A new toy to play with.

My current Ducale:

my current Ducale

Hello all!

I’m currently looking forward to one evening next week when I’m going to have a bit of a coffee jamming session and get to try out a much nicer, more cutting edge espresso machine than I’m used to working with – the La Spaziale s5. I’ve been kindly invited to have a play on it at the Cardiff Coffee Company’s warehouse, and it should be a real treat! This is the machine type that was used for this year’s UK Barista Championship finals (might have seen you there!) – so I’m guessing it should be pretty hot.

It’ll be nice to have the opportunity to experiment with some espresso techniques, pours and tasting, and also some latte art, out of the usual pressure and restrictions of the day-to-day work environment.

For those of you who are used to using top-notch machines, I should elaborate a little bit about the machines I’ve worked with so far, and, hence, my eagerness to try a good one. Back in Nottingham, I was in charge of a small coffee bar on a Civil Service site for three years, until recently relocating here to Cardiff. It was during this time that I slowly but surely developed my passion for coffee and in particular espresso and espresso-based drinks. I instantly felt a connection to the coffee and other materials, and began to take an active interest in researching the world of coffee, and in developing my practical techniques.

Around the beginning of 2006, I discovered latte art on the Internet, and was so taken with the beauty of the designs that I decided I had to learn how to do it! So, I started to teach myself. At the beginning, I probably didn’t even know the difference between free-pour and etched, and I know my milk texturing was still pretty amateurish. But through research, and days and weeks of practice and experimentation, I started to get there – and in learning latte art I also greatly improved the other aspects of my drinks, which is why I always like to see it done; because it indicates a level of overall competence, dedication and passion from the barista when done really well. Towards the end of the year, my ability with latte art was pretty good (even if I do say so myself! Check out my pics and see what you think…), and my love for espresso drinks was cemented and re-affirmed. I even wrote a little latte art article for the interested customers in the cafe, and put it online …But there was a problem with my overall espresso knowledge and ability (this is where I take a deep breath and prepare for my credibility to be dashed as far as pro baristi are concerned!) – what machine was I doing all this lovely latte art on? A Starbucks-style Thermoplan CTS1 with automatic espresso and a manual steam wand Cringe! To be fair to it though, it was a great high-volume work-horse, that made a fairly nice, consistent espresso. It also had an ideal four-hole steaming tip for absolutely perfect microfoam. But to really master espresso, you need to be hand crafting shots!

Well, we’ve all got to start somewhere! At Christmas 2006, I was very kindly given the espresso bible – the legendary David Schomer’s Espresso Coffee Professional Techniques – which I instantly read (well, as instantly as I ever read, anyway) from cover to cover. Then came our relocation to Cardiff, and I just hoped I’d be able to get a job where I could continue to work with espresso, and, also, where I could use a more traditional machine and begin to learn about hand-crafted espresso, and put all the information I’d read into practice, and bring my espresso technique in-line with my latte art. Well; I got that job, and have been there for a couple of months now, and all is going well (pretty much!). However, the machine I use now – whilst fine and dandy – is a little ancient compared to some; it’s an old two group Ducale (not sure what model) that just has manual on-off switches for the brewing pump. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with it – I get some very nice espresso out of it (on a good day!), and having the manual control for the shot volume/brewing time is a must anyway. But I’m not convinced the brewing temperature is very stable, or even whether it has a proper pre-infusion cycle, etc, etc.

…Soooo that’s why I’m looking forward to trying the La Spaziale s5. It’s meant to be temperature-stable to within .2 of a degree (a claim I have to admit I’m a little dubious about – any ideas how it compares to the Synesso Cyncra anyone? Or La Marzocco machines?), and it’ll be really interesting for me to see just how differently the espresso pours, looks and tastes…

In exchange for the session on the machine, I’ll be demonstrating some of my latte art pours to my friend Will at the Cardiff Coffee Co, prior to his meeting with our fantastic UK representative at the World Barista Championships this year, James Hoffman, and prior to Will’s upcoming barista course at the London School of Coffee. He’s already getting pretty good at latte art art, but hopefully I’ll be able to give him a few pointers. I also hope to make a video of me pouring some art, as well as some photos, which I’ll be posting on the site next week if all goes well! I’ll be taking some of my old, rounded, 14oz cups along with me that I used to use in Nottingham, which, although they are a size that is perhaps rightly sneered at by many real purists, are absolutely great for pouring really impressive, fully evolved designs in – as many a latte artist will probably admit, if honest!

…But then, the whole cup-size debate is a topic for another time..!

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