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Educational

  • Water Filtration and Why It Matters

    Water filtration is a big, complex subject, but one that really matters! Mineral content in water is the number one killer of espresso machines. With this in mind, it's extremely important to properly filter and read your water. Using hard tap water can lead to premature limescale buildup. This can cause real damage to your machine in the worst case, and will at least demand more frequent maintenance.

    There is, however, good news! Thanks to chemistry there is a whole world of resources to help you use the perfect water with your machine. So where does it start?

    Water Hardness

    Filtration starts with the source of the water. Depending on your location and the quality of your water, filtering it can be more or less of a strain. Most espresso machines come with test strips that help you determine your water hardness. Hardness refers to the level of minerals in your water. For water that has higher lime content, you'll need to change filters more frequently.

    Many machines actually offer helpful tracking of your filters based on hardness. Jura, Saeco, Breville, and others all track when you install a filter, and what your water hardness is. From there, the machine will remind you when its time to change the filter. Many of these machines do this simply over time, but there are some machines that even read the amount of water that comes through the filter. These machines allow you to track when you should change the filter more exactly.

    The main way the above manufacturer's filters differ is in how you pick them. Jura's Clearyl filters have plastic parts that match the receiving parts on the tank. From there you can determine if you need a white or blue filter. In the case of Saeco, they offer a single AquaClean across their currently supported line of machines, making filtration easy. Finally, Breville offers two simple filters that are easy to tell the difference between.

    But what if your machine doesn't offer a proprietary water filter?

    Bottled, Pre-filtered, and More

    In many cases, if you don't have a smart filtration system you'll want to pre-filter your water. Not all filters are created equal, so it's a good idea to check the hardness of your filtered water carefully as well. Based on this hardness, you can determine how safe it is to use pre-filtered water to fill the tank of your espresso machine. Some manufacturers, like La Marzocco, suggest that if your water is too hard, use bottled water. Using bottled water isn't as simple as using spring water though, as certain bottled waters can have high mineral content as well.

    Make sure you check the bottled water you use. If you're not sure a brand should be used in your machine, contact the manufacturer for the ultimate yes or no answer.

    It's important to remember that water filters must be changed and maintained too. Whether using a smart filter or pre-filtered water, make sure that you change your filters regularly. Water run through an expired filter could be too hard, causing real maintenance issues for your machine. In the case of certain E61 Grouphead machines, at home descaling can actually damage your machine. For this reason you'll need to take it to a technician for its regular maintenance. By properly filtering your water you'll have more time between those descalings!

    On top of all of this, filtered, fresh water just makes better coffee. By using the best possible water, you eliminate that variable from the brewing process, and allow the coffee to truly speak for itself. So make sure your filters are fresh and your water is clean today!

  • Espresso Machine Maintenance

    One key element of owning an espresso machine is maintaining it. This means regular cleaning and maintenance. We get a lot of questions about how often one should backflush and descale, so we wanted to talk a little bit about that here! We'll start with more frequent maintenance like cleaning the grouphead and backflushing, then get into descaling.

    A lot of your cleaning schedule will revolve around usage. If you brew multiple drinks per day, you'll want to clean more frequently. For the purposes of this article we're assuming you make 1-3 drinks per day. Another thing to note is that we're keeping this general. Most machines, from Brevilles and DeLonghis all the way up to Rockets and Izzos will require the maintenance outlined here. You should, of course, take the guidelines of the manufacturer into account when planning maintenance! We're also catering this piece for those with semi-automatic machines. Superautomatics have more guided cleaning cycles, but we'll talk more about maintaining them in future posts as well!

    Daily and Weekly Cleaning

    One easy to do thing that will keep your machine making great espresso day to day is to ensure that your portafilter and the screen in the brew group is free of coffee grounds. This means giving your portafilter a quick wipedown after every shot, ensuring it is dry and clean. You should also run a quick rinse of water through the screen after each shot before you reattach the portafilter. Simply start a brew cycle and stop it to push some water through. This clears and grounds that may have clung to the screen during brewing. It's also VERY important to purge the steam wand whenever you steam milk! This is as easy as turning the steam on outside of milk after you finish steaming. This will clear any milk that gets sucked back into the wand during steaming. You'll want to be sure to completely wipe off any stuck on milk as well. As always, when handling the steam wand, be careful not to touch a hot wand or the steam it produces.

    You will also want to perform regular backflushing of the grouphead. Backflushing is done by using the blind basket (the one with no holes!) in your portafilter along with a little bit of water and/or backflush detergent. You'll then run a backflushing cycle, which differs from machine to machine (your manual should explain how to do this). It's worth it to backflush with water every day or two, but detergent backflushing is only needed every 1-3 weeks depending on use. A busy cafe might backflush with detergent daily, but this isn't necessary for home use.

    It's also worth using a grouphead brush to scrub the grouphead every week or so. This can free and clingy grounds and keep the screen clean. These tools make this easy, but a used toothbrush or other small, handheld brush can work to clean the screen too.

    Descaling and Steam Wand Cleaning

    The two maintenance items you'll perform less frequently are thorough cleaning of the steam wand and descaling. The former involves using a milk system cleaner with your machine's steam wand to clean out any milk gunk stuck inside the wand. This process can vary from system to system, so refer to your manual and the cleaning product's guidelines to clean it properly! This process should be performed every month or two on your espresso machine. Soaking the steam tips in a cleaning solution like the one above in this timeframe can also keep your steaming system fresh! Just be sure to fully wipe down and purge the wand to ensure no cleaning solution ends up in your latte!

    Descaling is, of course, one of the most important things to stay on top of to maintain your machine. You can descale with a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar, or with a dedicated descaling cleaner. To descale, you'll want to run the water/cleaner mix through the machine until you've pulled through about a cup of water. This allows the mix to fill the boiler and pipes of the machine. Next, you'll shut of the machine for 20 minutes to an hour. This will give the solution time to remove the limescale buildup inside the machine. Next, run about a quarter of the reservoir through the brew head and the steam wand, then shut the machine off for another 20 minutes. Finally, run the rest of the reservoir through the machine, and then run two or more reservoirs of clean water through the brew head and the steam wand. In the end you'll have a freshly descaled machine!

    It should be noted that some machines should NOT be descaled by anyone other than a professional technician. This is true, most notably, of Rockets. A quick search for your machine + descaling should help you determine if its safe to descale your machine at home. This is a process that should be performed every 3-6 months. The main factors affecting time between descales are how frequently you use the machine and the hardness of the water you run through it.

    We hope this look at normal maintenance is helpful for you! By adhering to a simple schedule like this you can keep your machine running in great shape for many years.

     

  • Water Temperature and Why It Matters

    It's a common refrain: The perfect water temperature for brewing coffee is 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. But why is this? In most brewing guides it will explain that this is the ideal temperature for "proper extraction," but what IS extraction? What are we even talking about!? Read on to learn more about water temps and coffee extraction!

    close-up photography of bottle

    What's Extraction?

    So what do we mean when we say extraction? Extractions is simply the act of dissolving the solubles from the coffee grounds and bonding them with the water. One way to conceptualize this is to imagine water saturating your grounds during brewing, and that water pulling the good parts out of the grounds as it passes through them. The filter then stops the leftover gritty, grimy bits of the coffee. The stuff that ends up in your cup is water bonded with the flavorful, caffeinated parts of the coffee.

    But what does temperature really have to do with this?

    Coffee extraction, or brewing, is a chemical process. Things like grind fineness, amount, and water temp matter because chemistry happens in the brewer as you brew! On a simple level, things like grind fineness can make it easier for the water molecules to bond with the coffee grounds. Temperature plays into this as well! In truth, you can actually brew coffee with water of any temperature, the problem is control. Cold water extracts very slowly, which is why cold brew can take many hours to properly, well, brew. On the flip-side, near boiling water extracts coffee VERY quickly. Since varying flow rate is even more challenging than controlling temperature, and since temperature is constant, it's the variable that is easiest to control.

    For all of these reasons, we've determined a 195-205 degree Fahrenheit range as being the best for coffee. The remaining question, of course, is where exactly should you set your kettle? 204? 196? This is going to come down to the roast and brew method more than anything. Some brew methods, like AeroPress, work even better below 195, but for simplicity's sake we'll stick to the 195-205 range. In general, presses work best lower in the range, as the pressure of the press aids in extraction. On the opposite side is pourover, which is usually better brewed around or above 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, all of this really comes down to the taste of the roast.

    More bitter roasts tend to want cooler water, closer to 195. On the other hand, if your coffee turns out sour, try brewing a little hotter to aid in proper extraction.

    Either way, there's plenty of room for experimentation! The most important thing is using an adjustable kettle like the Fellow Stagg or the Bonavita Variable kettle. Armed with these tools and the knowledge above, you'll be ready to really experiment with water temp!

     

  • AeroPress Tips & Tricks!

    If you've been keeping up on the world of Press coffee you'll know that the AeroPress continues to grow as a beloved brewing device. Here at Seattle Coffee Gear we love it, and we're sure you will too once you get your hands on it! If you haven't seen this wonderful brewer, check it out here. Once you've done that, or if you're already an AeroPress user, read on for some tips and tricks!

    Pourover Techniques and Inverted Brewing

    One simple way to get better flavor out of your AeroPress is simply through blooming the coffee. This is a technique used primarily in drip brewing, and especially in pourover. The bloom is simply a small pour before your main pour to wet the grounds. Letting this mixture sit for 10-15 seconds will help the coffee taste less bitter and acidic! Other pourover techniques that help with an AeroPress include pre-wetting the filter to remove the papery taste an pouring in a circular motion to evenly saturate the grounds.

    Another technique you can look to is inverted brewing! To use this method you'll want to grind fine, using a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water. Flip the AeroPress upside down and push the tip of the plunger into the press. Add coffee and water as normal and stir. Next, let the coffee brew for one minute.

    Place a wetted filter in the cap, and put the cap on top of the AeroPress. Next, put your coffee cup on top of the AeroPress, then carefully flip the entire press and cup over and plunge as normal. This method results in a rich brew that, with proper plunging, comes out free of grit or sediment.

    Temperature and Pressure Variations

    One surprising thing to note about the AeroPress is that lower temperatures can work better than the typical brewing temps you may be used to. By brewing in the 175-185 degrees Fahrenheit range you can get better coffee than more typical, hotter temps. Try both ends of that range and see which one works better with different beans!

    Another thing many users don't consider is pressure variation. The rate at which you plunge affects the pressure that the coffee is brewed with. A harder, faster press will result in a heavier body. While not an exact comparison to espresso, it's the same principle as that brew method. on the flip-side, for a lighter cup, a slower, gentler press will result in less body and a lighter taste.

    Speaking of pressure, if using the standard non-inverted method, you can insert the plunger to use back-pressure to stop the drip that happens when you add water to the coffee grounds. this will prevent any weaker coffee from dripping out.

    Concentrates and Closing Thoughts

    One other practice to try is brewing AeroPress coffee as concentrate. Even at a standard 1:16 coffee:water ratio, this device brews some pretty strong coffee. If that alone is too strong for you, cutting it with water helps for a lighter cup. Another thing to consider is to brew with less water, creating a thicker concentrate. From there, you could store the concentrate in the fridge for an iced coffee, or just add hot water straight away to make more servings.

    All of these ideas an more are down to experimentation. One of the best parts about the AeroPress is how variable it is. Let us know if you come up with any other fun tricks!

  • To Heat Or Not To Heat?

    One complaint we often see is that brewers don't keep coffee hot long enough. This, or that they don't brew at a high enough temperature. While we'd never tell someone how to enjoy their coffee, we thought we might share some insight on what's up with all this temperature talk!

    white ceramic cup filled with black liquid on top of saucerBrew Temp

    Generally, it's agreed that coffee is best brewed at 198-202 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this is chemical. It's a complicated topic, but suffice to to say that we can scientifically guarantee that this temperature range produces the best coffee when brewing drip. For some coffee drinkers, that's just not hot enough! We can respect a want for a hotter brew, but the fact of the matter is that high quality drip brewers stick to this temperature range. Cheap brewers often start at lower temps and then shoot up to temps above this range, scorching the coffee. A high quality drip brewer will maintain the ideal temperature the whole way through.

    So what's the answer if you want hotter coffee? Really, it's to drink lighter roasts! Darker roasts extract at lower temps, so your cup will get very bitter if brewed too hot. Lighter roasts may lose some complexity at higher temps, but you can enjoy them hotter with less bitterness.

    Warming Plat Woes

    The other component of this equation is keeping the coffee hot in the pot. First of all, by warming the pot with some hot water before you brew, the coffee will keep its temp as it hits the carafe. This is a huge help, because a room temp put will suck some of that heat as the coffee brews! The other element is carafe type and heating plate. Sometimes we get complaints that high end brewers don't have plates that stay on all day. This is a feature, not a bug! By sitting in a glass carafe on a heating plate, coffee tends to scorch and burn over time, leading to an awful taste. If you plan to drink a pot more than two hours later (the shutoff time for most heating plates) we recommend brewing a fresh one then!

    Another option for maintaining heat is to switch to a stainless steel carafe. If pre-warmed, a well insulated stainless carafe can keep coffee hot for hours. This works especially well if your palate doesn't notice the metallic taste!

    Of course, all of this changes when you introduce pressure to create espresso!

  • 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!

     

  • What Is Coffee Rust?

    One of the biggest threats to coffee around the world is coffee rust. This disease threatens every major coffee producing country in the world. So what is coffee rust? What does it do to coffee plants?

     

    white ceramic mug beside green leavesIs this a new issue? What is it?

    Is coffee rust a new disease for our favorite plant? Well, sort of. The first reports of coffee rust came from English explorers in East Africa as far back as 1861. As such, this isn't necessarily a new disease, and it was quickly reported in other parts of the world as well. But what is coffee rust? Why do we call it that? It turns out that the name makes a lot of sense!

    Most Coffee Rust is a fungus called Hemileia Vastatrix. Another strain of the fungus, H. Coffeicola, is exclusively found in West and Central Africa. Both of these fungi create a distinct yellow-brown ring of lesions on the leaves of the plant. The appearance of these lesions are what gives coffee rust its name. It makes the leaves look like they are rusting. What sort of damage can this disease do?

    Because Coffee Rust is a fungus, it can quickly spread and destroy vast swaths of plants. The easily spreading disease can be devastating to individual harvests and the long-term health of a plantation. So what can be done to stop this disease?

    Spread and Management

    It is nearly impossible to save a crop once the Rust has developed. This means that the safest means of managing a Rusted crop is to quarantine it. This means ensuring that local farmers know not to remove any plants from the area, first and foremost. It is believed that the spread of this disease is carried out on the wind. This means that the only true barriers to the spores are large open areas like oceans. This is why it's extremely important for plant importers to check their plants for lesions before accepting the plant. Crops of infected plants are generally killed with herbicide to prevent their spread. It is also common practice to kill surrounding plants as well, so that the spores have nothing to cling to. The hope is that the colonies of fungus will die off before they can be carried to another plantation.

    There are some fungicides that can help prevent Coffee Rust. Application during wet seasons can help prevent spores from taking hold. Higher, cooler plants and those in shade are also less susceptible to the disease. Unfortunately rising global temperatures will likely eliminate this advantage. Some resistant strands of Robusta coffees have been developed, but these are often viewed as lower quality for consumption.

    Because this is such a global issue, many researchers are seeking ways to stem the tide of this disease. While continued climate change puts more plantations at risk, hope exists in developing technology to identify and eliminate spores before it's too late!

  • Piecewise Coffee Co. - Building a Drink Menu

    If you haven't been keeping up with our friends at Piecewise Coffee Co. be sure to check out their Bio and Selecting Equipment posts! Today we asked Stanton and Lindsey a little bit about how to build a drink menu for a coffee shop!

    First off, from a “chicken or the egg” perspective, did you decide on a general menu before selecting equipment? Or did you decide on what equipment to purchase and then build your menu around that gear?

    The answer I wish we could give was to knock out the menu first, but it was too tempting not to get caught up reading equipment descriptions and watching product reviews. Choosing the equipment was exciting, while locking in a menu was more-so work. However, we learned it is very difficult to build a shop without first thinking about the menu. Without it you can find yourself fighting to make the layout functional. We were fortunate to stumble upon a podcast by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) covering café startups and it helped give us a big picture focus on how equipment and menu influence each other.

    Our menu doesn’t incorporate much onsite food preparation and a big reason was an attempt to make the startup cost more manageable. Eliminating equipment needs is an obvious answer to keeping cost low, but far costlier was the additional need for architectural designs and engineered systems. Take for example biscuits, we wanted to offer some as a secondary option to our other breakfast items and we started pricing out small ovens. Well the oven led to a ventilation hood which led to additional building penetrations for air flow which all lead to an increase in the size of the HVAC units. Our commitment level to that menu item changed quickly with those additional costs. Learning about things like insurance cost increases for using an onsite grease fryer or the sizing and placement of grease traps were part of the learning process for us. 

    It’s inevitable that menu and equipment decisions will impact each other but starting with the menu first can help keep changes to a minimum. 

    What kind of market research did you do for your area to make decisions about what kind of drinks to carry?

    We visited a lot of local restaurants and coffee shops. We felt like anything within an hour’s drive was fair game for learning what products were already successful in our market. Asking waiters or baristas what the more popular products were was very helpful as was just asking for favorites from family, friends, coworkers or anyone who was interested in what we were doing with the shop. Learning their favorites made it more personal while still reaching out to our customer base. Our goal with this research was to help develop a perspective outside of our own for the drinks people want to see in any coffee shop. Generally, people were very open to share what they liked and didn’t, which was encouraging. 

    How much did your vision for a coffee focused shop affect menu choice? The assumption would be a lot, but I’d like to get at the “coffee identity” factor and how it relates to your menu.

    With our goal to offer high quality in every drink, the shop’s menu won’t be overly extensive. We didn’t want to spread ourselves to thin starting off with a lot of options. Something about tons of choices, just didn’t seem like, “us,” right now.  We aren’t minimalists in nature, but we do love to cut waste enough to truly enjoy what is in front of us. We live our lives that way and believe the same for our coffee shop and its offerings. With that in mind, we’ll offer the best of the basics, focusing on amazing taste every single time.

    Do you think about food pairings when building the menu? Or was the thought to offer standby food options but build the drink menu independent of that?

    For us, the food and drink menu were built independent of each other. We knew the size of our shop limited space for food preparation so we built the drink menu and then developed relationships with high quality food establishments to help on the food side. Pairing between the two comes into play, but it is a little further down on the decision tree for us than may be at some other shops.

    How much does ingredient/coffee sourcing play into the development of your menu??

    Sourcing hasn’t impacted the menu development as of yet! We are working with local stores, which has made most of our development more convenient.

    How do you offset the desire to do something different with the need to offer a standard set of coffee drinks?

    It’s definitely a balance act between the vision for the shop and maintaining the shop’s economics. Our vision was so intertwined with serving the community that we started from the desire to know how best to serve the customers already surrounding us. This meant providing the standard coffee offerings based off the market research mentioned earlier. We then looked at how we could advance specialty coffee in the shop. We settled on some highlights with the pour over selection and building in coffee education events. Knowing every customer won’t want to know the growing region of a bean or the solid particle distribution in their espresso shot keeps us grounded to high standards on the more traditional drinks while focusing on stellar service. We believe quality speaks for itself in any form.

    Are you working with a specific roaster or seeking a wider range of roasts?

    The bulk of our coffee offerings will come from a single roaster who is local to our city. This is in large parts to the quality and diversity of the beans they offer. 

    How did you settle on your roaster?

    This was a big decision for us and a little intimidating at first. We started with several cold calls and email inquiries to regional and local roasters. Most were happy to answer questions we had and share about their range of products. Often they would send samples, and several allowed us to visit their roasteries. While the roaster’s bean quality was high on the list in making this choice, number one was having a relationship with the roasting company and knowing we could develop a good working relationship. You place a lot of trust into your roaster and knowing the people helped us feel settled in our choice. We are fortunate to have a great relationship with our roaster. 

    Are you looking to expand the menu in the future or specialize strongly in what you already have planned?

    While we are open to making menu changes to meet our customer’s needs well, the plan is to stay within our current style of offerings or at least stay very near them.

    How did you decide what you want to carry beyond coffee?

    Great question! We’re still working on that lol. A great part about opening the shop is knowing that every decision doesn’t have to be made before opening. This is one of those items for us that is still developing. We knew we wanted the food selection to be classic foods with a gourmet bent that would elevate the shop’s experience, almost without noticing. We believe we’ve done that with the partnership we have. The rest of what we’ll offer is still in process!

    How do you decide what to offer in terms of dairy and alternative milks?

    We wanted some variety in the alternative milk options but stayed close to the types commonly found in most shops (soy, almond, etc.). We’re big fans of the current oak milk products due to the great taste and ability to steam them like milk.

    One thing that always frustrated me when working in a coffee shop was general misconceptions about different coffee drinks from customers. Things like misunderstanding what a macchiato is, or not understanding the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, leading to customer complaints. Do you have any strategies for dealing with a customer that lacks coffee knowledge? How does that play into your drink menu?

    We see this as such an opportunity to help our customers learn more about the products they love and how they vary. It’s not possible to expect each customer to “order correctly” when so many shops vary the recipes for the standard range of drinks. This is one flaw of the coffee industry that gets translated into the customer’s error. The goal is to serve each customer and have them know they’re being served. This includes covering ordering miscues and helping to ensure they get exactly what they hoped for when they came into the shop. With the drink menu, we anticipate having a few pictorial descriptions around the shop to assist with ordering and help prevent unnecessary waste.

    Building some coffee drinks can be a challenge from a technique standpoint. How much does training and staff capabilities factor into building your menu?

    We are working to build the training program and want to really break it down to a series of small skills that build on each other. The barista trainings by the SCA are fantastic and we plan to utilize them with our baristas. With a comprehensive training program and several quality control measures, we don’t anticipate having to restrict the menu.

    Do you have any other recommendations for aspiring cafe owners on how to construct their menus?

    Definitely get a subscription to a specialty coffee magazine or two. We’ve read about some fascinating and original drinks that may be inspiring.

    We'll be back soon with more from Stanton and Lindsey!

  • The Crema Craze!

    One of the most frequent questions we get is this: How do I produce more crema on my espresso shots? We decided it would be a good idea to give an overview of what crema is, and explain why you might not want more!

    What is crema?

    Crema is the tan liquid that forms when you’re first pulling your espresso shot. As the shot pulls, the liquid gets darker, and you end up with a layer of this tan colored head on top of the drink. This gives it the look of a well poured stout beer. But where does it come from? In part, crema is created when water is pushed through the coffee at pressure. This emulsifies the oil in the coffee and forms tiny bubbles of air. Brighter liquid is also formed by C02 emissions during the extraction, though this isn’t quite the same thing as the crema from the fat in the coffee. That C02 is present in the bean after roasting, and naturally defuses through a process called “out-gassing.” Fun fact, the valve on your bags of coffee exists specifically to facilitate this out-gassing process.

    But what does it really taste like? Sour, it turns out! While certain roasts benefit from a layer of crema to balance out the flavors of the espresso, in other roasts limiting crema is actually preferable. In fact, some roasts don’t even produce any crema due to low fat content. So what factors actually influence this sour layer of bubbles?

     

    How to get more (or less) crema

    The first thing to note is processing. Natural/honey process roasts retain more of the bean’s fat content. As noted above, a fattier bean will result in more crema. This is part of why it can be hard to dial in a natural, and why espresso blends are so popular. Ultimately, climate also has a lot to do with the oil content of the beans as well, so the whole production process influences the fat levels in the roast. Another thing to consider is roast date. It’s tough to call out the ideal time to brew and espresso after roasting. However, you’ll definitely see more of the brighter liquid during the first 72 hours after roasting. Generally the coffee will take this long to de-gas as described above. This is why it’s usually advisable to wait a few days after roasting before attempting to dial in fresh beans.

    Another factor in crema formation is roast level. Darker roasts pull the oils in the coffee to the surface of the bean, this actually results in less crema. This is because there is less oil in the bean after grinding and transferring to a portafilter. Finally, equipment matters too. a pressurized portafilter will naturally result in higher pressures, which will create more crema. That said, it won’t be as rich as crema created through more natural, unpressurized means.

    In any case, it’s important to remember the point above: While crema looks nice, you should work to pull a good shot, not one that is loaded with crema. This will create a more sour shot, rather than a balanced one!

  • The Convenience of a Superauto

    We talk a lot about semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines. If you've read our blog before you probably know that a superauto combines grinder and brewer in one. This is different from a semi-auto, which requires a standalone grinder. You may also know already that a superautos can brew coffee (and usually steam milk) with just a push of a button! But how do they stack up against semi-autos?

    Ease of Use

    The first and most obvious answer is ease of use. Professional baristas train for a long time to be able to make exquisite drinks on semi-automatic machines. A superauto makes this process far easier. It's true that in reality there's more to them than pushing a button and getting coffee out of one of these machines, but it's pretty close. The machine will also help you learn what different coffee drinks are if you're intimidated by the café menu!

    The other challenge with semi-auto machines is milk steaming. Where you may need to spend hours learning the perfect way to steam a pitcher of milk, a superauto's milk system does it by itself. Now, it's important to note, you'll never get milk like what a professional can steam on a superauto. Correctly creating microfoam and incorporating it into milk is so delicate that a machine will always struggle. However, milk systems in superautos do a great job, and steam milk better than many amateurs out there anyway!

    These machines also save time. The full process of grinding, weighing, brewing, and steaming milk on a semi-auto can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on your skill level. A superauto can produce a latte or cappuccino in just a minute or two. What's more, there's usually less clean up with a superauto.

    Another component in the ease of use argument is maintenance. Semi-auto machines require you to know exactly how and when to perform backflushes, cleaning, and descaling. While these aren't impossible to learn, they do make maintaining a one of these machines more complex than a superauto. By contrast, a superauto will give you helpful indicators, warnings, and prompts. Typically cleaning and maintenance is a step by step process that the machine can walk you through as well.

    The Tradeoff

    None of this is to say there's no tradeoff with these machines. The biggest is control. On a semi-auto you can tease out the complexities of a single origin to really craft something unique. Superautos work better with blends, as they tend to pull shots with a little less finesse. This isn't to say their coffee is bad though. On the contrary, the control you get out of a semi-auto doesn't mean better drinks. Instead, semi-auto espresso machines are often enjoyed by coffee hobbyists who enjoy a more complex process.

    As noted above, the same is true for milk. Superautos create good milk texture, but not on the level of a pro barista. That said, it takes a lot of practice and skill to make quality steamed milk, and some higher end machines get very close to what a barista could do.

    Finally, superautos tend to create cooler drinks than semi-auto machines. This is a real stumbling point for some coffee drinkers, so be sure to take a look at reviews for the specific machine you're considering.

    One thing you don't necessarily have to compromise though, is price!

    Pricing

    Superautos, like semi-autos, run the gamut in terms of price. From the Saeco XSmall clocking in around $500 all the way up to higher dollar machines like the Miele CM6350. Truly, there's a superauto for every budget.

     

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