We just expanded our Rocket inventory to include the sleek Cellini semi-automatic espresso machine! Not as stylized as its Giotto counterpart, the Cellini is functionally exactly the same for a bit less. Gail introduces us to the machine and talks about the aesthetic-only differences.
The Quick Mill semi-automatic espresso machines are some of the best available on the market — they’ll turn your kitchen into a gourmet coffee stand that serves up excellent java from morning until night (although you might want to put some hours of operation in place if you plan on sleeping regularly).
In the US, Quick Mill offers four semi-automatic espresso machines, all featuring the E61 brew group. The Alexia has a single boiler, which can be modified with a PID controller to provide better performance. Then you’ve got the Anita and the Andreja Premium — both heat exchangers with varying feature differences — and the Vetrano, a plumb-only heat exchange espresso machine.
When folks are narrowing down their search, they’re often interested in what constitutes the few hundred buck difference between the Anita and the Andreja Premium, so we asked Gail to give us a run down on how these machines compare. Of course, we filmed it for all you voyeurs out there — enjoy!
Last night was the kick-off of the Coffee: From the Grounds Up lecture series that is being held in tandem with the Burke Natural History Museum’s Coffee: The World in Your Cup exhibit. The series was kicked off by Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds, and was quite enjoyable. He discussed a lot of what is in his book, but here are some bits n’ pieces we picked up that we thought were interesting:
- Caffeine is likely a natural pesticide that exists within the cherry to keep it from being decimated by tropical pests. This is similar to how coca leaves have a small amount of the chemical used to produce cocaine.
- There is a resounding myth around the discovery of coffee — replete with dancing goats and monks — but there is some evidence that, at some point, nomadic Ethiopian people discovered that grinding up the beans of the cherries, placing them in fat and then ingesting the mixture would help them travel long distances…and this practice is still in existence among nomadic tribes in that African region today.
- Brazil became such a big player because of two primary reasons: They had a lot of land and they were poised to take over the crop when the coffee rust disease nearly wiped out all of the bushes in Indonesia.
- Americans have a very emotional relationship to coffee and kind of act like it’s our birthright that we should have access to cheap beans, regardless of market, environmental or political forces. There have been several times that frosts in Brazil resulted in an increase in bean prices — which then spurred congressional hearings to discuss the cause of the prices and find a way to resolve it! Communism was listed quite often as a cause during much of the cold war, and in 1962 there was an international coffee price agreement that was in affect until 1989, when the cold war ended. It was in our best interests politically to support the large coffee growing regions of the world, lest they fall pray to the evils of communist ideals!
- There has always been and always will be a boom/bust cycle in coffee agriculture, due in part to the economic drivers of coffee growing regions as well as the basic growing cycle of the bushes themselves. They take a few years to produce quality cherries, so a time investment can be lost if too many are grown or not enough, etc. Around 2001, there was a huge bust due largely to an overproduction of robusta coming out of Vietnam, which was being grown to the detriment of the native highland peoples there that were being systematically and forcefully removed and persecuted in order to make room for coffee plantations. This is something that hasn’t been talked about much that we’re going to look into more.
- Haiti was the site of the first and only successful national slave revolt, which included the burning down of coffee plantations and tons of the native trees. There are some theories that posit that the heavily denuded nature of Haiti and the removal of the colonial structures could play a part in the fact that hurricanes ravage it so often and it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere to this day. Another interesting topic for further research.
- Because carbon dioxide is produced during the roasting process, coffee has to be a bit stale to begin with if it’s going to be packaged for export; this makes it not an easily manageable product for mass production, because the packaging can explode if the coffee wasn’t allowed to sit long enough. With the invention of the one-way release valve that is seen on many high end coffee bean bags these days, however, the coffee can be packaged more freshly and this could mean that roasting could take place in the growing country instead of after it’s exported to the consuming country. This could mean that there is room for future economic benefit in the growing countries, who could start roasting the coffee as well and then ship it out in bags with release valves.
Next week’s lecture is on direct trade and we’ll provide a similar synopsis of our thoughts here then. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or comments on what we shared here.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Temperature, temperature, temperature. For truly great espresso, there is a fine balance between too hot and not hot enough — and maintaining the temperature from portafilter to lips is very important. Oh yes, yes it is.
The first step is to let your machine warm up all the way; often, folks think that as soon as the light goes out (generally around 1 – 2 minutes after turning it on), the machine is ready to rock. Not so! In fact, all that means is that the machine has reached ideal boiler temperature, but all of the other parts of the machine have not, so if you pull espresso right at that time, the water is going to cool significantly as it travels through colder apparatus to reach your cup. Depending on your machine, we recommend waiting anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes to allow your machine to reach an even heat.
Next step is to pull some water through the system to warm up the brew head, the portafilter and — if it’s a heat exchange — the copper tubing that pulls water from the reservoir to the brew group. Let it run through and fully warm up all the metal components.
Finally, make sure you’re pulling into a preheated cup; you can easily preheat by using the cup as the container to catch the water you just pulled through the brew group, or you can keep your cups on top of your espresso machine and let them toast as your machine warms up.
Do you have any tips on how you maintain ideal temperature for your espresso extractions? Drop us a comment here if there’s something we didn’t cover that you think is essential.
Look, we know that we spend a lot of time with fancy high-end machines like the La Marzocco GS/3 or the Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler, but we’re not ashamed to fess up that our deepest appreciation for coffee has always come from the more than capable spout of a French press.
It’s lo-fi, fast, easy and you can take it anywhere — just like us! We have had a few people ask for tips on making the best pot of french press coffee and so we decided to record the method to our madness here for posterity, etc.
There is a growing movement toward single-serve press pot coffee in the cafe industry, similarly to what you see with individually potted tea, and there’s definitely an art and science around that as well — how much coffee, what temperature the water, how long it should steep, etc. Like all things, you can probably get as obsessive about this as you’d like, and there’s going to be differences across the board; the process outlined below is what works for us — if you have differences in opinion/experience, we definitely want to hear them!
We could spend a few days debating which type of water to use, but the most important element is to choose water that you think tastes great by itself. Definitely filter out any chemicals like chlorine or fluoride that might be in your tap water, but if you’re working with a highly mineralized water supply, we totally recommend sticking with it. That could just be our preferences talking, however, because we dig the flavor minerals add to the end product. Regardless of your water source, set the kettle on before you grind your coffee, as you want the water to sit a bit after boiling to reach the ideal temperature. We think bringing it to a boil and then allowing it to sit for a couple of minutes works well.
The Grind’s the Thing
You’re probably sick of hearing us chastise you about your cheap grinder, so we’ll stop nagging and just tell you this: As with all things coffee, the more uniform the coffee particles are, the better the flavor. French press is no different than espresso in this regard — consistent, uniform particle size is essential, it’s just the particle size that’s different. You’re going for a coarse grind, and if you have a metal mesh filter on your press pot, your grind should be a little bit coarser than if you have a nylon one. Uniform and coarse grounds = no muddy sludge at the bottom of your cup.
The Measure of a (Wo)Man
Now that you’ve got your freshly ground coffee and your water’s on the boil, measure out 2 rounded tablespoons for every 6 oz. of your press pot’s brewing capacity.
Islands in the Stream
There really is no end to the cheesy puns we can spin utilizing bad song titles, but feel free to challenge us. Now, your water’s just below boiling, your coffee is in the pot and it’s time to pour. The key here is a steady stream that thoroughly moistens all of the coffee. Your water level needs to take into account the space required for the filter, so leave room at the top. Stir up the grounds and water to release the “bloom.”
Steeped in Tradition
Now it’s time for a little patience — but not much! — as you allow the coffee to steep. This can take anywhere from 2 minutes for a smaller pot to 4 minutes for one of the larger ones. We dig multi-tasking, so use this time to warm our cups by pouring in some of the excess water we boiled. Let the warm water sit in the cups until you’re just about ready to filter the coffee, then toss it and wipe any lingering droplets out so that’s it’s nice and warm and dry for your perfectly brewed java.
Take the Plunge
Slowly and steadily, depress the plunger — too fast and you could let some grounds escape (resulting in the aforementioned mud) or you could end up spilling some over the side. Once you’ve fully depressed the plunger, serve the coffee into your warmed cups, taking care to keep the lid and plunger stable as your pour.
Sip and enjoy!
We’ve never made truffles — or any candy, for that matter — but this recipe looks quite tasty and not too complex. Even better, we’ve been looking for ways to cut down on the dairy intake lately, so this is a yummy option without all the unmentionable side affects! Makes about 30 truffles.
- 10 ounces very dark good quality dairy-free chocolate, chopp
- 2 T. dairy-free soy margarine, preferably a “stick” variety
- 1 T. maple syrup
- 1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk or dairy-free soy half-n-half
- 3 T. espresso
- 2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder, for dusting
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a heatproof
bowl, preferably stainless steel, set over a pan (but not touching)
several inches of boiling water, heat the chocolate and dairy-free soy
margarine, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is completely
melted. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine the coconut
milk and maple syrup, stirring until combined. Heat until steam just
begins to rise from the surface of the coconut milk, but do not boil.
Pour the hot coconut milk mixture over the melted chocolate mixture,
and let stand, unstirred, for 3 minutes. Starting in the middle of the
bowl and working your way to the edges, gently stir until the mixture
is smooth and silky. Add the espresso to the mixture, stirring until
- Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator, uncovered, for 45 minutes,
removing the bowl from the refrigerator and stirring well every 15
minutes. After the last stirring (at the 45-minute-mark), place the
bowl back in the refrigerator for 5 minutes more.
- Using a melon baller or spoon, scoop the chocolate onto the
prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for
- Using your hands, roll the chocolate balls quickly to smooth
(they will get very messy quickly, so I prefer to wear disposable
gloves, which also help to keep the chocolate colder.) Return the pan
to the refrigerator for 15 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, place the chocolate chips in a stainless steel bowl
set over a pan of boiling water. Stirring occasionally, heat until the
chocolate is completely melted and about 90 degrees F, using a candy
thermometer if available. Place the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Using
two forks, drop one of the chocolate balls into the melted chocolate,
and, working quickly, coat the ball with the melted chocolate, shaking
of the excess and placing it immediately in the cocoa powder, turning
to coat. Using a clean spoon or two clean forks, place the dusted
truffle on the lined baking sheet, and repeat until all of the truffles
- Return the truffles to the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.