Make Coffee You Love!

  • Keeping You and Your Machine Healthy

    We've heard concerns from customers on whether or not they should worry about trace amounts of lead or metal poisoning within their machines' boilers and parts. So we're going to  break down the makeup of particular metals that are housed within your unit to ease your mind -- and your fears of  caffeine withdrawal.

    Water corrosion is where it all begins and understanding your machine and what conditions cause corrosion -- oxygen, water, metal and a catalyst -- will help you manage and maintain your espresso machine.

    Aluminum

    Used for some espresso machine boilers and stovetop espresso makers as it heats up the fastest, 'aluminum is protected from corrosion by increasing the amount of naturally occurring aluminum oxide (Aluminum + Oxygen) on its surface.'

    As a mixture of  metals, also referred to as an alloy, and under ideal circumstances, Sergio Louissant of LatteMaestro.com explains that this combination protects the aluminum but also has a quicker turn around time in breaking down the aluminum oxide causing the aluminum to corrode.

    Chloride in tap water wears down the catalyst that breaks the shield that is the oxide layer between the metal and boiler water, as stated in a piece in the JL Hufford Coffee Tea Supporter Forum. This causes damage to aluminum parts over time so it is best to use filtered water or to regularly clean and descale your machine to slow down the deterioration process.

    However, even though machines with aluminum parts are less expensive, that doesn't mean they're frowned upon. With its ability to maintain good resistance against corrosion, it just may take more of a closer eye and knowledge to understand the chemistry of it's maintenance and when its time to switch out parts to prevent the quick deterioration of this material. Because the connection between aluminum and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's is still unclear, many folks try to avoid aluminum as a precaution.

    Stainless Steel

    Very resistant  to corrosion, stainless steel can be found in Saeco, Nespresso and Capresso machines. But its downfall is being the life of the party when it comes to hosting bacteria for a longer period of time on its surface compared to any other metal.

    However, bacteria aside, since you won't be cutting, dicing or chopping any raw meat on or with stainless steel espresso machine boilers and parts, as long as you keep the stainless steel within your machine clean, this material is ideal for espresso machines as it provides excellent heat retention and assures rapid steam function.

    Brass/Copper

    Unlike stainless steel and aluminum, espresso machines that use copper/brass boilers and parts, such as Rocket, Rancilio, Quick Mill, Pasquini, LaPavoni and Francis Francis, not only act like a repellent to those grimy germs and retain heat longer, but they also are the most resistant to corrosion than any other metal.

    However, even with it's popularity in higher end machines, some users are still left worried about the lead content in brass boilers.

    While lead is added to some brasses, most manufacturers plate brass with nickel, such as Rocket Espresso, preventing any lead from leaching into water, reducing corrosion and acting as a barrier between brass and water.

    But taking extra care when it comes to lead in products, it was in October of 1999 that the California State Attorney General sued 13 key manufacturers and distributors over lead content, leading to the reduction of lead content to 1.5 percent from it's original 2 to 3 percent in products sold within that state. Following this action manufacturers were asked to reduce lead or to follow the requirement to warn consumers about lead content even if it didn't have the ability to leach into materials such as water.

    Hopefully this trend will catch up to the rest of the 49 states in the U.S. but for now, whether you choose a machine with aluminum, stainless steel or brass, taking precaution is key but knowing how your machine works and what it reacts well with will also keep you happy, healthy and caffeinated.

  • The ABCs of BPA

    Do you find yourself slowly backing away from your drip coffee maker or espresso machine because of all the hullabaloo about BPA (Biosphenol A) in plastics? As you have no doubt heard by now, there have been a wide range of reports regarding BPA -- an organic compound found in polycarbonate plastics -- examining how safe it is to have in containers from which we eat, drink, etc.

    A chemical that's been historically used to make a variety of items (from children's toys to food containers to water bottles to coffee makers), researchers have recently found that BPA emits toxins over time -- especially when it's heated. The long term affects of such leaching can cause health problems like cancer, reproductive abnormalities and neurological problems, just to name a (very nasty) few.

    But don't fret! Many coffee equipment manufacturers, such as Technivorm, AeroPress and Hourglass, have made a point to notify their customers or state on their products that they are BPA-free or that they've decided to switch to a safer alternative. As for Rancilio, Rocket, Delonghi, Saeco and Jura, we've searched high and low for some BPA-free facts, but have only received a verbal guarantee that they are BPA-free and FDA approved.

    Here  are a few tips on how you can make sure your java gear is safe and free of any dangerous toxins you don't want floating around in your cup o' joe:

    • Hard, Clear & Unbreakable: Plastics that are hard and clear are usually made from polycarbonate. Unless the manufacturer states that it is BPA-free, it's the BPA chemical additive that makes plastics clear instead of cloudy or opaque. Check on the manufacturing packaging for an explicit statement, otherwise skip it.
    • Too Hot to Handle: Heat accelerates the possibility of BPA leaching into beverages stored in plastics. Make sure your to go cups are stainless steel where your coffee touches it.
    • Unlucky #7: Take a look at your plastics and find the triangle stamp on or near the bottom of your product. Products consisting of polycarbonate should have the number 7 or sometimes the letters PC.

    However, not all plastics with the number 7 mean they contain BPA. The number 7 can also mean that that certain plastic is in the 'other' category. These plastics are usually soft and pliable, and are not made with BPA. Because some of their products contain components with the number 7 on them, Technivorm has tried to clarify this, also specifically listing which materials are utilized in those products:

    Although judged safe by most testing agencies and reports, a few misleading negative studies have identified plastics marked with recycling no. 7 as unsafe. Some -- but not all -- plastics with the recycling no. 7 are polycarbonate. -- Technivorm

    While a few of their components are a mixture of polycarbonate, they do meet FDA requirements. Technivorm hopes to get closer to being a totally BPA-free manufacturer by getting rid of the use of any polycarbonate in their current and future products.

    But if you're still worried about BPA in your coffee maker, just know that most coffee maker brew baskets are made of ABS plastic and polypropylene for their water tanks -- both of which are BPA-free plastics.

  • Crew Review: Francis Francis X1

    We are not ashamed to admit that we have been diggin' hard on the Francis Francis machines lately. We really love their auto-fill boiler and their sophisticated temperature control -- with only around a 2 degree variance instead of the 15-ish degree variance we sometimes see on single boiler espresso machines in this similar price class.

    Watch Gail take us through the features of the X1 -- a stainless steel counterpart to the X7:

    Now watch her compare the functional and feature differences between the X1 and the X7:

  • Espresso Machine Storage Tips

    Leaving your machine alone for the winter? Need to store it or move it (by hand) to a new location? Gail gives us some tips on what you should do to prepare your machine so you limit the possibility of damage.

  • Ascaso Dream UP: Boiler Refill & Temperature Surfing

    The most frequent repair issue we see on Ascaso Dream machines (both the older version and the new UP) is a burned out boiler. These machines are single boilers without an automatic boiler refill, so folks often burn out the boiler because they don't pull enough fresh water into the boiler before trying to steam or brew.

    Watch Gail as she walks us through refilling the boiler and temperature surfing on the Dream UP.

  • Which Brew Temperature is Best for Lavazza Super Crema?

    We took one of our most popular coffees, Lavazza Super Crema, and brewed it using different temperatures on theLa Spaziale Mini Vivaldi. While the 204F degree espresso extraction temperature is a general rule of thumb, a lot of single origin/estate beans and even some blends are particularly sensitive to heat and will perform better at a different temperature.

    Watch as Gail brews several shots at different temperatures, tasting each to determine the ideal brew temp for Super Crema.

  • Where to Lubricate the Saeco Superautomatic Brew Groups

    It's a good idea to regularly pull out your Saeco superautomatic's brew group and spray it down with hot water -- we recommend doing this once per week and using water only, no soap. Why? Because the soap is going to break down the lubrication on the brew group and you'll be re-applying it weekly as opposed to twice a year. Ultimately, you'll be using more than you need to and we're just thrifty that way.

    Gail shows us where to apply the lubricant on the brew group when it is time for a touch up. A general rule of thumb is that if you can see/feel the lubrication on the group, you're probably as lubricated as you need to be. When applying, don't put a large quantity into each area; just apply some to a q-tip and then put a light layer. We often see big globs applied that then mix with coffee grounds to make a rather dangerous cement. In this case, you can have too much of a good thing.

  • Rancilio Silvia & La Marzocco Filter Basket Face Off

    One of the most loved home espresso machines on the market is the Rancilio Silvia, which offers a great value in terms of price and performance. And, as with most things that are well-loved, this machine gets a ton of attention, tweaks and upgrade suggestions as folks quest for the best shot possible. One of the suggested changes is to swap out the stock filter basket that comes with the Silvia for one that is manufactured by La Marzocco -- not only does the latter basket fit more coffee volume, it also has straight sides so you can tamp it more firmly.

    We picked up one of these baskets and Gail did a toe-to-toe comparison of how each basket performs to see if there really is a noticeable difference. Enjoy!

  • Ask the Experts: Which Machines Need to be Backflushed?

    Cleaning and maintenance is a hot topic in this neck o' the woods, but some folks aren't clear on which specific maintenance routines apply to the type of machine they own. This comes up specifically in regard to backflushing -- do you or don't you?

    You do backflush if you own a machine with a valve system referred to as a three-way solenoid, brew pressure release, three-way valve, solenoid valve or any other combination of these phrases. Not sure if your machine has this? If your machine has an E61 brew group (such as those on Rockets, Quick Mills, Izzos or Grimacs), it has this valve system. Other models that feature this without the E61 are those made by La Spaziale, Pasquini, the Rancilio Silvia and Ascaso's Uno Pro and Duo series. This valve system relieves pressure post-brew, which results in a drier puck, but it sucks a little bit of coffee and water into the system each time which can build up in there and adversely impact the machine's performance. Backflushing forces detergent and water through the valve system, thoroughly cleaning it and maintaining the system. It also has the added benefit of cleaning up behind the brew head's screen without taking it apart.

    You don't backflush if your machine doesn't have this system -- because you don't have the valves to clean! Some machines that don't need backflushing include the Saeco Aroma, Via Venezia, Sirena, models made by Breville, those from Francis Francis/illy and Delonghi and Capresso semi-automatics. But since you're not forcing detergent through the brew head, you will need to take it apart semi-regularly to clean up behind the brew screen.

    The best way to determine if you need to backflush your machine is to read the manufacturer's manual and the machine's technical specifications to see if it has the valve system. If it doesn't, you're good to go; if it does, you should backflush once every 1 - 2 weeks, depending on how often you use the machine.

    Not sure how to do it? Watch us backflush the Rocket Giotto E61 or the Rancilio Silvia.

  • Video Crew Review: Capresso Cafe Espresso Machine

    Recently, we wrote our first pass review of the new Capresso Cafe espresso machine and now we have the demo video to back it up! We really were impressed with the features and price of this machine -- again, it's no Rancilio Silvia, but it's also nearly $500 less! Watch Gail take us through the features, plus demonstrate shot extraction (pressurized and non-pressurized) and milk frothing (with panarello and without).

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