Category Archives: Tips – Tech

Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica

Tune-up kit for the Oscar and MusicaNuova Simonelli how much do we love you? Let us count the ways. With their beautiful design and professional functionality it is really hard not to love these machines. However, if you want to ensure your machine has a good long life, you’ll need to give it a little tender loving care. Part of that TLC (no, we don’t mean T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli) is replacing some of the parts of the machine that see a bit more wear and tear, like the brew head gasket and screen. Since Nuova Simonelli machines are some of the more popular espresso makers we have around, we decided to help you out and create a tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica. This kit includes a brew head gasket, shower screen and show screw. These parts will work for both the Oscar and the Musica; the installation is just slightly different.

Replacing your brew head gasket and screen may sound difficult, but it is actually pretty easy. When it comes down to it, your main tasks are just removing a screw and puling out a gasket. If you have an Oscar, we recommend laying down some soft towels and flipping the machine over to have better access to the brew head. Unfortunately, you can’t do this if you have a Musica due to the way the boiler is set up. Your next steps are to remove the old, worn out brew gasket and screen, clean the brew head and install the new parts from the kit. Easy peasy! How do you know when to tune-up your machine? Some customers said they have noticed they need to replace these parts at about every six months or so, but if you use your machine less frequently you may find you only need to replace them once a year. You can also watch for coffee and water leaking around the top edge of your portafilter or for lots of coffee grounds building up around your screen.

Inspired to give your machine a tune-up but want to see the process in action before attempting it yourself? Check out Brendan’s video on how to use the tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica and pick up a few tips and tricks.

 

Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica

Advanced Menus on the New Breville Dual Boiler and Oracle

Breville Oracle BES980XL
Breville Oracle BES980XL
new Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL
Dual Boiler BES920XL

A couple of you have requested that we discuss some of the advanced features on the new Breville Dual Boiler and Breville Oracle and compare them to the first Breville dual boiler. Ask and you shall receive! We got these two espresso machines together in a room, unlocked their advanced menus and played around with them.

The main difference between the Dual Boiler BES900XL (first generation), the Dual Boiler BES920XL (second generation) and the Oracle BES980XL (third generation) is that both the second and third generation machines have two new features in their advanced menu options. The first feature is the capability to adjust the temperature (from 265-285 degrees Fahrenheit) on the steam boiler so you can get hotter (or cooler, if you prefer) milk. The second feature is the ability to choose whether your extraction is based on time or the amount of espresso produced, instead of having the extraction be based strictly on time as on the BES900XL.

The advanced menus on both the new Breville Dual Boiler and the Oracle are easy to get into. To access them on either machine, simply hold down the single shot button and press power. Once you are in the advanced menu, you will be able to scroll through the options for adjusting your machine’s settings. These features are pretty similar on both machines, as they enable you to tweak the factory settings, descale, alerts and sounds in addition to the steam temperature and extraction settings as we mentioned before. However, you will find the Oracle has a few extra choices, such as settings for how fast the pump comes on for steaming your milk, the contrast on the LCD screen, fan and others. For more information, check out our video and let Gail guide you through how all these options work and how to change them.

SCG Tech Tips: Breville Oracle (BES980XL) & New Breville Dual Boiler (BES920XL) Advanced Menu

Semi-Automatic vs. Superautomatic Espresso Machines

superautomatic espresso machinessemi-automatic espresso machineIf you are coffee connoisseur (or at least a budding one) by now you’ve probably heard about semi- and superautomatic espresso machines. You’ve likely also heard that there are some differences between the two when it comes to operating them. However, you may have wondered, “What really makes a semi-automatic espresso machine (besides being able to create a really good shot) different than a superautomatic (which is often described as more convenient) machine?” T o clear up any lingering questions, we decided to explore these two types of machines in a little more depth, so you can see what factors make these machines unique. And of course, ultimately determine which is right for you.

Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

Semi-automatic machines are generally the most popular choice for consumers who are looking for a “traditional” home espresso machines. These machines feature a boiler, portafilter and a switch to activate/deactivate the pump to perform the extraction. It is this last feature that puts the “semi” in automatic, if you will. While the other features are automated, you have control over when the extraction begins and ends. There are also semi-automatic machines with programmable doses that allow you to program the extraction to stop after a certain length of time.

Brewing

As we discussed above, whether you flip a switch or program in when you want the extraction to end, with a semi-auto you have control of the water flow for every shot you make. Why is this a good thing? It provides you with opportunity to perfect your shot. For instance, if you create a good looking shot but it’s pouring slowly, you can let your pump run longer to provide more time to complete the shot. On a superautomatic you usually don’t have this option. Superautos usually have a preprogramed time for shots that determines when to end them, which could potentially cause shots to end too soon.

Portafilters and Grinders

Another key component of using a semi-automatic machine is using a portafilter to insert the coffee into the machine. There are a couple of different styles of portafilters that can come with a machine, but the two basic types are non-pressurized or pressurized.

Non-pressurized portafilters are usually larger (58 mm) sized and made with chrome or chrome plated brass. This provides the heftiness that is necessary for temperature stability, which makes it possible to create a better shot of espresso. However, this design requires that you have a very precise grind and tamp. This can make non-pressurized portafilter harder to use, since it is more technical, but many people claim it is worth the effort since you can get a really great shot – if you have the right equipment. For this reason we recommend that you get a good grinder (which we’ll discuss more later) if you get a semi-automatic machine.

Pressurized portafilters use either a valve or special filter basket that will not let water out of the portafilter until the right amount of pressure has been reached. This allows the portafilters to compensate for an imperfect grind or uneven tamp, which make them a good option for people that don’t have a grinder or who are using pre-ground coffee.

Finally, if you want to get into ESE pods you’re in luck, since many semi-automatics accept them. You can purchase baskets that will allow pods to fit into pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters or can even find portafilters that are designed specifically for pods.

Most semi-automatic machines do not come with a built in grinder. We won’t say all, because there are a few that do, like the Breville Barista Express, but most do not. This means that you will either have to get a separate grinder or use ground coffee beans to dose your portafilter. If you want to be able to play around with your grind and tamp to achieve that perfect shot, you will want to get a non-pressurized portafiler and a really good grinder. In fact, it’s best to start out with as high of quality grinder as you can afford, since the grinder is more important than the machine when it comes to getting good shots. On the other hand, if you don’t want to get a grinder or have to tamp your coffee, a pressurized portafilter will be the best option for you.

Frothing/Steaming

There a couple of different types of boilers you can find in semi-automatic machines and, depending on which you choose, it will impact whether you can brew and steam at the same time. Generally, smaller and less expensive machines will contain a single boiler. This helps keep the machine’s footprint small, but it also means that you won’t be able to brew your coffee and steam your milk at the same time. However, mid-range or higher end semi-autos will usually have a thermocoil, heat exchanger, single boiler with a thermoblock or a dual boiler. All these options, with the exception of the thermocoil, have a bigger boiler or even two boilers allowing you to brew and steam simultaneously.

Semi-automatic machines usually come with a traditional steam wand, which require you to “work” the milk a bit in order to get a good froth. While there is a slight learning curve to frothing milk, it isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, some people prefer having a traditional steam wand, since it again provides them more control over how to the final product turns out. Some semi-autos do come with a panarello wand that injects air into the milk, making the frothing process easier.

Superautomatic Espresso Machines

Often known as the machines that “will do everything but fold your laundry,” superautomatic espresso machines are great for people who like the convenience of being able to make their drink of choice in just a few minutes. While it may be hard to believe, these machines do indeed do almost everything for you including grinding, tamping, brewing your coffee and even steaming the milk for your espresso shot. As a result, these machines are incredibly easy to use and will produce a consistent shot every time, with no muss or fuss.

Brewing

Part of the magic of superautomatic espresso machines is that they make creating your favorite drinks a breeze. The machines all have varying levels of programmability, but some of the most common features on these machines are the ability to adjust your brew temperature, brew volume, extraction time and water hardness. Many machines also have an auto-on function, so your machine will be warmed up by the time you get up in the morning. In addition, some superautomatic espresso machines have one touch pre-set espresso drink options, others have you manually enter your drink selection while others still let you save personalized drink selections.

Most superautomatics come with a built-in grinder, so you don’t have to worry about grinding your beans yourself. Yet this doesn’t mean you don’t have any control over the results. Many superautos will allow you to adjust the fineness and the dosage of the coffee so you can get the flavor and strength you desire. The downside of having a built-in grinder is that while you have the ability to it, there are a limited number of changes you can make. Thus, there is some advantage to having a semi-auto machine that allows you to have a separate grinder, which provides you with an infinite number of grind settings.

Another caveat is that they do not do well with super oily or dark roasts. The oil the beans produce can cause the grinder to clog over time, often doing a number on the machine. Finally, if you want to brew pre-ground coffee, some machines also feature a bypass doser. This feature provides you with the opportunity to brew something besides the beans you already have in the machine’s bean hopper, such as a decaffeinated version of espresso.

Frothing/Steaming

Not unlike semi-autos, there are a variety of options when it comes to what type of boiler is inside your superauto. The most common options are thermocoil heating systems (which don’t give you the ability to brew and steam at the same time), thermoblock heating systems and dual boilers (which do allow for simultaneous brewing and steaming).

Superautomatic espresso machines also offer a couple of choices when it comes to frothing milk. There are machines that use a standard steam wand to froth milk or ones that have a panarello. Some superautos make the process even easier and will automatically froth your milk in a separate carafe or even have a steam wand that will come down and froth your milk right in your own cup.

So, Which is Better?

When it comes down to purchasing a machine, some people use how much maintenance is required to decide what type of machine to get. While this is not a bad factor to keep in mind, you should be prepared to do regular maintenance on either a semi-automatic or superautomatic machine. It’s true that semi-automatic machines do require a little more maintenance, since you will have to clean the portafilters, baskets and shower screen. However, superautos need TLC too, and there are some steps like cleaning the brew group, steam valve and steam wand that are important to perform no matter what type of machine you have.

Ultimately, what is most important when picking out a machine is determining what you want to get out of your machine and what features are most important to you. Now that you know a little more about each type, hopefully you can figure out which will work best for you.

Tech Tip: Your Boiler on Milk

When it comes to suffering home espresso machines, our repair technicians have seen it all. From clogged brew screens to burnt out heating elements, there are a variety of ways people unintentionally use and abuse their machines. The unfortunate part is, many of these issues could have been prevented, had the owners known about them and completed some simple espresso machine maintenance. Just following a few easy steps could have saved the owners a lot of money and time away from their precious machine. Of course, just as many homeowners don’t expect some of the worst disasters (such as burst plumbing or leaking roofs) to happen to them, many espresso machine owners hope that they will be able to avoid common problems as well.

The reality is that even if you have a top of the line machine, wear and tear from frequent use will require that you give it a little extra TLC from time to time. Usually this involves giving the machine a weekly cleaning and doing an annual tune-up. If you don’t follow these tips, it is likely that eventually you will encounter a few problems. Costly repairs or replacements are not myths, and they can happen to you.

Still not convinced? Check out what happened to the heating element and boiler inside a Nuova Simonelli Oscar when the steam wand wasn’t removed from the milk frothing pitcher when the machine was turned off and properly cleaned.

espresso machine maintenance

All of the brown clumpy stuff coating the walls of this boiler is milk that got sucked inside it due to the steam wand not being removed from the milk frothing pitcher and opened up after each use; it baked and rotted! The two brown strands hanging off of the white and metal valve are also strands of milk, and should not be there.

milk_boiler_02

As you can see, the boiler on the left overheated, blackened and even cracked due to the milk buildup inside. The boiler on the right is what a normal, or “healthy,” boiler should look like – nice and clean.

heating_element02

The heating element for this machine, on the left, has also gotten burnt out, blackened and corroded. Again, the heating element on the right is how one should look.

Unfortunately, once a boiler has gotten to this stage it has reached the point of no return and must be replaced in order to get your machine up and running again. In some instances you may even be out of luck and have to get an entirely new machine.

However, there are a few easy tips you can follow to avoid winding up in this situation. If you have a heat exchanger machine like the Oscar above, make sure to open the steam valve on your machine every time you turn it off and it cools down. If you don’t, a vacuum is created and the left over milk in the steam wand is sucked up into the boiler. On the other hand, if you have a single boiler machine, such as the Rancilio Silvia, the best way to avoid this problem is to run water out of your steam wand after each use so you don’t create a vacuum in the boiler.

The next time you consider saving flushing out your steam wand for “later,” remember these images and cautionary tale. Clean your steam wand after each use and do a more thorough cleaning of the machine once a week. If a wet cloth isn’t strong enough to cut through the grime, try using a liquid or powder espresso machine cleaner. If your machine has any removable parts, you should take them off for cleaning as well. For instance, if your machine has a panarello, you should remove it and soak it in a solution like Rinza. This will rid it off any milk that has built up inside the panarello as it can get sucked into the boiler. If you follow these simple steps, your espresso machine will likely run well and continue to produce tasty drink for years to come. If you are kind to your espresso machine, it will be kind to you.

Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Xsmall

Saeco XsmallTrue to its name, the Saeco Xsmall is the brand’s smallest superautomatic espresso machine on the market. As result, this machine takes up very little space on your counter but still comes at an affordable price with a lot of basic functionality. The machine’s streamlined design also makes everyday maintenance, like filling the water reservoir, emptying the dregs box or even cleaning the brew group (yes, it’s removable!) a breeze.

Another one of our favorite features on the Xsmall is the troubleshooting-related, test mode section on the machine. In fact, when one of our superautos starts acting up, one of the first things we do is access their respective test mode sections. Why is this helpful? Test mode allows you to operate the functions of your espresso machine freely, outside of the software of the machine. This means you can run your grinder, pump or brew unit motor to see if they are working properly without having to brew a shot and wasting your favorite coffee beans. To make the troubleshooting process easier, these different components are broken down into four test mode levels on your machine (for instance there are different levels for checking the machine’s sensors, brew unit, water flow, grinder and boiler) so you can test everything related to one area individually.

While test mode is extremely useful, getting into it on the Xsmall can be a little challenging. In this video, our parts guru Brendan teaches us how to access it and navigate the four different testing levels on the machine.

 

SCG Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Xsmall

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

Brew Temperatures on Drip Coffee Makers

drip coffee makersIf you haven’t noticed, we love science! Of course the best part is conducting fun experiments and playing around with toys like the Fluke temperature probe. This time around, we were interested in seeing how some of our drip coffee makers compare when it comes to how consistent and how hot they actually get while brewing.

In order to complete this experiment, we lined up the Breville YouBrew, Capresso CoffeeTEAM TS, Bonavita Coffee Maker, DeLonghi kMix and Technivorm Moccamaster Coffee Brewer and tested each machine one by one. For the sake of consistency, we stuck the temperature probe at the bottom of each machine’s filter holder, and prepared a single brew with just water, no coffee. We might have gotten a more accurate reading by placing the probe right where the water comes out of the coffee maker, but it was not possible to do so on all of the drip coffee makers, so we didn’t structure our test that way. However, our quasi-scientific research will still give you a good idea of how the machines differ and how hot they heat the water. To find out which is the hottest, watch as Gail puts these five drip brewers through their paces.

SCG Crew Tests: Comparing Brew Temperatures on Drip Coffee Makers

Commercial Rancilio Self-Installation

commercial RancilioAny café owner will tell you that the secret to success is having a good espresso machine as part of your setup, as it will supply you and your customers with delicious espresso for years to come. As such, you’ve done your due diligence, researched a variety of machines and ultimately decided that a commercial Rancilio espresso machine is the best option for you. However, if deciding on which machine to choose wasn’t tough enough, now you have to get your machine installed in your shop.

This may sound like a challenging and complicated process, especially once you open up the box and see your beautiful new machine accompanied by a bunch of wires and hoses. While it might look scary, installing a Rancilio yourself isn’t quite as hard as you think. The process can be broken down into six easy steps. And yes, when it comes to installing the electrical plug on a machine, we know that each hot wire is 110 volts (not 120) in order for the two to be equal 220 volts total. Since the machine wasn’t setup yet when we filmed this video, we hadn’t had the amount of espresso necessary for number crunching!

Of course when you have an expert in commercial machines, like Brandon, around it is hard not to put their skills to the test for the sake of knowledge. We had him plumb and wire-in a commercial Rancilio in our test kitchen to see the process in action. To simplify your installation process, follow along with him in this comprehensive video. If you have any questions, we’re always happy to help! Just let us know.

SCG How-To Guides: Rancilio Commercial Espresso Machine Installation

Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Intuita

Saeco IntuitaOne of the hidden secrets of many espresso machines is that they come with an accessible test mode section. What is great about test mode is that it is an excellent resource for troubleshooting your machine. For instance, test mode can allow you to determine if components like your water pump, grinder or brew unit motor aren’t working because they are broken or because something in the machine has been misplaced and is keeping them from working.

One espresso maker that has this functionality is the Saeco Intuita. Luckily, as its name suggests, getting into the test mode section on this machine is more intuitive than it is on other espresso machines and only requires a few simple steps. Once you are in test mode, there are five different levels to explore, which allow you to test everything from the lights on the machine to the grinder. You can even test the machine’s sensors to make sure they are working properly, which is a great way to help pinpoint what is causing an alarm in regular mode.

In this video, Brendan shows us how to access test mode on the Intuita, guides through each of the different levels and explains how to use each one to diagnose any problems you are having with your machine.

SCG Tech Tips: Test Mode on the Saeco Intuita

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