Make Coffee You Love!

  • Differentiating Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

    Let’s be honest, Semi-automatic espresso machines can get pretty similar in the looks department. While coffee nerds like us spot the subtle differences in design on some of the higher end machines, it can be hard to know what sets machines apart from one another. Let’s look at the differences that can arise on the inside and the outside!

    Internals

    As you might guess, one of the most important points of comparison on these boxy coffee machines is what’s on the inside. That metric is pretty wide-reaching! The biggest thing most people consider on the inside of a machine is the boiler. While not something you’ll see the difference in when looking at the machine, boiler design is one of the most important things for an espresso machine. First there’s design, from heat exchangers to multi-boilers, there are many kinds of boilers. We won’t get into every specific about these designs, but there are lots of resources to help you determine the cost to value ratio in the boiler department.

    Next up is boiler material. Copper, stainless steel, lined aluminum, there are many materials that manufacturers use for boilers. Since this is a direct example of material cost, the differences in pricing make a lot of sense fairly intuitively. One thing to keep in mind is that any reputable espresso machine manufacturer is going to use food safe components in their boiler designs. You’re not going to find boilers that seep harmful material into drinks on Seattle Coffee Gear!

    Other internal components are things like pumps and thermostats, control boards, tubing and water lines, and case frame. These elements range from simple material considerations to more technical items like PID Controllers vs. traditional thermostats. Generally, when something has a unique or notable component, it’ll be called out in the item’s description. In this way, you can rely on guidance from the retailer to understand what makes the machine tick.

    Externals

    External elements are very important to machine differentiation and the easiest piece of the puzzle to notice with the naked eye. The most obvious part of this is visual design. Is the machine appealing to look at? Because with the size of many espresso machines you’ll have to leave it out on your counter. 

    Also of importance is control design and feel. Many high end Italian machines have very similar knobs and levers for controlling the machine. With that said, how those controls actually feel to use are a different story. We’ve handle many fancy looking machines that have levers and knobs made of cheap plastic. On the flip side, there are some gorgeous machines out there with wood knobs and lever touch points that are a dream to use. None of that matters though if the controls don’t have good movement. A brew lever that’s too stiff or a knob that feels cheap to turn are not fun to deal with. It’s important to note that many machines do have a break in period before their controls feel their best. For this reason it’s best to get a demo on a machine that’s seen some use if you can!

    Finally, there’s case material. This is a pretty simple element, but whether the case is plastic, steel, or some other material really matters for longevity and machine quality.

    So there you have it! There are many points of comparison on espresso machines even if many look like big coffee boxes. The key takeaway here is that you really should look at the inside of the machine as much as at its casing to understand what sets two machines apart.

  • Hey Coffee Fans!

    With school starting and many parents helping their children to access a virtual classroom, we thought it would be a good time to look at ways to simplify your morning cup of coffee! 

    There are a few techniques that can help you cut down your time to coffee in the morning, no matter what brew method you choose. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite ways to do this!

    Workflow

    We’ve talked at length about workflow in the past, and it’s important here as well. Making sure you have access to your coffee, grinder, and brewing equipment is the key to a quick cup of Joe. This means setting up a dedicated workspace for brewing your coffee if you can. You should also identify the passive elements of your brewing that can take the longest. Do you brew pour over? Makes sure you start heating your water as a first step. Drip fan? Consider placing your filter in the basket the night before. 

    Another great way to speed up your brewing process is to portion coffee ahead of time. Taking 10 minutes to prep pre-weighed coffee is a great way to save a few extra minutes while you prepare your brew! You can also fill your drip brewer’s water tank the night before to cut that step from the drip brewing process.

    Method

    To really hone in on brewing faster coffee, you might want to take a look at your brewing process. Slow, hands on methods like pour over are not the quickest option. You might want to consider switching to something like drip or press brewing, two “set it and forget it” methods. In the case of drip brewing, all you have to do is load up the water and grounds and push a button. Five minutes later, you’ll have delicious coffee!

    Similarly to drip brewing, for a coffee press you just load in coffee and water and set it to steep, ready to press later. You can even take your press around with you to have your coffee the second it’s finished steeping.

    Of course, for rapid morning coffee there’s nothing faster than a superautomatic espresso machine. Superautos give you delicious coffee with just a few button presses. What’s more, you can even make lattes and cappuccinos in a super automatic with a milk steaming system. Many of the best superautomatic espresso machines even steam milk automatically!

    We hope these methods and ideas help you get your coffee just a tad bit quicker this school season. Stay safe!

  • Video Roundup: 9/11/20

    Hello coffee fans,

    We have three new videos for you this week, a fun one, an informative one, and one that's a little bittersweet. Let's jump in.

    First, Ariel continues her adventure through delicious drink recipes with an Iced Peppercorn Latte!

    Next up, Allie gave us a full rundown of everything you need to know about burrs:

    And finally, we have a bittersweet, but very special message from Gail:

    We're sad to see Gail go, but wish her all of the best in her further adventures.

    That's all for now coffee fans, stay safe, stay healthy, and we'll see you next week!

  • Using Your Summer Leftovers

    We’ve all been there, sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach when it comes to coffee. Who wants to miss out on that natural Ethiopian? Do you really want to wait until next year for your favorite seasonal blend to come back? And maybe there’s something experimental and awesome you just have to try. But here you are, with loads of coffee that is losing its freshness. So what’s the solution? We’ve got a couple in mind!

    Batch Brewing

    The first way to use that leftover coffee is to brew it! Batch brewing means brewing a large batch of coffee at once. While there are some delicious and easy to use ways to brew a large amount of hot coffee at once, you probably don’t need a commercial drip brewer for everyday use. Considering that, cold coffee batch brewing is the way to go!

     

    With a Toddy Cold Brewer you can brew quite a lot of cold brew concentrate at once. From there you can refrigerate it for up to two weeks and have delicious cold brew every day. You could also batch cold brew lots of coffee and bottle it for your friends! One of the ways that you can really squeeze every last bean out of a bagged roast is to blend singles and blends yourself before brewing. Look for coffees with notes that will compliment each other, like chocolatey Colombians and rich berry tasting Ethiopian coffee. 

     

    Blending coffee like this is a fun way to experiment, and you may find you like it even with the freshest of the fresh roasts! For some ideas for preserving that coffee, read on!

    Coffee Preservation

    If you don’t want to brew it all at once, there’s always preserving it. While your mileage may vary with the existing freshness of the coffee, an airtight container can do wonders for freshness. Coffee stored like this can taste close to how it does right after opening it for months, giving you more time to enjoy it. 

     

    You can also freeze coffee to get a little more freshness. While this may not do much for coffee already at the end of its life, setting some aside to freeze from a fresh bag is a great idea. One thing to note, however, is that some drinkers might taste a difference in flavor with a frozen coffee, but not everyone will.

     

    Let us know if you have any tips for using your coffee leftovers!

  • Video Roundup: 9/4/2020

    Hey coffee fans!

    It's another Friday, so time for another Video Roundup! We've got three very different videos for this week so we hope there's something for everyone!

    First up, Ariel made a Blueberry Basil Shakerato:

    Next we've got a sneak peek of the DeLonghi Stilosa:

    Finally, for our commercial readers, John gave a run down of the Rocket Commercial Brewhead Tune-Up Kit.

    That's all we've got for now! Enjoy the long weekend!

  • Brewing Espresso On a Budget

    Can you brew up a latte or americano with machines available for under $100? There are certainly options to do so, but the results you’ll find ten to be just a little bit mixed. Let’s take a look at some of the best ways to go about pulling shots on a budget:

    DeLonghi Stilosa EC260

    The Stilosa is DeLonghi’s newest machine offering that seeks to bring real espresso in a small footprint and at a very low price. DeLonghi has long been a producer of affordable espresso machines that try to cut costs in the right places, and the Stilosa is perhaps their best example of that yet. With a stainless steel boiler, compact case, and simple controls, the Stilosa is a good place to start, but what are the drawbacks?

    For starters, there’s the look and feel of the case. This is the key area where DeLonghi has helped bring costs down. With mostly plastic casing, it might feel a bit cheap to some. This is easy to forgive given its $99 price point however. 

    The other issues with the Stilosa come from its portafilter. For starters, like many affordable machines, the Stilosa lacks the pressure regulation to make non-pressurized portafilter baskets a viable option. This means you’ll be working with pressurized baskets. While baskets like these can still pull a tasty shot, it can be tough to effectively dial in a really tricky single origin or light roast on a pressurized basket. 

    The other issue is the size of the basket. Because of the smaller basket size, it’s tough to brew more than standard Italian 7oz shots. This can be a frustration when trying to brew up your 20oz latte. 

    On the topic of milk steaming, it’s also worth noting that the Stilosa’s panarello wand makes steaming easier, but less precise. You might be able to get a tasty latte out of it, but steaming dry enough for a traditional cappuccino or steaming for latte art might be out of reach.

    Ilsa Stainless Steel Neapolitan Coffee Maker

    Stovetop coffee makers ride the line between espresso and something entirely different. They use steam pressure (or a unique gravity brewing technique in the case of the Ilsa) to brew a pressurized “cup” of coffee that is somewhere between a percolated coffee and an espresso. While the science behind the brew method is different, the result is coffee that bears quite a lot of similarity to espresso.

    The downside here of course is that it’s not espresso, and doesn’t come with a good way to steam milk. WIth that said, if you like the taste of stovetop coffee and prefer americanos (or pick up a separate milk frother), stovetop espresso can be a great option.

    The part of this equation that we’ve left out entirely is a grinder. While a basic brew grinder might get you close enough to espresso grounds to work with the Stilosa, you’ll really want a dedicated espresso grinder. The Eureka Mignon Notte is a great starting point in this department, but it is more expensive than either of these machines that we’ve outlined.

    So the answer then is that while you can get an acceptable espresso with a machine under $100, it comes with some caveats. 

  • Brew Ratios

    Most at-home coffee enthusiasts know that the gold standard brew ratio for a pot of coffee is 1:16 coffee to water. This means that if you use 10 grams of ground coffee you’ll want to use 160 grams of hot water for brewing. The reason for this has to do with extraction. Coffee to water ratio is one of the three key ingredients for brewing great coffee. The others, of course, are water temperature and grind size.

    With all of that in mind, are there times that you might want to stray from that 1:16 ratio? 

    Alternative Brew Ratios

    For drip and pour over coffee, 1:16 will create the gold standard cup of coffee that really exemplifies the roast that you’re using. It’ll be the best way to tease out the flavor notes on the bag and generally offers the flavor agreed upon as ideal. That said, everyone’s tastes are different. If you brew up a new bag and find that it tastes too strong, you can try a 1:17 ratio. This will “water down” the coffee, but it may create a flavor more conducive to your taste buds. 

    The reverse of this is true too. If you like your new roast but wish it were just a stronger flavor, by brewing at a 1:15 ratio you’ll find a stronger flavor. The issue is what flavors this will tend to bring out. A weaker ratio may water down some of the more delicate, gentle notes that make a coffee unique. By contrast, brewing a roast stronger may not intensify your favorite notes.

    Ratios for Different Brew Methods

    While all of the above applies to drip, pour over, and press brewing, espresso is a different world entirely. There’s certainly a lot of ways to express a brewer’s touch on pour over coffee, but espresso offers another level of experimentation. Generally, you’ll want to start with a 1:2 ratio of coffee to water for espresso. With that said, the variability of espresso flavors by slightly modifying parameters is quite pronounced. 

    The goal with espresso shots is to brew something smooth without any bitterness or sour notes. To do this, you have to careful balance grind level, shot time, and ratios. Many easy to dial in blends will work best at that 1:2 ratio with a 20-30 second shot time. The variable will be your grind size, which you’ll adjust to hit those parameters. But then there’s the trickier single origins.

    While that 1:2 ratio and 20-30 second pull time is a good baseline, we try coffees better suited to experimentation all the time. These usually come in the form of single origins. In some cases, a longer pull will draw out some of the sneakier flavor notes in a single origin. On the flip side, using more coffee and less water can drastically alter the profile of the shot.

    The important thing when experimenting with espresso is to make very small adjustments. Jumping to a 1:1 ratio will have a pretty significant impact on shot flavor. This may result in a better shot, or one especially suited to combining with milk. That said, we usually recommend experimenting with pull time and grind size before adjusting ratios. This is partly because there’s a limit to the amount of coffee you can make work in a portafilter on both sides of the equation. 

     

    Hopefully this look at brew ratios has given you some ideas for where you’d like to take your next espresso shot or pour over!

  • Video Roundup: 8/28/20

    Hey coffee lovers!

    It's time for another roundup of the videos we've been hard at work on this week here at Seattle Coffee Gear. We've got tips, a recipe, and a review for you this week, so let's dig in!

    First, Ariel showed us how to make an iced espresso lavender tonic!

    Next up, Allie showed us how to dial in AKA Coffee's FTW blend:

    And finally, it's a review of the Oxo Brew coffee maker with Jake!

    That's all we've got in the pot right now, but we'll be back next week with a new set of videos for you!

  • Coffee Acidity

    Ah acid, it’s a constant topic of conversation for some coffee drinkers, and we can understand why. The acidic flavors in coffee are one of the reasons people love this drink so much. From bright citrus and fruity flavors to sparkling notes that dance across your palate, those acidic flavors are enticing for a lot of coffee fans. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have to avoid acid for health or taste reasons. The issue is that sometimes the flavors we associate with acids and the actual acid content in a cup of coffee do not correlate at all. So what’s the deal?

    The Chemisty

    Acid content in a cup of coffee plays into flavor extensively. In fact, it’s a careful balance. Too much acid leads to sour tasting coffee. If the acid content is too low, the coffee will have a flat, uninteresting taste. Striking that balance is key. The first thing to understand here is that there are multiple kinds of acids at play. Malic, citric, and tartaric acid (along with some other acid compounds) all add unique flavor to the roast. There are also chlorogenic acids, which break down into quinic and caffeic acids. These acids come out during the roasting process, and cause bitterness and a sour flavor. This is why darker roasts tend to be more bitter.

    This means that your first step is in determining what acids you want to avoid. From there, you can make informed judgements about acid content based on factors of the coffee’s production.

    Origin, Variety, Process

    As you (hopefully) know, coffee is a plant! This means that its nutritional content largely comes from the contents of the soil it draws nutrients from. This means that origin plays into coffee acidity very much. Different origins have soil with different acid contents, so if you know that Colombian coffees tend to be grown in soil with higher citric acid contents, you can assume a Colombian coffee will contain more citric acid than an Ethipiopian coffee. 

    Then there’s variety/species. Arabica coffees tend to be lower in acidity than Robustas, for example. From there different varieties will have their own differences in acidity. Climate and elevation can also play into the equation, with cooler climate coffees tending to be higher in acid content due to their slower development.

    FInally, there’s processing. 

    Washed processing, for example, leads to more acidic flavors. This is because the pulp of the cherry is washed from the bean, so those fruity compounds don’t dry into the bean. This is why washed coffees tend to taste a bit more sparkly and balanced without that sweetness to overpower the acid. This is not a change in the overall acid content however, just perceived acidity. 

    Brewing

    You can also affect acidity with your brew method. Since coffee extraction is the chemical process of water bonding with molecules in the coffee grounds, it plays a big role in determining overall acidity in your cup. How does this translate to your recipe? 

    To get a lower acid cup, you’ll want a finer grind time, longer brew time, and lower water temps (but still in the 195-205 fahrenheit range). This lengthier extraction time will allow acids to release during brewing, leading to a less acidic cup. For more of that sparkling acidity, simply reverse those parameters.

    In the end though, there’s no way to completely eliminate acids from coffee. The best you can do is make informed guesses as to acid content. 

     

  • Hot-Blooming Cold Brew

    If you’re here at the Seattle Coffee Gear blog we’re betting you know a thing or two about cold brewed coffee. This method of brewing has become incredibly popular over the last decade or so, and with good reason. Cold brewing coffee leads to fantastic extraction of flavor notes by slowly brewing coffee with the simplicity of overnight saturation. Did you know that you can tease even more flavors out of your cold brew with a neat trick? Follow along to find out!

    The Bloom

    If you’re a pour over drinker you’re familiar with the bloom. This is the part of the pour over process where you add water to your grounds, often around 1:1, to start the extraction and release gas from the grounds. You’ll see the grounds bubble as those gasses are released. This is an important step that is one of the reasons brewing pour over results in more distinct, smooth flavors than an old drip brewer.

    Cold brewed coffee already eliminates a lot of the bitterness that can come with coffee by nature of its slow-brew process. To get an even smoother, more complex flavor, you can bloom your cold brew coffee as well!

    How-To

    To do this, you’ll need to heat up some water to brew temp. For the very best flavor, you’ll want filtered water heated to 195-205 degrees fahrenheit. Once you have this water heated, add the hot water to your coffee grounds at a ratio of 1:1. You’ll want to let the coffee bloom for around a minute, which will release those gasses and flavors mentioned above. From there, simply add the rest of your room-temp or cold water and set your cold brew to saturate overnight!

    The resulting coffee will be smoother and more flavorful than your typical batch cold brewing. This technique works especially well for naturals and honeys that have a stronger flavor. If you think about this, it makes sense that brews that work best as pour over will also perform better using this method. It should be noted that this method of hot blooming your cold brew can add a very minimal amount of acidity to your coffee, but it’s something most coffee drinkers won’t even notice. It’s just something to keep in mind if you specifically need to keep your acids as low as possible.

    Conclusion

    In conclusion, Hot blooming your grounds before you set your cold brew to steep can add flavor and depth to your caffeine concentrate. Give it a try and see how you like it, and let us know how it goes!

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