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.
One of the things we love the most about Rocket Espresso Machines is their beautiful and shiny stainless exterior. This casing is actually handcrafted in Italy, which makes each machine even more unique. However, a little known feature about these cases is that you can actually take them off fairly easily.
Why would you want to do such a thing? Even if your local delivery company takes every precaution into consideration when transporting your machine accidents do happen and sometimes a case gets damaged. As a side note, if you ever have to ship your machine for any reason, make sure to check out the handy shipping guide we’ve created to help ensure your machine stays in good shape while traveling. Anyhow, if you do find yourself with a damaged case you may want to order a new one to replace it with and you will need to know how to remove the old one. Or, if you’re really tech savvy, sometime you may want to work on the internals of your machine and will have to take the side panels off to access it.
Removing the side panels varies slightly for the different versions of each machine, but there are some aspects that are the same no matter what machine you have. The tools you need are a screwdriver, 7-millimeter wrench, socket set and an extension bit. Before you start to take off the side panels it is important that you make sure the machine is powered off and cold, and that you remove all of the accessories such as the lid, water tank, drip tray and portafilter.
When it comes to locating and removing and loosening the screws and bolts is where things start to change per machine. Once you have located and removed or loosed the screws on the top of your machine, the first part of the process will be to remove the cup warmer, water tank and then remove the diffuser plate. The next step is to locate the bolts on the sides, bottom and/or back of the machines and loosen them to remove the side panels. On Cellini V1, you can take the entire case off at once by standing at the back of the machine, grabbing the front casing (you will have to pull to two sides apart a bit to get around the internals of the machine) and then pulling it back toward you. On the Giotto, you can remove each side panel one at a time, for whichever side of the machine you need access to.
To see specific instructions for the Rocket Cellini and Rocket Giotto, watch as our repair tech Jeremiah takes the side panels off both machines. If you’re still not sure about taking the case off your Rocket Espresso machine yourself, we’re always here to help! Just let us know any questions you may have.
SCG Tech Tips: Removing Side Panels on Rocket Espresso Machines
Rocket Espresso has outdone themselves once again! The brand has updated their Giotto and Cellini V2 models to create the Rocket Cellini Premium Plus with PID and the Giotto Premium Plus with PID. These machines still have all the high-end features that were found in the previous models, but they now also include an integrated PID (proportional integral derivative) for a more precise brewing temperature. The folks at Rocket didn’t want to change the sleek, clean lines of the machines (which are handcrafted in Italy) so they have artfully hidden the PID inside each machine’s drip tray.
What are the benefits of having a PID as part of the machine? The PID makes controlling the brewing temperature more efficient, since it considers a variety of factors when calculating the temperature instead of just the pressure, which is what V2 models with just a heat exchanger did, allowing you to get a consistent temperature over and over again. In addition, the PID enables the machine to keep the temperature within one degree of the temperature you have programed in, where as with a typical heat exchanger there is a little bit more variation.
Some of our favorite features on the Rocket Cellini Premium Plus with PID and Giotto Premium Plus with PID that have continued on from the V2 models are the copper insulated heat exchanger boiler, huge water tank and the ever-popular E61 brew group and its thermo syphon system that efficiently heats the brew head. Another nice feature is the anti-burn steam arm, which will prevent your milk from burning and hardening onto the steam arm if you forget to wipe it off right away. However, it is important to remember that this doesn’t mean the steam arm won’t be hot; it will be, so be careful not directly touch the wand after each use.
To learn more about the new functionally on the Giotto and Cellini Premium Plus with PID machines and see how to program their PIDs, allow Gail and Brendan to walk you through the steps in this video.
Crew Review: Rocket Cellini Premium Plus with PID & Giotto Premium Plus with PID
Nuova Simonelli how much do we love you? Let us count the ways. With their beautiful design and professional functionality it is really hard not to love these machines. However, if you want to ensure your machine has a good long life, you’ll need to give it a little tender loving care. Part of that TLC (no, we don’t mean T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli) is replacing some of the parts of the machine that see a bit more wear and tear, like the brew head gasket and screen. Since Nuova Simonelli machines are some of the more popular espresso makers we have around, we decided to help you out and create a tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica. This kit includes a brew head gasket, shower screen and show screw. These parts will work for both the Oscar and the Musica; the installation is just slightly different.
Replacing your brew head gasket and screen may sound difficult, but it is actually pretty easy. When it comes down to it, your main tasks are just removing a screw and puling out a gasket. If you have an Oscar, we recommend laying down some soft towels and flipping the machine over to have better access to the brew head. Unfortunately, you can’t do this if you have a Musica due to the way the boiler is set up. Your next steps are to remove the old, worn out brew gasket and screen, clean the brew head and install the new parts from the kit. Easy peasy! How do you know when to tune-up your machine? Some customers said they have noticed they need to replace these parts at about every six months or so, but if you use your machine less frequently you may find you only need to replace them once a year. You can also watch for coffee and water leaking around the top edge of your portafilter or for lots of coffee grounds building up around your screen.
Inspired to give your machine a tune-up but want to see the process in action before attempting it yourself? Check out Brendan’s video on how to use the tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica and pick up a few tips and tricks.
Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica
Small in stature, but not short on fundamentals, the Capresso EC PRO is one of our newest espresso machine friends. The machine’s compact footprint makes it perfect for small kitchens where there is limited counter space. However, just because the EC PRO is diminutive in size, doesn’t mean it can’t make a great latte!
In fact, while some semi-automatic machines have a steep learning curve, the EC PRO is incredibly easy to use. Even if you are used to brewing on a superautomatic machine, like myself, you will quickly be able to get the hang of using this machine. Unlike some machines that have a number of buttons that can be confusing to figure out, the Capresso EC PRO has just two buttons, besides the power button, brew and steam. Thus, whenever you want to pull a shot or froth your milk, all you have to do is get your portafilter or milk frothing pitcher in place, select which option you want and away you go!
To make your brewing even easier, the machine comes with a pressurized portafilter so you don’t have to worry about perfecting your grind and tamp. Although, when testing this machine, we did find it helps to lightly tamp the coffee in the pressurized portafilter before brewing to get a better quality shot. If you are a more adventurous barista and really want to work on fine-tuning your shots, you aren’t out of luck with this machine, as the EC PRO also comes with a bottomless portafiler. This allows you get a better look at your shot as it comes out of the machine and note things like channeling, and adjust your grind, dosage and tamp accordingly if your extraction is messy. The upside is, once you have gotten these three variables down, the shot will look beautiful as it pours out of your machine.
To learn a few additional pointers about brewing on this machine, watch as Gail and Kris discuss it features.
A couple of you have requested that we discuss some of the advanced features on the new Breville Dual Boiler and Breville Oracle and compare them to the first Breville dual boiler. Ask and you shall receive! We got these two espresso machines together in a room, unlocked their advanced menus and played around with them.
The main difference between the Dual Boiler BES900XL (first generation), the Dual Boiler BES920XL (second generation) and the Oracle BES980XL (third generation) is that both the second and third generation machines have two new features in their advanced menu options. The first feature is the capability to adjust the temperature (from 265-285 degrees Fahrenheit) on the steam boiler so you can get hotter (or cooler, if you prefer) milk. The second feature is the ability to choose whether your extraction is based on time or the amount of espresso produced, instead of having the extraction be based strictly on time as on the BES900XL.
The advanced menus on both the new Breville Dual Boiler and the Oracle are easy to get into. To access them on either machine, simply hold down the single shot button and press power. Once you are in the advanced menu, you will be able to scroll through the options for adjusting your machine’s settings. These features are pretty similar on both machines, as they enable you to tweak the factory settings, descale, alerts and sounds in addition to the steam temperature and extraction settings as we mentioned before. However, you will find the Oracle has a few extra choices, such as settings for how fast the pump comes on for steaming your milk, the contrast on the LCD screen, fan and others. For more information, check out our video and let Gail guide you through how all these options work and how to change them.
SCG Tech Tips: Breville Oracle (BES980XL) & New Breville Dual Boiler (BES920XL) Advanced Menu
Through the magic of the Internet, we heard that people have been using their espresso machines to brew black tea. This sounded like an interesting concept to us, and we were curious to see if it would work. People have been known to brew rooibos (also called red espresso) this way, and have even started whole cafes based on this idea. So why wouldn’t it work with black tea? We decided to put this theory to the test and use the Capresso EC PRO Espresso & Cappuccino Machine to brew Ceylon O.P. by Danmann Freres Teas.
To make the tea, we filled the machine’s pressurized portafilter up to the first line inside with the loose leaf black tea. Then we loaded the portafilter into the machine, and started the extraction. We let the extraction go long, about 30-40 seconds, until the cup was mostly filled and the brew started to become clearer. The tea that was produced had a good aroma and was medium orange-brown in color. However, when we sampled the tea, the flavor was not bad, but definitely weaker than normal.
Not ones to be easily defeated, we were curious what would happen if we ground up the tea leaves before dosing them into the portafilter. To grind the tea, we grabbed the Hario Skeleton (Skerton) Coffee Mill, and set it to a coarser grind setting since we were using a pressurized portafilter. After grinding a couple of teaspoons full of tea we noticed that many of the tea leaves were passing through the grinder whole, so we readjusted our grind to be much finer. We were a little concerned that the tea was now too fine and would choke the portafilter, but we decided to go ahead and try it anyway.
Once again we loaded the portafilter into the Capresso EC PRO and started the extraction. We immediately noticed the tea was coming out much darker in color this time around. Suddenly we began to notice a different color coming out of the portafilter – there was a crema on top of the tea! While having a crema is not unusual for rooibos brewed on espresso machines, we were surprised we’d get the same effect with black tea. After about 30-40 seconds, we stopped the extraction. The color of the tea was much darker in comparison to the first cup we made, and topped with a thick, foamy crema. This time around the tea tasted exactly like it should, as if it had been steeping for three to five minutes.
We were (pleasantly) surprised to find you can brew a decent up of tea using a semi-automatic espresso machine and a pressurized portafilter. If you are going to try this experiment yourself we highly recommend grinding your loose leaf tea into smaller particles, since that gave us the best results. We only tried this experiment with black tea, so we aren’t sure if this technique will work to brew other types of tea, such as rooibos or herbal infusions. We also haven’t tried brewing the tea with a different machine or tested to see if brewing tea on an espresso machine is faster than brewing with a kettle. If you try this experiment with different variables, let us know in the comments. I sense more tea experiments in our feature!