Author Archives: Sam
Let's be honest, I am not engaged in an epic battle with Breville ... it is not even a minor skirmish; in fact, I don't have a problem with Breville at all. Here’s what I truly love about all Breville espresso machines: They are easy to use and they make you feel like a rock star right out of the gate. Breville machines give me warm fuzzy feelings along with a good shot of espresso. The espresso shots are not going to be life changing (like that one time you found a small café and the barista’s skill blew your mind and now you can't remember where it was or if it was just a caffeinated waking dream). But! They are always going to be really good espresso shots every time. No wasted espresso, no wasted effort.
So while I did 'borrow' the instruction booklet from Rachel in Customer Service, I already felt as if I knew my way around the Breville Barista Express automatic espresso machine. I quickly whipped up a few shots of Velton's Bonsai Blend espresso to sip and then a caramel latte to check the frothing potential with my imaginary froth-o-meter. (Kaylie and I are going to invent this device in order to empirically rate microfoam.) Somewhere in the middle of espresso prep it occurred to me how much easier programmable semi-autos are to operate.
Besides ease of use, a few changes were made from the previous model (the well-loved BES860XL) that make the 870 worth consideration: a dedicated hot water spigot, PID temperature control within a few degrees and a smoother pathway from hopper to grinder. These factors alone are not enough to convince the truly reluctant among us, though.
My essential battle with the Breville Barista Express boils down to the integrated grinder. Are you for it, or are you against it? The SCAA recently declared it Best In Show: Coffee or Tea Preparation & Serving Equipment (Consumer). However, when I hear Best In Show, I think of the movie and then I giggle.
If you see the benefit of saving money with an integrated grinder, saving counter space by having an all-in-one appliance and saving time with programmable dosing then you, my friend, are not sitting with us over here in Camp Reluctant.
If you see the integrated grinder and immediately flashback to the ill-fated combination dual tape deck + record player purchase you made in college, then you are going to need a few more facts before hopping on the Breville Barista Express bandwagon.
- Fact: Upgraded stainless steel conical burrs are easily accessed for cleaning and can be removed for replacement.
- Fact: The grinder can be adjusted for different espresso bean blends within a certain range.
- Fact: A better bean hopper configuration allows whole beans to travel smoothly to the grinder.
- Bonus: I like the removable bean hopper to empty, fill or re-fill without having to awkwardly scoop beans (or vacuum them up!)
- Super Duper Bonus: Currently includes a new dosing tool called The Razor which sounds menacing but really confirms you have the right amount of coffee tamped into the portafilter.
Overall, I am less hesitant about this machine after reviewing these facts. Also, this is not truly a new model, it's one that Breville has improved upon over time. Ready to jump head first into the all-in-one pool? This model makes it a pretty safe dive into the deep end. Although I thought I would enjoy a Breville Infuser BES840XL paired with a Breville Smart Grinder more, I am now reluctantly considering the Breville Barista Express BES870XL for my next home espresso machine. In my case, reluctance is just another word for lazy and Breville makes espresso machines that are so easy to use, I can't ignore them!
Pick a Wednesday, any Wednesday. How much coffee do you need at work today to get over the hump? How many meetings do you have? Presentations to give? Deals to close? Sure, you can drink whatever office coffee sludge is sitting on the warming element as you pass from your desk to the conference room, but you deserve better, work friend. And so do your work compatriots!
Let’s cut to the chase, business people. Let's get down to brass tacks and find the win-win and the net-net and the synergy for you all within one superautomatic espresso machine.
Two words: Saeco Intelia. This superautomatic espresso machine will boost employee morale and caffeination levels to previously unimagined heights. With one well-timed capital expenditure, the Saeco Intelia Focus will beat forking over $967 average annual expense for a latte-per-day habit. Take my word for it, or make your own Excel spreadsheet. With a 10”x17” countertop footprint, it is smaller than a paper cutter and much safer to have around the office.
Here’s what to expect: Push the small button for an espresso shot (ours is set to 1.5 ounces) made just for you and poured into your favorite Dilbert coffee mug in 30 seconds. Milk frothing took an additional 60 seconds with the panarello. There you have it, synchronization optimization with steaming and brewing for a latte in under a minute and a half. Don’t dig lattes? Push the big button for a programmable Cafe Lungo (ours is set to a hefty 8 ounces) in your cup or get hot water from the panarello for an Americano coffee in the same time or less.
Here’s a real world case study: I have a meeting regarding commercial equipment (yes we sell coffee and espresso machines for home, office and café!) and I will need a latte. I can pick any espresso machine. Semi-automatics take longer to prepare and one-touch coffee centers don’t get the milk hot enough for my taste. The Saeco Intelia, on the other hand, offers push-button espresso convenience combined with the control of a panarello to get the milk as hot and foamy as I want it. I leave my desk, whip up a piping hot latte and Bam! I'm in the conference room faster than you can recite the "Glengarry Glen Ross" speech.
We’ve got a winner here, send the requisite requisition forms to the purchasing department. Any way you slice it, the Saeco Intelia leverages price and performance to hit the sweet spot for office coffee. It is easy to clean, easy to maintain and so easy anyone can intuitively use it without a PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes the easy choice is the right choice.
Now that I have built my espresso connoisseurship from zero to somewhere above average, but still far below that of Juan Valdez, I was reluctant to go back to my lazy ways. New single-cup espresso capsule machines from Francis Francis for illy arrived awhile back and I played coy. I stayed away until I found out our crew of espresso machine technicians were proponents of this capsule craze.
I wrangled one each of the Francis Francis Y1.1 and the Francis Francis X7.1 Iperespresso Machines over to my desk. Mike and Jeff from the refurbish crew volunteered to be my guinea pigs ...er, I mean taste-testers. They programmed the extraction time on both machines to their preferred shot length to assist me with a side-by-side comparison. The new illy coffee capsules come in a canister -- like the whole bean and pre-ground illy coffees do -- and in the same flavor profiles. I popped the top off of a can of illy iperespresso Dark Roast capsules to try in the two new machines.
In the end, it 'all boils down' to case style and drink preference. The illy iperespresso capsules have a patented pressurized design and both machines provide the right brew temperature and pressure to get the most flavor extracted. Upon Shiami's suggestion we ran hot water through the machines to get them up to temp and to pre-warm the demistasse cups. Then we hunkered down and watched the espresso as it streamed out of the two machines for 29 seconds each.
All variables being equal, Mike and Jeff preferred the Y1.1 since it has one-touch operation right out of the box. Shiami preferred the X7.1 for her lungo. There may be a slight temperature advantage as the X7.1 maintained heat within the metal portafilter, but I did not taste a discernible difference as I sampled the espresso produced. If you are in need of steady milk frothing, the X7.1 is the one to pick. If your need for steamed milk is more occasional, an accessory frother like the Breville Smart Cafe paired with the Y1.1 is also a winning combination.
So who did we declare the winner? For me, at least, simple is always better, so the tie goes to ... the Y1.1!
There is something so intriguing about a secret menu. Starbucks has one. In-N-Out Burger has one. And now, the Jura GIGA 5 Automatic Coffee Center does too. After a hot tip from Kat that there was indeed a secret menu, I decided to play detective. I found these new recipes through my favorite machine testing method called 'random button pushing.' You won’t find this covered in the Jura user manual (unless you happen to look at page 20...). The Reluctant Barista has some delicious insider information to share.
The initial screen shows what you might come to expect from a superautomatic menu: Ristretto, Espresso, Coffee, Hot Water, Cappuccino, Latte Macchiato, Milk, Milk Foam. From these simple settings you can further customize the coffee dosage, water temperature, water volume, milk volume and milk foam. The Jura GIGA 5 does not come standard with an integrated milk carafe, so I used a Jura Cool Control Automatic Milk Cooler and the included hose that came with the GIGA 5 to make a bevy of milk-based beverages.
Last week I made my go-to drink, a foamy hazelnut latte and was happily surprised by how hot the drink got. Monday morning I had the GIGA 5 pour me a double cappuccino. I needed it! After the caffeine kicked in, it was time to explore uncharted territory. There were 12 more "secret" recipes once I twirled the rotary dial on top. I have to admit, these recipes perplexed me. Were they chosen by an Italian espresso aficionado? Were they chosen by the Swiss manufacturer? Who mixes lemonade and espresso? They did not seem to be targeted to Seattle taste profiles, or at least not my particular taste. However, I did try the recipe for 'Winter Magic Coffee.' This turned out to be what I would describe as a Nutella Latte. It was so popular with the SCG Crew that I ended up making 5 drinks back to back.
Sadly, there was no barista gnome inside the Jura GIGA 5 to prepare the drinks. You need to provide your own ingredients. From home I brought my treasured Nutella and used Monin Honey Sweetener although it was sweet enough without it. The GIGA 5 walked me through each step with a series of easy to read screens. I especially liked the final step of each drink I made when the GIGA 5 screen simply said, 'Enjoy!'
The Jura GIGA 5 "Secret" Drink Menu:
- Marocchino – espresso, Monin Dark Chocolate Sauce, chocolate powder
- Pepresso – espresso, Monin Dark Chocolate Sauce, mixed peppercorns (Watch Brandi make this recipe)
- White Cool – espresso, carbonated lemonade, ice cubes
- Gourmet Latte Macchiato – espresso, evaporated milk, Monin Irish Cream Syrup (non-alcoholic) or Bailey’s Irish Cream (alcoholic)
- Irish Coffee – coffee, brown sugar, Irish Whiskey (alcoholic), whipped cream on top
- Café Melange – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top
- Viennese Coffee – coffee, vanilla ice cream, Monin Vanilla Syrup and chocolate shavings on top
- Winter Magic Coffee – espresso, Nutella, honey and a pinch of ginger and cardamom on top
- Shakerato – espresso, lemons, sugar, ice
- Mango Lassi – espresso, yogurt, mango puree
- Red Cool – espresso, carbonated lemonade, Campari (alcoholic), ice
- Summer Fire – espresso, Monin Coconut Syrup, lemon pepper
Thank you GIGA 5 -- we will enjoy!
I had an 'Aha! Moment' this morning and it changed my whole relationship with espresso prep. Very reluctantly, and only because I was on a deadline, did I approach the Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler. Kat asked me why I was more reluctant than usual to pull shots on this machine and I didn’t have a good answer. Shiami encouraged me and told me that I would love the quality shots an E61 brew group produces.
To start, I frothed a pitcher of milk, which I do regularly on the Rocket Giotto, and the difference between a heat exchanger and a dual boiler became apparent. In the same time it takes me to get a nice velvety microfoam at 150 degrees on the Rocket Giotto, I found the Rocket R58 had gotten up to 170 degrees! There was foam but the higher temperature killed the creaminess. The powerful steam cut frothing time almost in half and I had not adjusted for that fact.
Next, I enlisted Fillmore from the repair department to expertly dial in the grinder. I watched him grind into the portafilter from a Mazzer Mini. He pulled a shot and it was too quick. He adjusted the grind a tick finer, pulled another shot and it was still a little fast. He re-adjusted, then felt the espresso grounds in his hand and they were fine like ground pepper. On the third extraction the shot pulled evenly and within 22 seconds we each grabbed a shot and tasted it. Zoka Organic Espresso Quatro -- yum!
As I stared at the shiny stainless steel Rocket R58 with its 58mm portafilter, I was still reluctant to pull my own shots. I recounted all of the variables Gail recommends for a perfect espresso shot: filtered water, the right grind, the correct tamp and a deluxe hand-built Italian espresso machine (just kidding! Kind of…). Finally the answer was clear to me: While I understand how to make espresso, my problem is I can’t tamp!
I love it when Kaylie makes me a latte, I use E.S.E. pods at home and I will occasionally use the new Francis Francis capsule machine for an afternoon pick-me-up. As a result, I have avoided the tamping issue altogether. Aha!
There are benefits to having the entire SCG demonstration arsenal at my disposal. I lined up a tamping mat, a tamper and a knock box. Long overdue tamping practice began and continued until both the Rocket R58 drip tray was full (twice!) from pulling shots and the knock box was full of spent pucks. From this experience I found out the following:
- The R58 brew head warning sticker states, ‘Caution Hot Surface,’ and that’s the truth
- Pre-warming your portafilter in the brew head yields great results, however it also makes it hot to touch when you tamp
- Fillmore's Pro-Tip: A half flip of the lever allows for a mellow pre-infusion using passive boiler pressure
- It is hard to get espresso grounds out from under your fingernails
Many people go through a coffee preparation progression as their taste, budget or skills change. I went from French press to stovetop espresso maker to a small single boiler machine. How do you know when you are ready for the next step, in this case a dual boiler? Identify your comfort level and your ultimate goal. My comfort level had me afraid to tamp, but my goal was a fresher shot. So it turns out that I am ready to upgrade. For now, a heat exchanger model is my next step.
There is a machine for every person though, so who does need a dual boiler espresso machine? For me, the styling of the Rocket line is what an espresso machine 'should' look like -- I would love to see one on my counter top. Like a heat exchanger, a dual boiler saves time if your preferred drink is milk-based since you can froth and pull shots simultaneously. The R58 in particular can be used with the internal reservoir or plumbed-in for even more convenience. Finally, espresso is all about consistency; with commercial grade parts, dual pressure gauges, a rotary pump and an external PID, the Rocket R58 uses current technology to allow you to pull the best shots you are capable of every time.
Where will your preparation progression lead you? The Rocket R58 Dual Boiler is not a starter machine. When you are ready to take things to the next level though, this espresso machine is one of the very best. Don’t be reluctant to try it!
Is there more than one coffee drinker at your place? How do you decide on an espresso machine that works for everyone? For this review I enlisted my significantly caffeinated other, Chris, to take a look at the superautomatic Saeco Xelsis One Touch for home use. [Ulterior motive alert! It’s holiday time and mama wants a new espresso machine.]
First off, Kat and Gail’s video covers how quick and easy it is to make drinks and to clean up on the Xelsis. I brought Chris into the Seattle Coffee Gear store in Lynnwood to show him the features and hopefully win him over with one-touch espresso.
The Xelsis is a really attractive machine, something we wouldn’t mind leaving on the countertop. Our upper cabinets are 18 inches from the counter and the Xelsis is 15 inches tall, which means I’d have to scooch it out to refill the water tank. It has a good size water reservoir, but I use fresh filtered water each time as Gail has mentioned for best shot flavor.
We turned it on and the Xelsis menu buttons were easy to navigate. I placed a cup under the spout and turned the milk carafe spout to point into the pre-warmed cup as well. After pushing the cappuccino button, hot frothed milk filled the cup and then, after a brief pause, the espresso followed. I like mine a bit stronger so I added an extra espresso shot -- at the push of a button!
Next, we used the attached steam wand and a frothing pitcher to see if we could get a latte with hotter milk and a finer microfoam than the milk carafe provides. This produced the type of latte we prefer but took more time and effort. There are also ways to dial in the shot flavor to your preferences on superautomatics, which Kat and Gail explore here.
We sipped our drinks and considered what factors were important to us. We have a small semi-automatic at home now, which is not as quick to make drinks. This comes into play because Chris works early and does not always have time in the morning for a mid-week latte. Also, there is a little bit of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ since Kaylie has an Xelsis espresso machine at home.
What is important to you? For us it boils down to budget, time and milk foam quality. Your needs may vary. How does the Xelsis compare? It’s got stylish looks, a high quality build, an easy user interface that remembers how you like your favorite drink, great coffee quality and push button convenience. For us, a mid-level semi-auto and espresso grinder is more budget-friendly, though. Perhaps one that is compatible with E.S.E. espresso pods to save time on weekdays. As much as I really really really want a superautomatic, I will reluctantly -- and with much complaining -- continue pulling my own espresso shots (for now!).
There are so many things I love about French press coffee. First off, my mom makes it, so it reminds me of home. She has hand quilted a little coffee cozy to wrap around her La Cafetiere Classic ... it is adorable. Next, French press coffee is about as easy to make as tea. Does your grind have to be perfect? No. Do your measurements have to be perfect? No. Can you use an espresso blend? Yes, if you feel like it! In my opinion, French press coffee is more art than science. Too strong? Add more hot water. Too weak? Add an extra scoop next time.
A French press requires a very low level of coffee commitment. You don't need to remember what size paper filters it takes or bemoan how much counter space it occupies. And yet for all of the convenience a French press offers, manufacturers don’t make it easy to tell how much coffee will be produced per pot.
For my mad scientist coffee press experimentation I used a big measuring cup I borrowed from Brewin’ with Brandi and took over the SCG breakroom with a notebook, a Digital Timer and the Breville Ikon Electric Kettle. I pressed copious pots to give you the inside scoop!
My methodology included 1 rounded tablespoon per 4 ounces of hot, not boiling, water. When I make it at home I throw in an extra scoop for the pot, but here I went 'by the book.' I stirred half way through so that the coffee grounds and water were well incorporated. However I did not leave 1 inch of headspace. I filled to the point where I felt comfortable the plunger would fit without overflowing the pot. Pro-Tip: Just like when buying a car, your mileage may vary! Go with the coffee flow. Here is a chart chock full of caffeinated results.
Fast forward…one month later and my budding barista skills are still negligible. Secretly, when the SCG Crew isn’t looking, I use superautomatic espresso machines! Muahahaha! I’m such a rebel. Until my hand-pulled espresso shots improve, I am happy to 'push button, receive coffee.' Please meet my new best friend: The Jura Impressa J9 One Touch TFT superautomatic espresso machine that does all the work for me!
Although there is a video guide available for the Jura J9 that covers all of the features, this time I went in cold turkey. I punched buttons just to see what happened. On the top of this stylish silver espresso machine was the power button and a rotary dial. I double-checked the water reservoir on the side and the bean hopper in the back. It took 58 seconds from 'on' to 'ready.' The color display panel then listed six drink choices, while the rotary dial on top toggled the strength and volume of the drinks.
I did not realize the Jura slogan Never-Move-The-Cup meant that I needed to position the cup under the milk/coffee spout on the left. Lights illuminated where to put the cup, but no, my cup was under the espresso spout in the center when my cappuccino poured forth into the ample drip tray. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That was clearly a case of user error. My only legitimate complaint was the cup clearance, while adjustable up to 5 inches, would not fit my Monday Mug -- a Bodum behemoth. Although I have seen SCG Crew members remove the drip tray grate to accommodate taller cups, this drip tray did not have an even surface on the bottom to rest the cup.
I pushed all of the buttons in turn and received: A cappuccino, a latte macchiato, an espresso, plain coffee, along with milk and water options. Very scientifically I stuck my finger in the hot water as it streamed out. Oh yes, it was boiling! Like other superautomatic espresso machines with automatic frothing, the milk did not get as hot or as frothy as I prefer. [Pro-Tip: Warm your cup first to keep your drink hot longer.] And although the machine self-rinses the milk spout, it does not rinse the tube between the included stainless steel thermal milk container and the machine.
The pre-set drinks were all good and can be further customized. I used Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean, which will work well in any superautomatic espresso machine. Much like Goldilocks, none of the creations were to my exact taste so I did some tinkering and eventually landed on a delicious combination of a 6 ounce coffee pour with a 1.5 ounce espresso shot in the same cup -- a drink that is known throughout the world under several different names ... A Shot in the Dark, Red Eye, Depth Charge, Sludge Cup or by my favorite moniker, Mother Of All Coffee.
Who else besides me, the Reluctant Barista would want a Jura J9 superautomatic coffee robot to make her drink? I imagine anyone who wants to save time (it’s faster than a trip to the espresso drive-thru,) or receive better coffee than their current skill level allows (me!) or who wants a variety of people to be comfortable making consistent and delicious drinks on an easy to use machine (in an office setting or the SCG break room, for instance).
Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Fake it ‘til you make it?’ This is my mantra in a sea of professional coffee quaffers. The words crema, micro foam, portafilter and panarello were not previously in my vocabulary. I enjoy any coffee that I don’t have to make myself. And after such a confession, you can now see why I approached the Crossland CC1 with trepidation.
At first glance the Crossland CC1 had a nice compact size for a serious espresso machine. It was not a countertop hog. I flipped the switch on and watched Gail's video while the machine warmed up. Miranda walked by and gave me a pro pointer: ‘Pre-heat the portafilter in the group head.’ There are two knobs on the front of the machine which I pushed with hilarious results as 202°F water streamed through the empty portafilter and into the drip tray; I’m glad the drip tray had good capacity. I glanced at the water reservoir level, visible from the front, and there was still plenty of water left to try again.
Next, I unfolded my Seattle Coffee Gear cheat sheet and began with renewed hope that I could pull a decent shot my first time out. The included 58mm portafilter felt heavy in my hand as I used an Ascaso grinder that had been dialed in already. The delicious smell of freshly ground Velton's Bonsai Blend filled me with anticipation. I tamped the fluffy grinds using an Espro calibrated tamper that Teri had told me about. This is a great beginner tool since I am not familiar with what 30 pounds of pressure feels like.
Now, the Crossland CC1 was ready, and so was I. From the menu, I selected the one-cup option (which is programmable) and positioned my lucky cow cup to catch the espresso. What I observed was that more dripped out one side than the other -- a rookie mistake! My dosing and tamping skills needed much more practice. Before anyone noticed, I used the knock box to discard my mucky puck. This was user error, not the fault of the machine or the grind. My crema looked alright and the espresso was tasty, but I would not win a barista competition any time soon.
The Crossland CC1 was ready to go for milk frothing with no delay, thanks to a large boiler and thermoblock combination. If you like milk based drinks like I do, this is important because you don’t have to wait long to steam your milk. I scored a chilled stainless steel frothing pitcher from the SCG break room (a magical place where countless cups of coffee are consumed) and filled it 2/3 of the way full.
The tip of the traditional steam wand was just under the milk when I turned the front button to ‘steam’ and turned the dial on the side of the CC1 to inject the milk with perfectly heated steam. It made my milk much foamier, much quicker than I expected. I was impressed! *Procedural Note: I had previously frothed my milk prior to pulling the shot, just like Gail has advised us to do on a machine like this, but Kaylie stole my milk for her latte. Hence the CC1 steamed two pitchers of milk and pulled a nice shot of espresso without hesitation.
Although I did not brag about my first attempt, or even my second attempt the next morning, the CC1 is a great machine to learn on. It felt solid and there were no delicate parts for me to break. It was forgiving of my lack of skill! Imagine what it could do for someone who actually knows how to pull an espresso shot -- the possibilities are endless.