Category Archives: Q&A

Cleancaf or Dezcal?

Lime, calcium and other trace minerals exist in nearly every water supply, leaving behind white scaly deposits when the water has evaporated. Removing this scale on a regular basis is an essential component of any coffee maker or espresso machine maintenance regimen — even if you have ‘soft’ water, there will be trace amounts left over time that can build-up and hinder your machine’s performance.

Some folks suggest using filtered or distilled water from the get-go, so that you don’t risk pitting your boiler through repetitive use of the acid required to remove scale. That’s certainly one tack to take, but we’ve found that we prefer the taste of espresso made with water that has some mineral content to it. Because of that, we descale our machines about every three months to ensure that no deposits build up and ultimately burn out the boiler.

If you prefer minerals in your java as we do, there are a couple of products on the market that will help you keep your espresso machine or coffee maker in tip-top shape: Cleancaf or Dezcal. Which is better? Again, it depends on your preferences.

Billed as a cleaner and descaler, Cleancaf combines descaling acid with a detergent that will also break down the oils left behind by coffee beans. It also features a blue dye that helps with thorough rinsing.

Dezcal, on the other hand, is a straight-up descaler — and an incredibly powerful one at that. While it doesn’t have a detergent component, it’s a much stronger product and removes more scale; also, it doesn’t have a blue dye, which we think is a good thing.

Of the two, we recommend Dezcal over Cleancaf, but we carry both of them so you can determine which product is right for you.

The Great Grind Off: Burr vs. Blade

Home espresso enthusiasts often say that if they could change one thing about the early days of their espresso equipment purchases, they would have invested in a better grinder. While there are a multitude of factors that play a part in a high quality shot extraction, the impact of the coffee ground itself cannot be overstated.

The two types of grinders on the market are Burr or Blade — so what are the differences between these two types of grinders and how do they work?

Continue reading The Great Grind Off: Burr vs. Blade

Ask the Experts: What’s the Difference Between Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Filter Baskets?

We sell several semi-automatic espresso machines (such as the Saeco Aroma or Via Venezia, any of the Brevilles or DeLonghis that feature a pressurized portafilter basket. This is a major functional difference from other machines, like the Rancilio Silvia or Rocket Espresso semi-automatic espresso machines, which have non-pressurized baskets similar to commercial-grade machines. In the photo to the right, you can see the physical difference between a non-pressurized basket (on the left) and a pressurized basket (on the right).

OK, so they look different — but what do they do that’s different? Well, we think it’s all about forgiveness.

Continue reading Ask the Experts: What’s the Difference Between Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Filter Baskets?

Fresh n’ Puffy

We carry a diverse selection of Lavazza’s whole bean coffees, and sometimes the bags are puffier than others, so we asked our importer to give us the lowdown on bean packaging.

It’s fundamental to their freshness that they are packed in manner that will give them a long shelf life — if they’re allowed to oxidize, flavor compounds and aromatic properties will slowly degrade. To preserve freshness, Lavazza immediately packs their beans directly after roasting in high-barrier multilayer material that guarantees perfect vacuum packaging.

The roasting process, however, allows for the release of carbon dioxide and this represents 90% of the gas that forms inside of the package. To keep the bag from bursting, one-way valves are sealed into the package to allow the gas to escape without letting any air in. This one-way valve system guarantees vacuum packaging, even though the bag may sometimes be “puffy” and not compact.

Decaf Coffee Secrets

If you’re like us, you might regard decaffeinated coffee as a disturbingly man-made mutation on the bland side of the flavor spectrum. Not that we’ve ever actually tasted it — we’re working largely from gross assumption here — but we often get raving reviews of Lavazza’s DEK decaffeinated coffee, so our interest was piqued: How is the caffeine removed from the bean, without it losing all it’s flavor?

We found that there are three different methods for decaffeinating coffee: Organic solvents, water or carbon dioxide. The roaster often performs each method before they begin the roasting process.

Continue reading Decaf Coffee Secrets

Love that Espresso Shine

Hair looking a little dull? Looking to gloss up your tresses without spending an arm and a leg on drugstore treatments or salon visits? There are tons of natural home haircare tips, and using espresso to add shine to your mane is one of our favorites.

Simply pull a couple shots of espresso, apply it to your hair and then leave it on for 20 minutes. Rinse it out and you’ll have increased your hair’s shine considerably. Espresso contains quite a bit of oil and these molecules can be transferred to your hair to boost its glow.

Caffeinated Green Thumbs

Perk up your garden by adding coffee into the mix! Used coffee grounds are a great source of organic, slow-release nitrogen that can be incorporated into many everyday gardening tasks to improve results.

We poked around to find some ways in which you could incorporate your used coffee grounds or coffee beans into everyday gardening practices and found these awesome ideas:

  • Before it rains or you water your garden, sprinkle used grounds around your plants to slowly release nitrogen into the soil
  • You can add used grounds in filters or tea bags to your compost pile to increase your nitrogen balance; they have a carbon-to-nitrogen ration of 20:1, similar to grass clippings
  • For a gentle fertilizer, dilute 1/2 pound can of wet grounds in a five gallon bucket of water, then let it sit outdoors to achieve ambient temperature
  • Mix together used grounds & eggshells and then encircle the base of the plant to form a natural pest barrier
  • Caffeine is an effective slug deterrent: Concentrations as low as .01% in the soil reduces slug feeding on leaves, but won’t kill them; if you’re in a genocidal mood, however, a 1% solution will take out 60% of slugs and a 2% solution will eradicate 95% of all types of slugs. Keep in mind, however, that the 2% solution did damage some tender foliage, so while the idea of ridding your garden permanently of these slimy little guys might be appealing, it could have adverse effects on your plants
  • If you have a vermiculture setup, your used coffee grounds will be lovingly consumed by your tribe of worms
  • Use over-roasted beans as a mulch for your garden pathways to create an eye-catching and lovely scented walkway
  • Used grounds are an excellent mulch for tomato plants — the increase in nitrogen make your tomatoes happy and also help suppress late blight

4…3…2…1…Pulling Delicious Shots with the La Pavoni

People often think that La Pavoni’s manual lever espresso machines are overly complex throwbacks created just for hardcore purists, but they’re actually relatively easy machines to use — and they make amazing espresso!

In this video, watch Gail use the La Pavoni for the first time, experimenting with different grind levels in order to get a great shot.

Caffeination Time — Come On! (It’s Time for Caffeination)

OK, so it might not necessarily be as age-old as the chicken vs. the egg debate (wait, didn’t they solve that?), but the argument over which has more caffeine — drip coffee or a shot of espresso — is often kicked around the ol’ coffee shop. Obviously, like any good debate, the answer varies almost as widely as the number of preparations for caffeine-carrying plants around the world.

The first thing to keep in mind in this discussion is the plant: Are we talking Robusta or Arabica? Arabica has less caffeine than Robusta, so the bean blend is important to know before you guesstimate your caffeine intake. Secondly, what’s the roast look like? A super dark roast eliminates a large portion of the caffeine content, sending those molecules up in smoke. Lastly, take a look at how much you’re consuming, because quantity matters: If you’re drinking 4 oz. of espresso vs. 7 oz. cup of drip, your intake will be a lot different  than these standards:

  • Percolated (7 oz): 140mg
  • Drip (7 oz): 115 – 175mg
  • Espresso (1.5 – 2 oz): 100mg
  • Brewed (7 oz): 80 – 135mg
  • Instant (7 oz): 65 – 100mg
  • Decaf, brewed (6 oz): 5mg
  • Decaf, instant (6 oz): 3mg

In general, the longer the coffee grounds are in contact with water, the more caffeine will be extracted into your brew. Caffeine is largely responsible for coffee’s bitter taste, which was one of the motivations behind the development of espresso: The relatively short brew time results in a significantly less concentration of caffeine, allowing you to taste other flavors in the coffee.

(Caffeine concentration amounts and molecular image courtesy of Erowid)

Brew Tip: Flood-Free Joe

We have read user reviews of the DeLonghi DCF210TTC and DCF212T drip coffee makers that have referenced issues with water on the counter top or coffee not brewing into the carafe mess-free. When a customer of ours came in the shop with a similar complaint, we decided to figure out what the cause of this issue is — and if there is any way to keep it from happening. After all, who wants a coffee pot that leaks all over the counter?

After experimenting a bit, we determined that it’s a carafe design issue: To ensure that the coffee brews directly into the pot, you need to make sure that the carafe is inserted with the spout lined up to the back of the machine. We have found that if the spout is off to the side, the carafe doesn’t trigger the water release correctly and ends up brewing outside of the pot and sometimes leaking water during the brew process.

A poor design issue? Possibly. But with a little bit of extra attention before each brew, it’s definitely easy to work around.