Archive for July, 2009

OMG! …Schomerblog!!

July 31, 2009

If you ever¬†thought in recent times *I wonder what David Schomer’s up to these days?*, after he seemed to have virtually disappeared from the web-radar, then wonder no more – the mighty Schomer has a brand new blog!!!! ūüėÄ Happy days.

David Schomer’s a legend in the world of coffee, as we all know. I’m sure there are many other baristas out there who, like me, can¬†attribute (to some greater or lesser extent) his inspiring writing on the subject as¬†being one of the initial catalysts for¬†their¬†love of¬†the world of espresso.

Perhaps he’s not perceived as being as¬†innovative and¬†cutting edge as universally as he was 10 years ago. His truths may not always be the only truth. Some may find his style of presentation too ‘romantic’,¬†on occasion (can you be too romantic?), and some may not regard him with the outright reverence that others do.

But few can deny his status is iconic in the land of¬†‘spro,¬†and not without good reason.¬†He was an early and pioneering proponent of the holy grail¬†that is¬†temperature stability for espresso machines, and was rocking a PID pimped Linea way back around¬†the turn of the millennium. No doubt his involvement with PID, and very public support of this technology, has¬†contributed to the fact that¬†many of¬†the high-end,¬†state of the art¬†machines coming out¬†in recent years now incorporate these features. The remarkable extent of his achievements are referenced in brief¬†on Espresso Vivace’s Wikipedia¬†page.

He writes about the subtleties of espresso technique in a way that makes sense, and which is also approachable and endearing. Crucially, it also makes you want to try out the theories, and learn more! He’s a fountain of knowledge, and I for one will be keeping a keen¬†eye on his posts¬†in the hope of gleaning some gems of wisdom!

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New toy on order!

July 24, 2009

…*Excited*

My first ever Aeropress –¬†just ordered!

By all accounts, when this arrives, I¬†will be able to¬†wave goodbye to any care for espresso, and¬†troublesome decisions about its associated, clunky equipment! ūüėČ

…*Very eager*

Water debit and screens

July 24, 2009

Recently, I’ve been looking more closely at the machine end of what I do,¬†as opposed to¬†the bean, barista, and latte art¬†side of things, with a view to better¬†understanding how to choose upgraded machinery – and it’s¬†been¬†quite¬†interesting.

(Beware: dull and geeky post)

I always thought the screens on our¬†Ducale at work must be pretty poor, and that the flow of water seemed rather violent, and after¬†reading the following¬†threads/videos…

TMC, HB, VIMEO

…I thought I’d upload some footage, and take¬†a reading of the water debit on our machine, for the record, and¬†to see what people think…

The similar examples below show the flow with hot (HX) water (1 and 2), leading to the cooled water (1b).

(Apologies for the sideways view – can’t figure out¬†how to change it!)

1 1b

2

The full and rather impressive extent of the dispersion is not very clear in the clips; the finer sideways sprays are trickier to spot.

I measured the unrestricted water debit for the first 10 seconds from activating the pump, and it filled two of our 10oz cups. That’s nearly 600ml. That’s right: not 60ml – 600ml. Good, eh?!¬†I took readings from both groups, with both the super heated and cooler water, and the debit was¬†roughly the same on each group, although the group videoed is my preferred group which I use for all my shots, as is has the ‘best’ screen, and I find it gives the best extraction.

The machine operates at 9 bars when pressurised.

These are pictures of the group/screen, and of the two full 10oz cups after a 10 second flush of the group:

ducale left screen

ducale water debit - 20 oz

This is the machine I have been using to make espresso for the last two years, since arriving at the plan. This is the machine I often describe as ‘loved and loathed’ and as having ‘some issues…’. This machine is the one I have used to practice and¬†develop most of my espresso technique on, and it’s the machine I used to prepare for¬†my set in¬†the ukbc this year. Prior to this, I had only used a superauto, and since being at the plan, I’ve only had a few very brief sessions on¬†two S5s, a Linea, and the San Remos in competition. So I’ve had very little to compare it against, and have simply tried to use it to my best ability, and develop my techniques as well as possible in order to get the best espresso from it that I am able to.

HX temperature issues aside, any thoughts on on the water dispersion¬†and water debit from this machine folks..? Don’t mention preinfusion, gicleurs or¬†needle valves. Only joking – please feel free to ūüėČ

(Please note our machine may or may not be representative of its model and make)

Anfim Super Caimano or Mazzer Major…

July 19, 2009

[2012 Update: There is a post about some of my findings since acquiring our Anfim Super Caimano 2nd Revision, here on my blog: https://thebeanvagrant.com/5-myspro/ under the post dated March 2011]

The search for a suitable espresso machine seems to coming along nicely, with specifications, advice, recommendations and¬†price having narrowed the list down to a ‘top 3’, all of which are still in the running.

So now naturally, my attention is also turning towards which grinder to best¬†pair with any new machine. The main problem I have with our current grinder is that¬†it has¬†stepped adjustments which are just not fine enough, and this can so often ruin shots, even when the other variables are behaving. It’s also a little slow, and the doser (in the way it doses into the p/f) could be better. Therefore, to get the best from a great machine, a better grinder is a must, I think, and our existing one can be demoted to decaf.¬†Again though, as always,¬†the budget will be limited, and, given that the cafe’s¬†espresso¬†volume¬†is currently best described as medium or even light, I guess we don’t¬†actually need a top of the range beast like a Robur or a Kony anyway¬†(although these might still¬†be my ideal choice if cost wasn’t an issue). A Mahlkonig K30 is probably over budget too (and stepped only?), and besides, whilst I¬†like the speed, convenience,¬†and nifty programmable dosing times on these, I actually quite like having a dosingchamber-and-pedal grinder, as I feel it can help to¬†virtually eliminate clumping issues. But, with a dosing chamber, the ergonomics need to be good – a light and responsive pedal, and similar on/off switch to manually control the ‘on demand’ grinding.

Bearing these issues in mind, I’ve arrived at the Anfim Super Caimano, or the Mazzer Major¬†as the obvious choices within the¬†price bracket. I don’t think either are perfect, but both are good. From what I can gather, a hybrid grinder with the Anfim’s doser and switches, the Mazzer’s stepless adjustment, and a grind speed in between the two might be ideal… The grind quality itself is reported to be similar.

Whichever grinder we choose, it needs to be suitable for very convenient dialing-in, as I (currently) use a changing variety of coffees for espresso, rather than just one seasonal blend. 

I’ve heard a lot of praise for the Anfim (with 75mm blades), and know it’s liked by a lot of¬†high profile, very discerning¬†baristas. But, I’m struggling to understand how this grinder can be as good as a stepless; and¬†I feel very cautious about going for another stepped grinder, when our current one causes me so many problems! From what I can gather, the concept with the Anfim Super¬†might be¬†that¬†the (modified Delta or similar digital) timer is meant to counter the fact that it’s stepped; apparently¬†it can¬†dose so precisely, that you can still obtain a pour of exactly the desired shot volume and time, even though it’s stepped. I can kind of see how that would work, but it also seems to pose a lot of problems. For instance, doesn’t it mean your dose size is to an extent dictated by the¬†needs of the grind step and the shot volume/time, rather than the ideal of allowing dose size to have an impact on flavour? (although, with any given coffee,¬†perhaps you can¬†fine-tune the Anfim sufficiently for a dose that works flavour-wise and also shot volume/time wise, on each step?) Even more crucially perhaps; when you have carefully fine tuned the Anfim’s timer for the perfect dose for a certain coffee¬†– what on earth happens when all the other usual variables that affect grinding start to kick in: burrs heating up, atmospheric conditions/humidity, etc? The whole idea of having easily adjustable stepped or stepless adjustments is precisely to cope with these constant¬†changes, and if you’re tied to a carefully¬†worked out¬†timer setting, surely making these adjustents from shot to shot becomes a lot more difficult? And what about single shots – are there two timer settings?

Maybe you don’t need to use the timer on the Anfim, maybe you can just turn it on and off to grind manually¬†– but surely¬†that would then still¬†leave you with the problems of the stepped adjustment? Maybe the steps on the Anfim are actually very fine¬†(much finer than on our Astro 12 for instance), which would mean they would cause less problems?

If I’m totally misunderstanding this grinder, I’d appreciate being put right about it!

Perhaps it’s just a whole different style of grinding that you need to get a feel for… but at present, I quite like the simplicity¬†of our manual¬†grinder,¬†in that you switch it on with the rocker, clacketyclack whilst it grinds, switch it off, clacketyclack out the last grinds, and then rocker it on/off briefly of you need another gram or two. And as the conditions change, you change the grind. Easy.¬†But its crucial problem is that that the grind size is often just not quite right.

On the plus side, the Super’s dosing sounds incredible. And I like the rocker switches they seem to come with – I don’t really like the ergonomics of the twisty on/off dial on the Mazzers. Also, I’m quite attracted by the slower grinding speed (800 rpm) on the Anfim, in terms of reducing heat and preserving flavour¬†as things get busy.

With the Mazzer (with 83mm blades), the primary attraction for me is definitely the stepless adjustment – and I can understand how this works!

Sometimes with our current grinder (65mm blades), there is just no way of achieving the right grind at a desired dose (or any dose for that matter!). Even adjusting your tamp and dose (neither option being ideal anyway), does little to correct the problem in some cases. Sometimes it can be dead-on, but, as environmental factors change throughout the day, the grind will drift into that point where neither step is right. When it’s like that, I actually find¬†myself grinding a certain proportion (varied accordingly) of the shot on the finer step, and the remaining amount on the courser step. I know this is crazy and undesirable¬†in terms of varied particle size within the same shot (and the hassle),¬†but at certain points in the day, this seems to be the¬†ONLY way of achieving the right shot results.

Therefore, I’m very keen on the notion of a stepless grinder like the Mazzer¬†Major. It’s very quick too (1400/1600 rpm), which I guess can be very beneficial, although I worry that maybe it’s too quick (both in terms of¬† blade heat, and in terms of¬†being able to judge and¬†dose just the right amount in¬†5 seconds rather than 15-20)? As mentioned, I’m not keen on the Mazzer’s¬†on/off dial either¬†(especially¬†in conjunction with the¬†fast grinding speed)¬†– but if the grind’s right, perhaps I could live with it…

Essentially, I want a grinder that can offer a fine enough adjustment in grind size to enable me to have total control (or as near as possible) over the shot volume and time, for a particular dose, in any given varying environmental condition. For instance; if¬†I find a certain coffee works best with a heavier¬†dose, at about 28 seconds, and more ristretto (and a certain temp)¬†– I want to have a fine enough grind alteration to be able to replicate those shot characteristics, even as the environmental conditions alter. If the Anfim can offer that, with better dosing, all well and good – but if it can’t, then I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that level of shot control, just for cleaner dosing…

Am I asking too much?!

…More research needed!

Short double – success!

July 15, 2009

I’m the first to¬†criticise my own coffee. Many of my espressos come with an apology attached (even if it’s not always spoken), because¬†I’m aware¬†that the espressos I serve are not always as¬†stunning they could be, and can¬†often even¬†be well below par (see earlier post!). I can’t fault the beans themselves, which are now all wonderful and capable of great beauty, and so any blame lies either at my/our door in the preparation,¬†the door of equipment used for this, or¬†some combination¬†of both.

BUT! Every so often there are little triumphs, and a fortuitous combination of great beans, the preparation, temperature, grind, dose, luck, and magic, allows me to achieve some really special espresso on our old machine Рand I encountered one this morning! I made a very ristretto double (at about 1.1oz and 28 seconds) with some of the increasingly famous, new season El Salvadorian Finca La Fany. It was sweet-bright-sparkly-zingy-syrupy-clean-juicy chocolate-berries Рwow!!!!

lafany a

lafany bb

I’m not saying it was ‘perfect’, by¬†any means. The impression for me was¬†more that it was¬†simply¬†a syrupy, really sweet ristretto that was largely¬†as it should be – practically free from the flaws of brewing that can so often shadow or distort a coffee. Great beans; allowed to show their magical potential unhindered. Shots¬†like this are probably¬†quite commonplace for those who prepare their espresso skillfully with great equipment, and there is, no doubt, a whole level above and beyond¬†this of truly stellar perfection. However, for me, currently, even achieving espresso¬†as nice as this one doesn’t come easily¬†(it¬†feels like something of a battle!),¬†but the¬†rewards are really inspiring.

It’s very exciting to think that our espresso could be like this (and even better!) all the time soon,¬†with new state-of-the-art machinery (hopefully) in the pipeline..!

Don’t get me wrong.¬†We use great coffee at the cafe, and every shot is carefully hand-prepared by myself or the team. I’ve introduced a lot of measures to try to help the espresso be as good as it can be, which¬†are likely¬†to exceed what¬†the¬†many other cafes have in place¬†, so I guess¬†the standard is probably quite high already, to be fair. But I can be a bit of a picky perfectionist, and¬†am always very aware (as best I’m able to be) of the prepared coffee’s failings – and I aspire to continually raise the bar, and improve what we are able to serve…

I’m confident that new, temperature stable,¬†modern¬†machinery will allow us to offer you more consistently gorgeous espressos and cappuccinos¬†…soon!

lafany c

(Ok – I know there’s some channeling showing on the pour, and some blonding showing on the shot. I know not everyone likes their espresso¬†so ristretto. I know I’m still (always) learning what a great shot is, and comparing these little successes¬†with shots that are¬†probably very mediocre by some people’s standards.¬†But, for me,¬†this was lovely…)

I was going to title this post ‘Syrupy La Fany’, and really struggled to think of anything wrong with that. But instead went for the above.

Grinders…

July 13, 2009

Best medium volume £5-800 commercial espresso grinder for:

A fun little gizmo I just found – so why not?! …Select your weapon of choice!

Machine …behaving?

July 13, 2009

I think our old machine has heard word of its imminent retirement, and is trying its best to prove it’s not that bad afterall. For the last couple of weeks, it has actually been running a little more stably. Namely, the malfunctioning autofill on the boiler seems to have magically near-righted itself after months of hellish behaviour. Some engineers tried to fix it, but couldn’t… So, regularly (and always at the worst possible moment), the boiler would decide to completely fill, zapping all pressure. You then had to manually drain off all the excess water, and wait for it to repressurise – playing havoc with the temps as well. As this has cleared-up a bit, I am now benefiting from better stability, and a reduction in the fear felt as I turn on the steam wand, which is nice.¬†Hence, with some lovely new season coffees coming in for the espresso, some of the shots of late have been some of the best I’ve ever been able to produce at work (using¬†Blackburn Estate AB, Finca La Fany, and¬†organic Ethiopian Wotona Bultuma/Brazilian Santa Luzia, to name a few).
However, I fear the machine may just be lulling us into a false sense of security, and planning its next, more devastating move! Also, the consistency is still, well, just not there –¬†and the quality, whilst improved, could still be much, much better. As well as needing to raise the overall standard, and get the best, consistently, from these wonderful coffees, we also need a machine that we can can actually rely on. Therefore, I think the decision is final, its days are definitely numbered …and the search is still on!

Updated rosetta video clips

July 11, 2009

I’ve just¬†added a couple of updated rosetta pours for the latte art info page from July this year, which demonstrate the way I’m currently pouring my single rosettas at the plan. I recently¬†noticed how poor and out-of-date¬†the rosetta in the old video was, and resolved to correct it¬†– job done! These new ones more accurately reflect where I am now, and tie in with the¬†most recent pics on the latte art page. The change in the espresso quality¬†is visually evident too!