Category Archives: Reviews

How to Steam & Brew with the Pasquini Livia 90

In a follow-up to the basic specification, pros and cons review we did of the Pasquini Livia 90 a little over a year ago, we’ve finally strong-armed Gail into showing us how it works!

Watch as she recaps the Livia 90’s functionality and makes us a latte — with some of the most abstract latte art you’ll find this side of Jackson Pollock. Enjoy!

The ‘Great’ Breville Temperature Experiment

First we took brewing to the mat with The ‘Great’ Breville Brew Experiment, then we took on the steaming side o’ things with The ‘Great’ Breville Steaming Experiment and now it’s time to give temperature the what for.

A YouTube viewer suggested that we try pulling shots with cool tap water and then warm water in the reservoir to see how it would measure up with the Breville’s thermoblock. The results? Much better temperature with the warm tap water versus the cold tap water — so if you’re using a Breville and trying to get a great shot, you might want to introduce this variable into the mix.

Watch all the action:

Video Crew Review: Hario Cold Brew

When the weather starts heating up, we love nothing better than a rich iced coffee drink. Seriously — nothing. In the past, we have be known to brew espresso directly onto ice or pour out hot-brewed drip or press coffee into an iced cup, knowing that there would be dilution in the mix. We are now converts, however, of the cold brew coffee preparation — specifically, Hario’s Cold Brew Pot makes a deliciously smooth and rich cup of coffee.

Gail tried it out with Velton’s Twilight Blend and there were cheers all around. For the coffee AND the cups, obviously. Check it out!

New! Cirqua AB Formula Water Treatment Capsules

The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) recommends 1.15% – 1.35% coffee solids for an ideally flavored cup of coffee. That leaves ~98% of the flavor up to the water itself — something not a lot of people talk about. Some folks want to reduce the descaling maintenance required by using distilled water or water that is put through a reverse osmosis system that has no mineral content in it, meaning it won’t contribute to scale build up on the equipment.

But thorough testing by scientists much more focused on this than us has revealed that the ideal mineral content for coffee is 150 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids (tds). More than that and you run the risk of under-extracting the coffee (basically, there’s not enough allowable space in the water for the coffee particles to be absorbed) and less than that means you can likely over-extract (there’s too much space and it takes on too many coffee particles).

Commercial coffee operations invest in high end water treatment systems that will ensure they’re using the best possible water/mineral balance to easily make excellent coffee. This is of particular concern to large chains that have cafes in different cities as they can’t rely on the local water’s tap to be the same across the board. Companies such as Cirqua came along to address this issue for cafes, but they understood that most folks that wanted to make coffee at home just weren’t going to invest in a high end filtration system.

So they developed this easy-to-use solution that you can employ at home: Add the two capsules (per dosage) to one gallon of distilled water and you have the perfectly balanced mineral water to make an awesome cup of coffee. We tested it out at the store, check out our results:

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.