Quick Review: La Cafetiere Lexi Cafetiere – 8 Cups

La Cafetiere LexiIf you love French press coffee as much as we do, why not ex-press this love of yours by using the La Cafetiere Lexi to brew up some tasty java? Not only will this porcelain cafetiere, don’t let the name confuse you – cafetiere is synonymous with French press in Europe, look elegant on your dining room table but it also will keep your coffee warmer longer than glass models since it helps retain heat. However, you will have to pre-warm that carafe in order to get it up to temperature. Another advantage of this French press is that the silicone gasket inside the pot makes for easy brewing, as it provides an excellent seal.

Making coffee on a French press may sound fancy (and hey, why not exploit the term a little to impress your guests) but it is actual pretty simple to make. First, heat your water to about boiling, we used a Bonavita Variable Temperature Electric Kettle in our example, or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Then measure coarsely ground coffee into the cafetiere and pour a small amount of water over them. Let the grounds “bloom” for about 20-30 seconds before pouring in the rest of the water. Next, allow the grounds steep in the water for about five minutes, you can brew your coffee for a shorter (four minutes) or longer (six minutes) length of time depending on how strong you like it to be. You can also give the grounds a stir halfway through the steep time if you would like to allow them to mix. After the coffee has steeped, slowing press the plunger down, so finer grounds don’t escape through the sieve. And you’re done, you’ve have successfully made French press coffee!

To see the process in action, watch Miranda as she makes a cup of coffee on the La Cafetiere Lexi. If you want even more tips on brewing with a press pot, check out our snazzy infographic on how to make excellent French press coffee.

Quick Review: La Cafetiere Lexi – 8 Cups

Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica

Tune-up kit for the Oscar and MusicaNuova Simonelli how much do we love you? Let us count the ways. With their beautiful design and professional functionality it is really hard not to love these machines. However, if you want to ensure your machine has a good long life, you’ll need to give it a little tender loving care. Part of that TLC (no, we don’t mean T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli) is replacing some of the parts of the machine that see a bit more wear and tear, like the brew head gasket and screen. Since Nuova Simonelli machines are some of the more popular espresso makers we have around, we decided to help you out and create a tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica. This kit includes a brew head gasket, shower screen and show screw. These parts will work for both the Oscar and the Musica; the installation is just slightly different.

Replacing your brew head gasket and screen may sound difficult, but it is actually pretty easy. When it comes down to it, your main tasks are just removing a screw and puling out a gasket. If you have an Oscar, we recommend laying down some soft towels and flipping the machine over to have better access to the brew head. Unfortunately, you can’t do this if you have a Musica due to the way the boiler is set up. Your next steps are to remove the old, worn out brew gasket and screen, clean the brew head and install the new parts from the kit. Easy peasy! How do you know when to tune-up your machine? Some customers said they have noticed they need to replace these parts at about every third or fourth descale, but if you use your machine less frequently you may find you only need to replace them once a year. You can also watch for coffee and water leaking around the top edge of your portafilter or for lots of coffee grounds building up around your screen.

Inspired to give your machine a tune-up but want to see the process in action before attempting it yourself? Check out Brendan’s video on how to use the tune-up kit for the Oscar and Musica and pick up a few tips and tricks.

 

Tech Tips: SCG’s Tune-Up Kit for the Oscar and Musica

A Tea Lover in a Coffee World: Baicha Tea Room Review

Baicha Tea RoomOn a recent quest to find teahouses outside of Seattle proper, and explore lesser-known opportunities for delicious tea, I stumbled upon Baicha Tea Room in Edmonds. This city, which is north of Seattle, has always been full of coffee shops, but actual teahouses have been few and far between. As such, I was excited to discover that there now was one in the area and to get a chance to visit one of our “neighbors.”

Located a few blocks down from the heart of Edmonds, Baicha may be slightly challenging to find if you haven’t heard of it before. However, this hidden gem is definitely worth the trek. According to Ann Budharaksa, who owns the store with her husband Joe, Baicha sells 90 different teas, which include white, green, oolong, black, blooming and flavored and scented teas. Ann and Joe have also concocted some tasty sounding tea lattes and smoothies, the latter of which I’ll have to come back and try once it starts to get warmer. However, Ann says the shop’s most popular teas are their specialty wellness blends that have been created to help alleviate colds, stomach aches, joint pain, hangovers and even skin problems. In fact, Ann and the rest of the staff are more than happy to help recommend a tea to help cure what ails you.

IMG_1314I had the opportunity to talk to Ann further, and she explained that they opened Baicha, which means tea leaf in their native Thai, because her husband was interested in tea and wanted to get into the business. It is not only Joe that enjoys tea though; Ann says she drinks tea every day, varying the type depending on what her mood is. The tea room has been open for a little over three years, as it had its grand opening on the auspicious day of 11/11/2011.  The day must have been lucky indeed, since they have been doing well ever since, with people frequently coming in to study, work just to meet a friend for breakfast or lunch. According to Ann, the store is busiest on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the peak times being from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. This makes sense since the shop serves breakfast and brunch all day as well as soups, salads, paninis and traditional tea sandwiches.

Tea sandwiches can be surprisingly hard to find at even some tea houses, so I tried a plate of the cucumber parsley cream cheese ones. They were delicious, and came with seasonal fruit (in this case a bowl of strawberries) and chips. I had tea too, of course, and sampled the Pai Mu Tan or “white peony,” which is a white tea. The tea was served in a Bodum glass and infuser, and came with a sand timer so I knew how long to let the tea steep before drinking. When the tea was done steeping, it was a light yellow color and had sweet, floral flavor with a hint of peach.

IMG_1321After snacking on the sandwiches and tea, I decided to check out the rest of the shop at Ann’s urging. The main entrance, and upstairs, of the tea house is where you’ll find the counter for ordering tea and food, as well as a long bar that runs nearly the length of it, where you can sit and sip some tea. Although the upstairs is fairly small, there is also plenty of seating along the windows as well. However, as Ann pointed out, the downstairs area of the store is really what makes the tea shop unique. The space is surprisingly large, especially when compared with the upstairs, and is somewhat unexpected. In fact, the downstairs is large enough to house three rooms; a large room with a long table that would be great for meetings or studying, medium-sized room with cozy couches and a fireplace and a small side room with a fish tank and love seat. The décor in the rooms is modern, with an Asian feel. There are also canvases with pictures of tea or tea kettles hanging on the lightly colored walls that lend a calming vibe to the space. Every room looked so inviting, I actually had a hard time choosing where to sit. With so many options for seating, tea and food, it is no wonder so many people have made this tea room their secret spot for relaxing and hanging out. I just may have to make Baicha Tea Room my secret hideaway as well.

Crew Review: Capresso EC PRO

Capresso EC PROSmall in stature, but not short on fundamentals, the Capresso EC PRO is one of our newest espresso machine friends. The machine’s compact footprint makes it perfect for small kitchens where there is limited counter space. However, just because the EC PRO is diminutive in size, doesn’t mean it can’t make a great latte!

In fact, while some semi-automatic machines have a steep learning curve, the EC PRO is incredibly easy to use. Even if you are used to brewing on a superautomatic machine, like myself, you will quickly be able to get the hang of using this machine. Unlike some machines that have a number of buttons that can be confusing to figure out, the Capresso EC PRO has just two buttons, besides the power button, brew and steam. Thus, whenever you want to pull a shot or froth your milk, all you have to do is get your portafilter or milk frothing pitcher in place, select which option you want and away you go!

To make your brewing even easier, the machine comes with a pressurized portafilter so you don’t have to worry about perfecting your grind and tamp. Although, when testing this machine, we did find it helps to lightly tamp the coffee in the pressurized portafilter before brewing to get a better quality shot. If you are a more adventurous barista and really want to work on fine-tuning your shots, you aren’t out of luck with this machine, as the EC PRO also comes with a bottomless portafiler. This allows you get a better look at your shot as it comes out of the machine and note things like channeling, and adjust your grind, dosage and tamp accordingly if your extraction is messy. The upside is, once you have gotten these three variables down, the shot will look beautiful as it pours out of your machine.

To learn a few additional pointers about brewing on this machine, watch as Gail and Kris discuss it features.

Crew Review: Capresso EC PRO

Advanced Menus on the New Breville Dual Boiler and Oracle

Breville Oracle BES980XL

Breville Oracle BES980XL

new Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

Dual Boiler BES920XL

A couple of you have requested that we discuss some of the advanced features on the new Breville Dual Boiler and Breville Oracle and compare them to the first Breville dual boiler. Ask and you shall receive! We got these two espresso machines together in a room, unlocked their advanced menus and played around with them.

The main difference between the Dual Boiler BES900XL (first generation), the Dual Boiler BES920XL (second generation) and the Oracle BES980XL (third generation) is that both the second and third generation machines have two new features in their advanced menu options. The first feature is the capability to adjust the temperature (from 265-285 degrees Fahrenheit) on the steam boiler so you can get hotter (or cooler, if you prefer) milk. The second feature is the ability to choose whether your extraction is based on time or the amount of espresso produced, instead of having the extraction be based strictly on time as on the BES900XL.

The advanced menus on both the new Breville Dual Boiler and the Oracle are easy to get into. To access them on either machine, simply hold down the single shot button and press power. Once you are in the advanced menu, you will be able to scroll through the options for adjusting your machine’s settings. These features are pretty similar on both machines, as they enable you to tweak the factory settings, descale, alerts and sounds in addition to the steam temperature and extraction settings as we mentioned before. However, you will find the Oracle has a few extra choices, such as settings for how fast the pump comes on for steaming your milk, the contrast on the LCD screen, fan and others. For more information, check out our video and let Gail guide you through how all these options work and how to change them.

SCG Tech Tips: Breville Oracle (BES980XL) & New Breville Dual Boiler (BES920XL) Advanced Menu

Brewing Tea on the Capresso EC PRO Espresso & Cappuccino Machine

Capresso EC PRO Espresso & Cappuccino Machine

Ground black loose leaf tea in a pressurized portafilter.

Through the magic of the Internet, we heard that people have been using their espresso machines to brew black tea. This sounded like an interesting concept to us, and we were curious to see if it would work. People have been known to brew rooibos (also called red espresso) this way, and have even started whole cafes based on this idea. So why wouldn’t it work with black tea? We decided to put this theory to the test and use the Capresso EC PRO Espresso & Cappuccino Machine to brew Ceylon O.P. by Danmann Freres Teas.

To make the tea, we filled the machine’s pressurized portafilter up to the first line inside with the loose leaf black tea. Then we loaded the portafilter into the machine, and started the extraction. We let the extraction go long, about 30-40 seconds, until the cup was mostly filled and the brew started to become clearer. The tea that was produced had a good aroma and was medium orange-brown in color. However, when we sampled the tea, the flavor was not bad, but definitely weaker than normal.

Crema on top of the second cup of tea.

Crema on top of the second cup of tea.

Not ones to be easily defeated, we were curious what would happen if we ground up the tea leaves before dosing them into the portafilter. To grind the tea, we grabbed the Hario Skeleton (Skerton) Coffee Mill, and set it to a coarser grind setting since we were using a pressurized portafilter. After grinding a couple of teaspoons full of tea we noticed that many of the tea leaves were passing through the grinder whole, so we readjusted our grind to be much finer. We were a little concerned that the tea was now too fine and would choke the portafilter, but we decided to go ahead and try it anyway.

Once again we loaded the portafilter into the Capresso EC PRO and started the extraction. We immediately noticed the tea was coming out much darker in color this time around. Suddenly we began to notice a different color coming out of the portafilter – there was a crema on top of the tea! While having a crema is not unusual for rooibos brewed on espresso machines, we were surprised we’d get the same effect with black tea. After about 30-40 seconds, we stopped the extraction. The color of the tea was much darker in comparison to the first cup we made, and topped with a thick, foamy crema. This time around the tea tasted exactly like it should, as if it had been steeping for three to five minutes.

pressurized_tea12

The lighter tea (top left) was the first cup we brewed. The dark one (bottom right) was the second.

We were (pleasantly) surprised to find you can brew a decent up of tea using a semi-automatic espresso machine and a pressurized portafilter. If you are going to try this experiment yourself we highly recommend grinding your loose leaf tea into smaller particles, since that gave us the best results. We only tried this experiment with black tea, so we aren’t sure if this technique will work to brew other types of tea, such as rooibos or herbal infusions. We also haven’t tried brewing the tea with a different machine or tested to see if brewing tea on an espresso machine is faster than brewing with a kettle. If you try this experiment with different variables, let us know in the comments. I sense more tea experiments in our feature!