Culture

Coffee has a rich culture and history from around the world. This category contains a wealth of info about the culture of coffee from all corners of the Earth!
  • Weird and Wacky Coffee Machines

    There have been a lot of strange and wonderful coffee machines over the years. From visual flair to interesting combos, we’re taking a look at some wacky coffee designs. All of the images we’re featuring today were captured at La Marzocco’s private Seattle machine collection.

    All-In-One Breakfast Stop

    Olimpic’s “Toast Cafe” was the perfect machine for you if you wanted your morning espresso and your breakfast in one spot. With an old fashioned manual toaster on the right side, you’d toast your bread with one hand and pull a shot of espresso with the other hand! This little wonder even included a timer for toasting the perfect morning slice and a steam wand for steaming up a latte to go with it. We’re not sure how well this machine performed either task, but it sure brings a whole new meaning to the term “all-in-one”

    Watch the Magic

    This classic European commercial espresso machine includes a window so the customer can watch their shot be pulled. This machine fits the trend of making the cafe a place of wonder as much as a place to grab a cup of coffee. Customers would pay for their beverage and get the full show of a beautiful shot of espresso making its way from the group head, through the puck, and into their cup. This machine used a manual pump with a heated boiler, so there really was a lot of finesse on the part of the barista to get the best possible caffeinated treat.

     

    Radical Designs

    This machine (and the one at the top of this post) was designed with a bit of extra flair. Eye catching and striking, these are examples of the kind of art that coffee shops would (and do) go to to draw in the customer. What on earth could a drink from such a strange looking machine taste like? It turns out, it tastes a lot like any other commercial espresso, but the visual appeal of the machine is enough to add a few extra points. The two machines like this that we feature here were designed with inspiration from sailboats and automobiles, two natural coffee companions!

     

    Oodles and Oodles of Espresso!

    This machine is a real head scratcher on first glance. It’s a manual espresso machine that would have been found in a very busy cafe, but perhaps not for the reason you’d expect. It’s true that it has a dozen brew groups, but it’s not so it can brew a dozen coffees at once! Because of the way older boilers and brew groups were designed, there was a recovery time associated with cooling down the group head. High volume machines like this solve that problem by featuring so many group heads. By moving from group to group, baristas could ensure that there was always one at the perfect temperature to pull a tasty shot. Perfect for a busy cafe needing to move extra fast!

     

    There’s a world of wild machines out there, and we’re always on the lookout for more!

  • Machines to Tinker With!

    Hey coffee fans!

    We talk a lot about “entry-level” machines, and “prosumer” machines here at Seattle Coffee Gear, but there’s another kind of machine we don’t get into as much. While it’s hard to put a label on them, we’re talking about machines like the Rancilio Silvia and the Crossland CC1. These are machines that require a little extra TLC to get the most out of.

    That’s not to say that they aren’t good starter machines or ones that will last you many years. We love 'em’ and you can brew some cafe quality drinks on them too. You’ll just need to spend a little bit of extra time learning to get the most out of them. In some ways, learning on a machine like this is perfect! You’ll be able to understand everything there is to know about how to brew the perfect espresso and steam great milk.

    Brewing

    To get the absolute perfect espresso you need temperature consistent water and consistent pressures. Add in finely ground, dialed in coffee, and you’re good to go! Important to note with machines like the CC1 and Silvia is they only come with unpressurized portafilters. We’ve talked about this before, but the quick version is it means you’ll need a perfect grind to get a perfect shot. For that reason, you’ll want to pair one of these machines with a dedicated espresso grinder. The upshot is that you’ll be learning to brew espresso on the same kinds of portafilters you’d eventually be wanting to use anyway!

    Steaming

    Milk steaming on these machines can take a bit longer than what you might get from something like a Rocket Espresso machine. That said - with patience and practice you can get incredible micro-foam off of a CC1, Silvia, or similar machine. Part of that is because their steam systems remove barriers between the user and the equipment. With simple dials and switches, you’re in complete control of the steaming process. This can be less true of more user friendly, entry level machines, which can rely on less tactile interface to seem less intimidating. 

    Maintenance

    Maintaining these machines means you’ll need to backflush them and descale them like most other espresso machines. You’ll also probably find that you might want to take an even more hands-on approach to maintenance. Disassembling the brew head to change gaskets, opening up the machine to learn about the boiler components, etc. While you need to be very careful to avoid voiding your warranty, these machines can take some extra tuning and TLC on the inside to really shine.

    If you’re willing to really practice, tinker, and exercise patients, these kinds of machines can be extremely rewarding to own and use!

  • Coffee Culture: Spain

    The history of coffee is closely tied to the movement of people and goods around Europe. Given this, it should come as no surprise that Spain has an incredible rich history and culture surrounding our favorite drink. Join us as we take a look at some of the ways coffee affects culture in Spain!

    A Coffee With Every Meal

    Most coffee served in Spain is grown in countries like Angola and Mozambique. The Spanish tend to prefer darker, full flavored roasts, not dissimilar to Italian and French roasting. Coffee is, as you might have guessed, a major part of daily life in Spain. Many Spaniards start their day with a cafe con leche, a drink consisting of a 1:1 ratio of coffee and scalded milk. Spanish coffee drinkers will often have multiple cups of coffee at different times throughout the day. Other popular styles include a small, very dark espresso called a cafe solo. 

    The Spanish Coffee that you might be familiar with could be a Cafe Carajillo. This coffee drink involved a small, dark espresso mixed with hard spirits like brandy or whiskey. Mixing alcohol and coffee is a standard practice in Spain, even in the mornings.

    Spanish Coffee Shops

    Coffee houses in Spain are often slightly more formal than we’re used to in the U.S. While not always true, many cafes have beautiful flooring and architecture, with patrons dressed up to match. All of this plus a slightly reserved atmosphere may be a culture shock for Americans visiting traditional coffee houses in Spain. 

    But formal coffee isn’t always the way. Jovial Spanish meal times are almost always accompanied by fresh coffee. In this way, enjoying this great, truly global beverage is a joyous experience, often accompanied by delicious food, family, and friends. Not so different from the rest of the world!

     

  • Video Roundup 4/20/20

    Hey Coffee Lovers!

    We've got some VERY exciting videos for you this week, and for the time being we'll be coming to you on Mondays! Moving our video roundup day is temporary, but we wanted to help you start your week with some fresh coffee tips.

    So without further adieu...

    Gail gave us a look at her brewing setup from her RV!

    Then Allie showed us her process for dialing in Olympia's Big Truck Espresso:

    Next we've got a look at the brand new Rocket Espresso Appartamento Nera!

    Then Allie and I sat down to for a video chat to talk about our delicious Roast of the Month:

    And we're VERY excited to share a limited return of Good Morning Gail!

    That's all we have for you this week, we'll be back with more next Monday!

  • Coffee Culture at Home!

    This may seem like a silly post, as we talk about brewing coffee from home all the time! But something that we don’t often talk about is what living with the equipment we provide can be like. It’s easy to recommend equipment we love, but we wanted to share a little bit of what brewing from home really looks like once you’ve got your equipment home!

    Pour Over

    Brewing pour over is rewarding, but also a bit intense! You’ll need room for a scale, kettle, and grinder. To streamline pour over brewing we think keeping your water source close to your kettle is key! When it comes to grinding, there’s a couple of different ways you can manage your beans. If you keep multiple kinds of coffee stocked, you’ll be weighing your grounds each time you brew and then pouring them into the bean hopper. This can be time consuming but ensures the least amount of waste! If you have one coffee that you like you can fill your grinder with it and then do your best to grind just what you need each time. Every grinder is different, so some might make this easier with timed or weighted dosing. 

     

    On top of all of this, you’ll need to warm your cup with hot water, set your dripper, and wet your filter. The whole process can take anywhere from five to ten minutes, but the end result is worth it! It also doesn’t require expensive equipment. Many of these concepts also apply to drip and press brewing, but in these cases you can walk away as the coffee brews, instead of needing to tend to it like a pour over, though the flavor profile will also change!

    Semi-Automatic Espresso

    Brewing with a semi-auto is a bit more complicated up front but can ultimately be a bit easier once you’ve got it down. You’ll need to dial in your grinder, which can be a bit tricky depending on your coffee of choice. You’ll want to arrange your machine and grinder together so you can move your portafilter back and forth easily, as well as have easy water access for your machine. 

     

    The actual brewing process is quick when you’re used to it, and with a machine like the Rocket Appartamento you can steam milk and brew at once. You’ll want a couple of towels on hand to clean out your portafilter after you knock the puck, and to wipe down your steam wand (after you purge it of course!). Aside from that, regular backflushing and descaling are key bits of maintenance!

    Superautomatic Espresso

    Superauto machines like the Philips Carina change a lot of this dynamic! All you have to do for prep is making sure you have a ready source of beans and water. The biggest hassle with a superauto is needing to refill the water tank, aside from that, it’s super easy to brew with these machines (Pun intended)! You’ll have some regular cleanup like wiping down and watching drip tray elements and the brew group that are very important, but otherwise maintenance just extends to replacing water filters and regular descaling. All in all these machines are quite easy to live with and maintain. 

    The only real downside to superautos is that they don’t give you quite the same degree of control that a semi-auto machine does. Many users will want the fine tuning you can achieve with a semi-auto, but if you just want good coffee without the extra work, these machines are the perfect option. 

     

    We hope this is a helpful window into what it’s like to have these machines on your countertop!

     

  • Coffee History: The French Press

    The History of the French Press isn’t as French as you might think! We decided it’d be fun to take a look at the history of this beloved brew method. Let’d dive in!

    Beginnings

    The first coffee presses likely did originate in France. These very basic, rudimentary presses followed similar principals as today’s coffee presses. They were likely homemade as well. These proto-coffee presses usually involved using a metal screen or some cheese cloth with a metal rod acting as the plunger. You’d simple press the whole thing down into an appropriately sized vessel after steeping to separate the grounds and the liquid. While simple and perhaps more clumsy and messy than today’s presses, they did the job. 

    We say that it’s likely these presses originated in France because of the French obsession with coffee in the 19th century. They were generally on the forefront of developing new ways to brew and enjoy coffee. For the next step in the French Press story, we head to one of their neighbors.

    The Milanese Not Quite French Press

    The first patented coffee press was developed by Milanese designer Attilio Calmani in 1929. Over the course of the next 30 years this press saw design modifications and updates. Many of these updates were developed by Faliero Bondanini, who later patented the design in 1958. This is how we finally got the name “French Press.” The reason for this is the factory that Bondanini built his presses in was located in France. They originally produced cabinets!

    His brand, Melior, was aided in its rise to popularity by being featured in the 1965 film the Ipcress File, which starred Michael Caine.

    The 1960s to Today

    After the success of the Melior French Press, British and European countries began to take notice. Of particular note was Danish kitchenware company Bodum, who you’re probably familiar with. They took the press worldwide, and developed it into the cylindrical design you’re familiar with now. 

    From the past to the future, the French Press is a bonafide legend!

     

  • Coffee Culture: Cowboy Coffee

    What do you think of when you think of cowboys? Cattle? Horses? Adventure (though this may be more fantasy than fact)? One thing we think of when we think of cowboys is their love of coffee! It's hard to start a day on the ranch without a stiff, hot cup of joe to wake you up. The cowboy method has been around for decades, but has seen something of a renaissance in recent years. This is largely because of how good this method of brewing can actually be!

    It's true, the typical thinking might be that heavy immersion brewed coffee would be too strong or bitter. It turns out, the opposite is true. But how id it brewed? Recipes vary, but generally coarse ground coffee is added to water that is either boiling or heating up to a boil. After a certain brew length, some cold water is poured into the pot, cooling the coffee to drinking temperature and stopping the brewing. This cold water also drives the grounds to the bottom of the pot, making it easy to pour grit-free coffee. Many coffee drinkers will say its some of the smoothest coffee they're ever had!

    But what's going on in that pot?

    The drinkability of cowboy coffee probably has a lot to do with the coarse grounds. Since these grounds won't dissolve into the coffee it prevents over-extraction and makes for buttery smooth coffee. This also means the heat of boiling water doesn't totally scorch the coffee like it would in a drip brew. While the principles work anywhere, it helps that being at high altitudes leads to a perfect boiling point right at 212 degree Fahrenheit. That brew as boiled immersion combined with the coarse grind and cold water to halt the process all adds up to a tasty cup of coffee!

    This means that coffees with a lot of classic coffee taste and smokier notes will come through well in cowboy coffee. This is because some of their stronger notes will be diminished thanks to the style.

    Despite the knee-jerk response from many specialty coffee enthusiasts to turn their noses up at this brew method, combining immersion brewing with craft coffee is a great way to kick it up a notch! Not to mention, we already use immersion brewing all the time in the craft coffee world. For example, the Fellow Duo Steeper uses similar concepts to cowboy coffee that uses a filter to filter out the grounds instead of pushing them to the bottom with cold water. Stovetop espresso brewers like the Ilsa Express also use immersion style brewing and high heat to brew and extract coffee.

    So pick up some of your favorite smoky beans, brew em' coarse and get to boilin'. Try some cowboy coffee!

  • Introducing Your Family to Craft Coffee

    Hey coffee fans!

     

    It's the holiday season, and for many folks that means lots of time with family and friends. One of the joys of these kinds of gatherings is being able to share your favorite treats of the season! We know that sometimes it can be tough to "sell" grocery store coffee drinkers on fancier stuff. It's why we thought we'd offer some tips for sharing your favorite coffee with your favorite people this Holiday!

    Start slow

    Look, we would all love for our family to understand how delicious a bright, floral shot of espresso can be. This is also a pretty challenging leap from the less flavorful coffees they might be used to! We recommend starting small by going for an old fashioned drip pot of coffee. Prepare it before they arrive and offer it to them without feeling like you have to explain what you brewed. Lots of complicated information can be overwhelming and lead to your test subj... We mean guests, jumping to conclusions about what they're drinking.

    Leave the bag near the brew

    Specialty coffee usually features some beautiful bags. You might already do this, but if you don't, leave that pretty package next to your brewer! Anyone passing by might be enticed to pick it up and ask about it. Once it's a question, it's easier to share info on the coffee you've brewed.

    Keep it simple

    While we'd love for you to sell your family and friends on a challenging natural process single origin, you might want to keep it simpler. Stick to a blend that offers some classic coffee notes, plus a little bit extra. Options like our SCG Holiday Blend or Bluebeard's Snowbeard fit this bill nicely. If they like the coffee, then you can suggest they try more adventurous roasts. This ties in with using a simpler brew method like a basic drip brewer. We're sure your guests will appreciate a bit of familiarity!

    Branch out into pour over

    A very eye opening thing to a lot of coffee newbies is their first pour over. This is a brew method that is perfect for understanding the intricacies present in many coffees. After your guests have tried a more complex roast than the basic grocery store coffee they may be used to, exploring it further as a pour over could really open them up to craft coffee.

    Spread it out

    Don't try to go all in on this in one visit. After a morning pot of drip, offer a pour over at the next gathering. Coffee is still coffee! Too much at once can lead to a bit of an overload for newer coffee drinkers. That can be unpleasant and off-putting in the long run.

    Most importantly...

    Don't be a snob!

    Lots of people have a perception of craft coffee as a snobby thing to enjoy. Many folks think all coffees taste exactly the same and coffee as a hobby is a wasted effort. Rather than argue with a person like that, the best thing you can do is meet any dismissal with humor and humbleness. Not everyone likes coffee for coffee's sake!

  • Piecewise Coffee Co. Shop - Installation and Setup

    It's been a while since we checked in with our friends from Piecewise Coffee Co., and they've been busy! Piecewise just had its grand opening, so we're excited to hear more from Stanton and Lindsey soon. For now, we got some insight into their installation and set up process!

    What’s the biggest task in getting machines set up and ready to run?

    That would definitely be ensuring the utility hooks up were correct. We worked with our electrician, plumber and installation company (VP Coffee in our instance) to have all the connections meeting the manufacture specifications. Now that all the utility lines are in, we will probably never think about them again, but it sure was an effort making sure they were good to go at the start.

    What kind of testing do you do regarding the setup of machines to ensure smooth operating?

    The installation company did all the testing for us for the initial install. They used calibrated weights, scales and volumetric containers to calibrate the espresso machine. Once the initial setup was completed, we pulled our first shot of espresso and started the dialing in process. It took a day or so to get a consistent quality shot to pull, but we continually tweaked settings for just over a week to get something we were really proud of! 

    Did any of your logistic plans change based on seeing the final setup?

    For the coffee gear, not really. We were really fortunate to work closely with SCG on the machine layout, thinking about the impact to workflow with the layout of piece of equipment. The end product has proven to be well thought out and meet the needs of our coffee shop. 

    Other than coffee, refrigeration is one of the only things we have seen a need for outside of what we originally planned. However, we created our under-counter space to have extra wiggle room so the space was there to be flexible. As we learn the ropes of operating, we plan to take advantage of this area. If we had to redo everything, having an increase counter height would make the under-counter area even more flexible for equipment on casters. 

    What kind of maintenance schedules do you have planned? How does maintaining an espresso machine differ from maintaining a traditional drip grinder form a practical perspective?

    The plan is to maintain regular quarterly services, as recommended by our installation company. We couldn't afford to have either the espresso machine or the batch brewer go out of service. Having this regular schedule gives us more confidence both pieces of equipment will function well over the long haul. 

    We also make sure to perform daily maintenance on the equipment. The daily cleaning procedures keep us familiar, aware and consistent in how to maintain our gear. 

    Can you talk a little bit about challenges associate with water/electricity?

    As far as the operation of equipment goes, we haven't had any issues with water impacting equipment. The electricity has been a little of a struggle. Due to building codes, a GFI outlet had to be installed on the batch brewer and bulk bean grinder outlet. This electrical circuit also happens to be on the same circuit as our small countertop oven. If the oven is running in tandem with the brewer it can trip the GFI. Super frustrating! Our electrician is working with us to plan a work around while still maintaining building codes. 

    Did you work with a technician to get things set up? If so, did they handle everything?

    Yes, our technician was from a local shop and was a certified La Marzocco tech. This was important for us since the espresso machine was purchased new and would need a proper installation to maintain the initial factory warranty. Our tech was very helpful in showing each step of the installation and providing some troubleshooting steps for common issues.

    What kind of support do you have now for long-term maintenance of your equipment?

    Our long-term maintenance will continue with the initial installation company. They also provide emergency support if the equipment decides to stop working all of a sudden. 

    What was the most exciting machine to fire up and use for the first time?

    By far it was the espresso machine! It's still a joy to come in each morning and run it through its paces for the day; however, seeing all the effort culminate with the installation was amazing. It was the icing on the cake after a lengthy build out process.

    What sort of training do you have planned for operating the machines?

    This is something we're still building. Our coffee quality manager has extensive coffee experience and has trained each barista first in distinguishing a quality espresso shot from a poor shot. From there he demonstrates how adjustments to the grinders, espresso machine and tamping can swing taste along the quality spectrum. Consistency among our baristas is most important. Long term plans include SCA training to ensure our baristas are getting the best training possible. 

    What’s the first drink you made on your new espresso machine?

    I think we just drank straight espresso shots for the first few days! 

    What other steps have to happen after setting up equipment in order to open?

    Getting a solid workflow on bar was pretty important, as was integrating our full menu into the rotation. We've been fortunate to have an extended soft opening to bring it all together slowly. The inventory process was also a huge learning curve. Find the balance between being comfortable with the stock of items on hand, having enough space, and maintaining product quality is still something we are learning.

    Are you satisfied with your equipment choices?

    Overall most definitely. The only change we would make would be a dual unit batch brewer. Having the single unit limits some of our catering options.

    Do you feel that things worked out in terms of plans versus reality?

    Time will tell, but overall things have worked fairly closely with our plans. We know there's still a long way to go before calling our coffee shop a success, but it's been a pleasure operating the shop and having most of the big picture items meet expectations from the planning stages. 

     

    We'll be back soon with more from the Piecewise Coffee Co. crew!

  • Coffee Culture: United Kingdom

    Hello coffee fans!

    Today we're taking a look into the culture of coffee in the United Kingdom! Join us for a look at what it's like to have a cup of joe across the pond!

     

    Coffee In the UK

    The British coffee industry has boomed over the last ten years, increasing cups per day by 25 million! This and other facts about the UK's coffee craze came out in a 2018 study from the British Coffee Association. It found that Brits consume a whopping 95 million cups of coffee per day. This is surprising for us on the American side of the Atlantic. Here, we tend to view the UK as a tea drinking nation, and historically this is true. It is only in recent decades that the British has made the switch to coffee. Also interesting is where they're drinking our favorite caffeinated beverage.

    The study found that well over half of coffee in the UK is consumed at home. This clashes with the notion that most coffee drinkers are doing it in shops and restaurants. In fact, a mere 10% of coffee was found to be drank in cafes. By contrast, Reuters found that American drink as much as 36% of their coffee on the go or in coffee shops. Quite the difference!

    The UK has even seen an explosion of third wave roasters. While Americans may consider this country to be the epicenter of the specialty roasting movement, some Brits would argue otherwise. Despite the figures above, café culture is also booming in the island nation. Coffee drinkers there love espresso, with lattés, cappuccinos, and au laits being common orders at the local coffee shop.

    All of this is in opposition to the history of coffee in the UK. Until recently, most coffee drinkers preferred instant coffee for its simplicity. The shift to third wave roasting is often attributed to millennials seeing coffee as upper class and desirable. Either way, Britain continues to develop into a coffee loving nation!

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