Category Archives: Semi-Automatic

Brew Tip: Anatomy of an Over-Extraction

We have written about the shot pulling/extraction process before, and thought it would be a good idea to show you an easy way of evaluating whether or not your shot extractions are ideal.

The secret is in your basket. Once you pull your shot, discard the coffee puck and examine the portafilter basket: If you see a caramelized residue sticking to the bottom of the basket, it’s highly likely that your shot was over extracted and may taste bitter or burnt.

So if your shot is looking a little bit on the long side and you’re not sure of your extraction, save yourself a taste test and check out the basket for clues instead.

How To: Brew Group Maintenance

You may be sensing a theme here…keep it clean! The best way to keep your machine out of the repair shop and performing optimally is to regularly maintain all of its components.

Your machine’s brew group is arguably the most important part, so taking the time to keep it in tip top shape means it will give you delicious espresso shots for years to come.

We’ve compiled some how-to tips for each of the basic styles of home espresso machines. If you need more assistance, refer to your user manual or give us a call.

Tech Tip: Don’t Burn the Midnight Oil

We often see single boiler machines (such as some models from Rancilio Silvia, Ascaso Dream Up) that have suffered from one of the silent ills of home espresso machines: Heat element abuse.

Sure, this is a something no one wants to talk about — it’s ugly, it’s bloated and it’s burned out. This is not a sexy subject, but we can’t stand by any longer and watch as it’s so cavalierly swept under the rug! It’s time for us to take a stand…and let you know how you can keep your single boiler machine from becoming just another expensive statistic.

Our How to Brew & Steam – Rancilio Silvia article outlines the basic brewing process that you should follow for any single boiler machine: Namely, steam your milk first and then pull your shots. Following this process enables the machine to pump in and steam the appropriate amount of water necessary to first steam a 12 – 16 oz. quantity of milk and then brew an espresso shot. If you do the opposite and brew the shot before you steam the milk, it will empty out the boiler and, the next time you go to make your coffee, it will attempt to warm nonexistent water, fatiguing the element over time and eventually burning it out.

This burn out could be the end result of hundreds of tiny daily misuses or happen in one big event — like when you’re having a party and need to make many lattes at one time. For the latter, be sure to follow the brewing guidelines and serve your guests coffee in shifts. Make some jokes. Show them how charming you are. Do whatever you need to do — just don’t abuse your espresso machine.

Above Picture: Rancilio Silvia heating element burned out (top) and brand new (bottom)

Beautiful Crema, Stay with Me

There’s more to the bottomless portafilter than gorgeous crema and striking pours. In addition to giving you a three shot pull, this tool is fairly unforgiving in the extraction department, making it incredibly useful in helping you perfect your shot.

Without the spout on the bottom, you’ll be able to see your shot as soon as it begins, easily identifying any unevenness in tamp or grind. Once you are able to see an even distribution of the espresso as it pours from the bottom of the filter and coalesces into a thick, tawny stream, you’ll know your shot pulling skills are second to none.

Tech Tip: Keep your Hose Clean!

Is your machine having trouble steaming? Do you find that it’s difficult to dispense water for your Americano or a cup of tea? The last time you tried to use it, did the steam wand’s knob blow off, fly across the room and hit someone in the side of the head?

Home espresso should not be a contact sport! Long term uncleanliness can result in clogs of extremely disgusting proportions (such as the internal portion of a Saeco superautomatic frothing wand).

Keep the green cheese out of your frothy milk by thoroughly rinsing out the milk frothing components after each use. You can easily do this by running hot water/steam through the system until it runs clear. Additionally, in superautomatics with automated cappuccino or frothing functionality, we recommend a full weekly cleanse utilizing a cleansing agent such as Urnex Rinza.

How to Pull a Perfect Espresso Shot

Your favorite barista sure makes it look easy: Throw some coffee into a portafilter, pack it down with a tamper, lock it in the brew group and turn it on. Voila! A gorgeous, rich and delicious shot with a heady crema perfect for sipping.

In fact, it looks so easy, you should be able to do it, right? Cut to your house the morning after your new machine arrives, and you’re frazzled and frustrated by the bitter and watery shots coming out of your precious new contraption. Ugh! Well, maybe you just can’t get good espresso at home — maybe that’s what the $4/mug price tag is for, eh?

No way! Anyone can pull a perfect shot — every time — provided they follow a few simple guidelines around preparing and extracting their espresso. In this basic guide, we discuss the four main techniques in pulling espresso: dose, grind, tamp and pour. Take a moment to improve your skill and you’ll be making professional tasting espresso in no time!

New! DeLonghi Espresso/Drip Coffee Combo

Sometimes you feel like a drip…sometimes you don’t. Er, sorry. We know there’s a time and place for espresso, and if you live with someone who loves drip coffee and isn’t too hot on espresso drinks (or vice versa), these DeLonghi 2-in-1 models may just be the compromise that keeps your mornings peaceful.

Featuring programmable brew times, a flavor selector, milk frothing wands and simultaneous espresso & drip coffee brewing, these units will save you counter space and time.

How to Brew & Steam: Rancilio Silvia

One of our most popular machines, the Semi-Automatic Rancilio Silvia is an excellent value for its functionality and class. Featuring all brass components and a traditional steam wand (unique in this price range and essential to making latte art), the Silvia is a durable, mid-class home espresso machine.

If you are new to using a Rancilio Silvia, it’s well worth the time to follow our step-by-step guide on how to use the machine to get the best possible results. Learning the basics will improve the overall taste and presentation of your drinks — and you’ll impress your friends and family with your professional style!

Brew Tip: E61 Brew Group

Do you have a machine with an E61 brew group (such as models made by Rocket, Quick Mill or Izzo) that sometimes pulls bitter or burnt shots? It could be that you’ve left the machine on for an extended period of time and that the temperature is too high to pull an ideal shot.

We recommend pulling the lever and letting some water run through for a few seconds before you place your portafilter in the brew group, which will release some of the steam pressure and cool the temperature down a bit. If the machine has been sitting unused for more than 10 minutes, be sure to do this and your shots will taste great every time.

(E61 diagram courtesy of HomeBarista.com)