As with everything in life, when you choose one thing you will always have give up a little something elsewhere. And that’s not always a bad thing! But in order to make an informed decision you should know what it is exactly that you will be gaining and losing. When it comes to espresso machines, a lot of what you will be gaining and losing is espresso shot quality.
Let us preface by saying that there are a lot of factors that need to come together in unison in order to create the perfect shot of espresso. Everything from the grind, to the tamp, to the humidity in your environment need to be just right for that espresso to make the ultimate list of all things delicious. So one machine simply can’t make all things come true. But it certainly can get you close.
When it comes to espresso machines you have essentially three families: manual, semi-automatic and super-automatic. We are going to focus on the semi- and super-automatics since they tend to be the most popular. The super-automatics are the one stop shop machines. Espresso at the push of a button. Super convenient for those who want it. The semi-automatics give you a little more control over your espresso shot. You have the ability to fine tune your grind and tamp pressure to just how you like it. That is not to say that super-automatics don’t give you options, but there will inherently be less.
As a result, your shots will vary from machine to machine. We think that you can pull better shots on a semi-automatic but that comes at a cost. You will be required to hone your craft in order to get that sweet nectar just right. While a super-automatic will get you close enough with little to no effort. It all comes down to what you want! That’s really the best part of it all.
Watch the video below to hear Gail’s full explanation of espresso shot quality from machine to machine. And be sure to check out our YouTube channel as well for more information and Crew Reviews!
You may remember that not so long ago we posted a blog about brewing tea on your espresso machine. Wha?! Yep, true story. At the time, we had a lot of fun with it and found that we could successfully pull a whole cup of tea through a pressurized portafilter. There was even a layer of tea crema. So crazy and so cool.
Around SCG, we’re always looking for different ways to use the equipment we already have. So this was pretty exciting to us, especially given that there are cafes specifically dedicated to this type of tea experience…and now we could do it ourselves!
If you’re more into videos than text-based articles, we’ve created one specifically to walk you through the process of “dialing in” your cup of espresso machine-prepped tea. Now we’re off to daydream about the possibilities of tea lattes. Let’s say it together now: Yummmm!
Oh, Miss Silvia! A beloved home espresso machine among many a household, she can pull an espresso shot like nobody’s business. However, like other single boiler espresso machines, you need to do a bit of temperature surfing after steaming your milk in order to get a quality shot of espresso. Unlike regular surfing, though, you don’t need to wear a bathing suit, so that’s pretty sweet.
Why do you need to temperature surf? Well, steam temperature is right around 212 degrees F, whereas brewing temperature is between 195-205 degrees F. If you steam your milk and jump immediately into the brewing process, you’re at far too hot a temperature for a tasty shot of espresso. Yes, it will still pull the shot, but there will be plenty of burned taste to be had!
Luckily, Gail and Brendan are here to walk us through the simple process in the video below. And let’s try to keep daydreaming about the beach to a minimum, shall we?
We hear from customers quite frequently that directions for pluming in a Rocket Espresso machine are needed…desperately! We’re not going to lie, we’ve even heard from plumbers calling in on behalf of their customers, as they are in their homes trying to complete the installation. And, on more than one occasion, we’ve had stories recounted of multiple hardware store trips and a fair amount of frustration.
So we’re here to set the story straight: You don’t need a plumber to install your plumbed in machine. You don’t need to spend hours, or really more than 10-20 minutes, on the installation. Last, but not least, you certainly don’t need to suffer through sixteen trips to [insert name of your favorite hardware store]. What you do need is to watch the video below, which is a step-by-step walkthrough (with SCG’s very own repair technicians!) of how to plumb in your Rocket home espresso machine!
They’ll even explain how to disconnect the hoses, in case you need to remove the machine for a repair or relocation, and show you the steps for programming the PID to accept a direct connection the R58. Espresso lovers, unite!
Among our most frequently asked questions is “how do you create perfectly frothed milk?” This question is often closely followed by, “how do I then use that milk to create latte art?” or “how do I incorporate that milk into a shot to make a latte, cappuccino, etc.?” This comes as no surprise, since one of the trickiest parts of making a great drink is getting the milk frothed just right. You don’t want your milk to be too frothy, but not entirely flat either. In most cases the goal you are trying to achieve is creating just the right amount of microfoam. To further help you achieve caffeinated bliss; we’ve decided to tackle all of these questions in this series of brew tips, starting with how to froth milk. After all, creating perfectly frothed milk is the one of the key components for creating all the other drinks.
Getting your technique down, and then practicing a lot, is an important part of successfully frothing milk. However, the type of machine you are using as well as the type of steam wand the machine has, will also impact how your milk turns out. For instance, inexpensive espresso makers and machines like the Saeco Via Venezia, often have panarellos, which basically foam your milk for you. This is great if you are an espresso newbie who isn’t used to using a manual steam wand or just want to have foamy milk and aren’t picky about what type of foam you get. The plastic models usually have four or more holes on the top, which bring in a lot of air and will make your milk bubblier. If you don’t like bigger, airy foam with a lot of bubbles, you might want to upgrade to one of the stainless steel panarellos that typically only have one hole.
When it comes to frothing milk on a machine that has a traditional steam wand, like the Nuova Simonelli Musica, the rules about the number of holes in steam arm change. Wands with four holes will give you a lot of steam power and will heat the milk really quickly. These wands will also create really amazing microfoam. However, the quality of the microfoam you get is partially based on what type of machine you are brewing on as well as the tip. For instance, the Musica naturally has a lot more steam power, as opposed to a machine like the Breville Dual Boiler, which is a bit slower when it comes to steaming. That being said, neither machine is better than the other, it just depends on what you are looking to create. The Dual Boiler is nice in that it gives you a lot more time to work with, and produce a lot of, foam. On the other hand, it can be tricky to get a lot of foam on the Musica because it heats up so fast.
Once you’ve got what machines and wands you will be using for brewing, it all comes down to practice as we mentioned before. However, we realize this can be harder than it sounds, so here is our cheat sheet for how to froth milk for a latte or a cappuccino.
11 Steps for Frothing Milk for a Latte
1) Start with a very cold pitcher and milk. This will gives you more time to work with your milk. If it is already warm already it’s going to heat up faster, providing you with less time.
2) Blow out the extra water in the steam wand.
3) Adjust the angle of the steam wand to suite your preferences. We typically keep ours at a pretty high angle, but you can play around with it to see what works best for you.
4) Hold the tip of your frothing pitcher against the steam wand; this will give you more leverage when moving the pitcher around.
5) You will also want to angle your frothing pitcher to the side, which will help you get the milk swirling around in a circle.
6) Submerge the tip of the steam wand in the milk. Don’t be alarmed if you hear a high pitch squeal followed by slurping. While it is loud at first, this is exactly what you want to hear. As soon as you hear that squealing noise, make sure you bring the pitcher down so you hear that slurping noise as you start to incorporate air. This will help prevent you from getting too much foam, since for a latte you want to create a smaller amount of foam.
7) Submerge the rest of the wand in the milk after a few seconds.
8) Once you can feel the bottom of the frothing pitcher get nice and toasty, almost too hot to touch, remove the steam wand from the milk.
9) Always wipe down and blow out the steam wand when you are done to prevent the milk from getting sucked back into the boiler.
10) Mix milk in by slowly swirling the milk around the pitcher, to get a rich and creamy consistency. The milk will look a bit more porous before you begin this process, but once you start mixing it in it starts getting a really shiny texture and that’s exactly what you want.
11) Combine the milk with espresso and relax with your drink.
7 Steps for Frothing Milk for a Cappuccino
1) Just like with a latte, you will want to start with very cold milk and make sure to blow out the extra water in the steam wand.
2) Start with the tip of your steam wand submerged.
3) Once you start hearing that high pitched squealing noise, you will want to slowly bring the pitcher further and further down to incorporate more air.
4) As soon as you feel the pitcher and milk get hot is when you stop frothing.
5) Tap the bottom of a pitcher on a table and swirl the milk around the pitcher to mix it in. You will notice that the texture of the milk is a lot thicker.
6) If you are creating a drier cappuccino (or a cappuccino with more foam and less milk), you will want to let the milk settle a little bit after you have mixed it, and it will separate out.
7) Combine the milk with your shot of espresso and enjoy.
If you would like to see the process in action and follow along step-by-step, watch as our resident milk frothing expert Dori teaches Sarah how to perfect her pour. If you live in the greater Seattle area, you can also learn how to froth milk with Dori in person if you stop by for her Sunday milk frothing or latte art workshops in our Bellevue store.
Last week we shared our affection for the Pasquini Livia G4, and discussed how to care for the machine. This week, it is time for another of one of Pasquini’s semi-automatic espresso machines to enjoy the spotlight. Almost like a little sibling to Livia, at just 12 inches tall and 8 inches wide the Livietta is probably one of the smallest semi-autos on the market. However, don’t be fooled by the machine’s diminutive size, it still packs a powerful punch. The Livietta has two thermoblocks, which enable simultaneous brewing and steaming, as well as a very fast heat up time. Since this machine does so much work for you, it is important to provide your Livietta with a little TLC every once and a while. As part of this process, we recommend giving the machine a thorough cleaning and using SCG’s Tune Up Kit for Pasquini Livietta to exchange the parts that are showing signs of wear and tear.
How do you know when its time to replace some of the parts on your machine? A few key signs to look out for are water or coffee coming over the top edge of your portafilter when brewing, your pump working harder or the flavor of your coffee just generally tasting off. The first scenario is likely occurring because your brew head gasket has failed and is no longer making a seal with your portafilter. Meanwhile, the later two scenarios are probably being caused by coffee residue that has built up on your brew head screen or in your portafilter basket, which does actually make your machine work harder and can taint your coffee. In either case, your Livietta is definitely in need of a tune up, so you can replenish the rundown parts.
Removing and installing SCG’s Tune Up Kit for the Pasquini Livietta is basically the same process we used on the Livia. You will remove all the accessories on the machine, flip it over and began removing the brew head components (brew screen screw, brew screen, diffuser and gaskets). The main difference between the two machines in this process is that in addition to the brew head gasket, the Livietta also has a shower screen holder gasket. This just means that you have two gaskets to uninstall, remove the shower screen holder gasket followed by the brew head gasket, which might require a bit of extra elbow grease. As usual, the next step is to clean any coffee grounds and residue out of the brew head (your diffuser and portafilter basket should already be soaking in a Cafiza solution made with the tablet provided) to prevent it from eating away at the new parts you will be installing.
Next you can begin installing the new parts in the reverse order from which you removed them. When it comes to the gaskets, install the brew head gasket first, followed by the shower screen holder gasket. When installing the screen gasket into the groove created for it, make sure that you don’t twist the gasket to make it fit or it won’t fit properly. To speed up and simplify the installation process, you can lineup the diffuser, shower screen and screw and thread them back into the brew head. Do one final check with your portafilter to make sure everything is seated right, and you’re done!
Want to see the process of installing SCG’s Tune Up Kit for the Pasquini Livietta in action before tackling it yourself? Check out this video to have Brendan walk you through it.
Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune Up Kit for Pasquini Livietta
One 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.
Not only does the shiny Pasquini Livia G4 espresso machine look beautiful on your counter, but it is also a workhorse of a machine. The Livia produces consistent shots time after time and it is heat exchanger, meaning you can steam your milk and brew your coffee at the same time. As a result, you can expect to spend a lot less time on whipping up your favorite lattes. With more time on your hands, perhaps you’ve thought about giving your machine some extra TLC in return, to ensure it continues to fuel your caffeine habit. A good deep cleaning is a great place to start, and you should also take stock of the some the parts on your machine. If you have noticed that your coffee has been tasting off recently or the pump has been working harder when you are pulling a shot, coffee residue has built up on your brew screen and its time to replace it. Likewise, if you see water or coffee pouring over the edge of your portafilter when you are pulling a shot, it means your brew gasket is no longer sealing properly and needs to be replaced as well. Luckily, SCG’s Tune Up Kit for Pasquini Livia G4 fixes both of these issues. Do keep mind that the parts on this kit are slightly different that those that were used on the original Livia 90. Therefore, if you have an earlier model of the Livia this kit won’t work for you.
The kit includes a brew head screen, a brew head gasket, a shower screen screw and a Cafiza cleaning tablet (to use to clean your diffuser and portafilter basket). The process for installing SCG’s Tune Up Kit for Pasquini Livia G4 is similar to that of the other tune up kits we have created. First, you will want to remove all accessories on the machine as well as the drip tray, drip tray grate, water tank, water tank lid, the cup warmer panels and the portafilter. This will prevent any of stainless steel pieces on the machine from getting scratched (as they have been removed) so your machine can continue looking shiny. Next you will your machine over and remove the components of the brew head – the brew screen screw, the brew screen, diffuser and the brew head gasket.
You will want to clean the diffuser, the portafilter basket and the brew head screen (if you want to keep an extra around as a spare) by soaking in hot water mixed with the included Cafiza packet. You should also clean up any coffee residue that had built up around your machine’s brew head. Use something like a small vacuum cleaner attachment or a can of compressed to blow all of the coffee out of the brew head. It is important that you get the brew head really clean before you install the new gasket since coffee is acidic and will start eating away at the gasket instantly.
The final part of the process is to reinstalling all the new pieces in your tune up kit. Replace the pieces in the reverse order you removed them, starting with the brew gasket and finishing with the brew screen screw. Once you have completed this process, insert your portafilter into the machine to make sure everything is aligned, and you are done! Ready try out SCG’s Tune Up Kit for Pasquini Livia G4 on your machine? Let Brendan walk through all the steps as he completes the process himself. It really is easier than you might think.
Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune Up Kit for Pasquini Livia G4
If you’re a new at home barista, the Saeco Poemia espresso machine is probably your new best friend. Not only is the machine is easy to use, but it is also very forgiving of those who are still learning. The pressurized portafilter means there is no need to perfectly tamp your espresso and the panarello wand makes milk frothing a breeze too! With this compact and stylish machine by your side you will be making lattes in no time!
However, what happens if, heaven forbid, your best friend eventually starts to act funny? For instance, you may notice that coffee or water is pouring over the top edge of your portafilter when you pull a shot on your machine. While this sounds scary, never fear, this is not the end of your relationship. All it means that your brew head gasket is no longer making the seal between the brew head and the gasket, which can easily be remedied by using SCG’s tune up kit for the Saeco Poemia.
The tune up kit comes with five parts: a brew head gasket, brew screen and screw, boiler spring and boiler valve. It is easiest to install these parts by flipping the machine over, but before you do this you will want to remove all accessories so they don’t get in your way while you are working on the machine. Once you have flipped your machine over, the next step is to remove the worn out parts so you can replace them. You should remove them in the following order: 1) brew screen 2) boiler bushing – make sure keep this piece close at hand since there is no replacement part included in kit 3) boiler spring and boiler valve and last, but not least 5) the brew head gasket.
After you have removed all the old parts, make sure to clean and remove any coffee grounds that have gathered around the brew head. You may even have to flip your machine right side up again to get all the grounds out. However, it is really important to make sure all of the grounds are removed since coffee is acidic and will eat away at your brew head gasket. Once you have give your espresso maker a thorough cleaning, you can begin installing the replacement parts from SCG’s tune up kit for the Saeco Poemia in your machine. You should install the parts in the reverse order that you removed them, so start with the brew head gasket. When you have installed the new parts and reassembled you espresso machine, you can then double check your work by inserting your portafilter into the machine to make sure that it lines up properly.
Knowing it is time to give your beloved Saeco Poemia some maintenance isn’t always as dramatic as having coffee leaking over the side of your portafilter. Some other signs that it is time replace these parts are if you hear your pump working harder than it used to. This can happen if you have so much coffee residue built up on your screen or portafilter, so that your pump does actually have to work harder to get through that pressure. Or you may find that your coffee just tastes off and you’re having trouble noticing a difference in taste between different blends of coffee. This could also be due to the fact that you have a lot of coffee residue built up that is affecting the taste of your shot. Luckily, SCGS’ Tune Up Kit for the Saeco Poemia can resolve all of these issues, and the installation is actually relatively painless. For more detailed instructions, watch as Brendan walks us through the process step-by-step. Your old friend will be up and running again before you know it!
Are 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.