Category Archives: Q&A

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.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

It would make sense that the purported origin of coffee would proffer an elegant and traditional ceremony that highlights the importance and appreciation of this little bean. Taking you from green bean to brew, the Ethopian Coffee Ceremony begins with freshly roasting beans before your eyes and ends with the sipping of a rich, delicious cup of joe — or three.

We found a great description of the ceremony, which covers both how you might experience it in a restaurant versus a traditional ceremony at home.

Continue reading Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Pump or Steam?

In the world of espresso machines, there are two different directions to take: Pump or steam. A lot of the machines we carry are pump driven and that’s pretty much the preferred method for quality espresso extraction, but we do carry a model that utilizes steam pressure and so we wanted to talk about why.

More than anything, our goal is to provide a wide selection of espresso and coffee related gear in a fairly vendor- and goal-agnostic environment. Whether you’re looking to artisan craft excellent espresso each morning or are simply interested in replacing your Starbucks habit, we want to be able to help you find the best tools to achieve your goal. We don’t judge, baby — we’re not snobs.

To that end, we added a DeLonghi coffee-and-espresso combination machine, which is a great solution for folks who battle it out for one type of java over the other in the morning. What may lack in ultimate taste is more than made up for in the convenience of a single unit.

Because these machines combine coffee and espresso makers, DeLonghi used steam pressure because of size and cost limitations. Utilizing one technology for both brewing coffee and pulling espresso makes for a sleeker design and a lower cost overall. But steam doesn’t get the same amount of pressure as a pump-driven machine and the steam pressure temp of 230-240F is well above the recommended espresso extraction temp of around 204F. The result? Burnt espresso.

Steam pressure is older technology and more affordable overall, so you will likely find it in some of the lower end espresso machines on the market. Just be aware of what you’re getting into — if price means more than flavor, steam pressure espresso machines may be the match for you.

Coffee in High Altitudes

It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were wondering in the store how brewing coffee or pulling espresso differs at higher altitudes. We’re basically at sea level here, but we’d been talking about the kind of coffee some of us have found in the higher elevations of Montana — more bitter and like ‘coffee water’ than what we make and drink here.

We found the answer in this interesting piece on coffee in Santa Fe, NM. A Qasimi discusses how the higher altitude affects brewing and roasting:

I don?t drink home-brewed coffee in Santa Fe. I?ve often found it sour and lacking in the depth, robustness and natural sweetness that makes great coffee great. How does high altitude affect coffee and espresso quality at home and with the use of commercial equipment? Drip coffee machines that merely boil are convenient devices but they deliver water to the grounds at below the ideal range of temperatures, leading to underextraction of the beans and a sour, dull or poorly developed brew.

Thus, the only way to compensate for altitude is pressure — and that means espresso — but pulling a proper espresso shot is not easy at this altitude either. Ironically, though the best coffee grows at higher altitudes, with water?s lower boiling point in elevated places, brewing can get tricky. Roasting, on the other hand, merely benefits from altitude: The best possible results come from roasting the beans at the same altitude as they?ll be used and particularly at high altitudes that allow for faster roast development at lower temperatures

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.