Category Archives: Tips – Brew

Java Talk: Caffé Lusso Chemex Demonstration

Caffee LussoWe recently had the pleasure of hosting Mike Smith from the Redmond, WA based roaster Caffe Lusso. The brand was started in 1999, when roastmaster Philip Meech realized how easy it was to find a bad cup of coffee even here in Seattle, the most caffeinated city in America. As a result, Philip set out on mission to improve coffee experience in the Northwest, and to create the best cup of coffee possible from available green resources.

While Mike was in the store, he demoed his approach for brewing on the Chemex. Some people think the Chemex is just one of the hip new way to brew coffee, but it was actually invented in 1941, meaning it has been around for over 70 years! What we like the most about this brew method is that it looks like part science experiment (as you probably know by now we love science!) and also brews great coffee. It’s also a fun way to brew coffee at home, since it brings out some of the more nuanced flavors of the coffee, especially if you’re dealing with a single origin or something more unique to your coffee program. Not to mention the design of the Chemex looks really nice and is sure to impress any guests you serve.

How to Brew Chemex Coffee Caffe Lusso Style:

  • Place a Chemex filter (which is basically a four-sided filter) inside the top of the Chemex, with three sides against the spout – this allows for air to pass through both in the brewing process and through out the entire brewing method.
  • Before brewing, pass water that has been heated to 200 degrees over the filter in the Chemex. This pre-infusion process will get rid of any paper taste or feel from the filter and temper the glass vessel, which will help keep your coffee from getting cold.
  • Once you have pre-infused your Chemex, make sure to pour out any excess water that has collected in the bottom of the carafe.
  • Now, you can load your coffee into your filter. For this brew we used Caffe Lusso’s Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. For this roast we used the grind setting in between the notch for a flat bottom and paper cone.
  • The next step is the desire amount of coffee you want into the filter. When dosing your coffee, it is always best to use a scale. You’re often supplied with tablespoons and things like for measuring out your coffee, but they are not an exact science, so it is better to us weight if you want to be consistent.
  • For this brew, we scooped 44 grams of coffee into our filter, making sure to scoop a little divot out of the center, so it can capture some of the water.
  • Then, pour a little water into the divot you just made in the coffee, and allow it to sit for a few seconds to serve as a pre-soak. At this point you won’t see a whole lot of coffee dripping into the carafe, but there might be a little bit.
  • The next part of the process is where the actual brewing of the coffee occurs. This step takes about 3-4 minutes, so Mike recommends that you set a timer and start it to make sure you are no track with the time.
  • Once you’ve started your timer, slowly pour in 700 milliliters of water. Use a circular motion that goes counter clockwise, starting from the outside of the filter and moving in.
  • Since your scale was set to 44 grams when you added the coffee, you will when you have put in 700 milliliters of water when the scale reads 744. (The density of water of is equal to 1 g/mL, with the mass of 1 mL = 1 g).
  • After a minute or so you’ll notice that the coffee will start dripping through the neck into the base of the carafe. Once you get to the three and a half minute range, most of the water will have passed through the grounds, and you’re brewed coffee will be in the base of the carafe. However, you can continue the brew for up to four minutes if you so desire.
  • Once you’ve reached the four minute mark, you’re brew is done. Remove the filter and pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Caffe Lusso is doing a couple more events with us at our Bellevue store in May. Their farmer Sergio from Brazil will be here to discuss their farming technique on May 3rd and they will be doing a traditional cupping on May 10th where you can sample a variety of roasts. So if you’re in the area make sure to stop by, get to know the folks at Caffe Lusso and taste their delicious coffee.

Java Talk: Caffé Lusso Chemex Demonstration

Brewing Tea on the Capresso EC PRO Espresso & Cappuccino Machine

Capresso EC PRO Espresso & Cappuccino Machine
Ground black loose leaf tea in a pressurized portafilter.

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.

Crema on top of the second cup of tea.
Crema on top of the second cup of tea.

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.

pressurized_tea12
The lighter tea (top left) was the first cup we brewed. The dark one (bottom right) was the second.

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!

Brew Tips: How to Store Your Coffee Beans

Coffee BeansYou’ve found the perfect espresso machine or coffee maker for you and gotten some tasty coffee beans to brew with. However, now you’ve started to use your beans, you may be wondering how to store them so that they retain their flavor and stay in the best shape possible. This subject can be quite confusing, as there almost as many ideologies on the best way to store coffee beans as there are roasts. In the hope of clearing things up, we completed a variety of tests to determine the best way to keep your coffee fresher longer.

The Freshness Factor

You may have heard that coffee has a short shelf life, which is mostly true. After the beans have been roasted, they outgas carbon dioxide for about 72 hours. As such, many local roasters will package their beans in bags that feature one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while protecting them from contact with oxygen, which can make the beans go stale. While this allows you to experience the coffee’s peak flavor, but it will start to lose its freshness once its bag has been opened. Thus, as a general rule, we have found that it’s best to consume your coffee within one or two weeks after opening the bag.

If coffee wasn’t already complicated enough, it is important to keep in mind that every coffee has it’s own sweet spot for when it tastes the best after it has been roasted. Thus, if you ask a number of different roasters when you should drink your coffee beans by, you will get a variety of different answers. Since everyone has different tastes, so we highly recommend that you experiment with your coffee and find your own sweet spot for your roasts.

Storing Your Coffee

Due to the reasons mentioned above, we have found that is best buy your coffee in small quantities, as you need it. Likewise, if you are using whole bean coffee, you should only grind your beans as you make your coffee or espresso, instead of grinding the whole bag all at once. This will ensure the coffee keeps more of its flavor.

However, if you buy your coffee in bulk or need to store it for some other reason, you do have options.  For starters, you may want to divide your coffee supply into a small container for daily use, and a larger container for the bulk of the coffee (which will only be opened to refill the small container). This will allow you to reduce the amount of air the larger container of coffee is exposed to, enabling you to keep it longer. Another thing to keep in mind is generally whole beans will have a longer shelf life than ground beans, which go stale at a faster rate since they have more surface area. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t store ground coffee, you may just not be able to keep it quite as long, depending on how sensitive your taste buds are.

In fact, this same rule applies to how long you can store your coffee in general. In short, it depends on you and how you like your coffee to taste. Some people will notice a change in the flavor of the coffee after a week and want to replace it, while others won’t notice a difference in the coffee until it has lost most of its flavor.

When it comes to storing your coffee, the best environment to keep it in is an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Why is how you store your coffee so critical?  If you don’t store your coffee in this manner, you risk exposing your coffee to the five “coffee killers” listed below, which decrease the lifespan of your coffee and cause it to go stale.

  • Air: When roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavors in them are oxidized, causing the coffee to go stale.
  • Moisture:  One of the worst things for coffee, moisture taints the oils in the beans, causing off flavors or even making the beans deteriorate.
  • Heat: Exposing the beans to heat before they are brewed will cause them to lose flavor.
  • Light: Direct light can cause the beans to go stale and lose flavor.
  • Odor: Coffee is porous, which means if coffee is near other fragrant items, like fish, it can absorb these flavors. As a result, your coffee could end up tasting like seafood instead of coffee.

Luckily, there are some pretty nifty containers on the market that you can use to store your coffee in and keep it out of harm’s way. We have found that the best options are metal, ceramic or even darkly colored plastic canisters. In addition, it is important to use coffee containers that are airtight, which will keep out air and can prevent moisture and odor from contaminating your beans as well. One of our favorites is the Airscape Coffee Bean Canister, which has a specially designed lid that you push down to remove air from inside the can.

What about glass or clear plastic containers? While these options do look pretty on your counter and let you to see the contents inside, they also allow in one of the biggest coffee killers – light. If you really want to keep your beans in a clear container, make sure to store it in a pantry or drawer where it won’t be exposed to sunlight. Another alternative is to use a polarized canister that will allow you to see its contents while keeping light out.

Is it Ever Okay to Freeze Your Beans?

Freezing beans is a contentious topic in the coffee world. Some people adamantly oppose ever freezing your beans, while some claim it’s okay in certain circumstances. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), “It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.” This is a valid point, since every time you open the bag of coffee, which is likely at least once a day; you will be exposing the beans to oxygen and whatever humidity is in the air. Neither of these things is good for coffee and can impact the coffee’s flavor. This effect is even worse when open bags of coffee are stored in the freezer. The humidity forms ice crystals, which essentially freezer burns the beans and causes them to go stale even faster.

However, when it comes to storing unopened coffee, the NCA states it okay to keep it in the freezer as long as it is in an airtight bag. However, once you remove this bag from the freezer and thaw the coffee, do not put the bag back in the freezer. If you do, you will encounter the issue mentioned above, and will likely have freezer burned coffee. Instead of returning the coffee to the freezer, the NCA suggests that you “move [it] to an airtight and store in a cool, dry place.”

While we like the NCA, we couldn’t just take their word for it, so we decided to conduct a couple of tests ourselves. While we did notice a slight difference in the taste of the beans and did have to tweak our grind for the beans a bit, overall we found that coffee beans can be frozen, as long as the package is tightly sealed and unopened the entire time.

Through our research and quasi-scientific experiments, we have discovered a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when storing your beans. While we prefer to use our coffee sooner rather than later, we have found it is possible to prolong the life of your coffee if you take the time to store it properly.

 

Crew Review: Chai Diaries’ Blooming Teas

Chai Diaries There’s a lot to love about tea in general — there’s such a wide variety of styles and applications that it would seem nearly endless! We adore everything from a crisply brewed genmaicha to a bright earl gray over ice, herbal infusions when we have a sour belly or sore throat to fruit-infused tisanes that perk up creative cocktails. So when we brought in the blooming teas by Chai Diaries we were excited to experience yet another approach to brewing tea — albeit one that is significantly more gorgeous!

Over the following weeks, we brewed up and tasted all of their blooming teas, watching them with rapt attention as they slowly unfurled inside our Adagio Glass Water Kettle. We loved that not only did they produce a delicious pot of tea, they offered a lovely show and point of discussion for our whole crew. We can imagine these Chai Diaries teas as a unique and tasty centerpiece to a very special tea party!

Watch as Bunny and Brandi show us the different varieties we offer, then brew a pot of Double Happiness, a delicate tea infused with jasmine and chrysanthemum.

Crew Review: Chai Diaries’ Blooming Teas

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

Crew Review: Hario Cold Water Dripper

Hario Cold Water DripperOne of the things we appreciate the most in this world is a little mad science. Experimenting and having fun with coffee is the cornerstone of why we do what we do, so we’re always game to try out new ways of doing things. When we took on the Hario Cold Water Dripper last year, we had admittedly less-than-stellar results. So while we dug that it was a slow-food approach to making smooth cold brew coffee, it wasn’t high on our list of favorite gear.

Cut to last month when one of our techs, Bryan, decided to experiment with this dripper, then reported to us his findings. What’s the best way for a mad scientist to validate a theory? Perform the proof experiment, successfully, at least one more time! So in came Bunny and the rest is now history.

The cool thing about the Hario Cold Water Dripper is that there is an element of showmanship involved, but it is also relatively hands-off and produces truly delicious coffee. The key is getting the right combination of coffee dosage, water volume, grind particle size and droplet frequency, but equally important is the kind of coffee you’re using and the water you’re brewing with. We find that coffees that come out as a rich, chocolatey espresso tend to taste like actual chocolate milk as a cold brew, while others that have more bright, fruity notes produce an often berry-forward cold coffee. But every coffee you love should be at least experimented with as a cold brew to see how it measures up, so definitely have fun with it!

Watch as Bunny sets up her experiment, then we check back over several hours throughout the day as the Hario Cold Water Dripper slowly produces a delectable batch o’ joe.

Crew Review: Hario Cold Water Dripper – Redux!

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

Bonavita Coffee Maker Care and Maintenance

Bonavita Coffee MakerYour trusty Bonavita coffee maker brews up batch after batch of delicious java with relatively little assistance from you. It doesn’t have a lot of moving parts, so it’s easy to overlook regular care and maintenance when it just simply works, right?

Implementing a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule will result in both increased equipment longevity and improved flavor in the cup. Certain components — like the carafe — will show their wear and tear, but other, more internal parts can’t give you a visual cue. Accordingly, it’s a great idea to come up with a schedule that you follow on a regular basis, descaling and cleaning the machine’s components at least a few times each year.

Here’s what we recommend:

  • Weekly – Each week, wash the carafe and filter basket with warm soapy water. Using a food-friendly cleaning solution, wipe down the machine, paying special attention to the hot plate if your model has one.
  • Monthly – Every fourth external cleaning, wipe out the water reservoir to limit any residue build-up. If you’re using water with a higher mineral content, you should also descale at this time.
  • Quarterly – For softer water, a quarterly descale using a descaled and detergent combo like Cleancaf will improve your coffee maker’s performance.

Watch as Gail demonstrates and guides us through a thorough maintenance regimen using the Bonavita coffee maker with a glass carafe.

SCG How-to Guides: Bonavita Coffee Maker Care and Maintenance

Gear Testing: Milk to Perfection Latte Art Pitcher

Milk to PerfectionFor years now, our most popular video on YouTube has been Milk Steaming Tips, our latte art classes fill up before they’re even promoted and our support interactions are rife with questions (and frustrations!) around steaming milk. While everyone has a different perspective on shot quality and which machine produces the best espresso, they all have a similar goal with their milk steaming: A beautiful heart or rosetta to serve to themselves or someone they love. From the DeLonghi EC155 to the La Marzocco GS/3, the Saeco Vienna Plus to the Jura GIGA 5, how the milk is produced and the end result is high on everyone’s list.

So when tools are invented to improve the process for folks, we have to try them out, of course! Enter the Milk to Perfection steaming pitcher, which is designed to facilitate the clockwise swirl necessary for producing high quality, latte art style milk. Some machines (such as the Rancilio Silvia or the Nuova Simonelli Oscar) are known for their rather rowdy steaming functionality — a lot of strong steam that needs to be wrassled into producing nice, tight micro foam. So we thought that experimenting with how the Milk to Perfection performed on one of these steam-forward machines would be a great test to determine how effective of a tool it is.

Watch as Bunny steams up two pitchers on the Nuova Simonelli Oscar: First, a standard 20 oz. stainless steel pitcher and then the Milk to Perfection. Does one produce micro foam more easily than the other? Can either of them tame this steamy beast? Does it matter what kind of pitcher you’re using once you’ve been frothing milk for years? Find out in this fun side-by-side test and comparison video.

Milk Steaming Test: Milk to Perfection vs. Standard Stainless Steel Pitcher