Category Archives: Rancilio

Comparing Espresso Machines

With so many different kinds of espresso machines on the market, researching which is the best for you can sometimes feel like popping open a big ol’ can of worms. Superautomatic or semi-automatic? Single boiler, heat exchange or double boiler? Is the E61 brew group really that great?

Our goal here at Seattle Coffee Gear is to provide as complete of a picture as we can about as many machines as possible. We read through user reviews to develop general pros and cons, have our techs test out the machines, experiment with different grinders to see how they perform with different machines and, ultimately, drink way more coffee than we should. All of this informs our YouTube videos, the writing we do here, our product descriptions and — one of the best resources we have — our Selecting an Espresso Machine Video.

If you’re just learning about espresso machines and aren’t sure what will meet your needs and budget, this video is a great place to start. We’ve organized the different machine classes by price range and compared their performance against each other, so you can see technical facts like how hot they brew or which type of pump they have and more subjective assessments such as the ease of use or quality of shot.

We’re constantly updating and adding machines, so definitely check out updated Crew Review videos once you hone in on the right machine for you.

Green Machine

We’re all more conscientious these days about our environmental footprint — what we do every day and how that impacts the world around us — and our pocketbook. What started as a random inquiry every now and again eventually developed into a dull roar…people want to find a way to keep their fully intact machine out of a landfill.

So we developed our  Recycling Program to fill this need:  we will break it down into all of its components, reuse any parts that are still good and then recycle most of the rest.

If you’re interested in the program, just contact us and let us know the make, model, age and condition of your machine. We’ll get back to you on how to deliver your machine to us. Feel good when you choose a new, upgraded model that your old machine is still being green!

Selecting a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine

One of the things that sets the crew here at Seattle Coffee Gear apart from the rest is that we have a storefront that features over 60 machines on display for anyone to come in and check out during their selection process. The experience of coming into the store, asking questions, working with Gail and understanding which machine meets your needs and your budget is fairly unique in this space, so we thought we’d make a movie in an attempt to replicate that experience for folks that don’t live in the Seattle area.

If you’re in the market for a semi-automatic espresso machine and aren’t sure where to start, this video is a great primer for what we think are the best in class machines that will fit in anyone’s budget.


Part 1: Gail talks about the different types of machines and then discusses the Saeco Aroma and the Rancilio Silvia semi-automatic espresso machines.


Part 2: Gail continues up the semi-automatic espresso machine line with an introduction to the Quick Mill Alexia and Rocket Giotto Premium Plus.

Tune It Up, Little Darling

We’re all looking for ways to stretch our loot a little further these days. Keeping your home espresso machine in excellent condition means you can enjoy high quality espresso for years to come at a significantly reduced cost than what you’d pay at a local cafe.

To that end, our techs offer a Tune Up service for both superautomatic and semi-automatic espresso machines. This is a popular service that we wanted to share with more people around the country (yes, you can ship your machine to us for this service) and so we asked Gail to describe how this service works, what we do, etc.

For those of you not into watching videos or if you’d like to contact us about having your machine tuned up, we have full detail on the service and a contact form here.

Heat Exchange vs. Double Boiler

We admit it, we’re guilty. We thought that size did matter with regard to boilers on a semi-automatic espresso machine — namely, that two boilers was better than one. The hierarchy in our mind was:

  1. Single Boiler: From the Saeco Aroma to the Rancilio Silvia, the single boiler is a great little semi-automatic espresso machine that requires special attention to boiler temperature so that you’re brewing well below the steaming temp and not burning your espresso. With a single boiler, you’re not able to brew and steam at the same time — we recommend steaming first, then brewing.
  2. Heat Exchange: Instead of pulling your brewing and steaming water from the same vat, per se, heat exchangers like the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Quick Mill Andreja Premium transports fresh water from the reservoir through the boiler via a copper tube that is specifically designed in length and girth to heat the passing water to the optimum brewing temperature, not the steaming temperature. We are talking about a nearly 40F degree difference, so this improved temperature regulation significantly upgrades the espresso shot quality. This functionality also allows for simultaneous brew and steam.
  3. Double Boiler: Only a few models on the market, such as the La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi or Izzo Alex Duetto, feature absolutely separate boilers for steaming and brewing, which allows you to maintain disparate temperatures and brewing and steaming at the same time. You can generally program your preferred brew boiler temperature on these machines and, in the home espresso machine space, they generally feature a quicker recovery time than their heat exchange counterparts.

So, based on those assessments, you’d understand why we were confused by the more is better idea — that maintaining temperature is significantly easier when you’ve got two separate boilers doing their own thing.

However, in our recent research and education around the new line of commercial Faema machines we’re now carrying, we learned that our hierarchical view was incorrect — in fact, Italians haven’t been using double boiler technology for decades, believing that the heat exchange technology provides for significantly improved espresso due to one major reason: It’s alive!

Boiler water is considered ‘dead’ water because it’s sitting in a little metal unit cooking away. Over time, this results in a significantly increased alkaline content in the water (ah yes, that lovely scale we keep talking about so much) and a mineral imbalance in extraction. Basically, the flavor’s different.

Since heat exchange machines are continuously cycling fresh water through their siphoning system, they have an improved mineral balance and cannot become stale like the water in the double boilers might. So the flavor is significantly better and, therefore, preferred by connoisseurs the world over.

If you’re in the market for a ‘prosumer’ machine, this is definitely important information for you to mull over. Not only is the footprint smaller on a heat exchange machine vs. a double boiler, but it just might pull a better shot.

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.

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.

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?

Tech Tip: Backflush Flashback


If you have a semi-automatic espresso machine with a 3-way pressure release, or solenoid, valve, you need to backflush it on a regular basis to keep the machine in fine working order. Backflushing will clean up behind the screen and into the brewing system, cleaning out coffee or grounds residue and reducing the potential for clogs.You can watch Dane as he cleans a Rocket Giotto, or follow these steps:

  1. Replace brew basket with a blind basket in the portafilter (or you can use this universal insert in your existing basket)
  2. Place 1/2 teaspoon of a backflush detergent such as Cafiza or Joe Glo (Important: make sure it indicates backflushing as its primary use on the label — do not use Dezcal or any other standard detergent here!)
  3. Insert the portafilter into the brew group and initiate a shot
  4. Allow the pump to run about 4 – 5 seconds maximum
  5. Turn the pump off and allow the water and suds to release through the valve
  6. Repeat this process until the water coming out of the valve is clear and suds-free
  7. Remove the portafilter, rinse it in cool water to cool it down and then switch out the baskets again
  8. Before you pull your first shot, run a blank shot through the system to make sure there is no residue leftover