Category Archives: Saeco

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!

Brewin’ with Brandi: Caramel Maple Latte

Caramel Maple Latte RecipeIf there’s any way you’re going to make it through the trytophan-infused fare of the day, it’s via the magical meditative combo of coffee and drawing cartoon turkeys. So while you’re expressing yourself artistically, how about jazzing up your coffee with some seasonally-inspired syrup and sauce?

Today’s recipe features our favorite body lotion (er, Monin Caramel sauce) and Maple Spice syrup, which join forces to accent the espresso with sweet and creamy notes. Watch as Brandi crafts it on her new favorite easy-to-use superautomatic espresso machine, the Saeco Minuto.

Recipe: Caramel Maple Latte

Ingredients

Directions

In your serving cup, combine the sauce and syrup together, then add the espresso and stir well until thoroughly blended. Pour the steamed milk to taste — we used about 6 ounces, but you could use more or less depending on how sweet you like your coffee drinks.

The Reluctant Barista: How to Choose an Espresso Machine

As luck would have it, six years ago this holiday season I was gifted with an entry-level semi-automatic Breville espresso machine. This meant I did not have to select my own home espresso machine or, as Kat likes to call the process, Choose Your Own Adventure. My little dude is still chugging along with its tiny thermoblock and I am both excited and dreading the day I need to pick out the replacement.

Are you in the same boat? The number of manufacturers, models and variations on variations of home espresso machines can be overwhelming. Pour a cup of coffee, sit back and let’s ponder a few questions to set you on the right path for a successful adventure in espresso. This is an exercise in narrowing down available options until you are left with a manageable few to consider. Set aside budget (for the moment) and let’s think about who will use the espresso machine:

Do you have an interest in hand-crafting espresso?

Yes, I want to learn to make drinks myself No, I just want to drink espresso beverages
A semi-automatic espresso machine allows you to decide the dosage and the shot time which you can adjust to enhance the extraction of different styles of coffee. You have the time, counter space and additional equipment (grinder, tools, etc) to do-it-yourself. A superautomatic espresso machine makes life easier. There is less customization possible but shot consistency makes up for it. You will save time, space and possibly budget by having an all-in-one home espresso machine.

Alrighty then! How you approach espresso lands you squarely into one of these two distinct camps: Semi-automatic or superautomatic. Intuitively, this was the easiest espresso question to answer. If only there was a Harry Potter-style Sorting Hat to then announce the right machine for you! Instead, I will separate these two categories by their functionality and you can sort yourself.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

So you want to hand-craft your espresso beverages, eh? Now it’s time to consider what style of semi-automatic might best fit your needs.

Do you drink milk-based espressos (like lattes, cappuccinos etc)?

Yes, Two words…Latte Art No, I like espresso and Americanos
Single boiler home espresso machines can froth milk. A heat exchanger or a dual boiler will get the job done better and faster, but they can cost more due to more complicated internal systems. Even though you won’t need the steam wand to froth milk, you may use it to add hot water to an Americano so make sure it is easily accessible for how you will use the machine. Some machines even have a hot water spigot separate from the steam wand.

Will you invest in a quality burr grinder?

Yes, a good espresso grinder is just as important as the espresso machine Maybe, I’m not sure No, I might use espresso pods, pre-ground espresso and/or a pressurized portafilter
The grinder may cost almost as much as the espresso machine you select. A well designed and well built grinder will offer consistent and uniform particle size necessary for a great shot of espresso. If you are on the fence about it, consider a semi-auto espresso machine with a built-in grinder for the best of both worlds. This will limit your selection to models that can be adapted for espresso pods or compatible with a pressurized portafilter. You will still get to make your own drinks and these options will make it easier for beginners or those pressed for time.

Recommended Semi-Automatic Machines

Based on your answers to the above questions, here are a few different suggestions for you to start your machine research.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar home espresso machine
Bryan uses the red Nuova Simonelli Oscar heat exchanger espresso machine that I want

Semi-Automatic, with a latte focus and a good grinder

This is where I am now. I have a Baratza grinder and I am ready to find a semi-auto with excellent shots and very good frothing capability. Heat exchanger models and dual boilers both make excellent foam fast.

Breville Barista BES870XL
Breville Barista Express BES870XL

Semi-Automatic with a latte & shot focus, without a separate grinder

Not too many home espresso machines fit the bill but this Breville does! It has a thermoblock and an integrated burr grinder that saves space and economy of motion. It is a programmable semi-auto so it almost acts like a superautomatic machine and is very easy to use once it is set up.

infuserA thermoblock style, Breville Infuser BES840XL

Semi-Automatic with a latte focus and no grinder

This is where it all started for me — an older Breville model that was a bit smaller than this. It was an easy step into the world of espresso before committing to a costly set-up. Some come with pod adapters, pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets for versatility.

Crossland CC1 + Baratza Preciso
The Crossland CC1 with a Baratza Preciso grinder is a great combo

Semi-automatic with an espresso focus and a good grinder

If your primary focus is quality espresso and you pay attention to tamp, temperature, timing and dosage then find a machine that allows you to control all of these variables. (This PID-controlled machine froths well too.)

Saeco Via Venezia
A small single boiler, Saeco Via Venezia with optional non-pressurized portafilter upgrade (right) and bottomless portafilter upgrade (left)

Semi-Automatic with an espresso focus and no grinder

Plop a pod in the basket and you’ve got what you need to make a ristretto or a lungo how you like it, when you want it. Quick and easy! Just in case you need a touch of frothy milk once in awhile there is a panarello too. A choice in portafilters helps you build espresso skills.

Superautomatic Espresso Machines

So ease of use is paramount for you, but you still want to drink great espresso-based drinks? A superauto may be the machine style for you. To determine which of the many versions available will be the best fit, here are a few more questions for you to consider.

Do you drink milk-based espressos (like lattes, cappuccinos etc)?

Yes, Creamy lattes are what life is all about No, I like espresso and Americanos
Not every superautomatic is great at frothing milk. Many users find that entry-level superautos don’t get the milk froth hot enough. A superauto that also has a steam wand is a nice touch so you can choose whether to use the machine’s auto-frother or its steam wand. Stand alone milk frothers are also a solution. Some superautos do not come with milk frothing capability. If you like espresso and Americanos (and maybe even an occasional Affogato!) this is not a problem. For guests who do like lattes a standalone milk frother is a quick and easy option for frothing milk or making hot chocolate.

Do you need a bypass doser for pre-ground coffee?

Yes, having the option for pre-ground coffee allows me to make a decaf sometimes No, I like fresh whole bean ground coffee for my espresso shots
Some superautos come with a bypass doser. This is a little chute directly to the brew unit so that you can use a different coffee than the beans that are already in the hopper. And that’s ok! if you don’t need the bypass doser that will save you some bucks on technology that you won’t use.

Recommended Superautomatic Machines

After considering the above questions, you should be armed to select which of the below machines speaks to you!

Saeco Xsmall superautomatic espresso machine
Bunny froths milk on a Saeco Xsmall superautomatic espresso machine, or as we like to call it, the Little Dude.

Superautomatic with a latte focus

Your favorite drink features creamy frothy milk, some Monin gourmet syrup and, oh yeah, espresso. If time and counter space are at a premium then a compact superauto can be a great option.

Saeco Exprelia EVO superautomatic espresso machine
Chris in the middle of “making” a one-touch cappuccino on the Saeco Exprelia EVO

Superautomatic with a latte focus and a bypass doser

For you, or for your guests, it’s great to have the option to make a decaf latte once in awhile. The pannarello wand assists by boosting more air into your steam. Or some models have one touch drink-making capability as a fancy feature.

Saeco Minuto superauto
Either/or Teri shows the Saeco Minuto superauto can serve regular coffee or strong espresso at the flip of a lever

Superautomatic with an espresso focus

Grab and go! Like in a true Italian espresso bar where you stand, converse a bit, have a few sips from your demitasse and continue on your way…Some superautos make quick and easy espresso or Americanos. The new Saeco Minuto will drop the pressure to make a single cup of true American-style filter coffee.

Saeco SyntiaPractically hands-free operation…here’s an action shot of the Saeco Syntia (after I made sure the shot glass was placed correctly!)

Superautomatic with an espresso focus and a bypass doser

Bypass doser capability is not always built into superautomatic espresso machines so make sure to verify its availability. The Saeco Syntia has a bypass doser and a pannarello wand making it a very versatile superauto.

Now you have thoughtful criteria to evaluate and select the best home espresso machine to meet your caffeinated (or decaf!) needs. The next step is to research our Learn section with informative articles and YouTube videos, ask questions and read reviews. Will there be a new home espresso machine on your counter in the New Year? There might be on mine!

Tech Tip: Saeco Minuto Test Mode

Saeco Minuto - Test ModeWhile the Saeco Minuto offers some unique functionality compared to Saeco’s other superautomatic espresso machines — such as brewing coffee at a lower pressure to produce a more drip coffee like flavor — it still offers a Test Mode to help diagnose and resolve issues with the machine.

Knowing how to get into Test Mode is important, as it can assist you in determining what a particular error might be and how you can fix it. Since you can run each functional component separately, you can test things like whether or not the pump is working or if the grinder is grinding but not dosing. You can also learn helpful info like how quickly your grinder is rotating, how many drinks you’ve made and more.

In this video, Brendan guides us through Test Mode on the Saeco Minuto — how to get into it, navigate through it and interpret what its telling you. Once again, indispensable knowledge for Minuto owners everywhere!

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Minuto Test Mode

Tech Tip: Saeco Talea Giro Test Mode & Troubleshooting

Saeco Talea GiroWhen you have an excellent tech resource like Brendan around, you sometimes have to just lock him in a room with a bunch of superautomatics and force him to teach you his ways of diagnostics and troubleshooting! Okay, we really didn’t have to lock him in the room — he was more than willing to share his expertise with us — but we did spend an afternoon with him as he explained the Saeco Talea Giro’s test mode and errors for us.

As you may have learned from our other forays into Test Mode, this is a wonderfully helpful tool that you can use to run each functional element of your superautomatic separately, without making coffee, in order to determine what might be the cause of an issue with the machine. Is your machine not brewing because the pump isn’t working, or are you simply grinding your coffee too finely? You can find out by running the pump to see if water comes out of the machine, sans coffee.

After he guides us through Test Mode, Brendan then dives into the Talea Giro’s more cryptic errors and alarms — since it doesn’t have a display screen and only a series of symbols and lights to communicate any issues it might be having, it can sometimes be difficult to interpret. He gives us a few tips and tricks in understanding what the errors mean and how you might be able to easily resolve them.

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Talea Giro Test Mode

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Talea Giro Alarms & Errors

Tech Tip: Saeco Syntia Test Mode & Troubleshooting

Saeco SyntiaWhile it’s true that the Saeco Syntia offers a display with icons and text that will signal to you when something is going wrong, we often hear from folks that aren’t clear on what’s going on with it. Is that a close up of a fly’s head or a symbol telling you to descale? Is it signaling that the tap is open a smidge or is it warning you that snakes are coming out of your espresso machine? These are the big questions, folks.

In our next series of Saeco superautomatic espresso machine troubleshooting, Brendan takes on the Syntia series. Using the SS model, he first guides us through Test Mode, which is the highly useful diagnostic tool that enables you to run each functional component separately, and without making coffee, so that you can deduce what might be going on with your Syntia. Then, we dive into interpreting the rather cryptic symbols that appear as errors or alerts on the machine.

Even though we used the SS model for this demonstration, much of this applies to the Syntia Focus and Syntia Cappuccino models, too. If you’ve wanted to learn more about the inner workings of your machine, these are your go-to videos!

SCG Tech Tips: Saeco Syntia Test Mode

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Syntia Alarms & Errors

Tech Tip: Saeco Intelia Focus Test Mode

Saeco Intelia SuperautomaticsSince the Saeco Intelia Focus features a pretty darn clear menu screen that will alert you specifically to any issues and errors, we thought that going over them was of very little import. Instead, we wanted to focus on its Test Mode, which is cool because it allows you to run each of the functional components separately and independently of actually making coffee. So if your machine is behaving badly (naughty machine!) and you want to find out what might be the source of its bad behavior, test mode can be a helpful deduction tool.

Watch as Brendan guides us through test mode — how to get into it, navigate through it and then use it to diagnose any functionality or performance issues with your machine. And while we did use the Saeco Intelia Focus as the demo machine for this troubleshooting video, this process applies its Cappuccino and SS counterparts, too.

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Intelia Focus Test Mode

Tech Tip: Saeco Incanto Deluxe Test Mode & Troubleshooting

Saeco Incanto DeluxeThe Saeco Incanto Deluxe has been around for a loooooooong time … and for good reason! It features a simple digital interface, volumetric programming, Saeco’s SBS brewing system and an easy to use panarello steam wand, all wrapped up in a metal case. If the Vienna is the workhorse of the Saeco superauto line-up, the Incanto may very well be the show pony!

It’s so reliable that even its Certified Refurbished counterparts have a long life after they’ve been re-homed with a new java family, so with a mix of both new and gently-used models on the market, we thought you might want a little guidance on how to troubleshoot, diagnose and possibly resolve some of its minor quirks.

In this duo of videos, Brendan does just that: He first shows us how to get into and then navigate the Test Mode on the Incanto, so that you can run each functional component independently and possibly deduce the source of any issues you’re experiencing. Then he takes us through a walkthrough of the alarms and errors your Incanto may throw at you during the course of doing business. These are as equally important to understand, leading to a speedy resolution (and more coffee!).

If the Incanto Deluxe is your partner in caffeinated crime — or you want it to be — get to know it a little better right now.

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Incanto Deluxe Test Mode

SCG Tech Tip: Saeco Incanto Deluxe Alarms & Errors