Reviews

Our coffee experts have a lot of opinions, and we want to share them with you. For insight and recommendations on a world of coffee equipment, your search starts here!
  • Philips Saeco Carina Superautomatic Espresso Machine Review

    If you follow us here, we're guessing you're familiar with Philips Saeco's prowess in the superauto market. From past machines like the Vienna, through the modern Incanto Line, to the best in class Xelsis, this is a proven manufacturer. New on the scene is a full line of Philips machines, and with it, a new Seattle Coffee Gear exclusive. We wouldn't sell you this machine if we didn't believe in it, so it's high time to put it to the test!

    Appearance and Usability

    The new Philips line uses case stylings similar to the Xelsis. This gives all of these machines a sleek, stylish look that fits into any kitchen easily. Carina's faceplate a simple glossy black, keeping the buttons readable. Front access water is a huge plus, thought beans are still top-loading, with a grind setting dial in the hopper. The drip tray is simple and functional, though it can be a touch finicky to slide in and out at first as you get used to it. Simplicity is the name of the game for Carina's interface. On the front you'll find buttons for espresso, coffee, hot water, and steam. At first this can seem like a limited set of options, but combined with controls for strength and water volume, and the panarello steam wand, there's a lot you can do here. With a few button presses you'll be pulling shots, pouring americanos, and whipping up lattes. As with most superautos, the coffee button pulls a long shot rather than true drip. This means you won't quite get drip coffee, but something somewhere between an espresso and an americano.

    Also present are simple rinse and AquaClean. The latter is one of our favorite parts about the Carina - it uses Saecos current AquaClean filtration. This means you'll get guided alerts on when to change the filters. This filtration system makes cleaning and maintaining your machine incredibly easy.

    Another note here is the panarello steam wand. Sometimes these devices get a bad rap in the superauto world because they're less "auto" than cappuccinotores and carafes. This is true, but panarellos also give you full control over degree of foam, and temperature. Sure, it takes a little bit of extra effort, but you save yourself from being stuck with milk that isn't hot or foamy enough for you.

    Performance

    This machine uses the same brewing hardware as the higher end machines in the new Philips line. This means you'll be getting the same quality of espresso machines double the price, and it's far better than pod-based machines at this price point. You also get to bring your own beans. It's true - the Carina isn't quite at the level of the Xelsis, but for a fraction of the price, it's impressive. Impressive enough to recommend even to someone replacing an Incanto or Pico. Dialing in grind, strength, and volume will let you get the coffee tasting just how you like it too. Carina also heats quickly, going from off to ready to brew in under a minute. Steaming requires a bit of additional heat up time, and we recommend starting with your milk and then pulling your shot.

    The AquaClean filtration performs as well as you'd expect, and as noted above, the panarello works great. It's not quite as convenient as a carafe or cappuccinotore, and it's slower than a more expensive semi-automatic, but it still heats up and works quickly.

    Conclusion

    The biggest strength that the Carina has is its price point. This is definitely not a "cheap" machine, as it has features, performance, and style well beyond its price point. That price point is, however, an extremely attractive piece of the puzzle. The Carina is one of the lowest price superautos on the market, and that's with few compromises. We absolutely recommend this machine for any new superauto customer. It's even a great replacement if your Incanto is getting a little long in the tooth! Check out the Carina exclusively at SCG here.

  • Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato Timer Review

    Rocket Espresso makes some of the most impressive home espresso machines on the market. This is a manufacturer that has spent decades merging machine innovation with classic Italian design, and it shows. New this year are Rocket Espresso's models with timers. Both the Type V and Type R model received this timer update. We figured this would make now the perfect time to revisit these excellent machines!

    Appearance and Usability

    Both versions of the Mozzafiato feature Rocket Espresso's stunning case design. We often hear folks comparing these machines to other Italian espresso machines, but they are really a cut above. The solid stainless steel casing, industrial dials and gauges, and tactile controls and steam wand/water dispenser are a cut above the competition in the looks department. Other simple accents like the fact that you can hide the PID controller and the integrated cup rails are nice touches. Finally, the adjustable feet will help you slide these machines under your cabinets. All of this combined makes this a stunning machine that will turn heads and excited guests to try out a latte or americano.

    The visual difference between the Type V and the Type R is pretty minimal. The Type R's gauges feature a black background, while the Type V's are white. The biggest 2019 update to these machines is the integrated shot timer. While not brewing, this unassuming cutout really blends into the machine. While brewing, it's an easy to read (and handy) tool for making sure your shots are consistent.

    Using either of these machines is a real joy. The dials for the hot water and steam feel mechanical and satisfying, and respond well. The same can be said for the brew lever. Flipping it up and down gives you full control over the pump without buttons and touchscreens getting in the way. The aforementioned shot timer will allow you to get a perfect idea of how your shot pull is faring. This allows you to ensure that your espresso is pulling in 20-30 seconds, but can help you dial in longer shots for tricky single origins as well. This works especially well when paired with a scale like the Acaia Luna.

    Powerful steaming allows you to steam perfect latte milk to go with your carefully crafted shot as well. Lastly, the PID controller allows you to set and control the temperature of the boiler, and is controller with a handy connected remote. This can be hidden under or behind the machine to keep it from clashing with the look of the rest of the machine.

    Performance

    The inside of these machines is really where they go from great to fantastic. Both the Type V and Type R versions come equipped with a 1.8 liter heat-exchanger boiler. On a basic level, this means that you'll be able to brew espresso and steam milk at the same time on these machines. The Type R even comes with an insulated boiler, helping the machine to retain heat and use power more efficiently. Either way, with PID controlled temps, hot water,  steam, and espresso are all always just a twist or flip away. Both of these machines feature an E61 grouphead, which keeps the brew unit and the portafilter heated. This means that water doesn't lose as much heat when flowing through your coffee grounds. The result is better shots, pulled at the exact right temp. This is very important for recreating café quality espresso, just don't touch the brewhead!

    Pushing the water through the grouphead and your ground coffee is a powerful pump. On the Type V, this means a vibratory pump similar to the one found in the Apartamento. This powerful pump uses a three-way solenoid valve to manage pressure, and will perform for many years. The Type R features a rotary pump, which allows you to plumb the machine as well. This plumbing option is great if you're setting up a dedicated bar in your home and don't want to fiddle with a water tank.

    As already noted, the steam on these machines is excellent, allowing you to steam milk as well as they do at your favorite café. Ultimately, this means that with enough practice, you'll be brewing up cappuccinos and lattes to rival the best baristas in town.

    Conclusion

    The Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato line is, simply put, an excellent legacy machine. You can buy a brewer like this and not have to worry about upgraded or replacing for decades with the proper care. It's hard to imagine a better offer at its price point. Shop the Mozzafiato here.

     

  • DeLonghi Dinamica ECAM35020B Superautomatic Espresso Machine Review

    DeLonghi has been producing superautos for some time now, and while they offer some innovative machines, they haven't had a breakthrough like some of their competitors. Over time, these machines have become more and more refined, improving on performance and reliability, but the Dinamica ECAM35020B feels like a leap forward. Check out our full review to learn why!

    Appearance and Usability

    One thing to note at the top is that while the case is very plastic, it also maintains a pretty unified look. The sleek black plastic with chrome accents gives it a muted, but pleasant, appearance. It definitely stands up to other machines at its price point without necessarily wowing either. One huge plus on this machine is the footprint. This is a machine that should fit on most countertops, and under most cabinets. With a front loading water tank, you'll also be able to refill it frequently. This is important, because the tank is, admittedly, a bit on the small side.

    Otherwise, you're looking at some pretty standard case design. The brew unit is pretty easily accessible behind the water tank, and the drip tray is convenient and easy to clean. If we have one complaint it's that it's still a bit of a chore to slide the machine out to fill the bean hopper, but this is a less frequent need than filling the water tank, and there's not much you can do to avoid putting the hopper where it is.

    The face of the machine is simple, but functional and attractive enough. While the interface may take some getting used to, it is to the point and functional. Programming and user profiles are great value adds, but there is something to be said for the simplicity of pushing a single button and getting a consistent shot. That simplicity and consistency is the name of the game here. The panarello wand is also easy to use, and once you understand how to get it to switch between steam and water it is very functional. The rinse button on the face is a nice to have as well for cleaning out the brew unit on demand.

    Performance

    With functional, if simple, case and interface design, the most important thing is performance. Overall we can say pretty happily that the Dinamica does a great job in this area. With some dialing in, the shots this machine can produce are quite good, and quite hot. This is good news for anyone disappointed with temps from semi-autos in general. With hot water from the panarello and easy single and double shot buttons, brewing espresso and americanos is a breeze. If you're a drip fan, the Dinamica also offers an intriguing coffee function. Usually, the "coffee" button on a superauto just provides an extra long shot. While you're still getting espresso, you're getting it watered down enough to be less strong. The Dinamica handles its coffee setting a little differently.

    The coffee button cases the machine to grind less than it would for a shot, and then pulse water through the coffee instead of applying sustained pressure. The result is a cup of coffee that isn't quite a pourover and isn't quite a long espresso shot, and you really can taste the difference. While we don't think it tastes like what you'll get out of a drip brewer, it's a closer approximation than what most superautos can provide. This means that your drip loving family member can get something close to what a drip pod machine can do without needing a second machine.

    The panarello has the issues you'd expect from this type of wand. It doesn't produce loads of foam, and doesn't produce particularly fine microfoam. That means it's hard to pour latter art or make a cappuccino with this machine. That said, it makes fine foam for a normal latte and because it's manual you can control how hot you want the milk. This is a boon for latte drinkers, as many superautos spit out milk that you might find too cool.

    Lastly, the over ice button is a neat little tool. It alters the brew temp, and volume of both the grind and water to go best with brewing over ice. It's a great feature for fans of iced lattes and americanos.

    Conclusion

    In the end the Dinamica is a strong option at its price point. While it lacks some bells and whistles, it gets it right where it counts and provides some nice add ons you might not expect. One to take a good look at for your next superauto. You can shop the DeLonghi Dinamica on Seattle Coffee Gear here.

  • Rocket Espresso Appartamento Review - 2019

    Hello out there!

    It's been a while since we took the time to look at the Rocket Espresso Appartamento here on the blog. With Gail's excellent recent crew review over on YouTube, we figured there's no time like the present!

    Look and Feel

    The Appartamento is one of the most stylish machines on the market. The stainless steel casing, side cutouts, and E-61 brew head all make for a stunning looking machine. A hot water spout rounds out the machine's external design. Rocket Espresso Machines have a great history of embracing the visual design of Italian espresso machines while also leaving their distinct mark on the machines as well. In addition to the Rocket Espresso logo on the steam valve, for the Appartamento it's those case cutouts on the side. The insert panels come in copper and white from the factory, and we also offer black panels ourselves. these color options mean you can match the machine with your kitchen even if stainless isn't your main look.

    And oh how you'll be able to fit it in. The Appartamento's name comes from its size. This is a machine designed to fit in any kitchen, even tiny apartments. What's impressive about this is that it still offers the power and style of larger machines, and looks great in larger kitchens as well.

    As for feel, the mechanical nature of the Appartamento's controls mean that you'll always feel in control of the brewing and steaming processes. From satisfying tactile motions like flipping on the brew lever or turning on the steam, to the chunky power switch and solid build of the components, this is machine is a joy to use. The anti-burn steam wand also helps you to keep the steam wand free of milk, and it's double-wall design should protect from serious burns as well.

    But let's talk more about what's under the hood.

    Internals and Power

    The Appartamento features a heated E61 brew group head, 1.8 liter heat exchanger boiler, and a three way solenoid valve. But what do these things mean?

    For starters, the group head keeps the portafilter and brewing unit hot. This means you won't lose temperature as water is pushed through the group and into the portafilter. So long as the portafilter is kept hot by leaving it in the group, you won't lose temp as the coffee is brewed either. All of this means that you'll get exceptional shots every time you pull the brew lever. The heat exchanger boiler provides plenty of heat and water for brewing, and its design allows you to brew and steam simultaneously. This is a huge feature for home espresso machines, and cuts down on drink prep time. Finally, the three way solenoid valve safely controls water flow through the group head, keeping water hot and preventing messy spray when finishing the brew process.

    These components all combine to offer a really great package in a small form factor. We have always loved the Appartamento, and still do.

    Conclusion

    There really aren't many better options for your first semi-professional espresso machine. The value contained in the Appartamento is impressive. This is a powerful, smart, stylish, and long lasting machine that you'll likely use for many years. Give the Appartamento a look on Seattle Coffee Gear here.

  • Roast of the Month: TOCA Pink Moon

    This month's roast of the month comes to us from the lovely TOCA coffee roasters!

    Pink Moon is a lovely blend of flavors that combines floral and fruit notes with a twist of citrus at the end. A spring roast, TOCA suggests that the floral and fruity notes inspire renewal and invigoration, and we can't help but agree! Pink Moon features Ethiopian and Guatemalan beans, two origins known for unique and recognizable flavor profiles. While the washed processing of these two coffees keeps stronger berry notes in check, there's loads here to savor. For starters, there's the more floral notes, which TOCA lists as black tea. We taste this as a nice overtone that runs through the whole sip, never quite fading. Instead, tropical fruit and citrus notes layer in on top of the tea flavors. The result is a great balance of sweet, floral, and bitter.

    Often when we say balance, we mean that the flavors of a roast sort of mix together to balance each other out. While this doesn't mean the flavors are lost in the mix, Pink Moon is an especially great example of balance actually making each flavor easier to pick out. This means that Pink Moon provides a set of noticeable, tasty notes without washing out any of the complexity. This is a great roast to try as a pourover first to get an understanding of everything at play flavor wise. From there we recommend sticking to drip and press brewing, though with just the right finesse this could also be a great espresso.

    Grab a bag today!

  • Roast of the Month: Counter Culture Kabeywa Natural

    Counter Culture’s Kabeywa Natural is a stunning study in processes and flavor profile and one you should not miss.

    A Study In Process

    Kabeywa Natural is one of two Kabeywa coffees offered by Counter Culture this month. The other option is a washed coffee with less powerful tasting notes. We liked the natural because of its juicy flavors. Speaking of flavors, this is a coffee that blends a distinct grape flavor with more vague, but present, nutty and floral notes. The result is a sweet profile that doesn't overwhelm, but also presents itself strongly. This coffee's body is well balanced and isn't too rich or too thin. We really love this one as a pourover, but as with any great coffee, experimentation is always a good thing.

    One of the more interesting elements of this roast is its origin combined with its process. While we don't see that much Ugandan coffee in the first place, it comes in now and then. What is exciting is how delicious this roast is from a natural process. Ugandan coffee has long had quality issues in its natural processing, resulting in unpopular harvests for specialty roasters. This means that most high quality Ugandan coffee is washed. With Kabeywa natural, Counter Culture has found a truly delicious sun-dried natural process crop. Grown at high elevations, this harvest emphasizes quality through meticulous processing and harvesting. Hand picked and carefully prepared for processing, this is a roast that speaks to what experienced, engaged producers are capable of. Counter Culture went so far as to suggest that this could be the best harvest in this producer's four year relationship with them. We think you'll love it too, and it's a great introduction to a region that is only going to get more prevalent over time.

    Order a bag here, and don't wait, because this roast is only available for a limited time.

  • Roast of the Month: Bluebeard Colombia Rigo Belarcazar

    This month we're celebrating the delicious Colombia Rigo Belarcazar from Bluebeard Coffee!

    A Unique Colombian Profile

    When we think Colombia we naturally think coffee. So much of the current wave of coffee roasting owes itself to Colombian beans. It's for this reason that most enthusiasts have a clear picture of what a Colombian tastes like. We look for rich, deep chocolate flavors, a full body, and a "classic" feel. These notes with that profile are foundational to many coffee drinker's picture of what coffee "should" taste like. With all that in mind, Rigo Belarcazar breaks this mold in some pretty exciting ways.

    This is a roast that maintains that huge, satisfying body found in most Colombians and puts a twist on it. Instead of coffee, you instantly get an almost natural process blast of raspberry. This note doesn't overpower, but it is clear and above any typical Colombian notes. We love that, because it also maintains the profile of a washed coffee. It's clean, concise, and separable from the other notes involved.

    There is also a satisfying citrus twinge on the back end that offers a nice twist. It's represented in the notes as mandarin, which feels accurate. The real thing that sealed the deal for us was the sugary notes. While Bluebeard has separated cinnamon and brown sugar as two separate notes in their cupping, we'd say it's more like an overall cinnamon and sugar taste. This note lingers after the sip, leaving a delightful sugary flavor across your palate.

    We love this roast in a variety of brew methods. In fact, this is the perfect coffee to try in different methods to see how it stacks up and how those methods affect it. If you are going this route, give it a try as a pourover first. This will give you a great baseline of what to expect. Grab a bag of this exceptional coffee right here!

     

  • Roast of the Month: Intelligentsia Illumination Blend

    It's time once again for Roast of the Month! We like to celebrate a coffee each month that brings something especially unique, enjoyable, flavorful, or special in some other way. We're excited to highlight Intelligentsia this month with their new Illumination Blend!

     

    Satisfying and a Little More Than Simple

    We often feature single origins here, but we really like to bring you a blend when we can! So many roasters have a "signature" or "seasonal" blend that we don't get that many wholly new ones in. This month we really grew a soft spot for this one from Intelligentsia, so we wanted to make sure you give it your attention!

    A lot of blends focus on getting classic coffee flavors going right at the top. This isn't a bad thing, we happen to like "classic," but seldom does the blend arrive that evokes the more diverse flavors of a single origin. This blend of Ethiopian and Peruvian beans is one of those rare exceptions! While it does offer balance and richness alongside just enough of a chocolate note, this blend goes a bit further.

    The first thing you might be surprised by is the tarter cranberry note. This forward tart note then blends with a satisfying sweet citrus flavor. This mix of tastes gives this roast a delicious profile on its own, and mixes with the rich sweetness of molasses for a truly satisfying mix of notes. All of this flavors combine with a little bit of bitterness and chocolate to round out the roast and give it some balance.

    Brew Methods

    This is also one of those roasts that works in a wide variety of brew methods. A pourover will separate and amplify the brighter, sweeter notes and blend them with that tart cranberry nicely. A drip brew will provide more balance and bring out the "coffee" notes a bit more, with a press intensifying the richer notes. Finally, an espresso will lend a rich, syrupy quality that highlights the sweeter bits.

    No matter the brew method, we're sure you'll find this roast to be a treat! Check it out here today.

  • Roast of the Month: Tony's Ethiopia Deri Kochoha

     

    It's time once again for Roast of the Month! This month we're featuring an incredibly delicious Ethiopia from Tony's Coffee. Tony's offers consistently good coffee, so we've been excited to see how they handle this roast!

    This natural Ethiopia comes from the Deri Kochoha processing station. Roasts from this station were really exciting last year, so we're happy to see Tony's deliver a delicious finish to these beans!

    The Deri Kochoha processing station processes coffee from approximately 600 farmers. This diversity in producers really affects the beans that leave the station. It means that from year to year, this processor develops wildly different exports. The coffee is dried on raised tables in a natural process, leading to the intense berry notes in this roast.

    Rich, Sweet, Smooth

    And intense they are! The flavors on display here are strawberry, cocoa, and peach. We think Tony's nailed these notes, with the strawberry really taking the lead. If you're familiar with naturals, you'll be familiar with the strongest flavors here. Like the all of the best naturals, this Tony's opens up into rich chocolatey notes that fold into the strawberry flavors wonderfully. What really sets this coffee apart is how it finished. A soft stonefruit note finishes the flavor palate, leaving you with a pleasant, fruity, but mild aftertaste. It's a great invitation to take another sip!

    This is a delicious roast for pourover brew methods, which bring out the brighter, berry notes deliciously. After you get the full range of flavors out of the pourover, this is a roast that some will love as an espresso. It's tricky to dial in single origins, even more so when you're working with a natural that has stronger flavors. That said, the results can be phenomenal!

    However you decide to brew Ethiopia Deri Kochoha, we're sure you'll love this excellent roast from Tony's. Grab a bag right here today!

  • SCG Expert Review: Barista Pro All-In-One Espresso Machine

    The Barista Express has been the gold standard for new home baristas for years now. By combining a quality espresso grinder with solid brewing and steaming, Breville build a winner in the Express. It has always been an easy machine to recommend as a first purchase, or upgrade from a cheaper, less powerful brewer. So how does the new Barista Pro stack up? Is it just a higher price tag with a fancier face? The short answer is no, the long answer is a lot more interesting.

     

    Visual Design

    The Barista Pro features a completely redesigned case that maintains a similar footprint as the Express, but with a totally different look. Most recognizable is the addition of a backlit screen, somewhat similar to the Barista Touch. This screen provides information about grind fineness, amount, and timers. Keeping all of this on one screen makes dialing in the machine a little friendlier. Rather than track numbers in different places, you can review everything about the grind settings at a glance. The screen also offers a shot timer, a huge boon for any machine. Measuring shot time is key to pulling a good shot, so having this information visible on the main display is a great feature.

    Otherwise, the visual design and controls are on par with that of the express. This machine is simple to operate with intuitive controls for pulling shots, adjusting the grinder, and steaming milk or adding hot water. All of this combines for a design package that is a step up from the Barista Express. That said, if these visual improvements were all this machine offered it'd be a hard sell given the price difference. Thankfully, there's a lot more under the hood in this new model.

    Brewing and Steaming Performance

    Breville has always had a knack for fitting powerful heating systems into affordable machines. The Barista line has always been a great example of this, but their new machines push this concept even further. First introduced in the Bambino, the Barista Pro features Breville's new ThermoJet heating system. The Bambino already impressed with its heatup and steam times, but getting this enhanced heating element in a more prosumer machine is exciting. From lightning fast heatup times to a near non-existent delay going from brew to steam, this heating system does work.

    When dialing in, we were able to pull several shots in a row with the Pro heating up. As far as making lattes, the milk steaming both switched on faster, and steamed milk faster than the Express by a considerable margin.

    Another interesting upgrade on this machine is the hot water spout. This spout functions like you'd expect, but it's angled to allow you to make Americanos without moving your cup. Some of this depends on your cup size and design, and it is surprising to see the hot water come out at an angle at first. While this isn't nearly the overhaul that the heating element and look got, it's worth mentioning for even easier Americanos!

    Verdict

    Overall it's extremely easy to recommend the Barista Pro. It's true that its price pushes into competition with machines like the Silvia and CC1, but those machines don't also have a built in grinder. There is certainly an argument for being able to upgrade these devices independently, and both of the aforementioned machines are viable options, but if you're new to espresso or looking to upgrade from the Express, the Pro is a no brainer.

    You do still run into the combo machine issue of sludge in the drip tray, and stepping up into dual boiler machines will provide even faster steam and heatup times. With all that said, we're huge fans of the Barista Pro here, and you should absolutely add it to the list of machines to research before you make your next purchase.

    Check out the Barista Pro on Seattle Coffee Gear here!

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