Category Archives: Q&A

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

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Rancilio KRYO 65 Commercial Espresso Grinder

Rancilio KRYO 65Designed for high capacity commercial environments, the Rancilio KRYO is an espresso-grade grinder that enables you to craft shot after sumptuous shot. With its 64mm stainless steel burrs, dosing chamber and unique aluminum fins (that dissipate the grind temperature) it quickly grinds up coffee for your double shots. But one key element of consistent shot flavor is to ensure that you’re using fresh coffee, and not inadvertently melding flavors with a built-up melange of old coffee grounds.

To avoid that, we highly recommend that you clean the grinder on a regular basis — at least monthly, if not weekly. Getting into it, taking it apart and then getting it back together again can seem a bit overwhelming, however, so we’ve filmed a how-to video for you! Hopefully, watching it will give you the confidence you need to take this project on.

Watch as Brandon walks us through the whole process, gives us tips on best practice and even tutors us in the ways of knowing when it’s time to replace the burrs. Even if you don’t want to dive into the full cleaning every week, doing it each month will improve your coffee flavor, and your customers will definitely dig it!

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Rancilio Kryo Commercial Espresso Grinder

 

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.