Our Favorite Gear for the Year: 2019
As 2019 approaches its close - that's right, we're almost out of the teens! - we can't help but reflect on the months gone by. As is often the case, our year has been packed with numerous new products to test out, events big and small, and more than a few amazing coffees. With so much happening month-to-month it can be easy to get lost in the fast pace of life - but we do try to take some time to slow down and think back on the really memorable parts as well. That's where our list of Favorites comes in: it's not about what's newest or most flashy, but what actually stuck with us each year, what kind of coffee tools we kept coming back to or will leave an impression going into 2020.
Take a look at this year's list below - a curated peek at all the coffee toys we loved these past 11 months (some of which will make fantastic gifts!). And be sure to let us know what you think down below in the comments or on social media as well. As always, we look forward to another amazing year in coffee and wish you all the very best for the holidays!
Our Favorite Grinders
Home Coffee Grinder:
Baratza's mid-range Virtuoso grinder got a makeover this year, with a new digital timer and LED lights to illuminate the grinds bin. Inside is still the same set of burrs and same motor we have loved for years, making this a dead-easy product to continue to recommend for aspiring home brewers and anyone who just wants a solid, reliable coffee kit for their kitchen or office. The new timer is an unassuming upgrade, but it adds a lovely layer of precision instead of what used to be a guessing game with the analog dial timer.
Home Espresso Grinder:
Baratza Forte BG
This year, we fell back in love with the steel-burred Forte BG. It has made periodic appearances on our brew bar over the years, but it's been a mainstay all this year thanks to its stellar performance at our Coffee Expo booth - where it shared the stage with 8 commercial grinders and truly held its own when it came to flavor in the cup. Small, but mighty, the Forte BG is a great pick for both upper-mid-range home espresso bars and even light commercial or catering needs.
Commercial Coffee Grinder:
No surprises here: we still love the EK43 series of grinders. Recently, we also added professional alignment services as an option for our EK43 grinders, which means that anyone can now get a superbly aligned (within 0.01 mm!) precision grinder with big flat burrs that yields amazing flavor clarity. This grinder has produced some of the best cups of coffee we've ever had, and it's no wonder so many cafes are trusting it for their brewing needs. While its bigger, older sibling is perhaps most familiar, we still love the EK43S for its lower profile stance and balanced design.
Commercial Espresso Grinder:
This year, Mahlkonig retired the K30 Vario and introduced the new E65S to the world. Inside is the familiar 65 mm flat burr set you might know from the K30, but just about everything else is shiny and new. The body is slimmer and taller, with a newly designed hopper and grind adjustment ring. The LCD screen and control knob are responsive and oh-so-easy to use for making adjustments to the grind programs. And best of all, the E65S is both fast *and* quiet! A fluffy 18 gram dose is delivered in just over 3 seconds, and the grinder body does a fantastic job of toning down the drone and vibration of the motor. In October Mahlkonig also announced a grind-by-weight version of the E65S, so we can't wait to get our hands on that - hopefully next year!
Manual Coffee/Espresso Grinder:
Kinu M47 Phoenix
In just a year's time, Kinu's hand grinders have become some of the most popular models in our catalog - and we don't blame anyone, we love them too! The classic M47 feels like it will last 100 lifetimes with its all-steel body, but this year we've been won over by one of their newest models - the M47 Phoenix. It has equally solid construction as any other Kinu grinder, the same precision grind adjustment dial, the same burrs that we adore for anything from espresso to Kalita Wave brewing, but they've trimmed some of the weight and simplified some materials to make it both more portable and more affordable. With a newly announced cone burr meant for improved coarse grinding, you can't go wrong with just about any Kinu grinder for whatever your brewing needs may be.
Our Favorite Brewing Gear
Allow me to make a confession: I don't actually drink a ton of coffee, despite working both at Prima as well as a barista on the side. Actually, to be more accurate: I don't actually drink a ton of coffee at home. On those days where I don't feel like making a pour over, a small automatic brewer like the BV1500TS is truly perfect. I can make a half pot to sip on with breakfast and not feel like I am wasting coffee - or worse, feel obligated to overindulge to finish a big pot and feel sick from caffeine for the rest of the day. Bonavita's brewers are a great way to simply make excellent drip coffee, and the 5 cup brewer is the ideal size for anyone like me that doesn't always want to chug a whole liter of the good stuff.
Chemex 8 Cup Coffee Maker
Out of all the brewing devices at my disposal, I probably use a Chemex the most. The 8 cup model in our office will often be seen full of fresh coffee; that is, until it is briskly and enthusiastically emptied by our staff. I am a firm fan of Chemex brewing, I love the clean cup afforded by the thick paper filters, and since I'm often brewing for a group, I love the 8 and 10 cup sizes for the ability to prepare at least a liter at a time. Sharing is caring, after all!
Delter Coffee Press
The Delter Coffee Press isn't really an immersion brewer - its coffee puck remains separate from water until pressure is applied, so it's more like a very low pressure espresso brewer. But with "Press" right there in the name it's hard not to draw comparisons between it and the Aeropress or french presses. In short, they're not very alike! The Delter is highly portable and offers a quick and novel approach to brewing, which allows for brewing about 200-400 mL of coffee in just a few consecutive presses of the plunger. It is compatible with many Aeropress-sized filters as well, so you can amp up the body with a steel filter if you prefer.
Acaia Pearl S
Acaia's scales were already hard to beat, with responsive and accurate weighing, built in timer modes, and a battery that lasts up to a month (or longer!). It turns out they've still got some tricks up their sleeves, and the Pearl Model S is a hint at what's to come. The improved capacity hits 3 kg, the new dot matrix screen allows for even more flexibility in what's being displayed, and the new Brewguides are a hugely useful resource for teaching coffee making skills to baristas, customers, friends and family - you name it.
Glowbeans Master B
My go-to way to explain the Master B is to say it's "a shower head for manual brewers." This little tool functions both as a small water reservoir and a dispersion block for your water, showering your brew bed with a gentle end even pattern of drips as you add water. I have pretty much fallen in love with the Master B, because it has transformed the cup quality of my brews in some very positive ways. That gentle addition of water can make for much cleaner and more pronounced flavors in the cup, more reliable draw-downs (I have never choked a brew with a Master B), and added depth and complexity. It feels almost like cheating sometimes, but I can't complain when the coffee tastes this good.
Litmus Coffee Labs UFO Sprayheads
If you've ever dialed in a batch brew recipe, you know that it can feel both frustrating and wasteful, as if you botch a recipe you might be looking at discarding an entire gallon of coffee. So just about anything that can improve batch quality can also help reduce waste - and that's exactly what we saw with the UFO Sprayheads from Litmus. Not only did they make dialing in batches easier, with more flavorful results and less indication of channeling, they also help increase extraction in each batch so you can use less coffee mass and still get excellent flavor. Our results in testing were truly impressive, with a reliable 1-2% increase in extraction compared to the stock sprayhead.
Cold Coffee Maker:
Summer may be a few months behind us now, but the Hyperchiller was one of my most trusted brewing companions for about 5 months this year. For me, it's the perfect way to prepare iced drinks - I love the fresh flavor of hot-brewed coffee, but I prefer to chill it down without diluting if I can. The Hyperchiller does just that, with two sizable chunks of ice frozen within it and a stainless steel container where your hot drink will crash chill in just about a minute. It's not ideal for a large batch of icy cool beverages, but for one to two people it's perfect. Plus, the Hyperchiller is perfect for cooling off just about any other beverage too: tea, wine, White Claw? Yes to all the above.
Fellow Stagg EKG
There are variable temperature kettles, and then there is the Stagg EKG. Its gently tapered spout, modern aesthetic, and smart interface design make it stand out clearly from the crowd. Our Stagg EKG sees near constant use at the office, and we can easily vouch for its temperature reliability and the ease of pouring control - whether we're toying around with a new single cup V60 recipe, or brewing an enormous overflowing Chemex for the whole team.
Our Favorite Espresso Gear
Home Espresso Machine:
La Marzocco Linea Mini
For a good portion of this year you could find a Linea Mini adorning our brewing bar, happily pulling shots and steaming milk alongside myriad other brewing wares. It's not the fanciest of espresso gizmos around, maybe, but it's nonetheless quite the workhorse capable of slinging shots at a big event like Expo, or just for your and your partner's morning cuppa. Our Linea Mini featured the optional plumbing kit, and we tuned down the pump pressure so our shots pulled at approximately 7 bars, so we spent a few months sipping on syrupy sweet shots - not a bad way to keep office morale high, eh? Think a Linea Mini is your kind of espresso machine? You're in luck! This holiday season you can enjoy sweet savings up to $450 on a new Linea Mini, and if you act quickly you could be serving your guests the best espresso they've ever had after your holiday feast.
Commercial Espresso Machine:
La Marzocco KB90
Want to win over a barista's heart? Figure out a way to keep their joints healthy and happy. That's what the KB90's Straight-In portafilter is meant to do: it's configured so the motion of inserting and removing a portafilter - something baristas everywhere do hundreds of times per day - is less complex, requires less force, and uses a more natural position of the hand and arm without contorting. Barista ergonomics are increasingly the subject of talks, blog posts, and of course, equipment design. If you're a barista, you value your health and well-being easily as much as (and hopefully more than) the quality of the coffee you're serving, but the labors of the job can be literal pain points, leading to repetitive stress injuries that can affect your work and your life considerably. The KB90 is a great step toward more ergonomic, barista-friendly equipment that still pulls a mean shot and stands up strong against the morning rush.
Speaking of barista ergonomics - have you ditched your manual tamper yet? When we dropped by La Marzocco's Crush the Rush 2 event in Nashville this summer, the message was clear that a Puqpress is a very welcome addition to bar workflow. With a standalone Puqpress Q2, you can quickly set up your automatic tamper to properly fit your portafilter, configure your desired pressure, and then just go. Grind, tamp, pull as usual, except now you don't have to worry anywhere near as much about joint pain and awkward body positioning. And your shots will be as good as ever, so it's wins all around!
Whether you prefer to call them "grooming tools" or "distributors," by now most of us have seen these little adjustable wedges in use everywhere from barista competitions to our favorite cafes to Instagram accounts that feature enviable coffee corners and drool-worthy snaps of mid-pull espresso. Of the grooming tools we've used, Pullman's Chisel ranks high for its overall balance, and its fit and finish. Truth be told, many distributors seem to work more or less the same in our experience, so for us it tends to come down to aesthetics and whatever feels best to use. A Chisel adjusts to the right depth in a snap, yields a nice flat puck surface with one quick twist, and doesn't tend to pick up as many stray grounds hitching a ride as some other designs we've used. And the benefits? We've noticed that distributors help improve shot-to-shot consistency versus tamping a mound of grounds, and since it only takes an extra second it's hard to see a downside of using them.
Our Other Favorites
Umeshiso Rainbow Little Dipper
I don't often find cupping spoons to be, well, compelling at all, but I bought myself a pair of these spoons this year and already I love them to death. First off, I feel like I don't have nearly enough rainbow-colored items in my life, so any time I grab one of these to taste some coffee it automatically makes things more fun. Cupping should always be fun! Plus, the size and heft of the spoon is really nice in my opinion - and again, I almost never even consider these details, it's a spoon! Umeko has some other really fun colors to pick from (like 24K gold or Goth Black), so you can find whatever suits your style or just buy a few of each to collect the whole set.
This one may be somewhat niche, but we work closely with a good deal of coffee shops and roasters, so we’re pretty excited about a tool that can help speed up the workflow of measuring out coffee beans. Acaia’s Orion bean doser is as speedy and responsive as their brewing scales, designed to quickly dose out roasted or green coffee beans for whatever your needs might be. Need to prep your pourover doses for service, weigh and bag retail coffees, or prep some green samples for roasting? You got it. We use ours to break down full bags of green coffee into convenient 6 lb samplers, and it’s cut down our prep time to less than half!
Urnex Roaster Sprayz
In the reviews and feedback we've received for this cleaning spray, one word sums it up nicely: "amazing." We already revere Urnex for the miracle that is Cafiza, but they've clearly got more aces up their sleeve because the Roaster Sprayz is just as incredible. You're going to need a new training regimen to keep your scrubbing arm in shape, because your roasting drum's patina is no match for this stuff. A few minutes of soaking, a light scrubbing, and a quick wipe with a damp towel and your roasting parts will look practically brand new.
Full Circle Grinder Cleaner
Public service announcement: you need to clean your grinder. It's true, many of us look at our Encore and think, "well it only ever grinds coffee, how gross could it be?" Believe me, it can be pretty gross! I recommend giving your grinder a cleaning at least twice a year, and a product like this is ideal for getting the job done. Full Circle's Grinder Cleaner pellets are made of food grade material, designed for use with coffee grinders, and they really work a treat for clearing out the stale grounds and gunk that you didn't realize was stuck inside your grinder. When you grind the pellets, you'll see a fluffy light-colored powder intermixed with way more old coffee than you would think to expect - and it's the same old, stale coffee that gets mixed in with your daily brew. If that's not a resounding endorsement for periodic grinder cleaning, I don't know what else would convince you.
That's going to wrap it up for Our Favorites for 2019. We'd love to hear from you, too: what products made your best brews this year? What tool could you not live without? What can you not believe we left off for 2019? Sound off in the comments here or let us know what you think on social media. We'll see you again in 2020. Happy Holidays y'all!