Category Archives: Reviews

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Savrika Tea Review

IMG_1795After a year of writing tea reviews, I have visited quite a few different tea shops and houses in the greater Seattle area. While none of the other tea shops I visited were bad, in fact all of them served great tea and food, it was apparent that the owners of some tea shops hadn’t invested the same amount of knowledge or time into learning about the products they sell. Or if they have, they haven’t quite figured out how to share that information with their customers. However, when I recently stumbled upon Savrika Tea in downtown Kirkland, I realized I had discovered something really special.

You can tell that the owner, Rupa D. Gadre, is passionate about tea. This love for tea is evident from the second you step into Savrika Tea. This is not only because the numerous tea certifications she has earned, Rupa has been taking specialized courses since 2011 and officially became a Certified Tea Specialist in the Fall of 2013, but also due to the tea wall focal point and huge variety of tea with something to suit every taste.

IMG_1821Rupa’s entry to the tea world and entrepreneurship was somewhat unexpected. She originally worked as a Web Analyst for Cisco Systems, but took a hiatus from work to have children. As a mom, Rupa often visited the mall for her kid’s play dates and stopped at Teavana while there. Yet, while the store introduced her to a variety of wonderful loose leaf teas, she soon realized there were major drawbacks with the experience. One, there was no place to actually sit and enjoy the tea she purchased, so Rupa was forced to take the tea home and drink it by herself. Two, Rupa explains that she had a lot of questions about tea that the store staff couldn’t answer. Thus, disappointed in the lack of the social aspect and wanting people to be able to learn more about the tea they were drinking, Savrika Tea was born.

When it was clear that the store was going to be a reality, Rupa told me that she lucked into meeting an architect, who also happened to be an ex-Starbucks employee, through a fellow parent. Rupa explained that, while not a designer, she knew she wanted “a modern and clean look and feel.  That is evident also in the tea wall focal point, the furnishings I chose, the concrete design on the floor, and the bathrooms.” Rupa adds that “because I’m the one making the final decisions, there was no committee to restrict my colors or themes,” which was nice since it allowed her to make the space truly her own.

IMG_1818The appearance of the store definitely accomplishes Rupa’s goal. The shop is a modern oasis, with shiny granite tables and a cozy nook to one side of the space that is excellent for curling up with a good book. The clean lines of the shelving put the tea ware and tea that is sold on display. Aside from the giant wall of tea, my favorite part of the store was the tea sampling station that is set up in the center of the room.  Here, all 200 varieties of tea the shop sells are stored in small, color-coded tins (black tins for black teas, green tins for green teas and so on). Customers are able to open these tins in order to smell and examine the teas inside to find one or more that they would like to drink. There is a directory of all the teas that the store offers, which lists the ingredients and a description of each tea to help you get a better idea of what each one contains. If you still aren’t sure what tea you would like to try, Savrika’s knowledgeable staff can help you find a tea that is a good fit for you based on what flavors you enjoy. To ensure her staff remains knowledgeable about tea, Rupa says that, “after every training [I go to], I bring back my coursework and notes and educate my staff. That way they have more information at hand when speaking with customers.” In addition, Rupa states, “ I encourage my staff to try a new tea on each shift; that way they can give personal recommendations as well make their way through all 200 varieties.”

After exploring a number of the different teas on offer, I ended up deciding upon a black-green tea blend called “Roxie’s Passion” at the recommendation of a staff member. This blend includes black tea, green tea, papaya cubes, rosehip peel, flavoring and sunflower blossoms. Since it is summer, and has been hot out, I opted to have Roxie’s Passion brewed iced.  The tea arrived at my table in a to-go cup and was a pretty golden peach color. The flavor was even better. The tea tastes of a nice, smooth traditional black tea, except slightly lighter, perhaps because of the green tea that was also in the brew. There were fruity notes, such as peach and passion fruit, in the tea that made it even more delicious. In addition, the tea shop sells quite a few desserts and tea sandwiches, which can be hard to find nowadays. I didn’t sample any of these goodies myself, but they looked pretty tasty.

IMG_1812While Savrika Tea is Rupa’s first foray into selling tea on her own, it is not her first experience with tea. According to Rupa:

As far back as I can remember, tea was always around and part of my life.  When we had guests, my Mom would bring out the nicer teapots.  At parties, chai was always the last item served.  When we’d go on vacations, my parents would stop the car for afternoon tea time. It didn’t matter where we were, but the tea break came to be expected. It was the tradition that followed from India to their new country, from their parents’ houses to our home, and now to my home and business.

Since tea has long been a part of Rupa’s life, she decided she would combine another important aspect of her background, her Indian heritage, into the store. As such, “the base of the [store’s] name is ‘Sarika,’ which is a Sanskrit woman’s name meaning beauty in nature. I added the ‘v’ to make it Savrika – wholly mine and unique, but with an Indian base. “

IMG_1823Savrika Tea is rapidly approaching its second birthday; the store opened its doors in September of 2012, and shows no signs of slowing down. Even on a Wednesday afternoon, when I visited, there were quite a few people in the shop sipping tea while reading or working on their computers. Besides selling tea, Rupa offers frequent tea tastings and classes so customers interested in learning more about tea have the opportunity to do so. It seems the abundance of knowledge Rupa provides her customers is likely what makes Savirka Tea so successful. Rupa said it best when she stated, “I have no agenda except to provide high-quality tea and perhaps educate customers along the way.”

Crew Review: Everpure ESO7

Everpure ESO7If you live in the United States, it is likely you are afflicted by hard water. According to a U.S. geologic survey completed by the American Water Works Association, 85 percent of the United States has hard water (also known as water that high mineral content). While hard water is not harmful to your health, it can have a funny aftertaste and, even worse, cause damage in the boilers of espresso machines by creating scale buildup. Now that you know that there is a good chance that you have hard water in your area, what do you do to protect your precious espresso machine? The easiest and relatively least expensive method is to invest in water softener for commercial espresso machines, such as the Everpure ESO7.

While there are a variety of different water softeners and filtrations systems on the market, we like the Everpure because it takes care of a lot of different aspects of water filtration. Not only will this cartridge soften your water, but it will also buffer and filter your water. This helps prevent the water from becoming too acidic and reduces minerals, chlorine, off tastes and orders. In addition, this system has a pretty long lifespan and covers most manufacture warranties. The Everpure ESO7 is a single cartridge system, so you will also need a filter head in order to connect it to your espresso machine. Everpure makes a couple of different heads, so you can get any one that fits this system, but we typically use the QL2 Filter Head since it is simple and economical.

However, before you install a water softener, it is important that you know exactly how hard your water is to ensure your purchase the right setup for you café. If you live somewhere that has water that contains five to three grains of scale, you will not want to get the ESO7, as it is too strong and will actually do more harm than good. On the other hand, if you are located in area that has six grams of scale or higher, that amount of scale does need to be brought down and you will want to install something like the Everpure ESO7 to protect your machine. Finally, if you are in an area with really hard water (yes, we’re looking at you Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Arizona and southern California), you can build a double or triple capacity flirtation system using these Everpure cartridges.

Besides working on a variety of setups, these cartridges are easy enough to install and replace that you can do it on your own. This will save you both time and money, since you won’t need to have a tech sent out to you or have to pay any for any technician fees. Ready to start setting up your filtration system? Check out this video where Brandon tells us a little bit more about the Everpure ES07 and demonstrates how it is installed.

Crew Review: Everpure ESO7

Crew Review: Jura Impressa C60

Jura Impressa C60Like many of our other favorite brands, Jura is always working on innovating their machines, and the latest edition is pretty easy on the eyes. The Jura Impressa C60 has the same sleek styling as its predecessor the Impressa C5, but many of the features on the machine have been enhanced. In fact, it almost seems as if Jura took a look at our list of areas that had room for growth and improved upon these items.

One of the more common complaints about the C5 was that users did not have much control over the functions on the machine. You had programmable control over the water volume, but not over the temperature or the shot volume. However, Jura has remedied this on the Impressa C60 by allowing you to adjust the volume, dosage and strength of the shot on the fly so you can make important last minute changes to your drink right before you brew. While you still don’t have the option to change your brew temperature on the fly with the C60, you can select it to be either “high” or “normal” in the machine’s menu.

Another drawback of the Impressa C5 is that while it would brew your coffee at one touch of a button, there was no automatic milk frothing option. This may not have been an issue for budding baristas, but we have found a lot of superauto users enjoy having the machine do the work for them and wished the C5 would do the same. Well, you no longer have to dream, as this wish has been granted. The C60 is equipped with Jura’s Fine Foam Frother, so you can make light and fluffy milk for cappuccino with just a touch of a button, no barista school required!

Ultimately, the biggest pro of the Jura Impressa C60 is the really inexpensive price of the machine, considering all of the options it has. We also like the programmable auto-shut off, since it allows you to go about your business around the house, and elsewhere, without having to worry whether you left your machine on. Do-it-yourselfers may not like being able to access the brew unit on the machine for cleaning, which is an issue on all Jura superautos, but we haven’t heard any complaints as they have tablets that do the job for you.

To see what exactly has been upgrade on the Jura Impressa C60, watch as Brendan and Gail explore the new functions on this machine. Of course, this test wouldn’t be complete without rewarding all of their hard work by making their signature cappuccino.

Crew Review: Jura Impressa C60

Tech Tips: Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius Programming

Classe 9 XcelsiusWe learned about the features and functionality of the Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius last week, so this week we are going to dive a little deeper and talk about what you can do with the machine’s programming and settings. With its variety of features and menus, the Classe 9 Xcelsius may seem a little intimidating at first glance. However, even though there are a lot of options on this high-end machine, it is really easy to use and get through. This is largely because Rancilio does an excellent job of explaining what every button on the machine does. In fact, you don’t even have to pull out your manual to look up the functions out each button, as Rancilio has printed a guide showing which features each button controls right on the bottom front of the machine.

The top row of icons shows you what each button does when you are in the programming mode of the machine. In this mode, you have a button for plus, minus, enter, escape and for programing the volumetric control. Once you are in programming mode, you have normal options like setup, Xcelsius module, counters, iSteam, cleaning cycle as well as data interfaces and diagnostics that are really just for techs. The true fun begins when you delve further into the setup option. In this mode you can adjust the pressure setting on your machine, which is cool since on most other machines you have to access their internals to make these kinds of changes. You can also change your dose setting and pre-infusion time, track the length of your shot and even save energy by reducing the amount of power the machine uses at night.

The bottom row of icons shows what buttons control the cleaning, manger and volumetric controls on this machine. Each of these controls comes with several helpful functions. For instance, on the cleaning module you can set the Classe 9 Xcelsius to do an automatic backflush and the volumetric control allows you to set your brewing parameters by volume instead of impulses. A few of our favorite features are the counter, which allows you to see how many times a button has been hit. This enables you to make sure this button as been hit roughly the same amount of times as drinks you’ve charged for, putting control over accounting features back in your hands. We also like the renew boiler water function, which is really unique and only offered by Rancilio, which allows you to flush all the water out of your boiler and replace it with fresh water.

Last, but not least, on the front of the machine are two buttons, which are the buttons that actually make this Classe 9 an Xcelsius machine. The first of these two buttons is marked with an “O,” and is the power button that allows you to turn each group head on and off.  The second button, or “X” button; will take you into the barista mode of the Xcelsius. Here you can control the temperature profile for each group head and change it up, down and also modify the start and end temperature of your brew.

The downside is the barista mode is one of the more limited options on the machine, and is really intended for making minor adjustments as you can only change your temperature setting by about five degrees. Yet, if you press and hold down the “X” and “O” buttons together, you are able to access the tech mode on the machine, which gives you a much larger temperature variance (ten degrees) to play with.

Although there are a few features to get accustomed to on this machine, the nice part is your tech should have set up most of the major options for you, so you will just have to make minor adjustments. However, whether you fully utilize all the options on the machine or not, it is nice know what they control. To find out more about each setting, watch as Brandon takes us on more in-depth tour of the programing of the Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius. Before you know it, you’ll have your machine dialed in to make the perfect cup of coffee!

Tech Tips: Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius Programming

Crew Review: Capresso Iced Tea Maker

Capresso Iced Tea MakerIce, ice baby! That’s what we’ve been chanting these past couple of weeks. Yes, it does get hot even here in Seattle. As such, we probably wouldn’t make it through the summer, nor would it be complete, without a frosty cold drink to sip on. One of our preferred beverages to cool down with is iced tea. However, the one draw back is that we usually have to wait a couple of hours for the tea to brew and chill before we actually get to enjoy it. When it is as hot as it has been, we’re talking upper 80s here folks – we’re just not built for that, a couple of hours seems like an awfully long time to wait for refreshment. Enter the Capresso Iced Tea Maker, our wonder brewer of the summer. This slick machine can brew up a batch of tea in just 10 minutes or less, and it is pretty easy to use as well.

In order to make iced tea on this machine, load the removable filter basket with three to six tablespoons of loose leaf tea or four to ten tea bags, depending on how strong you like your tea. Next, fill the removable water tank in back of the machine up with water and fill the glass carafe in the front of the machine up to the “ice line” with ice. Note, that the line is pretty high up, so make sure you have a lot of ice. There is also a water line (near the bottom of the machine), so if you’re short on ice you could also fill it up with really cold water.

If you are brewing something like a black tea, you can also try putting pieces of fruit into the carafe with the ice, which will infuse your tea as it brews over the fruit. In fact, if you are interested in experimenting with your tea, the Capresso Iced Tea Maker actually comes with a recipe booklet that has instructions for creating other clever, tea-based drinks. Before you start your brew, make sure you adjust the brew level on the top of the machine, to brew your tea to your desired strength. Finally, press the button the side to start brewing, and your delicious iced tea should be ready within five to ten minutes.

The nice thing about this brewer is that you won’t even have to put it into hibernation during the colder winter months, as it makes hot tea too. Just you’re your tea without the ice or cold water. Or, if you really need your java fix, and would rather cool off with iced coffee, you can make that on this brewer as well. Simply add coffee grounds instead of tea and you’re good to go.

We used some of the Chai Dairies Iced Tea we just got in to whip up a batch and were impressed with both the teas and the machine. The tea maker is ultra convenient and the teas are in tasty flavors like Blood Orange, Rose Oolong and Berry Blast.  Watch as Kaylie and Gail use the Capresso Iced Tea Maker to try out the Blood Orange tea in particular, which they say is perfect for when you’re thirsty on a hot day.

Crew Review: Capresso Iced Tea Maker

Crew Review: Ascaso Dream Up V2.0

Ascaso Dream Up V2.0One thing we like a lot about Ascaso is that they frequently update their machines to ensure that they allow you to produce a better cup of coffee at home.  As result, we’ve seen a lot of different versions of this machine at SCG over the years. The last version, the Dream Up, incorporated a three-way solenoid valve into the machine and this most recent upgrade introduces a thermoblock to the espresso maker as well. We were excited to see the update to the Ascaso Dream Up V2.0 since the machine previously used a traditional style boiler, which our repair department noticed had to get replaced quite frequently. With this improvement, the espresso machine should have a longer life span and be much faster as well.

In addition to the faster brewing time, we also like that the Ascaso Dream Up V2.0 comes with a lot of options for actually creating your coffee. With both single and double pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets, as well as basket for E.S.E. pods, this machine accommodates people who are just getting to coffee and those who are old pros. Better yet, you even have a choice when it comes to how you want to steam your milk, as there steam arm tips for both a panarello and a standard steam arm.

The one draw back some people may find with this espresso machine is that it tends to have soupier pucks than other machines with three-way solenoid valves. This is due to the spring and the ball valve in the brew head. This setup ends up sealing the brew head, so that the three-way solenoid valve can’t go all the way to your portafilter to return that pressure to enable the puck to dry out more completely. However, with some many other great features on this machine, the soupier pucks are not a deal breaker for us.

It is no surprise this machine has remained as part of our lineup for so many years. Even though the Ascaso Dream Up V2.0 is a fairly simple in design, it performs very well and is easy to use because it doesn’t have an excessive amount of bells and whistles. Thus, if you like brewing shots out of your portafilter and are not a big fan of superautos, this is the machine for you. Likewise, with its retro styling and aluminum metal casing, which will hold up to nearly anything, this machine will look great on your counter top. We also love that this little semi-auto comes in a ton of fun colors like cow print and baby blue in addition to the more traditional polished aluminum and gray.

To see how this the machine looks in action, watch as Brendan and Gail give it a whirl. We’ll even let you in on a little secret; the stylish look of the Ascaso Dream Up V2.0 made it the machine Brendan picked when asked which espresso maker he would buy out of our showroom during his interview.

Crew Review: Ascaso Dream Up V2.0

Crew Review: Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius

Rancilio Classe 9 XcelsiusIf you’re looking for a commercial machine that uses the latest technology to produce consistently great shots and that is classy to the nth degree (or should that be the 9th degree?) then the Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius may just be the machine for you. Rancilio has put a lot of work into researching and building this machine, and they have created something really great in their first foray into third wave coffee temperature profiling machines.

What is the difference between the Classe 9 and the Classe 9 Xcelsius? In this case, the word Xcelsius does actually mean something and hasn’t just been added the name of the machine in order to make it sound fancier. While the Xcelsius will still do a heat exchange to get water up into the coffee boiler, the machine also introduces an individual coffee boiler at each brew pad. This means no matter if you have two, three or four group machines, there will be an individual 250 watt boiler at each group head.

In order to provide even more temperature control, Rancilio has also designed a micro boiler (which they call finishing boiler) and cold water source into the machine. The finishing boiler is very small, and the concept behind it is to use it to inject water up in to the coffee boiler. Next, a heating element inside the coffee boiler is used to either increase or flatten out the water temperature. Finally, the cold water source is used to bend the temperature down. For instance, if we have the boiler temperature at 203 degrees Fahrenheit and want to bring it down to 198 degrees Fahrenheit during the extraction process, we can inject cold water into the boiler, a feature you’re not going to see on any other machine.

After we get past the Xcelsius programming, the machine is very much like a typical volumetric machine. However, there are a couple of other features we like on the Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius, such as the being able to configure the machine for short or tall drinks by simply sliding out a tray to set shot glasses on for shorter drinks.  With this machine you also have the ability to turn off individual group heads and save power by not having them run all night.

The Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius has the best temperature stability on the market, and is the highest commercial machine Rancilio has created thus far. As such, the Classe 9 Xcelsius is great option for high volume cafes that are trying to do third wave coffee and are brewing a variety of single origin coffees. Especially since the machine’s temperature profiling ability will allow you to pull different characteristics out of Sumatran or Ethiopian coffees. To learn more about the functionality of this machine, watch as Brandon walks us through its features.

Crew Review: Rancilio Classe 9 Xcelsius

Crew Review: Capresso On-the-Go

Capresso On-the-GoLooking to jump-start your mornings? Well, the Capresso On-the-Go may be just the thing to speed up your routine and provide you with the delicious coffee you need to get you going. How does this little machine accomplish such a feat? It brews your coffee right into the included stainless steel travel mug, so all you have to do is grab it and go!

Besides being really convenient, this personal coffee maker is also very easy to use. There are only two buttons on this machine, an “On/Off” switch and a “Brew” button, so you don’t have to fiddle with a lot of settings in order to get your brew started. Dosing the Capresso On-the-Go is equally pain-free. All you have to do is fill water tank with the amount of water you want to brew with, load the reusable filter with 2-5 scoops of coffee, put it in the filter basket and then place the whole ensemble in the machine. One thing to keep in mind is that it is best not to exceed six scoops of coffee when brewing, as it may cause the filter to overflow. Likewise, while Capresso claims that you can use pods in this machine, we found that using pre-ground coffee works the best.

While playing around on this machine, we discovered that you might want to pre-heat the travel mug or whatever container you are brewing into before using it. We also wish that we could keep the lid on the travel mug when brewing, which unfortunately isn’t possible. Thus, be careful when making your coffee in this mug to make sure it doesn’t spill.

The Capresso On-the-Go is a great little brewer, especially for people who just want a simple, quick cup of coffee. It only takes about four minutes to brew, which is pretty fast! This coffee maker is also a good option for anyone who lives by themselves or with people who don’t like coffee or don’t like to share, you know who you are! See this machine in action as Gail and Brendan test it out for the first time.

Crew Review: Capresso On-the-Go

Crew Review: Baratza Preciso

Baratza PrecisoWe’ve long enjoyed the grinders produced by Baratza due to their ability to grind our coffee and espresso to just the right consistency to produce that the perfect cup. The other thing we love about Baratza is they are constantly innovating and improving their grinders. This means each usually model features an upgrade that causes us to like it even more. Such is the case with the Baratza Preciso, which used to be called the Virtuoso Preciso. While the name of this grinder changed to simply the Baratza Preciso a while back, we realized we didn’t have a video of this model with its new moniker. We’ve also had a few people request that we compare the Preciso with its cousin, the Baratza Virtuoso. Therefore, we decided why not kill two birds with one stone and create a video that solves both problems.

Like the Virtuoso, the Preciso is designed with 40mm conical steel burrs that will produce a consistent grind every time. Yet, while both grinders create a very good grind, we found that the Preciso has a couple of features that give it a slight advantage over the Virtuoso. The main difference between the Preciso and Virtuoso is that in addition to the 40 macro adjustments found on each machine, the Preciso also has 11 micro adjustments in the front. This allows you to have more control over how fine or coarse your grind is, since you can adjust the micro setting to future dial in the macro setting you have selected. In fact, we’ve found that the combination of these micro and macro adjustments allow the Preciso to have more precision and options than other models, meaning you will hardly ever have any trouble dialing in your grind.

We also like that the Preciso comes with a portaholder (which is not included with the Virtuoso, but you can buy the portaholder separately and add it on) that will hold your portafilter in the grinder for you for easy dosing. We even tested out several different portafilters in the portaholder, and were pleased to find that the majority of them fit without any adjustments.

Ultimately, we decided that the Preciso has a bit of an edge over the Virtuoso, since it has more options. Thus, the Preciso is a great machine for home baristas who is brewing different types of espresso and really wants to experiment with their coffee and their grind. That doesn’t mean the Virtuoso isn’t a good grinder, because it certainly works well. However, the Virtuoso is better suited for people who don’t need as fine a grind or are using a pressurized portafilter. Of course, we couldn’t claim that the Preciso was, like its name, more precise without first testing our theory. Watch Brendan and Gail as they put both the Baratza Preciso and Virtuoso to the test to see which machine can create the finest grind.

Crew Review: Baratza Preciso

Crew Review: Nespresso VertuoLine

Nespresso VertuoLineJust when you thought brewing your morning cup of Joe or espresso on a fully automatic espresso maker couldn’t get easy easier, Nespresso has created a new machine that further simplifies the process. Not only is the Nespresso VertuoLine capable of brewing espresso and coffee, but it also has been designed to do the thinking for you when it comes to making your preferred beverage.

How this possible? The machine is programmed to read the bar code that is printed around the rim of each capsule and determine the pressure (it still does nine bars of pressure on espresso), water volume, temperature and rotational speed it should use to brew each blend. If you’re wondering what rotational speed has to do with making coffee, Nespresso has developed a new technology that actually spins the coffee capsule while it is brewing. Water is then injected into the capsule while it spins, which likely allows the grounds to get better saturated. Some people may miss having the ability to program their machine themselves, but Nepresso believes you won’t ever need to as they have done a lot of testing to ensure their brewing parameters are just right.

One downside of the Nespresso VirtuoLine is that the old Nespresso capsules won’t work with it, since they aren’t designed for the VirtuoLine system. Thus, if you are upgrading from one of the previous Nespresso machines, make sure to use all of your old capsules before retiring your old machine. However, your new Nespresso VertuoLine does come with a sample box of capsules (or “Grand Crus” as Nespresso calls them), so you can sample the four espresso and eight coffee blends to determine which ones you like the best.

Overall, we really liked this upgrade to the Nespresso line. This compact machine brews a very hot and smooth cup, with a lot of crema. There is even a surprisingly large amount of crema on the coffee option; you may want to stir it in to the rest of the coffee in order to combine the flavors. Likewise, since the VertuoLine is so easy to use, it is a great option for people who want no muss and no fuss when creating their brew. The machine is also great for people who only want to brew one cup at a time or for households where everyone wants something different. To see how the new brewing process works, watch as Gail and Dori give the coffee and espresso a whirl on the VertuoLine.

Crew Review: Nespresso VertuoLine