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Our Favorite Gear for the Year: 2017
It’s a little hard to believe it, but we’re mere weeks away from 2017 drawing to a close. It’s been a busy year around these parts, with trade shows in Seattle and Milan, a CoffeeChamps Preliminary right here in Louisville, and of course plenty of new and fun coffee toys arriving at our warehouse. When we look back on all the coffee gear we’ve gotten to test and try out, it’s pretty amazing to see just how much there is to get excited about these days. At the same time, there are quite a few staples we find ourselves coming back to again and again even if they aren’t the newest and shiniest of the bunch.
So, we wanted to throw together a list of this year’s favorites - all the items we thought were the best or most exciting of the bunch for their respective categories. And we’d love to hear from you too! If you have some favorite coffee gear from this year that you’ve used, whether it’s a new release or an old classic, we’re all ears and can’t wait to hear what made this year’s coffee all the better for you. Without further ado:
Our Favorite Grinders
Home Coffee Grinder:
The Virtuoso is a perennial favorite product for us, so we wanted to place it right up top. It’s a really solid home grinder with great performance for pourover and auto drip, and its french press grind isn’t too shabby either. It’s affordable, but with good build quality and Baratza’s legendary customer support the value is almost unbeatable. You can’t go wrong here!
Home Espresso Grinder:
Baratza Sette 270 W
While the initial release last year was a little shaky, we’ve really come to love the Sette 270 W as it matured through the first part of 2017. It’s an impressive home espresso grinder, with near-zero grind retention and super easy grind adjustment - not to mention great flavor clarity in the cup. The grind-by-weight system for portafilters is revolutionary, and thanks to the overall design, the nice fluffy mound of grounds you get in the basket needs little grooming prior to tamping. And that just plain makes life easier for us home espresso enthusiasts!
Commercial Coffee Grinders:
By now most of the coffee world knows about the legendary EK43 coffee grinder. It’s been in the limelight for years now, boasting huge flat burrs and nearly unmatched grind uniformity. In 2018 it will see some parts upgrades that will hopefully optimize it even more, but in its current state it’s still one of our favorite commercial grinders for its performance, versatility, and superb flavor in the cup.
For a more affordable option, the GH2 batch grinder is still a favorite of ours as well. It’s not quite as fancy as the EK43, but it’s a modest retail grinder with great performance and really impressive results. The new spout and bag clip are a much-appreciated upgrade over its predecessor, and the new stepless adjustment dial is a better match for dialing in specialty coffees.
Commercial Espresso Grinder:
Nuova Simonelli Mythos One
We’ve had a Mythos One in our office break room for a couple years now, and it’s hard to imagine having anything else in its place. It’s consistent, it’s easy to use, the flavor quality is fantastic, and while we’re perhaps not the ideal environment for the Clima Pro tech, we do notice that it’s easier to dial in first thing thanks to the already-warm grinding chamber.
Manual Coffee/Espresso Grinder:
Knock’s newest offering is a compact but nonetheless high-performance hand grinder, at a price that’s really hard to beat. It’s got the same burrs as the Feldgrind, it’s just as well-built too, and it’s compact enough to stow in your Aeropress plunger for travel. It may be small, but it sure is mighty!
Our Favorite Brewing Gear
Bonavita’s auto-drip brewers have been some of our favorites for years, mainly because they match great brewing performance with an affordable price. The new GW model features a sleek glass carafe, plus the blooming mode, flat basket filter, and powerful heater of the other 1900 models. Flavor-wise it’s still on par with the other 1900 models, but we’re suckers for the look of freshly brewed coffee in a lovely glass carafe.
When Nick Cho first showed us the December Dripper back in April, we were eager to get our hands on one to start playing with it. A few weeks later we had one in the office and it quickly became the only thing we’d brew with. It’s a seriously impressive device, and the flow rate control gives you a ton of flexibility for brewing. You can grind medium-coarse for a single cup and drag out the extraction for four minutes if you like, or you can stuff it full of grounds and brew a full liter to share with your friends. For us, that’s a real game-changer!
We’re still not quite sure how to categorize the American Press; is it a pressurized french press, or a single chamber moka pot, or a self-contained Aeropress? Whatever it is, we like it! The standard instructions are easy to follow and make for a great and rich cup of coffee, but we also enjoy that it’s flexible enough to tweak your approach to brewing - whether that’s by “pumping” the basket up and down once or twice while brewing, or leaving the basket to steep like a more traditional french press.
Cold Coffee Maker:
Cold brew is enjoying a moment right now, that’s for certain, but when it comes to cold coffee there’s really something to be said for flash-chilled brews. The Hyperchiller is a dead-simple device - just fill it with water, freeze, and pour your coffee through. That’s it! Quick chilling, and no dilution, meaning your freshly brewed coffee is cool in just seconds and it tastes every bit as it does when served hot. Serve it over some fresh ice cubes, and you’re set to kick back and enjoy the summer sun.
Fellow Stagg EKG
It’s brand new, but it’s already captured our hearts. Leave it to Fellow to create a brewing kettle that is an absolute joy to use; from the smart little knob to pick your temp, to the counter-balanced handle for comfortable pouring, to all the little details that make this kettle *just right* in the best ways. It’s fast, it’s accurate, it’s lovely to brew with and we’re pretty sure this is going to be everybody’s new favorite variable temp kettle too.
A few months back, Acaia released brand new firmware that unlocks new functions for all Pearl scales, old and new - like an espresso mode, an auto-tare, even a step-by-step brew mode. But if you’d asked us what our favorite brewing scale was in January, the answer would still be the same. We love the Pearl for its fast response time, its accuracy, its built-in battery that lasts ages, and for its connected app that lets us store our favorite brew parameters for later reference. Acaia knocked it out of the park with this one.
STC Stand X
Brewing stands may not be quite as en vogue as they once were, but we still find use for them all the time. And when we’ve been in need of one this year, we kept reaching for the Stand X. It was designed to be multifunctional, meant for heating water, brewing Turkish coffee, or making a pour over, all with one device. And being made of laser-cut steel, it’s basically indestructible.
Kruve Sifting System
Kruve’s entry into the coffee world was extremely exciting to us, because they finally made a coffee sifting system that was affordable and approachable. Sifting may not be for everyone, but having a more affordable option on the market is going to at least make it accessible to more people - for the price of one decent sieve, you can now buy a Kruve set with 6 screen sizes, and that’s pretty amazing! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our trials with grinds sifting, eliminating or re-mixing fines, and grind size isolation, and it’s all thanks to Kruve.
Our Favorite Espresso Gear
Home Espresso Machine:
La Marzocco Linea Mini
It’s perhaps not your average home espresso machine, but that’s exactly what we love about it. This dual boiler espresso machine looks and feels like a Linea classic, like having a full commercial espresso machine at your fingertips. This is a rock-solid machine, with excellent shot quality and great steam performance. It’s no wonder it’s become the dream machine of many a home barista since its release.
Commercial Espresso Machine:
We weren’t totally sure what to expect when we brought our first Slayer Steam in earlier this year; Slayer had promised revolutionary steam performance but simplified espresso. For a company who built their name on a novel approach to espresso extraction, this sounded like an odd departure. But now that we’ve had plenty of hands-on time with one, we’re right on board with them. This is a machine for shops who need to focus on drink production, really crank out the shots and milk drinks - and that’s exactly where it excels. The new steam tech is great for flexibility, offering programmable flow rate on the steam wands and superheated steam, so you can steam for a cortado or a large latte without fuss. Plus, it looks fantastic on bar, it’s got volumetrics and programmable temperatures for each group, and all around it’s a solid machine for a competitive price. Oh, and did we mention we have our lightly used two group for sale right now?
Pullman Big Step
As traditional tampers go, there are dozens and dozens of manufacturers and styles to choose from - a little something for everybody, you could say. But it’s rare that we come across a tamper that stands out so strongly to us like the Pullman Big Step did. With a base designed specifically for precision baskets (like Pullman’s own offerings, or those from VST), the Big Step takes the idea of edge to edge tamping quite seriously. It’s a snug fit in your basket, such that you can barely rotate the base off-axis in order to tamp, and that’s a good thing! The new Mk. II base material is even harder than before, so it won’t get dinged up as easily behind the bar. Our favorite detail is the set of spacers that are included, so you can adjust the handle height to your hand. It’s all-around just a terrific little tamper to use!
When puck-style tampers first started to hit the market a few years ago, we were a little skeptical. But by now we’re completely sold: they help reduce wrist and arm strain, they tamp level every time, and they tamp to a consistent depth for you so you can focus on customer interaction instead. The PUSH tamper is one of the more compact models out there, with lots of great little details like the depth markings on the tamper piston and a channel to help reduce suction when removing the tamper.
Espresso Prep Tool:
Grooming tools have been on our roster of barware for some time now, because they make espresso prep just that much easier, cleaner, and in our experience more consistent. The Chisel works like most grooming tools: you set the piston face to your desired depth, dose your coffee into the basket, insert the tool and twist a few revolutions, then remove it and tamp. What we love about the Chisel is that its design is ambidextrous, and that it seems to do a great job of flattening a mound or dome into a more evenly distributed cylinder, moving more of the central material out to the edges.
Espazzola Group Cleaning Tool
Sure, it’s not a fancy or glamorous tool, but we love it because it makes cleanup so much easier. A clean group and a clean machine are essential for great espresso, and anything that makes clearing up the gunk and crud leftover after a shot-pulling session is a winner in our books. The Espazzola uses a soft silicone brush head to scrub your group, and locks in just like a normal portafilter. It can even use a detergent pellet to assist with cleanup, and it does a stupendous job of quickly scrubbing away the bits from your group screen and gasket. Plus, you don’t have to burn your fingers using a rag or brush. We love this thing!
Luminaire Auto Shot Timer
There are a million ways to time your shots these days, from handheld timers to the smartphones most of us carry around. But the most convenient means of shot timing is still when the machine will keep track of it for you based on when you start and stop the pump. Luminaire’s auto timer add-on does just that, and for many machines it requires no modifications to install. It consists of a self-contained magnetic timer, a wire lead, and a sensor with a stick-on clip. Install the clip on your 120-240 V solenoid group valve, clip in the sensor, and the timer is ready to go. As the solenoid valve switches during use, the timer automatically starts, stops, and restarts, tracking your shot times in tune with the operation of the machine.
Our Other Favorites
What I Know About Running Coffee Shops, by Colin Harmon
There are a gazillion books on business out there, from the step by step how-to guides to lofty inspirational musings on management. But few resonate as well for coffee professionals as Colin Harmon’s collection of stories, advice, and thoughts on his own work as the owner of 3fe, a chain of shops in Ireland. Colin is a down-to-earth guy, who writes practically and thoughtfully about his experience in a way that will actually be useful and helpful to people in the coffee industry. WIKARCS might actually convince you not to open that coffee shop you’ve been thinking about because it’s more work or risk than you realized. And it’s that perfect blend of setting realistic expectations, humility, humor, and practicality that make this such an excellent book on the coffee business - and to some extent retail business in general.
Third Wave Water
It was never any real secret that water matters, and it matters a lot. Coffee shops all over were already filtering and treating their water, not just for the sake of their equipment, but also for flavor. Home brewers were already trying different bottled waters to see what made their coffee taste best. But now we’re getting more into the nitty-gritty details of water composition - how specific chemicals affect coffee extraction, and while some of that material is hard to digest without a chemistry PhD, folks like Third Wave Water make it far more accessible. Simply put: TWW is designed to make your specialty coffee taste better. If you’ve got questionable or hard water, you’ll notice an instant improvement in your brews. If you want to eliminate a variable in your brewing, it will give you a static water formula to use while you tweak other aspects of your coffee. We’ve been impressed with the results it’s given us, and we think you will too.
Coffee Blossom Honey
This honey comes from coffee farms in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Beekeeping helps pollinate the local coffee crops and sustain local bee populations, and of course it also comes with a delicious reward in the form of honey made from the nectar of coffee blossoms. This honey is raw and unfiltered, so while it can be a little cloudy from time to time, it’s also very rich, fragrant, and delicious. We find there tends to be a lot of florality to this honey, with a little citrus at times, or even more earthy chocolaty notes. It’s a lovely gift to give, and it goes great with cheese, on toast, or even eaten right off a spoon if that’s what you like!