Keeping your espresso equipment clean is essential to producing consistently excellent shots. Backflushing on the Rancilio Silvia and machines with the patented E61 brew group will definitely address the brew group and screen, but it’s still a good idea to take them apart every so often and give them a good scrub down. You’ll also need to know how to do this when replacing the brew head gasket, also an important part of regular care and maintenance.
Watch Gail take apart the brew head on the Rancilio Silvia:
If you’re anything like us, you probably used your gear’s user manual for one of three things:
To ineffectively swat at flies, yet one day you accidentally killed one and couldn’t bear to keep the gut-stained book around.
To prop up the uneven handmade bookshelf lovingly made by a friend/parent/spouse/sibling/child that never sits right on the wood floor.
To start a fire in the fireplace to enjoy while sipping on a delicious glass of chai spiced wine. (Guilty!)
Or, maybe you just recycled it by accident. Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is that now you have no wisdom to guide you. We created our manufacturer manual repository over at Brown Bean to connect you with the source code. We have manuals for a lot of models both current and historical, so if you’re looking for tips on how to perform maintenance or need to find out what that error code means, check ‘em out.
Don’t see your model there? Leave a comment here and we’ll see if we can’t track it down and add it to the repository.
If you’re looking for a machine that’s a little bit classier than the Rancilio Silvia, but you’re not looking to spend $1500 on the machine alone, the Quick Mill Alexia is a gorgeous single boiler that has the benefit of a very large (a little over 25 fl oz.) boiler, the hallowed E61 brew group and a low water cut off to keep your machine from burning out. It also has a shiny stainless steel design much like the rest of Quick Mill’s US espresso machines.
It’s not a heat exchanger, however, so you don’t have simultaneous steam and brew functionality available. Therefore, following the steam -> temperature surf -> brew procedure will not only keep your boiler in good shape (by regularly pulling fresh water into the boiler), it will make sure your brew temp is just right for that super-sweet shot. While we regularly recommend the Alexia as the cream of the crop for shot lovers, some latte/cappuccino drinkers pick it up as well and are really satisfied with the results, even though it takes a bit more time than its heat exchanger or double boiler counterparts.
You can retrofit the machine with a PID, but if you don’t want to add another few hundred bucks to your purchase price, it is easy to use the machine once you have a good idea of how to regulate the temperature. Since our demo model in the store has a PID, we went through and tracked the process corresponding to the PID’s temperature gauge to determine a rough estimate of how much water to pull through the steam/water wand during temperature surfing to easily switch between steam and brew temps.
Seattle Coffee Gear’s monthly newsletter, The Grind, landed in an email box near you today — and if it wasn’t near enough for you to actually read it, you can do so here on the site or make sure you get up close and personal next month by signing up for future editions.
This month, we talk about the different functional types of espresso machines, include a recipe for Indochine Lemon, point you to our manufacturer manual resource on Brown Bean and introduce you to a few new products we have in the store. What you won’t see, however, is The Grind Special, which is for subscriber-eyes-only. Sign up to get that little bit o’ goodness every month.
Navigating the available options in the world of home espresso machines can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Functionally speaking, there are a few different basic variations:
Manual/Lever: With these machines, you are the pump. You grind, tamp and control the pressure during the extraction. You also manage the whole steaming process.
Semi-Automatic: Semi-automatics have 15 – 17 BAR pumps involved, which will settle down to about 9 BARs of pressure if your grind/tamp is accurate. You will grind & tamp, then initiate the shot on and off. Steaming is also up to you.
Automatic: Still grinding, tamping and steaming on your own, but you can program these machines to dose out a specific amount of water, so it will automatically end the shot.
Pressurized Portafilters: Automatic and semi-automatic machines can have a variation that includes a pressurized porftafilter. This makes the machine a little bit easier to use because you don’t have to be super particular about your grind and tamp.
Pod-Friendly: Another variation of semi-automatic and automatic machines are those that allow you to use what is basically a ground coffee version of a tea bag. These single serving pods make for easy, mess-free brewing.
Superautomatic: These machines manage the whole grind and tamp process for you, but on most of them you will still be required to steam your milk. Some of them (usually called ‘One Touch’) provide automated frothing and shot extraction into your cup at the touch of the button; others have an automated frothing system that will froth the milk separately and you can pour it into the cup after it’s automatically extracted.
Capsule: Probably the most simple machine in terms of materials and labor, these guys use a proprietary capsule filled with pre-ground coffee and extract it at the touch of a button — no grinding and tamping. Some of them have automatic frothing options.
We asked Gail to talk to us about these different machines, why someone would want to buy a specific type and why perhaps they wouldn’t want to buy it. Hopefully, this video will function as a good primer for learning the basic functional differences and help you as you research which machine best suits your needs.
DIY lovers are all into the idea of using lemon juice or vinegar to descale their machines, but while the latter will leave a nasty residue and we don’t recommend it for that reason, the former just isn’t concentrated enough to do as an effective job in as an efficient manner as a concentrated citric acid solution like Dezcal. This is what we find out from Gail, plus she makes freaky faces and it’s worth watching just for that.
The final installment of our series comparing different classes of espresso machines is the second part of our reviews on single boiler espresso machines — this time, four models that also feature a three-way release valve. Watch Gail as she talks to us about the features, benefits, similarities and differences between the Rancilio Silvia, Ascaso Uno Pro, Gaggia Baby Class and Quick Mill Alexia.
More than just another pretty face, the Andreja Premium is a semi-automatic heat exchange espresso machine with excellent features like the patented E61 brew head, anti-burn steam wand and a convenient drawer-like drip tray. Check out Gail as she shows us its features and gives us a demonstration of making a latte.
Single and double boiler espresso machines can have greater temperature control if a PID is installed to more minutely manage the thermostat on the boiler. In this video, Gail talks about what a PID is and gives us the lowdown on why you might want one and how you can get one.
For espresso purists out there, a Quick Mill Alexia with a PID interface installed might be the best of all worlds — not only do you have excellent temperature control of the single boiler when you have the PID involved, but the Alexia also offers the patented E61 brew group technology, which significantly improves the shot.
A step up from the Rancilio Silvia and not quite into heat exchangers, the Alexia is a great choice for espresso shot and Americano drinkers — of course, you also have a powerful copper boiler for steaming, if necessary, but you’ll still need to temperature surf on this baby between steaming and brewing. Check out Gail’s review and demonstration in this video.