Category Archives: Saeco

(Not so Scientific) Experiment: Cappuccinatore on the Intelia Focus

Intelia FocusWe love the fact that the Intelia Focus (also known as the black version of the Intelia) is energy efficient and has vibrating finger guard to quickly and painlessly send our beans down the grinder chute. However, we’ve long wondered if it is possible to use a cappunccinatore on this machine to froth your milk as you can on its stainless steel brother and the Intelia Cappuccino. Don’t get us wrong; we do like the panerello that comes with this machine, since it does allow for slightly more controlled milk frothing. Yet, since the Intelia Focus is superautomatic machine, there are some of us that wish the entire process was automated.

For people who aren’t familiar with the cappuccinatore, it is a hose-like attachment that travels from the milk frothing pitcher with your milk to the milk frother inside your machine. The milk is then sucked up from the container, frothed in the machine and finally dispensed in your cup. Before we tested the cappunccinatore on the Intelia Focus, we wanted to see how well it worked on a machine the cappunccinatore is built for, so we started our experiment on the Intelia Cappuccino. The milk this little frother produced was surprisingly hot, around 173 degrees Fahrenheit according to our Fluke temperature probe. After this impressive result we decided to repeat the experiment on the Intelia Focus. Since the Focus has the same internals as the Intelia Cappuccino, we had a good feeling about how this test would turn out. As expected, the cappuccinatore did indeed work on the Focus. We were surprised to find that the temperature of the milk produced was considerably cooler, however, coming in at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit on our thermometer. We’re not sure why there is such a huge difference in temperature, but were excited to that our experiment worked, since having more options is an always an advantage. Check out our video with Gail and Brendan to see how the cappuccinatore works on Intelia Focus for yourself.

(Not so Scientific) Experiment: Cappuccinatore on the Intelia Focus

Comparison: Espresso Machines Under $300 – Redux

Machines Under $300Are you new to the world of espresso and searching for a machine that you can cut your teeth on? Or perhaps you’ve gotten a starter apartment (or a weekend home) and are looking to outfit it with the latest gear with out breaking the bank? Well, you’re in luck since there are quite a few espresso machines under $300 that not only brew espresso but also allow to you to froth milk. To help you narrow down your options, Dori and Chris have kindly gathered their five favorite inexpensive machines – the Saeco Poemia, DeLonghi EC702 Pump, Saeco Aroma, Capresso EC Pro and the Krups Precise Tamp, to show them off.

A few of our favorite aspects on each machine (which are ranked from low to high in terms of price) are:

  • Saeco Poemia – With a pressurized portafilter and panarello, the Poemia is very forgiving and makes brewing your favorite drink a breeze.
  • Saeco Aroma – The Aroma has been around for ages, and is one of our most loved and best performing home espresso machines we have tested. You can also easily get parts for this machine should you need to replace anything.
  • DeLonghi EC702 Pump – The EC702 self-primes so you don’t have to wait a long time for your DeLonghi to heat up in the morning. In addition, the machine maintains consistent heat for brewing and steaming with two separate thermostats.
  • Capresso EC Pro – The EC Pro is a great option if you are looking to a machine that you can grow into. This machine comes with a pressurized portafilter basket to ease you into espresso as well as a naked basket if you really want to get into perfecting your tamp and timing your shots. Plus, the simple design of the machine makes easy to use no matter what your level.
  • Krups Precise Tamp  – Unlike the other espresso machines under $300, which only have on/off brew cycles, the Precise Tamp is programmable. The machine also will auto-tamp your coffee grounds and has cappuinatore, which is like an automatic frother and can make a cappuccino or a latte – a big upgrade over the other options.

When it comes down to it, all five of these compact semi-automatics are great starter options for people who want to get a machine at a reasonable price point. The main differences when you go up the scale in price are that you get a machine with more metal components (instead of primarily plastic pieces) and slightly heftier parts (such as chrome-plated brass portafilters instead of aluminum). With these espresso machines you also have the option to upgrade to a non-pressurized portafilter and traditional steam wand once you’ve gotten the hang of pulling your own shots. Check out our video to learn more about each machine and find out Chris and Dori’s top picks.

Comparison: Espresso Machines Under $300

Crew Review: Saeco Xelsis Evo

Saeco Xelsis EvoSpring has long been a time of renewal and new beginnings, and that certainly seems to be the case for many of our grinders and espresso machines. A number of our favorite brands have taken your feedback on their products to heart and updated their machines accordingly, and Saeco now joins their ranks. Recently, the Saeco Xelsis Evo was released as an update to the existing Xelsis One Touch Espresso Machine.

The main difference you’ll see on the new Saeco Xelsis Evo is the updated milk carafe. Many of our customers found that on the previous Xelsis One Touch their milk wasn’t getting hot enough, which is problem that we often see on superautomatic machines. Saeco listened to this feedback and updated the hose that runs from the milk carafe to the espresso machine (it is now smaller), the lid on the milk carafe and even the milk frothing software in order to develop a machine that produces much hotter milk. The other nice thing about the Xelsis Evo is that the machine auto rinses whenever you turn it off, on or make a milk-based drink. This feature is almost as good as having your own personal maid, since it will help keep your milk carafe really clean. However, this is not an excuse to skimp on your machine’s maintenance, which is still really important if you want to keep your espresso maker in good running order.

Another thing we like about the Saeco Xelsis Evo is that it is a very sophisticated superautomatic with lots of programmability. You can create up to six different user profiles and save nine customized drink options for each profile. A few of the features  you are able to adjust are the aroma (or the dosage of your coffee), the volume of the shot and if you’re making a milk-based beverage, the amount of milk you want as well. With so many options that allow you to create the perfect cup of coffee for everyone, the Saeco Xelsis Evo is ideal for a large household, or even a small office, with lots of different users. If you don’t have a large family, don’t be surprised if a lot of your friends start coming over for visits!

To learn how to take advantage of all the options on this machine, watch Gail and Brendan as they try a few of them out and make a cappuccino.

Crew Review: Saeco Xelsis Evo

Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Xsmall

Saeco XsmallTrue to its name, the Saeco Xsmall is the brand’s smallest superautomatic espresso machine on the market. As result, this machine takes up very little space on your counter but still comes at an affordable price with a lot of basic functionality. The machine’s streamlined design also makes everyday maintenance, like filling the water reservoir, emptying the dregs box or even cleaning the brew group (yes, it’s removable!) a breeze.

Another one of our favorite features on the Xsmall is the troubleshooting-related, test mode section on the machine. In fact, when one of our superautos starts acting up, one of the first things we do is access their respective test mode sections. Why is this helpful? Test mode allows you to operate the functions of your espresso machine freely, outside of the software of the machine. This means you can run your grinder, pump or brew unit motor to see if they are working properly without having to brew a shot and wasting your favorite coffee beans. To make the troubleshooting process easier, these different components are broken down into four test mode levels on your machine (for instance there are different levels for checking the machine’s sensors, brew unit, water flow, grinder and boiler) so you can test everything related to one area individually.

While test mode is extremely useful, getting into it on the Xsmall can be a little challenging. In this video, our parts guru Brendan teaches us how to access it and navigate the four different testing levels on the machine.

 

SCG Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Xsmall

Descaling the Saeco Via Venezia

Saeco Via VeneziaIn case you’ve missed it, we frequently tout the importance of performing regular maintenance on your home espresso machines. This topic is so near and dear to our heart that we’ve even started offering classes on the subject at our Bellevue store.  As we have become well versed on the matter, we are often asked how perform certain tasks, such as descaling, on specific machines. And since we want everyone to have a clean and properly functioning machine, we are happy to oblige! This time around we’re focusing on one of our favorite little semi-autos, the Saeco Via Venezia.

With its compact size, lower price point and easy to use pressurized portafilter, it is no wonder the Via Venezia is a well-loved machine. Plus, the machine is incredibly easy to take care of! The descaling process is similar to that of other Saeco semi-automatic espresso machines and involves pouring a mix of Dezcal and warm water into the water reservoir, pulling the mixture through the boiler and out the steam wand and then repeating the process with clean water to make sure there isn’t any descaling solution lingering in the machine.

Finally, keep in mind that how often you descale your machine shouldn’t be based on how many times a day you use the machine, but rather on timing. Even if you rarely use your machine you can still experience an attack of killer scale since there is water sitting in waterworks of the machine. A good rule of thumb is to descale about every 1-3 months, depending on how hard your water is.

Let Bunny be your guide as she shows us how to complete this process step-by-step.

SCG How-To Guides: Descaling the Saeco Via Venezia

Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Intuita

Saeco IntuitaOne of the hidden secrets of many espresso machines is that they come with an accessible test mode section. What is great about test mode is that it is an excellent resource for troubleshooting your machine. For instance, test mode can allow you to determine if components like your water pump, grinder or brew unit motor aren’t working because they are broken or because something in the machine has been misplaced and is keeping them from working.

One espresso maker that has this functionality is the Saeco Intuita. Luckily, as its name suggests, getting into the test mode section on this machine is more intuitive than it is on other espresso machines and only requires a few simple steps. Once you are in test mode, there are five different levels to explore, which allow you to test everything from the lights on the machine to the grinder. You can even test the machine’s sensors to make sure they are working properly, which is a great way to help pinpoint what is causing an alarm in regular mode.

In this video, Brendan shows us how to access test mode on the Intuita, guides through each of the different levels and explains how to use each one to diagnose any problems you are having with your machine.

SCG Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Intuita

Tech Tips: Saeco Talea Touch Test Mode

Saeco Talea TouchThe fact that the Saeco Talea Touch does nearly everything for you (except fold your laundry) makes it one of our more popular espresso machines. Not only does this machine’s technology allow for easy brewing, but it also enables you to access the Test Mode section, so you can give it a “check up” and explore the cause of any issues that may be occurring.

One of the greatest benefits of Test Mode is that it allows you to freely operate the functionality of your machine. For instance, you can do things like check to see if your grinder is working without brewing a shot of coffee, monitor if your brew unit motor is running right or even see if your pump is in good shape. While this mode is useful, the Test Mode for the Talea Touch is one of the more challenging to get into. You must know a special code, as well as how use it, which are both cryptic enough to warrant the use of a secret decoder to finger them out. This is also the case for both the new and the refurbished Saeco Talea Touch Plus, which requires you go through the same process to access the Test Mode.

Luckily, we have something even better – our parts and tech expert, Brendan, who told us the secret code and how and when to enter it. Once we were in, he also showed us how to navigate through the system and play with the options, which are much easier to use.

SCG Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Talea Touch

How to Descale the Saeco Aroma

Saeco AromaOne of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to clean up and de-clutter around the home, so why not start by performing some maintenance on your espresso machine? One of the easiest steps is to descale, which, depending on the mineral content of your water, should be done every one to three months. If you don’t descale your machine, mineral deposits can build up inside the machine and cause the water tubes to clog and/or reduce the brew temperature.

Since we’ve discussed how to descale a couple of different types of espresso machines in the past, we thought we’d focus on a perennial favorite – the Saeco Aroma, which has a stainless steel boiler. Not only does this durable little machine have a great reputation, but descaling it is also easy and painless. Just mix a descaling solution like Dezcal with 32 oz. of warm water, pour it into the machine’s water reservoir, pull the solution into the boiler by running water through the steam wand, and let the solution soak for a while. Then pull more solution into the boiler and let it soak in again, rinse and you are ready to go! However, it’s important to make sure to taste the water in your machine before you start brewing again to ensure there is no descaler left over in the machine, which will cause your espresso to taste a little funky.

The lesson of this story is – care of for your Aroma, and it will reward you with great tasting espresso for years to come. For complete step-by-step instructions on how to descale your little dude, watch Bunny take us through this simple process.

SCG How-To Guides: Descaling the Saeco Aroma

The Reluctant Barista: Milk Frothing Madness

Milk Frothing TechniqueHow many how-to-froth-milk videos have you watched? They make it look so easy! While my espresso shots are really improving, I still have a hard time getting milk to the right consistency for a perfect latte. My lack of consistent consistency makes me a little grumpy…even mad. If frothing milk makes you grumpy too, then follow along as I try to de-mystify microfoam. It is time for FROTHING MADNESS!

First things first, while you can use the words froth and foam interchangeably, what we are after is the ever elusive microfoam. The manner in which milk is heated produces different results. Microfoam is smooth and velvety with a texture almost like wet paint because very tiny bubbles are incorporated evenly throughout the liquid. The foam I most often produce is heated milk with a bubbly volcano of erupted meringue dolloped on top. This is not microfoam.

The more you practice on one home espresso machine, the more you get to know the timing involved. This is one of my problems. I froth milk on different machines. Teri in customer service tried to console me. She said, “just when you thought you had steaming down on one machine, you try another machine and it steams totally different! …or someone changes your steam tip from a two-hole to a four-hole!” (Which totally happens around here but probably doesn’t happen at your house.)

You are probably familiar with the basics of milk frothing:

  • Start with a chilled stainless steel milk frothing pitcher and cold milk.
  • Submerge the steam wand, start to froth, then lower the pitcher until just the steam tip is submerged. The milk should move in a circular pattern.
  • Plunge the wand lower into the pitcher and continue to roll the milk.
  • Stop at your desired temperature.

While this sounds well and good, let’s explore how this works in real-life situations with three very different home espresso machines. Armed with some additional tricks from my barista friends, we can learn together!

Rocket EvoluzioneRocket Giotto EvoluzioneA heat exchanger espresso machine with a large 60oz boiler

Espresso machine repair tech, Bryan, gave me some great advice. First, whole milk froths best. Second, on a larger espresso machine like this one, plunge the wand a few seconds sooner than you think it will take. It only took 35 seconds to froth 6 ounces of milk to 165F. I found this out the hard way because at 40 seconds it was up to 170F and the milk smelled scalded. Because it happens so fast, it is hard to make adjustments. I grabbed a gallon of milk and kept trying until I got it just right.

Breville InfuserBreville InfuserA home espresso machine with a thermoblock

Matthew Hodson, a Seattle-area professional barista, shared this via Twitter “Experiment to find the spot where the milk and foam spin in a whirlpool and integrate. Only aerate briefly (count 1,2,3 quickly) and then spend the rest of the time integrating with the whirlpool.” It took 1:15 to get 6 ounces of milk to 165F. This was enough time to experiment with different adjustments. With some extra time and careful attention spent tilting and pivoting the frothing pitcher around the steam wand, this technique produced good results.

Saeco Via VeneziaSaeco Via VeneziaA single boiler with less than 8oz capacity

To get quality milk frothing from a smaller espresso machine requires every trick in the book. Make sure the espresso machine is on and pre-heated. Clear the steam wand (or in this case the panarello) into the drip tray until it is all steam with no water. Note where the air intake hole is on the panarello sleeve and keep it even with the level of the milk in the pitcher, not above or below. Froth one drink at a time, in this case 6 ounces took 1 minute to steam but was still very bubbly.

Lastly, Miranda in customer service told me you can try to “fix” milk frothing madness by softly tapping the frothing pitcher on the counter and swirling it in a circle repeatedly to try to eliminate big bubbles and incorporate the little bubbles back into the mix. Don’t try to re-heat or re-froth the milk. When all else fails keep these two important adages in mind,
1) Don’t cry over spilt milk
2) Tis a lesson you should heed, If at first you don’t succeed, Try try again.

Rocket Espresso Steam Tips

The Reluctant Barista: What’s Up With Portafilters?

Saeco Via Venezia portafilter optionsFrom bean to cup, making espresso at home is poetry in motion. Nothing captures the essence of espresso better than a close up view of a streaming bottomless portafilter — a portafilter designed without spouts so that the bottom of the filter basket is visible. Bottomless, pressurized, non-pressurized … though they do the same job, they each do it a little differently. To get the most out of any espresso machine, let’s get to know the portafilter a little better.

First off, what exactly is a portafilter? Some people call just the handle portion portafilter and some people call the handle and filter basket combination portafilter. Some people also call it a portaholder, and that is a little weird, but we understand what you mean. Once the filter basket is filled with ground coffee, the portafilter can be locked into place inside the brew head of your traditional espresso machine. Locked and loaded! Now you are ready to pull espresso shots … If it were only that easy!

To illustrate the differences between types of portafilters, I chose the Saeco Via Venezia. It is a semi-automatic home espresso machine that comes with a pressurized portafilter. There is also a non-pressurized portafilter and bottomless portafilter upgrade available for it, so it makes a good example of how each portafilter works to create a different espresso experience. All three portafilters use the original included double filter basket. Here’s how they compare:

Saeco Via Venezia pressurized portafilterPressurized – The espresso flow is greatly restricted. When the pressure from the boiler combines with an added restriction, it literally spits the coffee out. The restrictive design can be part of the filter basket, part of the portafilter (the Via Venezia uses an additional gasket) or a spring between these two pieces.

Pressurized portafilters often come standard on entry-level espresso machines because they are easier to use for beginners. The coffee doesn’t have to be perfectly fresh, the size of the grind can have a little bit more variation and tamping is not necessary in most cases.

In exchange for this ease of use, the cleanup is messier because the leftover puck is wetter. It is hard to explain the taste difference but a pressurized shot will taste a little bland and homogenous when compared with a non-pressurized espresso shot. The crema produced is mainly a function of extra pressure and not an indicator of coffee freshness. It adds to the visual appeal but not the taste. However, if you are making milk-based drinks you will probably not notice these small differences.

Saeco Via Venezia non-pressurized portafilter upgradeNon-Pressurized – The 15 bar pressure from an espresso machine forces the water and steam through the filter basket. A good espresso extraction needs freshly ground coffee with a consistent particle size. It is also important to tamp evenly with the right amount of pressure so that water flows through in a uniform manner. If espresso flows out one side more than the other, it will still taste okay, but it might have had the potential to taste better with a more even tamp, or a more accurate dosage, or more consistently ground coffee. This is the point where you can seriously start to geek out about your espresso-making methodology!

Non-Pressurized portafilters are for home baristas ready for the challenge to manage variables manually. If you have an interest in crafting delicious espresso, you need a non-pressurized portafilter. This is especially true if you drink espresso, Americano coffee or a Cafe Macchiato. These are drinks where the character of the espresso is front and center compared to a latte or cappuccino where the espresso takes a backseat to ten ounces of milky goodness.

Bottomless – (Sometimes called a naked portafilter.) Usually, the spouts on the bottom of the portafilter direct the coffee as it streams out. Not so with a bottomless portafilter. As a learning tool for a home barista, the bottomless portafilter is a great way to check your progress. Saeco Via Venezia bottomless portafilterThe term ‘channeling’ refers to water that leaks through the puck unevenly due to poor distribution of grounds. Other reasons these crevasses occur can be due to an inconsistent grind, incorrect dosage or an uneven tamp. Any small error will result in random spurts and a messy espresso extraction with a bottomless portafilter. The barista can then take steps to fix one or more of these variables in the hopes of producing a cleaner (and better tasting!) shot.

Some say a bottomless portafilter will make a hotter shot since the espresso does not come into contact with a metal spout. This temperature difference is pretty negligible. It is easier to brew directly into a demitasse and it is easier to keep clean. But the main reason to use a bottomless portafilter is the visual cues it offers that can lead you to micro adjustments in timing, tamping and measurement.

About Filter Baskets – An E61 filter basket is 58mm across while the Via Venezia filter basket is 53mm across and DeLonghi tends to run about 51mm across. Sizes, shapes and hole patterns vary by manufacturer. There is no consensus on whether bigger is better or which proprietary hole pattern is better. The often frustrating thing for home baristas to keep in mind is that most portafilters and filter baskets are not interchangeable between brands. Even if they share the same size diameter, their profile shape will prevent a universal fit in the portafilter or brew head configuration of a different model espresso machine. When looking for a replacement or upgrade, double check compatibility first!

Along with the functional differences listed above, some portafilters are heavier, some are lighter weight and some may feel more balanced in your hand. The tactile sensation of the portafilter is important too. Will the portafilter be ergonomic for all household users? These are seemingly small details to consider when evaluating an espresso machine purchase but it will be part of your daily routine for years to come, so it’s best to shake hands and get to know your portafilter first!