Buying guides

  • Grinder Buying Guide

    Hello! 

    If you’ve been keeping up with us recently you know we’ve been releasing our set of 2020 buying guides here on the SCG Blog. This week we’re providing a general look at buying your first coffee grinder, whether you’re pulling shots or brewing pour over. Let’s get started!

    Your First Espresso Grinder

    We covered buying an espresso grinder as part of our overall espresso buying guide. There we recommended the Rancilio Rocky and the Breville Smart Grinder Pro. These are excellent grinders that are very affordable for an espresso grinder. The reason you tend to pay more for an espresso grinder is because of the need for very fine, very consistent coffee. This generally requires premium burrsets, motors, and controls. 

    The Smart Grinder Pro and Rancilio Rocky aren’t quite as easy to dial in for espresso as a Eureka Mignon might be, but they are excellent grinders for the price. They’ll have you pulling unpressurized shots from your new machine with just a bit of practice. Learning on a grinder like this is especially good for new users, because it’ll help you understand how pulling shots works!

    Filter Brewing

    One of the nice things about the above listed grinders is that they’re also great for non-espresso brewing as well. So we recommend them if you’re looking to brew with a range of different methods. With that said, having to switch the settings back and forth all the time can be a pain, so it’s worth having a separate brew grinder if you can. If you’re not planning on brewing espresso at all then you can even save a bit with these recommendations.

    For filter brewing like drip and pour over it’s hard to recommend anything other than the spectacular Baratza Encore. This is a world class brew grinder perfect for a wide range of non-espresso applications. If you are looking for stepless control for more fine adjustments, Eureka’s Filtro and Brew Bro also offer very compelling options. All of these grinders will provide excellent grounds for filter brewing for years and years.

    Alternate Brew Methods

    There’s a world of other weird and wonderful ways to brew coffee out there, from press to vacuum and mokapot. For these varied types of brewing we recommend many of the above grinders in various configurations. If you love press coffee, something like the Baratza Encore will be the perfect match. If you want to brew a mokapot but have the option of switching to pour over brewing, the Smart Grinder Pro we mentioned is a great step between ultra-fine capable grinders and something that can go courser.

    In the end, grinder selection has more to do with how it’s specialized rather than how expensive it is. Pricier grinders are certainly pretty and full of bells, whistles, and performance for more demanding brew types like espresso. However, to get started you just need the right tool for the job!

    That’s all for now, we’ll be back with one more buying guide, featuring some alternative brewing methods, next week!

     

  • Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine Buying Guide - Part 2

    Last week we took a look at the best purchases for semi-automatics and grinders to get started brewing espresso at home. This week we wanted to offer up some ideas for those ready for an upgrade! Whether you're outgrowing your machine or it's getting a little long in the tooth, here are some ideas for where to go next.

    Grinder

    Upgrading your grinder depends a lot on what you already have. Because the quality of your espresso is so dependent on the consistency of your grind, this is a key part of your setup. We generally recommend a grinder upgrade before you upgrade your machine. A great grinder can elevate the quality of espresso you're getting from a weaker machine. On the other hand, a fancy machine won't produce great shots without a quality grinder.

    The biggest thing you should look for in stepping up your grinder is a stepless grind adjust (pun a little bit intended). Stepless adjust means that the distance between the burrs isn't on set steps that click from one to the next. Stepless adjustment works more like a screw, bringing the burrs closer together as you turn the dial. While consistency in grounds is the most important thing in an espresso grinder, this kind of adjuster gives you more control. It is, however, harder to dial in beans with a stepless adjust. This is why we recommend these kinds of grinders as an upgrade.

    With that in mind, one of the all around best home grinder lines is Eureka. We love their Mignon line, which offers fast, consistent, and quiet grinding. The best part here is that there are several options that you can pick from depending on your budget. From the simple and efficient Silenzio all the way up to the feature filled Specialita. All of the grinders in this line feature stepless adjustment.

    Machine

    There's one particular machine we love for anyone looking to upgrade, and that's the Rocket Espresso Appartamento. This is a stellar espresso machine that brings you a heated E61 brew group, pro style steam, and hands on brewing. All of these features strike at the sort of creature comforts that come with a commercial machine. While the Appartamento will take practice to pull the perfect shot, it has the power and reliability to be the last espresso machine you buy.

    If you're looking to go even bigger, the Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato and Giotto offer their own arguments, each providing incredible upgrades. Either way, these are machines that will last you decades. Finally, if you're looking to go really big, the Rocket Espresso R58 is a behemoth of a machine that will give the local coffee shop a run for its money. It's another machine that will last you a lifetime.

    We recommend all of these upgrades because of the power of their pumps, plumbing options, and PID controlled temps. Check out our reviews and other educational articles to get a better understanding of how each of these elements puts these machines over the top.

  • Buying Guide: Pour Over

    It's time for the first of our series of buying guides! These guides will help you pick the perfect products to start your coffee journey. We'll cover a range of different brew methods and product ranges here. Today we're starting with pour over, one of the simplest, most cost effective ways to get started with craft coffee. Today we'll offer a starter and upgrade option each for a kettle, dripper, scale, grinder, and drink-ware.

    Overview

    Brewing pour over is a simple concept. You simply place your filter in your dripper, put the dripper on your drinkware, add medium-coarse ground coffee to the filter, then pour hot water over the grounds. How much per pour, and how many pours, is something you'll have to experiment with. While most coffees will work best with a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water, how much water you add with each pour is the tricky part.

    Because this brew method is nice and simple, the gear you need is pretty simple too!

    For a great all-in-one option, take a look at our pour over starter kit. We'll dig into more specific separate options, but this is a good deal if you don't want to read any further!

    Kettle

    The first piece of gear we're going to talk about for your initial setup is your kettle. There are two keys for picking out a kettle to brew pour over with: One, you want a gooseneck. The reason is that gooseneck kettles pour at just the right flow rate, so you can focus on timing and volume rather than rate of pour. The second thing you want to make sure of is that the kettle is variable temperature. You want to be able to set it to a temp rather than have it boil water and then cool. This is because you should be brewing your coffee at our around 200 degrees. You'll still want the flexibility to go a bit lower or a bit higher as well depending on taste and roast.

    With all of this in mind, the best starter kettle we can recommend is this Bonavita Variable Temp Kettle. It's simple, reliable, and affordable.

    For an upgrade, the Fellow EKG+ is expensive, but offers connectivity with Acaia's Brewbar app for dialing in specific recipes. More on that later!

    Scale

    Your scale is key because you need to ensure specific weights from measuring out coffee all the way to pouring. Getting an accurate scale that is resistant to water is a big plus, and many coffee specific scales offer some bells and whistles that make brewing pour over easier.

    For your first scale it's hard to go wrong with the Brewista Smart Brew. This scale offers excellent accuracy and even includes a basic timer. Plus, it's super affordable.

    For an upgrade, take a look at the Acaia Pearl and Pearl S. Both of these scales offer connected apps that work with the above mentioned EKG+. These apps let you dial in and save specific recipes to recreate the perfect pours for your favorite coffees.

    Grinder

    Your grinder is an interesting purchase. Any non-espresso burr grinder will work for pour over, but buying a grinder that offers some flexibility is useful in the long term. Maybe in a few months you'll want to brew in a press? What about drip brewers? As you can see, getting a good all around grinder for filter coffee is the best option. That said, the easiest way to avoid waste is to weigh your coffee before you grind it, rather than approximating an amount and tossing the extra.

    This means you want a hopper that's easy to work with. For a starter grinder for drip and pour over it's hard to go wrong with the Baratza Encore. In terms of consistency and performance, it's one of the best brew grinders ever. The only downside is that it is a little light on bells and whistles, offering timed grind and on/off options.

    It's hard to recommend grinder upgrades for pour over because you're really upgrading into specific things for specific reasons. The Eureka Mignon Filtro is an excellent option if you want to get hyper granular in your grind adjustments to extract every drop of flavor from your pour over. On the other hand, if you want to make brewing faster and more efficient, the Vario-W includes a built in weight function. Which direction you go is up to you!

    Dripper

    Your dripper is going to determine the type of filters you use and does have an impact on flavor. It's hard to understand what this impact is until you've tried coffees from a few different dripper styles. For this reason, we're recommending three different drippers that we think work great. Whichever one best fits your budget is the way to go!

    First up, the Hario V60 is one of the simplest, most popular drippers in the world.

    The Kalita Wave is also extremely popular, and has a fervent fanbase.

    Finally, a Chemex is a great option that offers unique flavor and a built in server. Perfect if you are making coffee for a group.

    Servers and Mugs

    Last but not least, you'll need something to brew into and drink out of! To get a clear view of the brewing process, and to brew multiple cups of coffee for yourself or to share, check out a server like the Bonavita Glass Carafe. If you're brewing for one, you can brew right into a mug like the Acme Union of the Fellow Joey!

    With all of that gear you should be good to go! Adding it all up may seem like a lot, but scales and grinders offer so many coffee applications beyond pour over. It's why we recommend starting with pour over, because lots of the parts you use will be transferable to other brew methods. Good luck with your first brew!

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