Archive for the ‘Coffee Accessories’ Category

How To Make A Cappuccino With An Espresso Machine

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

It is really quite easy to make a cappuccino with an espresso machine — I do it all the time!  Of course, it is most helpful if your espresso machine has an attachment that allows you to foam milk. It is possible to make a nice cup of cappuccino without that but it does take a little longer; I’ll give  the instructions for that a little further on. Not only can you make cappuccino but if you are wondering how to make a latte with an espresso machine it’s just as simple.

Step By Step: Making Cappuccino With An Espresso Machine

First of all you will want to steam the milk till it is nice and frothy.  Most espresso machine steam wands have a covering over a metal tube. This makes the milk very frothy which is what you want if you’re making a cappuccino. Pour about 1/3 of a cup of milk into a container (I usually froth the milk in my coffee mug but if you are making several cups at once you may want to pour the milk into a Coffee Milk Frothing Pitcher and froth it up in that.)  Turn on the steaming function and let the wand go to work.  To get the milk to froth up more it helps if you move the cup or container around while the  milk is frothing. You can even pull it out of the milk and quickly place it back in for even more foam.

Photo By: Pocius

I hold the mug (or pitcher) on the base so I can gauge how hot the milk is getting. For a great tasting cappuccino you do not want the milk to overheat. You can buy coffee thermometers that give you a much more precise reading of how warm the milk is — optimum heat is around 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit or 65-75 degrees C. I do not always use one though as I can tell from holding the base of the cup or pitcher how hot the milk inside is.  The coffee thermometers are pretty cheap and easy to find online though, and they are a worthwhile investment if you drink a lot of coffee.

If I am making a mug of coffee I then place the mug with warm milk under the espresso maker and simply brew a nice strong cup of coffee that pours directly into the mug. Presto, my cappuccino is ready. Finally sprinkle chocolate or nutmeg on top. If you have sugar in your coffee a neat trick is to place the sugar into the milk before frothing it up.  Otherwise, you can put it in later.

When making a few cups at a time it is easiest to make your milk in a pitcher, make your espresso in a cup and then top it up with the frothy milk.

Making a Latte Instead

There is very little difference between a cappuccino or latte when it comes to how to make them. Basically, follow the same directions only do not let the milk become as foamy — simply heat it up with the steam wand without jiggling it around very much. If your milk ends up still being quite foamy another neat trick is to simply take the covering off the wand leaving the metal part exposed. Warm your milk with the metal wand and you will find that it gets a lot less foamy.

For flavored cappuccinos or lattes you will want to add the flavoring to the coffee before pouring the foaming milk in. Now, that can make it a bit difficult if you are making your coffee one mug at a time and placing the already foaming milk directly under the espresso coffee part.  Depending on the type of flavoring used, you may want to add it (along with sugar if you want some in your coffee) to the milk and foam it all up together. It works quite well and you will still end up with a nicely flavored cup of cappuccino.

Making Cappuccino Without A Steam Wand Attachment

As mentioned above, you can quite easily make a foaming mug of cappuccino even if you only have a simple drip coffee machine. I did it for years before I finally invested in an espresso machine.  The secret is getting the  milk nice and foamy.  One quick way to do this is to set some milk in a small saucepan on the stove and heat it up slowly. While heating whisk it fairly vigorously with a regular milk whisk.  If you do that while it is heating up you should be able to come up with a nice foamy milk that you can either pour or ladle into your coffee made using a drip coffee machine.  It works almost as well as the steam wand, takes about the same amount of time but needs a little more energy expenditure on your part (though, not much really.)

The Best Cappuccino Machine

It is really difficult to come up with one cappuccino machine that is the best as there are simply so many available on the market these days. There are quite a few small home models on the market that sell for between $70 to $90, such as the De’Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker. If you are not a copious coffee drinker and you like a variety of different types of coffee a machine like this is great.

Not all cappuccino makers are made equal so before buying take some time to read over different cappuccino maker reviews — there are plenty on Amazon for example.  When looking at cappuccino makers for home use you will want to keep in mind the following points.

  • Match the size of the cappuccino coffee maker to your available counter space.
  • Go for one with as little waiting time between steaming and brewing as possible.
  • Better machines warm up quickly, meaning less waiting time before you can  have your first cup of coffee.
  • Check the guarantee — longer is always better.
  • Make sure all the parts fit well together. Some can look great but you find the trays are flimsy and awkward to take in and out when full.

Coffee Maker Ratings

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

How do you rate a coffee maker?

The most common type of coffee maker you will find in most small households is the automatic drip coffee machine. These are generally fairly inexpensive, though naturally prices will range depending on the brand of the coffee maker, its features and size.  While you may not need the most expensively priced coffee machine there are some features that you may want to keep in mind when shopping for one.

Out of thousands of different brands of coffee makers, there are some that consistently come out on top when comparing prices, features and buyer’s satisfaction.  While it may be difficult to decide exactly which the best coffee maker is, it is not too difficult to come up with top rated coffee makers.

Photo By: Jackie Waters

Following are some of the things we took into consideration when looking at some of the top coffee makers available today.

High Brewing Temperatures and Wattage: In order to reach the higher temperatures needed for a fine cup of coffee, the coffee maker should run somewhere around 1,200 watts.  The larger, higher quality units often do however many of the smaller, cheaper brands do not.

Features: Some of the features consumers are interested in include an automatic shut off feature, programmable timing so that you can set the machine to brew a cup of coffee just before you get out of bed in the morning, thermal carafe that keeps coffee warm for several hours without the coffee becoming bitter or having a burned taste and reusable filters that can simply be rinsed under the faucet and then used again and again.

Following is a review of some of the most-bought coffee makers available for purchase at the moment.

Cuisinart CHW-12 12 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker with Hot Water System

If you are looking for a larger coffee maker, perhaps the best coffeemaker on the market is the Cuisinart CHW-12 12 Cup Programmable Coffeemaker with Hot Water System. It is suited for an office or workplace or a larger family dwelling or for smaller families as you can set it to brew a small pot if that’s all you need.

Not only does this particular model brew coffee but it also has a water reservoir that allows you to obtain hot water directly from the machine–great for households where some drink tea and some like their drip coffee.  As recommended, this does heat up water to quite high temperatures; 200 degrees for the coffee dispenser and around 180 for the hot water.

Price:  Around $80, 3-year warranty.

Functions:  24 hour programming;  self cleaning; automatic shut-off; carafe temperature control

Cons:  Water tank can be a little difficult to refill; safety lock on the hot water is very easy to open;

Bunn NHBX-B Contemporary 10-Cup Home Coffee Brewer

Perhaps the greatest advantage with the BUNN NHBB Velocity Brew 10-Cup Home Coffee Brewer, Black is the speed with which you can brew a cup of coffee – 3 minutes! That is, providing you make use of the pre-heated water tank. In other words, the water tank is divided into two sections, one pre-heated and one not. In order to make use of the pre-heated water you do need to realize that it uses a small water heater to keep the temperature at optimum levels whenever the unit is on. You can turn this option off, but if you do you’ll be back to a 10 to 15 minute wait before your coffee is ready. Some people may be concerned with the extra power usage this demands.

Bunn is a brand you can trust, they are built to last and in many respects spending a little extra on electricity or on the custom filters you need to use with the coffee maker may be worth it as you will not need to replace your coffeemaker very often.

Price: Around $85, 3-year warranty

Functions: automatic water heating, meaning you can have hot coffee all day long in an instant.

Cons:  can be awkward to clean as you need to empty the water tank first; heavy to move around the counter; no 24 hour programming;  need to use Bunn filters which are not always that easy to find.

Zojirushi EC-DAC50 Zutto 5-Cup Drip Coffeemaker

If you are looking for a smaller coffeemaker, one of the top coffee makers in this bracket is the Zojirushi EC-DAC50 Zutto 5-Cup Drip Coffeemaker which brews around 2 mugs at a time–perfect for the early coffee for mom and dad.  Design wise it is fantastic–great looking and it takes up a lot less space than many other similar sized coffee machines. While cheaper than the larger coffee makers, it is definitely not one of the ‘cheapest’ on the market for its size.  One of the key features that make this a great machine–aside from it really making good tasting coffee, is that the water reservoir is detachable and you do not have to lug the entire coffee machine to the water faucet to fill it up or fill it using pitchers of water and inevitably spilling some water.

One other feature which makes this coffee pot stand out from many others is that the filter is encased in the lid and not in the actual coffeemaker. This has a double bonus–first ofall, it makes it extremely easy to clean and remove the ground coffee and secondly it prevents coffee from dripping down onto the hot plate when you remove the carafe to pour coffee.  It also uses the conical shaped filters, which seems to be a favorite for most people.

Price: Around $65. 1-year warranty

Functions: It is a basic model in that there is no 24-hour programming, etc.  It also has a built in water filter. Not too many bells and whistles on this nifty machine, but they are probably not that needed in any case as it is fast brewing.

Cons: some feel that the handle is poorly made and positioned which leads to a lot of pressure on the actual neck of the carafe when pouring coffee.

Melitta 10-Cup Thermal Coffee Brewer

This snazzy looking Melitta 10-Cup Thermal Coffee Brewer would look great on any kitchen counter. Producing great tasting coffee, it has three settings — Regular, Bold and Robust for those who like a very full flavored coffee. Naturally, Regular produces a cup of coffee at a faster speed than Robust. Perhaps the best feature of this particular coffeemaker is that the thermal carafe keeps your coffee at optimum temperature for a long time thus avoiding the need to leave coffee on a heated warming plate and avoiding the burnt, bitter flavor that causes. Commonly, controls and switches on coffee machines are set along the base of the coffee machine where dripped coffee can cause problems in time. The Melitta Coffee Brewer has the controls neatly positioned down the side of the coffee maker avoiding damage caused by dripped or overflowing coffee.

Price: Around $75

Functions: Programmable timer with a two hour shut-off; fast brewing; water reservoir will not overflow as there it has an overflow hole (you can buy an accessory to plug this if you want to pour more water into the reservoir); thermal carafe; cone filter.

Cons: No removable water reservoir; low contrast display making it hard to read — and the display is very bright.

You may want to check out these coffee makers .

If You Must Use Plastic Mugs…

Monday, July 26th, 2010

If you must use plastic mugs for your tea or coffee, at least shop around for something that is environmentally friendly.  With much more awareness now of the dangers to the environment posed by plastics in general there have been major strides made in producing plastic mugs that are not harmful at all to your health and that are biodegradable.

Top Pick: The Corn Mug

Lactic acid is extracted from corn kernels, converted to lactide, lactide molecules are strung together to create a natural polymer, polylactic acid which is known by the acronym PLA.  This is shipped off in pellets which are then melted down to produce an array of containers including the corn mug!

PLA has come a long way from its original inception. Initially it was not usable for mugs that held hot liquid as it had a fairly low melting point. It was originally used for packaging for takeaway food and other items sold in stores. Now however, you can buy a corn mug that is microwave safe, non toxic, odorless and reusable. It is also touted as being biodegradable, with some saying that it will break down in a composting facility in as little as 60 to 90 days.

There are some debates regarding the latter point.  It has been pointed out that it will not break down in a regular home compost heap, which does somewhat defeat the purpose of it being biodegradable. Recyling or compost facilities are not that keen on having PLA mixed in with their regular plastics either, however some have been quick to point out that the problem is not with the material itself but rather with the capabilities of the composting or recycling facilities.

Aside from a few grumbles regarding the actual biodegradability of corn plastic, it does remain that it is a viable option to regular plastics that is made entirely from organic substances. It is not at all dependent on petroleum for production. It not only saves oil but apparently generates a lot less air pollution during the production process as well. While they may not have all the kinks ironed out with this material yet, it does have potential.

Corn mugs that can be used as a coffe cup are made by several different US based companies and sold for very reasonable prices also. Typical types of mugs include a 10 ½ oz ‘coffee keg’, a 17 oz commuter mug complete with sippy top, and a 12 oz. soup mug. These items can be ordered in bulk and they can also be personalized.

Types of Plastic Mugs

A more common plastic mug is the polycarbonate mug. While this mug is not recommended for microwaves, it is fine for hot coffee or tea and it is dishwasher safe. This is by far the most common type of plastic mug you will see on sale, with melamine mugs coming in at a close second. (Melamine is not microwave or oven safe either.)

You can find plastic beer mugs, plastic travel mugs, insulated plastic mugs and a variety of different styles of plastic coffee mugs. Of course, some people prefer to drink beer from a beer glass, not a plastic mug!  While not considered to be unbreakable coffee mugs they do take a lot of wear and tear and are fairly hardy; much less likely to break or chip than a regular ceramic coffee mug or glass mugs for example.

Personalized Plastic Mugs and Plastic Promotional Mugs

There is a brisk trade in designing custom plastic mugs which are in great demand for promotional purposes. Plastic promo mugs frequently have the name and logo of a company printed on the side of the mug. These printed plastic mugs are used at conventions, given as promotional gifts and are used to serve coffee at factories, companies and institutions, where they are often used instead of the much cheaper disposable plastic coffee mugs.

On a more personal level, many people love to order personalized mugs to give as gifts also. These can frequently be ordered online, often in fairly small quantities—all you have to do is supply the artwork that you want printed on the mug and decide on a color, shape and size. Plastic name mugs are a favorite, have your friend’s name printed on his or her own coffee mug!  You can even take it a step further with plastic photo mugs and send along a print to include on the side of the mug.

This type of personalization is also a great gift for a kid. Kids plastic mugs can have a photo of the child emblazoned on the size or you can choose their favorite hero or cartoon character. That would be sure to be a big hit for any child.

Ordering Plastic Mugs in Bulk

If you are looking for cheap plastic mugs you can often buy these in bulk from various online retailers. Plastic discount mugs are offered by many retailers at very competitive prices. Perfect for anyone who hosts large parties or conventions, they are often cheaper than a regular coffee mug or cup yet they look much better than the type of plastic cups that are often used at functions.

Whether you are looking for a plastic coffee mug, plastic beer mug, plastic travel mug, clear plastic mugs  or plastic thermal coffee mugs you should not have any problems locating and purchasing them. Remember though, if you want to do the environment a favor check out the corn mugs. They come in a variety of sizes and colors and are also highly customizable if you want to use them for promotional purposes.

The Coffee Mug Set

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

While tea is most definitely best sipped from fine china tea cups and saucers, coffee on the other hand always seems to taste better when it is served in a coffee mug, although die-hard coffee connoisseurs will be quick to point out that different types of coffee should be served in different sized coffee mugs or cups!  Seeing that coffee is consumed by over 50% of the US population, approximately 60% of Australians, and millions of others around the world drink at least one mug of coffee a day, the coffee mug has become an important item in any home.  In fact, mug sets are almost as essential an item to own as a china tea set, especially when serving coffee to visitors, (unless it is a formal occasion in which case a coffe cup should be used or perhaps a coffee glass.)

So What Is It That Makes a Coffee Mug Special?

The coffee mug, often the first thing clutched at when arising in the morning, is a revered item in many homes. Ranging in size anywhere from 12 ounces to 20 ounces, coffee mugs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.  There are also many different types of coffee mugs, though the most popular types are the regular porcelain coffee mug, glass coffee mugs, plastic mugs and stainless steel coffee mugs. A typical coffee mug has a large enough handle on the side to curl your fingers around, unlike a dainty teacup which must be held delicately by the handle between the thumb and two fingers. Coffee cups generally do not sit on saucers but are rather firmly set down on the table, coffee table, sideboard, computer table (this one should be a ‘no-no’) or on any relatively flat surface. I have even seen people precariously balancing their morning coffee on their bed!

For everyday use, the porcelain type is usually the cup of choice. They are great for hot coffee as the porcelain, which is usually considerably thicker than a porcelain teacup, holds heat well and keeps your coffee nice and warm while you drink it. These types of mugs are often decorative. Some are brightly colored, many have patterns or designs on the sides and it is not uncommon to find a ‘mug with a message’ sitting on someone’s desk. In fact, I am often intrigued by what I find written on coffee mugs. You can find mugs of all colors, if you are looking specifically for a black coffee mug or black and white coffee mugs you should not have too much trouble locating it.  Unfortunately porcelain will break if dropped. It will also chip fairly easily, thus you do need to take care not to damage your ceramic coffee mug.

Glass mugs are sometimes used for specific types of coffee. Like porcelain mugs they are breakable and they are often reserved for use with guests.

Stainless steel mugs are often lined with plastic which serves as a type of insulation, keeping the coffee warm for a good while. Many of these types of mugs have a lid, which serves two purposes. It makes the mug spill resistant and it also makes it possible to drive, or walk around with a cup of hot coffee. Frequently the lid has a small spout or hole that you can use to drink from. These are not the most decorative types of mugs although they are very practical. They are often referred to as a travel mug, and these plastic travel mugs are becoming quite popular.

The Difference Between a Coffee Mug and a Coffee Cup

Coffee cups are closely related to tea cups. They are usually made from fine porcelain and should be used to serve coffee in more formal settings. They sit on a saucer, just like a tea cup. They are usually taller and thinner than tea cups and normally do not flare out at the top as much as a tea cup. One major difference is that they hold a lot less coffee, usually around six ounces only. From a cup coffee tastes just as good–but there’s a little less of it!

Different Mugs for Different Beverages

Coffee mugs are used to drink coffee from. They are not to be confused with tea mugs, although the two look exactly the same!  Still you should drink tea from your tea mug and coffee from your coffee mug. Now, a beer mug is something different altogether. Yes, you drink beer out of a beer mug or beer glass. These are usually made from glass, though some are made from other materials. Actually, a beer mug set is also a great gift idea for any of beer swilling friends, but you should not drink coffee from a beer mug, or beer from a coffee mug, (unless you are exceptionally desperate and cannot find any other glasses or mugs!)

Shopping for Coffee Mug Sets

You can find sets of mugs in most department stores, many gift shops and at tea and coffee houses. Normally mug sets are sold with either four or eight mugs included, and are often notated as being a ‘Mug Set 4’ or ‘Mug set 8’, or even ‘Mug set of 6’. If you are looking for a coffee mug gift set, look for something that is already gift packed as that will save you having to gift wrap it.  You can even order a personalized coffee mug from some stores–a coffee cup picture or text included, which also make great gifts. Mug sets are sometimes packed with a holder that can be used for storing the mugs for easy access. Other sets have covers for the mugs that are used to keep the coffee warm.

There are many different styles of coffee mug sets. With some sets, the mugs match exactly. Other sets contain mugs that are exactly the same style, just a different color. You can find sets that have the same pattern on the mug with each pattern a different color.  Just as there is a huge variety of different individual coffee mugs on sale, mug sets are also highly diversified.

No matter what type of mug you are looking for, you should be easily able to find something suitable. If you are giving a mug set as a gift you may want to look for a coffee set that is somewhat unique, with an unusual pattern or coffee pictures for example. Glass mug sets are also great to give as gifts. If you are looking for a more practical set, check out a stainless steel coffee mug set. They usually consist of one or two coffee mugs, often stainless steel travel mugs that are packaged together with a thermos which can be filled before the trip with a nice hot brew of coffee. If you are looking to add to your mug collection you will probably want to shop for something that is rather unusual and unique.

There are a couple of im
portant considerations when purchasing coffee mugs sets. You do need to ensure that they are both microwave and dishwasher safe. This is usually marked either on the bottom of the mug, or on the packaging. Even if the mug says it is microwave safe it is always a good idea to test a mug in the microwave before you use it. Mugs that are not safe to use in the microwave will absorb much more heat than those that are safe. A good test is to put the mug with liquid in it into the microwave and set it for one to two minutes. When the time is up (gently) feel the handle of the mug. It should not be hot to the touch. If it is, beware, the mug may not be microwave safe after all. You should also always let a cup sit for a minute before taking it out of the microwave as liquid has been known to ‘explode’ and cause burns if it is jiggled or moved too soon after being micro-waved.

Another tip that is actually sound advice whenever you are buying any chinaware or crockery, and especially with a mug set, buy extra mugs and set them aside somewhere.  In the event that the mug is dropped and broken or chipped this will ensure that you always have a matching replacement. It can be very difficult trying to find a replacement that matches the set you bought exactly after a year or so has passed. Even if the same set is on sale, chances are it was made at a different time and there may be noticeable differences in the color or style of the mug.

How to Store Your Coffee Mug Set

You should not stack your coffee mugs up. They are too large for that. If you try it you may find that you end up with a lot of chipped mugs, or worse yet they may topple over and break. If you store your mugs in a cupboard give each one its own space. Many people find that it is extremely useful to purchase a mug tree. A mug tree is an accessory specifically made for storing mugs in a way that allows easy access. Frequently the mug tree is set beside the coffee maker or on a counter top. A simple mug tree consists of a metal or wood vertical pole that has small protuberances sticking out at an acute angle from the main pole. The mugs hang on the smaller protrusion by their handle.

As you can see, it is a fairly simple procedure to find and buy a set of coffee mugs if you are looking for an alternative to cups saucers. If you want a mug set like an espresso mug set you will need to look for specialty set but if you are after a regular mug set you should be able to locate it easily.