Tools Of The Trade – Coffee Gear


- Coffee Gear, Appliances, & Accessories  -

Coffee Appliances & Accessories

Here we begin a detailed discussion over the most used coffee appliances in home and professional kitchens: roasters, grinders, coffee brewers, and espresso machines. Here is a quick ride through the most popular coffee appliances: roasters, grinders, coffee brewers, and espresso machines. Enjoy!

Coffee Roasters

Fresh roasted coffee is essential for brewing good coffee. We make a short approach to home roasting and the best selling brands for coffee roasters, as well for home use.

Coffee Roasting at Home

Coffee is a very fragile aliment, that, if prepared inadequately, would very much disappoint our taste buds. On the other hand, the freshness of coffee acts as the right key to the right door. The place it let's you in is that of the full, individual aroma of every compound that the coffee bean encloses. They say there are 800 of them.  

A fresh roast is usually 24 hours to maximum three weeks old, not more. The 24 hour rest after roasting is recommended. The volatile oils need time to stabilize. The freshness can hide many of the coffee bean's flaws. No matter the quality of the beans, when the roast is stale, the coffee tastes bad. It can be bitter, flavorless, flat or rancid.

Traditional home roasting could be performed in the oven, on the stove top or in the corn popper. In modern days, home roasting is much easier with home coffee roasters.

The stages of coffee roasting

indicator light (Cinnamon) medium ("Full City" or "Viennese") dark ("Dark French" or "Italian roast")
timing the middle of the "first crack" the beginning of the "second crack" the middle of the "second crack"
sound sounds like popping-corn the beans start sounding like paper crinkling the "crinkled-paper" like sound reaches the maximum
color medium brown moderate to dark brown black-brown
size slightly enhanced round, enhanced sharp
smell light-smoke, the coffee smell gradually replaces the bread aroma increased smoke that smells sweet and mordant heavy, dark smoke, sweet-smelling
coffee taste acidly dry & sweet, wearing a grain & tea-like aroma sweet, round and bright burned, only a dash of sweet and no acidity
other features the coffee beans are dry and have the color of cinnamon the coffee beans are shiny, as they have released part of the oils, their volume is bigger the coffee beans are smoked, charcoal-like and very oily
  • There are also some intermediary phases:
  • Medium high and City come between Cinnamon roast and Full City
  • French Roast comes between Full City and Dark French

It's hard to define a precise time for every roast type. It very much depends on the coffee roaster and the beans. A device that has a transparent window will let you see the changing in color of the beans and in time you can use it as a parameter to control the roast.

Speaking of the type of beans, as a general rule, the decaffeinated coffee beans require a very quick roast, while the aged beans need a long roast. Another rule would be to blend different beans after roasting.

The green coffee bean

There are two alternatives to buy green coffee beans: you either go to a coffee shop that roasts coffee on the spot, or shop for green beans on-line. Our Coffee Reviews is a true guide for best green beans, including organic and decaf.

Commercial coffee roasters

Commercial coffee roasters use two roasting methods: drum and hot air.

  • Drum Coffee Roaster
  • Hot Air Coffee Roaster 
The Java Master 5002T Coffee Roaster

Here is a list with the most famous coffee roaster brands:

Alpenroast uses the drum method
roasts 8 oz. of green beans

roasting time is 15 to 19 minutes

manufactured by SwissMar

costs around $300
Hearthware Precision uses the hot air method
roasts 3 oz. of green beans

roasting time is 7 to 10 minutes

manufactured by Heartware

costs around $120
FreshRoast uses the hot air method
roasts 2 US fluid oz. of green beans

roasting time is 4 to 6 minutes

manufactured by

costs around $90
Imex uses the hot air method
roasts 6 oz. of green beans

roasting time is 8 to 10 minutes

manufactured by IMEX

costs around $100-$150

Caffe Rosto uses the hot air method
roasts at least 4,8 oz. of green beans

roasting time is 10 to 15 minutes

manufactured by Brightway

costs around $150
Zach & Dani's uses the hot air method
roasts 4 oz. of green beans

roasting time is next to 30 minutes

manufactured by Zach & Dani's Ready to Roast

costs around $150
HotTop Drum uses the drum method
roasts 9 oz. of green beans

roasting time is 17 to 23 minutes

manufactured by

costs around $600


Coffee Grinders

The coffee grinders or mills can be found separately, or in combination machines. There are two types of grinders: the blade type and the burr type. But the burr ones achieve the best performances in the grinding quality. They manage not to burn the coffee and provide an even grinding. A good roast isn't enough to make a good coffee. A top grinder isn't enough. Neither a good coffee machine, or a skilled barista. In this section we see what's the use of coffee grinders, how they work and the most popular brands. Chronologically, the most antique coffee grinder is the mortar and pestle. The next step on the grinder's evolution ladder is the millstone; afterwards came the roller mill, and finally, the electric coffee grinder.

The home grinding

In the previous section we saw the use of home roasting. Useless to mention that home grinding is also a must if we long for that certain completion feeling that only a fresh, full-aroma cup of coffee can provide.

When coffee is ground, it starts releasing two major compounds that are known as flavor carriers: carbon dioxide (CO2) and lipids. CO2 is also the cream builder in the espresso, the minuscule particles enclosing gas and most of the coffee flavors. Simultaneously, another gas starts working over the quality of the coffee, corrosively and irretrievably. That is oxygen (O2). O2 ruins the quality of ground coffee continuously, as well as it affects the aliments or the metallic surfaces.

The answer to this problem is grinding the needed amount of coffee right before brewing it. And for that we need a home coffee grinder.

The grinding size

Adjusting the ground size is essential for the coffee you want to brew and the device you are using. In the table below you can learn the use of all-size grounds, from coarse to extremely fine.

Grounds Size
Coffee Appliances
coarse
percolators
medium
plungers, siphons  
fine
filter coffee makers
fairly fine
espresso pots and Krups
very fine
espresso machines, except Krups
extremely fine
Turkish* ibrik

*The coffee ground for espresso machines is known as 'very fine'. However, there is one type of ground that is even finer, the Turkish type, obtained with a Turkish coffee grinder (also known as 'Turkish pepper mill'). The Turkish coffee mill is a manual coffee grinder, shape of a cylinder and an old fashion allure.


Types of Coffee Grinders

There are two major types of coffee grinders, the blade and the burr coffee grinder.

I. The blade coffee grinder consists of a sharp blade that spins within a barrel-shaped precinct. The blade grinders are the most accessible machines for grinding coffee.

blade coffee grinder

II. The burr coffee grinder includes two versions: the flat wheel and conical burr.

burr grinder
  • The conical burr

  • The flat wheel

The advantage of a burr grinder is that it produces an even ground, and less heat in the grinding chamber, preventing the coffee from being burned.

Apart from the shape of the upper metallic part, the burr coffee makers can also be classified as high speed and low speed.

  • in the case of high speed burr grinders, the rotating wheel is directly connected to a small electric motor; the disadvantage of small motors is that they have to turn at high speeds in order to develop sufficient power, and to grind without bogging down. The high speed of the grinding process tends to charge the coffee with static electricity. In order to prevent this unpleasant effect, you need to soak a few beans (not all the charge) in water, before starting the grinding.

  • low speed burr grinders are usually preferred over the high speed ones, as they produce less heat in the grinding chamber, less static electricity, are more solid and live longer. The hand crank coffee grinder, because it's manually actioned, can be considered a low speed burr grinder. The most famous hand crank brands are Bisetti (Italy) and the Zassenhaus coffee grinder (Germany). The electric low speed burr grinders further classify into gear reduction burr grinders and direct drive burr grinders.

    • The gear reduction grinder is in fact a high speed burr grinder, but its motor is connected to a gear reduction system; the motion of the metallic wheel becomes slower but more powerful.

    • The direct drive grinders have a big motor that is connected directly to the spinning wheel; these grinders are among the most expensive, but also the best coffee grinders available. See how burr grinder brands classify in the table below.

High Speed Grinders Gear Reduction Grinders Direct Drive Grinders
La Pavoni coffee grinder, model PA Bodum coffee grinder, model Antigua Rancilio Rocky burr grinder
Capresso coffee grinder, model #551 Solis Maestro coffee grinder Rancilio MD 40 burr grinder
Capresso coffee grinder, model Select #555 Solis Maestro Plus coffee grinder Mazzer Mini burr grinder
Saeco coffee grinder, model MC2002 Gaggia Coffee Grinder, model MDF Pasquini Moka burr grinder

If you want to buy a cheap coffee grinder, you can settle for a Braun, Capresso, Bunn, Bodum, DeLonghi, Krups, Kitchenaid, or a Cuisinart DBM-8 (our review);all make decent burr grinder with prices that range from $20 to $100.  As for the high-end price category ($150 and more), we can mention the Rancilio Rocky Grinder (review), Solis Maestro and Solis Maestro Plus, Mazzer Mini, Pasquini Moka, Innova Grinders, Gaggia MDF, Nuova Simonelli MCF.

Commercial Coffee Grinders

Usually, a commercial coffee grinder is the conical burr type and is not available for less than $400. Some of the most 'affordable' commercial grinders are La Pavoni 'Jolly' model and Gaggia MDF Macinadosatore. There are, of course, home use grinders that use a conical burr, but they usually come in a plastic burr carrier, that can easily break.


Coffee Makers

The coffee makers family is really big. It includes:

The Stove Top Espresso Maker

The ancient turkish ibrik: we referred to it as a stove top. 'the poor man's espresso maker' alias moka pot. It makes a very good job for a grandpa, but you need to grind your coffee very fine, using a pepper mill;

The stove top espresso maker does not brew the 'real espresso', but a strong, Italian style coffee. The most famous stove top brand is Moka Express. That's why these devices are also called 'moka pots'.

There are various stove top devices that can brew coffee: Turkish Ibrik (cezve), the stove top percolator, and the stove top espresso maker or moka pot.

Turkish Ibrik

Stove Top Percolator 

Stove Top Espresso Maker

The Turkish ibrik uses medium roasted but extremely fine grounded coffee. For the coffee preparation it is recommended to add the powder coffee two minutes after placing the ibrik filled with water over the heat source. You can raise the heat and adjust it so the content riches the boiling temperature in about 2 minutes. When the coffee starts boiling and raises close to the rim, remove it from the heat for 20 seconds. Repeat this procedure for 2 minutes. The whole process should last around 7 minutes. The coffee is then allowed to settle for several minutes, as you don't want to allow grounds in your cup. A special quality of Turkish coffee is that you can enrich its flavor with various spices. The spices should be added together with the coffee powder.

The stove top espresso maker components:

  • the bottom part

  • the filter basket

  • the rubber ring

  • the upper part where the brewed coffee climbs

  • the lid

  • the plastic handle

parts of a moka pot

The moka pot is also called 'the poor man's espresso maker'. It is a device that brews a very good, thick, flavored and strong coffee, but is not able to deliver the delicious creme that defines the real espresso. It consists of two parts connected one to another through a thread system. The bottom chamber is to place the fresh, pure and cold water. Above the bottom chamber comes a filter basket, which you fill with ground coffee. To tighten the two parts together, the upper chamber has a rubber ring. The heated water percolates the coffee and goes up in the upper chamber through a small pipe. The brewing process takes about 5 minutes at a medium flame (that's recommended).

The most common and at the same time less expensive moka pots are the aluminum ones. But there are manufacturers that provide stainless steel mokas.

 For brewing in the moka pot you need finely ground coffee. After usage, you can thoroughly wash the moka pot with plain water only (this appears to be quite a tradition in Italian homes), but using dish wash soap is no mistake either.


Percolator

The outdated percolator, that never managed to make a come-back after its glorious days in the twenties

Percolators are not considered the best appliances for brewing coffee. There are some good reasons for that. The operating principle is to get boiling water (and steam) through the coffee ground placed above the pot, in a basket, until all the flavors have been washed; the resulted coffee flows back into the pot.

Percolator components

  • the percolator coffee pot

  • the lid

  • the funnel

  • the filter basket

  • the filter top

Percolator Types & Prices

Percolators can be the stove-top type (stainless steel or glass percolators) and the electric type.

The modern percolator is electronic and programmable. Sizes also vary. The smallest percolator can brew 1 cup of coffee at a time. The largest - around 12 cups.

Urns are percolators using the same brewing procedure, but of higher capacity. The largest urn can brew over 100 coffee cups at one time.

The most appreciated trade mark for percolators is Farberware. A Farberware percolator sells from $14 (the simplest) to $150+ (the 55 cups size urn).


Drip_Coffee

Drip Coffee Maker

the 'morning convenience' drip coffee maker

Using a drip coffee maker is the most common way to brew coffee. The operating principle is as simple as the simplest definition for coffee, "hot water flavored with ground coffee". As for one cup of fairly "flavored" drip coffee, we need around 3 oz. of hot water (195°F - 205°F) poured drip by drip through one tablespoon of medium ground coffee placed in the filter-bag. Drip coffee makers range from a single serve to extra large capacity pots. The soft spot of the drip coffee makers is their capacity to heat the water properly. If not, you'll have coffee that's underextracted and tastes bad.

Drip coffee maker types

Drip coffee makers may be manual or automatic. The difference is the automatic machine warms the water while in the manual drip you have to prepare the hot water separately. On the market you can also find programmable drip coffee makers. This machines are very usefully for those who use morning coffee as a kickstart. All you have to do is prepare the drip coffee maker in the evening (water and coffee in it) and program the machine. It will make fresh coffee in the morning, at the hour you requested.

Automatic Drip Coffee Maker

Manual Drip Coffee Maker

Programmable Drip Coffee Maker

How to make the best drip Coffee

  • Make sure you use the measures that suit you best; sometimes, the divisions on the water reservoir may not meet yours; as a general rule, for 1 cup of coffee (3 oz.), 1 tbsp. of ground coffee is fine;

  • Temperature: the ideal temperature for drip coffee is somewhere between 195-205°F (90-95°C);

  • The brewing process: don't stop the drip machine until the last drop of water has cut through the filter bin. The drip coffee making process is not even; the last drops may bring more flavors into the cup than the first ones; usually, the brewing process is not more than 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the capacity;

  • When the brewing process is over, remove the pot from the hot plate of the coffee maker; this is not the best way to keep the coffee warm and fresh, unless you want to obtain a bitter, flavourless liquid, that some mistake for coffee;

  • The coffee: it has been proved that medium ground coffee is better suited for drip coffee makers;

  • The filter: permanent filters can be cleaned and used all over again; it is said that metalic filters are better than plastic; paper filters must be sprinkled with hot water in order to let flavors and oils pass through; also, this prevents the drink to get a paper-like smell;

Drip coffee makers can be found at prices anywhere between $30 and $100. The most sophisticated drips include a temperature-adjustable hot plate, water filter, or a built-in thermal pot; Bunn for example is selling a drip coffee maker with a built-in thermostat that keeps the water constantly hot and ready for use. That way the brewing process is shortened to about 3 minutes.

Drip Brewing Features - 2 cups

var. name value
water temperature 195-205°F (90-95°C)
brewing time 4 to 6 minutes
how much water 6 oz.
how much coffee 2 tbsp.


french press

The French Press Coffee Pot

the fashionable french press

The French press coffee pot is one of the simplest, least expensive devices to use for brewing coffee.

No coffee brewing device has as many names as the French press coffee pot: cafetiere, bodum, press pot. No matter the name you call it, the coffee you brew with it should be very good. Only you have to follow some basic rules.

The components of a French Press

french press parts
  • the glass or stainless steel carafe

  • the lid

  • the plunger that pierces through the lid, with a knob at the top end

  • the steel mesh attached to the bottom extremity of the plunger; the mesh fits perfectly in the carafe

  • the handle

How the French Press works

  1. Remove the lid with the plunger and steel mesh from the glass carafe

  2. Heat the water separately to max 195 - 200°F (90-93°C)

  3. Place the fresh medium-to-fine ground coffee in the carafe; as a rule, you can use 7 grams of coffee-ground for every cup (3 - 4 oz.) of water, but you really should adjust the quantities to your taste

  4. Pour the hot water over the coffee-ground

  5. Stir in for about 5 minutes

  6. Fit the steel mesh in the carafe and press on the lid (the process should take 25 to 30 seconds)

  7. Pour in the cups and serve immediately.

Now, of course, there are a few tricks to master with the French pot. Usually, the experts recommend an even and coarser grind, so that it wouldn't escape through the filter. A nice tip is to use the finest grind for the best extraction of flavors and oils, and brew less (2-3 minutes). The grounds will, anyhow, decant on the bottom of the cup. You have to skip the last swallow to avoid the mud, but the rest of the cup is quite rewarding.

how a french press works

Another secret is to warm the carafe before pouring the hot water. This way you have a better control over water temperature.

And, most important, never let the coffee rest in the carafe after brewing. The grounds are still in contact with the coffee and will continue to extract. You'll get over-extracted, bitter coffee, and the flavor will be wasted.


Vacuum Coffee Brewer

the alchemist vacuum brewer

Though it is a kitchen appliance, a vacuum coffee maker could easily be mistaken to a chemistry lab equipment. It consists of 2 overlapping glass bowls (containers), that communicate through a syphon tube; the upper container has at its bottom is a filter

The operating principle

The water is placed in the bottom container, the ground coffee in the upper one, above the filter. The equipment comes placed over a stove top. When the water is heated enough, it turns to vapors, that tend to expand and pass through the syphon tube in the upper chamber. The process lasts about three minutes - a complete brewing cycle. When the heat source is removed, the vapors cool off, they turn back to liquid and their volume contracts, creating a vacuum that forces the liquid back to the bottom container, through the filter.

Types of Vacuum Coffee makers

  • the two globe type - dates back in the 1920's and the first model was provided by the American company, Silex;

  • the balance type (the first automatic device) - works on the same principle as the two globe brewer, only with the two chambers placed side by side;

  • the Napier (or the one way) vacuum brewer - is a less common device that changes a bit the brewing process: most of the water is placed in the same chamber with the ground coffee, and only a small quantity in the other-side bowl. When heat is applied, the water in the side-bowl expands more quickly through the syphon tube, and agitates the coffee and water mixture; when heat is removed the vacuum is formed and coffee pushed through the syphon into the side-bowl;

  • the modern-automatic type - the first model provided by Farberware had the bottom made of a copper and chrome alloy and kept the glass top; it added a heating element tied to a primitive thermostat, that would suppress the heat when the brewing cycle was over; however, the cycle repeated as the installation cooled off,over and over, until it was unplugged; the first really modern automatic device was put up by Sunbeam.

Nowadays, there are only few companies that still manufacture vacuum brewers, only two of them in Europe: Bodum and Cona. E-bay and antique shops still sell the traditional Sunbeam, Silex or Cory, at prices ranging $20 to $50. A new Bodum ranges from $50 to $100; a Cona is more expensive, the lowest price being $150.


Espresso machines

Espresso machines now these are serious kitchen equipment. The minimum budget to achieve one is 70$. Do we need to mention that at this price it would not be a real espresso machine? We think not. So you'd better start saving because the next decent stop is $300. When buying an espresso machine you need to know how much you are willing to spend, and how much you are planning to learn. As for quality, espresso entails skill as well as quality equipment.

A quick summary Of The Espresso Machine

  • Espresso machines require skill, as they are very sensitive appliances.

  • Espresso machines require the user's time, for there is no standard recipe for the perfect espresso. The best way to learn is by experiment.

  • Espresso machines demand a great deal from the owner's pocket. They like good coffee, proper roasting, fine grinding, and require plenty of special attention.

  • The espresso machine needs to match the type of coffee you plan to make. For example, if you are the cappuccino type, you'll buy a machine with froth attachment.

  • The espresso machine offering the highest convenience rate will be the more automatic one. More than likely, it will also be one of the most expensive.

Other Coffee Accessories 

By now you've probably reconsidered your coffee budget several times. It wouldn't hurt to do it once more: you have to think frothers, cleaning equipment, cups and spoons, and even more accessories for your espresso machine: tampers, timers, thermometers, trays, frothing pitches, knock boxes, descalers, shot glasses... and the list goes on and on.

  • The espresso glass is a cup with dimensions designed especially for a double shot of espresso (2.5 ounces).

  • The tamper is a knob-shaped handle usually made of aluminum or stainless steel. Very often, the upper end is made of wood. Average price is $30.

  • The thermometer is needed to froth your milk at the right temperature (not over 160F) and control the temperature in the cup.

  • The tray is a wide, resistant plate to support your espresso machine as well as the grinder.

  • The knock box is a small tray, fixed to the kitchen counter from which you dispense the grounds.

  • The descaler cleans the calcium deposits.

  • The frother is normally used to enhance the cappuccino foam.

  • Frothing pitchers come in different sizes. You have to choose the one appropriate to the drink you wish to prepare, and to your coffee machine. Average prices are $15 to $20.

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