Category Archives: Semi-Automatic

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

How to Descale the Crossland CC1

Crossland CC1It’s hard not to love the Crossland CC1. This compact machine is easy to use, makes consistently good shots and has a large water reservoir. However, just like every other espresso machine, the Crossland CC1 needs a little TLC every once in a while to keep it in good running order. One of the best places to start is with descaling, which will help keep mineral deposits from clogging up your machine.

What makes descaling the CC1 a little different than other machines is that it is really simple! The machine has a thermoblock that runs the steam wand, and on the brew side it has a boiler. This setup allows us to have water (instead of steam) come out of the steam wand, so the descaling solution will go through the boiler, through the thermoblock and out through the steam wand, ensuring that all parts of the machine get cleaned out.

To clean the Crossland CC1, we used our favorite descaler, Dezcal, which is a citric acid based product, mixed with 32 oz. of warm water. This mix is non-toxic, so while any leftovers in your machine might make your espresso taste funny, it won’t harm you. However, don’t be alarmed if you are using this solution to descale your espresso machine and the water comes out greenish-blue. It is normal for the water to come out this color if you have a lot of minerals built up in your machine, which the Dezcal is helping remove. If the water comes out fairly clear, it means your water is mostly mineral free. For more details on how to descale your CC1 and pick up a few extra tips, follow along as Gail completes the process in just one hour.

SCG How-to Guides: Descaling the Crossland CC1

Tech Tips: Rocket Espresso Mineral Sensors

R58 Dual Boiler Rocket Espresso MachineWhen it comes to semi-automatic espresso machines, Rocket’s are the cream of the crop. Not only are they beautifully designed with their shiny stainless steel housing, but they also have state of the art mechanics as well, making them excellent for espresso production.

If you’re lucky enough to have purchased a Rocket Espresso machine, you likely rushed home so you could proudly display it on our your counter in all its glory. So, now you’ve got the machine all set up, plugged in, filled with tasty filtered or reverse osmosis (RO) water and you are good to go. But wait – what’s that flashing green light on the front of the machine? You’ve just filled the water tank, so why is the machine telling you that it is empty?

Never fear, your machine is not broken! This is a common question our customer service team receives about all Rocket machines, and luckily it is easy to fix. The problem is your Rocket is too smart for its own good and thinks the water reservoir is empty when the machine’s sensor doesn’t detect any minerals in the tank. In this video, Teri walks us through what causes this error and explains an easy solution.

SCG Tech Tips: Water Sensing on Rocket Espresso Machines

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

Breville Compare: Dual Boiler vs. Infuser Espresso Machines

brevilledualboiler It’s hard not to love Breville espresso machines, with their brushed stainless steel casing and smaller footprint. However, once you’ve decided this is the brand for you, how do you know which espresso maker to choose? While these machines might look pretty similar, they all are slightly different.

Perhaps we can help you narrow down the options. At the request of a viewer, we had Gail fire up the Breville Dual Boiler (BES900XL) and the Breville Infuser (BES840XL) and compare both machines side by side. The main difference between the machines is that the two boilers found inside the BES900XL allow you to brew your shot while simultaneously steaming your milk, and the built in PID lets you adjust the brew temperature for different roasts. While the BES840XL also has a PID to guarantee a stable temperature for shots, the PID is internal, which means it is not programmable so you won’t be able to change the brew temperature. Since this machine has a thermocoil heating system, you also will not be able to steam and brew at the same time. However, the Infuser does have a considerably lower price than the Dual Boiler, which goes to show you can save money and still get a great espresso machine.

Of course this wouldn’t be a true comparison without sampling the final product. Watch as Gail lays down some facts about the two machines and makes a cappuccino on each one.

Breville Compare: Dual Boiler vs. Infuser Espresso Machines

Espresso Shot Comparison: Breville Dual Boiler v. Rocket Espresso R58

Espresso Shot ComparisonLining up a couple of espresso machines and comparing them against each other in terms of functional features, technology and build quality is one way of determining which machine is the best fit for your particular needs. Another tactic is a straight up espresso shot comparison — holding a practical, blind taste test between machines to see if you can taste a difference in the shot glass.

In response to a viewer requesting that we compare the Breville Dual Boiler against a machine with an E61 brew group, we asked Gail to setup the Rocket Espresso R58, dial both of the machines in using a Mazzer Mini coffee grinder, then pull shots simultaneously. Next, two willing volunteers from our Bellevue retail store, Michael and Kevin, donated their tastebuds to the cause and they gave us their opinion on how the shots compared, flavor-wise.

Ever wonder how the Breville’s brew head technology measures up against the classic, tried-and-true E61? Watch this fun video to see how they compared this time! Of course, the coffee you use will definitely play a part in this equation, and you could go further with this by performing several blind taste tests in a row and then averaging the opinions, but here’s our first stab. Enjoy!

Espresso Shot Comparison: Breville Dual Boiler v. Rocket Espresso R58

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

Compare: Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

After many requests, we were finally able to get all of our dual boiler espresso machines in the same place at the same time — these guys have very busy schedules! But once we cornered a La Marzocco GS/3, Rocket Espresso R58 and Breville BES900XL at our Bellevue retail location, Gail made short work of a very thorough comparison.

First off you may be wondering why you’d choose a dual boiler machine to begin with. One of the primary benefits they offer is that you can control the temperature of the brew boiler independent of the steam boiler’s function. You can also brew and steam at the same time, producing cafe-quality lattes and cappuccinos in a snap. Each of the dual boiler machines we carry offer something a little bit different … here’s a quick overview:

La Marzocco GS/3 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

La Marzocco GS/3

Originally designed by La Marzocco for roasters to use to test their espresso roasts, the smallish stature yet commercial grade components have made the GS/3 a sought-after home espresso machine for truly committed enthusiasts. Because it technically is a commercial machine, and can be used in very low volume commercial environments, its shot and steaming performance is most like that of a much larger pro model. The steaming is fierce and forthright, the shot temperature consistent throughout and it features an internal reservoir or plumb-in option. This is the machine for those that appreciate high quality with a little brand cachet.

Rocket R58 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

Rocket Espresso R58

The R58, on the other hand, is a decidedly home-oriented espresso machine with commercial-grade components. Featuring an E61 brew head, a removable PID interface and an exceptionally polished stainless steel case design, it also has a convertible water source and a large steam boiler. While the GS/3 will steam your milk a bit faster, the R58 does enable you to work your milk a little bit, which is perfect for those with mid-range milk frothing skills. If you love the look of polished stainless steel and want a machine that recalls the classic design of early espresso machines, the R58 is a solid choice.

Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine

Breville Dual Boiler

Finally, we have the BES900XL, which is Breville’s entry into the dual boiler ring. Like their entire suite of products, this espresso machine is designed from a home appliance perspective — smaller footprint, increased ease of use and some people-friendly elements like an integrated storage tray and the ability to move the machine around on a wheel that’s integrated into the bottom. It has the smallest boiler set of the trio, making its steaming functionality much slower, which can be great news to anyone just learning how to make the fine micro foam necessary for latte art. It’s also the most budget-conscious of the lot, so definitely a great choice for folks who don’t want to drop a few thousand bucks for an espresso machine.

Want to learn more? Watch as Gail gives us a detailed feature and spec overview of each machine, then demonstrates how they perform by making us lattes. If you’ve been curious about these models or the benefits of a dual boiler espresso machine, this video should answer most of your questions.

SCG Compare: Dual Boiler Espresso Machines

How to Program an Auber PID on the Rancilio Silvia

Rancilio Silvia with Auber PIDPerhaps more than any other home espresso machine, the Rancilio Silvia has a devoted, storied following. Originally designed by commercial espresso machine manufacturer Rancilio to give as a gift to their distributors, it quickly took on a life of its own and, for many years, was considered the go-to espresso machine for home enthusiasts who wanted to craft specialty coffee quality drinks.

Owing to its creators, the Silvia featured largely commercial-grade components, which hadn’t really been on offer for many home-class espresso machines before. With copper-plated brass internals, a 58mm standard chrome-plated brass portafilter and a traditional steam wand, it provides the tools you need to make excellent espresso-based drinks. But it does have one major design element that have caused some folks to deem it as ‘finicky.’

The Silvia is a single boiler espresso machine that employs a rather simplistic temperature regulation system — a bi-metal thermostat that engages and disengages the heating element by bending one way or the other (as determined by the machine’s temperature). So, if the machine is on the lower end of the temperature spectrum, a small metal piece will bend one way in order to make a connection and allow the electrical current to reach the element, beginning the heat up process. On the other side of the spectrum, once the machine’s internal temperature reaches a high that causes this thin metal to bend in the opposite direction, it will interrupt the current and the machine will cease heating up. This is a very common method of temperature regulation used in appliances or thermostats around the home, and while it is cheap, reliable and effective, it also lends itself to a wide arc of variable temperature.

When these temperature variables happen in your home, you put on a sweater; when they happen in your espresso machine, they can result in marked differences in shot quality. At the hottest end of the spectrum, your coffee will taste burnt and over extracted, while on the coldest end it will taste sour. One way you can ensure you’re brewing at the right temperature, however, is to ‘temperature surf’ — pull just enough cold water into the boiler to engage the heating element, then, after it’s heated up to its highest temp, wait a bit (to allow the temp to come down from its hottest level) and then brew. Another way you can manage this is to circumvent the bi-metal thermostat altogether and install a PID!

The PID will take over managing the boiler’s temperature by using a more sophisticated and programmable electronic chipset. At SCG, you have the option of ordering a Rancilio Silvia from us that already has an Auber PID installed, which offers the ability to program the boiler temperature and elements of extraction such as pre-infusion and shot timing. In the video below, Gail shows us how to get into the Auber PID unit that we install on the Rancilio Silvia, navigate through it and program it for your specific needs.

Yes, this was a rather extensive and detailed lead-up to a simple how-to video, but knowing is half the battle, friend. And the other half is brought to you by espresso.

SCG How-To Guides: Programming the Auber PID on the Rancilio Silvia

Crew Review: Pasquini Livietta T2

Pasquini Livietta T2The Pasquini Livietta T2 espresso machine has been around for several years in its current iteration, yet we’d never had a demo in the store in order to give it our signature Crew Review treatment! When we had the opportunity to set one up, we had Gail dive in deep and not come up for air until she knew every possible thing about it.

With a diminutive size perfect for a home kitchen and dual thermoblock functionality that allows you to brew and steam at the same time, the Livietta T2 certainly packs a serious punch, while wearing very dainty gloves! It is a standard semi-automatic with a toggle switch interface, and it’s all wrapped in shiny stainless steel. Because its steam functionality uses a thermoblock, it isn’t very robust; while it will take some time to produce frothed milk, it is very easy to use and produce micro foam if you’re just learning how to do it. Additionally, you don’t have a lot of control over the brew temperature, but it does extract great shots without a lot of fancy footwork on your part.

The most important thing to keep in mind, though, is that you can’t descale the Livietta T2’s steam thermoblock, so be certain to use filtered water and even consider bringing it in to a tech for a thorough cleaning every couple of years. Other than that, it’s a sturdy little workhorse!

Want to learn more? Check out Gail’s comprehensive review and demonstration video to see it in action.

Crew Review: Pasquini Livietta T2