Make Coffee You Love!

  • 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.

     

  • Whole Beans Vs. Pods

    You’ve heard us talk about how much we love superautomatic espresso machines. We’ve discussed the convenience, simplicity, and ease of maintenance that comes with these machines extensively. But you may think, “pod based machines offer all of this, right?” While technically true, there are lots of reasons to go for a superauto over pod based options, and we’re here to share them!

    Waste

    One of the biggest selling points of a whole bean brewing superautomatic is its lack of waste. Pod waste is an immense problem with pod based solutions. Whole bean coffee comes in simple paper packaging that is usually fully recyclable. What’s more, it’s recyclable without an expenditure of lots of energy.

    While some pods do tout compostability, they generally require high pressure industrial equipment to do so. In some cases, this still causes an environmental impact, and many users may not have access to composting options like this. While there are reusable pods available, you then must provide correctly ground coffee, which largely defeats the purpose in the first place. With their built-in grinders and ability to handle most whole beans, superautos definitely have a smaller waste footprint.

    Cost and Variety

    Another problem with pod based machines is only having access to what you can get in the pods. Blank, reusable pods exist, but then require more work to use. With standard pods, you get a limited set of options for what coffee you can use. Beyond that, pods are often more expensive than whole bean coffee. Using them for your daily cup can become quite pricey compared to a whole bean option.

    Superautos don’t encounter this issue. While we recommend avoiding oilier beans, otherwise the world of coffee is open to you. With thousands of roasts to choose from across a range of prices, variety is definitely better with a superauto.

    Flavor and Performance

    While this is the most widely varying element of the equation, you’ll generally always get better coffee from the freshly ground beans a superauto like a Philips or Miele uses. Pod based coffee can sit on a shelf for long periods and lacks that “freshly roasted, freshly ground” aspect that whole bean coffee has.

    While quality among superautos varies just like it does with pod based machines, in general, you’re going to like the coffee you get from your new superautomatic espresso machine more than a pod. Combined with all of the other elements we’ve mentioned, it’s clear why we encourage you to ditch your pods and go whole bean!

  • Video Roundup: 5/15/20

    Hey coffee lovers!

    It's Friday, which means we've got our regularly scheduled Video Roundup for you! Let's get into what we've been up to at home and in the studio.

    First up, Pat and Allie break down SCG's May Roast of the Month, Kickapoo Spring Blend!

    Next up, it's a classic crew comparison between the Ratio Six and the Breville Precision Brewer!

    And finally, Gail dropped in to give us some tips and tricks on getting the most out of the Rocket Espresso Giotto Type V Timer!

    That's all for now folks! We'll be back next week with more for you to enjoy!

  • Roast of the Month: Kickapoo Spring Blend

    It’s that time once again for Seattle Coffee Gear’s Roast of the Month! This month we’re celebrating Kickapoo’s annual Spring Blend. We love this year’s offering on this always solid coffee and we think you will too. Join us as we give it a look!

    Origins and Producers

    This year’s Spring Blend features coffees from two of Kickapoo’s newest suppliers, one from Progresso, Peru, and one from Inza Valley Colombia. The Pillimue group is an independent farmer collective in Inza Valley, Colombia. This group focuses on traditional coffee development made difficult in other regions of the country due to the La Roya leaf fungus. Inza Valley has largely been safe from the fungus, and the Pillimue group has taken this advantage and ran with it to produce traditional Colombian coffee at a high level of quality.

    The Padilla family is a farming family in Progreso, Peru. Located in the Northern part of the country in the Andes, the conditions there are perfect for coffee production. This hard working family expertly tend this land and practice Minga, which means roughly “today for me, tomorrow for you.” Their quality coffee indicates what a positive impact this philosophy has on the practice.

    Brewing and Flavor Profile

    Spring blend features an approachable flavor profile that Kickapoo refers to as “layered and confectionary.” These are good descriptors, expanded upon through notes of milk chocolate, nougat, and cherry. These notes combine for a classic coffee flavor that is just rich enough for fans of something sweet without alienating someone who prefers a lighter roast. This is the perfect kind of coffee to hand to someone who is used to grocery store brands and chain coffee shops. It really gets across how good a classic cup can be.

    For brewing, we recommend starting with a good old fashioned drip brewer. Running this coffee through a Bonavita or Precision Brewer results in a delicious, classic morning cup of coffee. For a sweeter cup, try an espresso with some milk in a latte or macchiato. Finally, to get at that cherry note the best way to brew is a pour over. One of the reasons we like this blend so much is just how easily it works across these brew methods. This is exemplified by the roast’s flavor in a superauto or press along with the above mentioned brewers. Get a taste of this delicious seasonal roast now before we roll over into the Summer

     

  • 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.

     

  • Video Roundup: 5/4/2020

    It's another Monday and another Video Roundup!

    Gail's taking a break from Good Morning Gail, so this'll be our last Monday roundup for a while. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled releases next Friday.

    But for now, let's jump in!

    First up, your's truly provided some insight on how to brew in a tightly packed kitchen:

    Next up, Allie shared some tips on different ways to brew:

    Then we have everyone's favorite coffee expert, Gail, with another episode of Good Morning Gail!

    And last but certainly not least, Ariel showed us how to make a delicious cold brew Daiquiri.

    That's all for this week, we'll see you next Friday!

  • 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!

  • What Makes the Perfect Coffee Cup?

    One aspect of coffee making that we don’t talk about much is what you use to drink it. You’ve probably tried many coffee cups in your lifetime, but how much do you think about them? It turns out, there’s a lot that goes into designing the perfect cup for drinking coffee and tea from. Here are some thoughts on several aspects of coffee cup design from us here at SCG!

    Heat Retention

    One of the objectively necessary parts of a great coffee cup is heat retention. If the mug doesn’t help insulate your drink, then it’s an easy pass! There’s lots that goes into heat retention, material is key, but so is shape and design. Double-walled mugs often retain heat better than single walled, as they provide a layer of insulation. Ceramic and glass retain heat better than plastic as well. Finally, a mug with a wider body than mouth will help keep your coffee a bit hotter too!

    Handling

    If your coffee cup is hard to hold, that’s another easy way to tell something is amiss. It’s important to be able to grip the mug without burning your hand. Some mugs solve this problem by including insulated material around the mug. This can solve the problem, but often a good old fashioned handle is the easiest solution. From there it’s down to individual ergonomics for each person. Your hand size and shape are the only things that can determining if a mug will be pleasant for you to hold!

    Size, Shape, and Design

    These three elements are also key. You want a mug large enough to hold the amount of coffee you’ll drink in a sitting. At the same time, a mug that’s TOO big can be heavy, awkward, or hard to drink through before the coffee gets cold. Shape is important too, how will it fit in your cupboard? Will you be using it with cupholders? Is the rim of the mug too thick or thin for your mouth? Then there’s the heat retention and handling concerns outlined above. Finally, the shape of the curves on the inside of the mug can have an impact on your enjoyment as well. Some mugs have more square angles on the inside that trap liquid.

    Appearance

    For some, this is the most important aspect of any drinkware! If you don’t like the way a mug looks, it may not be a fit for your collection. This brings us to the most important point of all: Preference! You should use the drinkware you love, even if it doesn’t quite fit with the criteria we’ve laid out here.

     

    We do hope that we’ve given you a little bit more to think about the next time you’re shopping for a new mug!

  • Video Roundup: 4/27/2020

    Happy Monday Coffee Lovers!

    We've got another video roundup for you today featuring a load of quality coffee content. Let's dig right in!

    First up, our daring CEO Mike made his YouTube debut to share how he brews a delicious cup of decaf from home:

    Next, Allie gave us a look at how the Ratio Six stacks up against a Technivorm:

    Then I gave some thoughts on some of our newest coffees in a Coffee Roundup!

    Then, of course, you know her, you love her, it's Gail's second Good Morning Gail for 2020!

    And finally, we've got some coffee infused cocktail production with Ariel:

    We hope you've enjoyed this week's videos! We'll be back soon with more incredible coffee content!

  • Coffee Culture: Spain

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

    A Coffee With Every Meal

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

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

    Spanish Coffee Shops

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

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

     

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