Educational

  • Video Roundup: 3/27/20

    Hello out there!

    It's another week and another video roundup from us. As you might expect, we'll be making some creative changes to some of our video formats in the coming weeks. We hope you enjoy this week's videos, and look forward to some fun stuff coming soon!

     

    First up, John showed us how to pour a latte art favorite: the swan!

    Next, we got a crew comparison between two classic espresso machines from Allie!

    That's all for now! We know it's a light week, but we'll have so much more to share in the weeks ahead. Happy Friday everyone!

  • 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!

     

  • Brewing at Home for Maximum Efficiency

    Hello out there!

    2020 is certainly a weird and wild year, and we know it has many folks working from home. Our deepest condolences and most sincere thoughts go out to all of those affected by the outbreak. With all of that in mind, building an efficient coffee setup at home is key. We decided to break down some of our favorite brew methods and how long they take to go from whole beans to delicious coffee.

    Pour Over

    Pour over is definitely the slowest brew method we’re looking at today. From measuring, grinding, heating water, wetting filters, blooming, and pouring, a lot of work goes into the perfect pour over. While we think it’s totally worth it to get some of the tastiest coffee around, it’s not the most efficient way to brew. Pour over takes around 5-8 minutes to prepare for most home brewers, but can take as much as 10 minutes to get right if you’re not used to the process. It’s the perfect way to start your morning if you can find some time to spare though!

    Drip Brewing

    Drip brewing (and similarly, using a press) is one of the most hands off methods possible. While it can still take 3-5 minutes to set up your drip brewer, you can step away and get back to your other tasks while you wait for the coffee to brew. This may make it the ultimate option for your morning cup of coffee, as you’ll also get more than one cup out of a pot. Also the best choice if you’re brewing for someone else as well!

    Semi-Automatic Espresso

    Semi-Auto brewing is a mixed bag in terms of effort. An experienced home barista can pull a tasty shot in just a few minutes. The time from grinding to pulling to even steaming milk is quick, but takes practice to master. We recommend practicing and dialing in your grinder when you have more time on your hands. By properly dialing in and familiarizing yourself with your equipment, you can whip up a delicious mid-morning or afternoon pick-me-up from your semi-auto machine in 5 minutes or less.

    Superautomatic Espresso

    Superautos are the pinnacle of convenience for espresso machines. Given how fast an easy it is to brew with a superauto, it’ll barely impact your routine. Pulling shots just takes a button press with a Carina or Xelsis. What’s more, depending on what kind of milk system your machine has you may even be able to automatically froth milk for lattes and cappuccinos. By combining all of these features, you’ll be able to get the same kinds of drinks you normally grab on your afternoon break in just minutes from your kitchen. The only downside is that superautos don’t produce drip coffee, but most *do* offer a lungo option, which is a long espresso shot that gets closer to the flavor of a drip brew.

    So there you have it! Four fantastic brewing methods that will fit your schedule throughout the day. Stay safe out there and enjoy your coffee!

     

  • 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: 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.

  • Cleaning Milk Systems

    If you're anything like us, ensuring that your milk steaming wand or siphon is clean is super important. Buildup and gunk in milk systems is one of the nastier things that can happen to an espresso machine. But never fear! It's easy and affordable to keep your steam system in tip-top shape. Let's take a look at how to maintain the milk system on a couple different types of espresso machines!

    Semi-automatics

    Semi-automatic machines typically have a simple wand system for steaming. This is the type of machine where you hold a pitcher of milk up to the wand to heat it. Using a product like Urnex's Rinza is the easiest way to clean your steam wand, and can be used for panarello style wands as well.

    All you have to do to use Rinza is soak the wand itself for 20-30 minutes. If your machine allows it you can leave the wand attached, but make sure you're able to submerge the wand in the mix of Rinza and water.

    After soaking, rinse the wand and run steam through it to clear out any of the solution.

    Superautos

    Superautos are simpler to clean, but it can seem complicated because of their software systems. The best way you can maintain them is by using the specific cleaning agents that the manufacturer recommends. However, in a pinch, Rinza can work in superautos as well.

    Usually cleaning a superautomatic milk system is as simple as diluting the cleaning agent and using the prompts in your machine's menu to run a milk system cleaning cycle. For some machines, a specific button combination is needed to activate the cleaning process. As always, consult your machine's manual for the full rundown.

    In any case, we do recommend running a few rinse cycles before actually using the machine to fully rinse out any cleaning solution.

    So there you have it! Keeping your wand or milk system clean is a key thing for getting the most our of your machine. You should clean your steam system every month or two depending on use, and ALWAYS make sure to purge your steam want and rinse your siphon or carafe after every use!

  • 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!

  • An Introduction to Seattle Coffee Gear's Getting Started Guides

    Hello coffee fans!

    Over the years, we've offered lots of insight, reviews, and advice for getting started with coffee. Through our Coffee 101 posts we've provided information on the basics of brewing, from espresso to pour over. We've helped to teach you how to start brewing all kinds of ways, but usually those guides don't help too much with purchasing. We've done guides designed to help you figure out what to look for in espresso machines, for example. Now we'd like to do some purchasing guides to show you what machines have those qualities now!

    We'll be breaking these guides down by brew method, and they'll include examples of why machines work well for new users. We'll talk about setting budgets as well to help alleviate the sticker shock of new machines. Finally, these guides will work to help you understand why items cost what they do, so you'll come away with an understanding of what you should be paying for.

    Finally, we'll also be refreshing these guides every year or so to help provide insight into new products. This way you won't find the perfect machine that has been discontinued or is in between models. So stay tuned! We'll be bringing you our 2020 Getting Started Guides over the next couple of months!

  • Keep Your Coffee Hot This Winter

    Winter is well and truly here, and we thought it'd be a good time to talk about heat. Hot, clean water is possible the most important part of the brewing process after getting good, fresh ground coffee. It's no wonder then that heat is often the sticking point for a lot of coffee drinkers! We often hear about how coffee out of superautos isn't hot enough, or how warming plates won't stay on long enough. We figured now would be a great time to talk about some ways to keep your coffee hot, and help set expectations.

    Drip Brewing

    One of the biggest questions with brewing drip coffee is whether glass or stainless carafes are better for heat. The truth is, they just work differently. Stainless steel carafes insulate your coffee to keep it warm vs. being heated by a plate underneath for a glass carafe. Either way, your coffee won't stay hot for more than an hour or two. You can help this by running hot water into the carafe to heat it prior to brewing. This will heat the carafe so that the coffee doesn't bleed as much temperature into it during brewing. Either way, you should expect to need to brew more coffee after an hour or two. If you find it hard to drink a whole pot in that time, just consider brewing less coffee!

    If you're trying to serve coffee for a group at an office or event, consider a batch brewer. Nothing keeps drip coffee hot for hours and hours like an airpot!

    Pour Over

    For pour over, there's a trick that will really help you with heat retention, and that's leaving your dripper and filter over your server. By only removing these for pouring the coffee, your server will retain more heat. This means you can brew a couple of cups worth and it'll stay warm. Other tips include pre-heating the server by pouring hot water into it, pre-heating your cup the same way, and transferring the coffee to an insulated thermos right after brewing.

    Espresso

    A big one for espresso is keeping your portafilter hot. Special brew groups like E-61s will do this automatically. In any case though, you should keep your portafilter in the machine at all times to aid with this heat. If you have a machine that doesn't heat the portafilter, run a shot's worth of water through it before pulling your espresso. This will heat the portafilter and help with even extraction and heat during brewing. Keeping your cup warm helps here too.

    For superautos, heat is just an issue that comes with the territory. These are machines with lots of moving parts packed into tight spaces. Unfortunately, their need to flash heat water quickly to maintain convenience means they just don't always produce drinks as hot as you'd like. Our best recommendation for superautos is to try steaming your milk prior to brewing, as this heats the water more and generally increases the temperature to the machine. We also recommend consuming your drink shortly after brewing to enjoy it at its hottest! If you still find that your superauto isn't as hot as you'd like, it might be time to consider switching it up to a semi-auto.

    That's all for now, we hope you enjoy some (hot) coffee you love this Winter!

  • The Importance of Timing and Weighing Your Shots

    Pulling the perfect shot of espresso is a learning experience. It's not easy to go from beginner to proficient at such a delicate process. We've talked in the past more generally about ways to improve your espresso game. Today we wanted to take a look at timing and weighing shots, two key components of brewing great espresso!

    Shot Weight

    Shot weight is important because, as with drip coffee, ratio is key. You need the right amount of water to pass through just the right amount of ground coffee. This ensures that the chemical process of coffee and water molecules bonding takes place. For drip coffee, using a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water is pretty standard. Due to espresso's more concentrated, syrupy nature and the pressure from brewing, 1:2 coffee to water is a good starting point. Using a scale to weigh your shot as it pulls is key here! While you can also use a shot pitcher that measures volume, a scale gives you more freedom. With it, you can brew to exact ratios and try different amounts of coffee and water.

    The important thing here is making sure your scale can accommodate you portafilter for weighing grounds AND be small enough to fit under the brewhead. Examples like the Acaia Lunar are small enough to fit under brew spouts and can be combined with plates to fit portafilters.

    Shot Timing

    In order to manage the perfect extraction, the amount of time a shot takes to pull is very important. Most of the time you'll be aiming for your shot to pull in 20-30 seconds. For more adventurous recipes you might use different timings. If your shot pulls very fast it could mean that you need a finer grind or a tighter tamp. Too long and you may need the opposite. In either case, without timing your shots you'll never know for sure.

    Poorly extracted shots can taste sour or bitter, just generally bad. If the timing is good and you use the right volume of coffee and water, you know that it's a problem with the bean! Many scales offer shot timers, but to truly measure down to the millisecond, try to find a brewer with one built in. Timers on machines will usually start automatically when the shot begins to pull. This ensures everything is synced up exactly. Check out this year's the Rocket Giotto for a great machine with built in timer.

    We hope this article drives home the important of adding a timer and scale to your espresso setup!

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