Make Coffee You Love!

  • Compare: Glass vs. Thermal Carafe on Technivorm

    In addition to the wide array of coffee makers on the market that offer different functionality and technology, when selecting the model that's right for you, you also have to consider the carafe -- glass or thermal? Like most things, it's all about you, darling.

    The case for glass: You want to choose a grind-and-brew or programmable model that would come on and start brewing your coffee in the morning before you wake up. You'll also be drinking that full pot of coffee (or whatever amount you've selected) within the hour. Glass is ideal in these cases as you won't have to worry about pre-heating the carafe and you'll be drinking the coffee before it starts to taste more tar-like than java-like.

    The case for thermal: You're going to be making the coffee yourself and you want to be able to pour out a few cups throughout the day without risking a nasty aftertaste. You'll be around to take the time to pre-heat the carafe before the brewing starts and then to seal it up to keep the coffee up to temperature. Thermal is the best choice for this because it will stick around at the right temperature for a few hours without continuous heating. However, some folks are sensitive to the flavor that is produced using a stainless steel carafe, so if you're in that camp yet you want a thermal, make sure you're choosing a model with a glass lining (like the Bonavita, for example).

    Here at SCG, we use glass carafes in our break room because, quite simply, as soon as a pot is brewed, it's in our cups and the next pot is brewing away. We don't really have to worry about stagnant coffee sitting on a hot plate for hours on end, but we wanted to find out what kind of impact allowing the coffee to sit around for an hour had on its flavor. So we brewed up a batch of coffee in two Technivorms -- one using a thermal carafe, one using a glass -- then let them hang out for an hour before we held a taste test. Watch to find out what we learned!

     

  • The Reluctant Barista: Pops a Cap in the New Iperespresso Machines

    Now that I have built my espresso connoisseurship from zero to somewhere above average, but still far below that of Juan Valdez, I was reluctant to go back to my lazy ways. New single-cup espresso capsule machines from Francis Francis for illy arrived awhile back and I played coy. I stayed away until I found out our crew of espresso machine technicians were proponents of this capsule craze.

    I wrangled one each of the Francis Francis Y1.1 and the Francis Francis X7.1 Iperespresso Machines over to my desk. Mike and Jeff from the refurbish crew volunteered to be my guinea pigs ...er, I mean taste-testers. They programmed the extraction time on both machines to their preferred shot length to assist me with a side-by-side comparison. The new illy coffee capsules come in a canister -- like the whole bean and pre-ground illy coffees do -- and in the same flavor profiles. I popped the top off of a can of illy iperespresso Dark Roast capsules to try in the two new machines.

    francis_francis_x7.1-black

    Francis Francis X7.1 -- The Little Alien Dude

    This is reminiscent of a retro 50s espresso maker complete with a portafilter to make it look like you did the work of pulling a shot and a steam wand to froth milk.


    y1.1_iper_espresso_machine

    Francis Francis Y1.1 -- The Rubik's Cube

    Sleek and modern, this style fits in a Minimalist’s dream kitchen or office. Lightly touch the programmable single shot or double shot button and receive espresso -- yes, it really is that easy!

    In the end, it 'all boils down' to case style and drink preference. The illy iperespresso capsules have a patented pressurized design and both machines provide the right brew temperature and pressure to get the most flavor extracted. Upon Shiami's suggestion we ran hot water through the machines to get them up to temp and to pre-warm the demistasse cups. Then we hunkered down and watched the espresso as it streamed out of the two machines for 29 seconds each.

    All variables being equal, Mike and Jeff preferred the Y1.1 since it has one-touch operation right out of the box. Shiami preferred the X7.1 for her lungo. There may be a slight temperature advantage as the X7.1 maintained heat within the metal portafilter, but I did not taste a discernible difference as I sampled the espresso produced. If you are in need of steady milk frothing, the X7.1 is the one to pick. If your need for steamed milk is more occasional, an accessory frother like the Breville Smart Cafe paired with the Y1.1 is also a winning combination.

    So who did we declare the winner? For me, at least, simple is always better, so the tie goes to ... the Y1.1!

  • The Reluctant Barista: Jura GIGA 5 and the Secret Menu

    giga5_feature4There is something so intriguing about a secret menu. Starbucks has one. In-N-Out Burger has one. And now, the Jura GIGA 5 Automatic Coffee Center does too. After a hot tip from Kat that there was indeed a secret menu, I decided to play detective. I found these new recipes through my favorite machine testing method called 'random button pushing.' You won’t find this covered in the Jura user manual (unless you happen to look at page 20...). The Reluctant Barista has some delicious insider information to share.

    The initial screen shows what you might come to expect from a superautomatic menu: Ristretto, Espresso, Coffee, Hot Water, Cappuccino, Latte Macchiato, Milk, Milk Foam. From these simple settings you can further customize the coffee dosage, water temperature, water volume, milk volume and milk foam. The Jura GIGA 5 does not come standard with an integrated milk carafe, so I used a Jura Cool Control Automatic Milk Cooler and the included hose that came with the GIGA 5 to make a bevy of milk-based beverages.

    Last week I made my go-to drink, a foamy hazelnut latte and was happily surprised by how hot the drink got. Monday morning I had the GIGA 5 pour me a double cappuccino. I needed it! After the caffeine kicked in, it was time to explore uncharted territory. There were 12 more "secret" recipes once I twirled the rotary dial on top. I have to admit, these recipes perplexed me. Were they chosen by an Italian espresso aficionado? Were they chosen by the Swiss manufacturer? Who mixes lemonade and espresso? They did not seem to be targeted to Seattle taste profiles, or at least not my particular taste. However, I did try the recipe for 'Winter Magic Coffee.' This turned out to be what I would describe as a Nutella Latte. It was so popular with the SCG Crew that I ended up making 5 drinks back to back.

    Sadly, there was no barista gnome inside the Jura GIGA 5 to prepare the drinks. You need to provide your own ingredients. From home I brought my treasured Nutella and used Monin Honey Sweetener although it was sweet enough without it. The GIGA 5 walked me through each step with a series of easy to read screens. I especially liked the final step of each drink I made when the GIGA 5 screen simply said, 'Enjoy!'

    The Jura GIGA 5 "Secret" Drink Menu:

    • Marocchino – espresso, Monin Dark Chocolate Sauce, chocolate powder
    • Pepresso – espresso, Monin Dark Chocolate Sauce, mixed peppercorns (Watch Brandi make this recipe)
    • White Cool – espresso, carbonated lemonade, ice cubes
    • Gourmet Latte Macchiato – espresso, evaporated milk, Monin Irish Cream Syrup (non-alcoholic) or Bailey’s Irish Cream (alcoholic)
    • Irish Coffee – coffee, brown sugar, Irish Whiskey (alcoholic), whipped cream on top
    • Café Melange – coffee with whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top
    • Viennese Coffee – coffee, vanilla ice cream, Monin Vanilla Syrup and chocolate shavings on top
    • Winter Magic Coffee – espresso, Nutella, honey and a pinch of ginger and cardamom on top
    • Shakerato – espresso, lemons, sugar, ice
    • Mango Lassi – espresso, yogurt, mango puree
    • Red Cool – espresso, carbonated lemonade, Campari (alcoholic), ice
    • Summer Fire – espresso, Monin Coconut Syrup, lemon pepper

    Thank you GIGA 5 -- we will enjoy!

  • The Reluctant Barista: Tackling the Rocket R58 Dual Boiler

    58I had an 'Aha! Moment' this morning and it changed my whole relationship with espresso prep. Very reluctantly, and only because I was on a deadline, did I approach the Rocket Espresso R58 Dual Boiler. Kat asked me why I was more reluctant than usual to pull shots on this machine and I didn’t have a good answer. Shiami encouraged me and told me that I would love the quality shots an E61 brew group produces.

    To start, I frothed a pitcher of milk, which I do regularly on the Rocket Giotto, and the difference between a heat exchanger and a dual boiler became apparent. In the same time it takes me to get a nice velvety microfoam at 150 degrees on the Rocket Giotto, I found the Rocket R58 had gotten up to 170 degrees! There was foam but the higher temperature killed the creaminess. The powerful steam cut frothing time almost in half and I had not adjusted for that fact.

    Next, I enlisted Fillmore from the repair department to expertly dial in the grinder. I watched him grind into the portafilter from a Mazzer Mini. He pulled a shot and it was too quick. He adjusted the grind a tick finer, pulled another shot and it was still a little fast. He re-adjusted, then felt the espresso grounds in his hand and they were fine like ground pepper. On the third extraction the shot pulled evenly and within 22 seconds we each grabbed a shot and tasted it. Zoka Organic Espresso Quatro -- yum!

    As I stared at the shiny stainless steel Rocket R58 with its 58mm portafilter, I was still reluctant to pull my own shots. I recounted all of the variables Gail recommends for a perfect espresso shot: filtered water, the right grind, the correct tamp and a deluxe hand-built Italian espresso machine (just kidding! Kind of…). Finally the answer was clear to me: While I understand how to make espresso, my problem is I can’t tamp!

    I love it when Kaylie makes me a latte, I use E.S.E. pods at home and I will occasionally use the new Francis Francis capsule machine for an afternoon pick-me-up. As a result, I have avoided the tamping issue altogether. Aha!

    There are benefits to having the entire SCG demonstration arsenal at my disposal. I lined up a tamping mat, a tamper and a knock box. Long overdue tamping practice began and continued until both the Rocket R58 drip tray was full (twice!) from pulling shots and the knock box was full of spent pucks. From this experience I found out the following:

    1. The R58 brew head warning sticker states, ‘Caution Hot Surface,’ and that’s the truth
    2. Pre-warming your portafilter in the brew head yields great results, however it also makes it hot to touch when you tamp
    3. Fillmore's Pro-Tip: A half flip of the lever allows for a mellow pre-infusion using passive boiler pressure
    4. It is hard to get espresso grounds out from under your fingernails

    Many people go through a coffee preparation progression as their taste, budget or skills change. I went from French press to stovetop espresso maker to a small single boiler machine. How do you know when you are ready for the next step, in this case a dual boiler? Identify your comfort level and your ultimate goal. My comfort level had me afraid to tamp, but my goal was a fresher shot. So it turns out that I am ready to upgrade. For now, a heat exchanger model is my next step.

    There is a machine for every person though, so who does need a dual boiler espresso machine? For me, the styling of the Rocket line is what an espresso machine 'should' look like -- I would love to see one on my counter top. Like a heat exchanger, a dual boiler saves time if your preferred drink is milk-based since you can froth and pull shots simultaneously. The R58 in particular can be used with the internal reservoir or plumbed-in for even more convenience. Finally, espresso is all about consistency; with commercial grade parts, dual pressure gauges, a rotary pump and an external PID, the Rocket R58 uses current technology to allow you to pull the best shots you are capable of every time.

    Where will your preparation progression lead you? The Rocket R58 Dual Boiler is not a starter machine. When you are ready to take things to the next level though, this espresso machine is one of the very best. Don’t be reluctant to try it!

  • How-To: Re-Calibrating the Baratza Encore

    When Baratza released their new Encore grinder, they made a point of talking about how the re-engineering of the burr set resulted in a lower cost burr grinder that could still go fine enough for traditional espresso machines. While the consistency isn't quite as good as its Virtuoso, Preciso or Vario counterparts, it does do a fairly solid job grinding for espresso -- as long as the 0-point is set accurately.

    The first demo model we tested worked just fine from the factory and we were able to use it with the Rancilio Silvia without issue; however, subsequent models -- and a few customer reports -- led us down the path of re-calibration. In this video, Gail shows how to take apart, re-calibrate and then put back together the Encore, including a demonstration of the grind quality before and after the adjustment.

  • Playing with Preinfusion on the Breville Dual Boiler

    It's fun to play with parameters! If you didn't learn that in the 2nd grade, life has probably been pretty rough for you -- but now is your time to shine.

    One of the elements you can control on the Breville Dual Boiler is both the pre-infusion pressure and the duration prior to shot extraction. Factory setting is 60% of the overall pump pressure for 7 seconds, but what happens when you change the pressure? Or if you keep the pressure the same and change the timing? Of course, all coffee will react differently to these settings, so we decided to experiment with Equator's Espresso Blend to see how making changes to this parameter affected the overall flavor of the shot.

    Watch Gail try different pressures and different pre-infusion times to determine if the factory settings are the best bet for Equator Espresso.

  • Compare: Convenience of Superautos vs. Capsule vs. Pod Espresso Machines

    If convenience is king in your household, your espresso machine selection will likely center on superautomatic, capsule or pod-friendly options such as those made by DeLonghi, Jura, Nespresso and Saeco.

    But which of these three machine styles produces a better shot? Does it matter? Of course it does! Watch as Gail demonstrates making an Americano on a pod-friendly semi-automatic, a capsule machine and a superautomatic. We compare flavor and discuss the relative convenience and ease of use.

  • Brew Tips: Switching Roasts and Grinds

    If you're experimenting with different styles of coffees -- roast styles, bean blends, etc. -- you'll need to adjust your grind to dial that specific coffee in for your machine. It's definitely not a set it and forget type of scenario, and there are general rules of thumb one might follow when switching between coffees that have a significantly different roast profile.

    Watch Gail provide tips and advice on things to keep in mind when dialing in different coffees.

  • Overview: Rotary vs. Vibratory Pumps

    In The Great Espresso Machine Wars of 2011, the bloodiest battle was that between the rotary and the vibratory pump. Seriously; things got real.

    You didn't hear about it? Well, it's really not something we like to rehash -- and there were definitely lessons in there for all of us. But even though we're not yet prepared to talk through it (too soon!), we don't mind taking a couple of pumps apart and asking one of our favorite engineers for his input on how these bad boys work.

    Watch as Gail and Bill Crossland go through the internals of a vibratory and rotary pump, discussing how they work, why you might select one over the other and what to expect from them. Then we measure the sound differential between the vibratory pump on the Rocket Espresso Premium Plus and the rotary pump on the Rocket Espresso Evoluzione to learn if the whole 'it's quieter!' argument really holds water. Finally, we pull shots to see if there is a noticeable, practical difference in flavor between the two styles of machines.

  • Compare: Rancilio Silvia with PID vs. Nuova Simonelli Oscar

    While these two machines certainly have some core functional differences, they are often compared by folks because once you retrofit the Silvia with a PID, its price tag is very similar to that of the Nuova Simonelli Oscar. So, is one better than the other? As usual, it's all a matter of perspective.

    Watch Gail discuss the features and functionality of these machines, then demonstrate how they perform in terms of drink quality. She also talks about why you might choose one over the other, so if you're on the fence regarding these two models, this comparison video was made with you in mind. Cherish it.

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