Archive for August, 2009

Cornish excursion

August 23, 2009

I’ve had some time off this week; and what does a coffee obsessed barista do on holiday? Drive 400 miles to Cornwall and back in one day to make coffee for a few hours, of course!

Why? Because, in a little cafe called Relish, in Wadebridge, lives a two group Plus 4 You – a little sister of the  three group ‘Gloria’ that I’ve been eagerly investigating recently. As we’re hoping to acquire this machine soon at the plan, I was very kindly invited to pop down, have a play with the equipment (including a pretty special Anfim Super grinder), and make a few drinks..!

It’s a treat to see a successful independent cafe owned and run by people who truly care about great coffee, and who really know their stuff! Relish is a great cafe and deli in an idyllic location, rightly renowned for what it does; if ever you’re in Cornwall, be sure to make a visit for fantastic espresso, proper cappuccinos, friendly service, and delicious food too! Many thanks to Hugo, Sarah, ‘Barista Boy’ Jack, and the rest of the team for making me welcome!

It’s Plus 4 You 4 Us

August 12, 2009

…Or ‘Gloria’, as I’ll be calling her!

From the awesome machines mentioned in a recent post, I had shortlisted a ‘top 3’ of the S5, GB5 semiauto, and the Plus 4 You, as best meeting the criteria, and also the requirements (and budget) of the cafe. Each of these machines have their particular positives which can be argued as superior, but the +4U won in the end due to the fact it seems to offer most of the aspects the other two do, with some fantastic additional features to boot.

It has PID controlled dedicated multi brew boilers, one for each group, helping to optimise temperature stability and accuracy; also allowing groups to be adjusted to separate temperatures simultaneously, if required. Each group can also therefore be isolated without affecting the others, incase of failure, etc.

The Plus 4 You also uses some innovative energy saving technology. Gloria will sleep at night, wake herself up in the morning, and have a nap when she knows we’re likely to be quiet during the day – but she’ll be back up to full, precise operating temperature within 60 seconds if someone needs a shot. Essentially, she won’t just sit there wasting loads of energy the whole time, and this should save electricity, and money.

You can select brew temp settings either for the brew boilers, or for the group heads (needs investigation…), and the steam pressure can be varied to better accomodate smaller pitchers and milk volumes – just the thing for 3rd wave small cups!

The 53mm baskets are designed to offer greater consistency, which can only be a good thing. I do have some reservations about the relative effects tastewise, and dosewise, as opposed to 58’s though, but have assurances from some of the most discerning sources that any difference should be fairly nominal, one way or the other. Everyone has a different opinion on this, and I think the jury’s still out, but regardless of this, I’m still in no doubt whatsoever that, with due care and the right techniques, Gloria will effortlessly offer up espresso that’ll be stunningly superior to our old machine – and enable us to continue learning and progressing ever further.

Fancy do-da’s aside, I’m also led to believe that Gloria will be hardworking and reliable – qualities we like at the plan.

ETA? Late September.

Note: It may seem that I have become utterly deranged, but (whilst this may or may not be true), in this particular case, it’s due to fairly straightforward reasons. I’ve chosen to refer to the machine as ‘Gloria’ simply because that’s actually her official title: Astoria Plus 4 You, Gloria-Version.

If espresso machines could…

August 10, 2009

The past couple of months researching machines have lead me to think about where espresso machines might go in the future…

In the next few months, the cafe where I work will hopefully be acquiring a fantastic new machine incorporating temperature stability, adjustable temperature settings, and a whole host of features that will lead to vastly improved espresso, allowing our espresso production to benefit from some of the most advanced features available within the industry at present (just don’t mention basket diameters, for God’s sake!).

But, I’ve come across some interesting posts on the subject, and some surprising facts about even the most ‘up to date’ and revered espresso machine features. For instance, the acclaimed PID technology used for the very best machines at present, is actually, in engineering terms, very old and out-dated technology that has been around for about sixty years! There are apparently much more accurate ways of controlling temperature out there, and it makes you wonder how many other elements of the espresso machine could be improved from here on in.

One fairly obvious thought I had was that an accurate and displayed temperature reading of the actual brew temperature in the group would be good (not a calculated temperature predicted by the computer based on variables affecting the temp after travelling from the brew boiler, but the actual one in the puck); a bit like having a scace built into every portafilter, that still allowed you to brew a real shot… There’s the whole issue of how reliable temperature readings actually are in the first place, and how precise they are capable of being with the current technology, but a reasonably accurate, scace-type reading might be interesting (this has probably already been done, and I just haven’t heard of it!).

What about an espresso machine that could ‘taste‘ and determine exactly what brewing defects the shot produced would have, like sourness, etc? (I know machines now often suggest alterations in the grind, etc, by measuring the extraction, but it’s very rudimentary) What about a complete and radical overhaul of the shape, design, ergonomics and switches used on machines – something really outlandish, yet practical? There’s that pressure profiling stuff which is emerging at the moment too …but admittedly, I don’t really understand that yet!

…And what about a system that could grind, dose, tamp and deliver beans automatically to the groups… Oh! Wait! Good Grief! NO – that would be a terrible system! Winking Smiley

Maybe even a whole new type of mechanical brewing – akin to espresso and its particular qualities, but radically different and superior..?!

The truth is I suppose, that the World’s most advanced technology and design could, theoretically create a mind-bogglingly amazing espresso machine, but no-one in their right minds is ever going to spend the sort of sums needed to create it (we need an eccentric, espresso obsessed, billionaire inventor-engineer on the scene!). Similarly, even if it was done, what sane cafe would be prepared to pay the £1,ooo,ooo price tag?!

The reality is that we probably don’t actually need any further improvements for a very long time. There are all sorts of innovative features on the latest machines that will allow baristas to continue to improve what they do for quite some time, and the majority of baristas don’t even have access to these machines yet. Moreover, there are a lot of baristas out there using adequate, good, or even great machines who don’t get the best from them, and who are not passionate or particularly skilled in what they do; so further improvements might be completely unnecessary, at least at the moment. Equally, the general public are not (…yet?) especially aware of the differences created by good machines and baristas, and that also perhaps needs to develop further before machines need to.

And realistically, would further improvements actually have any tangible and discernible effect on the taste of espresso for most people, even specialists? (I, for one, still struggle to determine the subtle characteristics of coffees, even when brewed on great equipment!) Afterall; the very best chefs don’t require ovens that can deliver adjustments of +/- .1C in an accurate and provable way to create the most amazing food (different, I know, but still!).

…So it’s probably more about changing the attitudes of the public, the barista, the industry, and cafe owners, with what we’ve already got, before machines have to go any further.

And, if machine development advances much further there’s also the risk that they’ll develop in the ‘wrong’ way, and that there will be no requirement for the skills of the humble barista anymore! Whilst I very much want to produce the best espresso that I am able to, and machine improvements are crucial for this, I also still want to have a job to do at the end of the day!

Personally speaking, our new machine will have more than enough gadgetry and stability to keep me improving, and to keep me guessing, for a very long while, I’m sure, and maybe they really don’t need to get any better. But it’s still interesting to consider whether there are still innovations within espresso machines that might be useful and worthwhile, in terms of enabling baristas, and the speciality coffee world, to make ever increasingly amazing coffee for people…

Many people are talking about a whole move away from espresso towards filter, and in some ways this is completely understandable and no bad thing. But I for one love espresso, and think it would be a shame if this exciting, magical, and beautiful beverage was ditched, just as it was nearing some kind of Nirvana …Perhaps we are already there, and the word, the skills, the machinery, and the passion for it just needs to be more widespread in order for perceptions to gradually change.

There are folks out there far more able and qualified to address these questions than I though – so I think I’ll leave it to them. For me, after the last couple of months investigating machines, I’m just looking forward to getting back to concentrating on the craft of making coffee, and with the help of new, quality machinery, trying to up my game a bit and learn more about the intricacies of espresso preparation. But nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on the topic..!

Great espresso? …In Cardiff Bay?

August 10, 2009

Went down to the Mela in Cardiff Bay yesterday to visit the good folks of Colonna and Smalls on their mobile espresso bar, having been given a hot tip from Ed at Origin Coffee. I had a fantastic espresso; Origin’s current seasonal blend, prepared on the NuovaSim’s Aurelia, Compak grinder, and a bottomless double p/f. Sweet, clean and lush, with the Gethumbwini shining bright (but not overly bright!).

Headed by Maxwell (who originally trained in the thriving Melbourne coffee scene) and Leslie and Co, Colonna and Smalls are a great addition to the emerging speciality (real speciality!) espresso culture here in the UK. Friendly and approachable, yet displaying formidable espresso knowledge, a commitment to quality on every level, and that all important genuine enthusiasm for wonderful artisan coffee. Any barista who understands all the variables enough to recognise the fact that “a single second can make all the difference” when extracting each individual shot, and who can actually execute that level of skill, wins my respect, and admiration! If ever they come to a town near you, be sure to check out their coffee – you will not be disappointed! Thanks again for the coffee, guys.

This week…

August 4, 2009

This week The Bean Vagrant will probably be…

*Ridiculously excited as great things which were on the horizon come increasingly into view..!*

But he will also be…

*Racked with uncertainty about the potential consequences of a possible transfer from 58’s to 53’s..!*

Therefore, I’m currently pondering, and trying to learn more about the subjects of: Cake depths and diameters; surface areas; channeling; alterations in distribution techniques; possibly ceasing distribution; migrating fines; burr types; in-puck extraction and flow rates, etc…

I’ve heard some theories that suggest 53’s offer more consistent pours; that they’re meant to be less prone to channeling, distribution inconsistencies, and tamping errors. But do they actually taste better than carefully prepared 58’s, or are they just more foolproof? I’m concerned that there might be factors (including, but by no means limited to, a greater potential for updosing) that could result in carefully prepared 58’s tasting superior to 53’s…

Currently (not mentioning the temperature instability), terrible screens, diabolical water debit, zero flow restriction and pre-infusion, etc, invariably causes even the most mollycoddled pucks to be blasted into smithereens, resulting in awful channeling, and pours which are very gushy towards the end. Yet I’m intrigued by the deliciously heavy, silky, syrupy richness that is so often hinted-at in successful shots from our 58’s when well prepared, and dosed at about 17-19g, and I wonder if this might be something 58’s particularly lend themselves to…

Given the stature of the options on the table, any transfer (be it to 58’s OR 53’s) would be incredible, regardless. It would signify a vast improvement in espresso preparation, and would grant entry into a whole different spectrum of quality, and degrees of subtlety. Moreover, I’m sure there’s actually no definitive answer as to which of the two diameters might be best, but looking into it further should be informative anyway. These topics may be easier to access afterwards, but hey, it gives me something to fret about! I wonder if manufacturers might ever move to 55.5’s as a compromise..?!


ducale puck                    ducale pucks2

baskets2                    baskets1

New brew

August 2, 2009


I’ve tried my first cups of Aeropress coffee this weekend, after acquiring my latest coffee toy last week, and the reviews seem to be true: it’s a great little filter coffee maker!

The cup brewed in the pics below was very tasty: great balance, clarity of flavours, and really clean.

Other folks have written great guides to Aeropress brewing, which have helped me to use it with good results from the off (it’s own instructions are intriguing too…), so I won’t bother writing much, at least until I’ve practised with it more and have anything relevant to add. Therefore I’m just posting a sequence of a few pics of the press, and the brewing method I used today, in brief (nb: you don’t have to bother with the weighing and measuring bits, but it’s worth it!).

The Aeropress is really easy to use, but I have to admit, initial impressions are that it does seem a bit more fiddly than a cafetiere or single cup filter (and I don’t think I’ll be using it to make espresso, just yet!)… But it’s still quick, very easy to clean, and it delivers a very clean, delicious cup..!


…The inverted method


…Wet filter


…Lovely beans




…Freshly ground …reweighed …and dosed


…200ml fresh near-boiled water …cooled


…Add 1/3rd …stir well …10-20 secs dwell


…Add rest of water …bloom


…Pressed (20-30 secs) …top up …drink


…And finally …Your Aeropress cake!

(don’t be silly – it’s not for eating!)