Crew Review: Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

breville dual boiler BES920XLWe know heading back to work on Monday can sometimes be a little rough. Especially when you’ve lost an hour of precious sleep due to Daylight Saving Time. However, we have just the thing to remedy this problem – the Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL. With this machine’s dual boilers and two dedicated pumps, you can brew your espresso shots and steam our milk at the same time, allowing you to make our lattes faster for quicker caffeine consumption and absorption.

Part of the series of new machines recently launched by Breville, the BES920XL is an upgrade of the Breville BES900XL. One of the biggest differences, and improvements, over the previous model is the ability to drain your boiler on your own. In the past, owners of the BES900XL had to take the machine into a service center every three years or so to get it professionally descaled, since you had to get to the inside of the machine to do so. Breville realized this was a lot of work, so they designed this version of the Dual Boiler to be a little more user friendly. The Breville BES920XL has two screws in the front of the machine that when released drain all of the water out of the machine. This allows you to descale the machine from the convenience of your own home, saving you time, energy and possible maintenance fees.

Breville has also built a lot of programmability into this machine. Some of the new features provide you with ability to adjust the steam boiler temperature, shot length, extraction time and you can even customize the amount of time and pressure for your pre-infusion. This last feature is pretty sophisticated, as it is not found on many other machines. If that isn’t enough personalization for you, you can also have control over the machine’s audio, maintenance alerts and water hardness.

Since there are so many options for getting your shot exactly the way you want it, the Breville BES920XL is a great machine for users who are really interested in espresso and are comfortable enough to play around with the machine’s different features in order to create a great cup of coffee. Check out the video for Gail and Brendan’s rundown of the machine’s functionality. If you listen carefully, you may even pick up a few tricks for creating latte art.

Crew Review: Breville Dual Boiler BES920XL

Quick Review: aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils & RSVP Shaker

aerolatte cappuccino art stencilsWhen it comes to latte art, we know there often can be a steep learning curve. Heck, just getting your milk to the right consistency to make the perfect latte can be challenging enough. Not only to do you have to figure out when to plunge the steam wand into your milk, but you also have to simultaneously work the milk to produce smooth and velvety microfoam. On top of that, you then to hold your wrist at a certain angle and pour your milk at just the right speed to create your design. Whew! It makes those of us who haven’t yet mastered this technique tired just thinking about it.

If you too haven’t quite refined your latte art making skills, never fear! The aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils are the answer to your problem. These six stencils come in an array of patterns, including a cute winky face and a pretty spiral, and allow you to create art of your own without having to worry about perfecting your pour. There’s nothing wrong with faking it until you make it, right? Besides, these whimsical designs are sure to stop any naysayers in their tracks. After all, you are still creating art.

Best of all, these stencils are incredibly easy to use. Just place them on top of your latte or cappuccino, use a shaker, such as the RSVP Endurance Fine Mesh Shaker, to sprinkle on anything from chocolate powder to cinnamon on top of your drink. We like using red velvet cake mix to top our lattes since it adds a pop of color to the drink. After you have topped the drink with powder, remove the stencil and you’re good to go! You’ve just created a latte that is sure to impress your guests at your next dinner party as well as entertain any kids in your home. To see the aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils in action, watch as Miranda uses them to decorate her drinks.

Quick Review: aerolatte Cappuccino Art Stencils & RSVP Shaker

Brew Tips: How to Store Your Coffee Beans

Coffee BeansYou’ve found the perfect espresso machine or coffee maker for you and gotten some tasty coffee beans to brew with. However, now you’ve started to use your beans, you may be wondering how to store them so that they retain their flavor and stay in the best shape possible. This subject can be quite confusing, as there almost as many ideologies on the best way to store coffee beans as there are roasts. In the hope of clearing things up, we completed a variety of tests to determine the best way to keep your coffee fresher longer.

The Freshness Factor

You may have heard that coffee has a short shelf life, which is mostly true. After the beans have been roasted, they outgas carbon dioxide for about 72 hours. As such, many local roasters will package their beans in bags that feature one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while protecting them from contact with oxygen, which can make the beans go stale. While this allows you to experience the coffee’s peak flavor, but it will start to lose its freshness once its bag has been opened. Thus, as a general rule, we have found that it’s best to consume your coffee within one or two weeks after opening the bag.

If coffee wasn’t already complicated enough, it is important to keep in mind that every coffee has it’s own sweet spot for when it tastes the best after it has been roasted. Thus, if you ask a number of different roasters when you should drink your coffee beans by, you will get a variety of different answers. Since everyone has different tastes, so we highly recommend that you experiment with your coffee and find your own sweet spot for your roasts.

Storing Your Coffee

Due to the reasons mentioned above, we have found that is best buy your coffee in small quantities, as you need it. Likewise, if you are using whole bean coffee, you should only grind your beans as you make your coffee or espresso, instead of grinding the whole bag all at once. This will ensure the coffee keeps more of its flavor.

However, if you buy your coffee in bulk or need to store it for some other reason, you do have options.  For starters, you may want to divide your coffee supply into a small container for daily use, and a larger container for the bulk of the coffee (which will only be opened to refill the small container). This will allow you to reduce the amount of air the larger container of coffee is exposed to, enabling you to keep it longer. Another thing to keep in mind is generally whole beans will have a longer shelf life than ground beans, which go stale at a faster rate since they have more surface area. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t store ground coffee, you may just not be able to keep it quite as long, depending on how sensitive your taste buds are.

In fact, this same rule applies to how long you can store your coffee in general. In short, it depends on you and how you like your coffee to taste. Some people will notice a change in the flavor of the coffee after a week and want to replace it, while others won’t notice a difference in the coffee until it has lost most of its flavor.

When it comes to storing your coffee, the best environment to keep it in is an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. Why is how you store your coffee so critical?  If you don’t store your coffee in this manner, you risk exposing your coffee to the five “coffee killers” listed below, which decrease the lifespan of your coffee and cause it to go stale.

  • Air: When roasted beans are exposed to air, the flavors in them are oxidized, causing the coffee to go stale.
  • Moisture:  One of the worst things for coffee, moisture taints the oils in the beans, causing off flavors or even making the beans deteriorate.
  • Heat: Exposing the beans to heat before they are brewed will cause them to lose flavor.
  • Light: Direct light can cause the beans to go stale and lose flavor.
  • Odor: Coffee is porous, which means if coffee is near other fragrant items, like fish, it can absorb these flavors. As a result, your coffee could end up tasting like seafood instead of coffee.

Luckily, there are some pretty nifty containers on the market that you can use to store your coffee in and keep it out of harm’s way. We have found that the best options are metal, ceramic or even darkly colored plastic canisters. In addition, it is important to use coffee containers that are airtight, which will keep out air and can prevent moisture and odor from contaminating your beans as well. One of our favorites is the Airscape Coffee Bean Canister, which has a specially designed lid that you push down to remove air from inside the can.

What about glass or clear plastic containers? While these options do look pretty on your counter and let you to see the contents inside, they also allow in one of the biggest coffee killers – light. If you really want to keep your beans in a clear container, make sure to store it in a pantry or drawer where it won’t be exposed to sunlight. Another alternative is to use a polarized canister that will allow you to see its contents while keeping light out.

Is it Ever Okay to Freeze Your Beans?

Freezing beans is a contentious topic in the coffee world. Some people adamantly oppose ever freezing your beans, while some claim it’s okay in certain circumstances. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), “It is important not to refrigerate or freeze your daily supply of coffee because contact with moisture will cause it to deteriorate.” This is a valid point, since every time you open the bag of coffee, which is likely at least once a day; you will be exposing the beans to oxygen and whatever humidity is in the air. Neither of these things is good for coffee and can impact the coffee’s flavor. This effect is even worse when open bags of coffee are stored in the freezer. The humidity forms ice crystals, which essentially freezer burns the beans and causes them to go stale even faster.

However, when it comes to storing unopened coffee, the NCA states it okay to keep it in the freezer as long as it is in an airtight bag. However, once you remove this bag from the freezer and thaw the coffee, do not put the bag back in the freezer. If you do, you will encounter the issue mentioned above, and will likely have freezer burned coffee. Instead of returning the coffee to the freezer, the NCA suggests that you “move [it] to an airtight and store in a cool, dry place.”

While we like the NCA, we couldn’t just take their word for it, so we decided to conduct a couple of tests ourselves. While we did notice a slight difference in the taste of the beans and did have to tweak our grind for the beans a bit, overall we found that coffee beans can be frozen, as long as the package is tightly sealed and unopened the entire time.

Through our research and quasi-scientific experiments, we have discovered a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when storing your beans. While we prefer to use our coffee sooner rather than later, we have found it is possible to prolong the life of your coffee if you take the time to store it properly.

 

Crew Review: Breville Oracle Espresso Machine

Breville OracleYou’ve been asking about it, and now we have it! That’s right, the Breville Oracle is here at last. The next generation of their previous dual boilers, Breville has really out done themselves with this machine. As such, the Oracle has a lot of the great features fans of Breville machines have grown to love, as well as some very impressive new ones.

For many of us, it was love at first sight when this beautiful machine arrived at our door. Gone are the need for a grinder, scale and tamper as all these features are built into the machine. That’s right, the Oracle will automatically dose, grind and tamp your coffee straight into the portafilter that is included with the machine. If you feel like letting out your inner barista, you can still adjust the grind, the tamp pressure and length of the tamp, shot temperature and the shot volume. However, the automation doesn’t end there. The Breville Oracle espresso machine can also heat and steam your milk to the exact temperature and texture that you desire. Better yet, the steam wand comes with an auto-purge feature so you can clean it after each use, which is important when dealing with hot milk. This will allow to you to avoid sucking milk back into the boiler and causing damage to your machine, a la our example last week.

The only thing the Oracle couldn’t do was divine what category of machine it should fall into for us. After a bit of debate, we decided the Oracle is a semi-automatic as you still have to grind and tamp espresso into a portafilter. However, the fact that these features are automated makes it a super, semi-automatic. Experience the joy of this machine yourself and come by our store and give it a whirl. Of course you can also sit back, relax and watch as Gail and Dori test it out and make us a drink, complete with latte art.

Crew Review: Breville Oracle BES980XL

Tech Tip: Your Boiler on Milk

When it comes to suffering home espresso machines, our repair technicians have seen it all. From clogged brew screens to burnt out heating elements, there are a variety of ways people unintentionally use and abuse their machines. The unfortunate part is, many of these issues could have been prevented, had the owners known about them and completed some simple espresso machine maintenance. Just following a few easy steps could have saved the owners a lot of money and time away from their precious machine. Of course, just as many homeowners don’t expect some of the worst disasters (such as burst plumbing or leaking roofs) to happen to them, many espresso machine owners hope that they will be able to avoid common problems as well.

The reality is that even if you have a top of the line machine, wear and tear from frequent use will require that you give it a little extra TLC from time to time. Usually this involves giving the machine a weekly cleaning, descaling every other month and doing an annual tune-up. If you don’t follow these tips, it is likely that eventually you will encounter a few problems. Costly repairs or replacements are not myths, and they can happen to you.

Still not convinced? Check out what happened to the heating element and boiler inside a Nuova Simonelli Oscar when the steam wand wasn’t removed from the milk frothing pitcher when the machine was turned off and properly cleaned.

espresso machine maintenance

All of the brown clumpy stuff coating the walls of this boiler is milk that got sucked inside it due to the steam wand not being removed from the milk frothing pitcher and opened up after each use; it baked and rotted! The two brown strands hanging off of the white and metal valve are also strands of milk, and should not be there.

milk_boiler_02

As you can see, the boiler on the left overheated, blackened and even cracked due to the milk buildup inside. The boiler on the right is what a normal, or “healthy,” boiler should look like – nice and clean.

heating_element02

The heating element for this machine, on the left, has also gotten burnt out, blackened and corroded. Again, the heating element on the right is how one should look.

Unfortunately, once a boiler has gotten to this stage it has reached the point of no return and must be replaced in order to get your machine up and running again. In some instances you may even be out of luck and have to get an entirely new machine.

However, there are a few easy tips you can follow to avoid winding up in this situation. If you have a heat exchanger machine like the Oscar above, make sure to open the steam valve on your machine every time you turn it off and it cools down. If you don’t, a vacuum is created and the left over milk in the steam wand is sucked up into the boiler. On the other hand, if you have a single boiler machine, such as the Rancilio Silvia, the best way to avoid this problem is to run water out of your steam wand after each use so you don’t create a vacuum in the boiler.

The next time you consider saving flushing out your steam wand for “later,” remember these images and cautionary tale. Clean your steam wand after each use and do a more thorough cleaning of the machine once a week. If a wet cloth isn’t strong enough to cut through the grime, try using a liquid or powder espresso machine cleaner. If your machine has any removable parts, you should take them off for cleaning as well. For instance, if your machine has a panarello, you should remove it and soak it in a solution like Rinza. This will rid it off any milk that has built up inside the panarello as it can get sucked into the boiler. If you follow these simple steps, your espresso machine will likely run well and continue to produce tasty drink for years to come. If you are kind to your espresso machine, it will be kind to you.

Crew Review: DeLonghi PrimaDonna Exclusive

DeLonghi PrimaDonna ExclusiveIf you are as big of a fan of ‘90s music as we are, you might have learned from Sheryl Crow that “a change would do you good.” Clearly, the manufactures at DeLonghi have taken this advice to heart with the creation of the DeLonghi PrimaDonna Exclusive. This espresso machine is upgrading and replacing the DeLonghi Gran Dama 6700. While the 6700 is a great machine, and well loved by many of our customers, DeLonghi has made a few tweaks to the machine’s design to make it even better.

One of the newest, and coolest, features of the PrimaDonna Exclusive ESAM 6900 is the one touch chocolate system. As part of this unique function, DeLonghi has included a new separate carafe that has a spin drive built into it that allows you to mix up and heat hot chocolate. Not only does this keep something as sugary as hot chocolate separate from your milk, but also allows you easily create drinks like mochas and chocolate for the kids.

DeLonghi has also upgraded the programmability of the machine. The PrimaDonna has a new profile system, that allows you to create six profiles where you can customize everything from the length of your shot to the strength of your shot, and even the amount of milk you want in your drink. There is also an auto-start option for each profile, so you can have different start times for drinks on weekdays and weekends. All of this is accessible on a large, color display that is easy to see and navigate.

In addition to the new features, the machine still includes many of the functions users have always enjoyed; such as the long coffee feature as well as options for creating one touch lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos. The variety of drinks you can make on this machine and the number of customizable profiles makes it a great option for large households or people who like having a lot of choices. To learn more about the new DeLonghi PrimaDonna Exclusive, watch as Gail and Brendan walk us through the features and teach us a few tips.

Crew Review: DeLonghi PrimaDonna Exclusive