When you’ve started up your espresso machine for the first time in the morning, it’s important that you thoroughly warm it up — from the inside out — before you pull any shots. The easiest way to do this is to pull a ‘blind shot’ through the portafilter once your machine’s boiler has reached proper brewing temperature.
What’s a ‘blind shot’? It sounds fancier than it is: Just insert your empty portafilter into the brew group, then initiate your shot. Let the hot water run through to heat up the internal pipes, the brew group head and the portafilter. Incidentally, this is also something you should do if you have machine with an E61 brew group that has been on and sitting unattended for more than 10 minutes.
Remember: Temperature regulation is probably one of the most important aspects of espresso brewing, so take the time to make sure brewing temperature is up to snuff. Otherwise, you’ll end up with poorly extracted, cool, pale shots with little crema.
The practice of topping off your hot beverage with beautiful milk foam art shouldn’t be limited to just espresso drinks! We often get asked how to do ‘cocoa art’ in a similar manner to latte art, so here’s how we express our cocoa side:
First, mix your preferred amount of chocolate with a few tablespoons of milk to create a dark mixture with which your foamed milk can be integrated. After you’ve steamed your milk, pour it similarly to how you pour when you make latte art. A simple leaf, for example, starts with pouring the milk in the middle of the mug, then slowly moving outward to the side, eventually working your way slowly back into the middle while shaking the pitcher from side to side. You should have a kind of leaf-like design, pulling back at the last moment to form the stem.
Regular maintenance of all your espresso or coffee related apparatus is essential to extending their longevity in your home or office. We talk a lot about how to keep your espresso machine healthy, but grinders need a little love, too!
One easy way to do this is, once a week, adjust your grinder to the coarsest setting possible, then run it for a few minutes to flush out any fine grinds that may be stuck around the blades, etc. This regular maintenance will decrease the likelihood of clogs and ensure evenness in grind. We recommend doing this on all stand-alone grinders and also if you have an espresso machine or coffee maker that features an internal grinder.
If you have an espresso machine which features a panarello tip on the steam wand (such as a those from Saeco or DeLonghi), learning how to steam milk to your preference can take a few tries. Here are some tips on how to produce different kinds of milk textures using this type of steam wand:
- Super Fluffy Foam: If you keep the air intake (hole or slit) above the surface of the milk, you’ll create big foam and bubbles.
- Steamed Only: Fully submerge the air intake in the milk to produce steamed milk with no foam.
- Microfoam: Keep the air intake level with the milk, drawing in equal amounts of milk and air.
- Overflow Watch: If your foamed milk is about to overflow from the pitcher but it’s not up to your preferred temperature, simply submerge the wand completely (up above the air intake) and continue to steam.
We have written about the shot pulling/extraction process before, and thought it would be a good idea to show you an easy way of evaluating whether or not your shot extractions are ideal.
The secret is in your basket. Once you pull your shot, discard the coffee puck and examine the portafilter basket: If you see a caramelized residue sticking to the bottom of the basket, it’s highly likely that your shot was over extracted and may taste bitter or burnt.
So if your shot is looking a little bit on the long side and you’re not sure of your extraction, save yourself a taste test and check out the basket for clues instead.
You may be sensing a theme here…keep it clean! The best way to keep your machine out of the repair shop and performing optimally is to regularly maintain all of its components.
Your machine’s brew group is arguably the most important part, so taking the time to keep it in tip top shape means it will give you delicious espresso shots for years to come.
We’ve compiled some how-to tips for each of the basic styles of home espresso machines. If you need more assistance, refer to your user manual or give us a call.
We often see single boiler machines (such as some models from Rancilio Silvia, Ascaso Dream Up) that have suffered from one of the silent ills of home espresso machines: Heat element abuse.
Sure, this is a something no one wants to talk about — it’s ugly, it’s bloated and it’s burned out. This is not a sexy subject, but we can’t stand by any longer and watch as it’s so cavalierly swept under the rug! It’s time for us to take a stand…and let you know how you can keep your single boiler machine from becoming just another expensive statistic.
Our How to Brew & Steam – Rancilio Silvia article outlines the basic brewing process that you should follow for any single boiler machine: Namely, steam your milk first and then pull your shots. Following this process enables the machine to pump in and steam the appropriate amount of water necessary to first steam a 12 – 16 oz. quantity of milk and then brew an espresso shot. If you do the opposite and brew the shot before you steam the milk, it will empty out the boiler and, the next time you go to make your coffee, it will attempt to warm nonexistent water, fatiguing the element over time and eventually burning it out.
This burn out could be the end result of hundreds of tiny daily misuses or happen in one big event — like when you’re having a party and need to make many lattes at one time. For the latter, be sure to follow the brewing guidelines and serve your guests coffee in shifts. Make some jokes. Show them how charming you are. Do whatever you need to do — just don’t abuse your espresso machine.
Above Picture: Rancilio Silvia heating element burned out (top) and brand new (bottom)
Is your machine having trouble steaming? Do you find that it’s difficult to dispense water for your Americano or a cup of tea? The last time you tried to use it, did the steam wand’s knob blow off, fly across the room and hit someone in the side of the head?
Home espresso should not be a contact sport! Long term uncleanliness can result in clogs of extremely disgusting proportions (such as the internal portion of a Saeco superautomatic frothing wand).
Keep the green cheese out of your frothy milk by thoroughly rinsing out the milk frothing components after each use. You can easily do this by running hot water/steam through the system until it runs clear. Additionally, in superautomatics with automated cappuccino or frothing functionality, we recommend a full weekly cleanse utilizing a cleansing agent such as Urnex Rinza.
…how many beans it takes to make your favorite coffee drink?
A single shot of espresso = ~45 beans
A standard cup of drip coffee = ~110 beans
One of the most common issues we see in our repair shop is a Superautomatic machine (such as a Saeco, DeLonghi or Jura Capresso) with a non-functional grinder. Often, the ‘Out of Beans’ light will be on, regardless of how many beans are in the hopper, and the grinder will cease functioning properly.
The cause? Those super dark roasted, oily beans! Superautomatics require a very dry bean, as the oilier beans leave too much moisture in the hopper and the grinder, eventually building up and clogging the machine. We really recommend that you try a lighter, drier roast, but if you just can’t break your addiction to oily beans, here are a couple of tips to keep your machine from breaking down over time:
- Each time you refill your hopper, thoroughly wipe out the entire accessible area with a highly absorbent paper towel
- Super fine grinds + oily beans = coffee cement, so dial your grinder in to the coarsest possible setting and you’ll mitigate some of the issue
- Regular maintenance & cleaning of your superautomatic will reduce the build-up from oily beans