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  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso

    Semi-automatic espresso machines can be daunting at first glance. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to crafting cafe style espresso drinks, and getting started with the right gear is key. That’s why we’ve got another one of our holiday shopping guides to help you give the gift of great espresso gear, or get some for yourself! Let’s get started!

    Grinders

    Grinding for espresso requires a highly precise, consistent grinder that will give you a fine enough grind to generate the pressure needed for this brew method. To understand this, it’s important to understand the difference between pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets. On a basic level, pressurized portafilter baskets have extra screens or chambering to create back pressure on water coming into the filter. This is to make up for a grind that’s too coarse or inconsistent to generate the needed pressure for proper espresso extraction.

    If you’re shopping for a grinder that will last you for semi-automatic espresso, you’ll want something that can grind fine enough for non-pressurized baskets. While you might want to start with pressurized baskets, having the ability to jump to those non-pressurized baskets will give you the ability to enjoy the trickiest single origins with your espresso setup.

    With all of this in mind, it’s hard not to recommend the Eureka Mignon Notte espresso grinder. This is a grinder that produces that fine grind that will work for both pressurized and non-pressurized baskets. It’s also got a precision, stepless grind adjustment that really lets you get that perfect consistency for various different roasts. These are features you’ll usually find on much more expensive grinders, so to get them in a grinder at the Notte’s price point is particularly impressive.

    With your grinder choice locked in, the next thing you’ll need to decide on is your machine!

    Machine

    Your choice of machine really depends on two things: Budget and how willing you are to practice. Thankfully, there’s an answer for both ends of either spectrum! 

    If you’re looking for a great entry point on the lower end of cost, the Solis Perfetta is the perfect machine for you. This espresso machine offers great performance, timed shot programming, and high quality steaming at a great price. It’s also all in a small footprint, so you should be able to fit this machine in just about any kitchen. Overall it makes for a perfect starting point for new users, and is also a great upgrade if you’ve been using a cheaper espresso machine to see if you like it. The Perfetta’s ability to grind with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets ensures that you’ll be able to start with the “training-wheels” so to speak, and graduate to unpressurized baskets when you’re ready.

    If you really want to jump in with both feet, there’s always the Rocket Espresso Appartamento. The Appartamento is a little more challenging to learn on than the Perfetta, but it also offers a more “professional” feel and feature-set. This machine has a powerful heat exchanger boiler that will have you pulling shots and steaming at the same time. The steam wand and handle mirror commercial setups, and the tactile controls for controlling the brew head feel more hands on as well. There’s also the fact that the Appartamento is built to last, with stainless steel casing and high grade components, you really get what you pay for here. Finally, this is also one of the most affordable machines that features a heated group head on the market. Why is this important? By heating the portafilter you don’t lose any temperature during the brew process, which stands in contrast to other, lower cost machines.

    Both of these options work great depending on your budget and degree of confidence!

    Extras

    In addition to your grinder and scale, there are some extras you’ll want to consider as well. The first thing is a scale. It’s very important to ensure the proper brew ratios when you’re dialing in a new espresso. To do this, you’ll need a reliable scale. In a best case scenario you’ll be working with a water-resistant, espresso focused scale like an Acaia Lunar. Given that that might not be an expense you’re quit ready for, something like the Hario V60 Drip Scale can at least help you dose the correct amount of grounds. Just be careful not to get it wet!

    You’ll also want to have a knock box handy for cleanup. Knock boxes are used to eject used espresso pucks from your portafilter before dumping them into the garbage or compost. There are lots of knock boxes out there, we recommend something like the Rocket Espresso Knock Box to ensure longevity.

    Cleaning your machine is important too, and we love Urnex Cafiza for regular cleaning like backflushing. Just be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for machine maintenance and cleaning to keep it in tip top shape!

    Lastly, you’ll want a shot pitcher with clear and readable measurements. This allows you to keep your shots at the right volume over the right amount of time. Once you’ve got an espresso dialed in, you can switch to brewing directly into your cup! We are big fans of the Rhino Coffee Gear Espresso Shot Pitcher for this purpose.

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Pour Over

    It’s time for another holiday shopping guide! Today we’re looking at the wide world of pour over. This is a brew method many new coffee enthusiasts get into to start understanding specialty coffee, and we think it truly is a great way to learn! While pour over isn’t prohibitively expensive, there are more parts to it than with drip or even espresso. With that in mind, let’s get started with the most important part of your pour over set…

    Grinders

    The most important thing about drinking specialty coffee is fresh grinding your beans. With that in mind, a blade grinder just isn’t going to cut it. You’ll want a burr grinder designed for grinding in the brew range, as opposed to super-fine for espresso. Luckily, there are multiple grinders in an affordable range to pick from!

    The first on the list is the Baratza Encore. This is a legendary grinder known for its reliability, performance, and ease of use. Any new specialty coffee enthusiast will get years of use out of an encore. This year, Seattle Coffee Gear is also excited to offer the Solis Scala! The Scala isn’t quite as proven as the Encore yet, but offers an excellent value and exceptional performance for drip, press, and pour over brewing, as well as a timed grinding option that the Encore lacks.

    If you’re looking for something a little more challenging to learn on, but that offers more precision, there’s the Eureka Mignon Crono. The Crono’s stepless grind adjust can be tough to master, but it offers the ability to get a very precise grind perfect for getting every note out of those tricky single origin roasts. The Crono does come in at a higher price than the Scala and the Encore, and may be well suited for an upgrade if you’ve already got a burr grinder that you’re looking to grow from. 

    With your grinder picked out, there’s a few more pieces of gear you’ll need to get brewing!

    Scales and Kettles

    Outside of fresh grinding your beans, the other key components to brewing great coffee are water temperature and proper grounds to water ratios. Consistent temperature in the 195-205 fahrenheit range is key to getting a great pour over (or any coffee brew). To achieve that, you’ll want a kettle that you can trust, and that offers variable temperatures. For this, we think the best combination of price, performance, and features for this holiday season is the Bonavita Interurban. The Interurban provides precision temperature control, multiple presets, and a stylish look with multiple finish options.

    In terms of scales, there’s a couple of great ways you can go. Your scale is very important because you need to both weigh your grounds going in, and weigh as you pour to ensure the proper ratio. To achieve this, we recommend either the Hario V60 Drip Scale or the Oxo Precision Scale and Timer. Both are reasonably priced, accurate, and feature timers to help you with your bloom and pours.

    For those looking to take their weighing the extra mile, the Acaia Pearl offers even more precise weight, an expanded set of brew modes, and connectivity with Acaia’s smartphone apps, which help you dial in your pour over recipe to the T.

    Drippers and Servers

    For your choice of dripper, it really comes down to preference, as all drippers do create an almost imperceptible difference in flavor. For starters, there’s the Hario V60, which is a classic, and very affordable. We’d recommend the V60 as you first start exploring pour over. If you’re looking to get a little bit more adventurous, the Kalita Wave and Espro Bloom both offer interesting takes on pour over drippers, and are worth giving a try.

    Many people just brew their pour over directly into their mug of choice, but if you’re looking to brew for two, or just brew extra for yourself, you can pick up a Hario V60 Server, which is a great option for brewing a “pot” of pour over.

    With grounds, water, weight, and dripping all worked out, all you need is to add filters for your dripper of choice, and you’re good to go!

  • Holiday Staff Picks!

    Just in time for the holidays, we’ve got a brand new round of staff picks! If you’re not familiar with our staff picks, we periodically send a survey to every person at Seattle Coffee Gear asking them what their favorite items are in each category. We put those results together and mark each product that gets enough votes a staff pick badge on the site! Let’s run through some of these results.

    Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

    In the semi-automatic category we saw big wins for Rocket Espresso, and a whopping eleven winners overall. Rocket Espresso’s Giottos, Appartamento, Appartamento Nera, both Mozzafiatos, and the R58 Cinquantotto all made our list. Also joining the staff picks is for the first time is the Solis Perfetta, which we’re thrilled to see as one of our newest machines. 

    Both Rancilio Silvias (PID and standard) made the list, and finally, the Bambino Pro, and Barista Pro from Breville made it on as well. 

    This list of semi-automatic espresso machines represents a wide spread of options and price points, which we’re really happy to see! 

    Superautomatic Espresso Machines

    On the superuato front we saw an excellent spread of options from Breville (Oracle Touch), Miele (CM 6350), Saeco (Xelsis), Jura (A1), and Philips. Philips saw two machines on the list with the Carina and 3200 LatteGo. We’ve seen most of these machines on the list before, and it makes sense again that they fall into a number of price points. With a little less differentiation in the superauto space, price is definitely a prevailing factor. Of note here is the Jura A1, which is the only machine on the list dedicated purely to espresso, with no milk steaming option. It’s a testament to the quality of the espresso that comes out of this machine that it made it on alongside the others!

    Espresso Grinder

    For espresso grinders we saw a big win for Eureka, with the Mignon Notte, Mignon Specilita, and the Atom 75 all making the list. Rocket Espresso’s Faustino also made the list, along with the Baratza Sette 270Wi. Here the Sette and Notte fit in as great starter options, with the midrange Faustino and Specilitas sitting between them and the higher end Atom 75.

    Coffee Grinders

    On the brew grinder front we’ve got both the Baratza Encore and Forte BG, two solid Baratza workhorses that we all know and love here. The Eureka Mignon Filtro and Crono also made the list with their stepless brew grinding, and for the first time we see the Fellow Ode and Solis Scala make the list. Finally, fitting into that “espresso or brew” gap, the Rancilio Rocky made its way to the list as usual!

    Drip Brewers

    For drip brewers, we saw winners with Technivorm, Ratio, Breville, and Bonavita. Both models of Technivorm’s KB741 made the list along with the Ratio Six, Bonavita Connoisseur, and Breville Precision Brewer Tribute Edition. Here again we see staff opinions coming in in favor of a range of pricing options, with the Bonavita as the most affordable all the way up to the high customizability of the Precision Brewer.

    Here’s a few more categories of winners for your perusal!

    Presses

    Stovetop and Cold Brew

    Pour Over

    Scales

    Kettles

  • Top 3 Brew Grinders of 2020

    It’s that time of year! Time for the best machines and accessories of 2020. We love everything we offer at Seattle Coffee Gear, but each year our content team puts our heads together to come up with the gear that we think is the best in the industry for right here and now. Today we’re digging into our top 3 brew grinders of 2020.

    What does brew grinder mean? It means these grinders are the best of the best for brewing pour over, drip, press, cold brew, and other “slow” brew methods. This is in contrast to espresso grinders, which are specifically designed for grinding fine enough to use with an espresso machine. We don’t recommend these grinders if you’re on the hunt for a grinder to use with your Rocket Espresso machine or Rancilio Silvia Pro. Stay tuned for our Top 3 espresso grinders if you’re in that market!

    Eureka Mignon Crono

    The Eureka Mignon Crono is a peculiar grinder, but one that we absolutely love. Built on Eureka’s tried and true Mignon platform, this is a grinder that offers a little more than the Mignon Filtro. But before we look at that, let’s look at what makes Eureka’s Mignon grinders tick.

    The first thing you’ll notice about the Crono is its rock solid case design. Mignon grinders are built like tanks, and last many years if properly maintained. The Crono is no different, with a full metal case and sturdy interior components. This build quality is where a large chunk of the price tag comes from. It’s also a looker, available in black or white with the smoked catch bin and hopper built from high quality, easy to clean plastic.

    Also of key importance with the Crono is its specifically designed brew path, motor, and burr set. While other grinders in the Mignon line are engineered for espresso, the Filtro, Crono, and Brew Pro are engineered specifically for slow brew methods. Finally, the stepless adjust these grinders feature can be a challenge to use initially, but also provide heightened precision for dialing in roasts to tease out their full flavor.

    What sets the Crono apart from the Filtro is its timer. The Filtro uses a simple manual control that you have to keep held down. This means you can’t set it and walk away. The Crono on the other hand uses a simple timer, which makes single dosing a breeze. If you prefer to keep the hopper filled, you can dial in a grind time as well.

    It’s a precise, consistent, powerful, and reliable grinder with a little something extra in the form of its timer.

    Fellow Ode

    The Fellow Ode is the newest kid on the block in this list. New for 2020, the Ode is something of a revolution in brew grinding. In keeping with Fellow’s theme of empowering hobbyist coffee fans with incredible gear for pour over, the Ode is loaded with features. 

    For starters, the Ode features massive 64 mm flat burrs. This type of burr set is typically found in high-end commercial grinders, so it’s a big deal that Fellow has scrunched these into a home brew grinder. With its solid construction, beautiful visual design, and 31 grind settings, the Ode has the basics covered.

    Then there’s its wild innovations. On the simpler side, there’s the Ode’s noise reduction, which is best-in-class. From there, things get very interesting. One thing that many coffee enthusiasts will tell you is that the way to the freshest coffee is through single dosing. What that means is that you store your beans in an airtight container, and then you only put what you need for your morning brew through your grinder. This cuts down on waste and preserves your beans better than storing your beans in a grinder hopper. The Ode embraces this fully, with a small loading area that only has room for a single dose of beans. While it has plenty of space for your extra large coffee bot, it isn’t the type of hopper you leave beans sitting in. 

    Once you’ve loaded the beans, you just have to engage the motor and the Ode takes care of the grinding. With a PID Controlled motor, the Ode is able to tell when it has finished grinding your beans. A built in grinds knocker and magnetically attached catch bin reduce mess and ensure minimal retention. It really is an incredibly innovative, premium package.

    Breville Smart Grinder Pro

    We say it all the time: Use a dedicated espresso grinder if you can. But that last part is important, because not all of us can! If you have budget or space limitations, maintaining two grinders might just be impossible. There are a few grinders that can actually perform well for espresso and slow brew methods, and the Breville Smart Grinder Pro is one of them.

    The Smart Grinder Pro also represents excellent value. With 40mm conical steel burrs you’ll get a quality grind at both ends of the spectrum. You’ll also get a full 60 stepped grind settings, which is why the grinder can move so far at either end of the spectrum. A vibrant touchscreen works with the knob to give you a really clear indication of what setting you’re on as well, which is very convenient. Speaking of adjustments, you can actually get even finer or coarser grinds by opening the grinder and making adjustments to the top burr, which is supported as a feature, not a hack.

    The timed dosing offered here is impressive as well. Using the touchscreen’s foolproof interface you can set grind times. This is helpful for once you dial in a grind. If you do want to grind manually, you can just hold the activation button down as well. Finally, you can pause mid-grand to level out the grounds or check weight, which can help with dialing in that time programming. 

    While we really do love the Smart Grinder Pro, it is important to note a couple of tradeoffs. It’s not going to perform quite as well at either end of the grind scale as a dedicated brew or espresso grinder. While it’s going to produce a good grind, there is still a reason to seek dedicated grinders. Part of that is also that switching back and forth from an espresso grind to a brew grind can be frustrating, and it’s important to keep that in mind. Otherwise, this is a great pick for anyone working with a tighter budget or who doesn’t have room for two grinders.

    Baratza Encore

    And here we have an entry that could very well make this list forever. The Baratza Encore remains one of the best starting points in coffee. There are few pieces of gear that a budding pour over enthusiast will get more use out of. The Encore continues to combine high quality engineering, a commitment to reliability and repairability, and an attractive price point.

    If you’re not familiar, the Encore is a simple machine. A rotating hopper provides 40 stepped grind settings, a simple on off switch engages the motor, and a molded catch bin catches the grinds. You can also grind a little extra with the Encore’s pulse button, located above the hopper.

    It’s the Encore’s performance and reliability that make this grinder such a shoe in for our best of list every year. With extensive parts availability through Baratza, your Encore could last decades with proper maintenance and the occasional repair. Its 40mm burrs are easily accessible and simple to clean as well. Once you put it all together you get a grinder for the ages, and it’s available at an excellent price point.

    New this year is a stylish white finish, finally offering an alternative to the black version.

    All three of these grinders could be the last brew grinder you ever need to buy, and we love them for that. Stay with us for more best of 2020 content throughout the month! Make Coffee You Love!

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Drip Brewers

    Today we’re taking a look at shopping for the perfect drip brewing setup whether its for someone on your gift list or yourself! We’ll go over brewers, grinders, and all the extra odds and ends. Let’s get started!

    Brewers

    Your choice in drip brewer is guided primarily by how much choice you want when it comes to your coffee. For many coffee drinkers, simply pressing a button and getting a great cup is enough. Others want much more careful control over temperature, flow rate, and other parameters. Both are valid approaches, a high quality pot of coffee at the push of a button is a really great way to start the day. On the other hand, some people really enjoy the granular control of being able to experiment with parameters and settings.

    The good news is, you can get a brewer that offers both a simple, consistent option and puts control at your fingertips. We’re talking, of course, about the Breville Precision Brewer.

    The Precision Brewer offers a standard gold cup brewing setting that’s certified by the Specialty Coffee Association. This means that you can get that nice and simple pot of delicious coffee with just a few button presses. You can also control a whole host of parameters like flow rate, temperature, and pre-infusion time. The Precision Brewer also has pre-settings for single cup brewing, iced coffee, and pour over (with the Tribute Edition’s included pour over adapter).

    It all makes the Precision Brewer the very best you can buy and a brewer that will handle all of your coffee needs. 

    For the more budget conscious shopper, the Bonavita Connoisseur and Metropolitan are simple brewers that produce high quality results. With strong temperature stability and push button operation, these machines are solid choices for those just getting started in the world of coffee.

    Grinders

    Grinding for drip is a little less difficult than espresso, but you will need more than just a blade grinder! Using a burr grinder is important for getting just the right consistency and quality in your grind. The good news is there are a few really great starting points for new coffee enthusiasts!

    The thing you’re looking for in getting started with brew grinding is really that consistency. You want grounds that are uniform and at just the right level of coarseness. There are a few grinders we recommend to get the job done. First, there’s the relatively new kid on the block, the Solis Scala. This is a grinder that offers simple timed dosing options and stepped grind settings. You’ll get just the right grind every time, and you can use this grinder for a range of slow brewing applications. If you’re looking for an alternative, the Eureka Mignon Crono offers even more precise grinding than the Scala. With Eureka's high quality burrs, you'll get very high quality grounds with a stepless grind adjust for extremely precise grinding. This precision will help you dial in even the trickiest single origins for your new drip brewer, but it'll take a touch of practice!

    Odds and Ends

    There are a couple of odds and ends we highly recommend you add to your drip brewing setup. For starters, there’s drinkware. We really love the Acme Union as a classic stock standard cup to enjoy your drip from. It’s stylish, durable, and easy to drink from. It really has that classic coffee cup look, and it’ll serve your new drip setup well.

    The other important part of any coffee setup is storage. Storing your coffee beans in your grinder hopper can lead to staleness depending on how fast you use them. That’s why we recommend the use of a container like an Airscape to get the very best out of your fresh whole bean coffee. Available in multiple sizes, materials, and colors, we’re sure there’s an Airscape perfect for your coffee kit!

    And there you have it! Everything you need to get yourself or someone on your gift list started in the wonderful world of specialty drip coffee brewing!

  • Top 3 Drip Brewers of 2020

    Welcome to another 2020 Best Of article! ‘Tis the season for our content team to come together and bring you our picks for the best coffee gear of 2020. Today we’re taking a look at our favorite drip brewers of the year! 

    In case you’re new to the world of coffee, a drip brewer is your classic “coffee maker.” These machines are usually pretty simple. Generally, you’ll put ground coffee in a filter, which you’ll then place in a basket. Next, you’ll fill up a water tank with water to the desired coffee volume you’re brewing. From there, you’ll turn the machine on, and it’ll begin to heat the water and pour it onto the grounds. The water will filter through the grounds and into a vessel as delicious coffee.

    Technivorm Moccamaster KBT741 Coffee Maker

    The key to brewing the perfect pot of coffee is temperature stability. You need water heated to 195-205 degrees fahrenheit. The thing we love about Technivorm brewers is how rock solid the temps are in their machines. Because they use copper boilers, you’ll get quick heatups and a 5-6 minute brew cycle with hot, delicious coffee every time. Like the other brewers on this list, the SCAA certification here confirms that the Specialty Coffee Association of America has confirmed that this machine keeps its water in that ~200 degree fahrenheit range. 

    Another key part of the brewing process is proper saturation of the coffee grounds. You want even spray of water around the brew basket to ensure that the water spreads correctly through the grounds. Many cheap brewers will drop water through a narrow spout right into the middle of the basket. This wastes all of that coffee around the edges of the basket and leads to less flavorful coffee. The Moccamaster features a spray head designed to evenly apply water to the coffee.

    We couldn’t talk about Technivorm without talking about that look. The KBT741 features the same industrial design that other brewers in the Technivorm lineup offer. While it won’t be the perfect fit for every kitchen, we love the stark modern aesthetic that Technivorm’s designs offer. The model featured here comes with a thermal carafe, which we like for heat retention. Some users will prefer a glass carafe with a heating plate, which Technivorm also produces.

    The cherry on top is the Moccamaster’s longevity. The high quality components that produce such great coffee also have the added benefit of being long lasting. In fact, with appropriate cleaning and maintenance, we’ve heard stories of Technivorms lasting decades. While your mileage may vary here, these are incredibly solid drip brewers. It’s this durability paired with the high quality coffee that the Moccamaster produces that has earned it a spot on our list.

    Breville Precision Brewer (Tribute Edition)

    If we had to pick ONE favorite drip brewer, it’d have to be the Precision Brewer from Breville. This brewer delivers many of the features of the Technivorm mentioned above. A high degree of temperature stability and excellent sprayhead design provide the same brewing quality that you get from machines like the Moccamaster. The Precision Brewer alse offers extensive programming.

    This programming is really where the value of the Precision Brewer comes into play. A robust menu system gives you a wide range of brewing options. From simple combinations of parameters like a “Gold Cup” option, which adheres to SCAA Gold Cup settings, to more exotic and unique settings, this brewer can do a lot. We love the Precision Brewer’s iced coffee and cold brew settings, which are programmed specifically for cold copy. It also has single cup and pour over options (which work with the adapter included in the Tribute Edition). 

    The best part of all this programmability? You can also build your own settings. You can control volume with water in just like any machine, and the menus allow you to manually set temperature and flow rate. This is the kind of control you can usually only achieve with manual brewing methods like pour over. The reason these kinds of options are so great is the experimentation you can do with the Precision Brewer and a tricky single origin that has flavors a standard set of drip brew parameters won’t quite tease out.

    The Precision Brewer also hits other bullet points offered by premium drip brewers. From solidly built components like a sturdy thermal carafe (also available in glass), the Tribute Edition’s pour over attachment, and a brew basket that can accommodate multiple types of filters to a long lasting internal pump and heating element, this machine is built as well as it performs. 

    It’s really difficult to point to a better drip brewer for the coffee enthusiast who wants the widest range of brew options. The only potential turn off with the Precision Brewer is that there can be a learning curve as you come to understand its menu system. We feel the menus are intuitive, but they’re a little more complicated than the push button operation of other drip brewers.

    Ratio Six

    The Ratio Six is another brewer that makes the list based purely on its incredible quality. While it doesn’t feature the programming of the Precision Brewer, it’s just a really solid machine that brews great coffee. This, of course, starts with its incredible output. This machine makes some of the best drip coffee we’ve had. A stellar heating element and sprayhead produce heat stable water that properly saturates the coffee grounds. This commitment to quality components stays true inside and out as well, with stainless steel casing giving it the most premium feel of any of the brewers on this list.

    One of our favorite unique features of the Ratio Six is its optional heat shield. Most drip brewers have at least a very small gap between the showerhead and the filter basket that can release some of the water’s heat. The Ratio Six helps to ensure heat retention by including an optional silicone gasket that sits between the sprayhead assembly and the filter basket. While this can seem a little awkward to use at first, it helps produce extra hot coffee.

    None of this touches on another key part of the Ratio Six: Looks! While we always value function over form, the Ratio Six has performance covered already. In the looks department, this one’s a keeper. From gorgeous angles to that stainless steel finish, this brewer is a bit large, but it’s quite the art piece too. It’ll look great alongside a similarly stylish grinder, and it’s neutral color should make it a great fit in a variety of kitchens. 

    All of these features come together to make the Ratio Six a really excellent brewer that we’re happy to include among our 2020 favorites!

    And there you have it! Three of the very best drip brewers money can buy in 2020. Stay tuned for more Best Of 2020 content here and on our YouTube channel!

     

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Alternative Brewing

    Hello and welcome to the first of our 2020 Holiday Shopping Guides! These guides differ a bit from our “Top 3 2020” articles in that they’re complete shopping guides for you or someone on your gift list to get brewing this holiday! Today we’re focusing on alternative brewing methods.

    Brewer’s Choice

    The first choice here is what sort of alternative brewing are you looking to do? When we talk about this term, we mean all of those brew methods that don’t fall under drip, pour over, or espresso. This means options like coffee presses, Turkish coffee, and stovetop brewing. There’s a lot of room here, so we’ll break it down piece by piece.

    Let’s start with Turkish coffee. Turkish is a brew method that is extremely rich and intense, and relies on hyper fine grounds being dissolved into hot water. The most important part of brewing for Turkish is your choice in grinder, and in our opinion there’s no real option other than a Turkish hand grinder. Along with this, you’ll want a Turkish coffee pot, and you’re pretty much good to go!

    Then there’s press and stovetop. These are sort of the bread and butter here. If you know you’re interested in press brewing, you can’t go wrong with an AeroPress Go. This press is all in one, portable, and proven. It’s filter based brew chamber creates some of the best press coffee we’ve ever tasted. If you’re looking for a more traditional press, you can’t go wrong with Espro’s line of coffee presses.

    As far as stovetop brewing is concerned, there are a number of excellent Ilsa stovetop brewer’s. We’re fond of the lot of them, but the Neapolitan is a particularly favored option among stovetop enthusiasts. We love all of the above, but if you want the flexibility to brew many different ways with one purchase, we have to recommend the Varia Multi-Brewer.

    The Varia Multi-Brewer offers three distinct brew styles all from one device. At a basic level, you can brew pour over, press, and moka pot brew styles with the included attachments. On top of this, you can also brew tea and cold brew, or use the kettle as a stovetop hot water source. To make it even easier, the Varia’s brew screens are designed to use the same grind across all three styles. This means you simply dial your grinder in for pour over and then you can use that setting for press and stovetop brewing. It even comes with a brew guide, pour over filters, and a spare set of gaskets for the kettle.

    With the Varia or one of the other options listed above, you’ll have your brewer, but you’ll still need two very important things. Hot water, and ground coffee!

    Grounds and Water

    Arguably the most important part of any fresh brew is the coffee grounds you use. The nice thing about alternative brew methods like press and stovetop is that you can use the same grinder here, for pour over, and for drip! 

    Given this, we’ve got two recommendations for those looking to upgrade from that old blade grinder. The first is the classic Baratza Encore. This is a legendary grinder that is perfect for any slow brew coffee method (like the ones we’re talking about today). It’s a simple to use grinder with stepped settings and a basic on/off switch for operation. You can also pulse the grind with the button on the front of the grinder. The Encore produces a fantastic, consistent grind and will last years and years. It’s also easy to clean and maintain.

    We’ve also got a new kid on the block for 2020, the Solis Scala! The Scala hasn’t yet built up the reputation that the Encore has, but we’re excited about it just the same. The Scala also produces an excellent grind for slow brew methods, and even includes timed dosing. This means that you can dial in a time for your grind and simply push the button!

    The other key part of the perfect brew is your water! You have to have hot water to make coffee, and our recommendation with where to start here is very simple. The Bonavita Interurban is a great way to get water at the perfect temperature. This stylish kettle comes in four colors and includes programmable presets for different temp options. This feature is especially useful if you like tea!

    The last thing we want to touch on is scales. For stovetop you may just want to measure with a measuring spoon, but we think having a scale is the right call for press (and can be for stovetop as well). For slow brew methods, the Oxo Precision Scale and Timer is a great option that won’t break the bank. You can use it as a timer as well to measure brew time for your press.

    And that does it for our first shopping guide for 2020! Check back soon for guides on gifting or buying for other brew methods.

  • Top 3 Espresso Grinders of 2020

    It’s time for another of our 2020 Best Ofs! This time we’re taking a look at espresso grinders. It’s important to differentiate between espresso and brew grinders to make sure you get the right bit of gear for you. A brew grinder will be designed for slow brew methods like drip, pour over, press, and cold brew. On the other hand you have espresso grinders, which are designed to brew fine enough for use in semi-automatic espresso machines. While grinders exist that can do both, they are few and far between, and to get the very best espresso you’ll want a dedicated grinder. Let’s take a look at our favorite espresso grinders available today!

    Eureka Mignon Notte

    The Eureka Mignon line is one of the best lineups of espresso grinders available. The balance of price, performance, and reliability make these grinders incredibly easy to recommend. Because they are priced above many entry level espresso grinders, we often recommend them as an upgrade, or for a new user who’s a little more confident. This is part of why we were so thrilled to bring the Notte in as a Seattle Coffee Gear exclusive.

    The Mignon Notte trades the sound insulation in the Mignon Silenzio for an incredibly attractive price point for a grinder of this quality. That means for a cost comparable to more entry level grinders, you’ll get the exceptional design and build quality of a Eureka Mignon. But what does that look like specifically? First of all, you get the same powerful 50mm flat steel burrs that come in the Silenzio. Burrs of this size and quality are hard to come by at any price point, and we love the consistency of the grounds out of the Notte. You’ll also get the Mignon-standard metal casing, which will help your Notte to last years and years. Finally, there’s the precision stepless adjust. Instead of stepped settings, the Mignon Notte gives you a free-moving burr, which lets you develop an extremely precise grind for trickier single origins. 

    So what do you lose out on? As noted, the Notte is a bit louder than its more expensive brethren, but don’t let that fool you, the noise level is very comparable to any other entry level grinder. You also only get a simple push button dosing option. This means you’ll need to measure your grounds with a scale to ensure the correct grind amount. The good news here is that with a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to feel out the right grind amount quite effectively.

    The Eureka Mignon Notte is one of our absolute favorites on the market, so it’s a no brainer for this list.

    Rocket Espresso Faustino

    If you know anything about Seattle Coffee Gear, you know we love Rocket Espresso machines. The same thing is true for their grinders! Last year their larger Fausto espresso grinder found a little sibling with the Rocket Espresso Faustino. There’s a number of reasons we feel it’s a great fit for this list.

    First of all, the Faustino delivers on performance. With 50 mm flat steel burrs, this grinder will give you serious consistency and quality. On top of that, you’ve got a stepless grind adjust, which we prefer for more precision grinding (though it does come with a bit of a learning curve). These features alone make the Faustino easy to recommend, but it also comes with Rocket Espresso’s signature visual design prowess and solid construction. This grinder is a looker, and it’s built to last. You can even get versions that include case cutouts with side panels, just like the Appartamento espresso machine (which also makes it a perfect pair with one of our favorie machines).

    Then there’s the programmability. Programmable dosing isn’t a must-have, but it’s an incredibly nice feature that can save you a lot of time. A vibrant, intuitive touchscreen drives the programming on the Faustino. With this, you can set specific dosage times, so once you dial in a grind, you can get your grounds with one press of the portafilter. The Faustino also offers a large hopper capable of storing a lot of beans. This is perfect to pair with that timed dosing. What’s more, it fits all of this into a compact case fit for any kitchen.

    You might think Rocket Espresso is only about espresso machines, but the Faustino proves they know grinders too. 

    Baratza Sette 270

    Baratza are absolutely one of the kings of coffee grinding. Whether brew or espresso, this manufacturer knows 

  • Top 3 Superautomatic Espresso Machines of 2020

    It’s time for a big one! As you know, we love superautomatic espresso machines. The combination of convenience and quality you can get from a great superauto is really great. Today we’ve got a look at our favorite Superautos that you can get right now. These machines may have released before 2020, but they’re what we consider the best combination of value and performance on the market today. We’ll also have a look at our favorite superautos without price/value as a metric soon as well. Let’s get started!

    Philips 1220 Carina Superautomatic Espresso Machine

    We know, we know, we talk about the Carina a lot. We also know that you might be tired of us lauding a machine only available at Seattle Coffee Gear. The thing is, we brought this machine in as an exclusive because we think it’s such a great value. Prior to the Carina, you might spend close to $1,000 just to try a superautomatic espresso machine. While we feel there are excellent machines that justify much higher price points than that, it can be a lot to spend if you’re not sure you even like these kinds of machines.

    That’s why we’re so thrilled to offer the Philips Carina. This fully featured machine lets you brew espresso and “long coffees” (shots of espresso with more water to emulate a drip brew) as well as steam milk. What’s more? It does a really great job consistently providing excellent espresso and milk. You’ll get the same quality of brew found on higher priced Philips models, just with a slightly reduced set of features. 

    On the inside, the Carina is powered by a quality burr grinder and thermoblock boiler. These deliver fast, consistent performance. This machine also features a panarello steam wand for milk steaming. This is a little different than a commercial steam wand, and is easier to use. While it doesn’t mean you’ll get automatic steaming, you do get control over heat and texture. This is great for new users, as you’ll be able to really understand different espresso milk drinks.

    The Carina does also offer a degree of programmability. While it doesn’t have the complex menu systems of the Saeco Xelsis, you can still set some parameters of your drinks. Dose (strength) and volume can both be shifted to fit your preferences. Finally, this machine is also AquaClean ready. This water filtration system is a great way to keep your machine in great shape, and reduces the number of descalings you’ll need to perform. Further, AquaClean filtration is easy to track and maintain with the help of the machine, which warns you when it’s time for a filter change or a cleaning.

    This all makes the Carina an incredible value at its price point that is easy to use and maintain, while also brewing up some incredible cafe style beverages.

    Jura A1

    Sometimes specificity and simplicity can really lead to magic. Such is the case with the Jura A1. By Comparison, the A1 makes some of the best espresso available from a superauto at its price point. The big difference? This one’s all coffee. No milk steaming with the A1. While that can seem like a terrible feature to lose, it’s simply not an issue for a lot of users.

    Many coffee drinkers don’t need steamed milk to add to their coffee for lattes or cappuccinos. Instead, a lot of folks just prefer a delicious shot of espresso or a long pulle “Lungo” style shot. The A1 achieves its delicious coffee through it’s patented Pulse Extraction Process, or P.E.P., brew unit it. Instead of a steady stream of water, the P.E.P. brew unit pulses water through the shot, creating a unique flavor and helping with extraction.

    It’s also super fast. With high speed grinding, you’ll get a perfectly timed shot without an extra wait on the front end for grounds. Programmable cup sizes help too, and the A1’s intuitive touch interface makes using it a premium experience.

    Then there’s the case. This is an ultra small machine, which is part of its appeal. At under 13 inches tall and only 18 inches deep, you’ll enjoy the space you save by taking out the milk system. It’s also got a height-adjustable spout to accommodate different mug sizes, as well as slick black and chrome coloring that makes the A1 look as great as it brews.

    And… That’s kind of all there is to it. This is one of the best ways to easily turn fresh roasted whole bean coffee into a delicious shot of espresso, and we love it enough to consider it one of the best values in superautomatic machines.

    Philips 3200 With LatteGo

    We couldn’t finish this list without one more Philips machine! We know, it’s kind of cheating, but we have a good reason! The Philips 3200 With LatteGo is one of the coolest machines to come out in the past few years. That’s mostly down to its innovative steaming system that we’ll dig into in a few!

    First, let’s talk about the ways in which this machine is like the 1220 Carina we listed above. The 3200 looks and brews a lot like the Carina with a few differences. In the brewing department, the primary difference is the dedicated Americano button. While you could brew an Americano with the Carina, you have to first pull a shot of espresso, then use the hot water option button to pull water. The LatteGo automates the process for an easier time making this classic beverage.

    But the real star here is the milk system. 

    Most superautos rely on a panarello steam wand (like the Carina), a siphon milk system, or a carafe. Each system has its merits, but the carafe is often agreed on as the most convenient. This allows you to store frosty milk in the refrigerator in a special container that you plug into the superauto for milk brewing. The biggest issue with carafe based systems is cleaning.

    For many carafes, milk is pulled through a siphon and into the machine, then heated in a steam chamber and poured through a spout at the coffee dispenser. While proper maintenance and cleaning can keep these machines running for a long time, they can be tough to ensure a good clean on. 

    The LatteGo cuts out the middleman, using a steam chamber right at the carafe’s plug point. This means milk almost exclusively moves through the carafe itself, being poured from a spout in the carafe rather than in the brew unit. The result is one object that needs to be cleaned. What’s more, it’s very easy to disassemble and fully clean the carafe, and you don’t have to run complex cleaning routines through a siphon system. It also produces excellent milk texture and you can adjust the amount of foam with a programming button that sits next to the brew volume button.

    Speaking of cleaning, the 3200 features the same AquaClean filtration compatibility as the Carina. It also has helpful indicators to remind you to change the filter and descale the machine. 

    It’s for all of these reasons that we’ve snuck two Philips machines on our list this year. One offers incredible low cost value, the other an innovative automatic milk frothing system that’s worth the extra cost. One things for sure, 2020 has been a great year for Philips!

  • Top 3 Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines of 2020

    It’s time for one of our biggest best-of categories of the whole year - semi-automatic espresso machines! We love our brew, our grinders, our superautos, and everything else that we give top 3s for each year. With that said, semi-automatic espresso machines are one of the most complex products we offer (alongside superautos), so we take them quite seriously. This year we’re breaking this category into two. First, we’ll talk about semi-automatic espresso machines that can fit into a fairly wide range of budgets, and closely consider value in our picks. Later we’ll have a list of skies-the-limit high end machines that might be a little high dollar for the typical shopper. Let’s get started!

    Rocket Espresso Appartamento Nera

    The Rocket Espresso Appartamento is a longstanding entry on this list, and one of our most popular machines. If you know us, you know we love Rocket Espresso to the moon and back, and there’s a reason for that. This is a brand that focuses extensively on performance, reliability, and providing an authentic Italian espresso experience. All of these tenets are clearly present in the Appartamento. This year this machine saw some new styling in the form of the Nera, so naturally we’ve decided to put that version on this list!

    The Appartamento Nera starts with the incredible Appartamento as its base. If you’re not familiar with the Appartamento, here’s a primer!

    The Appartamento features a 1.8-liter heat exchanger boiler that gives you the power to brew and steam milk at the same time. On top of this, the heated E61 grouphead helps heat up the portafilter, which keeps water temperature consistent as it passes through the portafilter. These two elements alone make the Appartamento a really compelling machine at its price point. While there are other brewers in this range that offer similar prosumer features, the Appartamento also does it with a high degree of build quality and striking design. It also squeezes all of this into a small footprint that can fit most kitchens comfortably.

    The Appartamento, like every Rocket Espresso machine, also offers ultra tactile controls that are a joy to use. From the action on the brew lever to the twist of the steam knob, you’ll really feel each part of the drink crafting process here. It gives you that barista feel without the cost of a commercial machine.

    The Nera is a visual update to the Appartamento that trades the shine of the fully stainless case for a slick new side panel style. Don’t worry, the stainless case is still there under the powdercoat, but the black sides at a new level of elegance to the already striking cutouts that make the Appartamento so visually striking. With multiple insert covers, you can get just the right look for your Appartamento as well. This machine really is one of the best of the best, and now it’s got a new look too!

    Rancilio Silvia Pro

    The Rancilio Silvia is a legendary machine in its own right. Many new espresso users start with a Silvia to learn. While it can be a challenging machine to dial in, it’s still a great way to get started with more serious brewing and steaming. This year, Rancilio has finally introduced a new offering, the Silvia Pro.

    The Silvia Pro really is a whole new beast. First of all, this machine is equipped with not one, but TWO boilers. A 1-liter steam boiler powers the steaming, and a 300ml brew boiler is dedicated for your shots. This means that you can brew and steam at the same time, giving you that true barista feel. Both of these boilers are controlled by dedicated PID controllers. This gives you rock solid temperatures as well as control over each boiler’s temperatures. You can also turn off the steam boiler, which gives you improved recovery times for brewing multiple shots when milk frothing is optional. 

    Additional features like auto-on programming, energy saving, a shot timer, and a hot water spout round out the package. All of this combined really makes the Silvia Pro a huge upgrade over the base model. We think it’s a great time for it too. If you’ve had your Silvia for several years, you might be ready for an upgrade yourself, and the Silvia Pro really delivers. 

    We think this machine offers really fantastic shots, a range of great features, and truly efficient operation. It’s an easy pick for our Top 3 Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines.

    Solis Barista Perfetta

    New to Seattle Coffee Gear this holiday season is the Solis Barista Perfetta! We normally like to give machines some breathing room before we put them on this list, but this is one special semi-auto. Coming in at an entry level price point for unpressurized espresso brewing, this machine really punches above its weight. We’re thrilled to be able to offer it to all of our budding baristas out there.

    The Perfetta’s thermoblock boiler offers quick heatup times with consistent temps that stand shoulder to shoulder with other brewers in its pricing level. It’s also got the pump to deliver with pressurized and unpressurized portafilters. The Perfetta’s portafilter also works with E.S.E. pods without needing an adapter, a real plus for newbies. Other features like hot water, strong steaming performance, and an easy to read pressure gauge place the Perfetta on equal footing with similarly priced machines. What really impressed us here is the extra details.

    For starters, the Perfetta is solidly built with a quality case that combines some metal and plastic elements in a way that feels more premium than some entry level machines. It also features auto-purge solenoid valves, which really make brewing unpressurized more enjoyable. Where other machines might produce some soupyness or spray when trying to brew with an unpressurized basket, the Perfetta performs on par with far more expensive machines from a pressure perspective. This is a really great feature that will help newer users get more life out of this machine, and transition to a more prosumer option smoothly. 

    The Perfetta’s manual single hole steam wand also mimics more expensive machines, and while it does take some practice, you’ll get some great milk from this machine. You can also program in shot times, which really helps you to understand the process of brewing espresso on a deeper level, and aids with dialing in. Adjustable temperatures give you a little more control over your brew than what we’d expect as well. Finally, the Perfetta squeezes all of this into a compact footprint that should fit on any countertop. 

    These are a lot of terms to throw out, but they all mean one thing when you put them together. The Solis Barista Perfetta is one of the best starting points for any new user. It lets you start with pressurized brewing, either with grinds from your brew grinder or E.S.E. Pods. From there you can learn how to dial in an espresso with a dedicated grinder, and steam up some really great milk drinks. It’s something we’re so happy to bring to our customers, and it’s our new favorite starting point for new users.

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