We have two different systems for preparing our Costa Rican coffee and they couldn’t be more different.
Which one makes a better cup of coffee? We’ll probably take a lot of flack for saying it but the ultra-modern super-automatic wins hands down.
There’s a lot to be said for simplistic and traditional but in our opinion a super-automatic with…
- built-in micro porous + activated charcoal water filter
- consistent coarseness and perfectly metered quantity of fresh burr grinding internally
- digital water temperature, pressure and volume control
- removing operator error (most common on the first cup in the morning)
…makes the best cup of coffee and much faster too.
There’s also a huge flavor advantage when every cup is ground and brewed fresh at the push of a button in the super-automatic. The first cup out of the chorreador is good but the rest of the pot has to pass through the microwave.
One button from whole beans to the perfect cup of coffee (technically a “lungo” espresso with more water in the extraction)…two buttons for the perfect latte or cappuccino…
The espresso maker has precise digital control for a brew temperature appropriate to any roast from Blonde to French (plus boiling temperature altitude adjustment if you’re a perfectionist science geek) and a dose door so you can drop a single serve of decaf or other specialty grind between two double shot lattes.
We’re so addicted to it that lugging the twenty plus pound super-automatic as a carry-on when we travel has crossed our minds…
Both systems are very environmentally friendly producing nothing but compostable coffee grounds (and occasionally a compostable cotton sock) to dispose of. We get coffee beans in paper bags and milk in reusable glass bottles and when we want it to go we have stainless travel cups. Zero waste and just the electricity or natural gas to heat the water.
The super-automatic has all the advantages of a Keurig or other single cup system without the potential toxic leaching from petrochemical pods and stacks of plastic waste to dispose of.
There’s nothing like the tradition of waiting for the kettle to boil while gently heating a pan of milk until the skin forms and you scoop it off and toss it to the chickens in the yard. Conversation fits easily into the gaps between the first few tablespoons of warm water to “wet” the coffee properly and the five or six pours it takes to trickle a full pot through the chorreador.
Mercedes’ kitchen with the chorreador against the wall on the 100 year old cast iron ‘Black Knight” stove from the farm house where the Rodriguez family lived while clearing and planting their coffee finca in San Francisco de Heredia holds almost 30 years of loving memories and traditions for us. No newfangled contraption can ever replace that and we cherish every minute of our visits there.
Our espresso maker is not without personality. She is named “Verna”, after Chiusi della Verna, the tiny Italian mountain village where we had the cappuccino that finally made us decide to invest in a super-automatic. She is quite the conversation piece for people who’ve never used one, but in reality, mostly efficient, cold, steel and copper.
The coffee sock gets rinsed out after each use and tossed in the washing machine every few weeks.
The super-automatic requires an engineering degree to partially disassemble and clean on a weekly basis and it needs descaling every few months.
Descaling or Decalcifying is a chemical reaction using an acid to dissolve and remove calcium carbonate or other mineral deposits sometimes referred to as limescale.
Without regular descaling the plumbing inside a pumped espresso maker (or pod coffee maker like Keurig) may clog. It may be impossible to chemically clear the mineral deposits once they are thick enough to block the tubing. Take a few minutes a couple of times a year to avoid a costly factory service or even complete replacement.
Descaling or Decalcifying solutions range in price from $0.60 to over $6.00 per use (see ratings and price for a dozen brands) so we ask the obvious question “do the ones that cost ten times as much work that much better?”
The answer is yes and no. “Yes” because the most expensive solutions do work better and “No” because there’s a way to combine two cheap solutions to get the best results for much less money.
Most of the best performers combine two types of acid. They work better because “limescale” is not pure Calcium Carbonate deposits there’s also usually some Magnesium Hydroxide which has different chemistry.
- 500 ml (2 cups) water
- 60 gr (2 oz) Hale Fresh powder anhydrous citric acid
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) De’Longhi EcoDeCalk 50% lactic acid
Please use gloves and eye protection as described on the packaging of the commercial descalers being mixed.
Put about 250 mls (1 cup) water in a Pyrex glass measuring cup and add 60 grs (2 oz) powdered citric acid. Stir to dissolve then add 60 mls (1/4 cup) lactic acid and dilute to a final volume of 500 mls (2 cups).
Follow your machine manufacturer’s instructions but usually it’s something like – pour the solution into the water reservoir of the espresso maker reservoir (don’t forget to remove the filter first if there is one) and run the decalcifying wash and rinse cycles.
This recipe makes enough solution for one use in a Saeco Intelia Deluxe HD8759 Super-Automatic Espresso Maker for about $2.20 – less than half the cost of the Saeco premixed that rated tops in our survey.
|Name/Brand||acid active ingredient(s)||$||$ per use||rating|
|50% citric, 25% lactic||$31.12 for 6||$5.19||5|
|citric 10% sulfamic (amidosulfonic) 5%||$13.99 for 4||$3.50||5|
Durgol spezial entkalker
|sulfamic (amidosulfonic) 15%||$12.95 for 2||$6.47||4.8|
|citric 30%||$9.49 for 1.8||$5.27||3.7|
Hale Fresh liquid
|citric 30%||$14.99 for 4||$3.75||3.9|
Hale Fresh powder
|citric 100% (dilute to 30% with water)||$7.67 for 12||$0.64||4.4|
|citric 35%||$24.99 for 16||$1.56||4.3|
|citric 30%||$9.25 for 2||$4.62||3.8|
|citric 30%||$12.95 for 4||$3.24||3.9|
|lactic 50%||$12.99 for 4||$3.25||4.3|
|50% Citric 3% Silicic <5% phosphates & bleach||$6.45 for 1||$6.45||3.7|
Coffee socks cost about twelve hundred colones (two bucks) for a three pack.
A decent entry level super-automatic espresso machine is around twelve hundred dollars.
A thousand bucks or more may seem like an insane price for a coffee maker but since we’ve had ours we figure it has saved us almost $10,000 each year. Sue and I each have three “coffee drinks” – usually a double cappuccino 1% extra froth, turbinado and Sumatra cinnamon dusting and/or straight double shot espresso lungo each day.
At coffee shop prices ($3.75 to $4.65) that would run about $25.50 per day, times 365 days a year or $9,307. Subtract the cost of ingredients: 52 half-gallons farm fresh milk $148 total @ $2.85 each, 52 half gallons soy/almond/cashew milk $205 total @ 3.95 each, 52 lbs ultra-premium coffee direct from the finca $234 @ $4.50 each (we get a great price on bulk custom roast)… for a savings of $8,720…oh yeah, plus impuestos, another thousand bucks…total savings almost ten grand a year.