Monthly Archives: April 2010
Steam-driven espresso machines are few and far between these days, especially as folks learn more about ideal brewing temperatures for different coffee preparations. Steam pressure has the bad rap of burning the coffee, and while it will create a nice level of pressure for your espresso extraction, it isn't going to give you those phenomenally complex and sweetly balanced espresso shots a lot of people covet.
But what steam pressure does give you is value: Without an additional piece of equipment in the mix, machines that use steam pressure for their extraction tend to be on the cheaper side of the cost spectrum. Capresso's 4-Cup Espresso & Cappuccino Machine is one such animal: For under $60, you can quickly and easily brew up a few cappuccinos on a daily basis without a lot of fuss or muss.
You'd expect that a machine driven by steam pressure would give you a lot of power when steaming or frothing your milk, and in this machine's case, you'd be right. After we pulled our shots, we let the steam loose and it nearly blew our milk across the room -- thankfully, we realized quite quickly that the steam valve's knob could be regulated for more or less pressure. It produced an okay microfoam (it has a panarello that auto-froths and you have little control over this) very quickly in our 20 oz. milk pitcher, and after we drained all the steam pressure, we guessed we probably could have used a larger pitcher and still had success. The wand isn't super long, however, so bear that in mind.
Quantity over quality
If you ascribe to the more is better school of life, and quantity means more to you than quality, then the fact that you can set this baby up for four shots in one go will be a huge plus.
You're basically working with an enclosed boiling pot of water, a hose and a filter head. Not much to encase here and the machine's size reflects that. Nice and petite for the space-conscious.
We didn't know this was possible, but yes, too much steam can be a bad thing. Especially when it's coming into contact with your arguably very tenderhearted ground coffee. While we pulled four shots in one extraction, the shots definitely tasted on the burnt side and more closely resembled what you get from a stovetop/moka pot than what you'd get off a pump-driven espresso machine. Crema? Forget it.
Because you're working with only steam pressure to get the job done, you have to be careful to release all the built up pressure before you remove either the portafilter or the cap to the boiler. We had a lot of pressure built up after making our lattes, and it was a few minutes before it all released. We had ugly visions of early morning fogs frighteningly punctuated by exploding portafilters, spewing coffee grounds all over the place. Definitely take care to release all of the built up pressure before doing anything with portafilter or opening up the boiler cap.
If you really can't justify spending more than $100 on your espresso machine, or being able to whip up two fairly average cappuccinos quickly is your prime directive, this machine may be your ticket. The espresso results from a pump machine far outweigh the savings that you get with a machine like this, so we'd opt to save our loot and jump right into a machine that is pump driven. However, if you love stovetop/moka pot espresso and you want an easy way to do that in the morning, plus have steamed/frothed milk, this could meet your needs very well.
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!
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.
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.
A little budget-conscious? Who isn't? If you'd like to get your paws on a home espresso machine for under $200, Capresso's Cafe Espresso Machine has a nice feature/value balance that could be an excellent contender. Here's our assessment of this lil' number.
Convertible steam wand
The wand has an easily removable panarello sleeve that incorporates just a small amount of air into the milk, creating a fluffy froth. However, if you want a little more control over it, you can remove the sleeve to reveal a traditional single hole tip steam wand below -- yes, it's black plastic, and yes, it's running off a thermoblock so the steam is on the wetter side, but we were able to produce a silky, wet paint-like microfoam suitable for latte art (theoretically).
If you've got a smaller kitchen where countertop space is at a premium, this little guy has both a tiny footprint and a lot of overhead clearance for cupboards, etc.
The water reservoir is side accessed and easily removable for filling, cleaning, etc. We liked the drip tray's drawer-esque design and the active metal heating plate on top of the machine got pretty toasty, quickly warming cups.
The only way this portafilter could be any more insubstantial is if it was made from paper. Really, does it have to be this lightweight for the price? We're not sure, but we don't think the aluminum, rough-hewn design does the machine any favors. One nice thing, however, is the fact that you can easily convert it between pressurized and non-pressurized via a little metal insert.
While this is good in that it heats up quickly and you don't have to necessarily temperature surf between steaming and brewing, this kind of functionality really does tend to favor the steam side of things and not the brew side. We got great steaming results (even though it took a little longer than we'd like it to), but our shots were either too hot/burnt or too cool/sour. We'll need to play around with it more to dial it in just right, and we were able to produce a couple of shots that were serviceable -- especially if they were going to be mixed with milk.
You manage steam and brew by selecting which function you'd like on the toggle switch, then when the indicator light is green, you flip a dial one way or the other to initiate the shot or open the steam valve. For shot brewing and steaming with the panarello wand, this dial was fine, but we found we needed one more hand to switch off the steam when we were using the traditional wand and trying to keep the milk rolling until we were finished.
Overall, this machine is well balanced for what you pay and what you get. It's not going to win any fetching design awards or power up next to the Silvia and perform neck-and-neck, but it does give you some great flexibility and is easy to use. We love it that you can easily convert the portafilter to non-pressurized and there really are very few machines in this price range (if any?) that give you traditional steam wand functionality in addition to a panarello -- usually, it's either/or and generally it's only the latter. So that is a huge plus for this machine and one of the biggest reasons to consider it.
We don't know about you, but we are more than ready to get our summer on these days. Maybe it was the glimpse of 70F degree whether we had in Anaheim a couple of weeks ago, but we need to either be in the summer season Real Soon Now, or drink enough summery cocktails to delude ourselves into thinking we are in summer. Join us, won't you?
- 8 oz. ice
- 2 oz. Pinot Gris white wine
- 2 oz. white cranberry fruit juice
- 1/2 oz. melon flavored vodka
- 1 oz. Monin Pear Syrup
- Splash o' lemon lime soda
Combine all ingredients except the lemon lime soda and shake to blend thoroughly. Pour into chilled wine glass and top with soda. Garnish with frozen honey dew melon slices, mint leaves, the usual fare.
Keeping your espresso equipment clean is essential to producing consistently excellent shots. Backflushing on the Rancilio Silvia and machines with the patented E61 brew group will definitely address the brew group and screen, but it's still a good idea to take them apart every so often and give them a good scrub down. You'll also need to know how to do this when replacing the brew head gasket, also an important part of regular care and maintenance.
Watch Gail take apart the brew head on the Rancilio Silvia:
Now watch her take apart an E61 brew head:
No, there weren't any wrestlers present, but there was a high concentration of coffee related ninjas on the floor. Last week, we were lucky enough to head down to Anaheim, CA, for the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Main Event, which is a specialty coffee industry educational and trade show that covers everything from coffee growers to roasters to equipment suppliers to mad skilled baristas. This year, it also hosted the United States Barista Championship -- with Mike Phillips of Intelligentsia defending and re-securing his title. He'll be heading out to compete with the rest of the national barista champs from around the world at the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) event this summer in the UK.
But back to the show. We attended a few different lectures, talked with many of our vendors on the trade show floor, watched Midwest Barista Champ Mike Marquard compete in the USBC semi-finals and even headed to a little partay that Intelligentsia, La Marzocco and Espressi (makers of the MyPressi TWIST) were throwing at Intelligentsia's roastery in L.A. Yes, Grammy got her groove on.
In this video, Gail talks to us about what she learned from the lectures we attended, discusses some new products we saw and even shares with us her new love for TWIST-inspired cocktails.
Saeco's newest one-touch superautomatic, the Xelsis, is just about to hit the market in the US and we were able to get a prototype in the store to play around with it! These little ladies are available for pre-order on the Seattle Coffee Gear site and they'll be shipping in early May.
Watch Gail take us through the basic features and show us how to make a one-touch cappuccino:
Arguably one of the best features of this one-touch is that, unlike the other one-touch models available from Saeco or Jura, the Xelsis also comes equipped with a powerful traditional steam wand. This is excellent flexibility if you have multiple coffee drinkers and one of them likes their milk extra hot because the automatic frothing will still make the milk at around the standard 165F. Watch as Gail shows us how the steam wand works:
Acronyms unite! The United States Barista Championship kicked off today down at the Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Anaheim, CA. It'll be going on through the weekend and you can watch it streaming live on their website.
We'll be heading down to the SCAA event this afternoon and will be there for the next couple of days. Very excited to meet new folks, put faces to names and learn from the variety of lectures and labs we're attending. We'll post updates!
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