Monday, February 10, 2014

The importance of backflushing!!!

Dirty Dispersion Screen
Ewwww! yucky coffee oils and coffee grime!
If your espresso machine is backflush-capable (please check with your manufacturer (if local) first, then your retailer or dealer) and has a three-way grouphead solenoid valve, it is imperative to backflush!

Coffee oils and coffee grinds will attach in front of and behind your dispersion screen (example new) in the grouphead. Check with the manufacturer or your retailer on proper procedure for backflush protocol.

A high value, quality backflush detergent is made by Ascaso!

(please note that backflushing is a cleaning regimen different then descaling, which removes calcium and magnesium deposits inside the water from the high temperature of the water in the boiler.
Dirty Dispersion Screen
Would you drink espresso from a machine that had this?

If your machine can not be backflushed, then it is imperative to use a combination cleaner/descaler to be pushed through the internals of your espresso machine. One perfect product is Cleancaf!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween! Recipe Creepy Cappuccino




Get some red and yellow food coloring to make an orange color froth! Use the red food color to drip some blood down the froth!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ascaso Dream: Steam Knob Info

Learn more before just changing the steam knob and learn how to take the top cover off of the Ascaso Dream.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Learn from a quick rundown comparison between the Jura S9 One Touch and the Jura Giga5!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Portafilter and Spout Never Aligns Perpendicular!

 Did you ever notice on a brand new, traditional-style espresso machine that the portafilter's dual spout and the filter handle do not align perpendicular to the machine, so one can place two demitasse cups nicely side by side on the drip tray?



Well, on a brand new machine, this is absolutely normal. The portafilter gasket, the seal in the grouphead that the filter handle locks into, needs to be broken in. Over time, the spouts will align nicely. After this, the spouts will align to the opposite side as the portafilter gasket gets old and worn down.



The other cause whereby the intended alignment goes 'out of whack' is when one removes the spout from the portafilter assembly. Once you take off the spout, it is almost impossible to get it re-aligned. Therefore, Teflon tape needs to be used on the threads, or an NSF-approved sealant needs to be added to the threads before positioning the spout into place and allowed to dry for 24 hours.

Summertime Voltage Changes Impacts Espresso Machines

1st-line.com Electrical Outlet
Outlet with GFI, but no surge suppressor.
At the start of the hot summer season, we receive inquiries about espresso machine performance degrading and sometimes possible or potential malfunctions. One area of our client's concern is steaming performance. This includes both home machine clients as well as our commercial clientele.

Most clients do not know that electric companies will alter the 'actual 'voltage' into residential homes and commercial facilities in order to meet the overall higher summer demand for electricity (example of Con Edison in NYC). The demand surge is caused by air conditioners as well as refrigerators and freezers which need to cycle on more often during the hotter summer months.

To meet this extra demand, the voltage is reduced by the power companies to avoid a systemic overload, which can result in brownouts or blackouts. For example, in my home during the past winter months, the voltage in my home ranges between 119 and 124 volts. On July, 12, 2013, the actual voltage in my kitchen outlet was no more than 113 volts. This 6-9 volt decrease in available voltage can have an impact on the performance of an espresso machine. The performance dip will mostly be seen in the recovery of the steaming capability and less often in the brewing function (except that taste and crema production can be impacted).

Your 1st-line Recommendations
a) Only power your espresso machine only for the period of use. If not using your machine within 2 hours, power to the 'off' state, and/or
b) Place a surge suppressor immediately before the machine's plug to protect it from the changes in voltage which can cause damage to your machines electronics or heating element, and/or
c) If leaving for an extended vacation, unplug your equipment from the outlet(s) before you leave.
d) In an office environment, schedule morning break periods for which the espresso equipment will be available to use.

Can you think of any other recommendations?



Friday, April 05, 2013

Changing Gicar PID Celsius setting to Fahrenheit

In this video, we demonstrate how to change the PID Celsius setting to Fahrenheit on an Ascaso Steel Uno professional PID espresso machine. This same procedure will work on most machines with a Gicar PID display. Please make sure the unit's internal boiler has water in it before performing. However, it may not work on all as there are some displays that do not have this feature and will only show in Celsius.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why is the Ascaso Dream's Polished Aluminum Not Perfect?

Sometimes, we are asked questions or concerns about the imperfections of the polished aluminum on Ascaso's Dream espresso machine. Here is a short video (in Spanish) on the manufacturing process of polishing the polished aluminum at the Ascaso manufacturing facility.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tamping By Volume (TBV)

Pictures of tampers at 1st-line Equipment, LLC
Photo courtesy of 1st-line Equipment. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
Over the last 15 years, there has been much discussion about tamper types (flat vs curved), sizing, tamping pressure, and polishing. This is a helluva lot of reading to do, and when clients visit us, we follow one simple rule which is inline with the KISS principle:
Keep It Simple & Stupid.

In other words, our philosophy is

TAMP BY VOLUME or TBV

What does this mean? The barista will only tamp to the point where the top rim of the metal base of the tamper will be even with the top rim of the filter basket holding the coffee grinds. In this scenario, the tamping pressure always remain the same without the use of any scale. The back and forth polishing also makes sure the tamper stays even when the compression occurs and when rotating the tamper for polishing the surface.

As long as the filter basket is filled to the rim evenly every time, the tamp by volume method removes tamping pressure and volume of coffee grinds from the espresso extraction equation. The only variable remaining is finding the correct fineness in the coffee grind.


Picture of tamper base too small for filter basket
Photo courtesy of 1st-line Equipment. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
The only scenarios this method will not work is if
a) The tamper is not right sized to the basket width (pictured to left), or
b) The tamper base is of the el'cheapo plastic types that are too thin (pictured above on left side), or
c) The tamper base is too thick (both tampers in rear pictured above).

The tamper we like best for this practice is one that has a base thickness similarly sized as the Concept Art (black handle one picture above in front right).


Below, you can watch a quick video of the TBV tamping technique. Remember, to keep the ground coffee, loosely filled, consistent and even to the rim of the filter basket.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Powered On: To Leave or Not to Leave?

One question comes up quite frequently for all espresso machines....

Can I or should I leave my espresso machine powered on all day?

 As an attorney would answer, it depends. First and foremost, if the machine does not have an automatic water refill relay (this is the electronics usually found on a heat exchanger machine or double boiler machine and also known as motherboard or brain unit), the machine should be turned off when not in use. These machines are typically those that have a separate button/switch to get to steam mode.

The reason is that although there is water in the machine's reservoir, this does not mean the internal boiler is filled. Now, some may argue that after making an espresso or running water through the steam wand, the boiler is filled. This is true. However, if the machine was left on in steam mode or if the machine has an overpressure valve (OPV) that leaks from limescale build up, the internal boiler will eventually run dry. When the internal boiler runs dry, the heating element is no longer submerged in water, and it can start to melt down. This becomes a costly repair, which usually is not covered under any manufacturer's warranty.

On machines that have the automatic water refill relay, one can leave the machine powered on all day and night. However, one needs to keep in mind the following:

a) Wear & Tear - All electrical components will have more wear and tear as the machine has to cycle on/off to maintain temperature. The portafilter gasket will dry rot faster due to the heat, and
b) Electrical Usage - Typically, energy savings is achieved when an espresso machine is powered on all day as there is more energy usage powering a unit from a cold state to a fully heated state. 110 volt espresso machines are less efficient than 220 volt espresso machines, and
Photo courtesy of www.1st-line.com.
Copyright 2012. 1st-line Equipment, LLC
c) Electrical Spikes - 110 volt espresso machines are more susceptible to voltage spikes and surges than 220 volt machines. Powering off the 110 volt espresso machines makes it less likely of damage to an espresso machines terminal block, power switch, wiring, heating element, and/or auto water refill relay when the machine is powered off, and
d) Limescale - Some believe there is less limescale build up in an espresso machine that is powered on all day, and there are reports that one can find more build up on an espresso machine that is powered on/off everyday. We have yet to find conclusive evidence to support either argument.

Our opinion... we prefer that all day capable espresso machines in a home environment be powered off when not in use or not used within 2 hours. In an office or commercial environment, our opinion is that the machine be powered off at the end of the day and restarted at the beginning of the day. The only case where a machine should be powered on all day is if the espresso machine has night cycle programming to reduce power consumption.

What is your opinion?

In all cases, a surge suppressor (not a GFI outlet) with a rating of 1080 joules or higher should be installed on the outlet. The suppressor should also have an indicator to notify you when the suppressor is failing and needs to be replaced. One quality brand we sell is made made by Panamax. They have 15 and 20 amp versions.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

When to remove the spent grinds from the portafilter?

Should we leave the used spent grounds in the portafilter or knock them out right away?

Elektra Portafilters with and without spent grinds
Photo courtesy of www.1st-line.com. Not to be reproduced
or copied in any format. Copyright 2013.
There are two schools of thought that need to be evaluated. In all cases, the portafilter handle should always remain on the espresso machine while powered on. The main reason is that the portafilter needs to be hot to the touch prior to extracting an espresso.

A not-so-well known, but highly educated coffee roaster in Italy has once advised us to leave the spent grinds in the portafilter until the next extraction. The sole purpose was to stabilize the heat dissipation in the grouphead, especially an E61 grouphead connected to a heat exchanger (not double boiler machine). The reasoning is that the grouphead would overheat less. Although we have not tested this, this is a possibility. The second reason is sweating in the portafilter basket - water vapor would build up in the basket.

There are a few reasons against leaving the spent grounds in the portafilter handle:

a) the espresso puck can stick to the dispersion screen,
b) there would be an increase of rancid coffee oils passing through the dispersion screen, and
c) in a commercial environment, it would increase wait times for cleaning.

Update Mar 14, 2013 4:05pm - We just left a spent coffee grind puck in the portafilter for 3 hours. The puck knocked out great, except for the residual stuck to the basket.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

E61 Shedding Too Much Steam After a Descaling

"Hi 1st-line -- I have an HX espresso machine (purchased from you).

I had some lingering problems with lime scale, so I took it to a local shop to do a thorough service (they do lots of E-61s but not Vibiemme in particular.) Trying to avoid shipping it across the country, basically.

Since then, when I pull water through the group head, a significant amount of it is coming out as steam. I didn't remember this from before, and it seems like it is too hot. I also thought this model had a "thermosyphon" that was supposed to regulate temperature.

Does this sound like an error in the repair, or something obvious to you?"

Limesale causes all sorts of problems before and after the repair. In your case, limescale probably slowed the flow of water even more than the restrictor in the thermosyphon loop and did not allow water to overheat the grouphead. Now, that the water is flowing correctly, the water is going back and forth quicker, which which you are starting to visually see.

On your particular machine, there is a restrictor on the thermosyphon loop, and it is pretty difficult to remove or even damage (other than clogging). It does slow down the flow of water. limescale would slow down the flow even more.

In our opinion, it does not sound like a repair error. The only thing is that if the HX (heat exchanger pipe) had welds corroded with limescale and the welds were removed during a descaling process, then the result would be a leak between the boiler and heat exchanger - a major problem that turns into a costly boiler replacement. If this was the case,

a) you would see the water overfilling the boiler and having no/little steam from the steam wand, and
b) eventually only water would exit the steam wand, and
c) there would be a low water pump pressure problem when extracting espresso.

Please keep in mind that not all heat exchanger machines have restrictors in the thermosyhpon loop.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year, New Site

Since 1997, 1st-line has been transforming the espresso equipment industry.  Since our inception, we try our best to offer the exceptional value in regards to quality merchandise, value pricing, and service to our customers.

In 1998, 1st-line was the first to start shipping product within 1-2 business days of order receipt and initiated quality phone support for customers with equipment issues.  The industry norm was shipping in 3-5 business days and phone support was practically non-existent as suppliers would advise customers to hire a local technician for commercial machine repairs or ship the home unit for repairs.  Whereas most distributors only carried one line, we also led the industry into carrying multiple brands to offer more choices to consumers.

Over the years, we have migrated to shipping orders (received by 2pm EST) out of our warehouse same business day and has provided goods and services to over 50,000 clients.

From June 2011 through December 2012, we have been feverishly working on a new systemic approach to offer the following quality services to our customers.

Higher level security
  • Our online storefront, of a select few, is PA-DSS validated to meet the most challenging information security requirements.
  • Our online storefront is tested for security risks on a monthly basis and is tested daily for malware.
  • Our web host provider and our internal systems and internet connections are tested for security vulnerabilities on a monthly basis.
  • With real time credit card processing, customer payment information is not stored on our servers and is passed through to the processors and banks via a secure connection as required by the major credit card companies.  In addition, since none of our employees have access to any credit card numbers or security numbers, we are unable to process credit card charges over the phone.  However, this removes all possibilities to have credit card numbers stolen or hacking your online account at 1st-line.
  • To avoid potential fraudulent charges, we have implemented an additional step of security during the checkout process whereby your bank (name will sometimes be shown and we do not see) may ask for additional private information to make sure you are the cardholder.  This is called Verified by Visa and Mastercard SecureCode.  This is another deterrent to those who steal credit card information and this technology allows us to process gift orders to different ship to locations (Visa and MasterCard only at time of this writing).
Real time inventory
Our old storefront wasn't able to track stock levels.  We had to manually mark items as out of stock.  If something were to run out of stock, we added "out of stock" to the description.  It gets hard to keep track, especially over the weekend.

With our new storefront, inventory is updated automatically as customers place orders.  Once the last of a particular item is purchased, the purchase button is removed.  Another button will show which allows customers to receive an email when the item comes back in stock.

1 Site
Originally we had 2 sites.  One was 1st-line.com which was our "search-engine user friendly" site which displayed our products.  The other was 1st-line.net which was our purchasing site.  When you find the product you want to purchase on .com, there was a buy button which brought you to .net where you added the item to your cart.  Then you would go back to .com to continue shopping. Now we have eliminated .net.

Easier navigation
Originally our site was build more around the brands. Each brand had its own page with all its products sorted by type.  If a customer was looking for a specific type of espresso machine,  they would have to click into each brand and browse through all products.

For example, if a customer was looking for a lever machine for their home under $1000, they would click through each brand to look for lever machines.  If they didn't know what Jura and Saeco sold, they would be clicking through there too.

With our new storefront, looking for what the customer needs is easier...
Espresso Machines --> Home --> by Machine Type --> Manual Piston
By default the products are sorted by highest price, but you can change the sort order by lowest price.

Build-to-order packages -

Our old storefront didn't have the flexibility to build packages or customize special prices on products. If we did have a special offer we would have the customers call to place the order.  With our new storefront we can build packages where we can
  • add a product as a free item.
  • add multiple products as free items where customers can choose 1.
  • add products with special pricing.
  • automatically remove products that are out of stock.
  • automatically deactivate the package if a certain required product is out of stock.
Just look for this package deal button on each product and click on it to check out the latest package deals.


Efficiency behind the scenes
Originally when a customer places an order, nothing is actually processed.  The order goes a system where our office staff manually types the order into our ordering system.  Then all the orders are charged through our billing system.  Then we use our UPS system to print out labels.  Then our warehouse staff puts the orders together.  Then we email each customer their tracking number.  With our new storefront, most of this busy work is now automated.
  • The ability to pick, pack, and prepare shipment of orders within 15 minutes of receipt during business hours and a tracking number emailed as soon as we generate a shipping label (used to at end of day).
  • The ability to ship orders that were received up to 4pm EST same business day (weekends not included), including those with standard ground service.
  • Online help desk for customers who have questions, concerns, etc.
  • Online return process for applicable items that can be returned.
  • For small, light weight, and low value items, the ability to select USPS Mail as a carrier which provides a lower cost delivery option for customers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Finally getting back into the swings of things. It usually slows down in August, and we know the Fall and Winter is near when coffee orders start really picking up. Well, today, the coffee orders really started coming in!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Customer Appreciation Day and 15th Anniversary

1st-line Equipment turns 15 in October! Join us between 11am and 2 pm for Customer Appreciation Day to celebrate our 15th Anniversary on September 14, 2012. More details and RSVP here

Both roasters installed!

 Our two Ambex roasters just had new ductwork installed. Below is another picture of the vertical ductwork to vent out the small amount of smoke. For the ductwork, we utilized a NJ registered, minority-owned, local small business. We had to use a certified roofer to flash the roof which has a 20 year warranty. In fact, the ductowrk was installed last Thursday, and with last friday's thunderstorm front, we had a water leak equating about 55 gallons. The certified roofer's came in Monday.

Sitting in our warehouse for about 4 years, we inherited this Jabez Burns 4 barrel gas fired sample roaster. This thing is old and is in need of some sand blasting.

Adjusting the pressurstat on a la Nuova Era Cuadra espresso machine


La Nuova Era Cuadra: Adjusting Pressurstat

Adjust the boiler pressure setting on your La Nuova Era Cuadra espresso machine. We show you how to remove the top panel and side panel so that the pressurstat can be adjusted. Just look at the arrows around the screw in order to determine which was to turn the screw. Thank you for watching a video by 1st-line Equipment, LLC.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Newly Released Macap Espresso Grinders

Macap M2 Doser Grinder
Over the years, many of our customers have selected a Macap grinder for their home or commercial application. For the home environment, Macap led the way with a shorter bean hopper and soon followed by Mazzer to get under the 18" desired height requirements. Even still, sometimes the Macap M4 grinders were just too large for home model machines. After review of the M2 Macap grinders in late 2011, 1st-line has decided to carry this new series of grinders. Although they are stepped (not stepless), this series offers a solid build quality with an Italian flare. Produced in the Venetian region of Italy, the M2 grinders have already made a solid stance in European homes. There are three versions available for the US consumer:
Macap M2 Doserless Grinder
Manual Doserless - the user turns the power on/off to control the desired dosage of ground coffee

Programmable Doserless - the user can program the desired amount of coffee beans to be ground (by time).

Manual Doser - the user can grind the coffee into the doser and pull the lever to doser the coffee into the portafilter.

All models sport a beautiful polished chrome finish. The doserless models feature a height adjustable portafilter guide. Try one today!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Doser vs Doserless Grinders

Espresso coffee grinders are generally available in two different methods of dispensing the coffee grinds into the portafilter handle. The doser version allows the ground coffee to end up in a compartment called the doser. The doser has smaller compartments which can pre-measure and dispense the coffee grinds by pulling on a lever. The doserless version allows the ground coffee to go directly into the portafilter (filter handle). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages of the doser are,
  1. Cleaner operation - since the ground coffee goes into the doser, there is less splatter of coffee grinds on the counter top.
  2. Less static - the doser usually produces less static in the coffee grinds. This is not to say there is never any static, but there is a lot less complaints of static with the doser grinders
  3. Excess coffee grinds - typically, one can overdose the amount of ground coffee into the basket, and this excess can be placed back into the top of the doser.
The disadvantages of the doser are,
  1. Leftover coffee grinds - Since you are not grinding right into a portafilter, the user may grind too much coffee. This leftover coffee could be come stale. As a work-around, many customers know for a certain setting that they can grind for so many seconds to achieve just enough ground coffee for a shot or double shot of espresso. Then, all the coffee is dosed out of the doser by pulling the doser lever until all the grinds clear. Please note every coffee bean grinds differently at different settings which can impact the grind time. Hence, you will need to experiment with what works best in your situation. Or, customers only put in a certain amount of beans in the bean hopper, grind it all, and then dose it all into the portafitler.
  2. Doser effectiveness - one of the weaknesses of the doser is the vanes that sweep the coffee out of the doser. There are always some leftover grinds and a brush is needed to sweep them out. For more effective sweepers, higher end grinder would be required.
  3. Variable coffee dosage - The doser model vanes that compartmentalize the dosage of ground coffee. These typically dose between 6.75-7.00 grams of coffee only when the doser is half full. When the doser is less than half full, the amount can vary downwards. The normal dose should be 7 grams. 
The advantages of the doserless are,
  1. Grind what you need - if making 1-2 cups every morning (or session), the doserless will cut back on the amount of coffee waste that would accumulate in a doser - especially if one is very fanatical about how freshly ground the coffee must be,
  2. Grinding for other coffee brewing methods - In most cases, a container can be placed underneath the doserless chute to grind coffee beans for other coffee brewing methods, such as french press, drip, etc. This ground coffee can be stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator, /li>
The disadvantages of the doserless are,
  1. Loss of heat in portafilter - The longer your hot portafilter stays off the machine, one can find as much as a 20 degree f temperature loss in the metal portion of the portafilter. The result can be a sour espresso. 
  2. Not for entertaining - Having to grind per every espresso shot, it takes longer to make multiple espresso. This slows down the process of espresso extraction. A workaround is you can grind all the espresso coffee beans into a container, and use a scoop to get the coffee into the filter basket of the portafilter.
  3. Messy - doserless coffee grinders tend to be more messy since the portafilter can overfill or some grinds get out of the filter basket while grinding.
When choosing between doser and doserless grinders, one needs to consider all the above parameters. In a home environment with little entertaining, the doserless may be a good option. In home with a lot of entertaining, the doser grinder may be a better choice. In a commercial environment, doserless grinders are usually a better choice for low volume, such as decaf beans. However, in a commercial environment where the barista needs speed, the doser model is the better choice.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Buying an Espresso Machine?

Many potential buyers for home espresso machines contact us for advice on their purchase of an espresso machine for their home. There are many factors that contribute to the purchase decision. these will include budget, design and size of the machine, types of beverages made, experience of users, machine performance related to usage, and quality of beverage desired.. Other secondary factors will include ability to connect directly to a cold water line and/or drain, noise levels, heat produced, voltage and wattage limitations, and reliability.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Giotto Classic Espresso Machines

Three weeks ago, we had a customer who had a Giotto that kept on refilling upon startup, leaked water from the top of the boiler, and short circuited the GFI outlet. We learned that the machine had scale build up on the boiler's sensor for the the auto water refill circuit. After descaling of this part inhouse, the problem was corrected.

Today, another customer with a Giotto had a similar problem with the boiler overfilling during the extraction cycle. After changing the refill valve, we learned that the heat exchanger had a pinhole leak from the heat exchanger.

The morale of the story is not that Giottos have a problem. In fact, we see these problems quite infrequently in Giottos and we do see the same problems in similar espresso coffee machines. The morale is that limescale causing agents in your water used in an espresso machine has a major impact on the useful life of the parts inside an espresso machine.