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.

Java & Jollies

Over the past several months, we have been seeing story after story filter across the wire regarding the proposed topless coffee shop in a small Maine town. Many of the stories were about zoning, town feedback, determining if it could be licensed, etc. — until last week when the business passed all the muster and opened its doors.

Now we love a nice piece of tail just as much as the next person, but when we read this article by CNN we couldn’t help but be a little bit disturbed by the underlying exploitation inherent in this business. We particularly liked it when the owner references that they didn’t ‘hire any 10′s’ or the fact that the shop was inundated with applications primarily because of the poor job market in that area (and, really, everywhere around the country right now).

Also, they mention that most of the customers right now are couples and women — maybe the men don’t want to do a lot of ‘splaining about their newly increased espresso budget.

US Barista Championship This Weekend

The United States Barista Championship is taking place this weekend! If you’re in the Portland, OR, area and want to see the bright and the beautiful of the American barista scene compete against each other, now’s your chance.

The regional winners from over the past couple of months will be automatic semi-finalists in the competition, but dozens of other baristas will be throwing their cappuccino in the ring for the opportunity to compete in the World Barista Championship that takes place at the SCAA’s annual exposition in Atlanta, GA, this April.

In addition to the competition itself, which will take place beginning tomorrow, March 5th, and culminate with an awards ceremony on Sunday, March 8th, there are tons of fun events like a bike tour of Portland’s cafes, a welcome party and even a barista prom (backed by live band karaoke — egad!)

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!

Crew Review: Izzo Alex & Alex Duetto

The Izzo Alex & Alex Duetto are semi-automatic espresso machines that have one very powerful distinguishing characteristic: You can set them to draw water from the reservoir or from your directly connected plumbing. Having such flexibility is an awesome feature for folks who might want to plumb-in their machine in the future, or who have plumb-in capability in their kitchen at present but might not in the future.

Learn all there is to know about the Izzo Alex & Alex Duetto as Gail walks us through the finer points of these unique machines.

Heat Exchange vs. Double Boiler

We admit it, we’re guilty. We thought that size did matter with regard to boilers on a semi-automatic espresso machine — namely, that two boilers was better than one. The hierarchy in our mind was:

  1. Single Boiler: From the Saeco Aroma to the Rancilio Silvia, the single boiler is a great little semi-automatic espresso machine that requires special attention to boiler temperature so that you’re brewing well below the steaming temp and not burning your espresso. With a single boiler, you’re not able to brew and steam at the same time — we recommend steaming first, then brewing.
  2. Heat Exchange: Instead of pulling your brewing and steaming water from the same vat, per se, heat exchangers like the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Quick Mill Andreja Premium transports fresh water from the reservoir through the boiler via a copper tube that is specifically designed in length and girth to heat the passing water to the optimum brewing temperature, not the steaming temperature. We are talking about a nearly 40F degree difference, so this improved temperature regulation significantly upgrades the espresso shot quality. This functionality also allows for simultaneous brew and steam.
  3. Double Boiler: Only a few models on the market, such as the La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi or Izzo Alex Duetto, feature absolutely separate boilers for steaming and brewing, which allows you to maintain disparate temperatures and brewing and steaming at the same time. You can generally program your preferred brew boiler temperature on these machines and, in the home espresso machine space, they generally feature a quicker recovery time than their heat exchange counterparts.

So, based on those assessments, you’d understand why we were confused by the more is better idea — that maintaining temperature is significantly easier when you’ve got two separate boilers doing their own thing.

However, in our recent research and education around the new line of commercial Faema machines we’re now carrying, we learned that our hierarchical view was incorrect — in fact, Italians haven’t been using double boiler technology for decades, believing that the heat exchange technology provides for significantly improved espresso due to one major reason: It’s alive!

Boiler water is considered ‘dead’ water because it’s sitting in a little metal unit cooking away. Over time, this results in a significantly increased alkaline content in the water (ah yes, that lovely scale we keep talking about so much) and a mineral imbalance in extraction. Basically, the flavor’s different.

Since heat exchange machines are continuously cycling fresh water through their siphoning system, they have an improved mineral balance and cannot become stale like the water in the double boilers might. So the flavor is significantly better and, therefore, preferred by connoisseurs the world over.

If you’re in the market for a ‘prosumer’ machine, this is definitely important information for you to mull over. Not only is the footprint smaller on a heat exchange machine vs. a double boiler, but it just might pull a better shot.