08 October 2020
At-Home Coffee Tips from an Espresso Machine Engineer
ZhiChen Li, Product Development Engineer at Breville/Sage Appliances shares his coffee routine and how he got started in his dream career
Tell us about yourself and your role at Sage?

I have a master's in electrical engineering and started as a Product Development Engineer with the espresso team at Breville/Sage. I work on various product developments in the coffee category on the automatic machine range like the Oracle Touch as well as the manual machine range like the Barista Touch, the Barista Pro, the Bambino Plus and the Creatista Pro from our Nespresso range.

How did your coffee career start?

My first exposure to Specialty Coffee was a film called “A film about coffee,” where I learned the basics about specialty coffee. Soon after that, I came to Sydney for a master's degree in Electrical Engineering, where my specialty coffee journey started. After visiting all the famous cafés, I started to seek opportunities to learn more about making coffee. I eventually became a barista and competed in coffee competitions.
I dreamed about becoming an engineer and making my own espresso machine one day. In my third year in Australia, I started working as a coffee specialist and trainer at Nespresso and product engineers invited me to visit the HQ and share my experiences. Meanwhile, I started working as an engineering intern at Merdjanicdesign, specializing in coffee machine customization, where I met and learned from various people in the industry and established a strong foundation in coffee machine engineering.

What does your at-home coffee routine look like?

It depends on the day. If I have a workout planned in the morning, I'll make a single origin pour-over — it's the best way to motivate me for an early session. On a regular workday or on the weekend, I'll use the Sage Dual Boiler, a manual espresso machine. I like to put my hands on the machine like I did in my barista days and enjoy the smooth taste of well-balanced specialty coffee.

Do you have a favorite coffee city?

I'm fascinated by Melbourne's prospering coffee culture. You can experience and taste coffee cultures in the individual charm of its small cafés with its in-house roasteries. I'm passionate about the way they extract the aromas and flavors out of a coffee bean. 

One of my highlights every year is MICE, the Melbourne International Coffee Festival. Here they have the MICE Product Innovation Award where the best new products are recognized and it's one of the most important events of the year for me. Unfortunately, this year MICE Melbourne International Coffee Festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

What's Sage's involvement in The Global Coffee Festival 2020? What can viewers expect?

For the virtual edition of the GCF 2020, Sage Appliances is the sponsor of the Home Rituals category. I'd say it's the perfect match! Sage cultivates third wave coffee at home. We always strive for the highest quality standards in all our products, in terms of design, functionality, operation and innovation.

Sage also works closely with an international network of the best roasters. Therefore, viewers can expect innovative experiences when creating smooth micro-foam milk when using the auto-barista quality milk-frother (which is included in all of our Thermal Jet machines).

What are the coolest things you can do with Sage appliances that most people don't know about?

For the coffee extraction, I like the adjustable pre-infusion function, which gives you the ability to experiment with the full potential of coffee extraction, whether it's a blend or a single origin. Just put your hands on the machine and play around to get the best out of the coffee beans. Further, I like my coffee extra hot, so I'm a huge fan of extracting the espresso while steaming the milk simultaneously with the Sage Dual Boiler.

Finally, a tip for everyone with a sweet tooth, make a Tiramisu with fresh brewed espresso.

For someone who is looking to step-up their coffee game at home, what suggestions do you have?

I always recommend using freshly roasted whole beans. Support your local — they can give advice on the beans based on personal taste and coffee habits. And, always grind the beans fresh to enjoy its full-bodied flavor.

For a well-balanced espresso extraction, the particle size, evenness and consistency is crucial. Therefore, make sure to use a decent electric burr grinder for the best result. Finally, the brewing temperature is essential: all Sage appliances ensure stable temperature control.

What are you most excited about for GCF 2020?

I'm looking forward to the international exchange with colleagues and experts from the global coffee scene. The intercultural excursion on different methods of coffee preparation, regional coffee habits or latest trend topics enables us to continuously develop our Sage espresso machines while considering the consumers’ needs and demands. Thus, cultivate the third wave coffee culture beyond (virtual) borders and directly into the consumers' kitchen.

Discover Sage's product range here and check out the products in action at The Global Coffee Festival on 30 October. Get your FREE ticket today!
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