Archive for October, 2009


October 17, 2009

Whilst in London overnight this weekend, I made sure to fit in a quick visit to Soho this morning; eager to try out a couple more cafes for the 1st time – and they certainly did not disappoint! Soho at 10am on a Saturday is decidedly deserted, and at first it didn’t seem likely to find anything happening anywhere, but if you know where to look, there are some cafes making some very special coffee to get the area moving again in the morning! There are a few espresso hot spots clustered in Soho now, and I would have liked to try more, but time was limited, as are my caffeine tolerances, so I settled on two.

Espresso first, at Fernandez and Well’s (Beak St cafe).



…Sickeningly good!! Pretty sure this was the first time I’ve tried a triple ristretto brewed with 33g (at about 1.5oz, maybe even less). The shot was absolutely flawless (I think), and totally fantastic. It was so syrupy that the velvety crema merged seamlessly into the thick liquid. Rich, balanced, and sweet. Really Wow!

I also love that you simply order an ‘espresso’, and get that – no messing about between crappy singles, or even doubles, ristrettos, etc.

The Synesso (with a little help from great coffee and baristas) really seemed to prove its legendary status as the top dog (although Schomer’s been tweaking the Slayer and I look forward to seeing one of these too if ever they land here!). This sort of shot simply isn’t possible, unless you have all the factors at play in this particular situation at your disposal, but it will be fun trying to draw some parallels with a different set up, and about half the amount of grounds!

Next up Milk Bar. Wasn’t sure whether to try here, or the original Flat White, but something about the little sister’s more low key reputation seemed appealing, and, tucked away down Bateman St, Milk Bar is indeed lovely – unimposing, intimate, cosy, friendly, and quite comfy, with the black fb80 greeting you along with the barista as you walk in, and the soft clicking of the Anfim registering reassuringly in the background whilst you sit and wait for your drink. After the espresso, and whilst in ‘Milk’ bar, I guessed a milk drink would be a sensible choice, and so we ordered a flat white and a macchiato, which were impeccably poured (with pretty etching on the macc). My flattie perhaps seemed a touch mild; but then anything would just after 33g shots – even normal espresso, and it was delicious and comforting regardless!



So nice to visit just two of a possible dozen or so top choices for a London coffee visit, and for them both to totally live up to their reputation. Maybe we caught it lucky with the baristas on the shift, or maybe the fact that neither cafe was especially busy (thankfully!), had an impact both sides of the bar, in helping to make everything as tasty and civilised as possible, but still, I get the feeling the level of quality, due to various factors, was probably pretty representative and sustainable, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Even my ol’ Mum was impressed, which is really saying something – so these places are clearly doing a great job!

…Oddly, I also found an fb80 (or was it a 70?) resting in the 4th floor snack bar of the Tate Modern the previous evening, and nearly ordered a shot, but, it was a little late in the day, and (perhaps mistakenly?) I was a little dubious, so didn’t. Would have been interesting though.

…Hmmm. This post almost reads like a cafe review (sorry!) which was not the intention at all. No harm done though; I usually try not to mention negative things if it relates to anything sensitive, and today there was nothing not to like anyway!

October 15, 2009

It’s been a pretty mad couple of weeks, experimenting with new equipment, new techniques, new possibilities, new pitfalls, new parameters, and new arrivals; all whilst being busier than ever!

It’s not all been plain sailing – there have been bitter lows! But these have been balanced and banished by some truly glorious and exciting highs!

Grinder distribution and dosing has come increasingly into focus, although not in a completely excessive way.

A slight tendency towards central dead spots may have swung me towards an American curve..!

A long weekend off now. Behind me I leave a coffee shortage, and in front of me there is the hope of checking out a few blinding shots in the big smoke!

naked naturelle   naked naturelle 2




October 7, 2009

Anyone else hate dividing milk? In a cafe environment, I’m well aware that steaming for two (or more) drinks at the same time, and then dividing the milk, can be valuable both timewise, and wastewise, but I never find that it works as well as steaming separately for each drink. Bit more hasstle, bit more waste, but it just seems to work better, for me. Hence, whenever I can, I prefer to steam for each drink individually. Even when it’s a large pitcher of perfectly nice microfoam, I find the temp and the texture spoils a bit more than is ideal when one divides it, especially for the second drink. I find that the latte art suffers horribly on the second pour too. Whilst we can be a very busy cafe as a whole, I guess our espresso drinks are a fairly modest percentage of everything we do, relative to some other places, and so I don’t mind the extra effort, if it means the milk drinks go out that little bit nicer… But sometimes I wonder if I’m just not dividing correctly..?

October 7, 2009

With a new machine, beans are more consistently and cleanly represented, but, preparing espresso is even more challenging than ever! Things are generally much more stable and refined, flavours often have more distinct clarity, and (some of) the variables are easier to manipulate and control. But (thankfully) the potential for flaws is of course by no means removed! Various new elements and features bring the possibility understanding what’s right and what’s wrong with shots, and how to best influence them, tantalisingly closer, whilst the secrets of the process and each different coffee can remain ever elusive at the same time… Which makes things much more interesting: Result!

Cleaning – spouts.

October 1, 2009

…P/f bowls nice and brassy, baskets, screens and blocks likewise – but spouts need attention soon!

So what’s the best way to clean p/f spouts? Get them off? If so, how? Wrestled with ours yesterday, and even though they’re almost new, they wouldn’t budge, and gave up for fear of breaking them..!  Might not be any easier unscrewed anyway. So perhaps leave them on, soak, and scrub with a spout brush? Boil in espresso detergent then scrub with a brush..? Green scourer pad in there somehow..?

Tamper base shape…

October 1, 2009

I’m currently mulling-over the best shape for a replacement base for my RB tamper, to use with our new 53mm baskets. Previously, I was using a 57.9mm American curve base, which I always found to work well. I don’t have much experience with flats, and as our old machine treated pucks so horrendously, it’s difficult to gauge whether it was an advantage over a flat or not. I used the base on the (arguable) logic that this very subtle convex shape can (possibly) both help to distribute the pressure from the water outwards slightly from the middle to aid puck adhesion at the sides of the basket, and to compensate for any slightly off-level tamps (the surface might be more consistent as a curve, even if the tamp is 1mm off level, whereas with a flat, even a slightly off level tamp could have a more pronounced effect).

But now I have moved to a different basket diameter and puck shape (and a resultingly often restricted headspace), I want to reassess the issue before placing my order! So, as well as reading about tamper base shapes, I’m eagerly watching the resluts of the cafe’s new flat tamper, on the new machine, with the new (and oh so intriguing) bottomless p/f! But as everything is new and unusual, and working in such lovely top notch ways, it’s tricky to judge sensibly what comparative effects such a small detail would have overall… But as ever, I’m keen to try to make the right choice!

Whilst both flat and American curves have theoretical reasoning behind them that makes sense, the ‘Euro’ curve just seems a bit crazy for me. ‘C flats’ seem odd too. As far as I can tell through research, and working it out in my head, these are the main (suggested) pro’s and con’s, for this particular scenario:

US curve Pro’s:

Shape causes the water pressure to create a stronger seal between the puck and the basket, at edges.

Shape helps to compensate for slightly off level tamps (who’s never guilty?!)

Grinders tend to dose in (roughly) a central pile. This is difficult to reverse, even with tapping to settle, etc. This base shape may help to redress this center biased distribution, by gently pushing grounds a little outwards, as well as downwards, creating a more even density of grounds throughout the puck.

This slight convex dip in the case of 53mm’s might be crucial to help avoid screw damage to the surface of the puck. The screen screw in this case protrudes about 3-4mm. Whilst completely clearing this with a flat might give the most ideal headspace, if you’re updosing, the screw will begin to dig into your puck surface by 1mm or so, which seems to be a perfect excuse for the water to start trying to channel in the center. The US curve might just help to avoid the screw penetrating the surface – OK there’s a shallow dip, but at least it’s not a hole! 


The dip created might lead to pooling and/or channeling through the center, and uneven extraction.

If grounds are piled in a cone, the US curve might accentuate the uneven density of the grounds; creating even more tightly packed grounds in the center, and even less well packed grounds where they are thinnest, at the sides, again leading to uneven extraction, fracturing, and channeling. 

Flat base Pro’s:

Flat screen; flat basket base; straight-sided basket; and deeper, narrow puck; logically = flat tamper/puck surface.

Especially if your headspace is restricted (to 1-4mm), having a perfectly level gap between the screen and the surface of the puck might be crucial for even water entry and extraction.

Even if grounds are piled in a roughly cone-shaped pile, a flat base might at least not further accentuate this uneven distribution.


…Deducible from the points listed above.


I have to say, I might be leaning towards flat, at present, for this situation. The provided flat tamper is doing great things, and with an even more snugly fitting replacement base of my own at 53.2mm diameter, to really neatly tamp (I don’t tap the side of the basket anymore, and prefer the idea of a well-fitting tamper), it might do even greater things. Initial naked extractions are starting pretty evenly, then forming an initial 2-3 streams (in a quite even triangle around the center), which then merge into a central cone. This seems pretty ideal (apart from occasional spurts, signs of slight channeling, and slightly off center cones, all of which might be avoided by tweaking technique, grinding, dosing, and distribution ) – so I’m thinking if it ain’t broke… But then, what about that screw hole?!

As ever, there’s no hard and fast truth, especially without carrying out a lot of comparative tests! I guess it would be interesting to order a US curve, and test it against the (albeit slightly less snug) house flat, but I don’t fancy wasting £30 if it’s not as good! A bit more watching of the naked results, then I’ll decide. The effects will probably be pretty minimal either way, but it’s still quite an interesting topic, all the same. I think improving grind quality/distribution in the near future will have a bigger impact..!