Crew Review: Grinder Buying Guide

In the market for a new grinder? One refrain that resounds amongst espresso enthusiasts is that, if they had it to do all over again, they would have invested in a great grinder to begin with. Next to temperature, the fineness and consistency of the ground is one of the most important elements of excellent espresso.

We had Gail talk us through the different burr grinders that are available at Seattle Coffee Gear — you can watch the three part video here.


Part 1: Introduction to grinders and reviews of the Capresso Infinity and Baratza series — including the Maestro, Maestro Plus and Virtuoso


Part 2: More information on grinders plus reviews of the Rancilio Rocky Doser/Doserless and the new Baratza Vario


Part 3: Final installment discusses the high end consumer grinders available such as the Compak, Macap and Mazzer

Comparing Espresso Machines

With so many different kinds of espresso machines on the market, researching which is the best for you can sometimes feel like popping open a big ol’ can of worms. Superautomatic or semi-automatic? Single boiler, heat exchange or double boiler? Is the E61 brew group really that great?

Our goal here at Seattle Coffee Gear is to provide as complete of a picture as we can about as many machines as possible. We read through user reviews to develop general pros and cons, have our techs test out the machines, experiment with different grinders to see how they perform with different machines and, ultimately, drink way more coffee than we should. All of this informs our YouTube videos, the writing we do here, our product descriptions and — one of the best resources we have — our Selecting an Espresso Machine Video.

If you’re just learning about espresso machines and aren’t sure what will meet your needs and budget, this video is a great place to start. We’ve organized the different machine classes by price range and compared their performance against each other, so you can see technical facts like how hot they brew or which type of pump they have and more subjective assessments such as the ease of use or quality of shot.

We’re constantly updating and adding machines, so definitely check out updated Crew Review videos once you hone in on the right machine for you.

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.

Coffee: The World in Your Cup Lecture Series

In January, we wrote about the University of Washington Burke Museum of Natural History’s exhibition called Coffee: The World in Your Cup. The accompanying lecture series begins next week, kicked off by Mark Pendergrast on Tuesday, April 7th. Mark wrote one of our favorite books on the history of coffee and its impact on the world as we know it, Uncommon Grounds, and we’re really looking forward to his lecture — as well as several others in the series.

We’re hoping to make it to all of the lectures and will be writing up a synopsis of each of them here, so folks outside of the Seattle area, or those that can’t give up a Tuesday night easily, can also benefit from an excitingly holistic discussion of coffee and its place in the world.

Here’s a brief run down of the series — if you’re interested in learning more, you can read full details and sign up for the series here. If you plan on attending one, let us know — we’d love to meet you!

April 7: Mark Pendergrast
Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World

April 14: David Robinson
Direct Trade: Bringing the World Community Together Through Coffee

April 21: Eugene Anderson
Why We Love Coffee

April 28: David Browning
A High Quality Cup – Securing Futures by Increasing Coffee Quality

May 5: Paul Rice
Fair Trade – Using Markets to Empower the Poor

May 12: Stacy Philpott
Brewing Biodiversity: Looking at Coffee as an Ecosystem

May 19: Reps from Espresso Vivace, Grounds for Change, Pura Vida & Stumptown
Coffee, Sustainability and Seattle

May 26: Ben Packard & Peter Torrebiarte
Local to Global – Conservation and C.A.F.E. Practices at the World’s Largest Coffee Company

Crew Review: Grindenstein Knock Box

Let’s face it: Some of us are messier than others, and nowhere is this more true than around the espresso machine. Whether its leftover grinds spilling from the grinder, a soupy puck from the portafilter or some drips of espresso on the counter top, we all leave a little mess after we extract.

The Grindenstein knock box was designed to provide an affordable, sturdy, leak-proof and compact option for home espresso lovers everywhere. We dig its bright, durable plastic construction and think its innovative shape that’s made specifically to fit on your espresso machine’s drip tray is a definite plus for anyone with limited counter space.

What we don’t love is that, because of its compact size, it sometimes doesn’t catch all the coffee coming out of your portafilter. Also, the knock bar is a bit thick for our tastes, and we find that it doesn’t let the puck fall as easily down into the container, unlike its skinny-bar brethren.

Coffee, Live and Direct

If you’ve been reading our blog for awhile, you know that coffee is the 2nd highest traded commodity in the world, which certainly translates into its high impact — both negatively and positively — on the communities in which it is grown. Generally, a farmer sells to either a distributor or a large roaster, who then resells to smaller distributors for direct sale or to retail locations, which then finally sell to you. Each participator in this chain is leveling some profit margin on top of what they paid, so $1.25/pound paid to the coffee farmer ends up as your $12/pound bag of coffee in your home.

The idea of fair trade is often bandied about with regard to several commodity goods, and fair trade establishes a minimum price that, despite market fluctuations, participants will pay for a specific product. Many large scale roasters are taking a different tack: Going directly to the source itself. Perhaps in the past they were working with a distributor who would levy a profit on top of what they paid to the farmers and the costs of importing. The roaster may have been paying $4.00/pound for the beans, but the farmer was only seeing $1.25 of that, so a movement toward direct trade is burgeoning amongst larger roasters such as Intelligentsia in Chicago, Stumptown in Portland or Counter Culture in Durham.

What is direct trade? Well, instead of dealing with all the middle men that add cost onto a pound of coffee, these roasters are developing relationships directly with farms themselves. This means they can contribute to an increased quality of life by paying a higher price that doesn’t affect their overall retail price. It also means they’re able to understand at a more detailed level the quality and origin of the coffee they’re roasting and selling. This gives them the ability to delineate between single origins and to perfect blends based less on generalized bean profiles and more on an understanding of the agricultural product, its environment and how it’s processed.

China Millman wrote this great synopsis of the specialty coffee movement toward direct trade. It urges us to be cognizant of what we’re buying and who we’re buying it from — especially in the context of the current international financial market reset. To skimp and save is on everyone’s minds, but it might just be more about spending wisely than not spending at all.

It’s important to keep in mind that beyond flags, borders and politics, this planet is more interconnected than we sometimes give it credit and something as simple as coffee can make a huge difference in the lives of families on the other side of that planet. To stop and make a choice to do business with someone who is cognizant of that connection and choosing to shift the economic and power balance out of the hands of brokers and into the hands of farmers is a powerful decision that will make every cup of that coffee taste all the better.