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!
  • Brew Ratios

    Most at-home coffee enthusiasts know that the gold standard brew ratio for a pot of coffee is 1:16 coffee to water. This means that if you use 10 grams of ground coffee you’ll want to use 160 grams of hot water for brewing. The reason for this has to do with extraction. Coffee to water ratio is one of the three key ingredients for brewing great coffee. The others, of course, are water temperature and grind size.

    With all of that in mind, are there times that you might want to stray from that 1:16 ratio? 

    Alternative Brew Ratios

    For drip and pour over coffee, 1:16 will create the gold standard cup of coffee that really exemplifies the roast that you’re using. It’ll be the best way to tease out the flavor notes on the bag and generally offers the flavor agreed upon as ideal. That said, everyone’s tastes are different. If you brew up a new bag and find that it tastes too strong, you can try a 1:17 ratio. This will “water down” the coffee, but it may create a flavor more conducive to your taste buds. 

    The reverse of this is true too. If you like your new roast but wish it were just a stronger flavor, by brewing at a 1:15 ratio you’ll find a stronger flavor. The issue is what flavors this will tend to bring out. A weaker ratio may water down some of the more delicate, gentle notes that make a coffee unique. By contrast, brewing a roast stronger may not intensify your favorite notes.

    Ratios for Different Brew Methods

    While all of the above applies to drip, pour over, and press brewing, espresso is a different world entirely. There’s certainly a lot of ways to express a brewer’s touch on pour over coffee, but espresso offers another level of experimentation. Generally, you’ll want to start with a 1:2 ratio of coffee to water for espresso. With that said, the variability of espresso flavors by slightly modifying parameters is quite pronounced. 

    The goal with espresso shots is to brew something smooth without any bitterness or sour notes. To do this, you have to careful balance grind level, shot time, and ratios. Many easy to dial in blends will work best at that 1:2 ratio with a 20-30 second shot time. The variable will be your grind size, which you’ll adjust to hit those parameters. But then there’s the trickier single origins.

    While that 1:2 ratio and 20-30 second pull time is a good baseline, we try coffees better suited to experimentation all the time. These usually come in the form of single origins. In some cases, a longer pull will draw out some of the sneakier flavor notes in a single origin. On the flip side, using more coffee and less water can drastically alter the profile of the shot.

    The important thing when experimenting with espresso is to make very small adjustments. Jumping to a 1:1 ratio will have a pretty significant impact on shot flavor. This may result in a better shot, or one especially suited to combining with milk. That said, we usually recommend experimenting with pull time and grind size before adjusting ratios. This is partly because there’s a limit to the amount of coffee you can make work in a portafilter on both sides of the equation. 

     

    Hopefully this look at brew ratios has given you some ideas for where you’d like to take your next espresso shot or pour over!

  • Coffee Acidity

    Ah acid, it’s a constant topic of conversation for some coffee drinkers, and we can understand why. The acidic flavors in coffee are one of the reasons people love this drink so much. From bright citrus and fruity flavors to sparkling notes that dance across your palate, those acidic flavors are enticing for a lot of coffee fans. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who have to avoid acid for health or taste reasons. The issue is that sometimes the flavors we associate with acids and the actual acid content in a cup of coffee do not correlate at all. So what’s the deal?

    The Chemisty

    Acid content in a cup of coffee plays into flavor extensively. In fact, it’s a careful balance. Too much acid leads to sour tasting coffee. If the acid content is too low, the coffee will have a flat, uninteresting taste. Striking that balance is key. The first thing to understand here is that there are multiple kinds of acids at play. Malic, citric, and tartaric acid (along with some other acid compounds) all add unique flavor to the roast. There are also chlorogenic acids, which break down into quinic and caffeic acids. These acids come out during the roasting process, and cause bitterness and a sour flavor. This is why darker roasts tend to be more bitter.

    This means that your first step is in determining what acids you want to avoid. From there, you can make informed judgements about acid content based on factors of the coffee’s production.

    Origin, Variety, Process

    As you (hopefully) know, coffee is a plant! This means that its nutritional content largely comes from the contents of the soil it draws nutrients from. This means that origin plays into coffee acidity very much. Different origins have soil with different acid contents, so if you know that Colombian coffees tend to be grown in soil with higher citric acid contents, you can assume a Colombian coffee will contain more citric acid than an Ethipiopian coffee. 

    Then there’s variety/species. Arabica coffees tend to be lower in acidity than Robustas, for example. From there different varieties will have their own differences in acidity. Climate and elevation can also play into the equation, with cooler climate coffees tending to be higher in acid content due to their slower development.

    FInally, there’s processing. 

    Washed processing, for example, leads to more acidic flavors. This is because the pulp of the cherry is washed from the bean, so those fruity compounds don’t dry into the bean. This is why washed coffees tend to taste a bit more sparkly and balanced without that sweetness to overpower the acid. This is not a change in the overall acid content however, just perceived acidity. 

    Brewing

    You can also affect acidity with your brew method. Since coffee extraction is the chemical process of water bonding with molecules in the coffee grounds, it plays a big role in determining overall acidity in your cup. How does this translate to your recipe? 

    To get a lower acid cup, you’ll want a finer grind time, longer brew time, and lower water temps (but still in the 195-205 fahrenheit range). This lengthier extraction time will allow acids to release during brewing, leading to a less acidic cup. For more of that sparkling acidity, simply reverse those parameters.

    In the end though, there’s no way to completely eliminate acids from coffee. The best you can do is make informed guesses as to acid content. 

     

  • 5 Things to Know Before Opening a Coffee Business

    Taking a passion for coffee beyond your kitchen and into a professional setting can be challenging, but also deeply rewarding. There’s a world of choices, problems, and concepts to confront before you start shopping for coffee equipment. At Seattle Coffee Gear, we’ve made it our mission to help you every step of the way. With that in mind, here are some key things to think about before you open your commercial coffee business. 

    Your coffee identity

    The first thing you should think about when planning your business is what your coffee identity is going to be. This may seem like a simple choice, but how you define your coffee service determines so much of your business plan. Things like floorplan, water needs, electrical requirements, barflow, workflow, and ultimately equipment choices will be impacted by these concepts. Here are some examples of specific kinds of coffee businesses:

    The Coffee Shop

    Coffee is your bread and butter. From carefully crafted pourover to incredible espresso shots, your focus is on coffee. You have a carefully trained staff that knows the ins and outs of coffee service and how to provide your customers with a memorable experience . Your espresso machine is on your front counter, so that baristas can look toward the customer as they prepare their drink. You have a close relationship with your roasting partner or partners and select coffee roasts based on quality and taste. You or someone on your management team understands how to properly cup coffees and identify “good” vs. “bad” tasting coffee. New employees are trained rigorously on bar process and coffee knowledge, and are hired based on their barista experience. You may offer some food items such as pastries from local bakeries and supporting drink/food options, but your menu revolves around your coffee service.

    The bar/bakery/restaurant

    Coffee is not your central product. You care about being able to offer fresh brewed drip and espresso based drinks, but maybe your espresso machine is on the back bar, or somewhat out of sight. You focus primarily on food/service/other drinks and offer coffee as a supporting item. Perhaps Your coffee purchasing is based on price and availability over specific flavors. Ideally you have someone on staff that manages your coffee service and has barista experience, but you don’t necessarily focus as much on coffee when training new employees as a coffee shop would.

    The Coffee Cart/Truck

    Your business is small and mobile. You work events and busy street corners or lots. The biggest challenge you face is cramming a full coffee service into a small amount of space. You’ll need to think about this alongside all of the normal questions that come along with opening a coffee shop. This will lead to important questions and choices that you’ll want to answer from the unique position of a small amount of floorspace.

    The Office Kitchen

    You provide coffee to those working in an office, but want to find a more efficient, satisfying, and sustainable solution than a single cup brewer. You have a wide range of tastes among staff that you want to affordably satisfy, without spending much time on training. You need a machine that can potentially brew many drinks per hour to keep up with the demands of your staff.

    Putting it all together

    Your business will most likely have unique needs that these examples don’t cover, but generally this should give you a starting point for this thought process. Consider these concepts and work on completing the Coffee Identity Worksheet to get an idea of what your coffee service will look like on opening day.

    Build a Business Plan

    Having an idea of how your coffee service will look is a great start, but you’ll need to expand that visioning document into a full scale business plan. Understanding how to write a business plan is a complex subject that is covered in entire classes, but a basic business plan should include the following:

    Executive Summary

    Your plan should include a brief summary of what your business is, including where it is, who your customer will be, what your focus is, and give an overview of your business.

    Company Description

    You’ll want to provide detailed information about who you and your existing partners are, your location, who your customers are, and what your competitive advantages will be. This is like an expanded executive summary.

    Market research

    This section should outline the reasons for why you will be successful. You want to outline your competition, your market, and why your business will perform well given those factors. 

    Organizational Info

    This section will outline how your company will be structured from an organizational standpoint. How will you be structured legally? There are methods like an LLC, sole proprietorship, or private corporation to consider. Who will be responsible for different aspects of running the business? Certain aspects of your business may be handled internally or contracted out, such as hiring an agency to help you find employees. Another extremely important question is how will your business be funded? Bank loans? Personal finances? Private investors? All of this should be covered in your organizational info section.

    Product Lines and Services

    This section will outline your specific products and services. For a coffee shop, this would be where you will define your coffee offering. The section should be specific, but you don’t necessarily need to build a menu in your initial business plan. Things like what kinds of coffee will be offered, what sorts of food options will be available, what, if any, retail services (selling bags of coffee, etc.) will be offered.

    Marketing Plans

    This section will explain what sorts of marketing you have planned for the business. How will you raise awareness of your business and brand? Will you be working with external marketing firms? What kind of “voice” do you plan to have in your marketing? The internet & social media really open the options for modern day marketing. 

    Funding Request

    Unless you are self-funding your business, you’ll need a section with a clear request for funding. This may be directed at a bank for a loan, at private investors, or potentially other creditors. You’ll want to outline how much money you will need and how that money will be spent here.

    Financial Projections

    This section provides details on your financial projections. This is where your market research combines with your budgeting to give an idea of when you’ll be profitable and when investors will begin to see returns.

    Appendix, conclusion

    This is where your citations, appendix, and closing information will be included.

     

    Completing Your Plan

    As you can see, building a business plan is an extensive, exhausting project, but it’s an extremely important step to complete. While the above information should help you to get started, you’ll also want to seek more in depth resources for building business plans. There are hundreds of books and sites that can help just by searching “how to build a business plan” in your favorite search engine. You will quickly find there are many resources available to help you with this process, but try not to be overwhelmed and focus on getting started!

    Know Your Location and Market

    Understanding who you’ll be serving and where you’ll be physically located is incredibly important, and factors in to building your business plan as well. Your location’s floorplan will dictate things like access to electricity and water, both extremely important factors in running a coffee service. Floor plan and layout will also dictate things like line flow, behind counter workflow, and aesthetic. It’s important to keep all of these things in mind while choosing a location. 

    Knowing where you are located matters as well. Having a clear picture of how people will see and access your business is key. What sorts of businesses exist around you? Do they complement or compete with your business?. Will you have parking available or is your customer arriving on foot? Is there a nice view or just a busy boulevard or back alley outside the window? Is your location cost and forecasted revenue in line? Asking these and similar questions upfront can be the make or break with a coffee business.

    Where you are physically will also determine what sorts of rules and regulations you’ll need to follow. Health guidelines and certifications can prohibit you from opening, so understanding your local rules and regs is important before you build your business plan. State and City regulations are not all created equal. Do your homework and don’t make assumptions here. Your state and city government websites are a great place to find more information about specific health code regulations.

    Finally, understanding who your customer is imperative. University students may want a place to study and sit for long periods of time. They may be open to waiting for a great beverage, but may also be very price conscious. On the other hand, a busy, suit clad business person may care far more about a quick caffeine fix than a beautiful piece of latte art. Identifying customer groups is more complex than it might seem. For as much as the example above may hold true, simply stereotyping groups won’t help you understand your customer. It’s important to see your business from the perspective of members of the local community. Working with informal focus groups of friends and volunteers, observing how locals utilize the services of other businesses, and observing trends in data obtained from sources like local chambers of commerce can all help with this.

    Selecting Your Equipment

    This is our favorite part, and for many, the most exciting. It should also be one of the last parts of your planning process. Once you have worked through your location, customer, and market, many of your equipment choices will have been made for you. We can help with dialing in those decisions. 

    Having a budget is extremely important at this point as well. Once we know what kind of business you’re starting, what your location looks like, who your customer is, and what your budget is, we can assist you with making decisions about your equipment. It is important to keep in mind that espresso machines in particular can be a large expense, so you’ll want to expect to invest in them appropriately if coffee service is a central part of your business plan. Think of your espresso machine as the heart of your coffee business. You can’t have a coffee shop without one. Don’t skimp and cut costs on this central piece of equipment. Then from the espresso machine build out the rest of your coffee equipment set to compliment it and provide the desired level of service and offerings for your unique coffee business.

    One easy trap to fall into is leasing or using loaned equipment from a roaster or other supplier. While this may seem like a convenient way to get started, it can lock you into limited menu choices and service options. Not to mention tying your success to that of another business entity. We recommend working to have your own equipment so that you can control your coffee service and menu completely from day one.

    Another mistake that some new coffee shop owners make is thinking that a home machine will work in a commercial environment. Machines must be certified for commercial use in most markets. Home machines are generally not certified. An NSF rating is usually required, at a minimum. From a practical standpoint, home machines are not build to handle the volume of any business that offers coffee. Most home machines are built to handle making 3-4 drinks in an hour and cannot withstand the constant use of even the slowest commercial environment.

    Installation and Maintenance

    Installing and maintaining your equipment properly is an important thing to consider before you’ve even purchased it. You will want to develop a comprehensive service plan before installing your machine, as well as have an experienced technician perform or assist with the install. Mistakes in installation and negating maintenance can jeopardize machines worth thousands of dollars and cause your business loss of revenue due to equipment down time. As part of our sales process, we set you up with vetted local technicians to install your new equipment and and help you plan for maintaining your investment. When you purchase equipment from Seattle Coffee Gear you will have access to support from seasoned professionals to help guide you through this sometimes confusing process. 

    Putting it all together

    This concludes a very high level look at some basic things to consider when starting your coffee business. If you’re working through our comprehensive planning workbook, go ahead and complete worksheet 1. We have yet to cover more in depth topics like staffing, brew methods in detail, finding financing, and so much more, but this article should give you some concepts to consider as you begin to plan your new coffee business. Let us help you make coffee you love, not just for yourself, but for all your future customers. 

  • Selecting a Commercial Grinder

    Your espresso machine may be the cornerstone that your coffee program is built on, but it’s not much use without a grinder. In a commercial setting, pre-ground coffee just won’t cut it. You should be giving just as much consideration to your choice of grinder as you would with your espresso machine. Just like an espresso machine, your espresso grinder needs to be selected to match the expected volume of the application. With that said, here are a few things to look out for as you begin your search for the perfect companion to your espresso machine. For a deeper look at what makes grinders tick, and how to pick one out, be sure to sign up for a free consultation and for access to our entire suite of commercial guides and worksheets.

    Burrs: Size, Type, and Material

    Burr size, type, and material are extremely important aspects to selecting the right grinder. To ensure that you’ll be able to grind for espresso consistently, quickly, and at high volumes, you’ll want a grinder with a larger set of burrs. Sizes of 70mm or more are common in coffee shop grinders. Aside from size, the type of burrs matter too. Conical burrs are good for limiting heat and controlling things like noise and energy use. On the flipside, flat burrs can retain less grounds and lead to better flavor, but can overheat when met with high volume usage. Finally, materials like hardened steel are strong, but prone to wear. Coatings like titanium are becoming more popular, and can help mitigate issues like wear and tear, with, of course, an increased cost.

    Size, Footprint, and Power

    Also worth considering is the size of your grinder. While you’ll want to make sure your shop can accommodate a serious commercial device, you also need to make sure it fits into your workflow and counter-space. Will it fit nicely next to your espresso machine? How difficult will its placement make it to refill? Will your circuit be able to handle the power draw that it’ll need alongside your espresso machine? All of these elements are important to selecting an espresso grinder.

    Primary and Secondary Grinders?

    Another thing to consider is whether you want a single grinder to handle espresso and drip coffee, or if you’re going to have multiple grinders for different needs. Different espressos, especially single origins, have to be carefully dialed in depending on the grinder and espresso machine. This can make switching to other grind settings and back tedious and slow. For this reason, you’ll want to consider multiple grinders for different purposes, and possibly even for different coffees depending on what sort of variety you plan to carry.

    There are even more things to consider when selecting a grinder, such as motor strength, noise levels, retention, and heat. Some of these elements are dependent on things touched on here, but for an even more in depth look at selecting a grinder for your business, sign up for a free consultation from SCG today. You’ll get access to our consultants as well as a host of articles and worksheets that can help you in all aspects of planning and opening your coffee shop.

  • Pour Over Workflow

    Hey coffee fans!

    We’ve talked about organization and utilizing your brewing space in the past. Today we want to touch on some specifics about optimizing your pour over workflow for that kind of brewing. Coming up with a solid workflow saves time and can make the brewing process more enjoyable. As we work from home, it’s really easy to see the benefits of a larger space, but either way, there’s tips you can use to improve your workflow wherever no matter how much room you have to work with. We’re going to go through a good workflow step-by-step. We’re assuming you just want to make a good pour over in the morning, so this article is omitting some hobbyist concepts like flow rate control and sifting fines.

    Water

    One way to speed up your pour over process is to get your water going first. We recommend using an electric kettle with precise temperature adjustment and setting it up right next to your scale and grinder. Ideally, it’ll also be near a source of water. You’ll want to use filtered water for the best taste, so keeping a dedicated pitcher at your station is a help if you have the space. Start your brewing process by filling your kettle and setting the temperature. Then, while it heats, you can prep your coffee.

    Choosing and Weighing Coffee

    If you like to keep multiple coffee options around, we recommend using a dedicated container for each roast. Something like an Airscape will keep your coffee fresher for longer, so you will have more time to drink multiple roasts at a time. If you’re a single roast person, we still recommend keeping your coffee in the bag rather than in the hopper. This is because it is easier to dose for pour over if you weigh your coffee as whole beans rather than try to get a timed grinder to spit out a consistent dose. 

    We like to use the lid of our grinder hoppers to weigh coffee. Placing the lid on the scale and then pouring out the proper amount of beans, plus half a gram or so extra to account for retention as needed. From there, you can just turn on the grinder until it fully grinds everything, then dump all of the grounds into your filter.

    Filter and Dripper

    Whether you’re brewing into a carafe or a mug, your next step is to wet your filter and place it in the dripper. If you have a place to dump your water (like a sink), you can use a bit of the water that should be heating in your kettle to do this. Ideally, you’ll want to heat your carafe or mug too, so a little bit of water through the filter and into the vessel can help make that happen. Assuming you have everything set, you should now have your wetted filter, heated mug or carafe, ground coffee, and hot water. When you get this all down you can have everything ready right as your water comes up to temp.

    The Pour

    For the pour itself, you’ll eventually find the perfect bloom amounts, times, and pour amounts to dial in your favorite flavor. We generally find that you get the best flavor with ascending volumes over three pours. Meaning your first pour (bloom) will be the smallest, with your third pour being the longest. If you want to brew at peak efficiency and quality, using a scale with a built in timer is a huge boon. This is because you can get just the right bloom time. In most cases, you can also count off the bloom if you don’t have a scale like this handy. Either way, you should now have a delicious cup of coffee!

    Cleanup

    Cleanup is pretty simple, just wipe down your area and toss your filter. If you have the option, putting a dedicated small waste bin near your pour over setup can make this easier. In any case, after a quick cleanup you’ll be ready to brew for the next day! We do recommend washing your dripper regularly as well as descaling your kettle every 3-6 months, depending on use. It just keeps everything as fresh and clean as possible. You can use coffee pot cleaners and descalers for best results.

  • A Note on Tasting Notes

    Tasting notes can be a confusing thing. When you look at a bag of coffee and see that it lists things like chocolate, raspberries, and brown sugar, it’s easy to interpret that as actual added flavors or ingredients. This isn’t actually the case! Tasting notes are actually note added flavors, but to understand why they list what they do, you’ll have to get into the head of a roaster.

    Full of Flavors

    Coffee is a lot like wine in that it is full of different flavors. Every aspect of coffee production imparts some kind of flavor. The type of coffee plant, the soil, the elevation, the humidity and light amount, processing, roasting… All of it! It’s really why coffee is so exciting in the first place. There’s just so much that goes into every single cup. For roasters, explaining what coffee might be right for the right drinker can be tough. That’s why tasting notes exist.

    After roasting a batch, roasters will do what’s called “cupping.” Coffee cupping is a type of tasting where you use immersion brewing to allow coffee to steep right in the vessel it will be served from, similar to brewing tea. Then, tasters use special spoons to taste spoonfuls of the coffee.The tasters will then take notes on the kinds of flavors they get from the coffee. Again, this isn’t actual, added flavor, but an interpretation of what the coffee tastes like when brewed at its strongest. These notes form the basis of what ends up on the bag, though they may try the coffee in other brew methods before finalizing the notes.

    A Dash of Excitement

    One key element of tasting coffee is building a realistic profile of what the flavor of the coffee is like through the tasting notes. On the other hand, you can pull out flavors like chocolate and berries from lots of coffees. To help differentiate, often roasters will really dig to try to find the hint of flavor that makes a coffee unique. To an unrefined palate, two coffees might taste the same. Someone well versed in coffee tasting may find unique little elements to show how they differ.

    What this means is that you may need some practice before tasting some more interesting and subtle notes. That’s OK! The important thing is to keep trying, and keep developing that palate. The best way to understand flavor profiles of most coffees is as a pour over. So if you’re really interested in understanding the intricacies of different flavors of coffee, putting together a pour over setup is a good first step!

    Hopefully this sheds some light on those tasty coffee notes!

  • Selecting a Commercial Espresso Machine

    Whether your new business is centered around a quality coffee program, or if it’s just one of many items in your repertoire, choosing an espresso machine is a major part of your buildout. For coffee focused business like cafés and roasters, your espresso machine may be the most important purchase you make for your bar. In this article we’ll break down some key factors in deciding what machine is right for your bar. 

    Your Coffee Identity

    We talk about it in our 5 Things document that you may have already read, but coffee identity is key to working out machine purchasing choices. If you are a coffee focused café or roaster, your espresso machine says a lot about your business to the customer. You’ll likely be placing your machine in front of the customer on the bar, and you might even expect that they’ll want to interact with their barista. You’ll probably also have a skilled staff that can effectively use a more complex machine and manual steam wand for milk drinks. In this instance, a powerful, multi-group mahine from a brand your customers will recognize is probably what you’re looking for. But what about the bakery, bar, or restaurant that wants to offer cappuccinos and lattés? In this instance, it’s likely that you’ll want simpler, easy to use options with less concern for aesthetic. You may also expect a lower volume of orders as well.

    This aspect of machine selection is less scientific than elements like utility access, volume, and space concerns. With that said, working out what this identity looks like and how to think about that in relation to machine choice is going to be key. This distinction relates to other coffee equipment as well, and should be informed by (and inform) the way you think about the other sections of this article. One of the first questions you should answer that’s directly tied to this question is a major one that will change your decision flow for the rest of the process: Superauto or Semi-Automatic?

    Super or Semi

    Superautomatic espresso machines simplify the brewing process immensely. With just a few button presses and minimal user interaction your staff could be making lattes and espresso left and right. These machines are typically on the higher end of the cost spectrum, but can usually be highly customized to include elements like a built in refrigeration unit for milk, and varying degrees of menu control. This type of machine is a great option for restaurants and bars, because they make solid drinks without a high degree of staff training. On the flipside, the more hands-off approach could be a turn off to more discerning customers. On top of that, superautos often can’t recreate distinct dialing in for single origins and other more adventurous coffees.

    For the coffee focused business, the best solution will likely be a semi-automatic machine. These machines are distinct from a manual machine because they use a pump to create pressure, rather than a large, manually operated lever. Semi-autos are generally preferred over manuals because they offer a degree of programmability and aren’t as tiring to operate over the course of a full work shift. These machines *do* require a degree of knowledge to successfully operate though. Rather than simply push a button, a barista must grind, tamp, brew, and steam milk effectively to create a quality drink. With all of that said, a skilled barista using a semi-automatic machine will likely outperform a superauto 9 times out of 10. Further, coffee focused customers will always prefer the human touch to the machine. For these reasons, semi-autos typically make great options for coffee shops and cafés with a focus on their coffee service.

    Space, Utilities, and Workflow

    There’s a world of articles that could be written on planning your behind the bar flow, but for now we’ll just tackle how that might result in selecting an espresso machine. The first thing to consider is workspace. No matter what you do, it’s likely that space behind your bar will be limited. One of the first things you should plan is where your espresso machine fits into that space, and by making that choice early and planning around that decision you’ll save yourself headaches after you open. 

    One major consideration for physical placement of the machine is where your grinder will fit in. You will want to keep your grinders close to the machines they service, especially for espresso. Ideally, your baristas will have room to grind and tamp and then place the portafilter in the brew group of the espresso machine without needing to turn around or walk anywhere. This keeps traffic behind the counter to a minimum, minimizes accidents, and streamlines the flow and timing of getting drinks to customers. You’ll also want to minimize the distance from the machine to the serving counter to minimize spills and drops. Obviously this changes when you’re working in a restaurant or other table service establishment, and in that instance you probably have your espresso machine off of the front bar as well. Still, keeping the grinder near the machine is important for workflow.

    How does this affect the machine that you buy? In ways as simple as the dimensions of that machine. Making sure your new brewer will fit along with a grinder and tamping mat is key, and different machines take up different amounts of room. Another consideration is the number of groups you want on the machine. A single group will only be able to handle programming for one type of espresso, but with trained staff you’ll be able to serve a range of beans from one machine by having them make manual adjustments to shot timing and pre-infusion. Multiple groups can also allow for multiple baristas to work at once, which is especially useful in high volume shops. In this instance planning workflow and counter space is even more important to accommodate multiple baristas.

    Next, access to water and power is a big deal. Obviously you’ll need a lot of power to run a commercial espresso machine. It’s key to ensure that your power lines to your machine’s space can handle the load of the machine. You’ll also want to plan for plumbing the machine into a water line, and have a sink nearby for washing pitchers and other equipment. These considerations matter less for machine selection than machine placement, but keeping all of this in mind will help you set up for success while choosing a machine.

    Parts and Installation

    At Seattle Coffee Gear we work hard to put you in contact with technicians for installation and support. With that said, it’s important to make sure that you can get parts and maintenance assistance for whatever machine you purchase. This is often a problem with older machines purchased used, or with more obscure brands. It’s key to make sure that there is a local technician that can work on your machine when you need them to. Working with SCG is a good first step, as we can handle finding someone for you that knows the machine you’ve purchased, and we work with them to find parts if they need.

    Volume

    One of the biggest questions we always get about commercial equipment is “how many shots can this machine pull per hour?” For a commercial machine, the answer is usually “more than you could physically serve.” This is because commercial machines usually feature multiple boilers at large volumes that can be physically impossible to outrun by even a highly skilled barista. Volume only really becomes an issue if you have multiple baristas pulling shots and steaming milk simultaneously on a machine without the boilers to handle it. It’s key to note that it’s highly unlikely for this to occur in even the busiest coffee shops. For this reason, we recommend prioritizing reliability, performance, price, and size over going too big on volume. 

    Ratings

    One thing to ensure before you consider a machine for your business is that it carries the proper NSF rating to be used commercially. This is an element that changes based on location, as some counties and cities are much more lenient on what kind of equipment you can use. For this reason, we have customers hoping to use smaller home machines in coffee carts and restaurants, and we recommend strongly against this. Even if your area allows for a wider range of machines, an NSF rating guarantees that the machine will be safe and capable of keeping up with a commercial environment. This rating usually means that it’s a commercially built machine designed to handle more volume. Finally, you also future proof your business against possible changes to code down the line. It is still important though, to get a firm understanding of the existing codes in your area in case there are other requirements for using a machine commercially. 

    Brand

    Many new and prospective business owners think strongly in terms of brand. Whether it’s a preference for an old standby or a trendy new machine, some customers get their heart set on a brand name before they think about the things we’ve discussed in this article so far. It’s important to let go of preconceived notions about brands before you begin searching for your commercial espresso machine. Why? Because brands focus on different aspects of their machines, and focus different machines entirely, to different users. 

    Some brands seek to deliver on versatility and ease of use, allowing for programming and customization of the brewing process. Other brands look to provide the most reliable, easy to maintain machines on the market. While we seek to guide customers to machines that achieve as much of this as possible, we find often that different brands are a good fit for different customers. For these reasons, brand is definitely a thing to consider, but you should do it later on in your process, after you’ve answered a few other questions about where you’re headed on your commercial espresso journey.

    Where To Go From Here

    The concepts laid out in this article aren’t the full picture of everything that you should consider when selecting a commercial machine, but they are a good starting point, and with these things in mind you’ll be more equipped to work with a consultant to make more decisions on what machine will be a good fit for you. One way to get the most out of your time with a consultant is to answer the following questions before you speak with them:

    • Do I want a superautomatic or semi-automatic machine?
    • Will my machine be placed on the front of the bar, back of the bar, or in a kitchen or other space?
    • What are the dimensions of the area I have for espresso equipment?
    • How many groups do I anticipate needing?
    • Will I have experienced staff with a high degree of training to operate the equipment?
    • Will there be a sink within arm’s reach of my espresso brewing area?
    • Do I want my bar staff to be able to interact with customers while preparing their drink?

    By answering these questions you can help consultants like Seattle Coffee Gear’s get a head start on a recommendation for you. 

    This process can seem daunting and exhausting, and truthfully, it is. But it is also worth it. Delivering a great product to your customer will only be helped by taking the time to get your equipment purchases right, and depending on your business, your espresso machine may be the most important thing you purchase.

     

  • 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!

  • Heat Exchangers Vs. Dual Boilers

    Your espresso machine is one of the most important purchases you can make for your café or coffee shop. These are machines that are built to last decades, so it’s important that you work to ensure that your machine is fit for the task of handling your customer load. One of the major elements of every espresso machine is how the boiler works. This is a passing curiosity for home machines, as most boiler types will do the job in a home setting. On the commercial side though, boiler type can make a huge difference in recovery, and prep time. The type of boiler in your machine can also add to greater consistency from shot to shot, easing the load on you baristas.

    The goal of this article is to help you understand the differences between heat exchanger type boilers and dual boiler systems. Each design is useful and valid, but with a bit of help from SCG you can make sure you purchase a machine with a boiler that will perform best for your shop. This is also an important topic for those commercial customers who have seen a lot of growth and are considering an upgrade or a second machine. It’s important to weigh where you’re at vs. the investment, because it can be a costly mistake to jump into an additional machine if you don’t truly need the capacity.

    Heat Exchangers

    The first thing to cover is what a heat exchanger actually is. To put it as simply as possible, this is a boiler that transfers heat from one fluid to another without those fluids coming into contact. To visualize this, imagine a pool of water with a tube running through it. The water in the pool will influence the temperature of the water in the tube, and vice versa, despite the tube’s material separating them. These types of boilers are used for thousands of home, commercial, and industrial applications. There is a good chance that you have at least one heat exchanger in your home, whether it’s your water heater, coffee machine, or some other appliance!

    But how is this principle applied to an espresso machine, and what does it mean for machine performance?

    In an espresso machine, heat exchanger boilers differ from standard boilers because of how they heat and control the water. Where a standard boiler pulls water directly from the boiler to both steam and brew, heat exchangers separate this process. This matters because the difference in water temp for steaming and brewing is over 40 degrees fahrenheit. That means you’ll have to wait for temperature changes between brewing and steaming. All of this is why the vast majority of commercial machines are a heat exchanger or dual boiler.

    In a heat exchanger, brew water is pulled through a copper pipe that runs through the boiler. These tubes are designed to pull the water at the ideal temperature for brewing, guaranteeing the perfect water temperature every time. This is done by calibrating the pipe’s diameter and size to ensure that water passing through is heated to the correct temp as it runes through the pipe (and therefore through the boiler). Meanwhile, steam is pulled directly from the boiler, allowing you to brew and steam at the same time.

    The trade-off here is consistency and specific temps for volume and finer temp control for each process in a dual boiler. These machines are also often more affordable than dual boilers because they just have a lower material cost to produce.

    The downside is that it is possible to outrun them in very high volume scenarios, specifically when doing lots of steaming, and brew temps (and because of this, espresso flavor) can be less consistent in these situations as well due to fluctuations in temperature. While this can be true of a dual boiler as well, it’s less likely to run into inconsistencies in brew quality since the brewing is handled by a completely separate boiler and heating element.

    Dual Boilers

    Dual boiler machines are just what they sound like, machines with multiple boilers. Instead of a single boiler with multiple water paths, dual boilers just feature separate brew and steam boilers. This allows a boiler to be ready at all times for either task. The upshot here is the removal of temperature as a cause for shot inconsistency. It’s nearly impossible for a barista’s shot prep to outrun brew boiler recovery on a machine like this. Like a heat exchanger, a dual boiler allows you to steam and brew at the same time. Both boilers are temp stable at the required temp for each process, providing excellent consistency in both brewing and steaming. The only time this can change is, again, in high steam volume situations, such as trying to steam milk for 10 20oz. lattes in a row. The difference with a dual boiler is that this situation won’t cause brew temps to fluctuate and create inconsistent espresso.

    So what’s the issue? The first, as you might have guessed, is cost. Machines with dual boilers tend to be much more expensive than heat exchangers because they pack in much more material. Functionally, a heat exchanger takes up the same amount of space as a single boiler. On the other hand, a dual boiler machine requires double the materials. That means double the components that could fail over time. They also requires double the space. This is another primary issue with dual boiler machines, they tend to run larger.

    These caveats aside, dual boilers are powerful solutions for very high volume cafés, especially useful when you actually have multiple baristas working one espresso machine.

    Which Is Right For Me?

    This is going to depend on a lot of factors. First of all, there’s space and group count. Because of the way heat exchangers are designed, they make great single group machines when you’re pressed for space. A barista can work on them to pull a shot and steam at the same time, and they can be used with very little recovery time.

    On the flip-side, a dual boiler machine is great for the cafe seeing volume that their current machine(s) can’t keep up with. A two group, dual boiler machine can effectively double your capacity. With this type of machine you could have two baristas brewing and steaming at once, solving speed issues you might be experiencing. They are also more precise than heat exchangers because of the dedicated boiler. Finally, if the brew boiler fails for whatever reason, you still have a boiler for steaming, or vice versa.

    All of this can make the extra expense for a dual boiler machine very worth it. While heat exchangers can be hard to outrun, it is possible in high volume scenarios, especially when you’re making lots of milk drinks. Dual boilers almost completely alleviate this issue. Additionally, a dual boiler machine will offer a lot more “nice to haves” as standards. Things like fully saturated brew groups, dual PID controllers, steam check valves, and other higher end features.

    As with all of these decisions, our commercial experts are happy to help you make a choice, so give us a call for a detailed consultation!

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