A few times per week, a new Rancilio Silvia owner calls in with this question — what the heck is that 2nd tube for? The machine diagram in the user manual hasn’t been updated by Rancilio to show this tube or describe what it’s for, so we recorded this for posterity. Gail shows us the tubes and talks about their functions.
It’s a good idea to regularly pull out your Saeco superautomatic’s brew group and spray it down with hot water — we recommend doing this once per week and using water only, no soap. Why? Because the soap is going to break down the lubrication on the brew group and you’ll be re-applying it weekly as opposed to twice a year. Ultimately, you’ll be using more than you need to and we’re just thrifty that way.
Gail shows us where to apply the lubricant on the brew group when it is time for a touch up. A general rule of thumb is that if you can see/feel the lubrication on the group, you’re probably as lubricated as you need to be. When applying, don’t put a large quantity into each area; just apply some to a q-tip and then put a light layer. We often see big globs applied that then mix with coffee grounds to make a rather dangerous cement. In this case, you can have too much of a good thing.
While working on a Francis Francis in our repair center, we found out it’s awesome little secret: It comes with an internal PID! You can’t adjust it yourself, and some of the newer models like the X7 aren’t designed to be adjusted at all, but it will keep the boiler’s temp within 1 degree of the set temperature — unlike less sophisticated thermostats that have a varying range of about 20 degrees and, thus, require temperature surfing.
Josh and Gail cracked open an X7 to show its guts and glory!
The Ascaso Dream UP is considered a ‘versatile’ espresso machine, meaning that — like its predecessor — the brew head has been designed for use with both ESE pods and ground coffee. However, the stock brew head definitely favors pods and you don’t get as rich of a shot using grounds as you can off of other machines in this class.
When we did our review recently, we noticed that even though the new UP has a three-way solenoid valve, it didn’t seem to perform that well, leaving really soupy grounds behind. So we decided to experiment with the machine by installing the Brew Head Upgrade kit to see if that improved the performance. It did!
Watch Gail show us the different screens, talk about how they perform and demonstrate a shot. We even spliced in footage from the original review (accompanied by super sessy muzak!) for easy side-by-side comparison.
Recently re-engineered, Ascaso’s Duo series is designed to give you a little bit more power than a traditional single boiler at a portion of the cost of a heat exchange or double boiler. With a semi-automatic version or programmable/automatic version available, the Duos feature a brew boiler, thermoblock for steaming and two separate pumps so that you can theoretically brew and steam at the same time.
We have noticed that the steaming function is not as strong as you find on machines that have a steam boiler to back it up, and also that the Duos do not have a PID on the brew boiler, so you still have to temperature surf to be certain of where your temperature is at in the heating cycle. Watch Gail show us the internals of a Duo, temperature surf and pull a couple of comparison shots.
A heat exchange boiler is not a traditional double boiler, as it doesn’t maintain totally separate boilers for the brew head and the steam wand. It does, however, have separate water delivery systems, so you can brew and steam with it at the same time — if you want. Some folks prefer not to (either the multi-tasking is a challenge or they are concerned with how it affects the brew temperature), and then the benefit of a heat exchange is that you can switch very quickly between the two functions.
In this video, Josh shows us the internal components of the Quick Mill Vetrano and explains how it all works — a great primer for anyone interested in the tech side of things.
Where do espresso machines and coffee makers go to die? Not in the landfill, if we can help it! At Seattle Coffee Gear, we launched a recycling program last year in an effort to keep as many fully assembled machines from landing in the trash. Many of these are pretty complex — they have circuit boards, electrical wiring and miscellaneous metals that are best kept out of our ground water supply.
Our partner in this venture is Uesugi USA, a Japanese company that (as luck would have it) have a US presence here in the Seattle-area. We pulled Henry into the mix and headed out to their facility to talk about what they do and see how they take these machines apart, break them down to their components and funnel them back into the commodity supply chain as cleanly as possible.
A style of thermostat often used in espresso machines is an analog bi-metal thermostat that measures the temperature on the outside of the boiler. This utilizes two different types of metal that react to different temperatures to regulate whether or not the boiler needs to kick on and heat up or kick off and cool down.
We asked Gail to take one apart and show us how it works, so she did! If you’ve ever wondered what accounts for the variable boiler temperatures, here is your answer.
Cleaning and maintenance is a hot topic in this neck o’ the woods, but some folks aren’t clear on which specific maintenance routines apply to the type of machine they own. This comes up specifically in regard to backflushing — do you or don’t you?
You do backflush if you own a machine with a valve system referred to as a three-way solenoid, brew pressure release, three-way valve, solenoid valve or any other combination of these phrases. Not sure if your machine has this? If your machine has an E61 brew group (such as those on Rockets, Quick Mills, Izzos or Grimacs), it has this valve system. Other models that feature this without the E61 are those made by La Spaziale, Pasquini, the Rancilio Silvia and Ascaso’s Uno Pro and Duo series. This valve system relieves pressure post-brew, which results in a drier puck, but it sucks a little bit of coffee and water into the system each time which can build up in there and adversely impact the machine’s performance. Backflushing forces detergent and water through the valve system, thoroughly cleaning it and maintaining the system. It also has the added benefit of cleaning up behind the brew head’s screen without taking it apart.
You don’t backflush if your machine doesn’t have this system — because you don’t have the valves to clean! Some machines that don’t need backflushing include the Saeco Aroma, Via Venezia, Sirena, models made by Breville, those from Francis Francis/illy and Delonghi and Capresso semi-automatics. But since you’re not forcing detergent through the brew head, you will need to take it apart semi-regularly to clean up behind the brew screen.
The best way to determine if you need to backflush your machine is to read the manufacturer’s manual and the machine’s technical specifications to see if it has the valve system. If it doesn’t, you’re good to go; if it does, you should backflush once every 1 – 2 weeks, depending on how often you use the machine.
Not sure how to do it? Watch us backflush the Rocket Giotto E61 or the Rancilio Silvia.
In follow-up to his seminal work on professional espresso preparation, The Professional Barista’s Handbook, Scott Rao takes on all the other forms of coffee brewing and gives them their day in the sun. Broken up into three main parts, and supported by a thorough reference bibliography for folks that want to read more, Everything but Espresso covers the following:
- Part One: Coffee extraction, measurement and methods on improving flavor by changing the brewing parameters
- Part Two: How to achieve optimal flavor via different brew methods (such as drip, pour over, press pot, steeping and vacuum pot)
- Part Three: Proper water chemistry and bean storage
If you’re either an espresso aficionado who wants to spread their wings or someone who cherishes their old press pot, this book is the definitive guide to making the best possible brew at home.