Superauto

  • Brewing at Home for Maximum Efficiency

    Hello out there!

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

    Pour Over

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

    Drip Brewing

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

    Semi-Automatic Espresso

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

    Superautomatic Espresso

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

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

     

  • Cleaning Milk Systems

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

    Semi-automatics

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

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

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

    Superautos

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

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

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

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

  • Super or Semi?

    Superautomatic and semi-automatic machines have similar names but ultimately work quite differently. If you're a regular reader you already know the difference between them. For the uninitiated, a superauto handles everything from grinding the beans to steaming your milk. All you have to do is press a few buttons and maybe hold a pitcher, otherwise the machines does it all. On the flip-side, semi-automatics are a little more hands on. While they don't requires you to manually pump water in (we'd call a machine like that a manual machine) they do require you to grind and tamp the beans yourself. They also require you to steam milk yourself for lattes or cappuccinos.

    So which one's for you? If you're new to espresso, you may jump to assume that a superauto is the right option. While that's absolutely the right call for any users, there's reasons to take a closer look.

    Superautos

    The superauto customer is someone who simply wants good coffee quick. Maybe you like a range of drinks, maybe you're laser focused on getting the best latte or americano. In either case, if your concern is convenience, superautos are the way to go. These are machines that don't require finesse to operate and can brew coffee just a few minutes after being plugged in. There are considerations, of course, you won't want to use especially oily beans, for example. Superautos also can struggle to produce very hot drinks due to the nature of their design.

    In any case though, if you are more concerned with quick coffee than learning the ins and outs of espresso, these machines are for you.

    Semi-automatics

    Semi-automatics definitely require more work than a superauto. While there are grinder/machine combos, you'll probably need to buy a separate grinder at some point if you get into semi-autos. These machines also have a real learning curve. Dialing in a tricky single origin to taste good on your semi-auto can be very challenging. It can also be tough to learn to steam milk at first, as there is technique involved. The thing you do get out of semi-autos though, is control.

    Controlling the brewing process with a semi-auto gives you a lot of options. You can really pull specific notes out of lighter roasts, or get extra hot milk. You can make your cappuccinos as dry as you'd like, or, with machines that have PID controllers, control brew temperature. All of this definitely results in a more hobbyist angle. With all of that said, after some practice, making drinks on a semi-automatic machine gets much quicker. Before you know it you'll be brewing with speed and confidence.

    Of course, none of that matters is if you're mostly looking for a quick caffeine fix, or a simpler drink. It's also important to note that superautomatic technology has come a long way. While it's still hard to replicate the work of an experienced barista on expensive machines, they're getting close. You can get incredible good coffee from a superauto, it all comes down to your desire to tweak and control the process!

  • Philips Saeco Carina Superautomatic Espresso Machine Review

    If you follow us here, we're guessing you're familiar with Philips Saeco's prowess in the superauto market. From past machines like the Vienna, through the modern Incanto Line, to the best in class Xelsis, this is a proven manufacturer. New on the scene is a full line of Philips machines, and with it, a new Seattle Coffee Gear exclusive. We wouldn't sell you this machine if we didn't believe in it, so it's high time to put it to the test!

    Appearance and Usability

    The new Philips line uses case stylings similar to the Xelsis. This gives all of these machines a sleek, stylish look that fits into any kitchen easily. Carina's faceplate a simple glossy black, keeping the buttons readable. Front access water is a huge plus, thought beans are still top-loading, with a grind setting dial in the hopper. The drip tray is simple and functional, though it can be a touch finicky to slide in and out at first as you get used to it. Simplicity is the name of the game for Carina's interface. On the front you'll find buttons for espresso, coffee, hot water, and steam. At first this can seem like a limited set of options, but combined with controls for strength and water volume, and the panarello steam wand, there's a lot you can do here. With a few button presses you'll be pulling shots, pouring americanos, and whipping up lattes. As with most superautos, the coffee button pulls a long shot rather than true drip. This means you won't quite get drip coffee, but something somewhere between an espresso and an americano.

    Also present are simple rinse and AquaClean. The latter is one of our favorite parts about the Carina - it uses Saecos current AquaClean filtration. This means you'll get guided alerts on when to change the filters. This filtration system makes cleaning and maintaining your machine incredibly easy.

    Another note here is the panarello steam wand. Sometimes these devices get a bad rap in the superauto world because they're less "auto" than cappuccinotores and carafes. This is true, but panarellos also give you full control over degree of foam, and temperature. Sure, it takes a little bit of extra effort, but you save yourself from being stuck with milk that isn't hot or foamy enough for you.

    Performance

    This machine uses the same brewing hardware as the higher end machines in the new Philips line. This means you'll be getting the same quality of espresso machines double the price, and it's far better than pod-based machines at this price point. You also get to bring your own beans. It's true - the Carina isn't quite at the level of the Xelsis, but for a fraction of the price, it's impressive. Impressive enough to recommend even to someone replacing an Incanto or Pico. Dialing in grind, strength, and volume will let you get the coffee tasting just how you like it too. Carina also heats quickly, going from off to ready to brew in under a minute. Steaming requires a bit of additional heat up time, and we recommend starting with your milk and then pulling your shot.

    The AquaClean filtration performs as well as you'd expect, and as noted above, the panarello works great. It's not quite as convenient as a carafe or cappuccinotore, and it's slower than a more expensive semi-automatic, but it still heats up and works quickly.

    Conclusion

    The biggest strength that the Carina has is its price point. This is definitely not a "cheap" machine, as it has features, performance, and style well beyond its price point. That price point is, however, an extremely attractive piece of the puzzle. The Carina is one of the lowest price superautos on the market, and that's with few compromises. We absolutely recommend this machine for any new superauto customer. It's even a great replacement if your Incanto is getting a little long in the tooth! Check out the Carina exclusively at SCG here.

  • Choosing a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine - Part 1

    Choosing a semi-automatic espresso machine can be hard. With prices ranging from $100 to many thousands of dollars it can be difficult to know what matters. Read on for some helpful tips and info on picking out a new espresso machine!

     

    Price

    You may be tempted by machines that offer espresso and milk steaming for around the hundred dollar mark. While it's understandable to want to save on a machine, price is actually a good indicator of quality in the espresso machine market. A very inexpensive machine can be a great way decide if you like the taste of espresso, but it isn't likely to last or produce quality beverages.

    We find the sweet spot for first time buyers to be in the $500-$1000 range. There are numerous machines in this price range that offer quality and consistency alongside reliability. Above $1,000 you're mostly paying for more advanced features that give you finer control over your brewing. You may also be looking at more generational machines with components that can last decades.

    While a well researched first time user could certainly get their money's worth out of a high end machine, that $500-$100 range is a good thing to shoot for. Especially because you will need a grinder capable of espresso grinding to go with your machine!

    Pump

    Espresso is brewed by pumping water through a puck of finely ground coffee at 9 BAR. This is achieved with powerful pumps that are generally either vibratory or rotary. Lower end machines often don't have pumps capable of pushing water through at 9 BAR of pressure, so they use pressurized portafilter baskets to make up the difference. These portafilter baskets create additional pressure, but they don't always offer the purest flavor from the grounds.

    If you're just starting our with espresso you may want to practice with pressurized filters, as they are more forgiving of a grind or tamp that's not quite right. However, most espresso drinkers like to quickly move to unpressurized espresso brewing. For that reason, we recommend ensuring your espresso machine will be able to brew with an unpressurized filter.

    On the higher end, pump type comes down to reliability and how long it'll last. An expensive Izzo or Rocket Espresso machine will have a high quality pump that should work for decades. On top of this, they are usually designed so that its easy to work on and replace the pump, whereas less expensive machines might not offer this.

    Latte dripping from a coffee machine

    Boiler Type

    Perhaps the most important part of a semi-auto espresso machine is the boiler and heating element. All other things being equal, this is the thing you'll notice the biggest difference in in terms of usability. The obvious thing to consider here is boiler material. A sturdy stainless steel boiler in the Izzo espresso machines offered on SCG will last decades without a hint of leaking. However, this isn't necessarily a must have element of your first espresso machine. One thing you should consider carefully is how the heating element works, and how this effects heat up time.

    A traditional single boiler design can take many minutes to warm up, which often means you'll want to turn the machine on well before brewing, or leave it on (always check your manual before leaving your machine on for long periods. Many aren't designed for this). On the flipside, the thermocoil heating element in a Breville Bambino or Barista Pro can heat up in seconds. This is also important for milk steaming, as you'll need a lot of heat to steam a whole pitcher of milk. Stronger, faster heating elements help you to complete this process quicker.

    Again, on the higher end, you can purchase machines with multiple boilers. These kinds of machines allow you to steam milk and brew at the same time, as each process pulls from a different boiler. While this is extremely convenient and worth it for power users, it's absolutely not a thing you should get hung up on with your first purchase.

    What's Next?

    Next week we'll dig into more of the nuances with picking out a semi-auto espresso machine, such as PID controllers, control mechanisms, interfaces, and more.

  • New Product: Jura Z8

    Last week we took a look at the Jura D6, but that's not the only new Jura machine! The Z8 is a high end machine with an extensive featureset that justifies its high price point. So what sets this machine apart from its sibling machines?

    Connectivity and Performance

    The Z8 takes the stellar performance of Jura's existing machines and adds in a whole lot of connectivity and ease of use features.

    The most noticeable addition is the 4.3 inch touchscreen. This display is clear and concise, and reminds us of a high quality mobile device. The interface is extremely clear and easy to use, giving you a huge degree of control over your drinks.

    This machine also features smart visual touches like a blue-lit water tank, smart tracked filtration, and one-touch options for your favorite drinks. On the whole the Z8 offers 21 drink recipes, most of them with a high degree of customization.

    The Z8 also connects to Jura's J.O.E. mobile app, giving you control of this machine via bluetooth.

    None of this would matter if the machine didn't perform, but thankfully, the Z8 does. Using Jura's P.E.P. brewing process, this machines brews hot, well extracted espresso. The Z8 also steams impressive milk using the included cappuccinotore.

    Overall, this is a strong machine operating at the top end of the superautomatic price range. Check out the Z8 on Seattle Coffee Gear right here!

  • Superauto Milk

    If you've shopped around for an espresso machine before you're probably encountered the great super vs. semi-auto debate. You probably also know that superautos grind whole coffee beans and brew consistent shots. One thing that can be a bit of a mystery though is milk systems. With options like cappuccinotores, panarellos, and carafes there's a lot to learn when it comes to superauto milk!

    Setting Expectations

    One thing that is key to your decision making at the top is expectations. The first thing that can be a tough latte to swallow is temperatures. Superauto machines always struggle to produce milk at a hot enough temperature for some coffee drinkers. This has to do with the relatively narrow band of temperature that's acceptable for milk steaming, as well as the tech at play in automatic systems. This is one reason to potentially consider a panarello system, but more on that in a bit.

    The other issue is microfoam quality. There is no automatic frothing system that exists that can fully recreate a professional's work. Because it takes minute adjustments to maintain a good froth and incorporate foam, superautos have a tough time nailing it. The good news is that these machines are getting closer! Examples like the Saeco Xelsis can even produce milk for latte art with a bit of practice.

     

    Types Of Steam Systems - Panarello Wands

    So with the understanding that temp and texture are tough to recreate, what are the options out there? Let's start with panarellos.

    Panarellos (like the ones on the Saeco X-Small, pictured above), look quite a but like manual steam wands. The biggest difference is in material and shape. Panarellos often combine metal materials like stainless steel with plastic, making them more cost effective than fully manual steam wands. They also are designed to froth milk with less careful pitcher adjustments. Where a steam wand is simply a tube with a tip at the end to release steam, panarellos guide and restrict steam flow more carefully, and add a bit of air to the steam. This means they are less powerful and capable than a manual wand, but easier to use. Some panarellos even have built in temperature sensing to ensure that milk is frothed to the perfect temp. In action, this means that you'll physically hold a container of milk up to the wand while it does its thing. Generally you won't need to make any adjustments though, and the wand will take care of the rest. The benefits here are in more direct temperature control, while you give up some texture quality and ease of use.

     

    Types Of Steam Systems - Cappuccinotores and Siphons

    So what about cappuccinotores?

    These nifty attachments fit onto panarello wands and other systems to make the frothing process fully automatic. This brings a standard panarello wand in line with other milk siphon systems that don't utilize carafes. With these systems, milk is sucked up into the machine, then heated and textured, then poured into the cup. Systems like this are incredibly easy to use, you just drop a pipe end into your milk and the machine does the rest. The biggest issue with these systems are temperature control and cleanup. Because these machines literally suck in the milk from the container, keeping them clean is key. Removing and rinsing the pipe regularly is important, as well as using a cleaning solution to get inside of the machine. Most superautos with pipe systems will have an automated cleaning procedure that you can run with some cleaner as well. A great example of a machine with a siphon system like this is the Miele CM6.

     

    Types Of Steam Systems - Carafes

    The last type of milk system we'll cover today is the carafe. Technically, carafe based systems are a subset of siphons. Generally carafes simply act as a container to easily store the milk you'll use in a siphon system. This is the case with the optional carafe that comes standard with the Miele CM6350 or as an add on to the 6150, as well as the Xelsis from Saeco. It's worth mentioning carafes though because of how much simpler they make the process. The Xelsis' hygiesteam system works with a carafe to alleviate the cleaning issues we mentioned above, and even just cutting out the step of pouring milk into a container to be siphoned from is a time saver. On some machines, like the Incanto Carafe, you actually just plug the carafe into the espresso machine instead of using a siphon. These systems are considered high end, so the biggest downside you'll face is price. Additionally, as with any siphon system, temperature can be lower than desired for some!

    With new systems like Phillips' Latte GO on the horizon, superauto steaming continues to change and evolve!

     

  • Video Roundup: 8/27-9/7

    Hey coffee fans! It's been a couple of weeks since our last video roundup. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming this week!

    But first, let's take a look at what we missed!

    First up, Gail gave us a Crew Review of the new Eureka Perfetto.

    Next up, another crew review! This time for the DeLonghi Magnifica:

    Then we took a look at the Marco Beverages Jet Brewer with John!

    We then got a review of the Saeco Gran Baristo Avanti from Gail!

    Finally, John gave us some great tips on programming the Rocket R9 commercial machine.

    Thanks for joining us! We'll see you for more videos this week!

     

  • Choosing a Superautomatic

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

    What's a Superauto?

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

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

    How Do I Choose?

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

    Shot Quality

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

    Milk System

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

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

    Temperature

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

    Controls

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

    Odds and Ends

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

     

  • New Product Spotlight: Jura J6

    The Jura J6 offers great shots and milk frothing without the learning curve of a more complicated semi-automatic espresso machine. With that in mind, it's easy to get excited about this machine. With 12 drink options, easy setup (and cleaning), and a simple interface, the Jura J6 might be just the thing your kitchen needs!

    Setup and maintenance

    Anyone familiar with superautomatic machines knows that setup and cleaning can sometimes be the price paid for ease of use. Not so with the J6. The manual is clear and easy to read, and will help you get your J6 up and running in 20-30 minutes. You will want to do some extra dialing in to make sure you get the best shots (something we covered in a video here!). Otherwise, setup is a total breeze.

    Cleaning and maintaining the J6 is easy as well. Simple guides help you to replace the CLEARYL Smart Filter,clean the milk system, and descale the machine. These tasks usually don't require much more than a container of cleaning solution and pressing a button.

    Great taste and easy to use

    One of the reasons some folks prefer semi-automatic machines to superautos is taste. With a semi-automatic machine you have full control over the flavor of your espresso. This is less true with superautos, usually offering few settings to control the taste. Luckily, the J6 pulls great shots out of the box. Even more impressive is that these shots are achieved with a push of a button.

    Even more impressive than the shots are how well the J6 nails milk texture. Superautos usually get close to chain café quality, but pale in comparison to a seasoned barista manually frothing milk. Then there's the J6. While nothing truly beats the range of texture possibilities on a manual steam wand, the J6 definitely edges out the drive through café experience. On top of that, it does it all with a button press.

    Footprint, head room

    While not noticeably smaller than other superautos (it is, in fact, a little on the tall side), we had no trouble fitting the J6 on a crowded countertop. The bean hopper, water tank, and accessory storage are all easy to access as well. Furthermore, the bean hopper and water tank are quite large. This means you'll have to refill less, making maintenance on the machine even easier.

    We're excited to offer the J6, if you're ready to see this great machine in action, check it out here!

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