Category Archives: Reviews

Video Crew Review: Capresso 4-Cup Espresso & Cappuccino Machine

We heartily believe that there is a market for every machine; none of them are perfect, but if you can find the one that hits closest to your mark, you’ll be a happy camper.

The Capresso 4 Cup Espresso & Cappuccino machine is steam driven, so many espresso purists may dismiss it purely for this fact alone. However, if you are fond of stovetop/moka pot espresso makers, cafe con leche, cafe au lait, or any variation of strong coffee mixed with hot milk, this machine could be the one for you.

Watch as Gail demonstrates its functionality and gives us some tips on usage. You can read our initial Crew Review from a few weeks ago here.

On the Road with Java

Summer’s siren song is courting us, so it’s time to start thinking about how to take our coffee on the road. There are several excellent brewing options available that are both easy to use and to transport. Here are some recommendations for your coffee travel kit.

Hario Mini Slim Hand Grinder
First up, let’s talk about grinding. You may have thought that you’d take pre-ground coffee with you, but we all know it’s not as tasty to brew with when you get right down to it. Adding the Hario Mini Slim grinder to your collection means that you’ll have a cost effective and easy way to freshly grind your beans to any coarseness level — from espresso to French press. Its durable plastic body is lightweight and compact.

Hario V60 Pour Over
You can go super lo-fi on your preparation by carrying one of these plastic pour overs with you; add paper filters, freshly ground coffee and some hot water from a kettle and you’re in business. There are ceramic and glass versions, too, but the plastic is going to be lighter and more durable in your travel gear. If you’re not going to be carrying said gear on your back, however, then the ceramic and glass models are a good choice as they’ll retain the temperature better than their plastic counterparts.

Aeropress
The Aeropress is one of the darlings of the specialty coffee world, but just because fancy pants coffee connoisseurs dig it doesn’t mean it’s off limits as your travel caffeine source. It’s as lo-fi as the Hario pour overs, but will create a richer brew that is kind of a hybrid between espresso and French press. All you’ll need is your Aeropress, paper filters, freshly ground coffee and hot water to make a tasty cup. It is also made of durable, lightweight plastic so it’s easy to take with you on the road.

French Press
Hailed by campers everywhere, the French press is an awesome solution for your outdoor java needs. Combine this with freshly ground coffee from your Hario Mini Slim, hot water and let it chill out for a few minutes. Then serve up a delicious cup to those near and dear. If you’re a car camper, pick one up made of highly dense borosilicate glass; for hiking or air travel, you may prefer the single-serve plastic version instead.

Stovetop
We’re huge fans of stovetop espresso because it’s a nice balance between strength and flavor. More akin to a really strong cup of coffee, we’ve successfully used our stovetop on gas camping stoves and wood campfires alike. Probably not the best choice for hotel travel, but an awesome solution for outdoors. The stainless steel versions can get a little hefty, so you might not want to carry them on a 10 mile hike-in to that super secret camping spot only you know about. The aluminum version may serve you (and your back!) better in that regard.

Handpresso
Grab and go! The Handpresso lets you pump up the pressure and then pull a shot. It comes in both the ESE pod version (Wild) or with the pre-ground version (Domepod) for a single shot extraction. Not as rich as some of the other methods, but definitely espresso. It’s awesome because you can easily take this on flights, boats, camping, roadtrips — anywhere. Its shots won’t blow you away, but it is nice that you don’t have to have anything other than your brute strength to create the required extraction pressure.

MyPressi TWIST
This little lady is taking the world by storm these days, and with good cause! If you put the effort into pre-heating all the metal components, this nitrous oxide-induced extraction will come close to that achieved on the Rancilio Silvia. You do have to have the nitrous oxide cartridges to achieve an extraction, however, and you can’t easily fly with them. You can try sourcing the cartridges at your destination — and if you’re driving there, even better. This is an awesome solution for roadtripping and hotel travel.

Do you have a favorite coffee travel item not referenced here? Leave it in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!

Compare: Jura Impressa Z5 vs. Saeco Xelsis

For a long time, we had what most people would consider an unnatural love for the Jura Impressa Z5. It was so sleek, so flexible — and it did everything we asked it to. Who wouldn’t love that?

But an appreciation rooted in gadgetgeek love is always at risk of being supplanted, and the Saeco Xelsis is definitely wooing us. Watch Gail take us through the features of both of these machines and demonstrate their one-touch cappuccino functionality.

Yeah — it’s still a tough call. You can get a deeper understanding by watching the complete individual reviews of the Xelsis and the Jura Impressa Z5.

Video Crew Review: Capresso Cafe Espresso Machine

Recently, we wrote our first pass review of the new Capresso Cafe espresso machine and now we have the demo video to back it up! We really were impressed with the features and price of this machine — again, it’s no Rancilio Silvia, but it’s also nearly $500 less! Watch Gail take us through the features, plus demonstrate shot extraction (pressurized and non-pressurized) and milk frothing (with panarello and without).

Crew Review: Capresso 4-Cup Espresso & Capuccino Machine

Steam-driven espresso machines are few and far between these days, especially as folks learn more about ideal brewing temperatures for different coffee preparations. Steam pressure has the bad rap of burning the coffee, and while it will create a nice level of pressure for your espresso extraction, it isn’t going to give you those phenomenally complex and sweetly balanced espresso shots a lot of people covet.

But what steam pressure does give you is value: Without an additional piece of equipment in the mix, machines that use steam pressure for their extraction tend to be on the cheaper side of the cost spectrum. Capresso’s 4-Cup Espresso & Cappuccino Machine is one such animal: For under $60, you can quickly and easily brew up a few cappuccinos on a daily basis without a lot of fuss or muss.

Pros

Powerful steaming
You’d expect that a machine driven by steam pressure would give you a lot of power when steaming or frothing your milk, and in this machine’s case, you’d be right. After we pulled our shots, we let the steam loose and it nearly blew our milk across the room — thankfully, we realized quite quickly that the steam valve’s knob could be regulated for more or less pressure. It produced an okay microfoam (it has a panarello that auto-froths and you have little control over this) very quickly in our 20 oz. milk pitcher, and after we drained all the steam pressure, we guessed we probably could have used a larger pitcher and still had success. The wand isn’t super long, however, so bear that in mind.

Quantity over quality
If you ascribe to the more is better school of life, and quantity means more to you than quality, then the fact that you can set this baby up for four shots in one go will be a huge plus.

Small footprint
You’re basically working with an enclosed boiling pot of water, a hose and a filter head. Not much to encase here and the machine’s size reflects that. Nice and petite for the space-conscious.

Cons

Too steamy
We didn’t know this was possible, but yes, too much steam can be a bad thing. Especially when it’s coming into contact with your arguably very tenderhearted ground coffee. While we pulled four shots in one extraction, the shots definitely tasted on the burnt side and more closely resembled what you get from a stovetop/moka pot than what you’d get off a pump-driven espresso machine. Crema? Forget it.

Cuidado!
Because you’re working with only steam pressure to get the job done, you have to be careful to release all the built up pressure before you remove either the portafilter or the cap to the boiler. We had a lot of pressure built up after making our lattes, and it was a few minutes before it all released. We had ugly visions of early morning fogs frighteningly punctuated by exploding portafilters, spewing coffee grounds all over the place. Definitely take care to release all of the built up pressure before doing anything with portafilter or opening up the boiler cap.

The Verdict

If you really can’t justify spending more than $100 on your espresso machine, or being able to whip up two fairly average cappuccinos quickly is your prime directive, this machine may be your ticket. The espresso results from a pump machine far outweigh the savings that you get with a machine like this, so we’d opt to save our loot and jump right into a machine that is pump driven. However, if you love stovetop/moka pot espresso and you want an easy way to do that in the morning, plus have steamed/frothed milk, this could meet your needs very well.

Hot Blog on Blog Action: The Other Black Stuff

Since spending a nice chunk of time in its rolling hills in our youth (St. Mullins reprazent), we have always had a soft little spot for Ireland. While the coffee scene in the rural areas was non existent, we didn’t really see much of anything going on in the major cities we visited, either, but that was 15 years ago and a lot has changed since then.

There are a few people holding it down for the bean in Ireland, making great strides to bring quality, experimentation and true gastronomic appreciation for coffee to their communities. We love reading the work folks like Colin Harmon (2009 Irish Barista champ) are doing and we stumbled upon the musings of David Walsh via Twitter. His blog, The Other Black Stuff, provides excellent tips, opinion, perspective and experience on a variety of coffee and equipment related subjects — a great read for anyone interested in how coffee is changing in Ireland, but also interesting from a general coffee perspective as well.

Crew Review: Capresso Cafe Espresso Machine

A little budget-conscious? Who isn’t? If you’d like to get your paws on a home espresso machine for under $200, Capresso’s Cafe Espresso Machine has a nice feature/value balance that could be an excellent contender. Here’s our assessment of this lil’ number.

Pros

Convertible steam wand
The wand has an easily removable panarello sleeve that incorporates just a small amount of air into the milk, creating a fluffy froth. However, if you want a little more control over it, you can remove the sleeve to reveal a traditional single hole tip steam wand below — yes, it’s black plastic, and yes, it’s running off a thermoblock so the steam is on the wetter side, but we were able to produce a silky, wet paint-like microfoam suitable for latte art (theoretically).

Size
If you’ve got a smaller kitchen where countertop space is at a premium, this little guy has both a tiny footprint and a lot of overhead clearance for cupboards, etc.

Functional design
The water reservoir is side accessed and easily removable for filling, cleaning, etc. We liked the drip tray’s drawer-esque design and the active metal heating plate on top of the machine got pretty toasty, quickly warming cups.

Cons

Cheesy portafilter
The only way this portafilter could be any more insubstantial is if it was made from paper. Really, does it have to be this lightweight for the price? We’re not sure, but we don’t think the aluminum, rough-hewn design does the machine any favors. One nice thing, however, is the fact that you can easily convert it between pressurized and non-pressurized via a little metal insert.

Thermoblock
While this is good in that it heats up quickly and you don’t have to necessarily temperature surf between steaming and brewing, this kind of functionality really does tend to favor the steam side of things and not the brew side. We got great steaming results (even though it took a little longer than we’d like it to), but our shots were either too hot/burnt or too cool/sour. We’ll need to play around with it more to dial it in just right, and we were able to produce a couple of shots that were serviceable — especially if they were going to be mixed with milk.

Operational design
You manage steam and brew by selecting which function you’d like on the toggle switch, then when the indicator light is green, you flip a dial one way or the other to initiate the shot or open the steam valve. For shot brewing and steaming with the panarello wand, this dial was fine, but we found we needed one more hand to switch off the steam when we were using the traditional wand and trying to keep the milk rolling until we were finished.

The Verdict

Overall, this machine is well balanced for what you pay and what you get. It’s not going to win any fetching design awards or power up next to the Silvia and perform neck-and-neck, but it does give you some great flexibility and is easy to use. We love it that you can easily convert the portafilter to non-pressurized and there really are very few machines in this price range (if any?) that give you traditional steam wand functionality in addition to a panarello — usually, it’s either/or and generally it’s only the latter. So that is a huge plus for this machine and one of the biggest reasons to consider it.

Field Trip: Gail & Kat Take on the SCAA Main Event

No, there weren’t any wrestlers present, but there was a high concentration of coffee related ninjas on the floor. Last week, we were lucky enough to head down to Anaheim, CA, for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Main Event, which is a specialty coffee industry educational and trade show that covers everything from coffee growers to roasters to equipment suppliers to mad skilled baristas. This year, it also hosted the United States Barista Championship — with Mike Phillips of Intelligentsia defending and re-securing his title. He’ll be heading out to compete with the rest of the national barista champs from around the world at the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) event this summer in the UK.

But back to the show. We attended a few different lectures, talked with many of our vendors on the trade show floor, watched Midwest Barista Champ Mike Marquard compete in the USBC semi-finals and even headed to a little partay that Intelligentsia, La Marzocco and Espressi (makers of the MyPressi TWIST) were throwing at Intelligentsia’s roastery in L.A. Yes, Grammy got her groove on.

In this video, Gail talks to us about what she learned from the lectures we attended, discusses some new products we saw  and even shares with us her new love for TWIST-inspired cocktails.

Crew Review: Saeco Xelsis One-Touch Superautomatic

Saeco’s newest one-touch superautomatic, the Xelsis, is just about to hit the market in the US and we were able to get a prototype in the store to play around with it! These little ladies are available for pre-order on the Seattle Coffee Gear site and they’ll be shipping in early May.

Watch Gail take us through the basic features and show us how to make a one-touch cappuccino:

Arguably one of the best features of this one-touch is that, unlike the other one-touch models available from Saeco or Jura, the Xelsis also comes equipped with a powerful traditional steam wand. This is excellent flexibility if you have multiple coffee drinkers and one of them likes their milk extra hot because the automatic frothing will still make the milk at around the standard 165F. Watch as Gail shows us how the steam wand works:

Knowledge IS Power: Balance & Accountability in Home Espresso

For Richard Branson, an essential criteria for his business success, his compass, is the idea of ‘fun’. He has infused it into all the brands he has founded, promoted and seen flourish — and it’s arguable that the simplicity of the idea in and of itself is what has made the brands he’s launched gain traction and longevity in their respective markets. Sure, when we get too complicated, we lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve and run the risk of confusing the people with whom we’re trying to communicate.

While we absolutely cherish and extol the virtues of fun, when we thought about boiling down what we do at Seattle Coffee Gear to one simple, essential idea, we settled on another word: Knowledge. It’s in this blog we write, in the videos we produce, in our product descriptions, in the customer service we give on the phone and in the store — we have even dedicated a whole website to providing resources and knowledge to folks as they navigate the sometimes far-too-complex world of choosing their coffee related gear. While we have fun with this and it’s important to us to communicate the elemental joy to be found in the experimentation with, creation and drinking of coffee, teaching people, being honest and giving them the information they need to make the right choice for them is our ultimate ideal.

From a pure data perspective, this industry is really young in the United States: In Europe, the average household spends around $800 on their home coffee machine, while we spend an average of $80 in the US — obviously, there is significant room for growth and a big part of that growth is education. One of the most common refrains we hear from customers is that they want simple and concrete information, they’re confused by all the options, which is the best choice, etc. What these people are looking for is honesty, facts, advice and candid experience.

And that’s what we give them. But that’s not always perceived as a positive move in our industry.
Continue reading Knowledge IS Power: Balance & Accountability in Home Espresso