Over in the Brown Bean Reviews area, we’ve been adding new product listings and reviews for your research, reading and (hopefully!) reviewing pleasure. If you’re researching any of the below machines, please check them out. If you own one, we’d love it if you could write a user review to help others pick the machine that is right for them — your experiences are priceless.
Semi-Automatic Single Boiler
|Ascaso Uno Pro
Semi-Automatic Single Boiler
|Jura Capresso Impressa Z5
|Quick Mill Vetrano
Semi-Automatic Heat Exchanger (Plumb-in Only)
Look, we’re not joking. Yes, there are a lot of things we poke fun at and crack wise about, but scale build-up in your boiler is absolutely not one of them. And it will never be — oh no, we are deadly serious about this.
Okay, not really, but scale build-up is often underestimated by folks. They think that by using filtered or bottled water, they won’t need to descale their espresso machine, and this just isn’t the truth. While these waters may have other impurities removed from them, they often have the same mineral content (and, in the case of bottled water, it may even be significantly higher, depending on the source) as your tap water. Using distilled water, water put through a reverse osmosis or a commercial-grade water design system like Cirqua are the primary methods for keeping lime and calcium from building up in your espresso machine’s boiler and related water works, but it’s important to note that mineral content in water does play an important role: It contributes to the flavor.
So if you don’t like the way the water from these treatment sources taste, how do you think it’s going to make your coffee taste? We recommend using water you like to drink to make espresso, which will often involve a regular descale to keep everything working well. Scale build-up will symptomatically show up as failure or very slow to heat up, not enough steaming pressure and/or leaking out of the steam wand and the brew head. Here in the Seattle area, we have pretty soft water, but other areas of the country have very hard water — and if you’re pulling straight from a well instead of the municipal water supply, you likely have a high mineral content.
A few months ago, we received a Rancilio Silvia V2 that was a few years old on a trade-in. The owner lived in Southern California and had never descaled the machine, so the guys put it through a commercial level descale just to start it off — high intensity citric acid was pulled into the boiler and allowed to sit overnight. When they came in the next day and rinsed it through, the machine was still exhibiting signs of scale build up, so they decided to crack it open to see if it was something more than scale. What they found is in the pictures accompanying this post — yes, this is scale build-up that was not able to be dissolved by the citric acid over a 24 hour period. The guys cleaned it out thoroughly and now it’s working just fine — and, obviously, this is representative of scale build up using the municipal supply in Southern California and will differ by region — but if the original owner had continued to use it without descaling, eventually everything would have burned out. It was caught just in time, however, so now it has a happy home somewhere else.
Not sure how to descale? Watch Gail descale a Rancilio Silvia and give tips on how to do this on other types of espresso machines.
We’ve all had a few rough mornings where we’re not sure where the floor and ceiling are in relationship to each other, so it’s no surprise that a few of us have had a tragedy occur: Accidentally pouring water into the bean hopper/grinder instead of the reservoir on our superautomatic espresso machine.
If this happens to you, the most important thing is DO NOT USE THE MACHINE. There is nothing that you can do to fix this because the grinder needs to be taken apart and cleaned as soon as possible to prevent it from seizing up. In this video, Gail shows us what happens when water gets into contact with the grinder and gives us advice on what to do — you know, after we’ve run around screaming in panic.
Over on our new resource website, Brown Bean, we have been working hard on putting up editorial reviews of all kinds of espresso machines. We’ll be eventually expanding the reviews to include other kinds of equipment — grinders, accessories, even coffee — but a big part of us being able to provide a full picture of a machine’s performance is to balance our editorial opinion with user reviews like yours.
If you have a Rancilio Silvia, we’d love it if you could take the time to fill out a review on Brown Bean. You’ll have the opportunity to share your experiences, talk about the pros and cons of the machine and indicate whether or not you recommend it.
We currently have a couple dozen machines listed and reviewed up there, so if you don’t have a Silvia and would like to review your machine, check them out to see if there’s a listing. We’re always adding to it, but if your machine isn’t listed, please email us with the make and model and we’ll promptly list and review it if possible, then let you know when it’s ready for your feedback.
Looking forward to learning more about your thoughts on your equipment!
If you’ve just picked up a new grinder or an espresso machine/grinder package and you’re wondering how to get it setup for that perfect shot extraction, check out this video. Gail shows us how to calibrate a grinder with an espresso machine and discusses tips for determining the extraction level and tweaking your puck.
The May issue of our monthly newsletter, The Grind, has hit the bricks! Including the Turkish Dee-Lite recipe, our process for making excellent french press coffee, tips on how to brew a strong shot in a superautomatic espresso machine and a directory of all the recent YouTube videos we’ve done over the last month, May’s news is a sweet little compendium of a lot of the content we’ve shared with you here.
But what you won’t find here is The Grind Special — this month: $10 off the Hourglass Cold Brew Coffee Maker! Get this special and all future specials by signing up.
One of the more controversial topics within the discussion of Alzheimer’s is whether or not aluminum has a causal relationship to the development of the disease. Since the first study in the 1960′s that found higher concentrations of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s than in the brains of people without the disease, scientist have been exploring the influences and attempting to correlate the two, with contradictory results. To this day, there is not conclusive evidence one way or the other, and the medical community is still very uncertain about whether or not the aluminum found at the center of the plaques which they believe to be the cause of the disease are the cause of the plaques or simply a harmless secondary association.
What does a discussion of neuroscience and disease have to do with coffee? Well, many people are concerned about the uncertain and contradictory information on this topic — one that might be close to home to any of you with an espresso machine or stovetop espresso brewer with an aluminum boiler. Since aluminum is part of the earth’s crust and used in tons of products, from toothpastes to antacids to cookware, it’s difficult to avoid it altogether. But the amount of aluminum that might leach into your espresso during the brewing process is relatively minimal, if any, than you would intake normally, so it’s likely not much of a concern.
While the jury is still out on whether or not aluminum is a contributing factor to developing Alzheimer’s, or just coincidentally happens to be along for the ride, you’re probably pretty safe to continue enjoying your delicious espresso — aluminum boiler or not.
When you’ve started up your espresso machine for the first time in the morning, it’s important that you thoroughly warm it up — from the inside out — before you pull any shots. The easiest way to do this is to pull a ‘blind shot’ through the portafilter once your machine’s boiler has reached proper brewing temperature.
What’s a ‘blind shot’? It sounds fancier than it is: Just insert your empty portafilter into the brew group, then initiate your shot. Let the hot water run through to heat up the internal pipes, the brew group head and the portafilter. Incidentally, this is also something you should do if you have machine with an E61 brew group that has been on and sitting unattended for more than 10 minutes.
Remember: Temperature regulation is probably one of the most important aspects of espresso brewing, so take the time to make sure brewing temperature is up to snuff. Otherwise, you’ll end up with poorly extracted, cool, pale shots with little crema.
If you have an espresso machine which features a panarello tip on the steam wand (such as a those from Saeco or DeLonghi), learning how to steam milk to your preference can take a few tries. Here are some tips on how to produce different kinds of milk textures using this type of steam wand:
- Super Fluffy Foam: If you keep the air intake (hole or slit) above the surface of the milk, you’ll create big foam and bubbles.
- Steamed Only: Fully submerge the air intake in the milk to produce steamed milk with no foam.
- Microfoam: Keep the air intake level with the milk, drawing in equal amounts of milk and air.
- Overflow Watch: If your foamed milk is about to overflow from the pitcher but it’s not up to your preferred temperature, simply submerge the wand completely (up above the air intake) and continue to steam.