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Hot Blog on Blog Action: We’re Back!

Kerry Park SeattleWant to know what’s on our collective mind? Much like the Borg we are single-minded in the pursuit of … coffee! Here’s where we comb the interwebs and report back to you on the the weird and the wonderful coffee-related things we find.  After a three-year hiatus, our highly curated and highly subjective links to the coffee blogosphere return with a vengeance.

If you want a daily dose, we spill the beans about Bacon Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld’s coffee date with David Letterman and other items of caffeinated interest on:

Brewin’ with Brandi: Mocha Butterscotch Haystacks

Brandi breaks in our new kitchen studio with this lovely treat, which incorporates chocolate, butterscotch, coffee, marshmallows … and chow mein noodles!

haystacksIngredients

  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground coffee (we used Middle Fork’s Tough as Nails)
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • 1 cup crispy chow mein noodles

Directions

  1. Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips together.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine coffee, marshmallows and noodles together, then pour in melted chocolate mixture.
  3. Stir until everything is well-coated in the chocolate.
  4. On a non-stick surface (such as a non-stick pan, wax or parchment paper), spoon out about a tablespoon of the mixture, piled up like little haystacks.
  5. Let them set in the refrigerator for about an hour, then serve.

Compare: Glass vs. Thermal Carafe on Technivorm

Compare - Glass vs. Thermal CarafesIn addition to the wide array of coffee makers on the market that offer different functionality and technology, when selecting the model that’s right for you, you also have to consider the carafe — glass or thermal? Like most things, it’s all about you, darling.

The case for glass: You want to choose a grind-and-brew or programmable model that would come on and start brewing your coffee in the morning before you wake up. You’ll also be drinking that full pot of coffee (or whatever amount you’ve selected) within the hour. Glass is ideal in these cases as you won’t have to worry about pre-heating the carafe and you’ll be drinking the coffee before it starts to taste more tar-like than java-like.

The case for thermal: You’re going to be making the coffee yourself and you want to be able to pour out a few cups throughout the day without risking a nasty aftertaste. You’ll be around to take the time to pre-heat the carafe before the brewing starts and then to seal it up to keep the coffee up to temperature. Thermal is the best choice for this because it will stick around at the right temperature for a few hours without continuous heating. However, some folks are sensitive to the flavor that is produced using a stainless steel carafe, so if you’re in that camp yet you want a thermal, make sure you’re choosing a model with a glass lining (like the Bonavita, for example).

Here at SCG, we use glass carafes in our break room because, quite simply, as soon as a pot is brewed, it’s in our cups and the next pot is brewing away. We don’t really have to worry about stagnant coffee sitting on a hot plate for hours on end, but we wanted to find out what kind of impact allowing the coffee to sit around for an hour had on its flavor. So we brewed up a batch of coffee in two Technivorms — one using a thermal carafe, one using a glass — then let them hang out for an hour before we held a taste test. Watch to find out what we learned!

 

The Reluctant Barista: Pops a Cap in the New Iperespresso Machines

Now that I have built my espresso connoisseurship from zero to somewhere above average, but still far below that of Juan Valdez, I was reluctant to go back to my lazy ways. New single-cup espresso capsule machines from Francis Francis for illy arrived awhile back and I played coy. I stayed away until I found out our crew of espresso machine technicians were proponents of this capsule craze.

I wrangled one each of the Francis Francis Y1.1 and the Francis Francis X7.1 Iperespresso Machines over to my desk. Mike and Jeff from the refurbish crew volunteered to be my guinea pigs …er, I mean taste-testers. They programmed the extraction time on both machines to their preferred shot length to assist me with a side-by-side comparison. The new illy coffee capsules come in a canister — like the whole bean and pre-ground illy coffees do — and in the same flavor profiles. I popped the top off of a can of illy iperespresso Dark Roast capsules to try in the two new machines.

francis_francis_x7.1-black

Francis Francis X7.1 The Little Alien Dude

This is reminiscent of a retro 50s espresso maker complete with a portafilter to make it look like you did the work of pulling a shot and a steam wand to froth milk.


y1.1_iper_espresso_machine

Francis Francis Y1.1 – The Rubik’s Cube

Sleek and modern, this style fits in a Minimalist’s dream kitchen or office. Lightly touch the programmable single shot or double shot button and receive espresso — yes, it really is that easy!

In the end, it ‘all boils down’ to case style and drink preference. The illy iperespresso capsules have a patented pressurized design and both machines provide the right brew temperature and pressure to get the most flavor extracted. Upon Shiami’s suggestion we ran hot water through the machines to get them up to temp and to pre-warm the demistasse cups. Then we hunkered down and watched the espresso as it streamed out of the two machines for 29 seconds each.

All variables being equal, Mike and Jeff preferred the Y1.1 since it has one-touch operation right out of the box. Shiami preferred the X7.1 for her lungo. There may be a slight temperature advantage as the X7.1 maintained heat within the metal portafilter, but I did not taste a discernible difference as I sampled the espresso produced. If you are in need of steady milk frothing, the X7.1 is the one to pick. If your need for steamed milk is more occasional, an accessory frother like the Breville Smart Cafe paired with the Y1.1 is also a winning combination.

So who did we declare the winner? For me, at least, simple is always better, so the tie goes to … the Y1.1!

The Reluctant Barista: Xelsis SS One Touch Espresso Machine

xelsisIs there more than one coffee drinker at your place? How do you decide on an espresso machine that works for everyone? For this review I enlisted my significantly caffeinated other, Chris, to take a look at the superautomatic Saeco Xelsis One Touch for home use. [Ulterior motive alert! It’s holiday time and mama wants a new espresso machine.]

First off, Kat and Gail’s video covers how quick and easy it is to make drinks and to clean up on the Xelsis.  I brought Chris into the Seattle Coffee Gear store in Lynnwood to show him the features and hopefully win him over with one-touch espresso.

The Xelsis is a really attractive machine, something we wouldn’t mind leaving on the countertop.  Our upper cabinets are 18 inches from the counter and the Xelsis is 15 inches tall, which means I’d have to scooch it out to refill the water tank. It has a good size water reservoir, but I use fresh filtered water each time as Gail has mentioned for best shot flavor.

We turned it on and the Xelsis menu buttons were easy to navigate. I placed a cup under the spout and turned the milk carafe spout to point into the pre-warmed cup as well. After pushing the cappuccino button, hot frothed milk filled the cup and then, after a brief pause, the espresso followed. I like mine a bit stronger so I added an extra espresso shot — at the push of a button!

Next, we used the attached steam wand and a frothing pitcher to see if we could get a latte with hotter milk and a finer microfoam than the milk carafe provides. This produced the type of latte we prefer but took more time and effort. There are also ways to dial in the shot flavor to your preferences on superautomatics, which Kat and Gail explore here.

We sipped our drinks and considered what factors were important to us.  We have a small semi-automatic at home now, which is not as quick to make drinks. This comes into play because Chris works early and does not always have time in the morning for a mid-week latte. Also, there is a little bit of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ since Kaylie has an Xelsis espresso machine at home.

What is important to you? For us it boils down to budget, time and milk foam quality. Your needs may vary. How does the Xelsis compare? It’s got stylish looks, a high quality build, an easy user interface that remembers how you like your favorite drink, great coffee quality and push button convenience. For us, a mid-level semi-auto and espresso grinder is more budget-friendly, though. Perhaps one that is compatible with E.S.E. espresso pods to save time on weekdays. As much as I really really really want a superautomatic, I will reluctantly — and with much complaining — continue pulling my own espresso shots (for now!).

SCG Holiday Gift Guide 2012!

I think my favorite thing about the holiday season is coming in from the cold, changing into my comfy pants (you know you have some) and sipping away the winter chill with a nice warm beverage. Truth be told, my least favorite thing about the holidays has to be the crowds. If you’re still in search of the perfect gift this holiday season and would prefer to stay in your comfy pants, we’ve got your back! Jess and Kat gathered our favorite products in each category to give your tea or coffee lover everything he or she needs to get brewing. Check ‘em out for some great gift ideas!

Pour Over Gift Guide

Tea Lover Gift Guide

Drip Coffee Lover Gift Guide

Entry Level Espresso Gift Guide

Espresso Enthusiast Gift Guide

Superautomatic Gift Guide