Make Coffee You Love!
Taking Home A Superautomatic Espresso Machine
In our last post, we asked you how committed you were to your espresso. If you’re the one running out the door empty-handed and caffeine deprived, then you’re in the right place—we’re about to revolutionize your life—enter the superautomatic espresso machine. Superautomatics do all the heavy lifting and will grind, tamp and brew delicious espresso for you. It’s the perfect solution for coffee lovers who are “just friends” with their cup.
Of course, there are a variety of superautomatics, so while they make getting a cup of coffee a snap, you still have some choices to make on how committed you’ll be to your machine. The way we like to decide between models is to use this simple scenario: You walk into your favorite coffee shop, what do you order?
Espresso, Americano Or Drip For Me!
So, you take your coffee black? Then we recommend checking out some introductory superautomatic espresso machines. These machines focus on convenience and are incredibly easy to learn and are built with fewer features and programmability. Before you jump to any conclusions, remember that saying "less is more?" We tend to see people favor an introductory superautomatic for its ease of use, affordability and small footprint. The coffee options are usually espresso, coffee or, sometimes called, lungo. Generally, you can program the volume but you really don’t see settings for temperature, coffee strength, etc. There are some doubts that superautomatics produce good espresso. While there will be quality differences between semi-automatic and superautomatics, we have definitely made delicious espresso with superautomatics.
If you like your coffee with milk, no worries—there are introductory superautomatics with milk options. A panarello-style steam wand is the frother of choice because it does all the frothing for you. Panarello's work by aerating milk through a slit in the top. No skills required! Since it’s doing all the heavy frothing, you won’t have to worry about controlling the milk texture. It's easy to achieve fluffy cappuccino foam without any technique. Occasionally, some superautomatics won’t have a milk frother, in which case you could look into getting an external frother.
Another benefit of these introductory superautomatics is their small footprint and maintenance. With fewer features, these machines tend to run small; small enough to fit into any kitchen or even squeeze on your desk at work (you’d be a hit at the office). Maintenance is also a breeze. If there’s no steam wand, then you’ll never need to worry about properly cleaning off the milk. And if you have a panarello, it's easy to disassemble and clean. Most superautomatics will have an automatic rinsing cycle before and after brewing, keeping your machine in tip-top shape. But you’re not off the hook completely. You’ll still have to descale and clean the brew group (if accessible) as the manufacturer recommends, but it’s nice to have some of the maintenance handled.
Latte Or Cappuccino, Please!
If you crave control, then we recommend bumping up to a mid-range, intermediate or advanced superautomatic espresso machine. A lot of these machines will allow you to adjust the temperature, volume, coffee strength, etc. Many feature a user-friendly interface, such as a digital display or labeled buttons, to make programming effortless. One of our favorite features is customizable profiles that allow a select number of users to program and save their drink preferences (of course, it’s only available on some machines. More on those in our next post). The amount of customization offered in superautomatics makes it easier to tailor your drink to your liking.
Latte and cappuccino lovers, get ready to jump for joy—there are machines that blend coffee and cream directly into your cup. One-touch superautomatics have an attached carafe that siphons milk to steam. When you’re done, you can remove the carafe and store extra milk in the fridge. Some machines even let you adjust the milk temperature, milk foam texture or milk foam amount. There can also be a more traditional steam wand, so if you wanted to improve your frothing technique, here's your chance!
With the additional customization, there will be a learning curve. Occasionally, the settings aren’t intuitive and you’ll find useful features buried under lists or icons. We recommend referring to the manual to learn the ins and outs of the machine—it can even help with troubleshooting. There are alerts or lights that’ll indicate when something's amiss, like when you run out of water or the coffee ground bin is full. Typically, we’ll find a troubleshooting section in the manual that provides instruction to fix the common issues . These machines will also automatically perform or recommend daily maintenance, such as rinsing milk pipes or descaling. Like the introductory superautomatics, these built-in features keep your machine well maintained.
If you’re just friends with your coffee, then a superautomatic espresso machine is the choice for you! Since there are a variety of superautomatic espresso machines we have another post coming out for you. We’ll dive into mid-range, intermediate and advanced superautomatics and what sort of features and functions you’ll find on those machines.
If you’re looking for caffeine on the go, an introductory superautomatic is the machine for you. These machines offer a balance of convenient features without the fuss of programming. Some may only offer espresso options, but you will find some with panarello-style steam wands. If you’re satisfied with those features, we recommend checking out some of these machines.
How Does It Compare?
We’re comparing 2011’s hottest grinder, the Baratza Vario-W, to this year’s anticipated Baratza Sette 270. What has changed and improved in Baratza’s grinders in that five-year gap? The Sette 270’s reimagined design helps eliminate wasted grounds thanks to the horizontally mounted motor and outer rotating burr that creates a direct shot from the bean hopper through the burrs and into your brewer. The Vario-W features a scale mounted on the bottom and only worked with the dosing container—you can't balance portafilters or a V60 on that tiny scale. Fortunately, coffee friends, the Sette 270’s arms can hold brewers like a portafilter or V60. And, when the Sette 270W comes out, those arms will have a scale!
With over 270 steps in your grind, the Baratza Sette 270 has earned its name. The Sette 270 features 31 stepped adjustments from fine to coarse markers and a second adjustment that’s actually stepless. Yep, you read that correctly. Baratza features ABC markers on the second adjustment that act as a guide—Battleship, anyone—but it offers infinite settings. These markers guide beginners back to their ideal grind and create over 270 setting options. It’s actually quite satisfying to be able to get back to your dialed-in grind if you lose your place—almost as satisfying as sinking your opponent’s Battleship.
The Baratza Vario-W offers 230 steps of adjustments and it’s all stepped here. There are 10 macro settings and the second set from A to W. Within each macro step, you can adjust the ABC settings to dial in your grind. That’s still an impressive amount of options, even if the Sette 270 beats it—only by a little. The Vario-W has been a solid grinder for home brewers and offers them an easy way to click back to their grinder setting.
Steel or ceramic burrs? This is another topic debated in the coffee community. The Baratza Sette 270 is equipped with 40mm conical steel burrs that produce even particles and fewer fines. However, steel burrs can create more friction and heat, which can cause the beans to heat up and potentially burn. The Baratza Vario-W features 54mm flat ceramic burrs that transfer less heat. Ceramic burrs are also sharper and can have a longer life in your grinder if properly cared for. One downside to ceramic burrs is that they are more fragile than their steel counterpart—chipping can be an issue. In a quick match against grinders, we compared the ceramic versus steel grounds and noticed the Sette 270’s steel burrs produced better consistency. The Sette 270 didn’t burn our beans, however, if you’re grinding through a lot of coffee you could noticed warm grounds. In our taste test—the best part—we think both produced phenomenal coffee that wasn’t burned.
Baratza knows that flexibility for different brew methods is important and in the last five years that’s been on the forefront of their mind. That’s why the Baratza Sette 270’s new design features two adjustable arms and a third arm to steady different methods…like a portafilter! The Sette’s unique shape offers additional space for large containers or swing those arms around to grasp your 58mm portafilter (or any size portafilter, let’s be honest). The updated holder trumps the Baratza Vario-W—sorry, Vario-W. While we love that the Vario-W could grind from French Press to espresso, you needed some sort of flat-bottomed container to balance on the sensor. AKA, you had to scoop your grounds from a container into your portafilter. If there’s one thing we don’t need more of at Seattle Coffee Gear it’s coffee grounds all over our counter.
As we know, that Sette 270’s seven-shaped design also creates less coffee waste, but more importantly, how’s the consistency? It’s excellent. On the finest setting, we produced beautiful, even grounds perfect for a non-pressurized portafilter. We’re even pleased that the Sette 270’s coarsest setting was still so consistent! The further away the burrs get, the less consistent the grind tends to be, so it was a welcomed sight to see nice, symmetrical grounds. While the Sette 270 is great for most brewing methods, we’re on the fence about it producing big enough grounds for French press. Baratza does market it for coffee presses, so give it a go and tell us what you think about the Sette 270’s performance!
The Vario-W might be a better option for someone who’s a frequent French press brewer. Of course, Baratza has designed these products to accommodate all types of brewing, so we encourage our coffee friends to branch out and try new methods! And the espresso consistency is so beautiful on the Vario-W, it would be a waste not to use it. Between the Vario-W and Sette 270’s espresso grind, we couldn’t see any difference in consistency. Honestly, you could take either one of these grinders home and it would complement any home barista with an extensive coffee bar.
We’re digging the Baratza Sette 270’s modern design to boot! It’s a style that’s fashionable and functional. The angular structure is breaking away from Baratza’s boxier grinder styles and most other grinders in the market. We’ve noticed a swing with other manufacturers designing trendy products—we’re thinking about the Rocket Espresso Appartamento and its retro dots—and it’s no surprised that people are also onboard with this! The Sette 270’s colors are also complementary to modern taste and easily assimilates into a home brewer’s kitchen—it’s no surprise to us that the Sette 270 is in high demand.
The Baratza Vario-W is designed similarly to the rest of Baratza’s grinders lineup and it’s a style that’s worked for Baratza. The one feature that makes the Vario-W stand out is the combination of the digital LCD display and tactile grind settings. The interface is displayed front and center and is extremely user-friendly for beginners with the marked adjustments. While the Sette 270 is also user-friendly, the adjustments are angled in a downward tier that is a hair more difficult to see. Both interfaces, though, are a snap to navigate for new home brewers.
When we first unboxed the Sette 270, we were so enamored by its style and features that we forgot to note the noise level. After grinding our morning beans, it was hard to block out how loud this guy was. The noise level is partly due to the fact that there’s no metal casing around the Sette 270. And you’re probably thinking, why not add the sound-proofing, the metal case would have driven up the price, coffee friends, and we’re happy with the low cost of this caliber of a grinder. Grinders are notorious for being loud and you’re likely to always be on your neighbors hit list—fear not! There are grinders like the Vario-W that are a bit quieter. The Vario-W has a metal casing that helps control the noise level.
In the five years since Baratza revealed the Vario-W, the demands have changed in the coffee community. The demand has gone up for a grinder that’s flexible for different brewing methods and Baratza has answered that demand by supplying us with the Sette 270. For many home brewers, we can see the highlight of this grinder is its flexible design that can hold a V60 or a portafilter. And as the coffee community grows, so do novice brewers. Both the Vario-W and Sette 270 offer user-friendly settings that are easy to learn how to dial in your grind. We wouldn’t call these entry-level machines, no sir, these are definitely for mid-level and experienced home baristas. What do you guys think? Watch our crew review comparison video and let us know what grinder you’re leaning towards!
How Does It Compare?
The hearty Baratza Virtuoso Grinder is a well-rounded machine built with powerful, slow rotating steel burrs and stepped adjustments. With over 40 distinct settings, the Virtuoso makes dialing in you grind a snap. It’s designed to grind for a wide range of brew methods, however, the stepped settings limit you to set increments, which means you have less control over your grind. That’s where the Baratza Preciso Grinder comes in—it’s nearly identical to the Virtuoso but features 40 macro and an additional 11 micro steps for each to create more customization. Both models have 40mm steel conical burrs that can create beautiful, consistent grounds. Just so you know, the Virtuoso is the grinder of choice in the SCG kitchen and it never fails to make the Crew a good cup of coffee! One of the highlights of the Virtuoso is it’s always consistent and not too loud, which for us, means we can make pot after pot without disturbing the office.
With 40 grind settings, the Baratza Virtuoso Grinder is ready to grind from fine espresso to a coarse French press. Pro Tip: The marked adjustments are in increments of two, so when you’re going from one (fine) to 40 (coarse) just keep that in mind. We took the grinder out for a spin at the coarsest setting and discovered its consistency left more to be desired. That’s not surprising because the coarser you go the more space the burrs have to allow grounds to escape. We usually have our grinder set at about 20 or 22 for our drip coffee maker and noticed it was much more consistent in the drip range.
The consistency of the finer grind is partly thanks to the 40mm steel conical burrs—steel tends to create more consistent grounds. Pair those burrs with the 40 stepped adjustments and it’s easy for us coffee lovers to replicate cup after cup without much fuss. Even though stepped adjustments are limiting, it does make it easier to dial in and find again if you switch the grind size. In fact, if you’re trying to make espresso, that could be a turnoff with the limited adjustments.
Sure, the 40 stepped settings offer a wide range of brewing methods for baristas, but there’s a catch. The Baratza Virtuoso Grinder can do espresso but it’s incredibly limited to how dialed in you can get—that’s why there are so many grinders specifically designed for espresso. Even at the finest setting, we felt it would be better suited for a pressurized portafilter. That means you’re probably not using the Virtuoso with high-end machines with only non-pressurized options. If you were interested in using the Virtuoso on a semi-automatic without a pressurized portafilter, we’d recommend stepping up to the Preciso. However, at this affordable price point, we think people interested in the Virtuoso are also interested in pour over, drip or a smaller, entry-level espresso machine.
The Baratza Virtuoso Grinder runs quietly, thanks in part to the slow 450 RPM burr speed. All grinders make a little noise, but the Crew appreciates that we can grind enough coffee for a couple of pots without alerting the whole office. Another reason it grinds smoothly is the metal casing wrapped around the top, which helps the stability of the grinder and keeps the vibration down. Fashion and function! We dig it.
The compact, sleek design is one of its glamorous qualities—the 8-ounce bean hopper only makes the grinder 13 inches high. We bet that’ll clear most cabinets. Most of the specialty coffees we carry are in 12-ounce bags, so we can easily run a whole bags worth. The only catch is that the steel burrs heat up if grinding that much coffee—we recommend grinding smaller amounts and then letting the grinder rest. And with the manual-style 60-second timer, it’s clear to us that it’s designed to grind small amounts.
The Baratza Virtuoso Grinder features a wide range of easily adjusted settings to accomplish drinks from an espresso to a rich French press coffee. We typically see this grinder going home with beginner brewers, but at SCG, we have a wide range of experienced baristas, who all enjoy using the Virtuoso in the morning. It’s compact, quiet and the stepped grind settings make it a user-friendly grinder. What’s your favorite feature on the Virtuoso? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Taking Home A Semi-automatic Espresso Machine
In our previous post, we focused on finding the right machine for you by asking how committed you are to your espresso. Are you just friends? Or are you in a series relationship? If you’re ready to be committed to your coffee, then read on! In this post, we’re continuing our journey to help you make coffee you love at home by focusing on semi-automatic espresso machines.
Whether you’re an entry-level or experienced barista, it’s more important to ask yourself about dedication. Do you have barista skills? If not, are you willing to practice? We’ll discuss what features you should consider when you’re picking between different semi-automatic espresso machines.
Ready And Willing To Brew!
You’ve decided that you’re dedicated to learning how to brew espresso—sweet! Then consider a semi-automatic with a non-pressurized portafilter and traditional steam wand for cafe-quality espresso. A non-pressurized portafilter is designed so that the pressure that extracts your coffee is based on the coffee grind size and how much force you tamp with. That means for you, coffee connoisseurs, it’ll require dedication to learning how to dial in your grind consistency and learn to time the extraction—you may be pulling a few shots before you get the flavor you want.
Let’s be honest, we probably all want to make latte art. A traditional steam wand offers full control over technique from how much air you incorporate to how long you steam your milk. With a little know-how, you can create latte art-worthy milk! The hardest part of frothing milk is not incorporating too much—to pour latte art, you’re looking for texture that’s paint-like. Grab a gallon of milk and try your hand at frothing! If anything, you’ll be able to create a foamy, coffee shop quality cappuccino in no time.
At a local cafe, peek behind the counter and you’ll likely see baristas knocking coffee pucks out of portafilters and whipping down steam wands with vigor. Semi-automatics require more maintenance. You’ll spend more time adjusting settings—for instance, if you purchase a machine with a PID, you can change the temperature—and cleaning the machine from daily chores like wiping the steam wand to more in-depth maintenance like backflushing and descaling. Generally, we see these machines last longer than their automatic counterparts—if properly maintained. With more control comes great responsibility, but it’s well worth it for the quality of espresso you’ll be able to make with a little dedication.
Practice? I Just Want Coffee…
Fair enough! There are plenty of semi-automatics out there that are capable of pulling quality espresso with little effort. Some features we look for are pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands. We like to think of these semi-automatics as entry-level. A pressurized portafilter (most often the basket is pressurized) assists in pulling quality espresso thanks to a double wall that compensates for pressure—meaning that if the grind is slightly off, it has got you covered. That doesn’t necessarily mean your espresso will be cafe quality—you’ll still want to experiment with settings to find coffee you love.
With a panarello steam wand, just stick it in your milk pitcher and let it go! It froths milk by pulling air in from a small slit at the top and incorporating steam for you. That does mean you get what you get. On most machines, you can’t control the steam power and you’ll generally end up with cappuccino foam. You can really only control how long the panarello steams your milk. Of course, if you’re not interested in learning how to froth milk, then you won’t mind the lack of control or features.
If you’re looking for an easy experience, then we recommend looking into machines that have these user-friendly features! Probably the biggest appeal is the ease of use and, of course, the affordable price that's is due in part to fewer features. Although, some entry-level machine have both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter options or even traditional steam wand that is designed to allow brewers to hone their skills.
If you’ve decided you just want coffee without practicing, then it’s the end of the journey for you. We have a few entry-level espresso machines that we’d think you’d enjoy. Remember, these machines have features like pressurized portafilters and panarello steam wands that help beginners make coffee they love effortless. Check these machines out:
If you’ve decided to be in a committed relationship, we’ve got a couple more tips for you in our next post—so stay tuned! Semi-automatics offer home baristas more control over their espresso with commercial-inspired accessories like traditional steam wands and non-pressurized portafilters.
How Does It Compare?
There’s nothing we love more than being able to brew and steam at the same time! And with either the Rocket Espresso Appartamento or the Breville Dual Boiler, we can do just that, but the user experience is completely different. The Dual Boiler packs in dedicated boilers alongside options like a pressurized portafilter and programmable shot buttons. On the other end of the spectrum, the Appartamento is Rocket’s smallest semi-automatic and, like other models in the line-up, sports a heat exchange boiler and traditional manual controls. The Appartamento will require more commitment and the dedication to learn, whereas Breville’s programmable features and range of accessories give baristas the ability to hone their skills.
Breville pulls out all the stops when it comes to crafting user’s experience. We’ve got a list of what makes the Breville Dual Boiler user-friendly, but one that stands out is its programmability. It features two programmable espresso buttons, in single or double shot quantities, the control volume by time. So while you’re concentrating on frothing your milk, you can press a button and let the Dual Boiler do the work—well, most of the work—for you. If you want to change it up, it also has a manual button to give you full control. The Dual Boiler also features pressurized and non-pressurized baskets for the portafilter. For beginners, the pressurized portafilter assists in extracting delicious espresso, especially if the grind is off. This gives beginners a chance to perfect their technique, or honestly, allows baristas to be lazy with the grind. When you finally perfect the grind, switch it up to the non-pressurized portafilter to brew like a professional. Whichever way you brew, the Dual Boiler’s user-friendly brewing makes it an easy machine to learn on.
The Rocket Espresso Appartamento’s design is influenced by traditional Italian espresso machines with its manual control lever and turn-dial knobs. Manual controls offer you freedom over your espresso and milk steaming. And with the Appartamento’s commercial-grade build, you’ll feel just like a professional barista. It’s equipped with two 58mm stainless steel portafilters (single and double spouts) and an E61 brew head that produces consistently hot espresso. Since there are no programmable features, there is a fairly steep learning curve and most of that is learning how to time pulling a shot while frothing milk. For experienced baristas, it’s muscle memory. For beginners, it’s more to handle—you can always slow down and froth, then brew. The Appartamento has features designed for an intermediate to an experienced barista, but with a will to learn an entry-level barista can pull delicious shots too.
The Dual Boiler has an 84-ounce water reservoir that feeds a 10-ounce brew boiler and a 32-ounce steam boiler. The boilers may seem small but that’s to your advantage. After pulling espresso shots for the whole family, the small 10-ounce boiler refills and reheats in no time. The Appartamento, on the other hand, has a respectable 60-ounce (1.8-liter) boiler that we expect to find on a heat exchange machine. The larger boiler takes longer to heat up. It has to heat the whole boiler to steam temperature before it can heat water on the fly from the reservoir, so we have to wait (again) to pull consistent shots. Once the Appartamento is heated, it can make multiple lattes before needing time to refill and reheat.
While we’re on the subject of boilers, the Breville Dual Boiler has a programmable PID to control both boilers. This allows you to set the ideal temperature to create consistency for your brew. Also, the latest update on the Dual Boiler now allows you to control the steam boiler range from 265 to 285 degrees. Paired with the traditional steam wand, it feels like a true barista experience. The Dual Boiler features a three-hole steam tip that shoots hot steam evenly in your pitcher—it’s super easy to get your milk rotating into a nice whirlpool. However, we will say that the steam wand will take more practice and patience for a beginner to learn.
The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is right up there with practice and patience. The 60-ounce boiler packs some incredible steam power and, paired with the two-hole steam tip, it whips up milk foam with ease. The Appartamento, however, doesn’t include a PID to set your temperature, so you’re stuck with Rocket’s standard heat settings. If you wanted to get technical with your brew, Rocket does offer other models with a PID. After making a handful of lattes on the Appartamento, we’re impressed with the temperature and consistency. When we compared its steam power to the Dual Boiler, to us it seemed obvious the Appartamento stole the show.
The real show stopper is the Rocket Espresso Appartamento’s new style. It’s still the same beautiful stainless steel body but with white or copper side panels that are revealed through cutouts. The body sticks to Rocket’s clean cut style with gear-inspired knobs and their logo stamped front and center. The Appartamento may have been built like a traditional espresso machine, but its style is better described as contemporary, especially with those retro spots. While the Crew is divided about what color we like more, both will easily integrate into a home brewer’s kitchen. And it’s no problem squeezing the Appartamento on any apartment counter—it’s Rocket’s smallest machine to date. It’s even smaller than the Breville Dual Boiler, which is 6.25 inches wider than the Appartamento. Think of that prime counter space you’ll save.
Even though the Dual Boiler’s a tad wider, it’s equipped with convenient extras that make up for it. One of those extras is hidden under the drip tray—Breville has included a swivel foot that drops down on the counter to easily rotate the machine around. This makes accessing the water tank effortless. It also included a hidden storage tray behind the drip tray and a magnetic tamper—everything you need for espresso is close at hand. While the Dual Boiler also has stainless steel casing it’s a cover over a plastic body, but we’re OK with that since we still get the style with an affordable price tag.
Between the Breville Dual Boiler and Rocket Espresso Appartamento, it comes down to what sort of user experience you desire. With the user in mind, the Dual Boiler comes equipped with programmability and accessories like pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters for beginners or experienced baristas. The Appartamento’s got style. It’s one of those machines you look at and can’t help but ask about. But the manual controls require commitment and plenty of patience to learn how to brew. So if you have the time and the will to learn, either machine will offer you the chance to hone your skills.
The Crew is still debating what color is better: white or copper? Tell us what color you like the best in the comments below!
How Does It Compare?
We're always in the mood for cold brew! The Toddy Cold Brew System is one of our go-to brewers for making the perfect coffee concentrate. The magic of the Toddy is it requires little effort on your part and then does all the hard work (making your coffee) overnight. There are a handful of other cold brewers on the market, but there’s nothing better than the Toddy’s super-sized five-gallon commercial model—yes, five gallons! Both use the same convenient brew methods, but the smaller, counter-size Toddy feels at home in your kitchen whereas the big five-gallon would fit in just fine at a cafe or restaurant. Of course, you could always size up, but be aware that the commercial model uses different filtration system: a combination of a reusable mesh strainer and disposable filters. So when you upgrade, don’t forget your filters (trust us, you’ll soon be on a cold brew train that five gallons won’t be enough)!
Brewing with the Toddy Cold Brew System is probably the easiest things we’ve ever done. Measure out your coffee, add water (no waiting for it to boil) and brew for 12 to 24 hours. It makes about 48-ounces of coffee concentrate—the final product—and is designed to hold a pound of ground coffee and 72-ounces of water. Of course, you’re not drinking this coffee in a cup. Since it’s concentrated, you will definitely want to dilute it and that leaves plenty for more. In fact, Toddy estimates it makes about 32 (6-ounces) cups of coffee, depending on how strong you like your coffee. It’s enough coffee that the Crew frequently has a Toddy steeping on the counter to caffeinate the whole office with enough for round two.
What makes the Toddy so delicious is its efficient design. Created by Todd Simpson in 1964, the cold brew method removes “67% less acid” than hot brewing methods, according to Toddy’s website. The allure of cold brew is the deliciously smooth taste with less bite from the acids, so it holds up for us! Another important and sometimes forgotten factor in creating the smooth flavor is the Toddy’s filter (definitely don’t forget to put that in the Toddy). The filters are specifically designed for cold brewing to help remove the bitter acids and oils from the coffee. And for all you tea drinkers out there, we have good news for you—the Toddy is perfect for cold brewing tea too!
One of the features we appreciate about the Toddy Cold Brew System is that it comes with a brew container and glass carafe. Once your brew has steeped for 12 or 24 hours, place it over the glass carafe and release the rubber stopper. The carafe makes it easy to pour a glass and store in the fridge for later—we recommend drinking it within two weeks—and eliminates trying to find the right container. Most importantly, since you can enjoy it for weeks, it stops the extraction process for that just right brew.
Unlike paper filters, the Toddy filters can be reused! Toddy recommends changing it out every 10 to 12 uses or after three months. The only catch is you’ll need to clean and store filters in the fridge or freezer. We recommend a good rinse, without soap, and squeeze out the water before storing. We typically toss ours in the butter holder so we can find it for next time.
While the Toddy’s white, plastic brew container won’t win any fashion awards, the ease-of-use and phenomenally smooth coffee more than makeup for looks! And the glass carafe is a nice touch. There are only a couple of design issues we have and those are 1. It doesn’t have a lid and 2. The handle is flimsy. We all know summer means bugs and it’s a bummer that without the lid, we could end up steeping flies along with our coffee. We usually cover the top with plastic wrap or foil to solve that issue. The handle, however, is too flimsy and we recommend using both hands to move the brewing container.
Cold brew is here to stay and we’re in love! The well-designed and affordable Toddy Cold Brew System makes it an easy option to add to your kitchen. And, as we mention above, if you need an upgrade, there’s a five-gallon commercial model available. Hands down, one of the features we appreciate the most is the Toddy’s reusable filters. These filters not only last for 10 to 12 uses (or three months, whichever comes first) but they help trap bitter acids and oils to create a smooth cup of concentrated coffee. And with about 48-ounces of concentrate to mix with, we bet there are plenty of amazing drink recipes out there.
Want to learn how to make better cold brew? Check out this Coffee On The Brain episode with Amber.
It’s a press…it’s a dripper…no, it’s the AeroPress! The AeroPress Coffee Maker is a popular choice for brewing coffee. It’s a type of immersion brewer that’s similar to a press, but it has a paper filter that removes coffee grit, unlike other styles. It’s an affordable, compact and lightweight brewer that’s incredibly easy to use.
If you’re like us and have one (or even two) of these in your kitchen, you’ve probably gotten a brewing routine down, but it’s never too late to learn some new tricks! We’ve got four new tips for you to start using on your AeroPress today—so what are you waiting for? Let’s get brewing.
AeroPress Tip #1: Wet Your Filter
We recommend you don’t skip this one! Rinsing your paper filter helps reduces the papery or woody flavor taste.The best way to get it wet is to put the dry filter into the AeroPress’ black filter basket and place it over a cup, which also pre-heats your cup—win, win! Don’t worry about if the filter cools down before you brew because you’ll be pouring some hot water through it soon.
AeroPress Tip #2: Level Out Your Grounds
Your filter’s rinsed and ready to go—now it’s time for coffee! Grind 15 grams of coffee at about a drip coffee grind or a Chemex, but not too fine like for a espresso. Got it? Perfect, now let’s use that handy little funnel and add your grounds into the AeroPress.
Now for the tip: Level out your grounds by giving it a quick shake back and forth (don’t stress it too much). The more even the grounds bed is the more even your extraction will be and the more even an extraction means a tastier cup of coffee!
When you add your hot water, you want to evenly wet grounds by pouring in a circular motion. Since an AeroPress uses immersion brewing and pressure, we’re not worried about letting the coffee bloom. Go ahead and add all your water to the AeroPress and stir gently to ensure all your grounds are equally wet.
AeroPress Tip #3: Use Back Pressure To Stop The Drip
You’ll notice once you add the hot water, the AeroPress will start dripping—but this isn’t drip coffee! To stop the drip, insert the plunger piece into the body and…ta-da! Using back pressure is one of those wonderful tricks the scientist in us loves. It stops the flow of water and allows the coffee grounds to extract that wonderful flavor until we’re ready to plunge.
We’ve also brewed the AeroPress in the inverted style, which is when the plunger is already attached. Using this method, you add your 15-grams of coffee and hot water through the opposite end or where the filter basket is placed. After you've let it steep, you twist on the filter basket (don't forget the paper filter) and carefully flip the AeroPress onto your cup. Plunge as usual! Since it's us, when we flip it we tend to make a mess. If you haven’t used the back pressure method, we totally recommend it when you’re brewing with the AeroPress!
AeroPress Tip #4: Fast, Forceful Press = More Body and Slow, Even Press = Less Body, Cleaner Cup
You can think about this tip in terms of espresso, but, let's be real, you won't be able to create enough pressure for actual espresso. Espresso is extracted under pressure in a relatively quick time, typically, between 20 to 30 seconds, to produce a full-bodied shot. The idea applies to how AeroPress uses air pressure to extract flavor, but with human pressure. Another way to get more body is how far you plunge. If you push far enough to hear the air escape (that hissing sound) you're no longer pushing coffee water, but the slurry of dissolved coffee that's been extracted.
As they say, slow and steady wins the race. There’s no right or wrong way to press the AeroPress, but there’s something to love about the slow method. The slower plunge allows the nuanced flavors, such as berries and fruits, to come forward and creates a cleaner bodied cup. We did about a 30-second slow plunge and stopped pushing after we heard the air release. This gave us a crisp, clean cup that we were looking for.
Tell us what you think! Do you have any tips or tricks you like to do with the AeroPress? Share your ideas in the comments below.
How Does It Compare?
We’re comparing grinder to grinder today—but we made this Crew Comparison more interesting by matching the Breville Smart Grinder Pro with the grinder in the Breville Barista Express. We actually get this question a lot: How’s the grinder in the Barista Express compared to a standalone grinder? For starters, most built-in grinders are designed specifically for that machine, which is true for the Barista Express. This semi-automatic comes equipped with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters that’s perfect for beginner to experienced baristas, who want to practice pulling espresso shots. We took the Barista Express’ grinder for a spin with both portafilters and found it could easily be dialed in for different beans, and if you got lazy with the grind, the pressurized basket was capable of compensating and making a delicious shot.
In comparison, the Smart Grinder Pro has the capacity to work with other brewers. You could dial it in for coarse French press or fine espresso—extremely fine too. If you’re looking to use your grinder for different brewers, the intuitive digital display on the Smart Grinder Pro makes it easier to dial in. Since it’s designed to use with many brewers, Breville included a grind container with a lid and two portafilter holders for your convenience. That said, both of these machines are made by Breville—who, we might add, consistently includes user-friendly features throughout their line-up—so we took each machine home for a closer look.
The Breville Smart Grinder Pro features a manual turn dial to set the “grind size” from one to 60 (60 being the coarsest). The 40mm stainless steel conical burrs are designed to create even particles and fewer fines. Just for fun, we decided to see how long it would take to grind up enough grounds for 12 cups of coffee at the coarsest setting (60 grind size). We clocked it in at 38.2 seconds! Fortunately, the big 16-ounce bean hopper had plenty of beans to accommodate 12 cups worth of grounds.
Bonus: The Smart Grinder Pro has an additional 10 adjustment located on the top of the burr. However, these are intended to extend the life of your machine and not to pull right out of the box and adjust down to the finest setting. Check out this video with Phil McKnight from Breville for a thorough explanation.
The Breville Barista Express is naturally going to be different. It’s designed for espresso so the coarse to fine range is limited. We’ve done this before on Ask Gail and thought you could maybe get a pour over grind out of the Barista Express, but nothing close enough to a French press. We still checked out the burrs and found they were conical stainless steel like the Smart Grinder Pro! The 8-ounce bean hopper is half the size as the Pro, but hey, we’re working with smaller quantities when it comes to espresso.
We weren’t kidding about Breville’s user-friendly features. The Breville Smart Grinder Pro display is marked with brew methods (press to espresso) to help indicate where your grind setting might be. On top of that, it has three feature on the front: grind amount, shots/cups and start/pause (to clarify, the grind amount is based on a timed dosage, something we see in a lot of grinders). Those are your basic settings for programming your grind, but what’s cool about the Pro is the interaction of each setting. When we’re within the press to drip range, we have up to 12 cups that we can program using the grind amount, which conveniently also says Program under the dial. You only need to turn the knob to the time you want and it’s programmed—voila! Move the grind size on over to espresso and cups turns into shots, which we can set from one to 8. Of course, those shots/cups amounts don’t necessary mean you’ll get one cup since the amount will be determined by the time you have set to grind.
So, how does the Barista Express match up? Since it’s designed for espresso, it has two programmable filter sizes: single and double. It features the same timed grind amount but without the digital display. The less to more measurements are useful enough, albeit, not as fancy or convenient as the Smart Grinder Pro. The same can be said for the Barista Express’ grinder size dial, which is located off to the side—you’re going to have to peak over to make adjustments. Like we mentioned earlier, the coarsest setting is still within an espresso range—possibly for drip but not other brew methods.
We rave about Breville’s extra features and it’s no exception with the Breville Smart Grinder Pro and Breville Barista Express. In both, Breville included an activation switch behind the container/portafilter to enjoy hands-free grinding or the option to manually dose. And, of course, the accessories: The Smart Grinder Pro comes with two portafilter holders for 50-54mm and 58mm portafilters, and a container—perfect for a wide variety of brewers. Since the Barista Express’ grinder is designed for espresso, the built-in portafilter is all we need to support our caffeine needs. Both include a removable bean hopper, for those of us who change out our beans.
The most noticeable style difference is the Smart Grinder Pro’s digital interface. The beautiful backlight display makes it convenient to dial-in different grind settings and, frankly, if you’re going from French press to espresso, the stepped grinder and markers are ideal. On top of the ease-of-use, this smart grinder is a grammar nerd—yeah, you read that right. If you adjust the Pro from one cup to five cups, it corrects the word “cup” from singular to plural—it’s a Smart Grinder Pro, after all.
By now, you probably know which machine is right for you. Are you looking to brew more than espresso? Then the Breville Smart Grinder Pro is the machine for you. The magic of the Breville Barista Express is that convenience of a built-in grinder ready to produce fresh grounds that can be brewed right away. That freshness is what espresso drinkers desire. The Smart Grinder Pro handles espresso, too, and would pair perfectly with the Breville Dual Boiler or other machines without a built-in grinder. But what makes the Pro a Pro is the wide range of grind settings, so you can enjoy good ole French press too. If you’re interested in learning more about these grinders, check out the links below:
How Does It Compare?
The Breville Dual Boiler and Breville Oracle are two crowd favorites in the Breville line-up. Both feature double boilers to control brew and steam temperature and have programmable features. The Dual Boiler, however, features a traditional steam wand while the Oracle is equipped with a panarello-style steam wand that limits your ability to texturize milk the traditional way. If you were looking to perfect your technique on a traditional-style wand, the Dual Boiler’s your machine. We typically view the Oracle as a hybrid between a semi-automatic and superautomatic (it auto-tamps and auto-steams with the panarello), so if you’re looking to perfect your barista skills, we’d recommend you check out the Dual Boiler.
Breville excels at providing people the perfect opportunity to improve their barista skills while still enjoying easy and convenient features. The Breville Dual Boiler has two programmable buttons to set your ideal volume for one or two shots. Or, if you want to have control on the fly, you can manually start and stop the flow of espresso with the manual button. While we’re talking about convenience, the Dual Boiler also has a digital interface that allows you to easily program settings such as brew temperature or pre-infusion length. So while experienced baristas have the option to take control over the brew, there is also an opportunity for beginners to easily customize their preferences.
Inside the machine, the Dual Boiler features stainless steel boilers and Italian pumps to create lattes seamlessly. It creates the ideal maximum extraction pressure during brewing and a nice low pressure during pre-infusion. The electronic PID, that you can set using the LCD display, keeps both boiler temperatures within a few degrees for consistent extraction. It also features a heated group head to maintain the stability of your espresso shot. Together, these features create a delicious and consistent shot that you can enjoy with or without milk.
Speaking of milk, the Breville Dual boiler features a traditional steam wand that allows you total control over the aeration. The 360º swivel steam arm gets at any angle to help you properly incorporate air with your milk. It’s also equipped with a three-hole tip that shoots hot steam into different directions to create evenly heated milk. If you’re looking to improve your frothing technique, the Dual Boiler’s steam wand sets you up to evenly achieve the right milk texture.
The Dual Boiler also has a dedicated hot water spout for those Americano fans. We appreciate the separated functionalities because it can take awhile to draw hot water through traditional steam wands. You’ll be pulling hot water from the steam boiler, which you can set between 265ºF – 285ºF so that water is hot, hot, hot! Be careful, especially if you use the hot water spout for drinks like hot chocolate for the kids.
Breville’s brushed stainless steel casing continues through their product line-up and we’re definitely OK with that. The soft, brushed steel makes the Breville look like a million bucks with an affordable price tag. With Breville’s line-up, the price is reflective of the advanced features and functionality. For example, the Dual Boiler is packed with, not one, but two powerful boilers and a programmable interface, so that makes us happy with its price point.
Breville included other handy features that generally people don’t realize they want—or need, frankly. The Dual Boiler is a hefty machine, weighing in at nearly 30 pounds, so accessing the back is nearly impossible—or is it? Like the Breville Oracle, the Dual Boiler comes with a hidden drop-down swivel foot under the drip tray. Once you engage the foot, it’ll easily roll around on your counter to remove the water tank. If you just need to fill up the reservoir, Breville’s thought of that too with a lid at the front of the machine to pour water into. You can even see when the water is low through a small window in the front of the machine. It’s the small, user-friendly features like this that continue to make Breville a go-to for new and experienced espresso machine owners.
The Breville Dual Boiler features something for beginners and experienced baristas alike. With both programmable and manual options, you can control the length of your brew or bask in the convenience by getting an espresso at the touch of a button. And since this is a double boiler machine, you can brew and steam at the same time—simply press the pre-programmed espresso button and you can concentrate on texturizing your milk. In the line-up of Breville products, the Dual Boiler is an advanced machine packed with features that will impress new and veteran home brewers.
Start Here: Welcome to Gear Guide!
If you’re ready to bring home an espresso machine but don’t know where to start, then you’re in the right place. We’ve created a simple buyer’s guide to espresso machines to help you make the coffee you love at home. This series is designed to help you choose which espresso machine that is right for you. We’ll start here with this simple question:
How Committed Are You?
Are you just friends or are you in a serious relationship with your espresso? We know, it sounds silly, but understanding your level of commitment is the first step to finding the right espresso machine for you. Think about your morning routine: Are you usually rushing out the door or do you cook a balanced breakfast? How you’ll be using your machine—basically, your relationship with it—is the best way to determine what you should take home.
Take a superautomatic espresso machine. This type of machine is for people who are rushing out the door. Most require little to no barista skills and typically operate at the touch of a button. It’s like having your own personal barista right in your kitchen. Depending on the model, some machines offer basic drink options such as espresso or Americanos while more advanced options offer a range of menu items, customized temperature or milk texture and more. Superautomatics have a variety of milk frothing options like a panarello-style steam wand, traditional steam wand or carafe, so you can choose which option is right for you. For instance, one-touch superautomatics whip up lattes right into your cup thanks to integrating milk systems like an attached carafe.
On the other side, we have the semi-automatic machine for the chefs out there. With semi-automatics, you should be willing to get involved and grow with it—to a degree. There are several entry-level semi-automatic machines that offer beginners assistance with features like the pressurized portafilter, that helps you pull a consistent shot every time or a panarello steam wand for thick, rich milk with little skill involved.
If you’re ready to expand your barista skills, the higher level semi-automatics let you control just about every aspect of your espresso shot and milk. High-level machines typically feature a traditional steam wand and non-pressurized portafilters, which require a level of skill, technique and preparation. For instance, on a non-pressurized portafilter, you’ll need a consistent grind, which requires a quality grinder and the senses (taste, sight, etc.) to dial in your grind. That means you have more control over how fine-tuned your espresso is! For those latte and cappuccino drinkers out there, you’ll appreciate the flexibility of a traditional steam wand. You can texture milk to be dense, dry foam or paint-like for latte art. Then sometimes there are advanced features like PIDs to regulate the boiler temperature or the ability to set the pre-infusion time.
Of course, some features and functionalities are found on both superautomatic and semi-automatic such as a panarello-style steam wand. That’s why we ask people to focus on their commitment level. Are you ready to learn how to dial in your grind? Do you want your machine to remember your drink preferences? Figuring out how committed you’ll be using your machine is the first step, now it’s time to think about coffee.
How Do You Like Your Coffee?
Tall, dark and…smokey? If you love Italian or French roast blends, then you’ll want to stay away from superautomatic machines. The reason being is the oils coating the coffee beans will clog the superautomatic’s grinder over time, creating a mess and may require extra maintenance. We always recommend avoiding an oily bean on a superautomatic to keep it in tip-top shape. That does mean, however, that you could enjoy a dark roast on a semi-automatic! You’ll want to make sure you clean the grinder a little more frequently with a grinder cleaner, but otherwise, a semi-automatic will have less trouble with dark roast. Also, we h2ly discourage using grinder cleaners on a superautomatic because it could potentially damage the grinder or brew group.
Looking for a unique flavor to try as an espresso? If you love single origins, go ahead and try it out on a semi-automatic! You can change the temperature, grind, tamp—you get the idea. With more control over brewing, you’re able to dial in and find your perfect shot. Since single origins’ flavors benefit from hotter water than a blend, it’s harder to pull a shot on a superautomatic than a semi-automatic. Of course, a blend will be easier to perfect on either type of machine since it’s designed to have a balanced flavor.
Are you ready to commit to your espresso? Again, think about your morning routine and ask yourself how often you’ll use your machine. What sort of drinks will you be making on it? If you have a specific coffee roast preference, then that could also influence your decision. Have you made a decision? Good! In this next couple of posts, we’ll split off into several topics.
If you've decided you're interested in a semi-automatic then proceed here: Gear Guide: Expanding Your Skills With Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines
Or if convenience rules, check out: Gear Guide: Convenience Rules With Superautomatic Espresso Machines