Creating a silky microfoam can be a challenging enterprise: Even with the higher end prosumer machines we sell, it is arguably the most difficult skill to learn and sometimes takes more practice (and patience!) than folks expect from the outset.
The technique involves infusing the right amount of air and steam at the right pace to ‘stretch’ the milk, ultimately resulting in that wet paint texture that can be used in latte art, if you’ve got the skillz. You rest the tip of the steam wand on the surface of the milk and ‘ride’ it as the milk is slowly expanding with tiny air bubbles and coming up to temperature via the machine’s steam. You’ve got to keep a steady roll going, the bubbles to a minimum and eventually you’ll submerge the wand completely once you’ve achieved the amount of foam you want and need to simply bring it up to temperature.
If you’re anything like us, you probably used your gear’s user manual for one of three things:
To ineffectively swat at flies, yet one day you accidentally killed one and couldn’t bear to keep the gut-stained book around.
To prop up the uneven handmade bookshelf lovingly made by a friend/parent/spouse/sibling/child that never sits right on the wood floor.
To start a fire in the fireplace to enjoy while sipping on a delicious glass of chai spiced wine. (Guilty!)
Or, maybe you just recycled it by accident. Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is that now you have no wisdom to guide you. We created our manufacturer manual repository over at Brown Bean to connect you with the source code. We have manuals for a lot of models both current and historical, so if you’re looking for tips on how to perform maintenance or need to find out what that error code means, check ‘em out.
Don’t see your model there? Leave a comment here and we’ll see if we can’t track it down and add it to the repository.
Seattle Coffee Gear’s monthly newsletter, The Grind, landed in an email box near you today — and if it wasn’t near enough for you to actually read it, you can do so here on the site or make sure you get up close and personal next month by signing up for future editions.
This month, we talk about the different functional types of espresso machines, include a recipe for Indochine Lemon, point you to our manufacturer manual resource on Brown Bean and introduce you to a few new products we have in the store. What you won’t see, however, is The Grind Special, which is for subscriber-eyes-only. Sign up to get that little bit o’ goodness every month.
Navigating the available options in the world of home espresso machines can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Functionally speaking, there are a few different basic variations:
Manual/Lever: With these machines, you are the pump. You grind, tamp and control the pressure during the extraction. You also manage the whole steaming process.
Semi-Automatic: Semi-automatics have 15 – 17 BAR pumps involved, which will settle down to about 9 BARs of pressure if your grind/tamp is accurate. You will grind & tamp, then initiate the shot on and off. Steaming is also up to you.
Automatic: Still grinding, tamping and steaming on your own, but you can program these machines to dose out a specific amount of water, so it will automatically end the shot.
Pressurized Portafilters: Automatic and semi-automatic machines can have a variation that includes a pressurized porftafilter. This makes the machine a little bit easier to use because you don’t have to be super particular about your grind and tamp.
Pod-Friendly: Another variation of semi-automatic and automatic machines are those that allow you to use what is basically a ground coffee version of a tea bag. These single serving pods make for easy, mess-free brewing.
Superautomatic: These machines manage the whole grind and tamp process for you, but on most of them you will still be required to steam your milk. Some of them (usually called ‘One Touch’) provide automated frothing and shot extraction into your cup at the touch of the button; others have an automated frothing system that will froth the milk separately and you can pour it into the cup after it’s automatically extracted.
Capsule: Probably the most simple machine in terms of materials and labor, these guys use a proprietary capsule filled with pre-ground coffee and extract it at the touch of a button — no grinding and tamping. Some of them have automatic frothing options.
We asked Gail to talk to us about these different machines, why someone would want to buy a specific type and why perhaps they wouldn’t want to buy it. Hopefully, this video will function as a good primer for learning the basic functional differences and help you as you research which machine best suits your needs.
DIY lovers are all into the idea of using lemon juice or vinegar to descale their machines, but while the latter will leave a nasty residue and we don’t recommend it for that reason, the former just isn’t concentrated enough to do as an effective job in as an efficient manner as a concentrated citric acid solution like Dezcal. This is what we find out from Gail, plus she makes freaky faces and it’s worth watching just for that.
The final installment of our series comparing different classes of espresso machines is the second part of our reviews on single boiler espresso machines — this time, four models that also feature a three-way release valve. Watch Gail as she talks to us about the features, benefits, similarities and differences between the Rancilio Silvia, Ascaso Uno Pro, Gaggia Baby Class and Quick Mill Alexia.
With a more Italian, ornate design and stainless steel accents, the Gaggia Platinum series of superautomatic espresso machines are stylish and a little more sexy than their Saeco Talea counterparts (but maybe that’s just us!).
Watch Gail as she discusses the Platinum Vogue, Swing, Swing Up and Vision, describing their interface and feature differences and then shows us how to make a latte.
Continuing our series of general comparison videos between different machines in a class, we took a look at some of the lower cost options available on the market. In this video, Gail gives us the basic rundown — pros, cons, likes, dislikes — on a few different single boiler machines, including the Ascaso Dream, Gaggia Color, Francis Francis! X7, Saeco Aroma and Breville Die Cast.
Looking to soften your water a bit without completely removing the mineral content? Try out one of these in-take resin water softeners. Not only are they rechargeable, so they’ll last basically forever, but they easily fit on any machine that uses an intake tube to pull water from the reservoir into the machine — such as the Rancilio Silvia, any of the Quick Mill machines or the Saeco Aroma.
It’s not super sophisticated, but it will reduce the hardness of your water and, in turn, how fast it takes scale to build up in your boiler and related waterworks. You can recharge it by putting it in a glass with water with a few tablespoons of non-iodized and additive-free salt (like kosher) and let it hang out once a week.
If you’re in the market for a machine that kind of does it all, choosing which one is right for you can be a little bit tricky. We asked Gail to walk us through the superautomatics priced in the $899 – $1199 price range and in this video she discusses their features, similarities, pros and cons.