espresso

  • What Makes An Expensive Machine Better?

    It may seem odd that espresso machines have such a wide price range. Why is it that we recommend such expensive machines when $200 options exist? What makes a $2,000+ machine worth it? Loads of factors actually! Some may seem obvious, but others are not.

    Heating Elements

    Arguably the largest cost point of an espresso machine is its heating element. Espresso needs a tight temperature band right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Producing consistently hot water like this can be a challenge. You have probably noticed that as soon as you pour boiling water, it drops by a few degrees. Water for espresso needs to get from the water tank, through a heater, then to the portafilter at 200 degrees. Cheap machines tend to fail to do this without telling you. The result is lower quality espresso.

    Another factor is heatup time. Some machines are designed to quickly heat small quantities of water for each shot. Machines with larger boilers take longer to heat up initially but hold more hot water for multiple shots. In both of these cases, water is heated quickly and efficiently, which isn't always true with cheaper brewers.

    Pumps

    Consistent hot water is one of the keys of brewing perfect espresso. Consistent pressure is the other big element. 9 BAR of pressure must be applied to the puck with the water in the portafilter. This pressure is what creates proper extraction. To brew good espresso, the pump must be able to quickly put out 9 BAR and sustain it through the brew process. Cheap machines offset this requirement by using pressurized portafilters. These portafilters have additional material in them to provide resistance. While some great machines do brew with pressurized filters, they generally still have consistent pumps. Cheaper machines lack this.

    Case Material, Interface, Odds and Ends

    Another core element of machine pricing is materials. It may seem obvious, but a shiny stainless steel machine just costs a lot more to produce than one made of plastic. While plastic isn't always a bad thing, it can be a factor for many users. Having that solid, metal case can be a major selling point. More important than the case though, is the inside. hoses, gaskets, and fittings made from solid, long lasting materials matter. Cheaper machines might use plastic on the inside of machines at common failure points. More expensive machines avoid this by using stronger metal and rubber.

    Also important are things like controls. Does your machine have mechanical control elements like levers and dials? Or are you simple pushing a cheap feeling button for steam? This won't matter for some, but for others having that tactile control is important.

    Finally, little odds and ends like cool touch steamwands, specific grouphead styles like E61, and three way solenoid valves may SEEM minor, but they can matter. E61 groupheads, for example, help hot water stay hot during brewing. There are a lot of seemingly small bullet points that really matter in the long run.

    ...And Much Much More!

    Beyond everything here, there's so much more to talk about in the nitty gritty. Temperature controllers, plumbability, NSF certifications for commercial outlets, and even more! Trust us when we say, there's a lot that goes into upping your espresso game. It's worth it to do hard research on your new machine purpose to understand the cost. It'll help you end up with a generational machine for you to learn on instead of one you'll replace in a year or two.

  • Video Roundup: 10/11/2019

    Happy Friday!

    We have a cornucopia of new videos this week and we can't wait to share!

    Check out Gail's look at the fabulous Supergrindz superauto grinder cleaner:

    Next up, you may have heard the news that we have a new line of superautos on the block, here's an overview!

    Gail also provided a look at the SCG exclusive Carina here:

    John gave us a meaty crew review of the Rocket Espresso RE Doppia:

    And finally, it wouldn't be Friday without some Clementine!

    We hope you enjoy! We'll see you next week for a whole new set of videos!

  • Superauto Milk Steaming Systems

    There are a lot of different ways that superautos handle milk steaming. While the end result is your morning latte or cappuccino, how you get there has an effect on the final product. Here’s a rundown of some of the milk systems you might run into while browsing Seattle Coffee Gear!

    Panarello

    Panarello steam wands work a lot like the kinds of steam wands you find on semi-automatic espresso machines. The difference is that these wands are designed to direct steam in your milk in such a way that less finesse is required compared to a standard steam wand. While you do have to hold the milk up to the wand to do the steaming, these devices also let you decide how hot you’d like your milk. This is useful for superauto owners because one of the complaints some people have about these types of machines is milk not being hot enough. On the other hand, the whole point of superautos is to make the whole process automatic, so you'll have to decide for yourself if you value control more than convenience. Take a look at the Philips Carina for an example of a Panarello system.

    Siphon System

    Cappuccinotores and other siphoning systems pull milk through a tube into a steam chamber within the machine. From there the milk is delivered to your cup. These systems are easy to use and convenient, but they can require a bit of extra cleaning and don’t offer much control over the process of steaming the milk. Since milk is drawn into the machine, it's hard to get all the way in and clean the inner-workings of the steam system by hand. Luckily most siphon systems feature a cleaning cycle that makes it easy to run a cleaning agent through the system to clean out any gunk. Another thing to keep in mind is that siphons don't always handle alternative milks or cream easily. You should make sure your machine will be able to heat something other than milk if you use an alternative. The Miele line of superautos uses a siphon system.

    Carafes

    Carafes generally have you pouring milk into a container that you then plug in to your machine. Milk is pulled from the carafe into a steam chamber, then dispensed into your drink. This method helps to cut down on waste, you can simply store the carafe in the fridge with any excess milk. These systems do mean another item to clean, and often are more expensive than the other options on this list. Otherwise, carafe fed milk systems are a really great option that simplifies your steaming. The Saeco Incanto Carafe features a carafe.

    Hygiesteam

    Hygiesteam is a unique system developed by Saeco for use with Xelsis machines from 2018 onward. This system uses cleaning agents and a metal siphon that self cleans itself periodically to help alleviate cleaning issues. While the siphon can be placed in any container, a specially designed carafe supplied with the machine even combines some of the conveniences of other carafe based systems. Overall, the Xelsis' Hygiesteam system produces some of the best milk we've ever had out of a superauto, largely due to the control you get from the touch screen interface of the machine. Check out Hygiesteam on the Xelsis here.

    LatteGo

    The newest entry to the superauto milk steaming family is Philips' LatteGo. This device looks just like the carafe you might find on other machines, but actually offers something very new and different. Instead of pulling milk into the machine, milk is steamed within the carafe. A siphon at the bottom of the device pulls the milk up into a chamber that steam is injected into, but that chamber is part of the carafe instead of the machine. The milk is then poured through a large spout into your coffee. This is a great system that creates excellent texture and can be cleaned and stored very easily. It really combines some of the best elements of different milk steaming systems into one package. The LatteGo system is available only on the Philips 3200 LG for now.

    As you can see, there are a lot of options for superauto milk steaming!

     

     

     

  • Clearing Space: Where To Put It All?

    It's a constant struggle as a coffee fan, where do you put all of your supplies? How do you manage a machine, grinder, accessories, cups, the coffee itself... Sometimes it feels like too much! Here are some ideas for ways to keep down the clutter and manage your coffee making space, from grinders, to drip brewers, to espresso.

    General Tips

    The first thing we recommend is creating a dedicated space. This isn't possible for everyone, but whether it's a kitchen island, a space next to the sink, or the top of a shelf, it helps. Carving out a specific space for your coffee equipment helps cut down on mess and clutter. You also wont have to worry about finding your gear when it's time to get brewing. The biggest consideration in picking your space is access to power and water. This is especially important for an espresso brewer, where you'll need to provide both in steady supply.

    We also recommend dedicating some organizational space to your brewing space as well. This could be a drawer under the counter, a cabinet, or dedicated shelf space below your brewing area. Having a place to carefully and generally store your accessories next to, but without cluttering your brewing space is important.

    Finally, there's storing the coffee beans themselves. We recommend a solution like an Airscape or a Fellow Atmos. These canisters  vacuum seal your coffee, keeping it fresher for longer. It's also easier to scoop coffee from a canister than it is from a bag.

    Espresso

    For espresso setups, having a clear workflow from machine, to grinder, to tamp, to machine is key. You'll want a mat like a this one from Rocket Espresso, and to store your portafilter in your machine. Another tip is to keep a catch tray under your grinder. This way you'll be able to easily clean up any excess grounds and cut down on mess.

    Another big thing to keep in mind is your circuit. You'll want to make sure that running your grinder and espresso machine at once won't trip anything, otherwise you might be in for a longer wait for your morning coffee.

    Otherwise, keeping your grinder, portafilter, and machine close to each other and near needed power, water, and milk will be a huge help!

    Drip Brewing

    For drip brewing a lot of the same principals apply, but you'll also want to be able to carefully weigh out your grounds before brewing. If you're a fan of measuring volume instead of weight, you may want to keep a second storage container handy for excess ground coffee. Otherwise, you might miss your grind amounts and throw coffee out.

    Handy storage options for drip and pourover brewing include this filter holder, it's designed for V60 dripper filters, but can fit other filters as well.

    Keeping a grinder, whole and ground canisters, and filters close at hand should lead to an excellent cup of drip.

    There are other organization tips out there, but all of the above should get you started on curating a space for your brewing. This will help you to enjoy your morning cup with less prep and less cleanup, giving you more time to focus on the coffee!

  • Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato Timer Review

    Rocket Espresso makes some of the most impressive home espresso machines on the market. This is a manufacturer that has spent decades merging machine innovation with classic Italian design, and it shows. New this year are Rocket Espresso's models with timers. Both the Type V and Type R model received this timer update. We figured this would make now the perfect time to revisit these excellent machines!

    Appearance and Usability

    Both versions of the Mozzafiato feature Rocket Espresso's stunning case design. We often hear folks comparing these machines to other Italian espresso machines, but they are really a cut above. The solid stainless steel casing, industrial dials and gauges, and tactile controls and steam wand/water dispenser are a cut above the competition in the looks department. Other simple accents like the fact that you can hide the PID controller and the integrated cup rails are nice touches. Finally, the adjustable feet will help you slide these machines under your cabinets. All of this combined makes this a stunning machine that will turn heads and excited guests to try out a latte or americano.

    The visual difference between the Type V and the Type R is pretty minimal. The Type R's gauges feature a black background, while the Type V's are white. The biggest 2019 update to these machines is the integrated shot timer. While not brewing, this unassuming cutout really blends into the machine. While brewing, it's an easy to read (and handy) tool for making sure your shots are consistent.

    Using either of these machines is a real joy. The dials for the hot water and steam feel mechanical and satisfying, and respond well. The same can be said for the brew lever. Flipping it up and down gives you full control over the pump without buttons and touchscreens getting in the way. The aforementioned shot timer will allow you to get a perfect idea of how your shot pull is faring. This allows you to ensure that your espresso is pulling in 20-30 seconds, but can help you dial in longer shots for tricky single origins as well. This works especially well when paired with a scale like the Acaia Luna.

    Powerful steaming allows you to steam perfect latte milk to go with your carefully crafted shot as well. Lastly, the PID controller allows you to set and control the temperature of the boiler, and is controller with a handy connected remote. This can be hidden under or behind the machine to keep it from clashing with the look of the rest of the machine.

    Performance

    The inside of these machines is really where they go from great to fantastic. Both the Type V and Type R versions come equipped with a 1.8 liter heat-exchanger boiler. On a basic level, this means that you'll be able to brew espresso and steam milk at the same time on these machines. The Type R even comes with an insulated boiler, helping the machine to retain heat and use power more efficiently. Either way, with PID controlled temps, hot water,  steam, and espresso are all always just a twist or flip away. Both of these machines feature an E61 grouphead, which keeps the brew unit and the portafilter heated. This means that water doesn't lose as much heat when flowing through your coffee grounds. The result is better shots, pulled at the exact right temp. This is very important for recreating café quality espresso, just don't touch the brewhead!

    Pushing the water through the grouphead and your ground coffee is a powerful pump. On the Type V, this means a vibratory pump similar to the one found in the Apartamento. This powerful pump uses a three-way solenoid valve to manage pressure, and will perform for many years. The Type R features a rotary pump, which allows you to plumb the machine as well. This plumbing option is great if you're setting up a dedicated bar in your home and don't want to fiddle with a water tank.

    As already noted, the steam on these machines is excellent, allowing you to steam milk as well as they do at your favorite café. Ultimately, this means that with enough practice, you'll be brewing up cappuccinos and lattes to rival the best baristas in town.

    Conclusion

    The Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato line is, simply put, an excellent legacy machine. You can buy a brewer like this and not have to worry about upgraded or replacing for decades with the proper care. It's hard to imagine a better offer at its price point. Shop the Mozzafiato here.

     

  • DeLonghi Dinamica ECAM35020B Superautomatic Espresso Machine Review

    DeLonghi has been producing superautos for some time now, and while they offer some innovative machines, they haven't had a breakthrough like some of their competitors. Over time, these machines have become more and more refined, improving on performance and reliability, but the Dinamica ECAM35020B feels like a leap forward. Check out our full review to learn why!

    Appearance and Usability

    One thing to note at the top is that while the case is very plastic, it also maintains a pretty unified look. The sleek black plastic with chrome accents gives it a muted, but pleasant, appearance. It definitely stands up to other machines at its price point without necessarily wowing either. One huge plus on this machine is the footprint. This is a machine that should fit on most countertops, and under most cabinets. With a front loading water tank, you'll also be able to refill it frequently. This is important, because the tank is, admittedly, a bit on the small side.

    Otherwise, you're looking at some pretty standard case design. The brew unit is pretty easily accessible behind the water tank, and the drip tray is convenient and easy to clean. If we have one complaint it's that it's still a bit of a chore to slide the machine out to fill the bean hopper, but this is a less frequent need than filling the water tank, and there's not much you can do to avoid putting the hopper where it is.

    The face of the machine is simple, but functional and attractive enough. While the interface may take some getting used to, it is to the point and functional. Programming and user profiles are great value adds, but there is something to be said for the simplicity of pushing a single button and getting a consistent shot. That simplicity and consistency is the name of the game here. The panarello wand is also easy to use, and once you understand how to get it to switch between steam and water it is very functional. The rinse button on the face is a nice to have as well for cleaning out the brew unit on demand.

    Performance

    With functional, if simple, case and interface design, the most important thing is performance. Overall we can say pretty happily that the Dinamica does a great job in this area. With some dialing in, the shots this machine can produce are quite good, and quite hot. This is good news for anyone disappointed with temps from semi-autos in general. With hot water from the panarello and easy single and double shot buttons, brewing espresso and americanos is a breeze. If you're a drip fan, the Dinamica also offers an intriguing coffee function. Usually, the "coffee" button on a superauto just provides an extra long shot. While you're still getting espresso, you're getting it watered down enough to be less strong. The Dinamica handles its coffee setting a little differently.

    The coffee button cases the machine to grind less than it would for a shot, and then pulse water through the coffee instead of applying sustained pressure. The result is a cup of coffee that isn't quite a pourover and isn't quite a long espresso shot, and you really can taste the difference. While we don't think it tastes like what you'll get out of a drip brewer, it's a closer approximation than what most superautos can provide. This means that your drip loving family member can get something close to what a drip pod machine can do without needing a second machine.

    The panarello has the issues you'd expect from this type of wand. It doesn't produce loads of foam, and doesn't produce particularly fine microfoam. That means it's hard to pour latter art or make a cappuccino with this machine. That said, it makes fine foam for a normal latte and because it's manual you can control how hot you want the milk. This is a boon for latte drinkers, as many superautos spit out milk that you might find too cool.

    Lastly, the over ice button is a neat little tool. It alters the brew temp, and volume of both the grind and water to go best with brewing over ice. It's a great feature for fans of iced lattes and americanos.

    Conclusion

    In the end the Dinamica is a strong option at its price point. While it lacks some bells and whistles, it gets it right where it counts and provides some nice add ons you might not expect. One to take a good look at for your next superauto. You can shop the DeLonghi Dinamica on Seattle Coffee Gear here.

  • Cleaning Your Grinder For Standalones and Superautos

    Cleaning a standalone grinder is the sort of task that seems like it should be pretty simple, because it's a simple machine, right? Turns out, there's a load of good reasons as to why you should clean your grinder. While methods of doing it vary in complexity, it doesn't hurt to have a cheat sheet handy. So let's dive in!

    Why Clean Your Grinder?

    It may seem like there's not much to clean on a grinder, as they are, in theory, simple devices. The fact is, coffee oil builds up on grinders too, and can gum up the burrs and motors of yours. This can, most importantly, adversely affect taste. The flavor of your coffee comes through best when nothing gets between it and your brewing process. As such, oil buildup that comes out in your grounds can lead to a stale or altered flavor. Not the best for your carefully crafted pourover or espresso! On top of that, grinders can seize if enough oil builds up on them. This can lead to expensive repairs and a lack of coffee! So what's the answer?

    Cleaning a Standalone Grinder:

    Standalone grinders range in difficulty to clean. The easiest way to make sure they are running in top shape is to run some Grindz through the grinder on a regular basis. Exactly how regular is going to depend largely on use. If you use your grinder daily, cleaning with Grindz every couple of months is a good start.

    For deeper cleaning, many grinders are easily disassembled. From there you can get in and scrub the burrs and motor components as needed to get out any oil residue. This is the kind of cleaning you might want to do annually, depending on use. It should be noted that some grinders are very difficult to take apart, and doing so could void your warranty. Always check that warranty before disassembly, and use a guide to help you if possible.

    Cleaning a Superauto Grinder:

    For years the standing rule for superautos is to avoid oily beans because you simply can't clean them. While we'd still recommend sticking to drier beans, we can finally recommend a cleaning product for your superauto's grinder! Supergrindz is an exciting new cleaner from Urnex that finally allows you to clean out your superauto grinder! This cleaner does a great job and with monthly usage can help extend the life of your superauto. It's easy to use, simply drop remove any beans from the hopper, brew a couple of large cups of coffee, add the directed amount into the grinder and brew some more, then add coffee and grind until you are no longer getting yellow residue in the waste bin. The result is a squeaky clean, and happy, superauto grinder.

     

  • Rocket Espresso Appartamento Review - 2019

    Hello out there!

    It's been a while since we took the time to look at the Rocket Espresso Appartamento here on the blog. With Gail's excellent recent crew review over on YouTube, we figured there's no time like the present!

    Look and Feel

    The Appartamento is one of the most stylish machines on the market. The stainless steel casing, side cutouts, and E-61 brew head all make for a stunning looking machine. A hot water spout rounds out the machine's external design. Rocket Espresso Machines have a great history of embracing the visual design of Italian espresso machines while also leaving their distinct mark on the machines as well. In addition to the Rocket Espresso logo on the steam valve, for the Appartamento it's those case cutouts on the side. The insert panels come in copper and white from the factory, and we also offer black panels ourselves. these color options mean you can match the machine with your kitchen even if stainless isn't your main look.

    And oh how you'll be able to fit it in. The Appartamento's name comes from its size. This is a machine designed to fit in any kitchen, even tiny apartments. What's impressive about this is that it still offers the power and style of larger machines, and looks great in larger kitchens as well.

    As for feel, the mechanical nature of the Appartamento's controls mean that you'll always feel in control of the brewing and steaming processes. From satisfying tactile motions like flipping on the brew lever or turning on the steam, to the chunky power switch and solid build of the components, this is machine is a joy to use. The anti-burn steam wand also helps you to keep the steam wand free of milk, and it's double-wall design should protect from serious burns as well.

    But let's talk more about what's under the hood.

    Internals and Power

    The Appartamento features a heated E61 brew group head, 1.8 liter heat exchanger boiler, and a three way solenoid valve. But what do these things mean?

    For starters, the group head keeps the portafilter and brewing unit hot. This means you won't lose temperature as water is pushed through the group and into the portafilter. So long as the portafilter is kept hot by leaving it in the group, you won't lose temp as the coffee is brewed either. All of this means that you'll get exceptional shots every time you pull the brew lever. The heat exchanger boiler provides plenty of heat and water for brewing, and its design allows you to brew and steam simultaneously. This is a huge feature for home espresso machines, and cuts down on drink prep time. Finally, the three way solenoid valve safely controls water flow through the group head, keeping water hot and preventing messy spray when finishing the brew process.

    These components all combine to offer a really great package in a small form factor. We have always loved the Appartamento, and still do.

    Conclusion

    There really aren't many better options for your first semi-professional espresso machine. The value contained in the Appartamento is impressive. This is a powerful, smart, stylish, and long lasting machine that you'll likely use for many years. Give the Appartamento a look on Seattle Coffee Gear here.

  • What Puts the Pro In Izzo Pro Machines?

    Earlier this year we launched Izzo's fantastic line of semi-automatic espresso machines. In the time since then we've updated the terminology around these machines, and some of you took notice! Today we're going to dig in to the "why" behind the "Pro" names for these machines. This should also explain why you might see them differ in price from other Izzos you see in the wild!

    Stunning in Stainless

    The primary reason for calling these machines "pros" is what's on the inside! Every Izzo is built to last, with some incredible workmanship and features. What sets SCG Izzos apart though, is the boilers. Most semi-auto espresso machines feature boilers made of copper, brass, or some other material. While these aren't bad materials for a boiler, better is possible. In particular, stainless steel makes for extremely resilient, reliable, and long lasting machines. By combining the fantastic design and materials of the rest of Izzo's machines with stainless steel boilers, you really are getting a generational machine.

    This means that you can expect many, many years out of an Izzo Pro from Seattle Coffee Gear. By combining this longevity with the professional styling of the base Izzo models, this really is as close to professional equipment as you can get below professional pricing.

    So there you have it, we are excited to be able to offer Izzo Pro models exclusively at Seattle Coffee Gear. This means that when you're ready to buy what may be the last espresso machine you'll need to, we're your source!

    Check out our line up of Izzo Pro machines right here.

  • Pressurized Vs. Unpressurized - What's the Difference?

    A classic question for new espresso machine customers is what's the difference between an unpressurized and pressurized portafilter basket. The answer is actually pretty simple, but to understand the whole story we need to start with the basics. First of all, the portafilter is what holds the coffee when brewing espresso. It's what you grind, distribute, and tamp in. Water is then pushed through the "puck" of coffee contained in the portafilter to brew the espresso. With all of this in mind, we know that we need pressure to make this happen. That pressure is created when the pumped water meets the finely ground coffee. All of this is why espresso requires very fine coffee, so that there is the perfect amount of resistance as water is pressed through.

    The basket is the insert that holds the coffee in the portafilter. Removed from the portafilter, it looks like a metal cup with holes in the bottom. These holes are what ultimately lets the brewed coffee through into your cup. So where does the pressurized vs. unpressurized terminology come in?

    The basics

    Unpressurized baskets are what you find in higher end machines, and always how professional espresso is brewed. These are baskets that function entirely as mentioned above. In an unpressurized basket, nearly all of the resistance is created by the coffee, not by the basket. When everything is dialed in, this creates the best result, because you're making the coffee and the pump do all the work.

    Pressurized baskets are a little bit different. These baskets use one of a few different methods to artificially add resistance. In some cases, a small chamber with offset holes acts as that resistance. Others designs use a smaller set of holes centered in the middle of the basket to slow extraction. In any case, the result is artificial resistance that slows down the brewing process, giving more time for the coffee to extract.

    So why would you want one over the other?

    As noted above, unpressurized portafilters naturally provide the best extraction, creating the best espresso. With that said, this also takes a very fine grind that is carefully dialed in. This means that you have to spend time on getting everything just right, and have an espresso specific grinder. Unpressurized baskets create less perfect espresso, but are less finicky and can handle a coarser grind. It's up to you to determine where the sweet spot is for you!

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