Archive for November, 2012

The Inner Workings of Espresso Machines

This post ,on the inner workings of espresso machines, will be of interest to anyone who wishes to understand what goes in to making good quality espresso makers.
When buying an espresso machine you will want to purchase a product that is reliable as, over the course of it’s lifetime, you will be working the device hard. So, what are the components that make up a high quality espresso machine.

Water Reservoir
What many look for in a water reservoir is capacity. However, views can differ on this: some people prefer a large tank whilst others prefer something small as it forces them to clean the reservoir on a regular basis. From the point of view of hygiene, get into the habit of filling and refilling your tank as this will allow your shot to taste much fresher and smoother.
The other thing you will want is ease of access to the tank. Sometimes, particularly on smaller models, there may be obstructions which make accessing sections of the water tank difficult.

Pump
Many home espresso machine use a vibrating pump that pushes water into the boiler and then through to the coffee using high degrees of pressure. This pressure is measured in bars, with a ratio of 8-10 being enough to create espresso. If the pressure is set too high then you will need to use finer coffee as the water will be pushed too quickly through the coffee grounds during the extraction process resulting in over extraction.

Boiler
When looking at the quality of boilers in relation to espresso machines, it is important to note that it is not so much what a boiler is made of but what is it’s thickness and weight. The greater these dimensions then the more usage the boiler will be able to endure during it’s lifetime.

Let me provide the example of a cooking pot in order to make this point. No matter how well made the pot is and regardless of the materials that go into it’s design, if it doesn’t’ have a solid bottom then it’s not going to be able to stand the test of time. Likewise, a boiler made from lightweight materials is much more likely to fluctuate in temperature, thus affecting the consistency and taste of your brew. Stainless steel boilers probably offer the greatest advantages as they never rust.

Portafilter Handle
The portafilter handle, which holds the filter basket, should ideally be made from brass in order to provide it with greater durability. The alternative aluminum handles can weaken as the machine ages. In addition, a strong portafilter handle normally retains more heat and adds to the quality of the drink.
Without the portafilter you can have no espresso. The portafilter works hand in unison with the tamper. The tamper is the device that presses the ground coffee into the portafilter. There are many thousands of tampers on the market but the best are probably those that fit neatly with the portafilter.

Grinder
A good quality grinder is very important in producing the right quality of grind for flavorsome coffee. High quality, conical grinding disks are required in a machine to prevent the coffee tarring and burning.
The motors used to grind the coffee should also be robustly built. The heavier the motor , the slower the grind will be, resulting in the best quality, ground coffee drink.

Also watch out for dosers. These tools are used on many grinders allowing for pre measured coffee grinds. Having this exact measurement of coffee means the shot will be as ordered, taste great and will not leave excess grinds behind in the espresso machine chamber. Grinders with low cost blades cannot match the power and precision of more powerful blades.

I hope this post has provided you with an appreciation of the inner workings of an espresso machine so the next time you go to buy one you’ll have a better knowledge of what your purchasing.


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Espresso Machine Guide

In this espresso machine guide post I’m going to list the different types of espresso machines that may be purchased, the technical components that go to produce the coffee flavours and the advantages and disadvantages to be found in each machine.

The term ‘horses for courses’ applies to the espresso market as much as it does to any other market. If, for example, your into making frothy cappuccinos, steamed lattes and chocolate mochas, then the cheaper espresso machines will be more than adequate for your needs. However, if your more a student of the art of making the perfect espresso drink and want a machine to do all the work for you, then your requirements will be better met by the more expensive models.
The next question you have to ask yourself is how often are you going to be using the machine? If the answer is occasionally, during the week or at weekends, then the cheaper espresso machines will be more than adequate for your needs.

Espresso Machine Guide – Categories
Essentially, cheaper espresso machines fit into 6 broad categories:

Moka
The Moka pot has 8 sides and produces espresso using 2 bars of pressure. The pot consists of an upper and lower chamber screwed together with by a filter. The process works in the following way: finely ground coffee is placed into the upper chamber and water is then poured into the lower part of the machine. As you place the machine onto a stove the water will rise into the coffee in the upper chamber and at this point you can pour your drink. The Moka does produce a partial version of crema but before it can be classified as a true espresso it must be powered by 9 bars of pressure – this machine does not produce that type of pressure. However, the Moka comes into it’s own when you need to be on the road for any length of time as it’s small enough to take with you.

Stovetop
The Stovetop works of a higher degree of pressure than the Moka (4-6 bars) which is enough to provide 1 to 2 shots of coffee. The Stovetop works by loading the boiler section with water, placing a cap on the machine and waiting for the steam inside to rise. Once the machine is prepped, foam can be produced through the steam wand so long as your using the correct amount of pressure.
The machine can be frustrating to use because, after you’ve poured your first shots, you must let the Stovetop cool down before you can use it again. It contains no moving parts and has largely been superceded by more advanced machines.

Piston / Lever / Manual

The manual, or piston lever espresso machine, works by allowing a user to push down on a lever. This action pushes water out through the coffee grounds. These stylised machines normally appeal to purists who prefer to be fully involved in the art of creating an espresso, rather than letting the machine do all the work for them. As these machines are so stylised, they’ll look good in any kitchen. However, they do show a high portion of dirt marks because of their chrome finish. They also tend to be slow to warm as the boiler and reservoir are integrated into one. This results in one component pulling of the other, which results in the entire heating up process slowing down.

Semi-Automatic
The semi-automatic machine is the choice of most users as these models are the most versatile . The semi-automatic machines have electric pumps that push the water through the coffee grounds at high pressure to create silky, smooth espressos. This type of machine offers the greatest versatility in that it has a removable water tank to heat the water, coffee baskets to insert your coffee and a portafilter which manages the extraction process. A good balance is struck here between user and machine interaction as a user can choose either short or long drinks based on the amount of time they let the pump run.

Automatic
The automatic machines carry out almost identical functions to the semi automatic models, with the exception being the user has the option to pre program shots and manually switch off the pumps.

Super-Automatic
The super automatic machines work of the one touch principle. One touch of a button runs the machine through a full cycle, grinds and tamps the coffee and removes any excess waste from the brew into the basket. Some will even automatically clean themselves. One of their drawbacks is they require a greater amount of maintenance than other espresso machines.

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ECO310BK review

The ECO310BK review

This ECO310BK review will highlight some of the key features of this espresso machine and how well they work together to produce an espresso. The ECO310BK (from De’Longi) is a small machine that takes up very little space in the kitchen. In addition,  although parts of it look a little flimsy, it has a nice professional finish that makes it look more expensive than it actually is.

To extract the maximum value from the ECO310BK you will need to use a good quality,  ground coffee. The reason for this is the 15 bars of pressure that the ECO310BK  produces would push the water too rapidly though the machine , preventing large chunks of  the cheaper, coarser coffee from soaking up the flavours. (Please note that Lavazza or Illy coffee works particularly well with this model.)

A common gripe with a number of the De’Longi machines is the fact that they can take a considerable amount of time to heat up. However, this is not problem with the ECO310BK as it has a 15 bar pump heating the water. In addition, there are other steps you can take to guarantee piping hot espresso with this model:

First,  run water through the machine at least 9 times to get the machine really hot. Once this is done and the machine is nicely warm,  open the steam valve and  let the water drip out. Once dry steam is released you may then shut the valve off. You’ll only  have to do this once.

Secondly, after you’ve heated your machine 9 times, fill the water tank again and press the on switch and tamp your coffee  grinds. Insert the basket into the portafilter and your ready to pull your first shot.Whilst you are doing this, heat the filters and the cups with water prior to brewing your  espresso.

Two items that you may need to replace  with this machine over time  are the tamper and the frothing wand. The build on both could be improved . The frother, in particular, would be easier to use front to back  rather than having to manoeuver it in a sideways direction in order for it to line up with your cup.

The water tank is a good size and is easy to access when it needs to be refilled. It heats up the drinks quickly (your talking about a minute-and-a-half before your first drink is ready). It is also an easy machine to clean.

In terms of a design improvement, there could be a little more room between the the nozzle and the cup holder: I would estimate there to be only 3.5 inches currently which allows only enough space to insert small cups  for refills.

So, in conclusion, this ECO310BK review will hopefully give you  an indication of what this machine can do. For the  price tag of $150 – $200 dollars this is a good machine to hone your  espresso making skills before you move on to larger models. In the final analysis the output of the ECO310BK cannot be faulted: it produces tasty coffee with a nice crema.

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Should you purchase a Coffee maker or an Espresso Maker?

So, should you purchase a Coffee maker or an Espresso Maker ? Let me put this scenario to you: you’ve upwards of $200.00 dollars to spend and you like the taste of coffee but you may, from time to time, prefer drinking a  specialty coffee. This presents you with a straight choice between purchasing either a  coffee maker or an espresso maker. Both these machines have their advantages and disadvantages.

Coffee makers have made great technical advances in recent years. A user used to be able to brew no more than 3 cups in any one sitting, but now it is possible to brew up to 12 cups of coffee from one tank. In addition, the manual knobs that were there previously used to control the functionality of the coffee machine, have been replaced by digital control panels. These panels provide the user with greater precision over how the coffee is brewed.

Espresso makers, on the other hand, offer even more choice and a larger range of drinks. For example, you can make espressos, lattes and cappuccinos with espresso machines as well as adding different flavours to the drink.

In terms of the cost per cup, espresso machines offer greater savings over the traditional coffee houses. A cup of coffee from an espresso machine can work out as little as €0.50 cent  a cup in comparison to the the $5.00 a cup you could be paying to high street coffee chains.  Espresso machines also offer you greater potential in developing your coffee making skills. This is achieved by allowing you to use such add-on devices as frothers, chambers and portfilters. Used correctly these products will add an extra dimension to what you are drinking.

However, coffee makers have their advantages too. They are relatively easy to use with the focus on their main task of producing coffee. The operation of a coffee maker is generally more straightforward than an espresso maker, as the espresso maker requires greater inputs from the user. Coffee machines are also better suited to homes where living spaces are smaller.

So, if you have a larger budget, ample space and like to drink a range of specialty coffee flavors, then the espresso maker will be for you. If not, then the coffee maker is an ideal choice for making your coffee.

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Nespresso D150

The Compact  Nespresso D150

The Nespresso D150  machine encompasses all the best  characteristics of Nespresso machines at a relatively low price point. The first thing to notice is because the Nespresso D150 uses coffee capsules, there is none of the attendant mess you’d normally associate with machines that use coffee beans where tamping and roasting form  part of the brewing process.

However, a disadvantage of using capsules is you lose the ability to mix and match different coffee flavors. It is down  to the Nespresso company what coffee blend goes into each of the containers. Having said all that,  Nespresso have combined some wonderful flavours with this product. Particular attention should be paid to both the Arpeggio and Livanto blends which are well worth sampling.

The selection of coffees are not just based on flavor, you can also choose them by their respective strengths. One of the most popular is the rich roast selection, but a range of lighter coffees are also available. As an added bonus, the machine comes pre-supplied with 12 capsules to get you going!

Although it is a relatively small machine, the flavors produced by the Nespresso D150 are actually quite powerful. This is due in no small part to the fact this model produces 19 bars of high pressure.

Photo of Nespresso D150 Espresso Machine

Nespresso D150 Espresso Machine

As I said at the start of this post,  there are always trade offs with Nespresso machines.
This is due to the fact you are using coffee capsules wher it is impossible to interfere with the drink. On the plus side, the capsules are clean, self contained and easy to manage. Pretty much the same thing could be said about machine itself. Because of it’s compact dimensions it has proven particularly popular with those who work in small  offices or who live in  apartments.

Another interesting feature of most Nespresso  machines is you do not have to purchase any machine  accessories. For example, the Nespresso D150 does not require tamping or grounding equipment in order to prep the coffee. Also, the coffee pods will stay fresh for as long as you need them so you are under no pressure to use them immediately.

The downside is you are restricted to using the coffee Nespresso supplies. If you like the flavours then that will not be an issue , but, be aware, you will not be able to experiment with other coffees.

In terms of costs, the capsules are purchased directly from Nespresso and work out at about €0.45 cent per cup. If you need to check anything directly with Nespresso, you will need to contact their customer service department.

One further feature  worth highlighting is the milk frother.  Although it takes a bit of time to get used of, once you become skilled in it’s use,  it will add a nice crema to your drinks.

A couple of pointers you need to be aware of:  the cup warmer on top of the machine is not that effective,  particularly if you like your coffee very hot. The other thing to watch out for is the drip tray on the machine is not deep and can sometimes overflow.

So, based on your budget and the amount of space you have to play with, the Nespresso D150  will brew a great cup of coffee for you. Just be aware you will have to use  Nespresso capsules.

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Presso Espresso Review

If your looking to buy a small, flexible coffee maker that you can take with you anywhere, then the following Presso espresso review Presso espresso review may assist you in making your buying decision.

The Presso is a  small arched espresso machine that relies on human input, rather than electricity, to pull a shot of espresso. Opening the product box for the first time you are presented with the silver, hand polished Presso,  a frother for your milk, a chrome portafilter and a combined coffee scoop and tamper

What I liked about  the Presso is that you can  take it apart and put it back together again. Being able to do this obviously gives you a better understanding of any piece of machinery.

For you to get the best possible shot out of this espresso machine the following combination of factors must be in place: you must get the water and tamp pressure right and you should also be using freshly roast beans. (With preground you won’t get the nice crema which is the hallmark of all good coffee)

If any of these factors are omitted from your grind then you you won’t be using this machine to the maximum of it’s potential.

Although this Presso Espresso review focuses on the machine itself you’ll also need to invest in a good grinder to extract the best from the beans you use . The first grinder I’ve seen recommended to use in conjunction with the Presso  is the Bodum Bistro Electric Burr Coffee Grinder which allows you to choose from 14 different settings for the type of coffee you’d like to use. The second grinder is the Kyocera Ceramic Hand grinder. This device consists of a ceramic grinding mechanism that allows for fine to coarse grinds.

To extend the life of the Presso ensure to clean it. This may sound like obvious advice but you’d be surprised by the number of machines I’ve seen where this does not happen. If you do not clean your machine then you are risking it suffering long term damage. Cleaning should take place in the following way:

Warm up the portfilter by pouring hotwater through it. Ensure, of course, there is no coffee in the machine when doing this. It can also be washed occasionally in warm, soapy water, however do not let salt water near it.  The Presso should not be put through a dishwasher although the frother that comes with it is dishwasher safe.

And now my favorite thing about this machine: making an espresso shot! There is something very therapeutic about making coffee with the Presso: maybe it’s the way you neatly tamp down the coffee for insertion into the portafilter, pouring the water in at the head of the machine, letting it mix for 20 seconds with the grind. Or maybe it’s the way  you open the arms of the Presso and press down firmly for the coffee to drip out like drops of black honey! When pressing the arms, do this slightly at first then press the whole way.

A couple of times some of my shots have been fairly lukewarm, but then I doubled checked the water I’d used and the problem was  I’d let it get too cold before pouring into the machine.

The Presso has less electronics to guide you along, so it will prove more of a test of your coffee making skills .  So, if want to understand what bean types to use with an espresso machine, how high you should fill your portafilter, what’s the correct extraction temperature for your machine, how quickly from start to finish your shot will be completed, then the Presso is  for you.

I hope this Presso espresso review has been helpful in making up your mind for you. The Presso will never take the place of a more expensive machine but it does make very good coffee and comes in at a very reasonable price.

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Keurig b145

The Keurig B145 is a powerful espresso machine used mainly in an office setting where 15 to 20 cups of coffee a day consumption is  not uncommon. The Keurig b145 is only certified for commercial use but consumers do use it in the home.  This is a paired back model in comparison to other Keurig machines. However this does not detract from the fact it is a solid and reliable performer. The indicator lights on the b145 inform you when the water is heated, when the machine needs to be descaled and when the tank needs to be filled.

This espresso machine effectively works off one touch. This one touch allows a user to brew a cup of tea, coffee or coca in approximately 1 to 2 minutes.

One of the characteristics of this espresso maker is that, unlike the Keurig b40 and other Keurig models, you cannot use the My K-cup coffee system. The Keurig B145 only accepts Keurig K-cups coffee modules  which are effectively premade coffee samples (200 available) which you insert into the  machine in order to produce your drink. Now, there is nothing wrong with Keurig K-cups and there are a great range of flavours available, but you do lose the flexibility to choose and experiment with your own flavours. The My K cup system does allows you to use your own coffee in the machine.

However if you do not wish to use the Keurig K-cups there is a workaround. A system called  Ekobrew  – similar to Keurig K-cups – works perfectly with the Keurig b145. Again, Ekobrew  allows you to experiment with the coffee you use in the machine.

From a design perspective this is an extremely rugged coffee maker with an industrial strength pump. Some customers have complained that the pump in the machine is a little loud,  but the general consensus is that as the pump is being primed this noise lasts for no more than 30 seconds.

Judge  for yourself by looking at this video from another Keurig with a similar pump.

To extend the life of the machine it is important to use bottled or filtered water. This is particularly important if you want to cut down on the amount of times you descale the b145. If you do run into problems the unit comes with a 1 year warranty.

When starting to prep your brew you’ll notice how easy  to use and accessible the water tank is. This reservoir sits on the left hand side of the machine and can be filled using it’s large top portion.  When the machine is first used there can be a slightly plastic taste to the tea. This, I discovered , was rectified instantly by thoroughly washing the water tank in a dishwasher cycle. The tank ,incidentally, holds 48 ounces of water.

Once the water  reservoir  begins heating you will be drinking your fist 10 oz cup of coffee  in under 5 minutes.

Although a 10 oz coffee size is available you also have the option of drinking 6 to 8 oz size espressos also.

A couple additional features that are worth mentioning: if you leave the machine on for longer than two hours it will automatically switch itself of. This is a useful, energy saving feature and will help you save on your electricity bill. The Keurig B145 also has an internal draining mechanism that will soak up the water in the centre of the machine if you need to transport it anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CBTL Kaldi

The CBTL Kaldi

The CBTL Kaldi is a one touch machine that serves both coffee and tea. Despite all the technology that has been crammed into it’s compact frame , you’ll be surprised at how small a foot print it  leaves in a kitchen. For example, you could easily place this machine on any kitchen top shelf  and still have plenty of room left for other appliances.

CBTL Kaldi Coffee Machine

Because of it’s small size, it also has a compact water tank that is easy to remove and clean. It is important to give the water tank a thorough clean the first time you use it as this will prevent your first drinks from having a plastic taste.

To clean the CBTL Kaldi,  fill it’s tank up to the fill line – this incidentally should get you about 40 ounces of water – clean the tank and then empty it. In the now empty tank  place the filters that came with the machine. Fill it again with cold, filtered water and then run a cycle. Do this without placing a pod into the pod bay.   Once the machine has run it’s cycle, take the filters out of the tank and refill it again.

Insert the first coffee capsule into the machine. Wait for the brew light to stop flickering. Once this has happened the CBTL Kaldi  is ready to use. On the front panel are 3 buttons which signify the strength of your drink. The top button represents 1.5 ounces of espresso, the middle button is for a long espresso and the large button provides a 9 ounce drink. Make your selection and press down on the lever. After the cycle has been completed, lift the lever  and the spent pod descends into the waste basket. This whole process should take no more than a  minute for an espresso and 2 minutes for a latte.

The versatility of this machine can be seen in the way it allows you to brew both coffee and tea. The Kaldi includes a combined total of 60 coffee and tea capsules. A milk frother for cappuccinos and lattes can be purchased separately.

One drawback with the coffee supplied is you are restricted to the flavours that come with the CBTL Kaldi. However, on the plus side, CBTL have provided a healthy selection of well produced and flavorsome coffees. For example, the Italian espresso, one of my favorites, produces a lovely crema on top. In addition to this, there are a further 4 espresso flavors, a selection of teas and 2 powder sachets for latte and mocha coffees.

A high degree of craftsmanship has gone into this machine as can be seen from the chrome levers that position the capsules into place. The tray that holds the cups also feels very solid and is again made of chrome.

A couple of design features you should be aware of: it’s quite hard to get a very large mug positioned under the nozzle. This of course is not a problem if all you want to do is drink a normal sized cup of espresso.

Also, approximately 1 capsule in every 10 has a tendency to  come apart in the machine. This is not a common occurrence but the machine will need to be cleaned after this happens. Keep your eye on costs here as a pack of 10  capsules costs $6. However $0.60 per cup is quite competitive when you consider in some high street establishments you can end up paying $3 to $5 for a cup of espresso.

You must use CBTL Kaldi capsules with the machine and these can be purchased from Amazon.

The  machine also produces tea. I’m not an expert on tea but what I’ve tasted here seems  fine. The selection of teas include Tropical Passion and Chai.

Two final items of maintenance for the CBTL Kaldi : descale the machine on a regular basis –  the average descale seems to be every 4 months after using about 18 pods. A descaler warning light activates when a descaler session needs to take place. Run the descaler; this takes about 40 plus minutes

Finally, when you have finished using the machine, run a short water cycle to clear the filter tubes. Ensure there is no coffee capsule in this machine when you do this.

If you ever need help when using the CBTL Kaldi, the instruction manual that came with machine is  extremely useful.

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C100T

The C100T espresso maker,manufactured by Nepresso, is a 19 bar single serve espresso machine that uses the Nespresso proprietary coffee capsules to deliver it’s espresso shots.

Although the machine is small in stature, it delivers a powerful punch from within it’s compact, triangular  frame.  This is due in the main to it’s pulsating 19 bar pressure gauge which infuses it’s coffees with potent flavours.

Before I go on to discuss the taste, let’s first of all look at the set up. As with all Nepresso machines getting the equipment up and running is very straight forward:

  •      fill up the water tank, which holds approximately 4.5 cups of water.
  •      activate the on switch to heat the water – a light will come on letting you know the water is hot.
  •      select the required cup size from two buttons – large or small.
  •      lift the chrome lever to open the coffee capsule holder.
  •      ensure you have your cup positioned ready to capture the brew.
  •      insert a coffee capsule and press down on the lever.
  •      the cup will fill based on your volume of choice.

This whole process takes no more than a couple of minutes. As you repeat these actions, you will notice that as you insert another capsule into the machine, the old capsule is automatically dispatched into a bin at the back of the C100T
There has been some feedback in relation to the coffee being lukewarm when placed into the cup. However, if you heat your water correctly at the start of the warming process and then heat your cups prior to them being used, your coffee will remain hot. Please note, the C100T is not supplied with a cup warmer.

This is a very low maintenance machine. Quite apart from the fact it requires very little cleaning because of it’s use of pods, it also requires very little descaling. However, it is recommended that you descale after using 500 pods; in some instances this may take a user up to 6 months.

The machine comes supplied with 12 coffee flavours ranging in diversity from the Ristretto, a chocolate flavored espresso, to the nutty flavored Livanto – my particular tipple of choice is the Italian espresso Roma

The capsules have to be purchased directly from the Nepresso website and work out at approximately $0.52 each. Now this may not seem a high price if you are drinking a small cup of coffee but may stretch some peoples budgets if they want to use 2 capsules for a larger espresso. Once you have used a capsule they may not be used again and can only be purchased directly from Nespresso.

The counter argument to the cost of the capsules, is that although €20 of ground coffee will purchase more cups of espresso for you at a better price, the time spent cleaning and maintaining a machine that has been used for grounding and tamping could be time spent doing something else. As always with coffee capsules you are paying the extra bit more for the convenience they provide you with.

As the C100T is such a compact device, it does not come with a frothing wand. However, in order to create froth for lattes and cappuccinos, take a look at the Aeroccino which can be purchased separately. It works like an electric milk pitcher creating a nice, milky froth for drinks in about 50 seconds.

The C100T is a small, unobtrusive machine that packs a big punch. The coffee connoisseurs out there may feel they’d like to go a little more upmarket, but for beginners and people new to espressos and espresso making with limited budgets, the C100T is a very good starter machine. I would recommend it for homes where space is of a premium or to have as your office espresso maker.

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