Our Favorite Gear for the Year: 2018
Is it truly November already? In a flash, 2018 has sped along, cycling us through the seasons and now is gently nudging us toward the turn of a new year. Though this year was a little quieter in terms of travel, we still made our way out to the yearly SCA Expo in Seattle, where we spent plenty of time scoping out the newest coffee toys. We also added a hearty helping of newness to our own offerings for y’all to enjoy.
So, where do we stand this year in terms of the favorite and funnest coffee gear? Let’s not drag this out - here’s what we loved in 2018!
Our Favorite Grinders
Home Coffee Grinder:
It’s no secret that we love the Virtuoso. I personally recommend it at least once a month to buyers who are looking to upgrade from things like blade grinders or electric models with false burrs. The Virtuoso gets our seal of approval thanks to its easily adjustable grind settings, a solid burr set, good solid construction, and overall value for the money. Plus, with Baratza’s legendary product support you can rest assured that they’ll have your back if you run into any trouble down the line. That’s an easy recommendation to make for us.
Home Espresso Grinder:
Baratza Sette 270 Wi
While the base model Sette 270 easily won us over for its superb and speedy espresso grind, the 270 W was a little rough around the edges. Earlier this year, Baratza announced that the 270 W was being replaced by a new model: the 270 Wi. Included are much the same features, like grind-by-weight, bluetooth connectivity, and minimal retention in a novel set of conical burrs. But the Wi also comes with much more polish, including smart calibration that adapts within just a few doses to nail your target weight every time, a more stable base and and better programming that cuts a lot of the headache out of the scale functionality that was experienced previously. The 270 Wi is a much improved take on the concept of a weight-based espresso grinder, and the quality in the cup is just as solid as ever.
Commercial Coffee Grinder:
Maybe you saw this one coming: with the EK43’s longstanding reputation for incredible grind consistency, Mahlkonig hasn’t got to do much to keep winning us over. This year, the EK43 platform saw some new manufacturing improvements: it has a new machined grind chamber and burr carrier, new longer-lasting buttons, and oh, how about a new S model that is much friendlier for shorter-statured baristas and squeezing under shelves or cabinets? The EK43 S is a highly capable commercial grinder with those big flat burrs that we know and love so well already, only now it’s easier to access the top of the hopper and keep sightlines open in your cafe or home.
Commercial Espresso Grinder:
Nuova Simonelli Mythos One
We use a Mythos One every single day for our espresso needs, and it has long impressed us with its consistency and reliability. The TiN coated burrs are nowhere near dull after years of use, and the Clima Pro tech allows us to reliably come in and pull shots with minimal adjustment no matter what time of day it is. While we’re excited to see what the Mythos 2 has in store, right now we’re still pretty smitten with the first version!
Manual Coffee/Espresso Grinder:
"Steve," you say, upon seeing the grinder named above, "you don’t even have the Kinu in stock. What gives?" Not to worry, it’s on its way! While we wait for stock to arrive here in Louisville, please allow me to gush about my new favorite hand grinder. The M47 is absolutely a premium product, and the results in the cup are telling of the amount of love and care that went into making it. Kinu’s crafstmanship is obvious from the first use, as adjusting the grind feels precise, grinding is smooth and easy, the grounds are nice and fluffy and fairly uniform to the eye, and cup quality is really solid from espresso to coarse drip. As the market for hand grinders balloons, high-quality products like the M47 are going to stand out from the crowd.
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 newer 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.
We revisit old favorites all the time when it comes to coffee brewing, so if you’re familiar with us you already know that we love the Walkure porcelain brewers. At this year’s US Coffee Championships, US Brewers Cup champ Becca Woodard took top prize using these sleek little devices, and that put them deservedly back on our radar. The Walkure brewers are quite unique in design, using a water dispersion plate to slowly drip water onto a slurry with no filter to speak of aside from the two layers of ceramic hatching and the grounds themselves. You might expect this to mean that you’ll be sipping on a gritty cup full of grounds, but that’s actually not the case. The shower plate minimizes agitation and the cake of coffee grounds likes to stick together and filter itself, so while you’ll have some suspended fines in the cup like a french press, you really don’t have to worry about chewing your coffee. And as Becca noted in her performance, the Bayreuth does a great job of keeping heat and aromas locked in, giving you a rich and flavorful brew!
Espro Travel Press
Espro’s french presses use a unique dual-layer mesh to filter out much more sediment than traditional presses, and can even take a paper filter for an even cleaner cup. Just like its bigger siblings, the Travel Press makes a solid cup of press-style coffee, only it’s also designed to grab and go once the plunger is pressed down. With a paper filter in place, you really don’t have to worry about any overextraction, but even without it, you’ve got a nice portable travel mug full of delicious coffee that won’t get too sludgy or bitter for a good hour or so.
Cold Coffee Maker:
Cold brew is everywhere these days, and there are so many ways to brew it it’s almost like hot coffee never happened. One style we really enjoy coming back to is cold drip, where icy water is dripped slowly over a bed of grounds over the course of a few hours. Bruer’s offering is dead easy to use, and we like that it’s more compact than some other cold drippers, so it feels more at home in a kitchen rather than an art museum (not that that's a bad thing if it's your style!).
Fellow Stagg EKG
We brew a lot of coffee by hand around the office, so a pouring kettle is as essential to our work life as our computers or pens. The Stagg EKG quickly grew on us when it was released, and ever since then we’ve hardly stopped using ours. Selecting a brewing temp is quick and intuitive, the kettle is speedy to heat up and has a nice comfortable handle, and while the overall flow rate is a little slower than some of our other kettles it’s never really gotten in the way of our brewing. P.S. - We worked with Fellow this year to bring a brand new color option to the table: a crisp clean matte white. It’s here just in time for a white Christmas!
A few years back we were doing a lot of R&D time into cold coffee and nitro. One of our biggest wants at the time was a way to do small-scale nitro drinks, something more flexible than a keg and draft system but with similar quality results. Hatfields released their answer this year: a whipping siphon-style system with a specialized spout that restricts flow just like a stout faucet, which can be charged with nitrogen gas just like a keg. The results are fantastic, and we’ve had a blast trying it out on everything from cold brew to espresso, and even used it at a zero-proof beverage throwdown for Mocktober. If you’ve ever wanted to do nitro coffee at home but don’t want to commit to a keg, this is exactly what you need to make it happen.
Our Favorite Espresso Gear
Home Espresso Machine:
La Marzocco GS3 MP
The GS3 has been around for some time now, but La Marzocco introduced a change to the Mechanical Paddle variant not long ago that transformed how it could pull shots. A new conical valve allows for near infinite control over flow rate to the group, which essentially translates to manual control over shot pressure. The new design allows you to fully tweak how your shot pulls, so it is absolutely perfect for espresso nerds like us. At first it feels somewhat overwhelming, but you quickly get a feel for it and start pulling some seriously great shots.
Commercial Espresso Machine:
Synesso MVP Hydra
At Expo this year, we announced our new addition to our commercial espresso line: Synesso. Synesso’s machines are built in Seattle, with a superb reputation for reliability and excellence in espresso making. At our booth, we were delighted to be able to borrow a 2 group MVP Hydra, Synesso’s top-end machine. The MVP Hydra offers 4-stage pressure profiling, and multiple brewing modes, so dialing in can be as simple as manually pulling a few shots, then saving the best one as an automatic profile for the rest of the day. At a coffee expo where we served 6 or 7 different coffees in three days, having such a capable machine was immensely valuable (not to mention tons of fun to use).
The Puqpress was an interesting object for us to test out. We’re certainly not technophobes around here, but we were skeptical that an electronic tamper would win us over. We have to give it to Puqpress though, the device is easy to set up, effortless to use, and helps make your prep all the more consistent. If your shop has employees of mixed skill levels, or if you know that sometimes you falter during a rush, the Puqpress is going to be a valuable tool in the arsenal. Manual tamping isn’t really sacred to us around here, and the Puqpress does a really good job of tamping an even and level puck of coffee, so it gets a hearty thumbs up!
Espazzola Group Cleaning Tool
Nobody really likes cleaning chores when it comes to coffee gear, but we can all at least agree that they’re essential to everything tasting its best and the health of your equipment. The Espazzola won us over when it made the act of cleaning an espresso machine’s group head so much easier - no clunky brushes, just lock it in like a portafilter, turn on the hot water and swish it back and forth. It’s so easy to use it’s become routine to pull a shot, give things a rinse, and then a quick back and forth with the Espazzola. It’s effortless!
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
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!
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.
BWT Bestmax Premium Filter
Louisville’s water isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not the best for coffee making, so we’ve always relied on a filter system for our office needs. Earlier this year we went for something new, namely a BWT Bestmax cartridge. This system is great for us, because it filters hardness out and add some magnesium back in - which is a great thing for coffee sweetness. Our coffee is tasting great, and we definitely have better water to thank for that!