Category Archives: Tips – Tech

The Grind – April 2009

April’s issue of our monthly newsletter, The Grind, is now up! This month’s edition includes a spicy tropical mocha recipe that is not for the faint of heart, details on our espresso machine recycle program, a tip on keeping your brew head clean and the secret code for this month’s Grind Special coupon.

Check it out — or sign up to receive future editions in your inbox.

Green Machine

We’re all more conscientious these days about our environmental footprint — what we do every day and how that impacts the world around us — and our pocketbook. What started as a random inquiry every now and again eventually developed into a dull roar…people want to find a way to keep their fully intact machine out of a landfill.

So we developed our  Recycling Program to fill this need:  we will break it down into all of its components, reuse any parts that are still good and then recycle most of the rest.

If you’re interested in the program, just contact us and let us know the make, model, age and condition of your machine. We’ll get back to you on how to deliver your machine to us. Feel good when you choose a new, upgraded model that your old machine is still being green!

Tune It Up, Little Darling

We’re all looking for ways to stretch our loot a little further these days. Keeping your home espresso machine in excellent condition means you can enjoy high quality espresso for years to come at a significantly reduced cost than what you’d pay at a local cafe.

To that end, our techs offer a Tune Up service for both superautomatic and semi-automatic espresso machines. This is a popular service that we wanted to share with more people around the country (yes, you can ship your machine to us for this service) and so we asked Gail to describe how this service works, what we do, etc.

For those of you not into watching videos or if you’d like to contact us about having your machine tuned up, we have full detail on the service and a contact form here.

The Grind – March 2009

Our monthly newsletter, The Grind, shipped out today! Covering a special St. Patrick’s Day recipe (Paddy’s Mint Latte), a synopsis of the heat exchange vs. double boiler debate, a compendium of the YouTube videos that we have posted in the last month and tips on removable brew group maintenance, March’s edition is chock full o’ fun facts.

It also features a special March Grind Special — 10% off orders over $99, good through 3/31/09. Check it out!

Get the Extinguisher Ready

From music to gadgets, we’re hearty supporters of the lo-fi movement — we love the simplicity and classic elements often employed in its design. We’re also fans of DIY projects and figuring out how to do seemingly complex activities easily at home, so when we ran across this article on home roasting, it tickled our lo-fi/DIY fancy and we just had to share.

Utilizing the sophisticated Heat Gun/Dog Bowl method, this step-by-step guide will lead you through roasting your beans at home without investing in a roasting machine. All you’ll need is a heat gun (available at any hardware store — basically, the tool version of a hair dryer that can cost between $15 – $100), a stainless steel bowl (the aforementioned dog bowl is quite popular, but the guide’s author prefers mixing bowls with a little more of an egg shape) and some green coffee beans.

Now, we haven’t tried out this method and did read some critical reviews of the technique, namely that it doesn’t provide uniform results and is kind of a headache to manage. Also, you’ll need to make sure you do this activity in a fire-resistant environment, as hot coffee beans could fly out of the bowl and ignite any flammable materials. So, clear the oily rags and the open jugs of paint thinner out of the garage before you start.

Let us know if you’re brave enough to take this project on — we’d love to hear about your results.

New! Ascaso Brew Head Upgrade Kit

Love your Ascaso Basic, Dream, Arc or UNO Special Edition espresso machine but wish that it produced a better shot? Well, we did, too — so we talked with Ascaso and asked them about creating an upgrade kit! While the original screen and water delivery works well for E.S.E. pods, its concentrated-stream functionality just doesn’t properly moisten ground coffee to the level required for a great extraction, so the upgrade kit includes an improved screen that showers water more evenly across the coffee.

The resulting espresso is rich, creamy and has a thicker crema — as good as any shot you’d pull from a Rancilio Silvia. This easy-to-install upgrade is essential, we think, but especially so if you dig using ground coffee in your Ascaso.

Tech Tip: Removable Brew Group Maintenance

This tip goes out to all of you Saeco superautomatic espresso machine owners out there. Keep your machine humming along by taking regular care of the removable brew group — we suggest performing the following tasks about once a week (more or less depending on your usage):

  1. Remove the group and thoroughly rinse with very hot water — do not use soap
  2. Older models with a removable screen: Take it off (by unscrewing the screw in the middle) and wash it thoroughly — you will find there is a fine coffee silt behind it
  3. Lubricate all moving parts with a food grade lubricant (give us a call if you need ideas on where to get this)
  4. When the group is out of the machine, thoroughly wipe down the interior chamber to make sure all of the connection points are grounds-free

UPDATE: Watch Gail perform maintenance on the Saeco Talea Giro superautomatic espresso machine

Cleancaf or Dezcal?

Lime, calcium and other trace minerals exist in nearly every water supply, leaving behind white scaly deposits when the water has evaporated. Removing this scale on a regular basis is an essential component of any coffee maker or espresso machine maintenance regimen — even if you have ‘soft’ water, there will be trace amounts left over time that can build-up and hinder your machine’s performance.

Some folks suggest using filtered or distilled water from the get-go, so that you don’t risk pitting your boiler through repetitive use of the acid required to remove scale. That’s certainly one tack to take, but we’ve found that we prefer the taste of espresso made with water that has some mineral content to it. Because of that, we descale our machines about every three months to ensure that no deposits build up and ultimately burn out the boiler.

If you prefer minerals in your java as we do, there are a couple of products on the market that will help you keep your espresso machine or coffee maker in tip-top shape: Cleancaf or Dezcal. Which is better? Again, it depends on your preferences.

Billed as a cleaner and descaler, Cleancaf combines descaling acid with a detergent that will also break down the oils left behind by coffee beans. It also features a blue dye that helps with thorough rinsing.

Dezcal, on the other hand, is a straight-up descaler — and an incredibly powerful one at that. While it doesn’t have a detergent component, it’s a much stronger product and removes more scale; also, it doesn’t have a blue dye, which we think is a good thing.

Of the two, we recommend Dezcal over Cleancaf, but we carry both of them so you can determine which product is right for you.

Tech Tip: Backflush Flashback


If you have a semi-automatic espresso machine with a 3-way pressure release, or solenoid, valve, you need to backflush it on a regular basis to keep the machine in fine working order. Backflushing will clean up behind the screen and into the brewing system, cleaning out coffee or grounds residue and reducing the potential for clogs.You can watch Dane as he cleans a Rocket Giotto, or follow these steps:

  1. Replace brew basket with a blind basket in the portafilter (or you can use this universal insert in your existing basket)
  2. Place 1/2 teaspoon of a backflush detergent such as Cafiza or Joe Glo (Important: make sure it indicates backflushing as its primary use on the label — do not use Dezcal or any other standard detergent here!)
  3. Insert the portafilter into the brew group and initiate a shot
  4. Allow the pump to run about 4 – 5 seconds maximum
  5. Turn the pump off and allow the water and suds to release through the valve
  6. Repeat this process until the water coming out of the valve is clear and suds-free
  7. Remove the portafilter, rinse it in cool water to cool it down and then switch out the baskets again
  8. Before you pull your first shot, run a blank shot through the system to make sure there is no residue leftover

Tech Tip: Grindhouse

Regular maintenance of all your espresso or coffee related apparatus is essential to extending their longevity in your home or office. We talk a lot about how to keep your espresso machine healthy, but grinders need a little love, too!

One easy way to do this is, once a week, adjust your grinder to the coarsest setting possible, then run it for a few minutes to flush out any fine grinds that may be stuck around the blades, etc. This regular maintenance will decrease the likelihood of clogs and ensure evenness in grind. We recommend doing this on all stand-alone grinders and also if you have an espresso machine or coffee maker that features an internal grinder.