shopping guide

  • 2020 Solis Holiday Gifting Guide

    Are you gifting a Solis Espresso machine this holiday? Maybe you know someone receiving one and want to help make their holiday the best it can be. We’ve got some tips for the best way to deliver that new machine to the coffee lover on your list!

    The Bundle

    First of all, for holiday 2020 you can get a Solis Perfetta bundled with the stellar Eureka Mignon Notte for a great deal. Just find the option to add a grinder on the Perfetta’s product page. The Mignon Notte offers an incredible, consistent grind that compares to grinders way above its price point. You’ll need this to be able to take advantage of the Perfetta’s unpressurized portafilter basket. By bundling these two options together, you can save big!

    With that in mind, there are more odds and ends that make the perfect add on to you or your giftee’s new espresso machine. 

    Scales and Storage

    One of the keys to properly brewing any coffee is getting the right ratios. You’ll want to ensure that you start your espresso brew with a ratio of 2:1 water to coffee. A great way to do this is by using a scale like the Acaia Lunar and the portafilter plate add-on. These tools are on the expensive side, but they provide a high degree of accuracy for weighing your grounds going in, and the shot coming out. 

    Coffee storage is important as well! By using a container like an Airscape you can extend the life of your coffee. These containers make a great gift!

    Upgraded Accoutrements

    The Solis Perfetta comes with a great tamper and milk pitcher, but that’s not all the budding home barista needs to use their new machine to the fullest! For starters, a tamping mat from Rocket Espresso really helps to avoid countertop nicks and contain any mess. 

    There’s also the option of an upgraded milk pitcher! We’re impressed with the pitcher that comes with the Perfetta, but there’s always room for an upgrade. Rocket Espresso’s stylish matte pitcher is a great candidate and makes pouring latte art a little easier with its spouted mouth. 

    Finally, a shot glass with volume markings is a great little tool for dialing in the perfect shot. We recommend this one from Rhino Coffee Gear.

    Mugs Galore

    The one thing missing after all of this is something to drink out of! Without a functional, stylish mug, it can be difficult to enjoy that tasty latte or cappuccino!

    For those looking for stylish, colorful additions to their cupboard, we really love mugs from notNeutral. The glass look offers refinement and keeps things unique with smoke or colors. If you’re into the modern look but not the notNeutral style, mugs from Fellow are the perfect fit. the Monty and the Joey always end up as consistent SCG favorites around the office. Finally, for those seeking traditional styling and high performance sipping, look no further than mugs by Acme Co. 

    That just about covers it, but what’s a great espresso setup without some fresh coffee? We’re excited to offer Seattle Coffee Gear Coffee Club Gift Subscriptions starting this holiday! Head over here to get a subscription set up, and your giftee will enjoy delicious fresh coffee hand picked by our experts!

    We hoped this has helped to make your giftee’s Solis holiday a little extra special!

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Odds and Ends

    Sometimes you might be shopping for the coffee lover who already has their setup. They may not need a new grinder, brewer, or machine. With that said, there’s always something extra you can find to really enhance your giftee’s coffee setup! That’s where we come in. Let’s take a look at some excellent odds and ends for you or someone on your gift list.

    Storage

    One thing many folks don’t think about is proper coffee storage. When properly stored, coffee can maintain its freshness for much longer than you might think. To do that, you need an airtight storage solution designed specifically for preserving our favorite beans. 

    One way to achieve this is with Airscape coffee containers. These storage containers feature an internal sealing disk that gives you an extra level of vacuumed storage in addition to the gasketed lid. Available in multiple sizes, materials, and colors, there’s absolutely an Airscape for the coffee lover on your list. Our biggest advice when shopping for an Airscape is to keep in mind that the sealing disk does use up some of the capacity of the container, so it’s better to go a little bigger on the size of the container to ensure it’ll be enough storage for your or your giftee’s coffee of choice!

    Tampers, Mats, and Leveling Tools

    For the espresso brewer at home there’s a little more that you need than just a machine and grinder. If you’re using a semi-automatic machine, a tamper is a must have. To keep your workspace clean and your countertop free of nicks, you’ll want to add a tamping mat as well. Finally, an OCD leveling tool can really help you ensure an even distribution of grounds in your portafilter.

    For tampers, there are a lot of options. Many home espresso enthusiasts view tampers as a way to add some flair to their setup. There are simple options out there like the one pictured above, but for a new user you can’t go wrong with an Espro Calibrated Tamper. These tampers “click” at the right amount of pressure, which will help you find the sweet spot for your tamp. 

    Tamping mats come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but you can’t go wrong with a simple tamping mat from Rocket Espresso. Durable and easy to use, this mat will keep your countertop nick and mess free and give you the perfect platform for tamping.

    Mugs

    No coffee setup is complete without mugs to drink from! So much of your mug choice comes down to the kind of coffee you like to brew. For drip brews/pour over we adore the Acme Union. This cup combines bold lines with usability and durability to create a pretty perfect coffee mug. If you’re looking for cups designed for milk drinks, the Fellow Monty comes in excellent latte and cappuccino sizes, and provides performance and elegance unique to Fellow’s prestigious name.

    Sometimes though, you just need a shot glass for that delicious naked espresso shot. For this, and other shot glass applications, we love notNeutral’s Vero demitasse cups.

    For the coffee drinker on the go, we highly recommend the Miir Travel Tumbler! Its spill proof, dishwasher safe design is perfect for your active lifestyle. 

    And there you have it! Some quick tips on ways to expand your coffee setup outside of the standard items. We hope you’ve enjoyed our holiday shopping guides, and we wish you all the best in your gifting (and getting)!

     

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Superautomatic Espresso Machines

    If you’re looking for a fast, simple way to brew delicious espresso, you can look no further than a superautomatic espresso machine. These machines combine a brew unit, grinder, and a milk steaming unit to craft incredible coffee drinks. Even better? With simple touch based interfaces you’ll be able to brew these drinks with just a few button presses. A unique thing about superautomatic espresso machines is how little you need to purchase with them to get brewing. That’s why today we’ll take a look at a few different machine options for differing budgets and tastes.

    Philips 1220 Carina

    The Philips 1220 Carina arguably represents the best value in home espresso machines. With great performance, easy maintenance, and ease of use, it’s hard to find a more convenient way to get a great morning coffee drink. First, let’s talk about performance. With a built in burr grinder, you just need a couple of button presses to go from whole bean coffee to delicious espresso. This convenience is great, and with AquaClean water filtration maintenance is as easy as following the guide lights on the touch panel.

    The one area of compromise you’ll make with the Carina is in milk steaming. This machine features a panarello steam wand that requires holding a pitcher up to it for steaming. With that in mind, it’s still quite easy to use, and does give you fine control over your steaming. This way you can get milk that is as hot as you like!

    Overall the Carina is an easy recommendation for your first superauto, or a replacement for an older machine. Looking for something on the higher end of the pricing spectrum?

    Saeco Xelsis

    The Saeco Xelsis represents a real luxury superauto. This is a machine that offers exceptional performance and quality drinks, as well as a fine degree of control. The Xelsis has all of the features you’d expect of a high end superauto: great espresso, easy cleaning and maintenance, and automatic milk steaming. What really sets it apart is its interface and its milk quality.

    The Xelsis features a touchscreen interface similar to what you might find on a smartphone. Using this interface you can control everything from temperature, to strength, to milk texture for your lattes and cappuccinos. This is the sort of control you don’t get from similar machines, usually only from semi-automatics where you’re manually setting those parameters. It means you can craft your perfect latte or espresso shot and return to it every morning. 

    Also of note is the Xelsis’ high quality milk steaming. With a simple siphon system the Xelsis can create some of the best milk texture we’ve seen in a superauto. We’ve actually had success pouring latte art with the milk out of this machine (though you’ll need a steady hand and plenty of practice!

    The big prohibitive difference between the Xelsis and the Carina is price. While we truly believe that both machines are worth their price, we know that’s a decision only you can make!

     

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Semi-Automatic Espresso

    Semi-automatic espresso machines can be daunting at first glance. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to crafting cafe style espresso drinks, and getting started with the right gear is key. That’s why we’ve got another one of our holiday shopping guides to help you give the gift of great espresso gear, or get some for yourself! Let’s get started!

    Grinders

    Grinding for espresso requires a highly precise, consistent grinder that will give you a fine enough grind to generate the pressure needed for this brew method. To understand this, it’s important to understand the difference between pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets. On a basic level, pressurized portafilter baskets have extra screens or chambering to create back pressure on water coming into the filter. This is to make up for a grind that’s too coarse or inconsistent to generate the needed pressure for proper espresso extraction.

    If you’re shopping for a grinder that will last you for semi-automatic espresso, you’ll want something that can grind fine enough for non-pressurized baskets. While you might want to start with pressurized baskets, having the ability to jump to those non-pressurized baskets will give you the ability to enjoy the trickiest single origins with your espresso setup.

    With all of this in mind, it’s hard not to recommend the Eureka Mignon Notte espresso grinder. This is a grinder that produces that fine grind that will work for both pressurized and non-pressurized baskets. It’s also got a precision, stepless grind adjustment that really lets you get that perfect consistency for various different roasts. These are features you’ll usually find on much more expensive grinders, so to get them in a grinder at the Notte’s price point is particularly impressive.

    With your grinder choice locked in, the next thing you’ll need to decide on is your machine!

    Machine

    Your choice of machine really depends on two things: Budget and how willing you are to practice. Thankfully, there’s an answer for both ends of either spectrum! 

    If you’re looking for a great entry point on the lower end of cost, the Solis Perfetta is the perfect machine for you. This espresso machine offers great performance, timed shot programming, and high quality steaming at a great price. It’s also all in a small footprint, so you should be able to fit this machine in just about any kitchen. Overall it makes for a perfect starting point for new users, and is also a great upgrade if you’ve been using a cheaper espresso machine to see if you like it. The Perfetta’s ability to grind with pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets ensures that you’ll be able to start with the “training-wheels” so to speak, and graduate to unpressurized baskets when you’re ready.

    If you really want to jump in with both feet, there’s always the Rocket Espresso Appartamento. The Appartamento is a little more challenging to learn on than the Perfetta, but it also offers a more “professional” feel and feature-set. This machine has a powerful heat exchanger boiler that will have you pulling shots and steaming at the same time. The steam wand and handle mirror commercial setups, and the tactile controls for controlling the brew head feel more hands on as well. There’s also the fact that the Appartamento is built to last, with stainless steel casing and high grade components, you really get what you pay for here. Finally, this is also one of the most affordable machines that features a heated group head on the market. Why is this important? By heating the portafilter you don’t lose any temperature during the brew process, which stands in contrast to other, lower cost machines.

    Both of these options work great depending on your budget and degree of confidence!

    Extras

    In addition to your grinder and scale, there are some extras you’ll want to consider as well. The first thing is a scale. It’s very important to ensure the proper brew ratios when you’re dialing in a new espresso. To do this, you’ll need a reliable scale. In a best case scenario you’ll be working with a water-resistant, espresso focused scale like an Acaia Lunar. Given that that might not be an expense you’re quit ready for, something like the Hario V60 Drip Scale can at least help you dose the correct amount of grounds. Just be careful not to get it wet!

    You’ll also want to have a knock box handy for cleanup. Knock boxes are used to eject used espresso pucks from your portafilter before dumping them into the garbage or compost. There are lots of knock boxes out there, we recommend something like the Rocket Espresso Knock Box to ensure longevity.

    Cleaning your machine is important too, and we love Urnex Cafiza for regular cleaning like backflushing. Just be sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for machine maintenance and cleaning to keep it in tip top shape!

    Lastly, you’ll want a shot pitcher with clear and readable measurements. This allows you to keep your shots at the right volume over the right amount of time. Once you’ve got an espresso dialed in, you can switch to brewing directly into your cup! We are big fans of the Rhino Coffee Gear Espresso Shot Pitcher for this purpose.

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Pour Over

    It’s time for another holiday shopping guide! Today we’re looking at the wide world of pour over. This is a brew method many new coffee enthusiasts get into to start understanding specialty coffee, and we think it truly is a great way to learn! While pour over isn’t prohibitively expensive, there are more parts to it than with drip or even espresso. With that in mind, let’s get started with the most important part of your pour over set…

    Grinders

    The most important thing about drinking specialty coffee is fresh grinding your beans. With that in mind, a blade grinder just isn’t going to cut it. You’ll want a burr grinder designed for grinding in the brew range, as opposed to super-fine for espresso. Luckily, there are multiple grinders in an affordable range to pick from!

    The first on the list is the Baratza Encore. This is a legendary grinder known for its reliability, performance, and ease of use. Any new specialty coffee enthusiast will get years of use out of an encore. This year, Seattle Coffee Gear is also excited to offer the Solis Scala! The Scala isn’t quite as proven as the Encore yet, but offers an excellent value and exceptional performance for drip, press, and pour over brewing, as well as a timed grinding option that the Encore lacks.

    If you’re looking for something a little more challenging to learn on, but that offers more precision, there’s the Eureka Mignon Crono. The Crono’s stepless grind adjust can be tough to master, but it offers the ability to get a very precise grind perfect for getting every note out of those tricky single origin roasts. The Crono does come in at a higher price than the Scala and the Encore, and may be well suited for an upgrade if you’ve already got a burr grinder that you’re looking to grow from. 

    With your grinder picked out, there’s a few more pieces of gear you’ll need to get brewing!

    Scales and Kettles

    Outside of fresh grinding your beans, the other key components to brewing great coffee are water temperature and proper grounds to water ratios. Consistent temperature in the 195-205 fahrenheit range is key to getting a great pour over (or any coffee brew). To achieve that, you’ll want a kettle that you can trust, and that offers variable temperatures. For this, we think the best combination of price, performance, and features for this holiday season is the Bonavita Interurban. The Interurban provides precision temperature control, multiple presets, and a stylish look with multiple finish options.

    In terms of scales, there’s a couple of great ways you can go. Your scale is very important because you need to both weigh your grounds going in, and weigh as you pour to ensure the proper ratio. To achieve this, we recommend either the Hario V60 Drip Scale or the Oxo Precision Scale and Timer. Both are reasonably priced, accurate, and feature timers to help you with your bloom and pours.

    For those looking to take their weighing the extra mile, the Acaia Pearl offers even more precise weight, an expanded set of brew modes, and connectivity with Acaia’s smartphone apps, which help you dial in your pour over recipe to the T.

    Drippers and Servers

    For your choice of dripper, it really comes down to preference, as all drippers do create an almost imperceptible difference in flavor. For starters, there’s the Hario V60, which is a classic, and very affordable. We’d recommend the V60 as you first start exploring pour over. If you’re looking to get a little bit more adventurous, the Kalita Wave and Espro Bloom both offer interesting takes on pour over drippers, and are worth giving a try.

    Many people just brew their pour over directly into their mug of choice, but if you’re looking to brew for two, or just brew extra for yourself, you can pick up a Hario V60 Server, which is a great option for brewing a “pot” of pour over.

    With grounds, water, weight, and dripping all worked out, all you need is to add filters for your dripper of choice, and you’re good to go!

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Drip Brewers

    Today we’re taking a look at shopping for the perfect drip brewing setup whether its for someone on your gift list or yourself! We’ll go over brewers, grinders, and all the extra odds and ends. Let’s get started!

    Brewers

    Your choice in drip brewer is guided primarily by how much choice you want when it comes to your coffee. For many coffee drinkers, simply pressing a button and getting a great cup is enough. Others want much more careful control over temperature, flow rate, and other parameters. Both are valid approaches, a high quality pot of coffee at the push of a button is a really great way to start the day. On the other hand, some people really enjoy the granular control of being able to experiment with parameters and settings.

    The good news is, you can get a brewer that offers both a simple, consistent option and puts control at your fingertips. We’re talking, of course, about the Breville Precision Brewer.

    The Precision Brewer offers a standard gold cup brewing setting that’s certified by the Specialty Coffee Association. This means that you can get that nice and simple pot of delicious coffee with just a few button presses. You can also control a whole host of parameters like flow rate, temperature, and pre-infusion time. The Precision Brewer also has pre-settings for single cup brewing, iced coffee, and pour over (with the Tribute Edition’s included pour over adapter).

    It all makes the Precision Brewer the very best you can buy and a brewer that will handle all of your coffee needs. 

    For the more budget conscious shopper, the Bonavita Connoisseur and Metropolitan are simple brewers that produce high quality results. With strong temperature stability and push button operation, these machines are solid choices for those just getting started in the world of coffee.

    Grinders

    Grinding for drip is a little less difficult than espresso, but you will need more than just a blade grinder! Using a burr grinder is important for getting just the right consistency and quality in your grind. The good news is there are a few really great starting points for new coffee enthusiasts!

    The thing you’re looking for in getting started with brew grinding is really that consistency. You want grounds that are uniform and at just the right level of coarseness. There are a few grinders we recommend to get the job done. First, there’s the relatively new kid on the block, the Solis Scala. This is a grinder that offers simple timed dosing options and stepped grind settings. You’ll get just the right grind every time, and you can use this grinder for a range of slow brewing applications. If you’re looking for an alternative, the Eureka Mignon Crono offers even more precise grinding than the Scala. With Eureka's high quality burrs, you'll get very high quality grounds with a stepless grind adjust for extremely precise grinding. This precision will help you dial in even the trickiest single origins for your new drip brewer, but it'll take a touch of practice!

    Odds and Ends

    There are a couple of odds and ends we highly recommend you add to your drip brewing setup. For starters, there’s drinkware. We really love the Acme Union as a classic stock standard cup to enjoy your drip from. It’s stylish, durable, and easy to drink from. It really has that classic coffee cup look, and it’ll serve your new drip setup well.

    The other important part of any coffee setup is storage. Storing your coffee beans in your grinder hopper can lead to staleness depending on how fast you use them. That’s why we recommend the use of a container like an Airscape to get the very best out of your fresh whole bean coffee. Available in multiple sizes, materials, and colors, we’re sure there’s an Airscape perfect for your coffee kit!

    And there you have it! Everything you need to get yourself or someone on your gift list started in the wonderful world of specialty drip coffee brewing!

  • 2020 Holiday Shopping Guide: Alternative Brewing

    Hello and welcome to the first of our 2020 Holiday Shopping Guides! These guides differ a bit from our “Top 3 2020” articles in that they’re complete shopping guides for you or someone on your gift list to get brewing this holiday! Today we’re focusing on alternative brewing methods.

    Brewer’s Choice

    The first choice here is what sort of alternative brewing are you looking to do? When we talk about this term, we mean all of those brew methods that don’t fall under drip, pour over, or espresso. This means options like coffee presses, Turkish coffee, and stovetop brewing. There’s a lot of room here, so we’ll break it down piece by piece.

    Let’s start with Turkish coffee. Turkish is a brew method that is extremely rich and intense, and relies on hyper fine grounds being dissolved into hot water. The most important part of brewing for Turkish is your choice in grinder, and in our opinion there’s no real option other than a Turkish hand grinder. Along with this, you’ll want a Turkish coffee pot, and you’re pretty much good to go!

    Then there’s press and stovetop. These are sort of the bread and butter here. If you know you’re interested in press brewing, you can’t go wrong with an AeroPress Go. This press is all in one, portable, and proven. It’s filter based brew chamber creates some of the best press coffee we’ve ever tasted. If you’re looking for a more traditional press, you can’t go wrong with Espro’s line of coffee presses.

    As far as stovetop brewing is concerned, there are a number of excellent Ilsa stovetop brewer’s. We’re fond of the lot of them, but the Neapolitan is a particularly favored option among stovetop enthusiasts. We love all of the above, but if you want the flexibility to brew many different ways with one purchase, we have to recommend the Varia Multi-Brewer.

    The Varia Multi-Brewer offers three distinct brew styles all from one device. At a basic level, you can brew pour over, press, and moka pot brew styles with the included attachments. On top of this, you can also brew tea and cold brew, or use the kettle as a stovetop hot water source. To make it even easier, the Varia’s brew screens are designed to use the same grind across all three styles. This means you simply dial your grinder in for pour over and then you can use that setting for press and stovetop brewing. It even comes with a brew guide, pour over filters, and a spare set of gaskets for the kettle.

    With the Varia or one of the other options listed above, you’ll have your brewer, but you’ll still need two very important things. Hot water, and ground coffee!

    Grounds and Water

    Arguably the most important part of any fresh brew is the coffee grounds you use. The nice thing about alternative brew methods like press and stovetop is that you can use the same grinder here, for pour over, and for drip! 

    Given this, we’ve got two recommendations for those looking to upgrade from that old blade grinder. The first is the classic Baratza Encore. This is a legendary grinder that is perfect for any slow brew coffee method (like the ones we’re talking about today). It’s a simple to use grinder with stepped settings and a basic on/off switch for operation. You can also pulse the grind with the button on the front of the grinder. The Encore produces a fantastic, consistent grind and will last years and years. It’s also easy to clean and maintain.

    We’ve also got a new kid on the block for 2020, the Solis Scala! The Scala hasn’t yet built up the reputation that the Encore has, but we’re excited about it just the same. The Scala also produces an excellent grind for slow brew methods, and even includes timed dosing. This means that you can dial in a time for your grind and simply push the button!

    The other key part of the perfect brew is your water! You have to have hot water to make coffee, and our recommendation with where to start here is very simple. The Bonavita Interurban is a great way to get water at the perfect temperature. This stylish kettle comes in four colors and includes programmable presets for different temp options. This feature is especially useful if you like tea!

    The last thing we want to touch on is scales. For stovetop you may just want to measure with a measuring spoon, but we think having a scale is the right call for press (and can be for stovetop as well). For slow brew methods, the Oxo Precision Scale and Timer is a great option that won’t break the bank. You can use it as a timer as well to measure brew time for your press.

    And that does it for our first shopping guide for 2020! Check back soon for guides on gifting or buying for other brew methods.

  • Choosing a Drip Brewer

    Are you ready to upgrade from your cheaper drip brewer into something a little more powerful? Maybe you had coffee out of a Precision Brewer or a Technivorm and are ready to upgrade your drip game? At first, choosing a drip brewer can seem daunting. Why doesn't a Technivorm have a screen? Do I have to program a Bonavita? Why are they so expensive? All of these are questions you might ask when first considering a new drip brewer, and we've got you covered!

    Why Bother?

    The first question that's important to answer is "why even pay more than $50 for a drip brewer?" And it's one of the easier ones to answer. To do so, lets break down what a drip brewer does. At its core, a drip coffee brewer heats water and then showers a basket of ground coffee with that water. From there, water drips into a carafe or mug. So what's the big idea with high quality brewers?

    The biggest thing is consistency. Ideal brewing conditions for coffee involve water heated to right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (this can change with certain coffees, but is a good baseline). That means you need a brewer that can heat water to this temperature as it passes through a heating element and into the ground coffee. Ideally, this temperature will be maintained until the moment it hits the grounds. This creates the absolute best extraction.

    Cheaper brewers have a hard time heating water to precise temperatures, and an even harder time maintaining those temperatures through the brewing process. This is the absolute number one reason to switch off of a cheaper brewer. Cheap brewers can also fail to saturate all of the grounds with their spray heads, resulting in coffee that isn't properly extracted.

    So How Do I Choose?

    Given the above, the first criteria to look for is consistent water dispersal and heating. Options like a Motif or Bonavita brewer over this sort of performance without any bells and whistles. They make great brewers for someone who wants a very simple option with a very "standard" look.

    For something with a more unique appearance, check out Technivorm. These brewers also offer incredibly consistent performance, and with the right care, can last decades.

    These machines also often perform a "pre-infusion." This means that a small amount of water is used to wet the grounds and bloom the coffee. This helps release aroma and acids that can cause bitterness without this blooming period.

    If all you are looking for is a consistent cup of drip coffee, the above will help. Getting a brewer that is up for that temperature consistency and even water spray will go a long way in producing your perfect cup in the morning.

    With that said though, there's always the extra mile.

    Bells, Whistles, Screens, and Settings

    For those that want to tweak the brewing process, you'll want more than a simple one button brewer. Trying different flavor profiles by modifying brew temperature is possible with more technical machines. You might also be able to do things like brew specifically for iced coffee or control pre-infusion time. With this much control over the brewing process, you'll be able to experiment and find the perfect recipe for each roast you take home.

    While it's not the only brewer out there with advanced features like this, the Breville Precision Brewer is a great example of this type of drip brewer. It's also easy to use, and offers a quick, one touch brewing cycle that resembles the machines discussed above.

    With all of that down, all that's left to decide on is carafe! Most brewers come with the option of a glass carafe with a warming plate, or a thermal carafe that keeps the coffee warm without the plate. This is all down to personal preference. Leaving coffee on a warming plate can scorch it if left too long, but some coffee drinkers can taste a difference with a stainless carafe. Let your taste buds be the judge and try coffee from each if you can!

    We hope this helps you on your quest to find the perfect drip brewer for your kitchen!

  • The Reluctant Barista: How to Choose an Espresso Machine

    As luck would have it, six years ago this holiday season I was gifted with an entry-level semi-automatic Breville espresso machine. This meant I did not have to select my own home espresso machine or, as Kat likes to call the process, Choose Your Own Adventure. My little dude is still chugging along with its tiny thermoblock and I am both excited and dreading the day I need to pick out the replacement.

    Are you in the same boat? The number of manufacturers, models and variations on variations of home espresso machines can be overwhelming. Pour a cup of coffee, sit back and let’s ponder a few questions to set you on the right path for a successful adventure in espresso. This is an exercise in narrowing down available options until you are left with a manageable few to consider. Set aside budget (for the moment) and let’s think about who will use the espresso machine:

    Do you have an interest in hand-crafting espresso?

    Yes, I want to learn to make drinks myself No, I just want to drink espresso beverages
    A semi-automatic espresso machine allows you to decide the dosage and the shot time which you can adjust to enhance the extraction of different styles of coffee. You have the time, counter space and additional equipment (grinder, tools, etc) to do-it-yourself. A superautomatic espresso machine makes life easier. There is less customization possible but shot consistency makes up for it. You will save time, space and possibly budget by having an all-in-one home espresso machine.

    Alrighty then! How you approach espresso lands you squarely into one of these two distinct camps: Semi-automatic or superautomatic. Intuitively, this was the easiest espresso question to answer. If only there was a Harry Potter-style Sorting Hat to then announce the right machine for you! Instead, I will separate these two categories by their functionality and you can sort yourself.

    Semi-Automatic Espresso Machines

    So you want to hand-craft your espresso beverages, eh? Now it's time to consider what style of semi-automatic might best fit your needs.

    Do you drink milk-based espressos (like lattes, cappuccinos etc)?

    Yes, Two words...Latte Art No, I like espresso and Americanos
    Single boiler home espresso machines can froth milk. A heat exchanger or a dual boiler will get the job done better and faster, but they can cost more due to more complicated internal systems. Even though you won’t need the steam wand to froth milk, you may use it to add hot water to an Americano so make sure it is easily accessible for how you will use the machine. Some machines even have a hot water spigot separate from the steam wand.

    Will you invest in a quality burr grinder?

    Yes, a good espresso grinder is just as important as the espresso machine Maybe, I'm not sure No, I might use espresso pods, pre-ground espresso and/or a pressurized portafilter
    The grinder may cost almost as much as the espresso machine you select. A well designed and well built grinder will offer consistent and uniform particle size necessary for a great shot of espresso. If you are on the fence about it, consider a semi-auto espresso machine with a built-in grinder for the best of both worlds. This will limit your selection to models that can be adapted for espresso pods or compatible with a pressurized portafilter. You will still get to make your own drinks and these options will make it easier for beginners or those pressed for time.

    Recommended Semi-Automatic Machines

    Based on your answers to the above questions, here are a few different suggestions for you to start your machine research.

    Nuova Simonelli Oscar home espresso machine
    Bryan uses the red Nuova Simonelli Oscar heat exchanger espresso machine that I want

    Semi-Automatic, with a latte focus and a good grinder

    This is where I am now. I have a Baratza grinder and I am ready to find a semi-auto with excellent shots and very good frothing capability. Heat exchanger models and dual boilers both make excellent foam fast.

    Breville Barista BES870XL
    Breville Barista Express BES870XL

    Semi-Automatic with a latte & shot focus, without a separate grinder

    Not too many home espresso machines fit the bill but this Breville does! It has a thermoblock and an integrated burr grinder that saves space and economy of motion. It is a programmable semi-auto so it almost acts like a superautomatic machine and is very easy to use once it is set up.

    infuserA thermoblock style, Breville Infuser BES840XL

    Semi-Automatic with a latte focus and no grinder

    This is where it all started for me -- an older Breville model that was a bit smaller than this. It was an easy step into the world of espresso before committing to a costly set-up. Some come with pod adapters, pressurized and non-pressurized portafilter baskets for versatility.

    Crossland CC1 + Baratza Preciso
    The Crossland CC1 with a Baratza Preciso grinder is a great combo

    Semi-automatic with an espresso focus and a good grinder

    If your primary focus is quality espresso and you pay attention to tamp, temperature, timing and dosage then find a machine that allows you to control all of these variables. (This PID-controlled machine froths well too.)

    Saeco Via Venezia
    A small single boiler, Saeco Via Venezia with optional non-pressurized portafilter upgrade (right) and bottomless portafilter upgrade (left)

    Semi-Automatic with an espresso focus and no grinder

    Plop a pod in the basket and you’ve got what you need to make a ristretto or a lungo how you like it, when you want it. Quick and easy! Just in case you need a touch of frothy milk once in awhile there is a panarello too. A choice in portafilters helps you build espresso skills.

    Superautomatic Espresso Machines

    So ease of use is paramount for you, but you still want to drink great espresso-based drinks? A superauto may be the machine style for you. To determine which of the many versions available will be the best fit, here are a few more questions for you to consider.

    Do you drink milk-based espressos (like lattes, cappuccinos etc)?

    Yes, Creamy lattes are what life is all about No, I like espresso and Americanos
    Not every superautomatic is great at frothing milk. Many users find that entry-level superautos don’t get the milk froth hot enough. A superauto that also has a steam wand is a nice touch so you can choose whether to use the machine’s auto-frother or its steam wand. Stand alone milk frothers are also a solution. Some superautos do not come with milk frothing capability. If you like espresso and Americanos (and maybe even an occasional Affogato!) this is not a problem. For guests who do like lattes a standalone milk frother is a quick and easy option for frothing milk or making hot chocolate.

    Do you need a bypass doser for pre-ground coffee?

    Yes, having the option for pre-ground coffee allows me to make a decaf sometimes No, I like fresh whole bean ground coffee for my espresso shots
    Some superautos come with a bypass doser. This is a little chute directly to the brew unit so that you can use a different coffee than the beans that are already in the hopper. And that’s ok! if you don’t need the bypass doser that will save you some bucks on technology that you won’t use.

    Recommended Superautomatic Machines

    After considering the above questions, you should be armed to select which of the below machines speaks to you!

    Saeco Xsmall superautomatic espresso machine
    Bunny froths milk on a Saeco Xsmall superautomatic espresso machine, or as we like to call it, the Little Dude.

    Superautomatic with a latte focus

    Your favorite drink features creamy frothy milk, some Monin gourmet syrup and, oh yeah, espresso. If time and counter space are at a premium then a compact superauto can be a great option.

    Saeco Exprelia EVO superautomatic espresso machine
    Chris in the middle of "making" a one-touch cappuccino on the Saeco Exprelia EVO

    Superautomatic with a latte focus and a bypass doser

    For you, or for your guests, it’s great to have the option to make a decaf latte once in awhile. The pannarello wand assists by boosting more air into your steam. Or some models have one touch drink-making capability as a fancy feature.

    Saeco Minuto superauto
    Either/or Teri shows the Saeco Minuto superauto can serve regular coffee or strong espresso at the flip of a lever

    Superautomatic with an espresso focus

    Grab and go! Like in a true Italian espresso bar where you stand, converse a bit, have a few sips from your demitasse and continue on your way...Some superautos make quick and easy espresso or Americanos. The new Saeco Minuto will drop the pressure to make a single cup of true American-style filter coffee.

    Saeco SyntiaPractically hands-free operation...here's an action shot of the Saeco Syntia (after I made sure the shot glass was placed correctly!)

    Superautomatic with an espresso focus and a bypass doser

    Bypass doser capability is not always built into superautomatic espresso machines so make sure to verify its availability. The Saeco Syntia has a bypass doser and a pannarello wand making it a very versatile superauto.

    Now you have thoughtful criteria to evaluate and select the best home espresso machine to meet your caffeinated (or decaf!) needs. The next step is to research our Learn section with informative articles and YouTube videos, ask questions and read reviews. Will there be a new home espresso machine on your counter in the New Year? There might be on mine!

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