19th January 2012

Happy New Year!

The Winter Hoard 2011 blend has been exceptional, and I have stayed with it as our espresso almost continuously over the last few weeks. Partly because it’s so exciting and unique, partly because it’s THE seasonal blend right now at the roastery and won’t be here for long, and also to learn more. There have been eager requests from some of our guys along the way *I GET Winter Hoard, when are we going to get something new?!*, and I admit, the temptation to keep trying new coffees the whole time is strong! But for me, it’s been another rewarding little journey, patiently sticking with just one great blend for a while again, and observing it from many angles, in an attempt to understand it, and espresso generally, more intimately. I think there’s almost no limit to how much you can learn using just one blend, if you look closely enough. And how much you can miss if you don’t. Even though I often turn coffees inside out searching for stuff, I barely even scratch the surface, to be honest. Espresso’s a devious moving target, and even the same coffee is alive and constantly changing, but at least if you keep this one variable ‘fixed’ for a while, you can look at many things a little more clearly. I’ve said it before …and probably will again!

Just one of the things it has lead to is a current in-depth look at brew temperatures on our machine. Following my taste as I worked with the blend lead me to a place with temperatures that I could hardly believe. Our roaster then kindly re-loaned me his 53mm Scace, and I’m currently logging lots of data in an attempt to more intimately understand how our machine, our set-up, and temperatures generally, perform and affect espresso brewing. I’m also logging things like ambient temps and humidity and roast age simultaneously alongside the Scace readings to try to get a broader picture. And I’m recording, and simulating, various working and environmental scenarios as well. It’s fascinating! Again, despite the lengths to which I am going in doing this, it’s still really only snapshots, relative to how detailed, methodical, and scientific you could be when using the thermofilter …First and foremost there are drinks to make and customers to serve, afterall!

I first borrowed the Scace a couple of years ago, and did quite a lot of readings on our machine back then, but I’m looking at a little more detail this time, being a bit more methodical, and many things have changed since then. One thing I’ve learned is the importance of using a clean Scace on a thoroughly cleaned group! Initially, I thought something was different to the first time I borrowed the device, but thought little of it, and took readings for several days (on clean but not immaculately, freshly, purpose-cleaned groups!), before coming to realise the flow rate had been out from the start (and was worsening), and therefore the readings were inaccurate. I fixed (dismantled and cleaned) the Scace’s flowmeter and filter with 5 amp fuse wire, brushes and PTFE tape, and now I’m confident I’m getting measurements that accurately reflect brewing, and I’m keeping it that way (hence the machine is even cleaner than usual to boot)! But even this error has proved valuable; the data with the clogged flowmeter is interesting and useful in itself…


Taste is what I followed to arrive where I still am with the settings for our PID controlled temps for the blend, even though it seemed crazy, and this is always the most important thing to trust, precisely because it seemed crazy, but wasn’t infact. But the readings from the Scace are interesting and have helped to corroborate and make sense of what I was tasting. There’s always a lot of extraneous noise as well with espresso I think, so having some more ‘definite’ device-measurement of things like temperature (and cross checking of one system against another) can help to put the whole picture together better, and more swiftly, without all the doubt, and adjustment of every variable under the sun!

But can we really trust the readings from even a correctly functioning Scace? Does it really correspond to the brewing temperatures within your cakes of coffee, at your flow rates? I believe some people have compared Scace readings to homemade ‘up and over’ thermocouple readings, and found that the results stand up. And even if the results don’t always specifically translate to your shots, they still provide an accurate picture of how the machine’s system works in terms of the temperature of the water delivered, and how various scenarios affect brewing temperatures on the machine, for calibration, and to help build some understanding of your set up. What the actual temp of your actual shots is needs a still more accurate measurement …like the tongue, and the eye?!

There are some things I’m able to take from this now and use generally, with other coffees. Although, as always, it can produce more questions than answers, ultimately.

Nice little (!) old thread on HB for the Scace. And instructions. And related WBC procedures.


Speaking of other coffees, Naturelle’s back right now, and there will be 4 different coffees alternating as the espresso at the cafe over the next week or so; two single estates (Brazilian Samambaia and El Salvadorian La Suiza), and these two blends! Because afterall, just as important as enjoying and experiencing one coffee at length… is trying new ones… and revisiting new crops of old ones!

Some truly stunning V60s at home recently with Finca La Suiza as a filter too. It’s fabulous!

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