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  • Crew Review: Quick Mill Anita v. Andreja Premium

    The Quick Mill semi-automatic espresso machines are some of the best available on the market -- they'll turn your kitchen into a gourmet coffee stand that serves up excellent java from morning until night (although you might want to put some hours of operation in place if you plan on sleeping regularly).

    In the US, Quick Mill offers four semi-automatic espresso machines, all featuring the E61 brew group. The Alexia has a single boiler, which can be modified with a PID controller to provide better performance. Then you've got the Anita and the Andreja Premium -- both heat exchangers with varying feature differences -- and the Vetrano, a plumb-only heat exchange espresso machine.

    When folks are narrowing down their search, they're often interested in what constitutes the few hundred buck difference between the Anita and the Andreja Premium, so we asked Gail to give us a run down on how these machines compare. Of course, we filmed it for all you voyeurs out there -- enjoy!

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  • Heat Exchange vs. Double Boiler

    We admit it, we're guilty. We thought that size did matter with regard to boilers on a semi-automatic espresso machine -- namely, that two boilers was better than one. The hierarchy in our mind was:

    1. Single Boiler: From the Saeco Aroma to the Rancilio Silvia, the single boiler is a great little semi-automatic espresso machine that requires special attention to boiler temperature so that you're brewing well below the steaming temp and not burning your espresso. With a single boiler, you're not able to brew and steam at the same time -- we recommend steaming first, then brewing.
    2. Heat Exchange: Instead of pulling your brewing and steaming water from the same vat, per se, heat exchangers like the Rocket Giotto Premium Plus or Quick Mill Andreja Premium transports fresh water from the reservoir through the boiler via a copper tube that is specifically designed in length and girth to heat the passing water to the optimum brewing temperature, not the steaming temperature. We are talking about a nearly 40F degree difference, so this improved temperature regulation significantly upgrades the espresso shot quality. This functionality also allows for simultaneous brew and steam.
    3. Double Boiler: Only a few models on the market, such as the La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi or Izzo Alex Duetto, feature absolutely separate boilers for steaming and brewing, which allows you to maintain disparate temperatures and brewing and steaming at the same time. You can generally program your preferred brew boiler temperature on these machines and, in the home espresso machine space, they generally feature a quicker recovery time than their heat exchange counterparts.

    So, based on those assessments, you'd understand why we were confused by the more is better idea -- that maintaining temperature is significantly easier when you've got two separate boilers doing their own thing.

    However, in our recent research and education around the new line of commercial Faema machines we're now carrying, we learned that our hierarchical view was incorrect -- in fact, Italians haven't been using double boiler technology for decades, believing that the heat exchange technology provides for significantly improved espresso due to one major reason: It's alive!

    Boiler water is considered 'dead' water because it's sitting in a little metal unit cooking away. Over time, this results in a significantly increased alkaline content in the water (ah yes, that lovely scale we keep talking about so much) and a mineral imbalance in extraction. Basically, the flavor's different.

    Since heat exchange machines are continuously cycling fresh water through their siphoning system, they have an improved mineral balance and cannot become stale like the water in the double boilers might. So the flavor is significantly better and, therefore, preferred by connoisseurs the world over.

    If you're in the market for a 'prosumer' machine, this is definitely important information for you to mull over. Not only is the footprint smaller on a heat exchange machine vs. a double boiler, but it just might pull a better shot.

  • Coffee in High Altitudes

    It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were wondering in the store how brewing coffee or pulling espresso differs at higher altitudes. We're basically at sea level here, but we'd been talking about the kind of coffee some of us have found in the higher elevations of Montana -- more bitter and like 'coffee water' than what we make and drink here.

    We found the answer in this interesting piece on coffee in Santa Fe, NM. A Qasimi discusses how the higher altitude affects brewing and roasting:

    I don?t drink home-brewed coffee in Santa Fe. I?ve often found it sour and lacking in the depth, robustness and natural sweetness that makes great coffee great. How does high altitude affect coffee and espresso quality at home and with the use of commercial equipment? Drip coffee machines that merely boil are convenient devices but they deliver water to the grounds at below the ideal range of temperatures, leading to underextraction of the beans and a sour, dull or poorly developed brew.

    Thus, the only way to compensate for altitude is pressure -- and that means espresso -- but pulling a proper espresso shot is not easy at this altitude either. Ironically, though the best coffee grows at higher altitudes, with water?s lower boiling point in elevated places, brewing can get tricky. Roasting, on the other hand, merely benefits from altitude: The best possible results come from roasting the beans at the same altitude as they?ll be used and particularly at high altitudes that allow for faster roast development at lower temperatures

  • Cleancaf or Dezcal?

    Lime, calcium and other trace minerals exist in nearly every water supply, leaving behind white scaly deposits when the water has evaporated. Removing this scale on a regular basis is an essential component of any coffee maker or espresso machine maintenance regimen -- even if you have 'soft' water, there will be trace amounts left over time that can build-up and hinder your machine's performance.

    Some folks suggest using filtered or distilled water from the get-go, so that you don't risk pitting your boiler through repetitive use of the acid required to remove scale. That's certainly one tack to take, but we've found that we prefer the taste of espresso made with water that has some mineral content to it. Because of that, we descale our machines about every three months to ensure that no deposits build up and ultimately burn out the boiler.

    If you prefer minerals in your java as we do, there are a couple of products on the market that will help you keep your espresso machine or coffee maker in tip-top shape: Cleancaf or Dezcal. Which is better? Again, it depends on your preferences.

    Billed as a cleaner and descaler, Cleancaf combines descaling acid with a detergent that will also break down the oils left behind by coffee beans. It also features a blue dye that helps with thorough rinsing.

    Dezcal, on the other hand, is a straight-up descaler -- and an incredibly powerful one at that. While it doesn't have a detergent component, it's a much stronger product and removes more scale; also, it doesn't have a blue dye, which we think is a good thing.

    Of the two, we recommend Dezcal over Cleancaf, but we carry both of them so you can determine which product is right for you.

  • Ask the Experts: What's the Difference Between Pressurized and Non-Pressurized Filter Baskets?

    We brought out the big machines for today’s top three double boiler espresso machines, the La Marzocco Linea Mini, Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler and Breville Dual Boiler. Double boiler espresso machines are equipped with two boilers: a brew boiler and a steam boiler. While the steam boilers reach and hold pressure ideal for frothing milk, the other maintains consistent brewing temperature. Chances are in your search for a high-quality espresso machine, you’ve read the debate between double boilers and heat exchange espresso machines. Coffee enthusiasts have long expressed their opinions about the pros and cons of each boiler type and we suspect it’ll continue on. One of the benefits dual boilers reap is temperature stability and the capability to brew more drinks back-to-back than a heat exchanger. Not to mention that, like a heat exchanger, you can brew and steam simultaneously. A double boiler machine is for someone who wants to brew multiple drinks back-to-back and requires a faster turnaround time.
  • 4...3...2...1...Pulling Delicious Shots with the La Pavoni

    People often think that La Pavoni's manual lever espresso machines are overly complex throwbacks created just for hardcore purists, but they're actually relatively easy machines to use -- and they make amazing espresso!

    In this video, watch Gail use the La Pavoni for the first time, experimenting with different grind levels in order to get a great shot.

  • Tech Tip: Backflush Flashback


    If you have a semi-automatic espresso machine with a 3-way pressure release, or solenoid, valve, you need to backflush it on a regular basis to keep the machine in fine working order. Backflushing will clean up behind the screen and into the brewing system, cleaning out coffee or grounds residue and reducing the potential for clogs.You can watch Dane as he cleans a Rocket Giotto, or follow these steps:

    1. Replace brew basket with a blind basket in the portafilter (or you can use this universal insert in your existing basket)
    2. Place 1/2 teaspoon of a backflush detergent such as Cafiza or Joe Glo (Important: make sure it indicates backflushing as its primary use on the label -- do not use Dezcal or any other standard detergent here!)
    3. Insert the portafilter into the brew group and initiate a shot
    4. Allow the pump to run about 4 - 5 seconds maximum
    5. Turn the pump off and allow the water and suds to release through the valve
    6. Repeat this process until the water coming out of the valve is clear and suds-free
    7. Remove the portafilter, rinse it in cool water to cool it down and then switch out the baskets again
    8. Before you pull your first shot, run a blank shot through the system to make sure there is no residue leftover
  • Health Watch: Aluminum Boilers & Alzheimers

    One of the more controversial topics within the discussion of Alzheimer's is whether or not aluminum has a causal relationship to the development of the disease. Since the first study in the 1960's that found higher concentrations of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer's than in the brains of people without the disease, scientist have been exploring the influences and attempting to correlate the two, with contradictory results. To this day, there is not conclusive evidence one way or the other, and the medical community is still very uncertain about whether or not the aluminum found at the center of the plaques which they believe to be the cause of the disease are the cause of the plaques or simply a harmless secondary association.

    What does a discussion of neuroscience and disease have to do with coffee? Well, many people are concerned about the uncertain and contradictory information on this topic -- one that might be close to home to any of you with an espresso machine or stovetop espresso brewer with an aluminum boiler. Since aluminum is part of the earth's crust and used in tons of products, from toothpastes to antacids to cookware, it's difficult to avoid it altogether. But the amount of aluminum that might leach into your espresso during the brewing process is relatively minimal, if any, than you would intake normally, so it's likely not much of a concern.

    While the jury is still out on whether or not aluminum is a contributing factor to developing Alzheimer's, or just coincidentally happens to be along for the ride, you're probably pretty safe to continue enjoying your delicious espresso -- aluminum boiler or not.

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