Machines

  • ICYMI: New Gear!

    It’s 2021 and in the rush of the holidays we launched some new gear! We wanted to stop and make sure you’ve got the low-down on all of this new equipment, so let’s take a look!

    Solis Scala

    Solis isn’t an all new brand, but we relaunched the Scala and Barista gear late last year. The Barista Perfetta got a lot of attention, but equally exciting is the Scala grinder! This grinder can be a touch confusing because it’s really designed for slow brewing, not espresso. As such, we recommend it as a perfect pair for a new pour over set up or drip brewer.

    In the slow brew space, the Scala makes a few concessions on case material and looks to provide an incredibly solid grind for a very affordable price point. At first glance you might dismiss it, but we really think it’s the sweet spot for price and performance in its price range. With a great grind, good range from coarse to fine drip, and a timer, this is a grinder that definitely punches above its weight.

    Breville Dynamic Duo

    This one’s not so much a new product as a new way to get started or upgrade. Breville offers some great all-in-ones in the Barista Express and Barista Pro, but the issue here is that you can’t independently upgrade your grinder and machine. That’s fine for a user brand-new to espresso, but when you are ready to move up to a new setup, the Dynamic Duo is now waiting for you.

    This bundle includes a Dual Boiler espresso machine and Smart Grinder Pro. The Smart Grinder Pro is a great grinder for its price point, offering a grind fine enough for espresso, easy to use features, and simple maintenance. On the machine front, the Dual Boiler is one of Breville’s finest offerings. Filling the void between entry-level machines and higher end prosumer models, the Dual Boiler is likely the perfect machine for a huge number of users out there. Now you can get this great bundle at an equally great price!

    Rancilio Silvia Pro

    The Silvia has been a longstanding stalwart of the ~$1,000 price range for espresso machines for a long time. This is because this machine can be a great one to learn on, and with some practice, creates nearly cafe quality shots. There have been calls for Rancilio to offer a more prosumer version of the Silvia for a while, and those calls have finally been answered!

    The Silvia Pro ups the ante by including a second boiler for simultaneous brewing and steaming. It also includes built-in PID control with a shot timer, which corrects one of the trickier parts of the base Silvia (temperature stability). Finally, auto-on programming is a real highlight and fan favorite! The Silvia Pro is an example of a true upgrade in pretty much every way that doesn’t lose the parts of the base Silvia that have made it such a beloved machine.

    Fellow Ode

    The Fellow Ode is a huge shift in the brew grinding paradigm. Fellow always brings some pretty radical, intense design sensibility to their products, and the Ode is no different. This is a grinder designed exclusively for single dosing slow brew grinds. What this means is that it doesn’t have a traditional hopper, instead, you only pour in the amount of beans you’re using for your brew. Incredible features like a magnetized catch bin, a knock arm, big, chunky grind setting wheel, and auto-stop grinding give this grinder a premium feel backed up by strong innovations in grinder tech. 

    While the Ode is one the pricier side for brew grinders, it really is one of the best ways to grind for your pour over or other slow brewed coffee method.

     

    And there you have it! Check out these fine new products and get your year started right with some fresh coffee!

     

  • Differentiating Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

    Let’s be honest, Semi-automatic espresso machines can get pretty similar in the looks department. While coffee nerds like us spot the subtle differences in design on some of the higher end machines, it can be hard to know what sets machines apart from one another. Let’s look at the differences that can arise on the inside and the outside!

    Internals

    As you might guess, one of the most important points of comparison on these boxy coffee machines is what’s on the inside. That metric is pretty wide-reaching! The biggest thing most people consider on the inside of a machine is the boiler. While not something you’ll see the difference in when looking at the machine, boiler design is one of the most important things for an espresso machine. First there’s design, from heat exchangers to multi-boilers, there are many kinds of boilers. We won’t get into every specific about these designs, but there are lots of resources to help you determine the cost to value ratio in the boiler department.

    Next up is boiler material. Copper, stainless steel, lined aluminum, there are many materials that manufacturers use for boilers. Since this is a direct example of material cost, the differences in pricing make a lot of sense fairly intuitively. One thing to keep in mind is that any reputable espresso machine manufacturer is going to use food safe components in their boiler designs. You’re not going to find boilers that seep harmful material into drinks on Seattle Coffee Gear!

    Other internal components are things like pumps and thermostats, control boards, tubing and water lines, and case frame. These elements range from simple material considerations to more technical items like PID Controllers vs. traditional thermostats. Generally, when something has a unique or notable component, it’ll be called out in the item’s description. In this way, you can rely on guidance from the retailer to understand what makes the machine tick.

    Externals

    External elements are very important to machine differentiation and the easiest piece of the puzzle to notice with the naked eye. The most obvious part of this is visual design. Is the machine appealing to look at? Because with the size of many espresso machines you’ll have to leave it out on your counter. 

    Also of importance is control design and feel. Many high end Italian machines have very similar knobs and levers for controlling the machine. With that said, how those controls actually feel to use are a different story. We’ve handle many fancy looking machines that have levers and knobs made of cheap plastic. On the flip side, there are some gorgeous machines out there with wood knobs and lever touch points that are a dream to use. None of that matters though if the controls don’t have good movement. A brew lever that’s too stiff or a knob that feels cheap to turn are not fun to deal with. It’s important to note that many machines do have a break in period before their controls feel their best. For this reason it’s best to get a demo on a machine that’s seen some use if you can!

    Finally, there’s case material. This is a pretty simple element, but whether the case is plastic, steel, or some other material really matters for longevity and machine quality.

    So there you have it! There are many points of comparison on espresso machines even if many look like big coffee boxes. The key takeaway here is that you really should look at the inside of the machine as much as at its casing to understand what sets two machines apart.

  • 2020 Rocket Espresso Home Machine Lineup

    Rocket Espresso’s home machine lineup is an excellent way to bring cafe quality drinks to your kitchen. Hand built in Milan, Italy, these machines bring authenticity and sophistication alongside their powerful performance. With the addition of the stunning R58 Cinquantotto, Rocket Espresso’s lineup of machines just got an upgrade. We thought we’d provide an updated look at this fantastic collection of espresso machines!

    Rocket Espresso Appartamento

    Rocket Espresso’s Appartamento is a fantastic entry into the prosumer espresso machine space. We often get questions about performance in machines under $1,000. Users sometimes purchase a machine like this and assume they will get the same kind of performance from them as you might from a commercial machine. The Appartamento is an option that gets you closer to that kind of performance without the cost of a professional machine.

     

    Featuring standard Rocket Espresso features like a heated E-61 group head, beautiful and solid case design and construction, a fast heat exchanger boiler, and commercial-like steam want, the Appartamento is a powerful option. On top of this, this machine’s cut out side panels and colored inserts give it a unique, striking look. The compact design of this machine compared to other Italian espresso machines makes it suitable for more counter tops as well. For an added dose of style, check out the Appartamento Nera.

    Rocket Espresso Mozzafiato & Giotto

    Rocket Espresso’s Mozzafiato and Giotto machines offer an upgrade in performance and capabilities over the Appartamento while maintaining the same design ethos and Italian espresso aesthetics.These machines feature similar design elements on the inside, and represent an upgrade due to the addition of PID controlled temperatures. The result is more stable temps under heavy load than the Appartamento offers.

     

    Both of these machines are available with a rotary or vibratory pump. Rotary pumps allow these machines to be plumbed in directly to water lines for the busiest users. The main differences between the Giotto and the Mozzafiato are the side panels, with the Giotto featuring sharp, slanted panels that provide a little extra visual flair. THe Mozzafiato features an integrated cup rail that is part of its flat side panels.

    Rocket Espresso Porta Via

    The Porta Via is Rocket Espresso’s travel machine. While this may sound counter intuitive, it’s actually a clever offering that folds into itself to create a simple to transport case. With a little bit of setup, this is the perfect machine to bring on your weekend road trip or to a cabin getaway.

     

    While it definitely doesn’t fit everyone’s needs, the Porta Via fills a unique niche that will make it the perfect option for some on the go espresso drinkers!

    Rocket Espresso R58 Cinquantotto

    The Cinquantotto is a new update to the classic R58. This machine features all of the design standards of a Rocket Espresso machine with some overhauled elements that take home espresso brewing to the next level. The Cinquantotto’s dual boilers make for an outstanding brewing platform that is nearly impossible to outrun for a home user. This means you’ll always have the perfect temps for steaming and brewing. The Cinquantotto also features a touchscreen controlled PID that allows precise temperature control, auto-on time programming, and more with a vibrant, easy to read interface. 

     

    The Cinquantotto is also plumbable and features the stylish, polished case design of other rocket espresso machines. If you’re looking for some of the highest performance on the home machine market, the R58 Cinquantotto is a compelling offer.

    Rocket Espresso R9 One Group

    The R9 One Group is a complex, hobbyist machine. This is one built for the most dedicated home brewer and features nearly unparalleled control over the brewing process. By using the machine’s brew handle you can recreate the pressure application of a wide range of machines. This lets you mimic brew pressure to recreate the kind of drink you’d get from almost any machine on the market. While the brew paddle reacts slightly slower to adjustments than with something like the La Marzocco GS/3, with the R9 One you can actually store those pressure profiles. By doing this, you can recall past pressure recipes to try your favorites over and over again.

    For a visual look at these machines, join Allie for her overview of Rocket Espresso's machine lineup:

  • Coffee or Espresso?

    For some people, choosing between drip coffee and espresso is the hardest part of the coffee journey. While the equipment to make drip coffee is usually less expensive, do you lose something with it? What is it about espresso that makes me willing to spend so much to brew it? Which method is quicker for a morning cup of coffee? There are a lot of factors to consider here!

    Cost

    The first thing to think about is cost. To get the best cup of coffee possible you’ll need to be willing to spend some money, but you don’t have to break the bank. One misconception is that espresso costs prohibitively more than drip coffee. While it’s true that high end drip brewers stop around the spot that solid, true espresso machines and grinder packages start, it’s still a matter of perspective. Furthermore, there are superautomatic espresso machines like the Philips Carina that cost similarly to a decent grinder and drip machine combo. 

    With that said, getting started with something like pour over is especially affordable, so it never hurts to pick up a less expensive, entry level grinder and a dripper while you decide.

    Technique

    The technique needed for the perfect pot of drip isn’t quite as intense as what you need for a great espresso. Brewing espresso can be challenging at first, because it relies so much on having the right grind. Technical elements like shot timing, milk steaming, and tamping can be hard to understand at first. Especially when compared to the simple measuring and push button operation of many drip brewers.

    However, brewing espresso really can feel like a skill. You’ll be proud of the first latte you serve a friend with just the right texture, incredible flavor, and a nice piece of latte art on top. It’s hard to say the same for drip brewing, but not everyone wants to make their morning coffee a hobby. Once you do develop that skill, brewing up a shot of espresso and steaming some milk could go even faster than preparing a pot of drip!

    Taste

    This is really the big one. Espresso and drip coffee just taste totally different! Drip coffee offers balance and tends to emphasize nutty notes, as well as notes of cocoa or dark chocolate. If you go with pour over instead, you’ll get a wider, sweeter range of flavors. Espresso, on the other hand, is quite intense. The dark, syrupy consistency of this pressurized brew method adds to a very rich, sweeter profile. While you may have had sour or bitter tasting espresso in the past, this is actually an indication of a bad grind. Well-made espresso should be smooth and rich, if a bit intense. 

    You can certainly add milk or cream to a drip coffee to alter the flavor, but espresso is a whole other world! With syrups and steaming you can tune your morning cup to be the perfect one for you. For some, this may mean a simple latte or cappuccino, for others it might mean some fruity syrup with just a touch of warm milk! Further, with an espresso machine you’ve got all the tools to whip up an Americano, which is the middle ground between coffee and espresso. In a home with different coffee tastes on a budget, this might mean a new espresso machine is the best way to please everyone.

    While there are many more factors involved in choosing the right machine for you, we hope this narrows down why you might want one that brews in a specific way!

     

  • Coffee Culture at Home!

    This may seem like a silly post, as we talk about brewing coffee from home all the time! But something that we don’t often talk about is what living with the equipment we provide can be like. It’s easy to recommend equipment we love, but we wanted to share a little bit of what brewing from home really looks like once you’ve got your equipment home!

    Pour Over

    Brewing pour over is rewarding, but also a bit intense! You’ll need room for a scale, kettle, and grinder. To streamline pour over brewing we think keeping your water source close to your kettle is key! When it comes to grinding, there’s a couple of different ways you can manage your beans. If you keep multiple kinds of coffee stocked, you’ll be weighing your grounds each time you brew and then pouring them into the bean hopper. This can be time consuming but ensures the least amount of waste! If you have one coffee that you like you can fill your grinder with it and then do your best to grind just what you need each time. Every grinder is different, so some might make this easier with timed or weighted dosing. 

     

    On top of all of this, you’ll need to warm your cup with hot water, set your dripper, and wet your filter. The whole process can take anywhere from five to ten minutes, but the end result is worth it! It also doesn’t require expensive equipment. Many of these concepts also apply to drip and press brewing, but in these cases you can walk away as the coffee brews, instead of needing to tend to it like a pour over, though the flavor profile will also change!

    Semi-Automatic Espresso

    Brewing with a semi-auto is a bit more complicated up front but can ultimately be a bit easier once you’ve got it down. You’ll need to dial in your grinder, which can be a bit tricky depending on your coffee of choice. You’ll want to arrange your machine and grinder together so you can move your portafilter back and forth easily, as well as have easy water access for your machine. 

     

    The actual brewing process is quick when you’re used to it, and with a machine like the Rocket Appartamento you can steam milk and brew at once. You’ll want a couple of towels on hand to clean out your portafilter after you knock the puck, and to wipe down your steam wand (after you purge it of course!). Aside from that, regular backflushing and descaling are key bits of maintenance!

    Superautomatic Espresso

    Superauto machines like the Philips Carina change a lot of this dynamic! All you have to do for prep is making sure you have a ready source of beans and water. The biggest hassle with a superauto is needing to refill the water tank, aside from that, it’s super easy to brew with these machines (Pun intended)! You’ll have some regular cleanup like wiping down and watching drip tray elements and the brew group that are very important, but otherwise maintenance just extends to replacing water filters and regular descaling. All in all these machines are quite easy to live with and maintain. 

    The only real downside to superautos is that they don’t give you quite the same degree of control that a semi-auto machine does. Many users will want the fine tuning you can achieve with a semi-auto, but if you just want good coffee without the extra work, these machines are the perfect option. 

     

    We hope this is a helpful window into what it’s like to have these machines on your countertop!

     

  • All About Portafilters

    We've talked plenty about the differences between baskets in the past. This means you probably already know that a pressurized basket helps mitigate grind quality in espresso brewing. One thing that can be far more noticeable on first glance though is portafilter type! It's not always clear what a "standard" portafilter is, what about sizing? Materials? Spouts?

    It's confusing!

    But we're here to help. Read on for some portafilter basics that'll put you in the know.

    Spouts

    Spouts are one of the most notable features of a portafilter. The spouts on a portafilter are designed to direct the flow of coffee into your container. Single spout portafilters are generally used when brewing for one, whereas with a double spout you can brew into two glasses at once. But that's not all that having a double spouted filter can help with. One of the keys to ensuring even extraction with espresso is producing an even tamp. Keeping the grounds level in your portafilter is important, as then water flows through the puck evenly as well. A double spouted portafilter can help you identify an even tamp. If you brew into two shot glasses from a double spouted filter and they contain equal amounts, voila! You know you've achieved an even tamp. For even more accuracy, enter the bottomless portafilter.

    You've probably seen gorgeous shots of perfectly colored espresso pulling directly from the portafiler's screen. This is possible with the use of a bottomless portafilter. These filters remove the spouts, and metal bottom entirely. Instead, without a basket inserted these portafilters look like a ring. Using a bottomless portafilter can help you see exactly where your tamp may be uneven. If the espresso meets in the middle into a single stream, you know you have that perfect tamp. Plus, it looks pretty!

    Material

    Material is a factor in portafilter design, but may not be as imperative as you think. The biggest and most important thing imparted by material is durability. A good portafilter should last you years, so whether its all stainless or chrome-plated brass, a durable metal is important. Some lower end machines may come with plastic lined filters that could chip and wear over time. Stainless, on the other hand, won't nick or scratch easily. Chrome-plated brass tends to fall somewhere in the middle, offering longevity and strength but at a greater risk of scuffing than stainless. Material can also impact ergonomics, as heavier metals might cause more strain if you're constantly operating the machine.

    There's also the importance of heat conduction. If the bottom of your filter is less warm than the top, it means the water passing through it could lose temp as it passes through the grounds. This is a granular detail, but hobbyists will want to control for every variable. For E61 groupheads, which actively heat the portafilter, this means that a stainless steel filter will stay hot as long as the machine is on. With that in mind, for machines that rely on water flow to heat the portafilter, chrome-plated brass is a more heat conducive material.

    Size and Ergonomics

    There isn't a huge difference between portafilter sizes. It's true that 58mm filters tend to have slightly more even pressure distribution through the puck. This is because a thinner, taller filter will see a greater pressure difference from the top of the puck to the bottom. However, this is such a granular detail that it has little bearing on actual brewing. Instead, size has more to do with ergonomics and part availability. It's much easier to find 58mm portafilters of different materials and styles that are interchangeable than with 54mms. Since 58mm filters are generally "industry standard" in commercial coffee, you can usually find them after-market. This means you'll be able to find options with different spouts, materials, and handles.

    You'll also be able to utilize a wider range of accessories and grinders easily with a 58mm filter. Most espresso grinders with portafilter hooks are generally designed with 58mm in mind, and will offer a better fit.

    All of this, of course, its a moot point without a stand out machine. While it's fun to drill into the specifics of portafilter design, the most important parts of your coffee set up will always be machine and grinder!

  • Choosing a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine - Part 2

    Last week we took a look at some key factors in choosing a semi-auto espresso machine. This week we wanted to touch on some odds and ends of the espresso machine purchasing process!

    What Else Is There?

    In addition to the core elements we discussed last week, espresso machines can do a little something extra too. Gauges, control mechanisms, types of steam wands, and PID Controllers are all bells and whistles that can add substance or just cost. So what are some nifty extras to keep an eye out for?

    One especially common talking point for higher end machines is PID controllers. We have an entire article devoted to how these devices work, so I won't detail everything. That said, to put it simply, PID controllers regulate temperatures. Instead of a thermostat that waits for water to dips below a certain temperature to activate the heating element, a machine with a PID controller is always monitoring water temps. This makes for much more consistent temperatures, and better espresso when brewing.

    What about pressure gauges? This is a question we get a lot. For example, when moving from the Barista Express to the Barista Pro, they dropped the mechanical steam gauge. This bothered some folks, and it's understandable why on the surface. In reality, a pressure gauge is largely only useful for diagnosing problems in the machine. While it can be fun and reassuring to watch the needle on a gauge jump, they aren't really needed for successful operation. This is a nice to have that won't add loads of cost, but don't discount a machine just because it doesn't have one of these.

    Steam and Control

    Control interfaces, on the other hand, can be make or break elements. While we are confident in the interfaces of the machines that we sell at SCG, not all machines are created equal. Oddly placed levers, bad buttons, or worse, can really hamper your enjoyment of using a machine. Personal preference is really going to play a role in determining what your favorite type of interface is, but know that it's reasonable to consider this carefully when shopping.

    Finally, steam wands and water spouts may be a big deal for you too. Some machines, like the Breville Bambino, feature auto steam wands. These can simplify your steaming process and allow you to focus on dialing in your shots. That said, most will prefer finer control. What's nice is that in most cases you can use manual or auto steaming, so you're not locked in. It's a feature you might want to look for if you're brand new to milk steaming in general. It's also important to consider how much a hot water valve matters to you. If you're a regular Americano drinker, you may want to make sure that your machine of choice has this feature, and not all machines do.

    The last thing on the list is, of course, aesthetic. You'll want to love the way your machine looks, because it will likely be a long time before you buy another one!

  • Technivorm: Now featuring colors!

    Technivorm is a storied drip brewing brand that offers tank-like durability and proven performance. Coffee from a Technivorm is strong, unique, and bold. We thought we'd take a look at the features of different Technivorm models, while also ogling those sweet new colors!

    Bold Design, Classic Performance

    The KBG741 is our staff pick among the Technivorm lineup. This brewer features a simple design and is very easy to operate. All you need is coffee and water! The biggest selling point here is the consistent temperature offered by this brewer. In 5 minutes this machine brews HOT coffee. This consistent temp is extremely important for proper extraction too. The copper boiler inside the 741 brews at 200 degrees Fahrenheit consistently, with the carafe keeping the coffee at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. There is also a thermal carafe version with the KBT741 model number for those that prefer stainless steel carafes.

    Each machine in the Technivorm line shares a similar aesthetic. Based on the original industrial design of the original 60s Technivorm, you'll either love or hate its look. Either way, it's impossible to argue that the new colors don't spruce up an already bold appearance. While the thermal carafe version doesn't feature the color range, these bright coats of paint are real eye pleasers!

    The Rest of the Class

    The 741 is the flagship machine in Technivorm's line, and is the only model featuring the full range of colors. Other machines by Technivorm offer different carafe styles, higher volume, and different looks, but all function largely the same. The biggest thing that people tend to dislike about this line is the lack of programmability. These machines don't offer any ability to change temps, water volume, pre-infusion, etc. Technivorms brew how they brew. Luckily, they brew very well.

    Check out the Technivorm KBG741 on Seattle Coffee Gear today!

     

  • Saeco Holiday Giveaway!

     

    Win big!

    We're thrilled to be giving away 3 phenomenal Saeco espresso machines this holiday season! Head on over to https://www.seattlecoffeegear.com/subscribe for entry details. Good luck!

  • Holiday Buying Guide: Semi-Automatics

    It’s November, which means Turkey day is rapidly approaching. Let’s be honest, what that really means, whether you’re dreading it or excited, is that holiday shopping season is upon us. Are you looking to spoil someone on your list this year with a new semi-auto espresso machine? Maybe you’re just buying for yourself? We’re here to help! Here’s a guide for what to look for this holiday season if you’re shopping for a semi-auto espresso machine.

    Build Quality

    The first thing you should look for in any machine is build and component quality. Along with this, you’ll want to determine what sort of power you’re looking for, and if the prospective machine delivers. For example, the Rancilio Silvia and Crossland CC1 offer an extremely strong build quality and the power to brew unpressurized espresso. These are features that will matter if you’re looking for a long term machine.

    On the flip-side, less expensive machines my only brew with pressurized baskets. This is due to a weaker pump, which is common in cheap machines. That doesn’t mean the less expensive machine is the wrong gift, it’s just important to know the capabilities going in. The stronger components in machines like the Silvia and CC1 mentioned do come with a cost attached. There’s a reason machines like this retail for under $1,000 while delivering such robust, quality espresso...

     

    Cost Vs. Features

    One of the core things to think about when purchasing an espresso machine is feature set vs. cost. It can be tempting to chase a great seeming deal, but it’s important to understand what you’re getting. Some key features to look for are control methods, programmability, and ergonomics. The machines referenced above offer solid espresso for a great cost, but lack the programmability of some other machines in the segment. By contrast, other machines might offer less powerful and consistent brewing, but provide programming features or more intuitive controls. This is why it’s important to know where the person you’re shopping for’s skill level is.

    For beginner home baristas, it may make sense to look at less expensive options with simpler controls. This will result in a need to upgrade sooner, but it’s better than ending up with a machine that is more than what the user is ready for. Generally we recommend going a little over what you think the user might be ready for. This way you get someone a machine that they can grow into, but won’t overwhelm them. In fact, it’s why we've mention machines like the Silvia and CC1 so much. These machines aren’t the $2,000-$3,000 “generational” machines like a Rocket or an Izzo, but they provide a fantastic starting point. Their limited frills means that the user will need to learn the fundamentals of espresso to use them. It also means they’ll be well equipped to upgrade to a more expensive machine down the line. Even if they don’t machines like these will last for years and years.

    Don’t forget the grinder

    One of the other most important things to look out for when gifting an espresso machine is the grinder! Not every grinder can handle grinding fine enough for espresso. This is especially true of unpressurized espresso. Make sure that the person you’re buying for has a capable grinder already, or that they’re receiving one this holiday! We’ll have more on that and other holiday shopping tips soon!

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