Latte Art... an ephemeral canvas

If you read my Japan post, you will know that I was greatly surprised the first time I saw someone drawing figures in coffee. It seemed unreal to me! I was not only intrigued on how he did it, but I also admired the effort of doing such a beautiful design on such a fragile and ephemeral canvas.

As soon as I got my first espresso machine I started trying to do the same and as some of you know, being half art and half science, it turned out not to be an easy task. I want to share with you the evolution of my designs. More often than not all I got was a white foamy stain, but I was still able to "find" something on them (in some cases with a lot of imagination).

I added some names to each one of them. I hope you enjoy it

1. The Halloween Pumpkin

2. The Foamy (and crappy) Snowman

3. The Ying Yang "ish"

4. The Carnivorous Plant
5. The Back of a seating poodle

6. The Aladdin 
8. The Boba Fett "ish" (with a lot of imagination)
7. The Peach

9. The Guitar Pick

10. The Deformed Giant

11 The My first heart "ish"

11. Sauron's eye

12. The Panda

14. The Polar Bear
13. The Puma

15. The Dragon
16. The Dragon 2

17. The Beer goggles

18. The Wrestler

19. The Guitar

21. The Dentalicious
20. The Tree

22. The little girl
23. The Alien (or The little girl upside down)

24. The Whale

25. The "This was supposed to be a rosetta"
26. The fower with heart

28. The Naked Man
27. The Puppy

29. My all time favorite: The Wild Flower 
31. The Bear
30. The Chocolate Flower

32. The "My clever wife's response to my challenge of "drawing a heart on her coffee""
33. The Wild Flower 2
34. The Ana

35. The Heart, it is getting there

36. The Coffee Portrait

Let me know if you can think on a better name for one of them

The espresso toolbox Project

As an amateur barista, I am proud of my machine and I am also proud of all the accessories that I use to operate it: tamper, single shot, double shot and bottomless portafilters. I love their heavy weight and how they look. I find their shinny chromed parts to beautifully contrast with their plastic black ones.

The dilemma
One of the challenges when I started using my machine was to find a good place to store all of the accessories. My wife suggested putting them in one of the kitchen drawers. To be honest, I felt bad when I started storing them in there. I organized them and try to align them, but the next time I opened the drawer they were a mess. I had to move around some things to be able to find what I was looking for. I was also worried that the parts where hitting each other every time I opened and close the drawer. 

When I told about my problem to my coffee lover friends, some of them laugh and told me: “at least you have a full drawer for your coffee stuff.”

After a fruitless search online, it seemed obvious that I would have to build my own organizer to store my tools. I wanted something that would not only hold everything on its place, but that it will also serve as a frame to proudly display my tools.  

I decided I would make my box out of wood. Everyone can agree that: steel and wood look good together. I wanted to give it an industrial look, something you would find in an old neighborhood brick walled loft.   For the interior, I wanted a custom design that would hold each piece on its place, but that would also look elegant and help protect them. I settled for a black, soft material that will not scratch the metal. Finally, I wanted it to be personal. These are my tools, I use them every day to craft something I like. The wood will make it unique, but why stop there? I wanted to include my initials in the box (“LAG”.)

The outcome
The final result was exactly what I was looking for. An industrial looking espresso toolbox that keeps everything on its place and that is aesthetically appealing. It was a lot of work, but I think that the result speaks for itself. Here showing the layout for two portafilters
espresso toolbox for two portafilters

What happened next?
We were so very happy with the end product that we created more espresso toolboxes for some of our espresso lover friends and all of them have been very grateful with it.

Believing that this will be a great addition for all the people who want to proudly store and organize their portafilters we set our mind on being able to offer this as a product available for more people. Starting today, we have them available at eBay (two portafilters or three portafilters) and also at our online store. You can find them with the setup for two or for three portafilters.

This could be a perfect gift if you have an amateur barista as spouse or friend. We can personalize it with up to three letters when you order it.

The model displayed fits espresso machines that have a 58 mm tamper or E61 group head, including the following:
  • Rancilio: Silvia, Epoca S1, Epoca ST1
  • Quick Mill: Vetrano, Andreja Premium, Anita, Alexia, Silvano
  • Izzo: Alex, Alex II and Alex Duetto
  • Rocket Espresso: R58 V2, Giotto Premium Plus, Giotto Professional, Giotto Evoluzione,
  • Cellini: Premium Plus, Professional, Evoluzione, Classic
  • Grimac Royal Falcon: la Valentina
  • Expobar: Brewtus II, Brewtus IV, Office Lever, Office Lever Plus, Office Control
  • Vibiemme: Double Domobar, Domobar Super, Domovar Junior 
  • ECM Germany: Technika IV, Barista, 
  • Bezzera: Mitica, Magica, Unica
  • Isomac: Alba, Millennium, Tea
  • La Nuova Era: Cuadra
  • Famea: Carisma
  • Pasquini: Livia G4
  • Gaggia: TS
  • among others...

Remeber to visit us at: to get yours!

The "Illy Coffee empty cans" Project

The question that has plagued humanity for decades has finally an answer: What to do with your empty cans of Illy coffee?

If you are like me, every time you reach the bottom of an Illy coffee can you are left with a challenging decision: Should I throw it away or keep it? On one hand, the cans are so beautiful. Their shiny body and red branding make us believe that a trash can or a recycling center is not the right place where it belongs. On the other hand, we already have 4 or 5 of them stored on our shelves without serving any purpose, and the number continues to grow!

If you Google: "what to do with empty Illy cans" you will find that several people have asked this same question before and that most of the standard responses do not do justice to their looks. Some of the answers involve recycling, painting or cutting them.

Some months ago, my wife and I realized that the number of cans at our kitchen was starting to accumulate, and we decided it was time to do something beautiful and useful. From the many ideas, we generated we chosen to go for a pop art (very Andy Warhol-ish) set of containers for our kitchen.

These are perfect for storing things such as coffee (duh!), sugar, rice, pepper, and others. Something cool of this design is that the lid and spoon can be temporarily "held" by the can. You will see how this is possible.


8 Cans of Illy coffee (The main reason to do this)
1 Metallic board (23"x17")
8 Industrial looking bolts (at least 3in long)
16 Nuts for the bolts above
2 Wall screws (long enough to pass through the board and go at least 1/2" into the wall
8 Strong magnets*
1 Bottle of strong glue (we used Gorilla glue)

* Note on the magnets: we tried several types and sizes, including small ones, magnetic tapes with adhesive, but we found that the ones that work the best were big magnets (1"x2"x1/2") from Home Depot. The stronger the magnet you select the more weight you will be able to put on the cans without they becoming out of balance.
Wall Screws
Magnetic Board 

Quick Guide to clean your Quick Mill Anita

Below is a summary of the necessary cleaning steps for your Quick Mill Anita. I would assume that the same process should apply to other espresso machines, but I cannot assure it. You should always follow your manufacturer’s instructions.

When I got my new Anita, I downloaded the user manual from Chris’ Coffee, an excellent website with plenty of information for those who want to learn more and are looking to buy their next espresso machine. Their manual is very useful, but I needed something more concise that could summarize the important actions on a single page. I created the following table to remind me what are the necessary cleanup steps that I need to follow on a per use, weekly, montly and yearly basis.

I hope it is useful for you as well

After every use
After preparing espresso dispose the grounds immediately
Return portafilter to group head and run some water for a few seconds
Clean with brush, I use the one in this link which is special for group heads
Once per week
Clean reservoir with mild detergent
After cleaning fill the reservoir with white vinegar to remove deposit. Let it sit for 1 hr. Then clean and rinse.
If for some reason you notice a vinegar taste or odor after you did the above, fill with water the reservoir and add baking soda. This should remove the taste and odor. Clean it normally after this.
Plain water backflushing (15 seconds)
Once per month (or every 30-25 espressos)
Insert the cleaning brush in warm water with cleaning powder and use it to clean the group head.  Wipe off with a wet cloth
Backflushing with espresso machine cleaner: Place 1/4 of a teaspoon of espresso machine cleaner into the backflush disc in the portafilter and then lock the portafilter into the grouphead. Repeat the same procedure as above until the cleaner is dissolved and the water runs clear (about 5-10 flushes)
Remove the portafilter from the group and rinse thoroughly
With a damp cloth wipe the underside of the group.
Pull a shot of espresso and dispose of it
In 1 liter of water add 1 teaspoon of machine cleaner. Dip your portafilters and filters for 30 minutes and rinse them thoroughly after that
Once per year
Group Gasket And Shower Screen Replacement

So you want to upgrade your espresso machine? (part 2)

God bless the internet. Not so long ago, when you didn't knew something, you had to spent days looking for a book or person who could give you some guidance. Things have changed and now it is easier to connect with people  and in most of the cases find general information about something. On my process of upgrading my machine I was fortunate to find blogs and communities that helped me through the process. Many companies also have valuable resources at their websites that were very helpful. Some of the websites I consulted were:
  • quick and detailed reviews on machines, grinders and more
  • besides selling the machines, they have plenty of information including manuals and videos that help you through the process
  • specifications and helpful videos showing the machines they have
  • specifications and helpful videos

Selecting the Grinder       

One of the first things my coffee connoisseur friends told me, was that the grinder is just as important as the espresso machine, if not more. With this on mind, I wanted this grinder to be the last one I had to buy during my lifetime. I was mainly interested on quality components and durability. I didn't want something with a lot of features that was going to break down in a couple of years.

After some initial research on brands that were within my budget, I narrowed it down to two models: Baratza Vario and Mini Mazzer. A very detailed Mini Mazzer review by Mark Prince from  made the decision pretty simple (to see the review click here). This machine seemed to offer the best grinding quality and durability since most of the components are stainless steel. I found very amusing that the first thing  I found when I opened the box was a warning indicating it was not intended for household use (too late!)

Selecting the Machine

Guiding Steps

With the grinder out of the way, the next step was to select the machine. I would recommend the following four steps to those of you looking to upgrade or a first espresso machine.

1) Know your budget's max and min.
How much are you willing to spend on a machine? With just this decision, you will considerably narrow down your options. The max seems obvious since it is limited by the amount of money you have, but the minimum could be tricky. In my case I was constantly challenging myself to explain why I needed to spend that much. Fortunately, I kept asking myself: if I buy a cheaper machine, am I going to be happy and satisfied with it for the next five years, or are am I going to want to upgrade it as soon as I have it?

2) Decide early on if you are a control freak or a “just push a button” type of person?  
What level of involvement with your coffee would make you happy day after day. Do you want your coffee to be ready in three minutes with only the push of one button or do you want to wait thirty minutes for the machine to warm-up and then ten more minutes grinding, tampering, measuring and pressing? 

I put together a generic list of the differnet type of machines you will find; it goes in ascending order of degree of control:

-Capsules. Nespresso and Dolce Gusto are some of the brands on this category. They sell their own capsules and with the push of one button you can  have coffee ready in less than five minutes. They are offered at very competitive prices, since most of these companies make their profits from the capsules, not on the machines Cons:  Forget about going to your local café to buy some beans. You will be captive to buy their brand’s capsules for as long as you have the machine. Fortunately, they have plenty of options on capsules. Besides adding Amaretto or Baileys to your coffee, I don't think you will be able to get more creative than that.
-Super automatic.  With only pushing one or two buttons you could get everything from an espresso to a cappuccino. The machine does all the work and your involvement is minimal; it is probably reduced to the type of coffee and milk you use and programming a few settings. With this type of machines you are not captive to use only one brand of coffee, and you can select whatever you want. Something important to note, is that most of them come with a grinder; if this is going to be your final choice, most likely you will be able to skip the selecting a grinder step. Cons: if for some reason you don’t like the way it prepares the coffee, you don’t have a lot of options. I would assume that because of all the complex mechanical and electronic actuators and sensors, they will  require specialized technicians to repair and that it might not be cheap.
Super Automatic Machine
- Semi-Automatic.  A lot of the coffee lovers fall in this category (including myself). You can control a lot of the aspects of making coffee: what beans do you use, how coarse do you grind them, how hard to do you tamper them, how much pressure to use, how long the extraction should take, what water temperature to use, etc. There is a big range on prices on this category. I like how involved you could get when using a machine on this category and most of the good coffee shops have machines that fall on it. Cons: until you master the process and know your machine, every shot might taste different. You will probably ruin more than a couple of shots during the learning curve. If you normally wake up late in the morning, chances are you will have to leave your house without drinking your coffee since it takes at least thirty minutes to get it at the right temperature. There are so many technical details and differences on this machines that it will become confusing to know which ones are important for you.

- Manual: Do you want to be in TOTAL control of your coffee? If so, this is the one for you! The semi-automatic machine has pumps and valves that allow coffee extraction at the right pressure. With a manual one, you use your arm strength to provide the necessary pressure to extract coffee. Cons:You need to have a lot of practice in order to be able to extract good coffee consistently. I think it should be really hard to really learn how to apply the same pressure over and  over again. In my opinion, there are already too many important variables that you need to control, I would rather let the machine do a little bit more of the work.
3) Determine what attributes you want in your machine.
Find a couple of specialized websites that sell espresso machines and apply the criteria from above, this will reduce your options and will let you focus on selecting one that goes with you. Most likely you will need to make trade-offs between the following three characteristics: looks, features and durability.

In my case, I decided early on my budget and that I wanted a semi-automatic one. However, on the next phase I went back and forward on my decision several times since I didn't have clear what was more important for me.

Features.   I found the Breville BES900XL Dual Boiler to be very interesting. Not only it was on the low range of my budget, but it looks nice and it has a lot of small details that made it very appealing. It was probably the cheapest dual boiler machine I could find (this is a good thing), has a placeholder for the tamper, programmable extraction temperature, backlit LCD, drop down swivel foot, etc. In my experience if something seems to be to good to be true, normally it is. I believe that Breville is able to have all these great features by sacrificing quality of the components.  With this I don't mean they are cheap components that are going to break after a couple of weeks of use. What I mean is that probably they had to use less stainless steel, quality pumps and valves and others in order to make-up for the difference.

Looks. The moment I saw the La Nuova Era Cuadra I loved it. I like the rounded lines and the colors it has available. It is a very nice looking machine with an E-61 group head. This group head could be consider some type of standard and you can find machines from different manufacturers using the same group head. For this reason, replacement parts or service should be easier to get and probably cheaper. The other option is a proprietary group head, in which case you will need to buy all your replacement parts from the manufacturer.

A couple of things I didn't like from this machine. That the side panels and the water tray are made of plastic. This is actually what helps them have this rounded and colorful sides that look so cool, but I got a little worried about durability. 

La Nuova Era Cuadra

I really liked this machine. Unfortunately, when I was getting ready to buy it I found out that the distributor in the US (1st-line Equipment) was out of stock and it didn't had a date to have it available. The following is a video I found online of someone operating the machine to pull a shot

Durability. My other first choice was Quick Mill Anita. This is a gorgeous stainless steel machine that was on the high range of my budget. It also had a E-61 group head, but it lacked all the features of Breville and the nice, sexy curves of La Nuova Era. 

Quick Mill Anita
However, as you can see from the picture, most of the outside of the machine is stainless steel (including sides and tray), which gives it a great old fashion look, at the same time that ensures durability. I also liked the 4 holes steam wand. Overall I believe that the quality of the components is higher on this machine and for me this was one of the key factors on selecting one.

4)Select vendor
Once you narrow it down into one or two machines, select your favorite vendor and check for availability. A recommendation here. Most of the companies I indicated in this article, spend a considerable amount of time uploading resources (articles, descriptions, videos, etc.) that will help you and guide you on your research. When you are ready to pull the trigger, try to buy from one of the companies that helped you through the process. It sounds tempting to go and look for the best price in order to save $10 or $20 dollars, but I think it is important to reward those companies that were helpful educating us, so that they keep adding more resources and doing a good work.

And the winner is...

After all the research done I decided to buy the Quickmill Anita. I could had waited for La Nuova Era Cuadra to become available, but I realized that for me, the slight difference in looks didn't justify using plastic parts instead of stainless steel. I wanted something that could give me the best performance on this category and I think that Anita was the right choice. Like with many other things in life, there is always room for improvement; these are some of the things that would had delighted me if this machine had had them:
  • A better tamper, the one that comes with the machine is a cheap plastic one (although from what I read most of the machines come with a similar one)
  • A circular cleaning brush for the group head. I had to do some research and buy one from
  • Smaller footprint and height. It can barely fit on my kitchen countertop, with little room for  cups on top
  • A naked portafilter as a bonus (ok, this might be too much to ask)
Here is a picture of my final setup: Mini and Anita side by side.

This is a picture of the machine during its first extraction using naked portafilter (not included with the machine) to create a triple shot. 

I hope all these was helpful for you

Click here to read the first part of this blog