Tag Archives: automatic espresso machine

The Reluctant Barista: Making the Case for Office Coffee Upgrades

Saeco InteliaPick a Wednesday, any Wednesday. How much coffee do you need at work today to get over the hump? How many meetings do you have? Presentations to give? Deals to close? Sure, you can drink whatever office coffee sludge is sitting on the warming element as you pass from your desk to the conference room, but you deserve better, work friend. And so do your work compatriots!

Let’s cut to the chase, business people. Let’s get down to brass tacks and find the win-win and the net-net and the synergy for you all within one superautomatic espresso machine.

Two words: Saeco Intelia. This superautomatic espresso machine will boost employee morale and caffeination levels to previously unimagined heights. With one well-timed capital expenditure, the Saeco Intelia Focus will beat forking over $967 average annual expense for a latte-per-day habit. Take my word for it, or make your own Excel spreadsheet. With a 10”x17” countertop footprint, it is smaller than a paper cutter and much safer to have around the office.

Here’s what to expect: Push the small button for an espresso shot (ours is set to 1.5 ounces) made just for you and poured into your favorite Dilbert coffee mug in 30 seconds. Milk frothing took an additional 60 seconds with the panarello. There you have it, synchronization optimization with steaming and brewing for a latte in under a minute and a half. Don’t dig lattes? Push the big button for a programmable Cafe Lungo (ours is set to a hefty 8 ounces) in your cup or get hot water from the panarello for an Americano coffee in the same time or less.

Here’s a real world case study: I have a meeting regarding commercial equipment (yes we sell coffee and espresso machines for home, office and café!) and I will need a latte. I can pick any espresso machine. Semi-automatics take longer to prepare and one-touch coffee centers don’t get the milk hot enough for my taste. The Saeco Intelia, on the other hand, offers push-button espresso convenience combined with the control of a panarello to get the milk as hot and foamy as I want it. I leave my desk, whip up a piping hot latte and Bam! I’m in the conference room faster than you can recite the “Glengarry Glen Ross” speech.

We’ve got a winner here, send the requisite requisition forms to the purchasing department. Any way you slice it, the Saeco Intelia leverages price and performance to hit the sweet spot for office coffee. It is easy to clean, easy to maintain and so easy anyone can intuitively use it without a PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes the easy choice is the right choice.

The Reluctant Barista: Pops a Cap in the New Iperespresso Machines

Now that I have built my espresso connoisseurship from zero to somewhere above average, but still far below that of Juan Valdez, I was reluctant to go back to my lazy ways. New single-cup espresso capsule machines from Francis Francis for illy arrived awhile back and I played coy. I stayed away until I found out our crew of espresso machine technicians were proponents of this capsule craze.

I wrangled one each of the Francis Francis Y1.1 and the Francis Francis X7.1 Iperespresso Machines over to my desk. Mike and Jeff from the refurbish crew volunteered to be my guinea pigs …er, I mean taste-testers. They programmed the extraction time on both machines to their preferred shot length to assist me with a side-by-side comparison. The new illy coffee capsules come in a canister — like the whole bean and pre-ground illy coffees do — and in the same flavor profiles. I popped the top off of a can of illy iperespresso Dark Roast capsules to try in the two new machines.


Francis Francis X7.1 The Little Alien Dude

This is reminiscent of a retro 50s espresso maker complete with a portafilter to make it look like you did the work of pulling a shot and a steam wand to froth milk.


Francis Francis Y1.1 – The Rubik’s Cube

Sleek and modern, this style fits in a Minimalist’s dream kitchen or office. Lightly touch the programmable single shot or double shot button and receive espresso — yes, it really is that easy!

In the end, it ‘all boils down’ to case style and drink preference. The illy iperespresso capsules have a patented pressurized design and both machines provide the right brew temperature and pressure to get the most flavor extracted. Upon Shiami’s suggestion we ran hot water through the machines to get them up to temp and to pre-warm the demistasse cups. Then we hunkered down and watched the espresso as it streamed out of the two machines for 29 seconds each.

All variables being equal, Mike and Jeff preferred the Y1.1 since it has one-touch operation right out of the box. Shiami preferred the X7.1 for her lungo. There may be a slight temperature advantage as the X7.1 maintained heat within the metal portafilter, but I did not taste a discernible difference as I sampled the espresso produced. If you are in need of steady milk frothing, the X7.1 is the one to pick. If your need for steamed milk is more occasional, an accessory frother like the Breville Smart Cafe paired with the Y1.1 is also a winning combination.

So who did we declare the winner? For me, at least, simple is always better, so the tie goes to … the Y1.1!

The Reluctant Barista: Jura GIGA 5 and the Secret Menu

giga5_feature4There is something so intriguing about a secret menu. Starbucks has one. In-N-Out Burger has one. And now, the Jura GIGA 5 Automatic Coffee Center does too. After a hot tip from Kat that there was indeed a secret menu, I decided to play detective. I found these new recipes through my favorite machine testing method called ‘random button pushing.’ You won’t find this covered in the Jura user manual (unless you happen to look at page 20…). The Reluctant Barista has some delicious insider information to share.

The initial screen shows what you might come to expect from a superautomatic menu: Ristretto, Espresso, Coffee, Hot Water, Cappuccino, Latte Macchiato, Milk, Milk Foam. From these simple settings you can further customize the coffee dosage, water temperature, water volume, milk volume and milk foam. The Jura GIGA 5 does not come standard with an integrated milk carafe, so I used a Jura Cool Control Automatic Milk Cooler and the included hose that came with the GIGA 5 to make a bevy of milk-based beverages.

Last week I made my go-to drink, a foamy hazelnut latte and was happily surprised by how hot the drink got. Monday morning I had the GIGA 5 pour me a double cappuccino. I needed it! After the caffeine kicked in, it was time to explore uncharted territory. There were 12 more “secret” recipes once I twirled the rotary dial on top. I have to admit, these recipes perplexed me. Were they chosen by an Italian espresso aficionado? Were they chosen by the Swiss manufacturer? Who mixes lemonade and espresso? They did not seem to be targeted to Seattle taste profiles, or at least not my particular taste. However, I did try the recipe for ‘Winter Magic Coffee.’ This turned out to be what I would describe as a Nutella Latte. It was so popular with the SCG Crew that I ended up making 5 drinks back to back.

Sadly, there was no barista gnome inside the Jura GIGA 5 to prepare the drinks. You need to provide your own ingredients. From home I brought my treasured Nutella and used Monin Honey Sweetener although it was sweet enough without it. The GIGA 5 walked me through each step with a series of easy to read screens. I especially liked the final step of each drink I made when the GIGA 5 screen simply said, ‘Enjoy!’

The Jura GIGA 5 “Secret” Drink Menu:

  • Marocchino – espresso, Monin Dark Chocolate Sauce, chocolate powder
  • Pepresso – espresso, Monin Dark Chocolate Sauce, mixed peppercorns (Watch Brandi make this recipe)
  • White Cool – espresso, carbonated lemonade, ice cubes
  • Gourmet Latte Macchiato – espresso, evaporated milk, Monin Irish Cream Syrup (non-alcoholic) or Bailey’s Irish Cream (alcoholic)
  • Irish Coffee – coffee, brown sugar, Irish Whiskey (alcoholic), whipped cream on top
  • Café Melange – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top
  • Viennese Coffee – coffee, vanilla ice cream, Monin Vanilla Syrup and chocolate shavings on top
  • Winter Magic Coffee – espresso, Nutella, honey and a pinch of ginger and cardamom on top
  • Shakerato – espresso, lemons, sugar, ice
  • Mango Lassi – espresso, yogurt, mango puree
  • Red Cool – espresso, carbonated lemonade, Campari (alcoholic), ice
  • Summer Fire – espresso, Monin Coconut Syrup, lemon pepper

Thank you GIGA 5 — we will enjoy!

SCG’s Most Popular Coffee Gear – 2012

Even if you don’t buy into New Year’s resolutions, there’s nothing wrong with thinking about little ways to improve your quality of life and that of those around you. (We know what you’re like without your morning coffee. It’s okay, this is a safe place.) Why not start with a commitment to make better coffee in 2013? Here’s a list our best selling gear from last year to help you get started!

new-years-resolution coaster

Under $500
Saeco Aroma Black – $229 Stainless Steel – $259
Compact and durable, the Aroma is a great entry-level espresso machine. It’s extremely easy to use, and the pressurized portafilter and included pod adapter will have you brewing with E.S.E. pods, pre-ground espresso, or freshly ground beans with ease.

Saeco Via Venezia Black – $299 Stainless Steel – $349
The Via Venezia and Aroma share the same internals therefore they function almost identically, but the Via Venezia offers some slight improvements: larger capacity water reservoir (98 oz), steam wand with more mobility, and more clearance between the drip tray and brew head so you can brew into larger cups. This little workhorse will keep you caffeinated with no problems.

Breville Infuser BES840XL – $499.95
The Infuser is the only espresso machine in this price range to offer an internal PID, and while it’s not programmable, it stabilizes the brew temperature for perfect shot extraction. With built-in pre-infusion, commercial style steam wand, and compact stainless casing, you’ll be proud to have this on your counter top.

Under $1000
Rancilio Silvia – $629 with PID – $879
Simple, reliable, durable. The Silvia is one of the best sellers in the home espresso market and it’s a great machine on which to hone your craft since you’ll need to be precise with your grind and tamp. Upgrade to the installed PID version for programmable temperature control.

Saeco Syntia SS Superautomatic – $849
The Syntia is a compact and stylish superauto that offers the convenience of automatic espresso brewing paired with manual milk steaming – perfect for folks who order extra-hot lattes. With Saeco’s removable brew group and Intenza water filter system, it’s also easy to maintain and a great option for those who need a little extra help in the morning. ☺

Crossland CC1 – $699 (now 10% off!)
A PID comes standard with this single boiler, which let’s you customize brew and steam temperature, pre-infusion time, and volume. We love the stainless steel casing, thermo-block enhanced steam to switch quickly between brewing and steaming, and the programmability for this price point.

Under $1500
Breville Double Boiler – $1199.95
When you’re ready to brew and steam simultaneously, you’re ready for this bad boy. With an easy to use interface, you can program the electronic PID with extraction temperatures, volumetric control, and pre-infusion duration.

Nuova Simonelli Oscar – $1050
If you think you need a dual boiler for simultaneous brewing and steaming, think again. Heat exchangers like the Oscar provide similar benefits at a lower price point. This machine has great steam pressure, a large water reservoir, and is also available as a direct connect machine. It’s available in a sexy metallic red as well – vroom vroom.

DeLonghi 23450SL -$1499.95
This is one of DeLonghi’s newer superautomatics on the market, and if you are a bleary eyed zombie before your morning java, you will appreciate its one-touch functionality. It produces some of the hottest coffee we’ve seen from superautos.

Under $2000
Saeco Exprelia -$1899
This one-touch dual boiler is streamlined and compact, and we love that if offers both one-touch functionality for auto-frothing milk or manual steaming with a stainless steel steam wand – no panarellos here. Right now we are offering a year’s supply of coffee with the purchase of a new Exprelia!

Rocket Cellini Premium Plus – $1799 Giotto Premium Plus – $1899
Hand craftsmanship, a commercial grade E61 brew head and high polished stainless steel seduce many an espresso lover to bring the Cellini or Giotto Premium Plus into their lives. You’ll be extracting delicious shots and impressing all your friends with this one.

Sky’s the Limit
Rocket R58 – $2699
You’re ready to take it to the next level with this powerhouse. The dual boilers work independently to stabilize the espresso boiler, and maximize steam pressure without compromising shot quality.

Saeco Xelsis – $2999 or Xelsis ID – $3199
The only thing missing from these superautomatics is the ability for them to read your mind…coming in 2015 (Just kidding!) Right now you’ll have to be satisfied with the ID’s fingerprint recognition technology to access your drink profile and create beverages at the touch of a button.

Izzo Alex Duetto II – $2250 Duetto III – $2495
This dual boiler has commercial quality components, electronic PID control, and the option to plumb into your water line. It’s new older brother, the Duetto III offers an upgraded fit and finish, larger drip tray, and stainless steel cup rails. Both solid performers can take your java to the next level.

Compare: Rancilio Silvia vs. Breville Infuser

When discussing small home espresso machines that can produce a great shot despite their diminutive frames, the well-known Rancilio Silvia is often compared against Breville’s newer upstart, the Infuser.

While the Silvia features several commercial-grade components backed by a design that is sometimes equated with a tank, the Infuser has features to spare and excellent temperature control. Choosing which one that is right for you is largely a virtue of longevity vs. precision — and price tag. While they’ll produce similar shots at the end of the day, the Infuser is more than $100 cheaper than the Silvia, so if you’re looking for something under $500, it may meet your budget a bit better.

In this video, Gail runs through their features and compares their functionality. Then she demonstrates making a latte on both so you can watch them in action.


Playing with Preinfusion on the Breville Dual Boiler

It’s fun to play with parameters! If you didn’t learn that in the 2nd grade, life has probably been pretty rough for you — but now is your time to shine.

One of the elements you can control on the Breville Dual Boiler is both the pre-infusion pressure and the duration prior to shot extraction. Factory setting is 60% of the overall pump pressure for 7 seconds, but what happens when you change the pressure? Or if you keep the pressure the same and change the timing? Of course, all coffee will react differently to these settings, so we decided to experiment with Equator’s Espresso Blend to see how making changes to this parameter affected the overall flavor of the shot.

Watch Gail try different pressures and different pre-infusion times to determine if the factory settings are the best bet for Equator Espresso.

The Reluctant Barista: Crossland CC1

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it?’ This is my mantra in a sea of professional coffee quaffers. The words crema, micro foam, portafilter and panarello were not previously in my vocabulary. I enjoy any coffee that I don’t have to make myself. And after such a confession, you can now see why I approached the Crossland CC1 with trepidation.

At first glance the Crossland CC1 had a nice compact size for a serious espresso machine. It was not a countertop hog. I flipped the switch on and watched Gail’s video while the machine warmed up. Miranda walked by and gave me a pro pointer: ‘Pre-heat the portafilter in the group head.’ There are two knobs on the front of the machine which I pushed with hilarious results as 202°F water streamed through the empty portafilter and into the drip tray; I’m glad the drip tray had good capacity. I glanced at the water reservoir level, visible from the front, and there was still plenty of water left to try again.

Next, I unfolded my Seattle Coffee Gear cheat sheet and began with renewed hope that I could pull a decent shot my first time out. The included 58mm portafilter felt heavy in my hand as I used an Ascaso grinder that had been dialed in already. The delicious smell of freshly ground Velton’s Bonsai Blend filled me with anticipation. I tamped the fluffy grinds using an Espro calibrated tamper that Teri had told me about. This is a great beginner tool since I am not familiar with what 30 pounds of pressure feels like.

Now, the Crossland CC1 was ready, and so was I. From the menu, I selected the one-cup option (which is programmable) and positioned my lucky cow cup to catch the espresso. What I observed was that more dripped out one side than the other — a rookie mistake! My dosing and tamping skills needed much more practice. Before anyone noticed, I used the knock box to discard my mucky puck. This was user error, not the fault of the machine or the grind. My crema looked alright and the espresso was tasty, but I would not win a barista competition any time soon.

The Crossland CC1 was ready to go for milk frothing with no delay, thanks to a large boiler and thermoblock combination. If you like milk based drinks like I do, this is important because you don’t have to wait long to steam your milk. I scored a chilled stainless steel frothing pitcher from the SCG break room (a magical place where countless cups of coffee are consumed) and filled it 2/3 of the way full.

The tip of the traditional steam wand was just under the milk when I turned the front button to ‘steam’ and turned the dial on the side of the CC1 to inject the milk with perfectly heated steam. It made my milk much foamier, much quicker than I expected. I was impressed! *Procedural Note: I had previously frothed my milk prior to pulling the shot, just like Gail has advised us to do on a machine like this, but Kaylie stole my milk for her latte. Hence the CC1 steamed two pitchers of milk and pulled a nice shot of espresso without hesitation.

Although I did not brag about my first attempt, or even my second attempt the next morning, the CC1 is a great machine to learn on. It felt solid and there were no delicate parts for me to break. It was forgiving of my lack of skill! Imagine what it could do for someone who actually knows how to pull an espresso shot — the possibilities are endless.

Compare: Heat Exchange Espresso Machines

Heat exchange espresso machines offer simultaneous brew and steam functionality by employing a large steam boiler with an embedded brew boiler and a dual pump. They’re easy to use and work well for the majority of home espresso enthusiasts who aren’t interested in dialing in and playing around with different temperatures.

In this video, Gail explains to us what a heat exchanger is and how it works, then talks to us about models from Pasquini, Rocket Espresso and Nuova Simonelli.

Compare: Double Boiler Espresso Machines

It’s time to get serious people.

If you want to make excellent espresso drinks at home, a double boiler machine allows you to demonstrate both your dedication to the cause and your enviable skills. Featuring separate boilers for steaming and brewing, these machines offer excellent temperature control and simultaneous brew/steam functionality.

In this video, Gail talks to us about four different models — the Rocket Espresso R58, Izzo Alex Duetto II, La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi II and Breville Dual Boiler — including their features, pros & cons and why you might purchase one model over another.