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The Reluctant Barista: Tackling the Rocket R58 Dual Boiler

58I had an ‘Aha! Moment’ this morning and it changed my whole relationship with espresso prep. Very reluctantly, and only because I was on a deadline, did I approach the Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler. Kat asked me why I was more reluctant than usual to pull shots on this machine and I didn’t have a good answer. Shiami encouraged me and told me that I would love the quality shots an E61 brew group produces.

To start, I frothed a pitcher of milk, which I do regularly on the Rocket Giotto, and the difference between a heat exchanger and a dual boiler became apparent. In the same time it takes me to get a nice velvety microfoam at 150 degrees on the Rocket Giotto, I found the Rocket R58 had gotten up to 170 degrees! There was foam but the higher temperature killed the creaminess. The powerful steam cut frothing time almost in half and I had not adjusted for that fact.

Next, I enlisted Fillmore from the repair department to expertly dial in the grinder. I watched him grind into the portafilter from a Mazzer Mini. He pulled a shot and it was too quick. He adjusted the grind a tick finer, pulled another shot and it was still a little fast. He re-adjusted, then felt the espresso grounds in his hand and they were fine like ground pepper. On the third extraction the shot pulled evenly and within 22 seconds we each grabbed a shot and tasted it. Zoka Organic Espresso Quatro — yum!

As I stared at the shiny stainless steel Rocket R58 with its 58mm portafilter, I was still reluctant to pull my own shots. I recounted all of the variables Gail recommends for a perfect espresso shot: filtered water, the right grind, the correct tamp and a deluxe hand-built Italian espresso machine (just kidding! Kind of…). Finally the answer was clear to me: While I understand how to make espresso, my problem is I can’t tamp!

I love it when Kaylie makes me a latte, I use E.S.E. pods at home and I will occasionally use the new Francis Francis capsule machine for an afternoon pick-me-up. As a result, I have avoided the tamping issue altogether. Aha!

There are benefits to having the entire SCG demonstration arsenal at my disposal. I lined up a tamping mat, a tamper and a knock box. Long overdue tamping practice began and continued until both the Rocket R58 drip tray was full (twice!) from pulling shots and the knock box was full of spent pucks. From this experience I found out the following:

  1. The R58 brew head warning sticker states, ‘Caution Hot Surface,’ and that’s the truth
  2. Pre-warming your portafilter in the brew head yields great results, however it also makes it hot to touch when you tamp
  3. Fillmore’s Pro-Tip: A half flip of the lever allows for a mellow pre-infusion using passive boiler pressure
  4. It is hard to get espresso grounds out from under your fingernails

Many people go through a coffee preparation progression as their taste, budget or skills change. I went from French press to stovetop espresso maker to a small single boiler machine. How do you know when you are ready for the next step, in this case a dual boiler? Identify your comfort level and your ultimate goal. My comfort level had me afraid to tamp, but my goal was a fresher shot. So it turns out that I am ready to upgrade. For now, a heat exchanger model is my next step.

There is a machine for every person though, so who does need a dual boiler espresso machine? For me, the styling of the Rocket line is what an espresso machine ‘should’ look like — I would love to see one on my counter top. Like a heat exchanger, a dual boiler saves time if your preferred drink is milk-based since you can froth and pull shots simultaneously. The R58 in particular can be used with the internal reservoir or plumbed-in for even more convenience. Finally, espresso is all about consistency; with commercial grade parts, dual pressure gauges, a rotary pump and an external PID, the Rocket R58 uses current technology to allow you to pull the best shots you are capable of every time.

Where will your preparation progression lead you? The Rocket R58 Dual Boiler is not a starter machine. When you are ready to take things to the next level though, this espresso machine is one of the very best. Don’t be reluctant to try it!

Cost of Kopi Luwak Leads to Civet Cruelty

Whether you call it Kopi Luwak or Civet Coffee, the java produced through the ‘natural processing’ system (AKA the digestive tract) of this cat-like marsupial from Indonesia has been given high marks (and prices!) in terms of cup quality around the world.

But what many have considered an exotic yet expensive luxury bean is not just costly to the privileged coffee drinker, it recently has become costly to the lives of the producers — the civets themselves.

For those new to ‘cat poop coffee,’ Kopi Luwak ‘is the product in which coffee cherries, the complete fruit of the coffee plant, are eaten by the palm civet cats of the far East, typically in Indonesia. The cats digest the cherries but excrete the inner beans, which are then roasted and brewed as any other coffee bean,’ describes Boughton’s Coffee House.

Historically, these beans were harvested in a natural way — foragers would search the forest floor for civet feces to find these beans. Since finding them was a lot of work and there was an arguably very small supply, it resulted in a high price — a small cup could run between $30 – $50 and a pound of the stuff could cost upwards of $600.

With those kinds of prices and a rise in popularity, however, this novelty bean has been transformed from a happy accident, as it were, into a factory-like production model designed to increase financial gain and meet the worldwide demand. Instead of foraging for the beans in the civets’ natural habitat, they are now caging them and feeding them cherries in order to increase available output.

‘With the sudden rise in popularity, the far majority of legitimate Kopi Luwak coffee sold today comes from grizzly civet cat farms where rows and rows of the enslaved creatures bred specifically for coffee production are kept in small cages and force-fed coffee cherries — ripe or otherwise — until they die,’ states coffeestrategies.com.

This ethically questionable method of harvesting Kopi Luwak has only come to light in the past few years, and there are reports that the average small farmer keeps around 102 civets and collects 550 pounds of processed coffee per month.

Is their flavor worth their high price — in terms of both monetary and ethical concerns? If you’re a fan of Kopi Luwak, it’s something only you can decide … but we think it’s well worth at least a few moments of healthy consideration.

Coffee: A College Student’s Life Line

Before the days — or should I say the long nights — of cramming for tests, writing papers and preparing presentations, I’d never even thought of caffeine as an essential element of balancing my life. But in  my first years of college, I wanted to have fun! And a daily dose of coffee helped me get all my schoolwork done without impacting my ability to hit the dance floor.

From the beatnik vibe of the Solstice Cafe to the hustle and bustle of the University Village Starbucks (one of their busiest shops, even today), my devotion to java ensured I wouldn’t be running on empty before I hit my next lecture.

It’s not that I was before my time or anything, but since I’ve moved from over-caffeinated college student to … er, over-caffeinated working professional, I thought I’d take a look at what the kids are doing these days. Enter this blog from BestCollegesOnline.com, in which they rate the top 25 college coffee shops in the country that keep our future’s creative juices flowing.

Have you been to one of the coffee shops listed? If so, is it worth the press? What was your favorite java joint when you were in college? Please share in the comments below!

Espresso vs. Coffee Beans: Is There a Difference?

When it comes to coffee, many may wonder, ‘What’s the difference between coffee and espresso beans?’ Some people think they are a specific strain of bean, while others think that it’s a particular roast. Ultimately, it’s a blend (or a single origin bean) that stands up well under the high pressure preparation that is the hallmark of espresso extraction.

According to the aficionados at Home-Barista.com, ‘Espresso is almost always a blend of beans…The most basic rule of espresso blending is that espresso must have subdued acidity, be heavy bodied, and be sweet enough to balance the bitter and acidic flavors in the blend.’

To better illustrate how different beans might have different flavors (after all, coffee beans are coffee beans, right?), we’ll discuss some general information on basic coffee plants, tastes by region, post-harvest processing and, finally, roasting.

There are two varieties of plants, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica originated in Ethiopia, is typically grown in higher altitudes and accounts for 75-80% of the world’s production. Robusta, on the other hand, is a lowland coffee species that originated in West Africa. It features greater pest resistance and a generally heartier plant, which results in higher overall yields — but its high caffeine content gives it a intensely bitter and inferior taste. Some very carefully grown and processed Robustas can be found in premium espresso blends, however, as they can improve the crema and body. Additionally, human-initiated cross-breeding of Arabica and Robusta, which attempt to blend the low caffeine content and smoother taste of C. arabica with the heartiness and disease resistance of C. canephora, have resulted in new varietals which are highly adaptable, hearty and commonly used in commercial coffee plantations.

Depending on where they originate, the weather, temperature, altitude and soil contribute to different flavors; you can get a general idea of different tastes by region here.

Another element is how the coffee is processed post-harvest. Processes include natural or dry process, wet process and pulped natural.

Dry processing usually takes place in areas with limited rainfall and lots of sun light. This process allows the coffee cherry to air dry on patios before their skin and the fruit itself is removed from the coffee bean. The bean outcome is usually heavy-bodied, sweet and smooth with subdued acidity. It also can develop more crema during espresso extraction.

The wet process requires the cherries to be sorted in high pressure water tanks which then removes the skin but the fruit stays on the bean while it dries. These beans usually taste cleaner, brighter and fruitier.

Pulped natural uses a combination of the wet and dry processes. Beans grown in areas with low humidity allow them to dry faster without fermentation. The end result is a full bodied bean like those of the dry process, but with the acidity of a bean that has been wet processed. The bean usually is sweeter.

Once the coffee is grown, picked and processed, it’s time for the roast! Roasters create different blends with a specific flavor profile in mind. And, since coffee is an agricultural product that changes every season, they play a little mad science by swapping out different beans in the blend in order to maintain a consistent flavor over time.

Roasting occurs in a Four Stage Process: endothermic, first crack, pyrolysis and second crack. For more information on how different roasts inform the end coffee flavor, check out this handy chart, sourced from Kenneth Davids.

Hopefully, this primer provided you with some insight as you’re selecting a blend for espresso preparation. Got questions? Leave them in the comments and we’ll answer away!

Recipe: Orange Espresso Chocolate Pudding

Zesty orange and a caffeine kick turn rich chocolate pudding into a sophisticated and tantalizing dessert — perfect for your next dinner party, perhaps?


  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 6 oz dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 oz. freshly pulled espresso (or more, to taste)
  • Zest of 1 large orange, finely chopped — about 1 tablespoon
  • 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt


  • Put milk, espresso and orange zest in a heavy medium saucepan, whisk until all is incorporated, set aside.
  • Put egg yolks, sugar and salt in a bowl, set aside.
  • Warm milk mixture; stir occasionally until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  • While waiting for bubbles to appear, whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt until well blended.
  • When bubbles appear in milk mixture, remove pan from heat and whisk a small amount of milk into the egg mixture to lighten it, then slowly whisk in the rest of the warm milk.
  • Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan, place on stove. Warm on medium-low, stir with a wooden spoon until thickened and mixture leaves a trail when you run your finger down the back of the spoon. Remove from stove.
  • Add chopped chocolate and vanilla, whisk until chocolate is melted and pudding is smooth.
  • Pour pudding into 4 ramekins, martini glasses, champagne classes or custard cups.
  • Cool for about 20 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours, overnight is even better.

Recipe: Erin’s Weekly Hometown Recipes

Giving New Meaning to the Phrase ‘Empty Calories’

This infographic from awhile back laid out the different caloric intake of foods and drinks and the required energy output to balance their input, but we recently ran across this blog entry over at World of Mysteries that evaluated and named what they think are the 20 most harmful drinks in the US. Comparing each drink’s sugar content to another not-so-healthy food, they list several drinks that you’d expect to find on there — and painfully outline some coffee drinks as well.

Ever thought about what sucking down 68 strips of bacon would be like? Stop into your local Cold Stone Creamery to find out. Ijole!

Yeah, we’ll stick with our straight espresso shots, thanks.

Better Living Through Chemistry: Caffeine

We get so wrapped up in the cornucopia of flavors it offers that we sometimes forget that coffee is also a drug delivery device. Caffeine is widely consumed around the world and is the stimulant of choice for many folks in the morning to get their day going or for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Like so many things in life these days, the geeks have taken the intake of caffeine to the limit and devised a guide on how to get the most out of it. This is a fun and fact-filled read that will teach you some tips on how to keep your caffeine use high and tight.

Recipe: Amanda’s Espresso Chocolate Pie

If you don’t know by now that we have a little bit of a sweet tooth, then you haven’t been paying attention, baby. In the world of delish desserts, however, we carry a torch for rich chocolate pies with a little bit o’ kick of espresso.

This amazing recipe from Amanda is well worth the work and highly recommended. We’re adding it to our summer picnic menu rotation — and you should, too! Check out the play-by-play on her blog for in depth recipe info and prep photos.

Latte Art Madness

We don’t pretend to be latte artists by any stretch of the imagination, although Gail has pulled off an abstract Snoopy on occasion and Velton can rock a mean rosetta if the moon is in the right phase.

So the art featured in WebUrbanist’s post on 50 Incredible Works of Coffee & Latte Art really blew us away! We love the natural artistry of some of the abstract designs, but we also appreciate a little bit of (assumed) re-working that is apparent in the animals and faces also presented. Really gorgeous — and inspiring!

Hot Blog on Blog Action: The Other Black Stuff

Since spending a nice chunk of time in its rolling hills in our youth (St. Mullins reprazent), we have always had a soft little spot for Ireland. While the coffee scene in the rural areas was non existent, we didn’t really see much of anything going on in the major cities we visited, either, but that was 15 years ago and a lot has changed since then.

There are a few people holding it down for the bean in Ireland, making great strides to bring quality, experimentation and true gastronomic appreciation for coffee to their communities. We love reading the work folks like Colin Harmon (2009 Irish Barista champ) are doing and we stumbled upon the musings of David Walsh via Twitter. His blog, The Other Black Stuff, provides excellent tips, opinion, perspective and experience on a variety of coffee and equipment related subjects — a great read for anyone interested in how coffee is changing in Ireland, but also interesting from a general coffee perspective as well.