Pump or Steam?

In the world of espresso machines, there are two different directions to take: Pump or steam. A lot of the machines we carry are pump driven and that’s pretty much the preferred method for quality espresso extraction, but we do carry a model that utilizes steam pressure and so we wanted to talk about why.

More than anything, our goal is to provide a wide selection of espresso and coffee related gear in a fairly vendor- and goal-agnostic environment. Whether you’re looking to artisan craft excellent espresso each morning or are simply interested in replacing your Starbucks habit, we want to be able to help you find the best tools to achieve your goal. We don’t judge, baby — we’re not snobs.

To that end, we added a DeLonghi coffee-and-espresso combination machine, which is a great solution for folks who battle it out for one type of java over the other in the morning. What may lack in ultimate taste is more than made up for in the convenience of a single unit.

Because these machines combine coffee and espresso makers, DeLonghi used steam pressure because of size and cost limitations. Utilizing one technology for both brewing coffee and pulling espresso makes for a sleeker design and a lower cost overall. But steam doesn’t get the same amount of pressure as a pump-driven machine and the steam pressure temp of 230-240F is well above the recommended espresso extraction temp of around 204F. The result? Burnt espresso.

Steam pressure is older technology and more affordable overall, so you will likely find it in some of the lower end espresso machines on the market. Just be aware of what you’re getting into — if price means more than flavor, steam pressure espresso machines may be the match for you.

This Weekend: NW Regional Barista Competition

If you’re in the Pacific Northwest this weekend and looking for some highly caffeinated entertainment, check out the Northwest Regional Barista Competition, being held at the Temple Theater in Tacoma. This is the first round competition to see who will qualify for the US championships and then, possibly, move on to the World Barista Championship. 2008′s World Barista winner, Irishman Stephen Morrissey, will be in attendance.

23 competitors will be making three drinks for the judges over the two day event — and you can also check out a separate latte art competition. The event is free and open to the public.

Coffee in High Altitudes

It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were wondering in the store how brewing coffee or pulling espresso differs at higher altitudes. We’re basically at sea level here, but we’d been talking about the kind of coffee some of us have found in the higher elevations of Montana — more bitter and like ‘coffee water’ than what we make and drink here.

We found the answer in this interesting piece on coffee in Santa Fe, NM. A Qasimi discusses how the higher altitude affects brewing and roasting:

I don?t drink home-brewed coffee in Santa Fe. I?ve often found it sour and lacking in the depth, robustness and natural sweetness that makes great coffee great. How does high altitude affect coffee and espresso quality at home and with the use of commercial equipment? Drip coffee machines that merely boil are convenient devices but they deliver water to the grounds at below the ideal range of temperatures, leading to underextraction of the beans and a sour, dull or poorly developed brew.

Thus, the only way to compensate for altitude is pressure — and that means espresso — but pulling a proper espresso shot is not easy at this altitude either. Ironically, though the best coffee grows at higher altitudes, with water?s lower boiling point in elevated places, brewing can get tricky. Roasting, on the other hand, merely benefits from altitude: The best possible results come from roasting the beans at the same altitude as they?ll be used and particularly at high altitudes that allow for faster roast development at lower temperatures

Recipe: Grandma’s Blueberry Delight Latte

We love Monin’s Chai Tea concentrate — The deliciously spicy flavors of clove, green tea, cinnamon, ginger and orange blossom melding into a sweet and tangy brew. Not only is it delicious by itself, but it’s a great complement to other flavors — and Grandma’s Blueberry Delight Latte is a perfect example of how to use it to mix up your daily latte.

Ingredients

Directions
Combine espresso, Monin Chai, Monin Blueberry and steamed milk in mug.
Top with whipped cream. Dust with brown sugar and pie spice

Cleancaf or Dezcal?

Lime, calcium and other trace minerals exist in nearly every water supply, leaving behind white scaly deposits when the water has evaporated. Removing this scale on a regular basis is an essential component of any coffee maker or espresso machine maintenance regimen — even if you have ‘soft’ water, there will be trace amounts left over time that can build-up and hinder your machine’s performance.

Some folks suggest using filtered or distilled water from the get-go, so that you don’t risk pitting your boiler through repetitive use of the acid required to remove scale. That’s certainly one tack to take, but we’ve found that we prefer the taste of espresso made with water that has some mineral content to it. Because of that, we descale our machines about every three months to ensure that no deposits build up and ultimately burn out the boiler.

If you prefer minerals in your java as we do, there are a couple of products on the market that will help you keep your espresso machine or coffee maker in tip-top shape: Cleancaf or Dezcal. Which is better? Again, it depends on your preferences.

Billed as a cleaner and descaler, Cleancaf combines descaling acid with a detergent that will also break down the oils left behind by coffee beans. It also features a blue dye that helps with thorough rinsing.

Dezcal, on the other hand, is a straight-up descaler — and an incredibly powerful one at that. While it doesn’t have a detergent component, it’s a much stronger product and removes more scale; also, it doesn’t have a blue dye, which we think is a good thing.

Of the two, we recommend Dezcal over Cleancaf, but we carry both of them so you can determine which product is right for you.