Make Coffee You Love!

  • 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.

    HereĀ  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).

  • How to Backflush the Rancilio Silvia

    We've said it before and we'll say it again: Backflushing the Rancilio Silvia is an essential element of it's cleaning and maintenance routine. In fact, we say this about all machines that have a three-way solenoid/brew pressure release valve -- such as machines with the E61 brew group, the Pasquini Livia 90, Ascaso Uno Pro and Duo series or the La Spaziale Vivaldi machines, among others.

    This release valve system serves two purposes: It relieves pressure in the brew head (so you don't have an exploding portafilter) and it also sucks up a little bit of water from the coffee puck (so you don't have soupy grounds). As you can imagine, this action will take water and a little bit of coffee with it each time, a residue that can build up in the system and eventually damage the machine. For a long time, Rancilio didn't recommend doing this out of concern for proper customer education and the belief that these home machines didn't get enough use to merit such maintenance. Over time, however, they have adjusted their opinion -- it is something they do recommend on their commercial machines -- and they are proponents of educating home baristas to properly care for their equipment.

    While we demonstrated the procedure on the Rocket Giotto in one of our very first videos in 2008, we received many requests for demonstrations and tips on how to perform this on the Rancilio Silvia. At long last, here it is!

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