Category Archives: Tips – Tech

The Lowdown on Espresso Machine Thermostats

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.

Ask the Experts: Which Machines Need to be Backflushed?

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.

New! Everything but Espresso – Scott Rao

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.

How to Backflush the Rancilio Silvia

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Backflushing the Rancilio Silvia is an essential element of it’s cleaning and maintenance routine. In fact, we say this about all machines that have a three-way solenoid/brew pressure release valve — such as machines with the E61 brew group, the Pasquini Livia 90, Ascaso Uno Pro and Duo series or the La Spaziale Vivaldi machines, among others.

This release valve system serves two purposes: It relieves pressure in the brew head (so you don’t have an exploding portafilter) and it also sucks up a little bit of water from the coffee puck (so you don’t have soupy grounds). As you can imagine, this action will take water and a little bit of coffee with it each time, a residue that can build up in the system and eventually damage the machine. For a long time, Rancilio didn’t recommend doing this out of concern for proper customer education and the belief that these home machines didn’t get enough use to merit such maintenance. Over time, however, they have adjusted their opinion — it is something they do recommend on their commercial machines — and they are proponents of educating home baristas to properly care for their equipment.

While we demonstrated the procedure on the Rocket Giotto in one of our very first videos in 2008, we received many requests for demonstrations and tips on how to perform this on the Rancilio Silvia. At long last, here it is!

Tech Tip: Disassembling Brew Groups

Keeping your espresso equipment clean is essential to producing consistently excellent shots. Backflushing on the Rancilio Silvia and machines with the patented E61 brew group will definitely address the brew group and screen, but it’s still a good idea to take them apart every so often and give them a good scrub down. You’ll also need to know how to do this when replacing the brew head gasket, also an important part of regular care and maintenance.

Watch Gail take apart the brew head on the Rancilio Silvia:

Now watch her take apart an E61 brew head:

Tech Tip: My Superauto with SBS Keeps Clogging!

Have a Saeco superautomatic with the Saeco Brewing System (SBS) functionality? If so, this tip is for you!

We occasionally have customers calling with the following issue: They haven’t used the machine for awhile and now, when they try to use it, it’s grinding and tamping and everything but it’s either not brewing at all or giving an error. The cause? Well, if you let the machine sit unused for a few days, the coffee can dry in the SBS system, harden and clog it with a little coffee plug. This could even happen as quickly as overnight if you use dark roasted/oily beans in the grinder or if you use pre-ground flavored coffees (that sometimes have sugar in them) in your bi-pass doser.

How to resolve? Simple: Start brewing a shot and twist the SBS knob back and forth repeatedly. This combination of actions should break the hardened coffee free and coffee should start to flow.

The Grind – March 2010

March 2010’s version of Seattle Coffee Gear’s monthly newsletter, The Grind, is live and direct in someone you love’s inbox. Is that someone you? Well, it should be. We should all love ourselves — truly, madly, deeply.

So give yourself some sugar and, while you’re checking out this month’s newsletter — which features a yummy mint & Irish cream latte recipe, tips on the Baratza Vario display panel upgrade, a blog showcase and info on some of the new products we’ve got — sign up to receive next month’s missive. What you won’t find online is our Grind Special, available only via the email version of the newsletter, and we know how much you love a good deal, baby.

Baratza Vario H2 Display Upgrade

Baratza recently released an upgraded display for their Vario grinder, which now has memory (so it retains its programming even when the grinder is unplugged) and sleep mode functionality. If you have a Vario that was manufactured before March 2010, you can purchase the upgraded display separately and easily install it yourself. Vario models produced from March 2010 forward will have this new display as standard.

We filmed Henry as he installed the upgraded display in our older floor demo model. Questions on how to program the sleep mode? Check out these instructions.

Look to the Coffee Grounds

Along the lines of reading the tea leaves or a chicken’s innards, a rich tradition of examining the coffee grounds at the bottom of one’s cup has long given answers to some of life’s more complex questions. It’s in that spirit that we divine your monthly dose of caffeinated fortune telling, our Espresscopes over at Brown Bean. Curious what 2010 will bring to your java-sphere? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

Ask the Experts: Can I use Lemon Juice to Descale my Machine?

DIY lovers are all into the idea of using lemon juice or vinegar to descale their machines, but while the latter will leave a nasty residue and we don’t recommend it for that reason, the former just isn’t concentrated enough to do as an effective job in as an efficient manner as a concentrated citric acid solution like Dezcal. This is what we find out from Gail, plus she makes freaky faces and it’s worth watching just for that.