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!
  • The Importance of Timing and Weighing Your Shots

    Pulling the perfect shot of espresso is a learning experience. It's not easy to go from beginner to proficient at such a delicate process. We've talked in the past more generally about ways to improve your espresso game. Today we wanted to take a look at timing and weighing shots, two key components of brewing great espresso!

    Shot Weight

    Shot weight is important because, as with drip coffee, ratio is key. You need the right amount of water to pass through just the right amount of ground coffee. This ensures that the chemical process of coffee and water molecules bonding takes place. For drip coffee, using a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water is pretty standard. Due to espresso's more concentrated, syrupy nature and the pressure from brewing, 1:2 coffee to water is a good starting point. Using a scale to weigh your shot as it pulls is key here! While you can also use a shot pitcher that measures volume, a scale gives you more freedom. With it, you can brew to exact ratios and try different amounts of coffee and water.

    The important thing here is making sure your scale can accommodate you portafilter for weighing grounds AND be small enough to fit under the brewhead. Examples like the Acaia Lunar are small enough to fit under brew spouts and can be combined with plates to fit portafilters.

    Shot Timing

    In order to manage the perfect extraction, the amount of time a shot takes to pull is very important. Most of the time you'll be aiming for your shot to pull in 20-30 seconds. For more adventurous recipes you might use different timings. If your shot pulls very fast it could mean that you need a finer grind or a tighter tamp. Too long and you may need the opposite. In either case, without timing your shots you'll never know for sure.

    Poorly extracted shots can taste sour or bitter, just generally bad. If the timing is good and you use the right volume of coffee and water, you know that it's a problem with the bean! Many scales offer shot timers, but to truly measure down to the millisecond, try to find a brewer with one built in. Timers on machines will usually start automatically when the shot begins to pull. This ensures everything is synced up exactly. Check out this year's the Rocket Giotto for a great machine with built in timer.

    We hope this article drives home the important of adding a timer and scale to your espresso setup!

  • What Makes An Expensive Machine Better?

    It may seem odd that espresso machines have such a wide price range. Why is it that we recommend such expensive machines when $200 options exist? What makes a $2,000+ machine worth it? Loads of factors actually! Some may seem obvious, but others are not.

    Heating Elements

    Arguably the largest cost point of an espresso machine is its heating element. Espresso needs a tight temperature band right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Producing consistently hot water like this can be a challenge. You have probably noticed that as soon as you pour boiling water, it drops by a few degrees. Water for espresso needs to get from the water tank, through a heater, then to the portafilter at 200 degrees. Cheap machines tend to fail to do this without telling you. The result is lower quality espresso.

    Another factor is heatup time. Some machines are designed to quickly heat small quantities of water for each shot. Machines with larger boilers take longer to heat up initially but hold more hot water for multiple shots. In both of these cases, water is heated quickly and efficiently, which isn't always true with cheaper brewers.

    Pumps

    Consistent hot water is one of the keys of brewing perfect espresso. Consistent pressure is the other big element. 9 BAR of pressure must be applied to the puck with the water in the portafilter. This pressure is what creates proper extraction. To brew good espresso, the pump must be able to quickly put out 9 BAR and sustain it through the brew process. Cheap machines offset this requirement by using pressurized portafilters. These portafilters have additional material in them to provide resistance. While some great machines do brew with pressurized filters, they generally still have consistent pumps. Cheaper machines lack this.

    Case Material, Interface, Odds and Ends

    Another core element of machine pricing is materials. It may seem obvious, but a shiny stainless steel machine just costs a lot more to produce than one made of plastic. While plastic isn't always a bad thing, it can be a factor for many users. Having that solid, metal case can be a major selling point. More important than the case though, is the inside. hoses, gaskets, and fittings made from solid, long lasting materials matter. Cheaper machines might use plastic on the inside of machines at common failure points. More expensive machines avoid this by using stronger metal and rubber.

    Also important are things like controls. Does your machine have mechanical control elements like levers and dials? Or are you simple pushing a cheap feeling button for steam? This won't matter for some, but for others having that tactile control is important.

    Finally, little odds and ends like cool touch steamwands, specific grouphead styles like E61, and three way solenoid valves may SEEM minor, but they can matter. E61 groupheads, for example, help hot water stay hot during brewing. There are a lot of seemingly small bullet points that really matter in the long run.

    ...And Much Much More!

    Beyond everything here, there's so much more to talk about in the nitty gritty. Temperature controllers, plumbability, NSF certifications for commercial outlets, and even more! Trust us when we say, there's a lot that goes into upping your espresso game. It's worth it to do hard research on your new machine purpose to understand the cost. It'll help you end up with a generational machine for you to learn on instead of one you'll replace in a year or two.

  • Superauto Milk Steaming Systems

    There are a lot of different ways that superautos handle milk steaming. While the end result is your morning latte or cappuccino, how you get there has an effect on the final product. Here’s a rundown of some of the milk systems you might run into while browsing Seattle Coffee Gear!

    Panarello

    Panarello steam wands work a lot like the kinds of steam wands you find on semi-automatic espresso machines. The difference is that these wands are designed to direct steam in your milk in such a way that less finesse is required compared to a standard steam wand. While you do have to hold the milk up to the wand to do the steaming, these devices also let you decide how hot you’d like your milk. This is useful for superauto owners because one of the complaints some people have about these types of machines is milk not being hot enough. On the other hand, the whole point of superautos is to make the whole process automatic, so you'll have to decide for yourself if you value control more than convenience. Take a look at the Philips Carina for an example of a Panarello system.

    Siphon System

    Cappuccinotores and other siphoning systems pull milk through a tube into a steam chamber within the machine. From there the milk is delivered to your cup. These systems are easy to use and convenient, but they can require a bit of extra cleaning and don’t offer much control over the process of steaming the milk. Since milk is drawn into the machine, it's hard to get all the way in and clean the inner-workings of the steam system by hand. Luckily most siphon systems feature a cleaning cycle that makes it easy to run a cleaning agent through the system to clean out any gunk. Another thing to keep in mind is that siphons don't always handle alternative milks or cream easily. You should make sure your machine will be able to heat something other than milk if you use an alternative. The Miele line of superautos uses a siphon system.

    Carafes

    Carafes generally have you pouring milk into a container that you then plug in to your machine. Milk is pulled from the carafe into a steam chamber, then dispensed into your drink. This method helps to cut down on waste, you can simply store the carafe in the fridge with any excess milk. These systems do mean another item to clean, and often are more expensive than the other options on this list. Otherwise, carafe fed milk systems are a really great option that simplifies your steaming. The Saeco Incanto Carafe features a carafe.

    Hygiesteam

    Hygiesteam is a unique system developed by Saeco for use with Xelsis machines from 2018 onward. This system uses cleaning agents and a metal siphon that self cleans itself periodically to help alleviate cleaning issues. While the siphon can be placed in any container, a specially designed carafe supplied with the machine even combines some of the conveniences of other carafe based systems. Overall, the Xelsis' Hygiesteam system produces some of the best milk we've ever had out of a superauto, largely due to the control you get from the touch screen interface of the machine. Check out Hygiesteam on the Xelsis here.

    LatteGo

    The newest entry to the superauto milk steaming family is Philips' LatteGo. This device looks just like the carafe you might find on other machines, but actually offers something very new and different. Instead of pulling milk through tubing, milk is pulled into a simple steam chamber and poured through a part of the carafe itself. A siphon at the bottom of the device pulls the milk up into a chamber that steam is injected into, but that chamber is part of the carafe instead of the machine. The milk is then poured through a large spout into your coffee. This is a great system that creates excellent texture and can be cleaned and stored very easily. It really combines some of the best elements of different milk steaming systems into one package. The LatteGo system is available only on the Philips 3200 LG for now.

    As you can see, there are a lot of options for superauto milk steaming!

     

     

     

  • Clearing Space: Where To Put It All?

    It's a constant struggle as a coffee fan, where do you put all of your supplies? How do you manage a machine, grinder, accessories, cups, the coffee itself... Sometimes it feels like too much! Here are some ideas for ways to keep down the clutter and manage your coffee making space, from grinders, to drip brewers, to espresso.

    General Tips

    The first thing we recommend is creating a dedicated space. This isn't possible for everyone, but whether it's a kitchen island, a space next to the sink, or the top of a shelf, it helps. Carving out a specific space for your coffee equipment helps cut down on mess and clutter. You also wont have to worry about finding your gear when it's time to get brewing. The biggest consideration in picking your space is access to power and water. This is especially important for an espresso brewer, where you'll need to provide both in steady supply.

    We also recommend dedicating some organizational space to your brewing space as well. This could be a drawer under the counter, a cabinet, or dedicated shelf space below your brewing area. Having a place to carefully and generally store your accessories next to, but without cluttering your brewing space is important.

    Finally, there's storing the coffee beans themselves. We recommend a solution like an Airscape or a Fellow Atmos. These canisters  vacuum seal your coffee, keeping it fresher for longer. It's also easier to scoop coffee from a canister than it is from a bag.

    Espresso

    For espresso setups, having a clear workflow from machine, to grinder, to tamp, to machine is key. You'll want a mat like a this one from Rocket Espresso, and to store your portafilter in your machine. Another tip is to keep a catch tray under your grinder. This way you'll be able to easily clean up any excess grounds and cut down on mess.

    Another big thing to keep in mind is your circuit. You'll want to make sure that running your grinder and espresso machine at once won't trip anything, otherwise you might be in for a longer wait for your morning coffee.

    Otherwise, keeping your grinder, portafilter, and machine close to each other and near needed power, water, and milk will be a huge help!

    Drip Brewing

    For drip brewing a lot of the same principals apply, but you'll also want to be able to carefully weigh out your grounds before brewing. If you're a fan of measuring volume instead of weight, you may want to keep a second storage container handy for excess ground coffee. Otherwise, you might miss your grind amounts and throw coffee out.

    Handy storage options for drip and pourover brewing include this filter holder, it's designed for V60 dripper filters, but can fit other filters as well.

    Keeping a grinder, whole and ground canisters, and filters close at hand should lead to an excellent cup of drip.

    There are other organization tips out there, but all of the above should get you started on curating a space for your brewing. This will help you to enjoy your morning cup with less prep and less cleanup, giving you more time to focus on the coffee!

  • Choosing a Drip Brewer

    Are you ready to upgrade from your cheaper drip brewer into something a little more powerful? Maybe you had coffee out of a Precision Brewer or a Technivorm and are ready to upgrade your drip game? At first, choosing a drip brewer can seem daunting. Why doesn't a Technivorm have a screen? Do I have to program a Bonavita? Why are they so expensive? All of these are questions you might ask when first considering a new drip brewer, and we've got you covered!

    Why Bother?

    The first question that's important to answer is "why even pay more than $50 for a drip brewer?" And it's one of the easier ones to answer. To do so, lets break down what a drip brewer does. At its core, a drip coffee brewer heats water and then showers a basket of ground coffee with that water. From there, water drips into a carafe or mug. So what's the big idea with high quality brewers?

    The biggest thing is consistency. Ideal brewing conditions for coffee involve water heated to right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (this can change with certain coffees, but is a good baseline). That means you need a brewer that can heat water to this temperature as it passes through a heating element and into the ground coffee. Ideally, this temperature will be maintained until the moment it hits the grounds. This creates the absolute best extraction.

    Cheaper brewers have a hard time heating water to precise temperatures, and an even harder time maintaining those temperatures through the brewing process. This is the absolute number one reason to switch off of a cheaper brewer. Cheap brewers can also fail to saturate all of the grounds with their spray heads, resulting in coffee that isn't properly extracted.

    So How Do I Choose?

    Given the above, the first criteria to look for is consistent water dispersal and heating. Options like a Motif or Bonavita brewer over this sort of performance without any bells and whistles. They make great brewers for someone who wants a very simple option with a very "standard" look.

    For something with a more unique appearance, check out Technivorm. These brewers also offer incredibly consistent performance, and with the right care, can last decades.

    These machines also often perform a "pre-infusion." This means that a small amount of water is used to wet the grounds and bloom the coffee. This helps release aroma and acids that can cause bitterness without this blooming period.

    If all you are looking for is a consistent cup of drip coffee, the above will help. Getting a brewer that is up for that temperature consistency and even water spray will go a long way in producing your perfect cup in the morning.

    With that said though, there's always the extra mile.

    Bells, Whistles, Screens, and Settings

    For those that want to tweak the brewing process, you'll want more than a simple one button brewer. Trying different flavor profiles by modifying brew temperature is possible with more technical machines. You might also be able to do things like brew specifically for iced coffee or control pre-infusion time. With this much control over the brewing process, you'll be able to experiment and find the perfect recipe for each roast you take home.

    While it's not the only brewer out there with advanced features like this, the Breville Precision Brewer is a great example of this type of drip brewer. It's also easy to use, and offers a quick, one touch brewing cycle that resembles the machines discussed above.

    With all of that down, all that's left to decide on is carafe! Most brewers come with the option of a glass carafe with a warming plate, or a thermal carafe that keeps the coffee warm without the plate. This is all down to personal preference. Leaving coffee on a warming plate can scorch it if left too long, but some coffee drinkers can taste a difference with a stainless carafe. Let your taste buds be the judge and try coffee from each if you can!

    We hope this helps you on your quest to find the perfect drip brewer for your kitchen!

  • Cleaning Your Grinder For Standalones and Superautos

    Cleaning a standalone grinder is the sort of task that seems like it should be pretty simple, because it's a simple machine, right? Turns out, there's a load of good reasons as to why you should clean your grinder. While methods of doing it vary in complexity, it doesn't hurt to have a cheat sheet handy. So let's dive in!

    Why Clean Your Grinder?

    It may seem like there's not much to clean on a grinder, as they are, in theory, simple devices. The fact is, coffee oil builds up on grinders too, and can gum up the burrs and motors of yours. This can, most importantly, adversely affect taste. The flavor of your coffee comes through best when nothing gets between it and your brewing process. As such, oil buildup that comes out in your grounds can lead to a stale or altered flavor. Not the best for your carefully crafted pourover or espresso! On top of that, grinders can seize if enough oil builds up on them. This can lead to expensive repairs and a lack of coffee! So what's the answer?

    Cleaning a Standalone Grinder:

    Standalone grinders range in difficulty to clean. The easiest way to make sure they are running in top shape is to run some Grindz through the grinder on a regular basis. Exactly how regular is going to depend largely on use. If you use your grinder daily, cleaning with Grindz every couple of months is a good start.

    For deeper cleaning, many grinders are easily disassembled. From there you can get in and scrub the burrs and motor components as needed to get out any oil residue. This is the kind of cleaning you might want to do annually, depending on use. It should be noted that some grinders are very difficult to take apart, and doing so could void your warranty. Always check that warranty before disassembly, and use a guide to help you if possible.

    Cleaning a Superauto Grinder:

    For years the standing rule for superautos is to avoid oily beans because you simply can't clean them. While we'd still recommend sticking to drier beans, we can finally recommend a cleaning product for your superauto's grinder! Supergrindz is an exciting new cleaner from Urnex that finally allows you to clean out your superauto grinder! This cleaner does a great job and with monthly usage can help extend the life of your superauto. It's easy to use, simply drop remove any beans from the hopper, brew a couple of large cups of coffee, add the directed amount into the grinder and brew some more, then add coffee and grind until you are no longer getting yellow residue in the waste bin. The result is a squeaky clean, and happy, superauto grinder.

     

  • Pressurized Vs. Unpressurized - What's the Difference?

    A classic question for new espresso machine customers is what's the difference between an unpressurized and pressurized portafilter basket. The answer is actually pretty simple, but to understand the whole story we need to start with the basics. First of all, the portafilter is what holds the coffee when brewing espresso. It's what you grind, distribute, and tamp in. Water is then pushed through the "puck" of coffee contained in the portafilter to brew the espresso. With all of this in mind, we know that we need pressure to make this happen. That pressure is created when the pumped water meets the finely ground coffee. All of this is why espresso requires very fine coffee, so that there is the perfect amount of resistance as water is pressed through.

    The basket is the insert that holds the coffee in the portafilter. Removed from the portafilter, it looks like a metal cup with holes in the bottom. These holes are what ultimately lets the brewed coffee through into your cup. So where does the pressurized vs. unpressurized terminology come in?

    The basics

    Unpressurized baskets are what you find in higher end machines, and always how professional espresso is brewed. These are baskets that function entirely as mentioned above. In an unpressurized basket, nearly all of the resistance is created by the coffee, not by the basket. When everything is dialed in, this creates the best result, because you're making the coffee and the pump do all the work.

    Pressurized baskets are a little bit different. These baskets use one of a few different methods to artificially add resistance. In some cases, a small chamber with offset holes acts as that resistance. Others designs use a smaller set of holes centered in the middle of the basket to slow extraction. In any case, the result is artificial resistance that slows down the brewing process, giving more time for the coffee to extract.

    So why would you want one over the other?

    As noted above, unpressurized portafilters naturally provide the best extraction, creating the best espresso. With that said, this also takes a very fine grind that is carefully dialed in. This means that you have to spend time on getting everything just right, and have an espresso specific grinder. Unpressurized baskets create less perfect espresso, but are less finicky and can handle a coarser grind. It's up to you to determine where the sweet spot is for you!

  • Coffee Extraction In Non-Espresso Brewing

    We talk a lot about sour vs. bitter shots in terms of espresso, but extraction matters for other brew methods too! Drip, pourover, press, espresso, cold brew, and more are all just different ways to get molecules to bond. We thought we'd talk a bit about extraction in pourover and drip coffee too!

    Sour Vs. Bitter

    You may already know that espresso shots can turn out bitter our sour. This is usually because your grind is too course or fine. A bitter shot is due to under-extraction and a sour shot is the opposite. What's happening here is that the bitter shot is being run through grounds that are too course. This means the water comes through the coffee grounds without getting a chance to properly bond with the coffee molecules. Sour shots are the opposite. In this case, the grind is too fine, making it harder for water to pass through and over extracting the coffee. Both of these things can happen in other brew methods as well!

    While its true that drip and pourover coffee are less demanding in terms of grounds, they still matter. What you're looking for here is consistency as much as fine-ness, because these brewing methods just work differently than espresso. In the case of espresso, water is being pumped through the puck of grounds. This means that finer grounds are needed to "stop" the water. In the case of drip and pourover, gravity is the thing pulling the water through. That means that much coarser grounds will work. That said, consistent grounds are important to ensure even extracation. So how do you correct for sour and bitter shots?

    Grind and Flow Rate

    The first thing to do is check your grind. Much like with espresso, if you're getting sour pourovers, consider making your grind a bit coarser. Do the opposite for bitter pots. Another thing you can seek to modify is your pour rate, and your amounts per pour. While the difference here should be minuscule, using a Gooseneck kettle will keep you from pouring too fast. In terms of amount, more water in your filter can lead to a faster flow rate through the coffee. Using less water per pour if your coffee is bitter and a bit more if its sour may not fix the problem, but it's a thing to try.

    Again though, grind courseness and consistency is almost always the most important thing!

  • Espresso Vs. Drip Grinders

    We get a lot of questions about what makes a good drip grinder Vs. espresso. We often get questions about the best grinder for both applications as well. There are a lot of things that go into a grinder, so we wanted to provide some tips for what makes each type tick.

    Drip Grinders

    What makes a great drip grinder is consistency. It's fairly well understood that larger burrs can lead to finer grind. In the case of a great drip brewer we're more interested in control settings and consistency than getting as fine as possible. Because drip brews require less fine adjustments, stepless controls are additional nice-to-haves, but not a necessity. What is important is consistency. A grinder with a decent sized (40mm or so) burrset and conical shape will provide quality, consistent grounds.

    Ultimately the point we're getting to here is that drip brewing is simply less demanding than espresso. This means that buying a drip grinder should be a much smaller dent in your budget than an espresso grinder.

    Espresso Grinders

    For espresso, consistency and control are important, but power is required as well. Espresso brewing requires a highly precise grind due to the pressure at play. This is especially true when using unpressurized portafilter baskets, because your grounds are helping to create that pressure. This means that you need very fine grounds that are also very consistent. The best way to get this is with larger (50mm or larger) burrs. Finding a compromise between burr size, shape, and price is key here. This need for more fine grounds is also why some grinders just can't to drip and espresso. Such a wide range of positions isn't possible for every burrset to do well.

    Another important facet here is control. Unlike other brew methods, desired fineness will shift from roast to roast. Some coffees will want a slightly coarser or finer grind depending on origin, roast level, and more. This all means that super fine adjustments are very important. You'll also need to carefully dial in your grinder for the best results for espresso whenever you refill it with a new bean. Which leads us to our conclusion...

    Why Not Both?

    Instead of hunting for a grinder to do both drip and espresso, consider budgeting for a separate one for each method. This may seem like overkill, but switching from your carefully dialed in espresso grind to drip and then re-dialing it is a large frustration. Even if you carefully mark where your espresso grind is set, it can be quite difficult to find the spot precisely. On the other hand, drip grinders are so comparatively affordable that by sacrificing a bit of budget for a separate one you can really make your coffee setup more usable.

    It's for this reason that we hesitate to recommend grinders that can handle both types of brewing, even if they technically do exist. Just make your life easier by adding a small drip grinder to your kitchen! We're sure it'll save you some headaches.

  • Thermoblocks Vs. Thermocoils

    Several years ago we offered a description of thermoblock espresso machine heating elements. You can find that post here!

    Thermoblocks

    A thermoblock is a type of heating element commonly found in home espresso machines. Unlike commercial machines, which feature a boiler, many home machines simply pull water through a heating element for brewing and steaming. Thermoblocks are heating elements of this type that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In these machines, water travels through a heated block of metal. The water heats up as it passes through the block, preparing it for steaming or brewing. By altering the temperature and flow rate through the block, temperatures for each application can be met. The result is a relatively inexpensive method for heating water for espresso brewing and steaming.

    The downside to thermoblocks is that they can lake consistency and longevity. While a high quality thermoblock espresso machine can be nearly commercial grade, cheaper versions exist as well. Ultimately, thermoblocks are a good option for home espresso heating, but newer thermocoils continue to see more use.

     

    Thermocoils

    Thermocoil heating elements function similarly to thermoblocks. These elements still pull water through the heating element. The difference is that instead of pulling the water through a multiple piece chamber, they use a tube. These tubes are usually made out of copper or another metal. Because the water circulates in the chamber more thoroughly, these heating elements are generally more consistent. While you still have to allow time for temp changes from steaming to brewing, overall they are usually faster too.

    On top of this, thermocoils tend to last longer. Because the water circulates in a closed tube, they tend to be less prone to leaks and failures. The best part is that as thermocoil technology evolves, the price is coming down. The result is even better home espresso than you could get several years ago!

     

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