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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

SCG’s Most Popular Coffee Gear – 2011

Not that we’re encouraging you to keep up with the Joneses, but if you’re in the market for a new espresso machine, we thought it might be helpful to share which models sold the best over the last year. Broken down by budget, here is what other folks have chosen for their home espresso setup, so definitely worth considering for yours.

Under $500
#1: Saeco Aroma Black – $249.95 Stainless Steel – $288.00
With its compact size and sturdy demeanor, this machine packs more punch than the average eye can see. With the ability to use a non-pressurized portafilter and pressurized portafilter, customers have come to adore both options. As the pressurized simplifies the process of espresso with no need to be particular with its grind, it’s still able to extract an ideal shot. However, many of our customer have also upgraded to the non-pressurized portafilter, giving them the ability to work on their grind and tamping skills — just like real baristas!

#2: Saeco Via Venezia Black – $299.99
For all you Starbucks Barista owners, you may recognize this machine since it’s the same model made by the same manufacturers that created the Barista for Starbucks. A bit bigger than the Aroma, the Venezia’s insides are almost identical with the Aroma and functions the same way. But it does have a few more upgrades such as a bigger water tank (98 oz. vs. 80 oz.), steam wand that swivels and a little more clearance between the brew head and drip tray.

#3: Technivorm Moccamaster Thermo Coffee Brewer (KBT741) – Polished Silver – $279.00
Heating up one of the hottest cups of coffee that we’ve tested out (200 degrees F), the Technivorm KBT741 definitely made it on our list of hot items of 2011. It may look old school, but its coffee definitely isn’t of the cowboy variety! Customers have grown to love this Dutch-made machine because it incorporates the ideal way to brew and keep a piping cup of coffee hot without ever changing its formula. It may be a bit pricier than your average coffee maker, but coffee lovers who’ve invested in it understand this coffee maker’s worth.

Under $1,000
#1: Rancilio Silvia – $629.00
The bottom rung and most reasonably priced of our higher end espresso machines, the Silvia has made a name for itself. With a stainless steel case, brass single boiler and upgraded commercial-grade steam wand, once coffee lovers want to make a move from their entry level machines to the big guns, the Silvia is usually first on the list. A bit particular about the grind, pairing it up with a higher end grinder such as the Rancilio Rocky, Baratza Vario or any of our commercial-grade grinders will allow you to extract a velvety shot every time. With an added upgrade option to install a PID, coffee connoisseurs will be able to set the temperature of their boiler to their liking, giving them more control of how they extract that ideal shot.

#2: Jura Capresso ENA 4 Automatic Coffee Center  – Ristretto Black – $699.00
Customers have always loved the modern, clean cut lines of Jura’s line of superautomatic machines. But with the Jura Ena 4 customers have become even bigger fans since it not only offers the ideal look but also a smaller footprint with many bells and whistles. Programmable settings, professional grinder, maintenance notifications and a water filtration system, you’d think the machine had a mind of its own. And while it (and other Jura’s) are known for making the best shots on a superauto, the steam wand design is not our favorite, so if you love lattes and cappuccinos, you probably want to look at a different machine.

#3: Breville Barista Express – Programmable Espresso Machine with Grinder 860 XL – $599.99
With some of the programmable functions of a superautomatic but giving you the capability to control more elements like a semi-automatic, it could be said that the Breville Barista Express is the best of both worlds. With a stainless steel casing, built in conical burr grinder with measured dosage and programmable double & single shot buttons, you’ll still have the ability to control the tamp and pour of your shots. While it’s the hottest of Breville’s single boiler models, it still uses dual thermoblocks so temp consistency isn’t ideal.

Under $1,500
#1: Delonghi Magnifica ECAM 23210B Compact Superautomatic Espresso Machine – $999.00
How can such a tiny machine offer so much?! With the ability to adjust the size and strength of your espresso preference, this machine’s interface is straightforward, easy to use and offers programmable buttons speeding up your drink making process. Easy clean up and no mess to fuss about, it also brews some of the hottest coffee from a superauto.

#2: Saeco Talea Touch – $999.00
Call it your very own R2D2 — the Saeco Talea Touch will leave you sitting back and relaxing as it whips up your favorite drinks for you! As the number of fans for superautomatic espresso machines have been growing, the Talea Touch gives you one more thing to love with its touch-screen interface,  which makes choosing the strength, size and choice of espresso drink even easier. It also possesses notifications that will remind you to give it a good cleaning or when it’s time to fill-up on beans.

#3: Quick Mill Alexia Semi Automatic Espresso Machine – $1,195.00
Bring the cafe into the comfort of your own home with the Quick Mill Alexia. A single boiler machine featuring a commercial-grade stainless steel casing, professional E-61 brew head and the ability to control your machine’s boiler temperature with the optional PID, you’ll reach barista status in no time. Even with a learning curve of dialing in that exact grind and finding what 30 lbs. of pressure feels like when tamping, customers love the look and the quality of shots and frothy milk this machine allows them to create.

Under $2,000
#1: Rocket Cellini Premium Plus – $1,699.00 Rocket Giotto Premium Plus – $1,799.00
As customers walk through our store, the sparkle of the polished stainless steel Rocket Espresso machines are certainly eye-catching. But once they taste the smooth espresso shot it produces, it definitely seals the deal. Encompassing a tank for water accessibility, a heat-exchanger boiler that gives you a faster turn around time to produce your favorite shots and the ability to steam and brew at the same time, both the Cellini and Giotto have become the dream machine for coffee lovers. The only difference between the two are the sleek lines of the Cellini and the angular sides on the Giotto.

#2: Jura Capresso Impressa C9 One Touch Automatic Coffee Center – $1,899.00
Even with a small kitchen you can get the full cafe experience with the Impressa C9. Giving you the ability to see what functions your machine is accessing with the LED interface, you can program your drink’s temperature preference, volume and strength at a spin and push of the knob. Customers enjoy the fact that they have accessibility to use the automatic cappuccino system, where they can froth milk, brew coffee and have it poured all in one cup without lifting more than one finger. Who want’s to do that?!

#3: La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi I Espresso Machine – $1,995.00
Moving up to the big leagues, this double boiler gives you the ability to make drink after drink for parties or expertly feed your espresso craving in the comfort of home! With a professional-grade design and NSF rating, the Vivaldi also offers programmable dosage, easy temperature management, large water tank and an improved steam wand.

No Limits
#1: Rocket Espresso Cellini Evoluzione Espresso Machine – $2,099.00 Rocket Espresso Giotto Evoluzione Espresso Machine – $2,199.00
Why choose? For those who can’t decide whether they want a reservoir or plumbed-in machine, Rocket has a convertible option! With the capability to use the internal water reservoir or plumbing right into a water source, you’ll never debate on whether you made the right decision. Encompassed by polished stainless steel case, you’ll be able to monitor your boiler and brew head pressure with the dual gauge reading and extract ideal shots out of the commercial E-61 brew group.

#2: Saeco Xelsis SS One Touch Superautomatic Espresso Machine – $2,339.00
At the price you’ll be paying, we can vouch that this is one of the best superautomatic machines we’ve tested and seen yet. Unlike most superautomatics that are made of all plastic, folks love this machine because of its stainless steel casing. Its one-touch features are top notch because not only will it froth, brew and pour, but it will also make sure to clean your frother so there’s no milk residue build-up when you use it the next time around. Yummy!

#3: Izzo Alex Duetto II Semi Automatic Espresso Machine – $2,395.00
Doubling the power up, the Alex Duetto encompasses all the favorite features customers love and look for in their high end machines: brass-copper double boiler, stainless steel casing, commercial E-61 brew group, no-burn steam & hot water wands and a multi functional PID to control temperature, amps, degrees, and steam boiler pressure. Control freaks, dig this!

Happy 4th of July!

We’re off today, barbecuing everything we can get our hands on (of course! #1), watching fireworks on a backdrop of clouds (of course! #2) and sipping copious amounts of cold brewed coffee over ice (of course! #3). We hope you have fun with your family and friends, but please try to refrain from performing any illegal acts of domestic terrorism on your pets.

(One of the most awesome 4th of July celebrations we ever attended was in the Irish town of Killarney, so even if you’re reading this outside of the US, we hope you’ll take this opportunity to party nonetheless.)