Education

We aim to teach! Whether you're new to the coffee world, or a seasoned home barista, we want to help you learn the best ways and techniques to make coffee you love!
  • Static and Coffee Grounds

    One complaint we see a lot about grinders is that grounds can sometimes come out with a lot of static cling. This is certainly a pain, but how much is the grinder to blame for this clinginess? Read on to find out!

    What is static electricity?

    Static electricity occurs when there’s an imbalance of electric charge on a material. All materials are made of atoms that are, at rest, electrically neutral. This is due to a balance between positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. When two materials come in contact, electrons can move from one material to the other. The result is an imbalance between protons and electrons. It’s a complex process that’s a little heavier than what we’ve got time for today, but the main cause of static in coffee grounds is friction. 

    As you can probably guess, there’s a lot of friction inside of a grinder as the beans make their way from the hopper, into the grind chamber, through the burrs, and down the exit chute. All of this is exacerbated by dry air. This is why it can be a problem one day and not the next.

    So what’s the solution?

    The general solution for reducing static buildup is introducing more moisture. If your beans are clingy, you are probably seeing static buildup in other places as well. A humidifier can be a good step towards making the air in your kitchen less dry. This can provide benefits beyond just coffee grinding! Another option is to introduce a bit of moisture into the equation with some water drops in the bean hopper. This is a delicate balance because you don’t want to add too much water to the hopper or it’ll cause grounds to clump, but too little won’t have much effect on the static. It’s also possible that adding water won’t end up counteracting the static either.

    In the end, the best solution may be the simplest. A good hard thump on the grind chute and knocking your catch bin on the counter can knock grounds to the bottom. From there, giving the coffee a few minutes to settle before pouring into a filter can help the static dissipate.

     

  • Latte Art 101

    Latte art is the sign of a truly skilled and experienced barista. To pour good latte art your barista has to start with the perfect shot, then add milk steamed to just the right degree, with a specific degree of microfoam. Just learning to pull the shot and steam the milk consistently can take baristas hundreds, if not thousands of drinks. The ability to consistently pour beautiful shapes with that milk means you’ve got a barista who’s trained hard to put a smile on your face. 

    Learning to pour latte art at home can be a fun challenge that we thought we’d dig into!

    The Steam

    Steaming your milk for latte art is one of the most important parts of the process. You’ll want to start steaming with the wand at the bottom of the pitcher, then slowly bring it up to being about half an inch from the top of the milk. Once your milk reaches around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll want to move the wand deeper and use the pressure against the side of the pitcher to create a counter clockwise spin. It should look a bit like water circling a drain. You’ll want to make sure you maintain this motion until the milk is at your desired temperature. You’re aiming for a velvety texture and no large bubbles. Don’t forget to wipe down and purge your steam wand when finished!

    The Pour

    The hardest part of the process is the pour! Before pouring, make sure there are no large bubbles in your milk. If there are, give it a hard tap on the counter to break them up. Next swirl your milk and make sure it stays bubble free. Pour the milk slowly, but steadily, with your cup held at an angle. You can start with your pitcher further from the drink as you pour, but as you reach the halfway point you’ll want to bring the pitcher in close. As the foam begins to become more visible, use gentle wrist movements to create your desired patterns.

    Check out some of our favorite videos from John showing some specific patterns and tips!

  • Why Isn't Every Coffee Superauto Recommended?

    If you’ve tuned in for some of our videos or checked out our blogs on superautos you may have noticed something. We talk a lot about how we don’t recommend oily beans for superautos. One question we get a lot is, why? Why can’t you enjoy an oily French Roast in your new Carina or Miele? The answer can be described pretty simply, but we wanted to give a detailed explanation to help you get the most out of your machine. 

    Grinders and Oil

    If you’ve made it this far, you probably know that all coffee beans have some amount of oil on them. The degree to which the oil is released and sticks to the bean is largely dependent on the roasting process, but can also be influenced by the beans themselves. In any case, some roasts literally glisten with oil. Others are, by comparison, quite dry. 

    When you run any beans through your grinder, it can cause oil build up. This is just a fact of life when it comes to grinding coffee. With most grinders, you can open them up and give them a cleaning. Usually this involves removing the hopper and unscrewing the burrs, which can be time consuming, but isn’t hard with a standalone grinder. 

    Without regular cleaning like this, particularly oily beans can cause thick buildup on the burrs. Because burrs operate so close together, this oil buildup can cause sticking. Between that and the kind of buildup it has on the rotor, your grinder can completely seize. Again, this is something you can fix with a standalone grinder.

    Superauto Grinders

    The issue with superauto grinders is that they don’t open up for cleaning. Because of the way they are designed, superautos have to have each of their parts carefully engineered and positioned to work. That means there’s no way to open up the burrs and scrub them. This may seem like a major flaw, but if you just avoid the oiliest of beans your grinder will run for years and years!

    One potential option is Urnex’ recent innovation in grinder cleaning - SuperGrindz. This cleaning powder is designed specifically for cleaning buildup from superauto grinders. For anyone who absolutely must have a French roast in their superauto, it’s a good option. We still urge caution though, and you should make sure you use SuperGrindz as directed on the packaging. We say all this because grinder damage due to oil buildup is often NOT covered under warranties, as it is considered user damage. 

    The best bet is still to avoid those oily beans altogether!

     

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Alternative Brewers

    By now you’ve hopefully seen our guides for buying gear for pour over, drip, espresso, and superautos. Beyond those methods there’s a whole world of fun odds and ends to try! We wanted to list some of our favorite alternatives to the “standard” ways to make coffee, so read on to learn more!

    Presses and Cold Brew

    One very popular brewing method is the coffee press. While you’re probably familiar with the concept of the French Press, presses come in more varieties! First up, the American Press. This press uses the motion and ergonomic design of the French Press but has a brew chamber that increases the pressure to create a profile closer to espresso. For on the go brewing, AeroPress’ AP Go offers a similar cup to the American Press in a compact package. Both of these brewers use a medium grind, so you’ll be all set if you already have a burr grinder for use with a drip brewer or pour over!

    Cold Brew is one of the simpler ways to brew coffee, but it can seem like a pain given how much effort goes into one cup. The Cold Pro Jr. allows you to brew a large amount of concentrate overnight with very little prep. Simply add coarsely ground coffee to the filter, pour over water, and stick it in the refrigerator for 12 hours, and you’ll have more cold brew than you can drink. It’s a great way to explore this delicious way to brew!

    Siphons and Stove Top Espresso

    Two other fun ways to get more out of your coffee setup are the siphon brewer and the stovetop espresso maker. Stovetop espresso makers use steam pressure to make an espresso like drink on your stovetop instead of with a machine. The Ilsa Omnia is a great way to try this out, and works best with a finer grind like you’d get from an espresso grinder (though finer settings on brew grinders can work in a pinch too).

    A siphon brewer is another way to use your stovetop, and the Bodum’s Santos is a fun way to see this method in action! Easy to clean and simpler than it looks, vacuum brewing makes brewing coffee into a cool science experiment.

    Ready for something different?

    Bonus round! If you’re ready for something different, we recently brought in some incredible tea makers as well. The Breville One-Touch Tea Maker and Brewista Smart Brew each approach hands off, automatic tea brewing a little differently, but with similarly excellent results. Both offer the ability to brew puts of tea and keep them hot to sip on over time, a great change of pace for the coffee fan who craves some variety!

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • What's Sets Grinders Apart?

    Hello!

    We talk a lot about needing different grinders for different things, but why is that? Why is it that certain grinders are only for espresso, and others do best with brew? Why do espresso grinders tend to cost so much? What makes a burr grinders so important in the first place? We’re going to answer some of those questions today to help you understand grinders a little bit better!

    Why Burr Grinders?

    You may be used to using blade grinders for grinding your coffee. Blade grinders use a spinning blade to chop up coffee beans into chunks, and eventually into grounds. The problem here is consistency. Coffee is brewed with hot water passing through the grounds, causing elements of the coffee grounds to bond with the water as it moves through. This means that proper “extraction” of the coffee requires several key things. One of those things is proper consistency of your ground coffee. Having roughly equivalent chunks at the proper degree of fineness is really important to proper brewing, regardless of method used.

    Burr grinders swap the imprecise, inconsistent blades of a blade grinder for carefully engineered plates (or cones) that produce a consistent motion for grinding the coffee. These grinders have controls that allow you to set how far apart the burrs sit, which allows you to control the fineness of the grounds that come out. Finally, burr grinders typically use simple gravity to control the flow of beans. The beans feed from a hopper at the top into the grinding chamber, then the grounds pass through a chute into some form of catch (or portafilter for espresso). The result is perfectly ground, consistent coffee, when using a quality grinder.

    Drip Vs. Espresso

    As you may already know, espresso requires a finer grind than drip. This is because the grounds themselves help provide the pressure against the water passing through them. The finer the grind, the greater pressure against the water. While it’s entirely possible to go too fine, you need a finer grind than what many burr grinders designed for drip coffee can produce. To achieve this degree of fineness, espresso grinders often have specialized burrs that are more expensive to produce than drip grinders. They may also have more expensive internal elements like motors and bean paths as well. 

    There’s also the control factor. Stepped grinders have set “steps” that they click between for different degrees of fineness. Stepless grinders have dials that work more like a free turning screw, allowing you to even lock the burrs together at their tightest setting. Control type doesn’t factor into cost too much, but it is important to know that there are advantages to each type of control. Stepped grinders are easier to use and have very clear reference points, perfect for brewing drip coffee. Stepless grinders allow for more precise control and can work well across a range of brew types, but are harder to use.

    All of this is on a scale, as well. The Breville Smart Grinder, for example, is capable of grinding coarse enough for drip coffee and fine enough for espresso. However, the consistency and quality of grounds at both ends of the spectrum won’t necessarily match a Eureka Mignon Specialita for espresso and a Baratza Encore for drip. The Smart Grinder is affordable and versatile though, so it may be the preferred option for some users.

    What’s with the cost?

    If a Smart Grinder is under $300, and a Eureka Mignon is under $1,000, why do some grinders cost so very much? There are a lot of factors. One of the main ones is burr size. Larger burrs tend to produce more consistency in grinding. To support larger burrs the entire grinder has to be engineered for them. This increases the cost of the whole grinder. Some high end grinders also use things like gear reduction to carefully control the speed of the grind and balance power and speed to grind fast but consistently. All of this carries a premium price tag.

    Then there’s the extras. Things like weight based dosing, timers, screens, digital buttons, touch controls, etc. can all increase the cost of a grinder. In some cases most of the cost differences between grinders boil down to these extras. 

    Hopefully this clears up some of your questions about grinders, and makes picking out your first or next one easier!

     

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Grinders

    Hello! 

    If you’ve been keeping up with us recently you know we’ve been releasing our set of 2020 buying guides here on the SCG Blog. This week we’re providing a general look at buying your first coffee grinder, whether you’re pulling shots or brewing pour over. Let’s get started!

    Your First Espresso Grinder

    We covered buying an espresso grinder as part of our overall espresso buying guide. There we recommended the Rancilio Rocky and the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. These are excellent grinders that are very affordable for an espresso grinder. The reason you tend to pay more for an espresso grinder is because of the need for very fine, very consistent coffee. This generally requires premium burrsets, motors, and controls. 

    The Smart Grinder Pro and Rancilio Rocky aren’t quite as easy to dial in for espresso as a Eureka Mignon might be, but they are excellent grinders for the price. They’ll have you pulling unpressurized shots from your new machine with just a bit of practice. Learning on a grinder like this is especially good for new users, because it’ll help you understand how pulling shots works!

    Filter Brewing

    One of the nice things about the above listed grinders is that they’re also great for non-espresso brewing as well. So we recommend them if you’re looking to brew with a range of different methods. With that said, having to switch the settings back and forth all the time can be a pain, so it’s worth having a separate brew grinder if you can. If you’re not planning on brewing espresso at all then you can even save a bit with these recommendations.

    For filter brewing like drip and pour over it’s hard to recommend anything other than the spectacular Baratza Encore. This is a world class brew grinder perfect for a wide range of non-espresso applications. If you are looking for stepless control for more fine adjustments, Eureka’s Filtro and Brew Bro also offer very compelling options. All of these grinders will provide excellent grounds for filter brewing for years and years.

    Alternate Brew Methods

    There’s a world of other weird and wonderful ways to brew coffee out there, from press to vacuum and mokapot. For these varied types of brewing we recommend many of the above grinders in various configurations. If you love press coffee, something like the Baratza Encore will be the perfect match. If you want to brew a mokapot but have the option of switching to pour over brewing, the Smart Grinder Pro we mentioned is a great step between ultra-fine capable grinders and something that can go courser.

    In the end, grinder selection has more to do with how it’s specialized rather than how expensive it is. Pricier grinders are certainly pretty and full of bells, whistles, and performance for more demanding brew types like espresso. However, to get started you just need the right tool for the job!

    That’s all for now, we’ll be back with one more buying guide, featuring some alternative brewing methods, next week!

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • Brewing at Home for Maximum Efficiency

    Hello out there!

    2020 is certainly a weird and wild year, and we know it has many folks working from home. Our deepest condolences and most sincere thoughts go out to all of those affected by the outbreak. With all of that in mind, building an efficient coffee setup at home is key. We decided to break down some of our favorite brew methods and how long they take to go from whole beans to delicious coffee.

    Pour Over

    Pour over is definitely the slowest brew method we’re looking at today. From measuring, grinding, heating water, wetting filters, blooming, and pouring, a lot of work goes into the perfect pour over. While we think it’s totally worth it to get some of the tastiest coffee around, it’s not the most efficient way to brew. Pour over takes around 5-8 minutes to prepare for most home brewers, but can take as much as 10 minutes to get right if you’re not used to the process. It’s the perfect way to start your morning if you can find some time to spare though!

    Drip Brewing

    Drip brewing (and similarly, using a press) is one of the most hands off methods possible. While it can still take 3-5 minutes to set up your drip brewer, you can step away and get back to your other tasks while you wait for the coffee to brew. This may make it the ultimate option for your morning cup of coffee, as you’ll also get more than one cup out of a pot. Also the best choice if you’re brewing for someone else as well!

    Semi-Automatic Espresso

    Semi-Auto brewing is a mixed bag in terms of effort. An experienced home barista can pull a tasty shot in just a few minutes. The time from grinding to pulling to even steaming milk is quick, but takes practice to master. We recommend practicing and dialing in your grinder when you have more time on your hands. By properly dialing in and familiarizing yourself with your equipment, you can whip up a delicious mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up from your semi-auto machine in 5 minutes or less.

    Superautomatic Espresso

    Superautos are the pinnacle of convenience for espresso machines. Given how fast an easy it is to brew with a superauto, it’ll barely impact your routine. Pulling shots just takes a button press with a Carina or Xelsis. What’s more, depending on what kind of milk system your machine has you may even be able to automatically froth milk for lattes and cappuccinos. By combining all of these features, you’ll be able to get the same kinds of drinks you normally grab on your afternoon break in just minutes from your kitchen. The only downside is that superautos don’t produce drip coffee, but most *do* offer a lungo option, which is a long espresso shot that gets closer to the flavor of a drip brew.

    So there you have it! Four fantastic brewing methods that will fit your schedule throughout the day. Stay safe out there and enjoy your coffee!

     

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Drip Coffee

    We’ve looked at pour over, superautos, and semi-autos in our buying guides posts so far, but there’s a couple of stones still left unturned. Today we’re going to offer some advice for buying a machine perfect for one of the simplest, but most approachable kinds of coffee brewing: Drip! Drip coffee is easy to get started with, but with so many brewers out there it can be hard to get a grasp of what will provide the best bang for your buck. We’re here to help!

    Grinders

    First thing’s first, you need a way to grind your beans! While you could use pre-ground coffee, using freshly ground beans is the best way to get the most out of your brewer. In fact, having coffee that’s been freshly ground is arguably the most important part of the process alongside temperature stability. 

    With that in mind, it’s hard to recommend any grinder as highly for first time drip brewers as the Baratza Encore. This grinder is well priced, consistent, easy to use, and will last quite some time. Baratza is one of the best grinder producers that we know, and it shows in this no-frills knockout of a product. If your budget has a bit more headroom we can also wholeheartedly recommend the Eureka Filtro. The filtro offers just a bit more performance and reliability due to its larger burrs, which are specifically designed for drip brewing. The Filtro also features stepless grind adjust, which gives you more precise control over grind size.

    But what about upgrading? You may want something that provides a little bit more in the bells and whistles department in the future. On the Baratza front, the Vario-W features more micro adjustments than the Encore, with the addition of weight based dosing. As you explore the coffee world you’ll find that weight is a better way to dose your coffee than volume, and the Vario-W helps with that.  Eureka also offers an excellent grinder upgrade in the form of the Brew Pro. The Brew Pro features the same powerful burrs as the Filtro mentioned above. It also adds timed grinding via a vibrant touch screen. The perfect upgrade if you become accustomed to the precision stepless adjust of the filtro.

    Brewers

    It’s time for the main event! Selecting a brewer is actually a bit easier than you’d think. The two most important pieces of a drip brewer are temperature consistency and the ability to evenly wet grounds. Bonuses like pre-infusion are nice to get the absolute most flavor out of your coffee. For all of this and a palatable price, check out the Bonavita Connoisseur. This brewer offers exceptional temperature stability, has a wide angle showerhead for the water, and even does simple pre-infusion. It’s the perfect option to start with, and comes at an excellent price too. 

    But what about an upgrade? Eventually you might want more control than the Connoisseur offers. There’s arguably no better upgrade option you’ll find than the Breville Precision Brewer. This brewer offers an incredible degree of control over your coffee. Including options for brewing over ice, using a pour over attachment, specific gold cup brewing settings, and tons of options for setting custom recipes, the Precision Brewer should be the last machine you’ll ever need. 

    Thanks for joining us for this look at getting started with your drip brewing shopping list!

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines - Part 2

    Last week we took a look at the best purchases for semi-automatics and grinders to get started brewing espresso at home. This week we wanted to offer up some ideas for those ready for an upgrade! Whether you're outgrowing your machine or it's getting a little long in the tooth, here are some ideas for where to go next.

    Grinder

    Upgrading your grinder depends a lot on what you already have. Because the quality of your espresso is so dependent on the consistency of your grind, this is a key part of your setup. We generally recommend a grinder upgrade before you upgrade your machine. A great grinder can elevate the quality of espresso you're getting from a weaker machine. On the other hand, a fancy machine won't produce great shots without a quality grinder.

    The biggest thing you should look for in stepping up your grinder is a stepless grind adjust (pun a little bit intended). Stepless adjust means that the distance between the burrs isn't on set steps that click from one to the next. Stepless adjustment works more like a screw, bringing the burrs closer together as you turn the dial. While consistency in grounds is the most important thing in an espresso grinder, this kind of adjuster gives you more control. It is, however, harder to dial in beans with a stepless adjust. This is why we recommend these kinds of grinders as an upgrade.

    With that in mind, one of the all around best home grinder lines is Eureka. We love their Mignon line, which offers fast, consistent, and quiet grinding. The best part here is that there are several options that you can pick from depending on your budget. From the simple and efficient Silenzio all the way up to the feature filled Specialita. All of the grinders in this line feature stepless adjustment.

    Machine

    There's one particular machine we love for anyone looking to upgrade, and that's the Rocket Espresso Appartamento. This is a stellar espresso machine that brings you a heated E61 brew group, pro style steam, and hands on brewing. All of these features strike at the sort of creature comforts that come with a commercial machine. While the Appartamento will take practice to pull the perfect shot, it has the power and reliability to be the last espresso machine you buy.

    If you're looking to go even bigger, the Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato and Giotto offer their own arguments, each providing incredible upgrades. Either way, these are machines that will last you decades. Finally, if you're looking to go really big, the Rocket Espresso R58 is a behemoth of a machine that will give the local coffee shop a run for its money. It's another machine that will last you a lifetime.

    We recommend all of these upgrades because of the power of their pumps, plumbing options, and PID controlled temps. Check out our reviews and other educational articles to get a better understanding of how each of these elements puts these machines over the top.

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines - Part 1

    The semi-automatic espresso machine is the cornerstone of the serious home barista setup. A semi-automatic machine is the sort that requires the user to manually grind, tamp, and brew espresso. It takes finesse and practice that a superauto cuts out, but the reward is worth it. While superauto machines make some great drinks, there's nothing like pulling just the flavor you're after from a tricky single origin.

    But it can be daunting to get started with semi-autos. There's a lot to choose from! For this reason, we're taking a look at some great initial buys in part 1 of our guide. Next time we'll cover some upgrade options. For now, we're going to talk about a couple of first time grinder and machine options to get you brewing!

    Choosing a Grinder

    Choosing a grinder is one of the most important parts of your first espresso setup. Grinders can elevate a less powerful machine by producing perfect, consistent grounds. This is why we recommend budgeting around your grinder first, if you're not looking at an all in one machine like the Breville Barista Express. So what are the best options? One of the most solid options for your first espresso grinder is a Breville Smart Grinder Pro. This grinder is easy to use, offers features that punch above its price point, and most importantly, will grind fine enough for unpressurized espresso brewing. That last point is key, because many other grinders that do this are well above this price point. Another option is the Rancilio Rocky, which is also a consistent, excellent grinder that may last you longer than the Smart Grinder Pro. It does come at a higher price point and with less fancy features, though. Either way, both of these grinders will provide a solid foundation for years, and allow you to upgrade big on your machine choice!

    Choosing a Machine

    Here it is, your big choice, what machine will you start with? Thankfully, recent years have provided some excellent starter options. First of all, there are the Breville machines. The Barista Express combines grinder and brewer into one affordable package. This is a great way to get started, but is inflexible, you can't upgrade the grinder separate from the machine, or vice versa. The other Breville options is the SCG Exclusive Breville Bambino Plus. This is the same machine as the Bambino Pro you can find at other retailers, but includes an unpressurized portafilter. We've talking about filter pressurization in the past, but having the option to go unpressurized is really great! Paired with the above grinders, you'll be able to pull delicious, cafe quality shots from the Bambino Plus.

    Odds and Ends

    There's some other odds and ends that you might want to consider with your first setup. First of all, a knockbox like this one from Dreamfarm is a great addition to your set up. It'll allow you to eject pucks from your portafilter without carrying it to the trash can. A tamping mat like this Rocket Espresso offering will also help you keep your station clean. Finally, it might have to be an upgrade option, but a scale like the Brewista Smart Scale II is a great way to weigh your shots to dial in the perfect flavor with your machine.

    We hope this helps you make some choices for your first machine! We'll be back soon with some fantastic upgrade options for those jumping up to a more expensive machine.

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

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