education

  • Choosing a Superautomatic

    You've probably seen us talk about superauto vs. semi-auto espresso machines. Some of you might even wonder what the difference is at all! This week we're diving into what makes superautomatic espresso machines tick and what to look for when purchasing.

    What's a Superauto?

    A superautomatic espresso machine simplifies the process of brewing espresso. other espresso machines require you to grind, tamp, and pull shots of espresso manually. While many enjoy the process of dialing in a new roast and tweaking its flavor, you may not. With a superauto you can get a solid espresso or milk drink in the morning without the time sink of a standard machine. You do sacrifice something on drink quality, however. Semi-auto machines (and manual pump driven machines) give you finer control over strength and quality. For most though, superautos are a great alternative without the hassle of a complicated manual process.

    So what is actually in a superauto? Most of these machines feature a bean hopper, grinder, brew unit, and milk steaming system. Beans go in the hopper, which feed to a grinder that automatically grinds coffee for espresso. This coffee is pressurized automatically in the brew unit and a shot is pulled. All of this happens at the touch of a button. Additionally, with another press or two you can have milk steamed for your latte or cappuccino as well!

    How Do I Choose?

    Choosing the right superauto for your kitchen can be daunting, but we're here to help. One of the biggest deciding factors for you will likely be price. superautos can be expensive, but you don't have to break the bank to get the right machine. Let's break down the things that are most important when picking out a superauto:

    Shot Quality

    Shot quality is an extremely important factor when purchasing a superauto. After all, you bought the machine to make coffee, so it had better be good! It's hard to gauge shot quality from the box, but generally user reviews and professional critiques can help you to get an idea of shot quality. It's worth noting that we avoid carrying any machines that we think pull downright poor shots, regardless of the price.

    Milk System

    Nearly as important as a good shot is decent milk quality. This may not be a consideration for you if you don't have interest in milk drinks, but it will be important to most. There are two main types of milk systems in superautos, carafes and tubes. With a tube system, you'll drop the end of a tube into a pitcher of milk. The machine will then pull the milk into the steaming unit and dispense steamed milk into your drink. The other option is a carafe system, which includes a carafe that you can store in the refrigerator that connects to the machine. Both systems can work great, and really come down to preference.

    In addition to the format of the milk system, quality is also a consideration. Perhaps the biggest weakness of superautos is how difficult it is to get quality steamed milk from an automatic system. While they are getting close, nothing beats a hand steamed pitcher of milk. this is another area where a look at the product page may not be of help, but you will want to look into others' opinions of milk quality when selecting a machine.

    Temperature

    Both for shots and milk, temperature is worth calling out. While many superautos can produce decent milk texture and shot quality, temperature is an area that many of these machines struggle with. It's hard to know exact measurements from product specs, but it's an important question to ask a sales person or look for in user reviews.

    Controls

    Superautos feature a range of controls. Some machines feature physical buttons with indicator lights and knobs. Others have vibrant touch screen interfaces that guide you through selecting your beverage. This is one of the areas where you can save some money if you're willing to compromise. In many cases, a touchscreen interface will increase the cost by quite a lot. For many, though, this ease of use will be worth the extra investment. You'll want to consider this after narrowing your focus based on shot/milk quality.

    Odds and Ends

    There are other bells and whistles to consider when looking at superautos as well. Recovery time, or the time between shots, could be a consideration if you serve a full house. cleaning options, tank type, and hopper/tank size are a consideration as well. Larger tanks mean less refills but can also be harder to remove or add cost. Many of these options come down to preference. Finally, proper cleaning and maintenance are important as well, so look into how that is done before making a final decision!

     

  • So Many Brews, So Little Time

    Hey Coffee Fans!

    We thought we'd stop for a moment this week and get back to basics. Learning to craft the perfect pourover or espresso is great, but is it right for you? Our goal at Seattle Coffee Gear is to help you make coffee you love! With that in mind, we wanted to provide an overview of what several different brew methods are actually like.

    Drip Brew

    Drip brewed coffee is a true classic. The combination of convenience and ability to brew large quantities at once makes this the most popular brew method in the world for a reason. The thing most people don't realize though is that more goes into drip brewing than meets the eye. Proper extraction requires proper water temp and distribution through the grounds. Cheap drip brewers tend to overheat above the recommended 195f to 205f that is recommended for coffee. On top of that, these brewers will often drip water right into the middle of the filter. This means that water isn't saturating all of the coffee, which leads to a scorched, thinner cup.

    When buying a brewer, consider one that offers temperature control or brews in the 195-205f range. You'll also want to consider a brewer that has an auto shut off warming plate that won't scorch your coffee in the carafe (or, if you don't mind stainless steel, go with that material for your carafe). Finally, a spray arm that evenly distributes water in the grounds is important.

    Drip brewed coffee tends to be the most basic taste. You lose some of the complexity of more delicate roasts, while maintaining the bitterness and acidity pourover gets around. This can be mitigated with pre-infusion, which blooms the coffee (saturating with water to release acid), something many nicer drip brewers offer. Despite some negatives in the taste department, drip brewed coffee is the standard that most coffee drinkers learn about first.

    Pourover

    Pourover is the same principle as drip brewed coffee, but with a bit of a lighter touch. This brew method involves brewing coffee by manually pouring water over the grounds through a filter. The nice thing about this is that you can directly control everything about the brew process. Pourover begins with a bloom, where you pour a small amount of water into the grounds to saturate them and release acid. This is followed by your first draw. In this stage, you'll pour the water in a motion spiraling out from the center, so that you can evenly saturate the grounds with water. After a first draw, you'll wait and perform another draw, this time rotating inward, to catch grounds on the sides of the filter.

    The result is delicate, delicious coffee that gets rid of the bitterness and scorched taste of cheaper drip brewers. The downside though, is that pourover is a time consuming process that takes practice. You'll want to measure your grind, the ratio of coffee to water, and things like kettle temp and flow rate as you go. It's a complex brew method that may not be worth the better taste at 6:00 in the morning.

    Press

    Press brewed coffee is strong and thick. To brew in a press, you'll add coarse grounds and hot water, then stir vigorously and leave to brew for 10 minutes or so. After waiting, you'll plunge the press, forcing the water through the grounds and simultaneously separating them. The result is a strong, well saturated coffee that misses all of the delicate notes in flavor of offering rich chocolatey coffee taste. Best used on darker roasts, press brewed coffee definitely is a different experience than filtered brewing.

    Espresso

    The most complex, expensive way to prepare coffee. Espresso brewing involves pressurized water being pressed through a puck of finely ground coffee. This brew method creates incredibly rich, creamy, and sweet flavors, which is why it goes so well with steamed milk. Some may find espresso to be too strong, it's also far more caffeinated than other brew methods due to the concentrated extraction.

    Those things come down to taste, where the biggest hurdle for brewing espresso is cost and learning curve. Even on the low end, a proper espresso setup costs hundreds of dollars. You'll need a good burr grinder to be able to grind fine enough for espresso, as well as a specialized machine. On top of that, learning how to properly dial in a shot takes time and patience (though we do provide plenty of guides and resources for it).

    With these concepts in mind, it's important to know that there are even more ways to brew out there, these are just the most common. We'll talk more about some more adventurous methods, like Turkish, in the future!

  • How Long Will My Beans Last?

    One perennial question on every coffee fans mind is always: "Are these beans still good?"

    It hasn't been too long since we talked about the life of a coffee bean, so we figured now would be a good time to touch on the tragic death of the un-brewed bean.

     

    How Fresh Is Fresh?

    What does it mean when coffee is "fresh-roasted?" How fresh is fresh? Most roasters and resellers will sell coffee within two weeks of its roast date. At Seattle Coffee Gear, we pull coffee from our shelves no more than four weeks after the roast date. We let our roasters indicate if they'd prefer that it be pulled sooner than that. Additionally, some coffees that are vacuum or nitrogen sealed can last as long as a year, but that will be clearly noted on the packaging. Given those numbers, you can say that "freshly roasted" coffee is coffee that has been roasted within the last month.

    It's important to buy as close to the roast date as possible, but don't worry if it's been a few weeks. More important is how quickly you use the coffee upon opening the bag. Coffee is sealed to keep the beans fresh. While you can usually press some air out of the bag to smell the beans inside, usually a small rubber gasket prevents any airflow into the bag. Because of this, the coffee is only expose once you open it.

    From there, we generally recommend that you use the coffee within a week. For larger nitrogen sealed tins, beans can last a month or more after opening, but for a typical one pound bag of coffee you'll want to brew it within a week. This is a great reason to use a grinder at home instead of grinding at the supermarket/roaster as well. You can wait to grind the beans until you open the bag!

    While there are methods of preserving coffee after its open, such as freezing, these affect flavor. For this reason we suggest that you stick to brewing within a week of opening!

  • All About Espresso: Part 3

    Hey Coffee fans!

    In this, the final part in our series on the basics of espresso, we'll walk you through dialing in a shot, from start to finish. Note that this process takes time to perfect, so don't worry if you have some trouble with it at first. Be sure to check our part one and part two as well. Let's get started!

    Find Your Grind

    The key to dialing in a new coffee for espresso is finding the right grind to create the perfect shot time. A general rule of thumb is that you'll want a ratio of water to coffee of around 2:1. This may vary depending on the roast, so be sure to try the recommend ratio if the bag suggests one! Note, this is different than drip brewing, so ignore anything that suggests a 16:1 ratio, that's meant for drip!

    You'll want to use a medium/fine setting to start. for most grinders, this is going to mean something around 4-6. This will be different on every grinder. For dose, 14-16 grams is a good starting point. After grinding, be sure to level the grounds to ensure even distribution using a tool or by gently tapping the side of the portafilter.

    Once you've ground some coffee into your portafilter, it's time to tamp! You'll want to apply pressure evenly across the grounds at around 30 lbs. A good way to measure this is to tamp until you feel like you're pressing against the counter top.

    After tamping, you're ready to pull your shot. The best way to really dial in a shot is to use a scale with a bottomless portafilter, but if you don't have access to it, don't worry about it! Just try to weigh the shot or use a measured shot pitcher so you can stop the extraction at around 1.5 oz. You'll want the shot to take 20-30 seconds to pull.

    Where Things Go Wrong

    Here are some common issues that you'll be fighting against while dialing your shot in!

    • Fast extraction: If your shot pulls too fast, try a finer grind, and/or a stronger tamp
    • Slow extraction: If your shot pulls too slow, try a coarser grind, or a lighter tamp
    • Channeling: If your shot is only pouring from one spout, try to make your tamp more even. This is often caused by the grounds being unleveled in the portafilter.
    • Sour taste: If your shot is too sour, it's under extracted. Try a finer grind setting, which will increase the amount of time it takes to brew the shot.
    • Bitter taste: If your shot is to bitter, it means it was over extracted. Try a coarser grind, which will lower the brew time.

    Using these rules of thumb, you should be able to dial in the right grind, tamp, and time for your new bag of espresso. As you get more experienced dialing in shots you'll be able to get closer to the perfect pull from the get-go, which will mean less wasted coffee!

    Stick with it, and remember to make coffee you love!

     

  • Video Roundup: 8/3/2018

    Happy Friday!

    It's time for yet another recap of some of the great video content from Gail and Co. from this week!

    First, John gave us some latte art tips!

    next, Heather showed us an interesting way to use coffee in the kitchen: On the grill!

    Finally we took a look at the Saeco Incanto Plus Vs. the Jura E6 in a Crew Comparison with Gail!

    Enjoy, and remember to make coffee you love!

  • All About Espresso: Part 2

    Hey coffee fans! Welcome to part two of our series on espresso brewing. In part one we went over what goes into the perfect espresso roast, and the basics on what espresso is and why it works.

    There's a number of different accoutrements that contribute to brewing great espresso beyond a grinder and a machine. We'll outline them here!

    Tampers

    Tampers are perhaps the most important piece of gear outside of your machine and your grinder. After grinding and distributing the coffee in the portafilter, the next step is the tamp! To tamp, use your tamper (pictured here) to apply approximately 30 lbs. of pressure to the coffee. This compresses the ground coffee into the puck that the espresso machine presses water through.

     

    Another consideration for tamping is purchasing a tamping mat (pictured with the tamper). A mat can help protect your countertop as you tamp the puck. This can avoid nicks and scratches on a counter.

    Scales

    You may not think of it, but a scale is a key piece of the espresso maker's arsenal. By precisely weighing dose (the amount of coffee in the portafilter) and output (the weight of the liquid coming out of the machine) you can effectively dial in an espresso machine. It's worth making sure that you get a scale that is waterproof and compact so that it can sit under your shot glass as you pull the shot. This can be a tall, expensive order, but make sure you're at least able to weigh the coffee going in, even if you can't weigh the shot coming out.

    Odds and Ends

    There are a number of other odds and ends to consider in your espresso setup. Distributors are tools that help you level the coffee in the portafilter. This is important because uneven distribution can lead to your shots pulling unevenly as well. You want to make sure that water is evenly saturating the puck as you pull that shot, and distributors make that easier.

    Another tool that helps more with clean up than brewing is a knock box. A knock box is a container with a foam covered bar in the middle. You can use the box to "knock" the portafilter on the bar and clean out the puck. After knocking the puck out you'll just need to do a quick wipe down of the portafilter and cleanup is complete! Once the knock box fills up you can simply empty it into your garbage or compost bin.

    What's next?

    Check our part three, where we walk through dialing in a shot, from start to finish!

  • All About Espresso: Part 1

    Greetings coffee fans!

    This week kicks off a set of educational posts about a subject very near and dear to any barista's heart: Espresso! We'll be covering what makes espresso different, why some roasts are better for espresso than others, how to brew it, and a whole lot more in this series. So let's get started!

    The Basics

    So what is espresso? Espresso is a coffee brewing method that creates concentrated shots instead of a mug of drip or press brew. Espresso is brewed by quickly pushing water through fine ground coffee using specialized equipment like espresso machines and portafilters. This is in contrast to drip brewed coffee, where water simply follows gravity through a filter at its own pace. It differs from press brewed coffee because in that case coffee is extracted through slower immersion in the water.

    So why do people love espresso so much? For one, it's got concentrated caffeine that can be consumed quicker and easier than coffee, but that's just a perk. The biggest difference in espresso is flavor. Espresso tends to have dark, chocolatey, sweet notes that are stronger than drip brewed coffee. This also makes espresso the perfect pair for milk based coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. For a lot of coffee drinkers, espresso is the only way to go!

    The Roasts With the Most

    The first step in brewing espresso, like with any kind of coffee, is picking a roast. While you can brew any coffee as an espresso, the easiest to work with are darker blends. Medium-light blends and single origins can create delicious espresso as well, but because of the brew method, you're going to get a roast's darker, sweeter notes, so more delicate floral roasts may not work as well.

    To really get you started easily, many roasters offer blends specifically designed for espresso, such as Intelligentsia's Black Cat or Olympia's Sweetheart.

    What's Next?

    Once you've selected a roast, you'll need to grind and prepare your espresso for brewing, then the magic happens. We'll get into those topics next week, but we want to give you an idea of what you might need (aside from coffee) to get started with espresso.

    For one, you'll need a machine. There are a lot of factors that go into selecting an espresso machine, so be prepared for some homework. We'll talk more about different espresso machines in the future, so stay tuned!

    You'll also need a good grinder. It's important to get a grinder that is recommended for espresso, as it requires a much finer grind than drip or press brewing. Check out our feature on grinders here for loads of info on grinders.

    Finally, you'll need odds and ends like a tamper, knock box, tamping mat, and portafilter. Some of these items will come with your espresso machine, and some are optional. We'll get into what each piece of gear does as we dive deeper into the brewing process in the coming weeks.

    Hopefully you're as excited as we are about diving into more espresso! Check out part two and part three when you're ready!

  • On the Grind: All About Grinders—Part 3

    Welcome to the third part in our educational series on grinders! So far we've discussed burrs, motors, control settings, and more in part one and part two.

    This week we're closing out our Grinder focus with some talk about the odds and ends of various grinders.

     

    Hoppers of All Sizes!

     

    There's no doubt that the stuff we've covered already (burrs, motors, control, etc.) are what really matter when it comes to selecting a grinder. With that said, different options do offer a range of other add-ons that can sweeten the deal.

    Let's start with hoppers

    The Eureka Drogheria (pictured here) is an example of a commercial grinder with a huge hopper. Hopper size is mostly important for commercial settings like cafés, but if you are the kind of consumer that drinks one kind of coffee all the time, being able to dump whole bags of beans in can be a nice feature.

    It is worth mentioned that in many cases you can swap out or replace hoppers down the road. This isn't always the case though, so it's best to find out ahead of time if your grinder choice has the ability to change hoppers before you buy.

     

    If you plan to brew with lots of different roasts for different methods, hopper size may not be an issue for you at all!

     

    Dosers Galore!

     

    Some grinders grind directly into a portafilter or container for quick brewing. Often these grinders will have some sort of control method controlled by a scale or timer to stop grinding. The other option for controlling flow of coffee out of a grinder is doser.

     

    Grinders with dosers feature a chamber on the front that the grounds go into after grinding. From there, you can use a lever to feed grounds into a portafilter or container. It's a great way to control the dose of your coffee and cut down on mess and waste. This type of grounder is particularly useful for espresso, as you'll usually be dosing into a portafilter. You definitely would not need to worry about shopping for dosers if you intend to brew press or drip coffee!

     

    Pictureed here is the Mazzer Mini E Type A!

     

     

    Scales, Timers, and Screens, Oh My!

     

    There's a lot of other odds and ends out there on grinders. The Eureka KRE uses a vibrant, bright display to walk you through options like single or double shots, and uses a timer to grind individual shots. You can set the grind time for single and double shots, then trigger a shot with the click of a trigger!

     

    The Baratza Sette Wi (pictured) offers Acaia scale technology to grind by weight instead of time. This gives your very precise grinding with just a little bit of extra set up time. It also features a screen that provides feedback and details about your grind settings.

    Where to Begin?

    We've discussed all of the basics that you should know before you set out on your grinder shopping adventure. So what's next?

    First, you should determine exactly what kind of coffee you want to make. Are you planning on making drip or press? Pourover? Espresso? This decision will help you avoid wasting time and money on a grinder you'll just replace, and will give you a starting point.

    From there it's all about research. Using the info in this guide, look at things like burr type and size, motor speed, control type, hopper size, dosing control, etc. to really guarantee a great purchase. Now go forth and grind!

    P.S. For some starting points, the Baratza Encore is a great drip and press grinder to start out with and the Breville Dose Control Pro offers a good starting point for espresso!

     

     

     

     

     

  • Video Roundup - 7/13/2018

    Happy Friday!

    It's time for another video roundup!

    First, we joined Gail for a look at preinfusion and why it matters:

    Next, we got the low down on tamping from John:

    Finally, we joined Gail for a Crew Review of the Nuova Simonelli G60!

    Have a great weekend, and remember to make coffee you love!

  • On the Grind: All About Grinders—Part 2

    Last week we talked about the basics of burrs and grinders. You can find that post here!

    This week it's all about control and motors. Let's jump in!

    Control

    Grind control is another extremely important aspect of choosing a grinder. When we talk about "control" we mean opening and closing the burrs of the grinder to achieve a finer or coarser grind. Finer grounds are used for espresso and Turkish coffee. Coarser grinds are typically used for drip and press brew methods.

    There are two different control methods most commonly found on coffee grinders: stepped and stepless. Stepped grinders tend to "click" into place at set intervals. This is very useful if you need to switch between drip and press grind levels. On the other hand, stepless grinders don't feature this clicking between settings. Instead, they smoothly adjust from setting to setting. While this can make switching back and forth a pain, it helps for dialing in the perfect expresso grind immensely.

    But what does this mean for you? You should look for a control type that fits your needs. Stepless is great for espresso fans, while stepped grinders are better if you switch between drip and press methods a lot.

    Motors

    Also of great importance is the motor in your grinder! This can be a hard thing to gauge without trying a grinder for yourself, but it's a key part of the machine. The motor spins the burrs in the grinder, which, of course, grinds the beans. The biggest concern when considering motors is reliability. It's easy to replace burrs, and controls very rarely fail, but a bad motor can be costly to fix.

    Motor quality can be hard to judge, but generally you can feel it when the grinder kicks on. Motors will sound consistent and strong if they are of good quality. You should also notice some torque when it comes on as well.

    The other aspects of a motor are volume, speed, and consistency. Noise reduction can be achieved with baffling and other techniques, but speed and consistency are all in the motor! You'll want a motor that works fast, but stays consistent with it's grinding. This is fairly easy to achieve with home grinders, but often techniques like gear reduction will be used to manage speed and consistency on commercial machines.

     

    What's next?

    In part three we dive even deeper and discuss all of the odds and ends that put grinders over the top. Join us there, and remember to make coffee you love!

     

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