buying guide

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Drip Coffee

    We’ve looked at pour over, superautos, and semi-autos in our buying guides posts so far, but there’s a couple of stones still left unturned. Today we’re going to offer some advice for buying a machine perfect for one of the simplest, but most approachable kinds of coffee brewing: Drip! Drip coffee is easy to get started with, but with so many brewers out there it can be hard to get a grasp of what will provide the best bang for your buck. We’re here to help!

    Grinders

    First thing’s first, you need a way to grind your beans! While you could use pre-ground coffee, using freshly ground beans is the best way to get the most out of your brewer. In fact, having coffee that’s been freshly ground is arguably the most important part of the process alongside temperature stability. 

    With that in mind, it’s hard to recommend any grinder as highly for first time drip brewers as the Baratza Encore. This grinder is well priced, consistent, easy to use, and will last quite some time. Baratza is one of the best grinder producers that we know, and it shows in this no-frills knockout of a product. If your budget has a bit more headroom we can also wholeheartedly recommend the Eureka Filtro. The filtro offers just a bit more performance and reliability due to its larger burrs, which are specifically designed for drip brewing. The Filtro also features stepless grind adjust, which gives you more precise control over grind size.

    But what about upgrading? You may want something that provides a little bit more in the bells and whistles department in the future. On the Baratza front, the Vario-W features more micro adjustments than the Encore, with the addition of weight based dosing. As you explore the coffee world you’ll find that weight is a better way to dose your coffee than volume, and the Vario-W helps with that.  Eureka also offers an excellent grinder upgrade in the form of the Brew Pro. The Brew Pro features the same powerful burrs as the Filtro mentioned above. It also adds timed grinding via a vibrant touch screen. The perfect upgrade if you become accustomed to the precision stepless adjust of the filtro.

    Brewers

    It’s time for the main event! Selecting a brewer is actually a bit easier than you’d think. The two most important pieces of a drip brewer are temperature consistency and the ability to evenly wet grounds. Bonuses like pre-infusion are nice to get the absolute most flavor out of your coffee. For all of this and a palatable price, check out the Bonavita Connoisseur. This brewer offers exceptional temperature stability, has a wide angle showerhead for the water, and even does simple pre-infusion. It’s the perfect option to start with, and comes at an excellent price too. 

    But what about an upgrade? Eventually you might want more control than the Connoisseur offers. There’s arguably no better upgrade option you’ll find than the Breville Precision Brewer. This brewer offers an incredible degree of control over your coffee. Including options for brewing over ice, using a pour over attachment, specific gold cup brewing settings, and tons of options for setting custom recipes, the Precision Brewer should be the last machine you’ll ever need. 

    Thanks for joining us for this look at getting started with your drip brewing shopping list!

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines - Part 1

    The semi-automatic espresso machine is the cornerstone of the serious home barista setup. A semi-automatic machine is the sort that requires the user to manually grind, tamp, and brew espresso. It takes finesse and practice that a superauto cuts out, but the reward is worth it. While superauto machines make some great drinks, there's nothing like pulling just the flavor you're after from a tricky single origin.

    But it can be daunting to get started with semi-autos. There's a lot to choose from! For this reason, we're taking a look at some great initial buys in part 1 of our guide. Next time we'll cover some upgrade options. For now, we're going to talk about a couple of first time grinder and machine options to get you brewing!

    Choosing a Grinder

    Choosing a grinder is one of the most important parts of your first espresso setup. Grinders can elevate a less powerful machine by producing perfect, consistent grounds. This is why we recommend budgeting around your grinder first, if you're not looking at an all in one machine like the Breville Barista Express. So what are the best options? One of the most solid options for your first espresso grinder is a Breville Smart Grinder Pro. This grinder is easy to use, offers features that punch above its price point, and most importantly, will grind fine enough for unpressurized espresso brewing. That last point is key, because many other grinders that do this are well above this price point. Another option is the Rancilio Rocky, which is also a consistent, excellent grinder that may last you longer than the Smart Grinder Pro. It does come at a higher price point and with less fancy features, though. Either way, both of these grinders will provide a solid foundation for years, and allow you to upgrade big on your machine choice!

    Choosing a Machine

    Here it is, your big choice, what machine will you start with? Thankfully, recent years have provided some excellent starter options. First of all, there are the Breville machines. The Barista Express combines grinder and brewer into one affordable package. This is a great way to get started, but is inflexible, you can't upgrade the grinder separate from the machine, or vice versa. The other Breville options is the SCG Exclusive Breville Bambino Plus. This is the same machine as the Bambino Pro you can find at other retailers, but includes an unpressurized portafilter. We've talking about filter pressurization in the past, but having the option to go unpressurized is really great! Paired with the above grinders, you'll be able to pull delicious, cafe quality shots from the Bambino Plus.

    Odds and Ends

    There's some other odds and ends that you might want to consider with your first setup. First of all, a knockbox like this one from Dreamfarm is a great addition to your set up. It'll allow you to eject pucks from your portafilter without carrying it to the trash can. A tamping mat like this Rocket Espresso offering will also help you keep your station clean. Finally, it might have to be an upgrade option, but a scale like the Brewista Smart Scale II is a great way to weigh your shots to dial in the perfect flavor with your machine.

    We hope this helps you make some choices for your first machine! We'll be back soon with some fantastic upgrade options for those jumping up to a more expensive machine.

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • 2020 Getting Started Guide: Superautos

    Interested in espresso? Looking to cut pod coffee out? Still want the simplicity of push button operation? It sounds like you need a superauto!

    We've talked about superautomatic espresso machines at length here. So much so that you probably already know what these machines are. As a refresher, a superautomatic espresso machine is a machine that uses whole bean coffee to deliver delicious espresso based drinks. They are sort of like "cafes in a box." The trade-off is that no automated process can truly outdo a skilled barista on professional equipment. With that said, a superauto machine on your kitchen counter is an incredible convenience that can still provide a tasty morning does of caffeine. Superautos also cut down on the waste generated by pod machines, though they don't make drip coffee. There are a number of factors to think about when selecting a superauto. We'll touch on these things as we go through this guide to buying your first machine, or upgrading!

    First Machine

    For your first machine it's hard to argue against the Philips Carina. Getting into espresso for the first time is an expensive endeavor that the Carina makes a lot less scary. This is a simple to use machine that may seem light on features, but is actually a fantastic value. You can control dose (the amount the machine grinds for each shot) volume, and pull shots of espresso, long, coffee style lungo shots, hot water for americanos, and steamed milk. These are the core functions of any superauto espresso machine, so to have them surfaced like on the Carina is a boon. Add to all of this the easy to use AquaClean filtration system, and you've got an affordable winner of a beginner machine. Just remember to buy a filter with the machine!

    One thing that is important to note about the Carina is its panarello steam wand. This means that you'll need to manually hold a pitcher of milk up to the wand to steam it, like on a semi-auto machine. For many, the promise of automatic milk steaming is why they want a superauto in the first place. If auto steaming is a make or break feature for you, consider checking out the Philips 3200 Latte Go. This machine is just like the Carina in many ways, but includes a carafe based steaming system for automatic steaming.

    The other great thing about the Carina is it'll help you understand exactly what you want out of your next machine. Maybe you'll settle on the idea that more control over the shot is key for you. In this case, you may want to upgrade to a semi-auto machine. Maybe you like the superautomatic nature of the Carina, but you don't need the milk steaming. In this case, upgrading to something like the Jura A1, which brews espresso only, may be the perfect solution.

    Upgrading to a New Machine

    If you're looking at upgrading from an older machine and have a budget of over $1,000, consider the Jura E6. The E6 produces some exceptional espresso thanks to Jura's P.E.P. brewing system and is a definite upgrade from an interface perspective. Using its vibrant screen and simple button system you'll be able to set dose, temp, shot length, and milk volume for your drinks. One-touch cappuccinos with the E6's automatic siphon system are a delicious option as well. Finally, the maintenance tools on the E6 are really something. The comprehensive software is great at reminding you to rinse, clean, and descale the machine.

    The only real negative on this machine is the lack of milk control that you get. While the cappuccino foam that the siphon system on the E6 creates is decent, it just can't do lattes. This may be a dealbreaker for some folks. If that's you, then it's worth taking a look at the Miele 6350.

    The 6350 offers great milk texture for lattes and cappuccinos, delicious coffee, and is easy to operate. It's expensive, but justifies its price with extra features like a hot water spout, brew group light, and a a spill-proof drip tray. It's an easy recommendation for anyone looking at buying the last machine they'll need.

    Stay tuned for more buying guides focused on drip brewing and semi-auto espresso machines!

    Check out the rest of our getting started guides!

  • Super or Semi?

    Superautomatic and semi-automatic machines have similar names but ultimately work quite differently. If you're a regular reader you already know the difference between them. For the uninitiated, a superauto handles everything from grinding the beans to steaming your milk. All you have to do is press a few buttons and maybe hold a pitcher, otherwise the machines does it all. On the flip-side, semi-automatics are a little more hands on. While they don't requires you to manually pump water in (we'd call a machine like that a manual machine) they do require you to grind and tamp the beans yourself. They also require you to steam milk yourself for lattes or cappuccinos.

    So which one's for you? If you're new to espresso, you may jump to assume that a superauto is the right option. While that's absolutely the right call for any users, there's reasons to take a closer look.

    Superautos

    The superauto customer is someone who simply wants good coffee quick. Maybe you like a range of drinks, maybe you're laser focused on getting the best latte or americano. In either case, if your concern is convenience, superautos are the way to go. These are machines that don't require finesse to operate and can brew coffee just a few minutes after being plugged in. There are considerations, of course, you won't want to use especially oily beans, for example. Superautos also can struggle to produce very hot drinks due to the nature of their design.

    In any case though, if you are more concerned with quick coffee than learning the ins and outs of espresso, these machines are for you.

    Semi-automatics

    Semi-automatics definitely require more work than a superauto. While there are grinder/machine combos, you'll probably need to buy a separate grinder at some point if you get into semi-autos. These machines also have a real learning curve. Dialing in a tricky single origin to taste good on your semi-auto can be very challenging. It can also be tough to learn to steam milk at first, as there is technique involved. The thing you do get out of semi-autos though, is control.

    Controlling the brewing process with a semi-auto gives you a lot of options. You can really pull specific notes out of lighter roasts, or get extra hot milk. You can make your cappuccinos as dry as you'd like, or, with machines that have PID controllers, control brew temperature. All of this definitely results in a more hobbyist angle. With all of that said, after some practice, making drinks on a semi-automatic machine gets much quicker. Before you know it you'll be brewing with speed and confidence.

    Of course, none of that matters is if you're mostly looking for a quick caffeine fix, or a simpler drink. It's also important to note that superautomatic technology has come a long way. While it's still hard to replicate the work of an experienced barista on expensive machines, they're getting close. You can get incredible good coffee from a superauto, it all comes down to your desire to tweak and control the process!

  • Video Roundup: 1/3/2020

    It's 2020 y'all!

    We hope you had a wonderful holiday and New Year, we sure did! Here's some of the videos we've got for you this week:

    First, it's a crew comparison from Nicole taking a look at a couple of different drip brewers:

    Next up, we've got some tips for cleaning the LaMarzocco Swift Espresso Grinder:

    Finally, Gail walked us through picking out a French Press to fit your budget!

    That's all for this week! Go make some coffee you crazy coffee drinkers!

  • Top Three Grinders For Espresso Machines

    The Round Up

    If you’re looking for a top-notch grinder, then look no further! We’ve picked out our top three grinders for espresso machines the Rancilio Rocky, Baratza Vario and Rocket Macinatore Fausto. When we’re looking for a grinder to go with our espresso machine, we’re looking it to be super fast and incredibly accurate for the best tasting espresso shot.

    The Underdog: Rancilio Rocky Coffee Grinder

    Tall, dark and built with pure muscle—no we’re not talking about that Rocky, but we might as well be. The Rocky by Rancilio is a powerful machine much like a certain boxer. Built with commercial-grade 50mm steel burrs, this is a professional machine that’s made for home brewing. This is a true underdog story folks.

    This is the only grinder we’ve picked that isn’t stepless and we’re totally OK with that. The Rocky gives you 55 levels of control to grind your coffee beans thanks to ultra-fine threading that lets you go from espresso to French press without any fuss.

    Brew Methods: Baratza Vario

    For coffee lovers looking to brew for espresso and drip coffee, the Baratza Vario has the tools to get the job done! A combination of macro and micro grinder adjustments achieve 230 unique settings that home brewer can easily change with a couple clicks—seriously it's so easy with the two lever adjusters. Paired with the powerful 54mm ceramic flat burrs, this grinder munches beans with fast accuracy.

    In fact, the Vario grinds consistently for espresso machines with non-pressurized portafilter—not every multi-purpose grinder can brag about that! And it comes with a portafilter holder for easy grinding. Vice versa, the Vario's a solid companion for your everyday drip coffee maker (we frequently use it with our Technivorm). For more ways to brew, check out the Vario!

    Show Stopper: Rocket Macinatore Fausto Grinder

    We thought the Rocket Mazzer Mini was impressive but man, when it comes to grinders the Rocket Fausto steals the show! The 65mm stainless steel flat burrs quickly and accurately create perfect, consistent grounds. It’s the only stepless grinder on our list, so you have total control over the adjustments.

    Now this is love—if you’re like us and make a lot of coffee, then you’ll love that the Fausto’s bean hopper holds a pound of beans. A. whole. pound. And, if you don't go through the whole pound, there's a stopper that’ll keep the beans inside so you can remove the whole bean hopper and change them out. Could you image trying to turn this guy upside down to shake out the extra beans?

    Conclusion

    We make a lot of coffee here at Seattle Coffee Gear and we love all our grinders for different coffee brewing methods. When it comes to getting the best grinder for your espresso machine, though, these three grinders fit the bill.

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