Archive for May, 2007

Special Spaziale Session.

May 3, 2007

The La Spaziale s5

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Good lord! I think I can honestly say that in three and a half years of working with coffee, I’ve never quite realised until now just how potent a drug caffeine can actually be. As planned, on Monday, I went over to the warehouse/showroom of the Cardiff Coffee Company to meet-up with Will Thornborough and experiment with some their great equipment; and after a couple of hours of sipping espressos and lattes, I was completely wired! I was genuinely shocked when I got home as to just how noticeable the effects were – I had some trouble sleeping that night, I can tell you. Normally, I’m quite moderate in my drinking habits (well, with coffee, anyway), enjoying only either a small (7oz) latte or cappuccino, a single espresso, and maybe a cup of instant each day – sometimes less – but Monday involved the sort of binge-drinking I usually reserve for alcohol – and had comparable consequences!

Anyway, the session was great. It was nice to try out some top-notch machines, and to indulge in burning through quite a bit of coffee and milk to try and achieve some decent rosettas. At the moment the company has a two group La Spaziale s5, a Mahlkonig k 30 ES on-demand grinder, and a wide range of pitchers and cups at the warehouse, and it made for a pretty nice laboratory for a couple of hours!

My experience of espresso machines is pretty limited (see my  April 28th post), so it was quite a treat to use the s5 which is a really top-spec machine. I have to admit though that I wasn’t wholly taken with it, but that might just be because it takes a while to get comfortable using any machine. 

One of the key features of the s5 is that the temperature of the main, steam boiler can be set on a sliding scale, with 1 degree C of separation between settings, and we had it set to 117C. Steam from this boiler is then diverted to the group heads, and instantly heats cold brewing water as it enters the heads (rather than using heat-exchange or dedicated boilers). With the steam-heated gismology, the s5 is meant to do that holy grail thing, and hold brewing temperature stable at the head to within .2 of a degree C. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t actually display what the brewing temperature at the head is, so you can’t really see how stable it is, or what temperature you’re using (we guessed it would be in the low 90’s though, of course). You just have to adjust the boiler temperature until until you achieve an espresso that you’re happy with, and guess at the brewing temperature. That isn’t really a problem though – I suppose the important thing is that at least you do have that ability to vary the temperature for different coffees and conditions (but only by a whole degree C at a time, which actually causes quite noticable differences), and for it to then be able to hold that temperature stable during brewing, which is great.

The s5 seemed to live up to it’s reputation, and was very stable and consistent in what it produced, with every single espresso pouring nice and smooth and straight, with none of the pressure drop-offs, etc, that I’m used to with the machine I usually use. I might have imagined it, but I felt that perhaps the espressos lacked something of the creaminess, body and weight that I can often achieve with my usual machine though. Don’t know why this would be – perhaps my old Ducale is so full of rubbish that you get a few added extras in your pour!

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The group heads are quite high-up from the drain-tray. This is great for many commercial situations where you have bigger cups and take-aways, and still want to be able to pour the espresso directly into these cups – but it’s a bit of a departure from the more traditional look and small-cup ideology. Apparently though, it comes with a portable stand for smaller cups – so I guess it’s not a problem.

I wasn’t too keen on the steaming wands. They only lock in position when fully open – and when fully open they’re whacking-out some very powerful steam – which is great for a large pitcher, but not if you’re steaming for a 7oz cappuccino in a small one. You can vary the strength of the steam down to zero, but if you let go of the lever, it’ll spring down to shut-off, unless fully open – so if you want less steam, you lose the spare hand that would normally be available for a vital second or two…

 Then came the fun bit – latte art!! Predictably, because there was a camera and video in play, and because I was trying to demonstrate the techniques to Will, I really struggled to pour really good designs. This is partly Sod’s Law, partly because I wasn’t used to the machine, and partly because of the pressure – but I won’t make any more excuses! I eventually poured a couple of quite nice 8oz rosettas, and got a not-so-nice one on film as well. They weren’t up to the standard i’d be really happy with, but they did the job:

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…Here’s the video of me making a latte and pouring a rosetta. I hope it’s useful to anyone out there that’s still struggling to get them – it was really useful for me when I was first learning latte art to watch a couple of videos that I found on the web:

Looks easy, huh? Well, as anyone who pours free-pour latte art knows – it’s not! It takes months of practice and dedication, and even then you can’t get perfect designs every time. But once you’ve cracked it, it kind-of does become easy and natural (and certainly looks so to onlookers), but it still takes a lot of concentration, and can so easily fail – usually when you most want it to succeed!

I probably spoilt it mainly by cutting-through too heavily at the end for the stem, and therefore dragging the leaves a little. Ideally, I would have done some more close-up videos that concentrated on the pours as well – maybe later!

It was good to see Will’s latte art coming-on too. He just needs to pull back more during the leaf-forming stage, and concentrate on the symmetry too.

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Will pouring.

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A sample of the devastation!