anyone who enjoys multiple brew preps.

Mad (coffee) Scientist/Espresso = Preciso. More fine-tuning options and a little bit faster output make the Preciso a conical burr home grinder with commercial functionality. There are 40 step adjustments multiplied by 11 micro-adjustments within each setting. I can’t even do the math or my brain will explode! Suffice it to say, if you enjoy playing around with different coffee and espresso blends, then this grinder is optimized for your caffeinated brewing adventures.

Pro Version/Multiple Brew Preps = Vario. So where does this grinder fit? The 54mm ceramic flat burrs provide accurate, fast-grinding performance. This is a professional-grade machine with optimal consistency within a very small footprint. It has 230 distinct grind settings from fine grind for espresso to coarse grind for French press. With a digital timer and three programmable buttons, the Vario has accurate one-touch dosing. Small cafes and roasters report a solid track record with the Vario and the Vario-W model, which adds weight-based functionality.

Cafe Version/All Purpose = Forte AP. While the Vario does a great job, the brand new Forte models are bigger, beefier and have digital touch screens. The AP features 54mm ceramic flat burrs which stay accurate longer than metal burrs and grind finer. The weight and time based functionality provides repeatable grinding results. Designed for long lasting cafe use and abuse, the AP shines for espresso and can grind for coarser settings also.

Cafe Version/Pour Over Preps = Forte BG. This model features 54mm flat steel burrs. Why offer a choice of burr sets when ceramic lasts longer and grinds finer? Metal burrs reduce ‘fines’ in the mid to coarse range of grinds. Pour over preps require particle consistency, which is harder to achieve in the coarser grind settings. The Forte BG is a specific solution to a problem that high end/Third Wave coffee bars have had — they demanded the highest quality burr grinder available for everything but espresso. The BG can still technically ‘do espresso’ but it has been designed to tackle mid-range particle quality and quantity.

forte grindsOnce you have selected a grinder for your intended usage, then you can dial it in. This had — up to now — been my downfall, then I realized I was rushing it. It takes time, patience and a pound of beans … and that’s asking a lot from an impatient person like myself. I tried the Forte AP since it is new and fancy (and I love new and fancy) and I paired it with the Pasquini Livia G4 Automatic espresso machine because that is also new and fancy. The process involves picking an initial setting and noting the results with each incremental change. Instead of visually inspecting the grind, this is a combination of timing the espresso shots and tasting the results. Word to the wise: Just sip — otherwise you are in for a sleepless night! I filled a frothing pitcher with discarded espresso shots before I felt comfortable with the right setting for particle size and dosage.

One final note before I leave you up to your elbows in coffee grounds … Sadly for me, this process needs to be repeated if you change your beans or the machine you are using. Grinders are not universally calibrated so there is no cheat-sheet to tell you what number or setting will be optimal. This is a situation where trial and error, er I mean to say, highly scientific methodology is the only way to help any grinder find its groove.

Saeco Superautomatic Brew Unit Care

SaecoRecently, Brendan talked to us in detail about best practice in the care and maintenance of Saeco’s superautomatic espresso machine brew group. Because they have produced such a wide array of machines throughout the years, they have a few variations in their brew group designs, so it can sometimes be confusing on how to access the parts for cleaning and maintenance.

So we asked him to join us again and demonstrate how to take apart one of their newer iterations, which involves a rather tricky technique to release a few tabs and release the top of the unit. Once you have removed this, however, it’s super easy to access the brew screen to clean it thoroughly.

Watch him disassemble, give tips on care, then reassemble a brew group for models including those in the Odea, Talea, Syntia, Intelia, Exprelia and Xelsis lines, among others.

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Superautomatic Brew Unit Disassembly

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Tea Republik Review

Tea RepublikOne of the best parts about living in Seattle is the opportunity to explore a variety of different foods and drinks due to the abundance of cultures found in the city. Recently, my quest to try new teas and coffees lead me to Tea Republik, which is located on the Ave (45th Street) in the heart of the U-District. Curious to find out the story behind the teahouse with the unique name, I chatted with the store’s owner, Anton Lim, to learn more.

According to Lim, ‘Republik means people in Bashasa [Lim’s native language], so Tea Republik means people of tea.’ Lim went on to explain that after coming to United States from South East Asia as a student in 1998, he was inspired to provide people who love the natural flavor of tea with something new — fusion tea. As Lim states, ‘Tea does not have to [always] be served traditionally because there is so much more potential for tea blending. In my opinion, each tea has its own natural flavor that can be enhanced and used [to] complement other flavors once you know how to blend them; it can make something unique and delicious.’ Thus, in January of 2012, Tea Republik was born.

Even the design of the store itself is distinctive. Stalks of bamboo line the walls, beautiful and brightly colored flower lanterns hang from the ceiling and there is a bamboo canopy over the cash register (causing it to resemble a Tiki hut). Lim explained that his goal was to create ‘an outdoor experience in an indoor space [so that customers will feel like they are in the outdoors] when sipping our teas.’

What is more impressive is the wall of glass jars filled with tea that line the hallway to the back of the store. Lim says that they have ‘more than 100 loose leaf teas [including] traditional teas, natural flavor teas, herbal teas and decaf teas such as fruit tea. We are not limited to green, black and oolong teas but also have some South African teas (Rooibos).’

Striking decorations aside, the true highlight of Tea Republik are their special teas. These are tea blends that have milk or creme added for volume, or are mixed with fresh fruit and juices. Lim says the most popular teas are the ‘Lavender Creme Earl Grey special tea, [which] has lavender herbal tea blended with Earl Grey black tea [and is sweetened] with soy or creme’ and the Tropical Rainforest, which is ‘a fruity iced lemon tea with lemon, key lime, passion fruit and apples slices.’

After hearing about their special teas, I had to try one. At the counter, I poured over their tea menu (which is actually more like a book) and ended up going with an iced Chocolate Chimp Chai (a chocolate and banana flavored chai). The drink had a strong chocolate flavor, followed by the spicy and creamy flavor of traditional Chai tea – a definite winner. While there, I also tried their ‘Healing Tea,’ which was served in a cute personal tea pot and came with a caddy for my spent tea bag. The server at the counter said this sweet tasting peppermint tea is great for upset stomachs, which was great news since peppermint tea has always been my go-to when I have a stomach ache.

If for some reason you can’t find a tea that appeals to you on the menu (which seems virtually impossible with the huge selection of traditional and blended teas they offer!) you are not entirely out of luck. The staff at Tea Republik strives to create new special teas every day and customers also have the ability to create their own tea blends. The teahouse also rewards loyal customers with knowledge of their secret menu (a la In and Out) that features an even larger selection of specialty teas. No wonder this shop has become so popular with students and locals alike.

Tech Tip: Saeco Vienna Plus Test Mode & Troubleshooting

Saeco Vienna PlusPossibly the hardest working superautomatic in the business, the Saeco Vienna Plus has a long and storied history of home espresso performance. It’s the machine that many people started out with, years ago, and it’s hung in there for over a decade (in some cases,) dutifully delivering your java.

But what it offers in a hard working focus on helping you make coffee you love, it lacks in bells and whistles. Some might argue that said bells and whistles are not necessary, and they might be right; but one of the missing bells and/or whistles is an easy-to-read user interface system that tells you what might be going on when the machine isn’t working properly.

So we asked one of our resident Vienna Plus lovers, Brendan, to guide us through two different diagnostic videos: First, he shows us how to put the machine into Test Mode, so that you can bypass functionality and test individual components. Then he talks us through the different alarms and errors that the machine may experience, and how to diagnose which means what.

If you own a Saeco Vienna Plus and have often wished there was a way to better interpret its rather cryptic blinking lights, these videos will serve as your secret decoder ring!

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Vienna Plus Test Mode

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Vienna Errors & Alarms