How To: Hot Cocoa Art

The practice of topping off your hot beverage with beautiful milk foam art shouldn’t be limited to just espresso drinks! We often get asked how to do ‘cocoa art’ in a similar manner to latte art, so here’s how we express our cocoa side:

First, mix your preferred amount of chocolate with a few tablespoons of milk to create a dark mixture with which your foamed milk can be integrated. After you’ve steamed your milk, pour it similarly to how you pour when you make latte art. A simple leaf, for example, starts with pouring the milk in the middle of the mug, then slowly moving outward to the side, eventually working your way slowly back into the middle while shaking the pitcher from side to side. You should have a kind of leaf-like design, pulling back at the last moment to form the stem.

Tech Tip: Grindhouse

Regular maintenance of all your espresso or coffee related apparatus is essential to extending their longevity in your home or office. We talk a lot about how to keep your espresso machine healthy, but grinders need a little love, too!

One easy way to do this is, once a week, adjust your grinder to the coarsest setting possible, then run it for a few minutes to flush out any fine grinds that may be stuck around the blades, etc. This regular maintenance will decrease the likelihood of clogs and ensure evenness in grind. We recommend doing this on all stand-alone grinders and also if you have an espresso machine or coffee maker that features an internal grinder.

Brew Tip: Panarello Wand Steaming

If you have an espresso machine which features a panarello tip on the steam wand (such as a those from Saeco or DeLonghi), learning how to steam milk to your preference can take a few tries. Here are some tips on how to produce different kinds of milk textures using this type of steam wand:

  1. Super Fluffy Foam: If you keep the air intake (hole or slit) above the surface of the milk, you’ll create big foam and bubbles.
  2. Steamed Only: Fully submerge the air intake in the milk to produce steamed milk with no foam.
  3. Microfoam: Keep the air intake level with the milk, drawing in equal amounts of milk and air.
  4. Overflow Watch: If your foamed milk is about to overflow from the pitcher but it’s not up to your preferred temperature, simply submerge the wand completely (up above the air intake) and continue to steam.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Alzheimer’s

We just read this fascinating article about a study from earlier this year that indicates regular coffee consumption can decrease the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.

Researchers found that caffeine may cut the risk of dementia because of its ability to block the adverse affects of high cholesterol on the body’s systems — one of which may be the break down of the blood/brain barrier that protects our brain tissue from potentially harmful chemicals in our bloodstream. There have been previous studies to indicate that the break down of this barrier may contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The research centered on rabbits, which were given a high cholesterol diet over a 12 week period, some of which were also given the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day. At the end of the trial, researchers found that the blood/brain barrier in the rabbits that had the coffee supplement was far less deteriorated than the rabbits with no supplement. The results of this research are a very interesting step in determining both new restoration therapies and preventative
care.

So sip your daily joe knowing that it’s not only delicious — it’s brain food!

Crew Review: Rancilio Silvia

The Rancilio Silvia is one of our best sellers and we think we know why: It’s an excellent mid-range machine that balances professional quality with economy.

To help you during your decision making process, here is our crew’s review on the pros and cons of this machine:

Pros

  • Steam Wand – Includes a traditional steam wand generally seen on higher end machines and does not have a pannarello frothing attachment
  • Case & Components – It’s stainless steel with a brass boiler and brew group, connected by copper tubing, which results in less mineral (scale) build-up and a
    consistently maintained temperature throughout extraction
  • 3-Way Pressure Release Valve – After you pull your shot, this valve will release the steam and dry the espresso in the portafilter, resulting in a dry ‘puck’ that is less messy to dispose
Cons
  • Requires a Quality Burr Grinder – As with all non-pressurized espresso machines, consistently ground
    espresso is required; some low-end grinders can’t grind evenly enough, which can result in frustration when first using a Rancilio Silvia
  • Single Boiler – Since brew temperature and steaming temperature are different, using a single boiler means you’ll have to switch back and forth between these temperatures
  • Poor Pod Adapter – We have received many returns of the Rancilio’s pod adapter with reports that it doesn’t work very well and doesn’t allow you to switch easily between grounds and pods without uninstalling the adapter

Get Involved with Sustainable Coffee

Have you ever thought about taking a volunteer vacation? You know the kind, where you give a little while you get a little? Earthwatch has some of the most amazing working vacations available, all concentrated on working with scientists and researchers to measure, examine, explore and understand nature and our place within it.

If you’re a coffee connoisseur, planning a trip to learn about how you can help in the development of sustainable coffee agriculture could bring more meaning — and adventure! — to your daily mug. Earthwatch offers a 15-day expedition in Costa Rica where you assist in field experiments to improve the ecological sustainability of shade-grown coffee. The research station is located in one of our favorite spots on earth — the breathtaking Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve — and involves hiking to different coffee plantations and collecting data for the experiment. They currently have stints planned for the first half of this December, or a few next year in March, July and November.

Please let us know if you choose to go — we’d love to hear all about your experience!