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Coffee at the Moment by Mark Prince
CoffeeGeek Holiday Gift List 2013 - Price is No Object!
Posted: December 14, 2013
Article rating: 10.0
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Price is No Object Holiday Gift List

So you've seen our Under $35 CoffeeGeek Gift Suggestions. You've seen our Under $75 list, and our Under $500 list. Now's the big one - the price is no object list!

Want your own personal world calibre barista, on call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a year? We have that listing. Want two world calibre baristas, both on call, 24/7 for a full year? We have that too! Want a $10,000 espresso machine designed to look like a retro futuristic car in the 1950s? We have that. And a lot more.

Many of these products are linked to CoffeeGeek's Amazon Affiliate Link, which helps offset the costs of running this website. For the third year in a row, for the entire month of December, we've donated 100% of the income generated from these holiday gift suggestion links to our favourite charity - CoffeeKids. This December 2013, we raised $2,400 via our affiliate link. And even better, we found a wide variety of companies to match what we raised, to specific dollar amounts. Thanks to these companies - Espresso Parts, Baratza, Bonavita, Batch Coffee, Craft Coffee, and Clive Coffee, we were able to raise $8,400 for Coffee Kids in December, 2013.

Now in January, 2014, CoffeeGeek is donating 50% of our entire site wide Amazon Affiliate revenue, and we have three companies - Batch Coffee, and Baratza on board to match our January donation. Last year this donation was $750; we hope to match that this year, but with the aid of our three dollar for dollar matchers, that means $3,000 possible for January!

Donate today to CoffeeKids

We encourage all our readers to make CoffeeKids your charity of choice too and consider donating money directly to this great organization. More than ever, they need your help.

And here we go - our 2013 holiday gift suggestions where price is seriously no object!

Speedster Espresso Machine - $10,000
Posted by Mark Prince, 2:00am Permalink to this blog entry
Speedster in Black

If you're a serious CoffeeGeek, you already know this machine. If you don't, go read our first look on it here. This is the Speedster Espresso machine, and for five years running, it is still the best single group espresso machine you can get for your home.

Why? Because of so many reasons. Let's get the looks out of the way. While there are a select minority of folks who think it's a bit over the top (including Ryan Block of Engadget), pretty much everyone who's seen the Speedster in person think it is a singular work of art. And to continue with looks and aesthetics for a moment - how about the custom, hand made machine billeted aluminum side panels. Comparably priced machine (the GS/3 for example) have plastic sides. Then there's the design of the drip tray which, when you're in the operator position, looks like it is floating on air.

Everything about the look and aesthetics is polished. All the seams and welds are polished and perfect. All the parts that fit together fit with no gaps, to the point where they almost look like one piece. Every thing about the machine's exterior exudes quality and singular craftsmanship with zero corners cut.

Now under the hood. This machine has no less than seven solenoid valves to control water flow here and there. It has two solid state relays to control the machine's electronics and run the brains. It has two PID systems on both of its boilers. It even has glossy paint red knobs for the boiler empty valve tubes - a part you don't even see unless you take the side panels off.

The Speedster can go from fully dressed to completely "naked" (all top and side panels off, showing the machine's innards) in under a minute. You can completely disassemble the entire grouphead in under 5 minutes. It comes with a detailed and personalised manual on maintaining the entire machine.

As for brewing, the machine has dual PID controls and has a multi-stage pressure preinfusion system you control through, for lack of a better descriptor, a two gear brewing position arm. Put the machine into 1st gear and you open up your water line pressure for super slow preinfusion. There's also a preinfusion piston chamber which "eats up" that 3bar of water line pressure for about 8 to 10 seconds, giving you in effect neutral preinfusion pressure, then 3 bar preinfusion pressure. Move the gear to 2nd, and you fire up the rotary pump, giving you 8, 9 or more bar of pressure (whatever you dialed into the pump). Finish off the shot by moving the gear back to 1rst, and ramping pressure back down to 3 bar.

Steaming? A freaking dream. It has what is probably the best steam tip ever made. Steaming power is immense, but you can still finesse the steam amount with the large front knobs, and easily steam in 12 ounce pitchers or 32 ounce pitchers.

This is a dream machine. The ex factory cost is 6500 Euro, but factor in shipping ($500), installation ($200-$500), plus electrical and plumbing (up to $1,000 or more) and this machine will easily cost you over $10,000 to put in your home.

But it is so worth it.

Speedster Yellow Speedster Yellow
Speedster Chrome Speedster Chrome

Product Link (Kees Van Der Westen, Holland)

Batch Coffee - A Donating Partner to Coffee Kids
Posted by Mark Prince, 7:00am Permalink to this blog entry
A Coffee Kids Supporter
Batch Coffee

Let me introduce you to another of our excellent Coffee Kids supporters this Holiday season. It is a company called Batch Coffee! They will be matching CoffeeGeek's fund raising dollar for dollar up to the $500 limit this holiday season.

Batch Coffee is a partnership between a 10 year coffee industry vet and a fellow with a great business sense. They are evolving their new business to sell a wide variety of really top end coffee and espresso gear, but their main focus is a coffee roaster: the Gene Cafe.

The Gene Cafe has been around for a while, but Batch Coffee became the exclusive importer last year and they want to continue to develop and improve the product while providing really first rate support for this roaster to customers in the US and beyond. We've had a Gene Cafe roaster since the early 2000s and it's quite intriguing - this is a combination fluid bed and rotational drum roaster, with advanced controls letting you the home roaster, control your roast profile. Able to roast up to 12oz at a time, this is no small, popcorn popper sized roaster! Check it out at their website!  

Batch Coffee, a Coffee Kids Supporter!

Rocket R58 V2 Espresso Machine and Mazzer Mini Grinder - $3,500
Posted by Mark Prince, 9:00am Permalink to this blog entry
Rocket R58 V2

Dual Boilers. Dual PIDs. Advanced E61 style grouphead. Multiple preinfusion methods. Copper boilers. Advanced electronic controls. Rotary pump. Electronic, auto dosing grinder. This is a serious home barista package and one of the best you can get today for the home under $5,000. It is the Rocket Espresso R58 Version Two machine, and it's paired "Made for Rocket" Mazzer Mini Electronic Auto Dosing grinder.

The Rocket lineup has a serious following, and it's easy to see why: just about every single technological advance today has been put into this machine, including dual PID controls for the utmost in temperature stability and boiler control. It has a rotary pump with user-controlled pressure settings that let you up or down how much pressure is delivered to the machine's grouphead. The R58 also has super fast switching from plumbed in or water reservoir use, making it portable and not requiring extensive home renovations to install and use the machine. Even the smallest details are paid attention to: the drip tray has tiny magnets to hold it in place and to prevent any kind of rattling.

The grinder is no slouch either. It is a Mazzer Mini Electronic Type A variant designed specifically for Rocket. It has a stepless grinding adjustment, grinds on demand, little in chamber waste, and you can electronically preset the single and double dose settings. Big burrs, sleek look, it completes the package for the ultimate home espresso setup.

Product Link (Whole Latte Love, USA)

La Pavoni Professional PC-16 Espresso Machine - $1,000
Posted by Mark Prince, 11:00am Permalink to this blog entry
La Pavoni

If you want completely hands on, totally manual espresso that is still real espresso, this is your vehicle: It is the La Pavoni Professional, PC-16 model in Chrome.

What makes it manual? You, my friend, are the pump. Your hand is the direct control, via a direct lever system, that pushes water through the bed of coffee. Unlike spring lever espresso machines (most commercial lever machines are spring lever), the Pavoni Professional is a direct lever: it's normal position is hanging down. You lift it up to open the water valve from boiler to grouphead. And then you press down on it -- hard -- to push water through the coffee.

This very action means you control how much water pressure is applied. You control preinfusion. You control the variable pressure if you like. You control it all. The only thing the machine really does is heat up water and maintain the water pressure. Oh, it also heats up water enough to produce steam through the steam wand.

The boiler water is kept at above 212F (100C) so that you do have good steam for foaming milk. The design of the grouphead is such that it acts like a heat sync, bleeding off excessive heat, so your grouphead water ends up being more or less around 200F (give or take 5-7F) for your first shot after the machine's heated up. Pulling successive shots? Be prepared for too-hot water.

Still, there's a certain romance and hands on artisanship from you being a greater part of the espresso brewing process than just pressing a button. And hey, if the machine was good enough for James Bond (Roger Moore, Live and Let Die), it's more than good enough for you!

Product Link (Espresso Zone, USA)

Baratza Vario-W Grinder - $550
Posted by Mark Prince, 1:00pm Permalink to this blog entry
Baratza Vario-W

You're looking at the world's first commercially successful consumer/prosumer dosing-by-weight grinder. There's been others before, but they were big and bulky and designed for high volume, ultra high commercial use, or based on digital timing instead of actually measuring weight. The Baratza Vario-W was the first grinder to hit the market to accurately grind by weight.

By accurate, we mean within .5g of your desired, programmed weight. That is an achievement. The Vario-W does this by having a scale built directly into the grinder, and the grinder hopper sitting on top of that scale. And it works quite well.

The Vario-W is build on the original Baratza Vario grinder - a grinder that lets you set macro and micro adjustments for how fine or coarse you want your grind to be. Where the Vario ground based on digital timing, the -W variant does it based entirely on weight amounts (there's no timer in the -W version).

This grinder is absolutely ideal for small cafe use with it's accurate weight grinding. In the home, it is great for set and walk away grinding too, and you can set up to 3 preset grind amounts for your different brewing methods. We don't recommend it as an espresso grinder however, since you cannot grind directly into a portafilter with it.

The Vario-W ships with ceramic burrs, though you can also order metal burrs for sharper cutting of the grinds (trading off the longevity of the ceramic burrs).

Product Link (Espresso Parts, USA)

La Marzocco GS/3 with Custom Wood Panels - $7200
Posted by Mark Prince, 1:30pm Permalink to this blog entry
GS/3 Clive coffee

If there's one thing you need to know about the GS/3 from La Marzocco, it's this: this is the machine that started the whole current trend of super high tech commercial espresso machines with near perfect temperature controls and stability.

The development of the GS/3 lead to machines like the Synesso, the Speedster, the Strada and other super advanced machines. The GS/3 was a challenge machine - provide La Marzocco calibre commercial espresso in a home espresso machine running on 110V. To do this, advancements in boiler technology, PID use, pre heaters and more had to take place. And it did take place. And it was built.

The GS/3 is still to this day an extremely advanced home espresso machine, and unlike most of the high end machines on this list, this one can run happily on 110V without requiring any special plumbing or wiring. Of course, you can choose to plumb it in and get even more benefits from the machine, and you can choose to run it on 110V 20A service (instead of 15A) and get even more power and performance, but therein lies one of the machine's many perks - it can handle anything you throw at it. Want a catering machine you can keep in the back of your van and plug into any old 110V outlet? No problem. Want a machine that you never have to empty the drip tray on? Plumb it in and voila.

Now onto more serious things: the GS/3 does have some minor issues, and fortunately for espresso production, they're almost all cosmetic. The fit and finish isn't nearly as good as a Slayer or a Speedster or a Synesso. The sides are plastic, which, on a $7000 machine, is kind of cheap. For years, the drip tray was absolutely horrible (this has been fixed!).

But as a shot pulling, milk steaming machine, it's right up there with the Slayers and Speedsters. And the paddle wheel version gives you even greater control, allowing fully manual preinfusion controls and even graduated pump pressure (albeit very very slight control). Steaming is... interesting, with it's rather unique joystick method, but it can steam fast and well.

Now, we're featuring the Clive Coffee version of this machine because Clive Coffee fixes one of the glaring problems with the GS/3 - the cosmetics. For only a few hundred dollars more, you get fantastic handcarved and finished walnut side panels for the machine that take it to another level and make it truly look like a $7,000+ machine. Plus Clive throws in other goodies, including one on one live video tutorials and a coupon for their website.

Product Link (Clive Coffee, USA)

Elektra Microcasa A Leva Espresso Machine - $1,350
Posted by Mark Prince, 2:30pm Permalink to this blog entry

To this day, one of the best shots of espresso I've ever had, has come from this machine: the Elektra Microcasa a Leva. A beautiful spring piston lever espresso machine.

These machines are pure works of art. Elektra polishes and coats every surface so they gleam, shine, and look awesome. But you're also seeing all the "guts" of the machine when you look at this - the tower at the back of the machine? That's the boiler. The polished round thing up front? The exposed grouphead. The tube on the left? That's the connected sight glass to show you water levels.

This is not a "smart" machine. No real electronics save for the most basic thermostats and safety devices to keep it from blowing up. No PID, no rotary pump, no dual boiler action. The boiler tower is a single boiler and drives both the espresso brewing water and the steam pressure for frothing your milk.

Instead, it's a pure manual machine. It is a spring piston, meaning that you cock the spring by pulling down on the lever, and releasing it so the spring itself pushes water through your bed of ground coffee you packed into the portafilter. You can even operate the machine turned off and unplugged after you let it heat up to brewing temperatures.

That manual control lets you control the preinfusion time. Hold the lever down longer and you get longer preinfusion, using just the boiler's pressure (around 1.2bar). Release the lever and the spring's initial 9bar of pressure force does its job, and over the shot, reduces the pressure to finish at around 3 or 4 bar of pressure. Grab the arm again during the shot, and you can bring the pressure down yourself.

It's not without flaws: the drip tray is horribly tiny, for example. There's not hot water ability for americanos (steam your water up to boiling). There's no cup warmer.

But as pure elegance, and manual espresso preparation, this is the tip of the top for home in terms of looks and old school function.

Product Link (1st in Coffee, USA)

Mahlkonig EK43 Spice Grinder - Yes, Spice Grinder $3,000
Posted by Mark Prince, 3:30pm Permalink to this blog entry

All the barista kids are raving about this one. And why not - it's a $3,000 grinder that no one could afford, and it certainly doesn't place in their kitchen, and so, it makes our list!

All the rage really started about this spice mill grinder (yes, Mahlkonig initially developed this grinder as a high volume spice mill grinder) because a fellow by the name of Matt Perger used it at the World Barista championship to do both his espresso shots and his brewed coffee drinks. Then notable barista pros like Colin Harmon wrote up some comments on it, Prufrock Coffee in the UK did their bit on it and then the flood really started, and all the cool kids got in on the action, begging their shop owners to get one!

Is it all that, for particle size and grind distribution and exacting tolerances on the grind you want for espresso? I honestly don't know. I personally think that the best possible coffee grinder is one that doesn't exist yet for cafe use - a drum grinder (these are ginormous grinders designed to grind tons of coffee at a time). I also think grind distribution into a portafilter is very important to the grind process, and this grinder lacks in that.

But, don't take my words on it - take the words of noted barista professionals around the world. This year at least, this is the "it" grinder to have if you want the absolute ultimate in espresso (or drip) grinders! And if one isn't enough, there's even a double version!

Product Link (I Drink Coffee, Canada)

Slayer Espresso Machine - $18,000
Posted by Mark Prince, 5:30pm Permalink to this blog entry

One of the most exciting new espresso machines to hit the circuit in a few years is the Slayer Espresso Machine, out of Seattle, WA. This is a machine that was designed from the ground up to be a water-flow controllable machine for super fine tuning the art of espresso extraction. And it looks like a million bucks.

Several things sets the Slayer apart. First is the looks. It has a very unique silhouette both from the sides, and back and front. On the sides you see a dramatic X shape for the machine's legs and frames. From behind the machine has amazing sweeps and shapes to its rectangular body. And in front where all the action happens - gleaming chrome, metal, polished groupheads, beautiful side pull levers for the groupheads and even a shiny mirror like surface to reflect the shot pull back up at the barista.

And still more on looks - every Slayer can be customized to your wants and desires. Want polished chrome for the body? No problem. Want a complete wood outer body? They got you covered. Want painted enamel? Not a worry. Want brushed metal? Again, no problem.

On the inside, this machine is a wunderkind, and is constantly being improved. This year Slayer has developed what they call V3 of their grouphead design, for the single group machine and for others as well. One of the improvements saw the longevity of the mechanics in the grouphead increase dramatically - from 50,000 pulls to over a million, tested.

The machine brews through a unique pressure profiling system that is controlled by the barista, determining how much or how little water flow and pressure gets to the grouphead. With seasoned hands, this means really fine tuned, artisan espresso that has few peers.

They primarily build 2 and 3 group machines, but recently have also introduced a single group variant that will be available in both 110V and 220V versions. Contact the company for more info and pricing.

Product Link (Slayer Espresso, USA)

Compak K10 Conic Espresso Grinder - $1,500
Posted by Mark Prince, 6:00pm Permalink to this blog entry

This is the main grinder we used in the CoffeeGeek Lab, and the one I still use today in my home, paired with a Speedster espresso machine. It's the Compak K10 Conic grinder, and it is awesome in all its manual glory.

This is a conical burr (68mm, or 6.8cm across) grinder that spins at very low RPMS (under 350) but still provides a very fast grinding rate of about 5 seconds per 18.5 grams ground. It weighs in at almost 38 pounds, and has a lot of advanced features including an auto brake system (the burrs completely stop within a second after you turn it off).

But the Compak K10 is also a very manual grinder. It is operated by a simple (and very robust, clickity clack) on/off switch. No timers. No auto dosers. No electronic LED readouts. It's you, timing your grind time. It's you, pulling whackity whack on the doser lever. It's you, being hands on, or as hands on as you can get, with a superb espresso grinder.

The doser chamber is quite well made and leaves very few residual grounds once you sweep it clean with the doser lever. Like all grinders of this type, a fair amount of grounds are left in the channel between the grinding cones and the doser, but it is what it is. The grinder is fast, is very quiet, and is designed for high volume use. It is also tall, and definitely won't fit under kitchen cabinets. But it's a favourite at CoffeeGeek and would be well suited for your man cave espresso bar at home (or as a grinder in a high volume cafe).

Product Link (Cup and Brew, USA)

Baratza - A Premier Charity Partner for Coffee Kids
Posted by CoffeeGeek Staff, 7:00pm Permalink to this blog entry
Sponsor Partner for CoffeeKids

We'd like to introduce you to one of our premier sponsoring partners: Baratza.

We probably don't have to tell you who Baratza is. They make grinders - darned good grinders - and have been doing it for a while. They're also known for legendary, unparalleled customer service.

But did you know that Baratza is also a company that prides itself on good education? For instance, they put up a page recently of grinding tips with questions and answers culled from years of great customer questions.

Recently, Sarah Dooley joined Baratza in an educational and promotional role for the company, and they're expanding their videos, articles and other multimedia information about their grinders. Have a look at the brand new Baratza Forte Grinder overview video - both versions of the grinder! The Forte grinder is Baratza's latest and greatest, and recently won the SCAA award “Best New Product-Coffee or Tea Preparation and Serving Equipment (Commercial)" Award.  

While the Forte is designed for cafe use (or the be-all, end all home grinder), Baratza hasn't forgotten about those folks just getting into really good coffee, because as we preach on CoffeeGeek all the time: the grinder is the most important element in good home coffee! Baratza's answer for the budget / beginner market is the Encore, priced under $150 and very capable of doing every grind from espresso to press pot.

We're very thankful Baratza has decided to also come on board as a charity sponsor, matching CoffeeGeek's overall December donation to Coffee Kids, up to $1,000.

Rancilio Silvia with PID, Preinfusion - $800
Posted by Mark Prince, 7:30pm Permalink to this blog entry

Did you think we would do a Holiday Gift List and not suggest a Rancilio Silvia? :D

Of course we are! But not just any Silvia - we're featuring one with enhancements that, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why the Rancilio Factory isn't doing directly: a Rancilio Silvia with built in PID controls and preinfusion. Fortunately, you can order this machine with those advanced features today, and from Seattle Coffee Gear.

The Silvia is the benchmark for home espresso machines under $1,000. It just is. It's built like a tank, features solid, mechanical switches, has a commercial grade grouphead and portafilter, and has been the mainstay, go to machine to recommend since it was introduced almost 15 years ago.

And it hasn't changed all that much in 15 years either - little piddly additions like a pod adapter (boo) and cosmetic improvements (yay, especially a proper name badge now) but just like back then, it's built to last.

Add a PID control to it and you have an amazing home machine that takes espresso brewing to another level - the temperature stable level, which helps improve your espresso shots and deliver better back to back espresso pulls. Getting it done at the vendor means you get a rock solid installation and no engineering degree required!

Product Link (Seattle Coffee Gear, USA)

Article rating: 10.0
Posted: December 14, 2013
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
Coffee at the Moment Column Archives email author
Mark PrinceColumn Description
Whether it's up to the minute, happening this day, this week, or in the recent past, this column's goal is to present coffee and attempts to make the experience truly culinary. You'll find short reviews about past events, interesting coffees coming on the market, new and different ways to enjoy espresso and other brewing methods, and give an insight into efforts around the globe to make coffee a truly culinary thing. Column written by Mark Prince.

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