Monthly Archives: May 2019

  • Video Roundup: 5/31/2019

    Happy Friday!

    Welcome to another Friday Video Roundup!

    First up, it's a wonderful crew review of the new Jura Z8 from Allie!

     

    Next up, Gail gave us a classic Crew Review of the brand new Rocket Espresso Faustino grinder!

    And finally, an all new Coffee Collaboration from Clementine (with special guest)!

     

    That's all for now! Join us next week for more coffee content!

  • Choosing a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine - Part 1

    Choosing a semi-automatic espresso machine can be hard. With prices ranging from $100 to many thousands of dollars it can be difficult to know what matters. Read on for some helpful tips and info on picking out a new espresso machine!

    Price

    You may be tempted by machines that offer espresso and milk steaming for around the hundred dollar mark. While it's understandable to want to save on a machine, price is actually a good indicator of quality in the espresso machine market. A very inexpensive machine can be a great way decide if you like the taste of espresso, but it isn't likely to last or produce quality beverages.

    We find the sweet spot for first time buyers to be in the $500-$1000 range. There are numerous machines in this price range that offer quality and consistency alongside reliability. Above $1,000 you're mostly paying for more advanced features that give you finer control over your brewing. You may also be looking at more generational machines with components that can last decades.

    While a well researched first time user could certainly get their money's worth out of a high end machine, that $500-$100 range is a good thing to shoot for. Especially because you will need a grinder capable of espresso grinding to go with your machine!

    Pump

    Espresso is brewed by pumping water through a puck of finely ground coffee at 9 BAR. This is achieved with powerful pumps that are generally either vibratory or rotary. Lower end machines often don't have pumps capable of pushing water through at 9 BAR of pressure, so they use pressurized portafilter baskets to make up the difference. These portafilter baskets create additional pressure, but they don't always offer the purest flavor from the grounds.

    If you're just starting our with espresso you may want to practice with pressurized filters, as they are more forgiving of a grind or tamp that's not quite right. However, most espresso drinkers like to quickly move to unpressurized espresso brewing. For that reason, we recommend ensuring your espresso machine will be able to brew with an unpressurized filter.

    On the higher end, pump type comes down to reliability and how long it'll last. An expensive Izzo or Rocket Espresso machine will have a high quality pump that should work for decades. On top of this, they are usually designed so that its easy to work on and replace the pump, whereas less expensive machines might not offer this.

    Latte dripping from a coffee machine

    Boiler Type

    Perhaps the most important part of a semi-auto espresso machine is the boiler and heating element. All other things being equal, this is the thing you'll notice the biggest difference in in terms of usability. The obvious thing to consider here is boiler material. A sturdy stainless steel boiler in the Izzo espresso machines offered on SCG will last decades without a hint of leaking. However, this isn't necessarily a must have element of your first espresso machine. One thing you should consider carefully is how the heating element works, and how this effects heat up time.

    A traditional single boiler design can take many minutes to warm up, which often means you'll want to turn the machine on well before brewing, or leave it on (always check your manual before leaving your machine on for long periods. Many aren't designed for this). On the flipside, the thermocoil heating element in a Breville Bambino or Barista Pro can heat up in seconds. This is also important for milk steaming, as you'll need a lot of heat to steam a whole pitcher of milk. Stronger, faster heating elements help you to complete this process quicker.

    Again, on the higher end, you can purchase machines with multiple boilers. These kinds of machines allow you to steam milk and brew at the same time, as each process pulls from a different boiler. While this is extremely convenient and worth it for power users, it's absolutely not a thing you should get hung up on with your first purchase.

    What's Next?

    Next week we'll dig into more of the nuances with picking out a semi-auto espresso machine, such as PID controllers, control mechanisms, interfaces, and more.

  • Video Roundup: 5/24/2019

    We've got tastings, reviews, and collabs for you this week in our video roundup!

    First up, Nicole, Allie, and Clementine tasted some coffee from one of our newest roasters, TOCA!

    Next, we've got a commercial crew review of the Rocket Boxer Timer with John.

    Finally, it wouldn't be Friday without a new Coffee Collaboration with Clementine!

    That's all for now! Enjoy your weekend!

     

  • Water Filtration and Why It Matters

    Water filtration is a big, complex subject, but one that really matters! Mineral content in water is the number one killer of espresso machines. With this in mind, it's extremely important to properly filter and read your water. Using hard tap water can lead to premature limescale buildup. This can cause real damage to your machine in the worst case, and will at least demand more frequent maintenance.

    There is, however, good news! Thanks to chemistry there is a whole world of resources to help you use the perfect water with your machine. So where does it start?

    Water Hardness

    Filtration starts with the source of the water. Depending on your location and the quality of your water, filtering it can be more or less of a strain. Most espresso machines come with test strips that help you determine your water hardness. Hardness refers to the level of minerals in your water. For water that has higher lime content, you'll need to change filters more frequently.

    Many machines actually offer helpful tracking of your filters based on hardness. Jura, Saeco, Breville, and others all track when you install a filter, and what your water hardness is. From there, the machine will remind you when its time to change the filter. Many of these machines do this simply over time, but there are some machines that even read the amount of water that comes through the filter. These machines allow you to track when you should change the filter more exactly.

    The main way the above manufacturer's filters differ is in how you pick them. Jura's Clearyl filters have plastic parts that match the receiving parts on the tank. From there you can determine if you need a white or blue filter. In the case of Saeco, they offer a single AquaClean across their currently supported line of machines, making filtration easy. Finally, Breville offers two simple filters that are easy to tell the difference between.

    But what if your machine doesn't offer a proprietary water filter?

    Bottled, Pre-filtered, and More

    In many cases, if you don't have a smart filtration system you'll want to pre-filter your water. Not all filters are created equal, so it's a good idea to check the hardness of your filtered water carefully as well. Based on this hardness, you can determine how safe it is to use pre-filtered water to fill the tank of your espresso machine. Some manufacturers, like La Marzocco, suggest that if your water is too hard, use bottled water. Using bottled water isn't as simple as using spring water though, as certain bottled waters can have high mineral content as well.

    Make sure you check the bottled water you use. If you're not sure a brand should be used in your machine, contact the manufacturer for the ultimate yes or no answer.

    It's important to remember that water filters must be changed and maintained too. Whether using a smart filter or pre-filtered water, make sure that you change your filters regularly. Water run through an expired filter could be too hard, causing real maintenance issues for your machine. In the case of certain E61 Grouphead machines, at home descaling can actually damage your machine. For this reason you'll need to take it to a technician for its regular maintenance. By properly filtering your water you'll have more time between those descalings!

    On top of all of this, filtered, fresh water just makes better coffee. By using the best possible water, you eliminate that variable from the brewing process, and allow the coffee to truly speak for itself. So make sure your filters are fresh and your water is clean today!

  • Video Roundup: 5/17/2019

    Welcome back to another video roundup!

    This week we've got a Commercial Crew Review of a barista favorite, some Breville tips and tricks, and a new Coffee Collaboration with Clementine!

    First up, Gail offered up some Barista Pro tips!

    Next, John gave us a Crew Review of the fabulous La Marzocco Linea PB.

    Finally, it's another delicious (or is it?) Coffee Collaboration with Clementine!

    That's all for now! We hope you enjoy and we'll see you next week!

  • Introducing: TOCA Coffee

    TOCA Coffee is a brand new roaster to SCG coming all the way from New Jersey! This roaster is available in coffee shops across that state and in New York, and has an excellent reputation for quality. TOCA is a family business, with a deep dedication to providing high quality coffee. Obvious as that may sound, this roaster's commitment to quality is notable in the ways it informs the roasting process, and it shows in the roasts! TOCA's blends offer a balance and drinkability that doesn't sacrifice interesting notes. This is an exciting prospect for any coffee drinker that is interested in exploring a wider range of roasts but doesn't like more challenging, intense coffees. On the flipside, TOCA's single origins maintain the sense of adventure you'd expect from that style of roast.

    Maya Blue

    This blend of Latin American beans tastes darker than you'd expect from a medium roast. The result is coffee that is approachable for fans of lighter coffee that maintains a smokier flavor. We're impressed by this blend in a drip/filter brew.

    Halcyon Days

    This blend offers a brighter take on blends than what you might be used to. Full of brighter citrus and sweet notes, Halcyon Days also brings a smooth body with just enough acidity. Perfect for a range of brew methods, this blend of Ethiopian and Sumatran beans is a great place to start for fans of lighter roasts.

    Amasia Espresso

    No roaster's catalog is complete without a delicious espresso blend! Amasia is so named in reference to colliding tectonic plates bringing the Americas and Asia together in the distant future. This inspiration comes from the blend's mix of Sumatran, Guatemalan, and Brazilian beans. The result is a sweet, syrupy set of notes with smokey undertones, perfect for espresso!

     

    We hope TOCA's roasts tickle your tastebuds for years to come. Check out their full catalog here!

     

  • Espresso Machine Maintenance

    One key element of owning an espresso machine is maintaining it. This means regular cleaning and maintenance. We get a lot of questions about how often one should backflush and descale, so we wanted to talk a little bit about that here! We'll start with more frequent maintenance like cleaning the grouphead and backflushing, then get into descaling.

    A lot of your cleaning schedule will revolve around usage. If you brew multiple drinks per day, you'll want to clean more frequently. For the purposes of this article we're assuming you make 1-3 drinks per day. Another thing to note is that we're keeping this general. Most machines, from Brevilles and DeLonghis all the way up to Rockets and Izzos will require the maintenance outlined here. You should, of course, take the guidelines of the manufacturer into account when planning maintenance! We're also catering this piece for those with semi-automatic machines. Superautomatics have more guided cleaning cycles, but we'll talk more about maintaining them in future posts as well!

    Daily and Weekly Cleaning

    One easy to do thing that will keep your machine making great espresso day to day is to ensure that your portafilter and the screen in the brew group is free of coffee grounds. This means giving your portafilter a quick wipedown after every shot, ensuring it is dry and clean. You should also run a quick rinse of water through the screen after each shot before you reattach the portafilter. Simply start a brew cycle and stop it to push some water through. This clears and grounds that may have clung to the screen during brewing. It's also VERY important to purge the steam wand whenever you steam milk! This is as easy as turning the steam on outside of milk after you finish steaming. This will clear any milk that gets sucked back into the wand during steaming. You'll want to be sure to completely wipe off any stuck on milk as well. As always, when handling the steam wand, be careful not to touch a hot wand or the steam it produces.

    You will also want to perform regular backflushing of the grouphead. Backflushing is done by using the blind basket (the one with no holes!) in your portafilter along with a little bit of water and/or backflush detergent. You'll then run a backflushing cycle, which differs from machine to machine (your manual should explain how to do this). It's worth it to backflush with water every day or two, but detergent backflushing is only needed every 1-3 weeks depending on use. A busy cafe might backflush with detergent daily, but this isn't necessary for home use.

    It's also worth using a grouphead brush to scrub the grouphead every week or so. This can free and clingy grounds and keep the screen clean. These tools make this easy, but a used toothbrush or other small, handheld brush can work to clean the screen too.

    Descaling and Steam Wand Cleaning

    The two maintenance items you'll perform less frequently are thorough cleaning of the steam wand and descaling. The former involves using a milk system cleaner with your machine's steam wand to clean out any milk gunk stuck inside the wand. This process can vary from system to system, so refer to your manual and the cleaning product's guidelines to clean it properly! This process should be performed every month or two on your espresso machine. Soaking the steam tips in a cleaning solution like the one above in this timeframe can also keep your steaming system fresh! Just be sure to fully wipe down and purge the wand to ensure no cleaning solution ends up in your latte!

    Descaling is, of course, one of the most important things to stay on top of to maintain your machine. You can descale with a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar, or with a dedicated descaling cleaner. To descale, you'll want to run the water/cleaner mix through the machine until you've pulled through about a cup of water. This allows the mix to fill the boiler and pipes of the machine. Next, you'll shut of the machine for 20 minutes to an hour. This will give the solution time to remove the limescale buildup inside the machine. Next, run about a quarter of the reservoir through the brew head and the steam wand, then shut the machine off for another 20 minutes. Finally, run the rest of the reservoir through the machine, and then run two or more reservoirs of clean water through the brew head and the steam wand. In the end you'll have a freshly descaled machine!

    It should be noted that some machines should NOT be descaled by anyone other than a professional technician. This is true, most notably, of Rockets. A quick search for your machine + descaling should help you determine if its safe to descale your machine at home. This is a process that should be performed every 3-6 months. The main factors affecting time between descales are how frequently you use the machine and the hardness of the water you run through it.

    We hope this look at normal maintenance is helpful for you! By adhering to a simple schedule like this you can keep your machine running in great shape for many years.

     

  • Video Roundup: 5/10/2019

    Hey coffee fans!

    We have a couple of new videos to share with you this week!

    First up, John took a look at the Curtis GSG Commercial grinder!

    Next up, we tasted our Roast of the Month, from Intelligentsia!

    Be sure to check out or YouTube page later today for the newest Coffee Collaboration with Clementine!

  • New Product: Jura Z8

    Last week we took a look at the Jura D6, but that's not the only new Jura machine! The Z8 is a high end machine with an extensive featureset that justifies its high price point. So what sets this machine apart from its sibling machines?

    Connectivity and Performance

    The Z8 takes the stellar performance of Jura's existing machines and adds in a whole lot of connectivity and ease of use features.

    The most noticeable addition is the 4.3 inch touchscreen. This display is clear and concise, and reminds us of a high quality mobile device. The interface is extremely clear and easy to use, giving you a huge degree of control over your drinks.

    This machine also features smart visual touches like a blue-lit water tank, smart tracked filtration, and one-touch options for your favorite drinks. On the whole the Z8 offers 21 drink recipes, most of them with a high degree of customization.

    The Z8 also connects to Jura's J.O.E. mobile app, giving you control of this machine via bluetooth.

    None of this would matter if the machine didn't perform, but thankfully, the Z8 does. Using Jura's P.E.P. brewing process, this machines brews hot, well extracted espresso. The Z8 also steams impressive milk using the included cappuccinotore.

    Overall, this is a strong machine operating at the top end of the superautomatic price range. Check out the Z8 on Seattle Coffee Gear right here!

  • Roast of the Month: Intelligentsia Illumination Blend

    It's time once again for Roast of the Month! We like to celebrate a coffee each month that brings something especially unique, enjoyable, flavorful, or special in some other way. We're excited to highlight Intelligentsia this month with their new Illumination Blend!

    Satisfying and a Little More Than Simple

    We often feature single origins here, but we really like to bring you a blend when we can! So many roasters have a "signature" or "seasonal" blend that we don't get that many wholly new ones in. This month we really grew a soft spot for this one from Intelligentsia, so we wanted to make sure you give it your attention!

    A lot of blends focus on getting classic coffee flavors going right at the top. This isn't a bad thing, we happen to like "classic," but seldom does the blend arrive that evokes the more diverse flavors of a single origin. This blend of Ethiopian and Peruvian beans is one of those rare exceptions! While it does offer balance and richness alongside just enough of a chocolate note, this blend goes a bit further.

    The first thing you might be surprised by is the tarter cranberry note. This forward tart note then blends with a satisfying sweet citrus flavor. This mix of tastes gives this roast a delicious profile on its own, and mixes with the rich sweetness of molasses for a truly satisfying mix of notes. All of this flavors combine with a little bit of bitterness and chocolate to round out the roast and give it some balance.

    Brew Methods

    This is also one of those roasts that works in a wide variety of brew methods. A pourover will separate and amplify the brighter, sweeter notes and blend them with that tart cranberry nicely. A drip brew will provide more balance and bring out the "coffee" notes a bit more, with a press intensifying the richer notes. Finally, an espresso will lend a rich, syrupy quality that highlights the sweeter bits.

    No matter the brew method, we're sure you'll find this roast to be a treat! Check it out here today.

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