Scace and the Aurelia

If you follow these kinds of things you will be aware that the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia is the new competition machine for Baristas. When the question of sponsors for the WBC has come up in the past, people wanted to know if any company other than LaMarzocco would ever have their machines used in competition. The answer seemed to come back that if anyone else’s machine could pass the WBC’s strict temperature stability prerequisite, they would be considered for the machine sponsorship. Many machines on the market now boast either dual boiler or some other technology intended to maintain a constant brewing temperature. One can assume that the Nuovo Simonelli Aurelia delivers the temperature stability that they claim.

If you look at the transparent view they provide on their website you can see just enough confusing imagery to get that they do not want you to understand how they achieve stability in any real transparent way. The description explains the following about each group: they weigh 12 pounds each, they hold a liter of water, the brew water passes though a heat exchanger, there is only one heating element. This is how I believe it is designed to function (my best guess anyway). Water that is heated by the heat exchange is passed into the one liter reservoir located inside the group itself. The massive group is gently heated by siphoning water from the steam boiler. Because it takes so much energy to change the heat of the group and reservoir, the temperature remains relatively constant.

I had the opportunity to test an Aurelia with a Thermofilter. The machine had been idle for at least 15 minutes when I started, and I flushed the group to listen for any signs of super heating. The water came out with a hiss, which lasted for as much as 20 seconds. A traditional heat exchange might have hissed for half this length of time (at least from my experience). I flushed for another 10 seconds and found the temperature to be 209F, still to hot for good extraction. Another 10 seconds of flushing brought it down to between 198 and 200. There was a gently inclining temperature profile over the time of the shot.

Once the machine was brought down to a desirable temperature it did maintain it very well. If the machine stays in constant use it will stay relatively stable. A couple of idle minutes, however, and it was back to 209. There is a lot of flushing needed to keep it within brewing parameters if there are interruptions between coffee prepartion. There is a steep learning curve with the Aurelia, as with any heat exchange machine. One must use it a lot and taste the coffee it makes a lot and become intimate with it to get what one wants from it. The winners of the Barista Competitions coming up will be Baristas who have spent time testing heat exchange machines. The winner of the WBC will be someone who spends a lot of time with the Aurelia and a Scace device and really learns the proper flush times. The massive groups give up heat reluctantly, which is both the advantage of and the Achile’s heal of the Aurelia.

This makes me wounder if the WBC has rigid temperature standards at all. If this is the new competition machine then it seems obvious that they do not. I can’t say that I blame them for going with Nuova Simonelli though. It is terribly expensive to put on even small competitions, and the head sponsor has to flip an enormous bill. The competition machine will be form the one that offers the largest kitty, not the one with the easiest machine to use. This will weave out the Baristas that have been raised into the coffee industry with equipment that is so good that they have not had to learn some basic lessons in brewing equipment management. The winner will be an even better Barista than one who simply expects the machines to do the brunt of the work for them.   I know that great coffee can be made on heat exchange machines, but it takes a great Barista.  This year the cream will not rise to the top until after it has passed through a strainer.

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  1. The Aurelias need to be set up properly to work optimally. The WBC-spec Aurelias that we worked on last week are pretty bad-ass, actually.

  2. Dear Sir,

    The Aurelia is extemely stable. You only need flush or purge it for one to two seconds max. I know it is different from the LM. If you purge for too long you will bump up the temp as you experienced. Unlike standard hx machines running the group will not cool it down unless yourun it for a long time but that is totally misusing the machine. Greg Scace himself did the testing.

  3. Thanks Nick, it is true. I have been informed by WBC members that the competition machines are tweaked way out, and that the street version of the Aurelia is not as temperature stable. Please let me be clear on certain points:

    1- I have a great deal of respect for the WBC and I do not wish to imply that they make back room deal, receive kick backs, or conduct their business without standards. I was surprised that what I saw in the Aurelias currently available did not seem consistent with what I would expect for a competition machine. (Competition spec machines will be in production after the Championship)

    2- I believe that the WBC should get as much money in sponsorship deals as they can. These thing are way expensive, and we may not be having some or our regionals this year because of lack of sponsorship.

    3- I would be thrilled to go head to head with any Barista on a heat exchange machine, any where, any time, any how (cage match if necessary).

  4. Roberto,
    If you are referring to the machines built for the competition, which Greg Scace tested, the results of my testing should not apply, as they are apparently very different form the Aurelias already in place in shops now.
    I do not wish to give the impression that I was not able to use the Aurelia with satisfaction. On the contrary, after purging and temperature testing I did get the rhythm of the machine and I was able to pull a fantastic shot of espresso (New Harvest Bicycle Blend). The steaming was also exceptionally good.

  5. Phil, you’re still a little off-base.

    The WBC-spec machines are set up for 200*F, 9 bars, 1.0-ish bar steam boiler pressure, with selected baskets, steam-tips, etc. They aren’t “tweaked way out.” They’re simply optimized for WBC specs. Any Aurelia could be set up similarly.

    The way the HX environment in the Aurelia achieves the temp stability that it does is frankly a lot to wrap my brain around, and it is dependent on many factors. Don’t mistake this fact with a mysterious souped-up WBC machine… it doesn’t exist. In fact, such a thing was against the rules of the WBC technical evaluation. It had to be a commercially available machine. No one-offs or special tweaks were allowed.

    As mentioned, baskets and steam tips were spec’ed out for WBC. Otherwise, these are stock 3-group semi-auto machines.

  6. Well in that case, there must be some significant setting up to do that is outside of the reach of the average shop owner, because I was getting anything from the low 190s to 209. To me, stability means you can walk up to the machine and engage the pump, and Whamm!,… you get the temp you set it up to be. The Aurelia I tested was up and down dependent on flushing times and idle times. Flushing brought it down, idle periods brought it up. This occurred more slowly than traditional heat exchange machines I have worked with, which is nice if you stay busy. However, you can’t tell me that flushing times have to be exactly so-and-so seconds, not to exceed so-and-so seconds, and expect to make me believe it is temperature stable. That is the very definition of Temperature Surfing, and it is the hallmark of heat exchanger temperature fluctuation.

    What does it mean to “optimize” this machine to get it to hold a constant temperature?

    • Les
    • October 14th, 2008

    Just found this thread as I prepare for the upcoming Canadian Nationals in Montreal, Oct 21,22nd. Nice blog Phil. Just to give you some background. We in Canada have used the Aurelia the for the past two nationals, and this year will make it three years in a row.

    I first came across the Aurelia at the 2005 SCAA. The heavy engineering had been already done, and the fine-tuning had begun. I was impressed enough to follow up with Nuova Simonelli,and based on the technical performance, we announced the Aurelia as our 2006 National Championship machine sponsor.

    Since then, other countries have followed suit, but our Canadian baristas can be proud of the fact that we were the first to recognize the temperature stability of the Aurelia and the first to compete nationally on the new hx technology.

    There was some controversy, as many competitors were only familiar with dual boiler machines. However, as baristas practised on the machines, they started to see and taste the engineering.

    In a nutshell, if you try to use the Aurelia like a typical HX machine.. ( ie.. flush to cool), you will totally destabilize this machine.

    The Aurelia is a no-flush machine. If you flush excessively, you will actually heat the head, raising the temperature of the brew water. Some baristas use this feature to their advantage to up-surf a degree or two. However for the purposes of the competition, we instructed our competitors to just do a “cleaning flush”.. ie. a quick blip of the pump, just to clean off any stray grounds on the group screen… just one second. The purpose of the flush is not for temperature regulation.

    This is opposed to the usual temperature regulating flushes on La Marzoccos upon a long idle( up surf to compensate for a cooling grouphead ), and non-aurelia hx machines ( cooling flush to compensate for a heating group head/ thermosiphon).

    Try this method the next time you are at the helm of the Aurelia, blip-flush for a second (RESIST THE URGE TO PURGE!!), and then brew your shot.

    Fyi, if you excessively purge, and overheat the head, all you need to do is to switch groupheads, and by the time you’re done pulling your shot on the second group ( 90-100 seconds) , the first group will return to equillibrium.

    Btw.. what is the pressurestat reading?

  7. Since this post came out my research has lead me to the discovery of the different valve set-ups available on the Aurelia. Many of the machines in use now have the traditional heat exchange set up where temp surfing is necessary. The set up for the WBC machines can be found in some machines, and these are as you and Roberto have described.

    The Aurelia I used in this test did not heat up with flushing, but did cool off as I would have expected from a HX.

    Thanks for the input. I would very much like to try out one of the temperature stable Aurelias someday.

    • Shadow
    • January 1st, 2011

    I agree with the experience Les and others have had with the Aurelia. We own/use a non-WBC version 2 group daily and I find the temperature stability to be nearly flawless, especially for being in stock form. Granted I don’t own/use a Scace and simply prefer to use a calibrated digital thermometer as that is accurate enough for me as I doubt many people can taste the difference a few degrees makes, let alone a few 1/10th’s of ONE degree. Our average temperature at the group is 199-200. The highest I’ve ever seen it and this was after sitting totally idle for 30+ mins. was 202. Whether I’m doing 1 double every minute or 1 an hour it’s still cranking out around 199-200 degrees consistently….

    Awhile back over at BX somebody asked about running a 12 oz. shot and what effect(s) it would have on the machine. Common census was/is HX machines can’t keep up and that isn’t true with the Aurelia. I did an experiment based on this. I ran 10 oz. into a 12 oz. hot cup and the temperature was 199-200. Waited 30 seconds (to simulate back-to-back extractions), then ran 2 oz. into the cup and the temp. was 198. Repeated and temp was 196. Did once more and still achieved 196 degrees, which is still a reasonable temp. for extraction. Did the same procedure on the 2nd group and had identical results. All that flow in a short period of time and still had very acceptable temperature readings.

  8. Hi Shadow,
    Thanks for your comments of the subject. If you notice, this post is approaching nearly 2.5 years of age now, but it still seems to hold some relevance, and the Aurelia enjoys a more positive public and market image than ever.

    All flushing aside, yes, the Aurelia delivers a very consistent initial temperature. As a HX machine, that temperature will change as more water runs through the system, but for the first two ounces, you will get the roughly the same temp with the same routine every time.

    Here is my beef, which continues to evade most everyone I talk to about this issue. One the old non-competition machines, which were the only ones around at the time this was originally posted, factory set up seemed to deliver a very high, albeit consistent, temperature. So high, in fact, that even very skilled Barista would not have been able to get good results, and flushing would only aggravate the situation. Most of the people with this machine at the time would not have known what to do to run in down, and don’t get me started on some of the advice and mis-information dolled out by many (not all) service technicians.

    Here is my second beef with this discussion. If you are using a thermometer, digital or not, in the cup or in the stream of water coming from the group head, you will need to ad 6, 7, or maybe 8 degrees to your highest reading to get an idea of the actual water temp hitting the coffee in a portafilter. There is no substitute for the accuracy you can achieve with a thermofilter (Scace device). To say you “prefer” not use a Scace is like a marathon runner saying they prefer to train without measuring their actual miles, but just counting paces instead. You will get a ball park figure, but you will loose the control that is only possible with accuracy.

    It is very wrong, I believe, to think that most people can not or will not notice the difference a few degrees makes. I have found that a two or three degrees difference is noticeable by dozens of new trainees in their first week on the job. When you get into the tenths of a degree, I think you are correct that nobody can tell the difference.

    If you work at a shop that features one of these trendy seasonal espressos, you will need the ability to dial temperature up and down quickly and accurately, preferably without changing your steaming characteristics every time you do. Not really an option with the Aurelia, but, honestly, that is not a feature that everyone cares about.

    There are plenty of people making bad coffee on much more sophisticated double boiler technology. So really, what I am finding more and more, it isn’t equipment that makes bad coffee, it is Baristas that make bad coffee. Please don’t forget to check the follow up post on this same subject http://onionbean.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/the-aurelias-temperature-now-i-get-it/

    • Shadow
    • January 17th, 2011

    I guess I should say I can’t/won’t invest hundreds of $$$ on a Scace then. Does that sound better? IMO taste trumps all else and an actual number readout is just that. The styrofoam cup test is accurate enough for me. While espresso should be tasty and consistent, I think there should be some artform to it. If everything is done to total perfection such as using a Scace, weighing grounds to 1/10th of a gram, measuring tamp, etc. then you lose some of that skill that comes from within. Reminds me of the video I watched some time ago on Home-Barista of the Versalab grinder adapted for use in a commercial setting with the hopper that measures the dose as it goes into the grinder. Then the air actuated tamping mechanism. Watch the barista…. well more like a robot just pushing a button to finish the process….. That is TOO perfect IMO.

    Explain how double boiler technology is so much more sophisticated than the HX system in the Aurelia!?! I’ve worked on a Linea and an FB/80. The FB/80 was impressive, the Linea not at all. I still like using the Aurelia over either of those both for user friendliness and shot quality/steam performance. La Marzocco aren’t the only players on the block.

  9. Don’t get me wrong. I am not hating on the Aurelia, or the heat exchange technology at all. I have been paying very close attention to the Aurelia for the last several years (before they were WBC sponsors), trying to figure out how they managed their claim of temp stability. From a purely technical point of view, if they claim temp stability to within a half a Celsius degree, that is something you can not assess with a Styrofoam cup and digital thermometer. You need real time readout and the ability to gather data within the pourtafilter basket at a flow rate equal to that of a typical extraction. No Scace = no usable data.

    You are absolutely right, flavor is what counts. Not brand, not brand loyalty, not trendy brand names, and not boiler set-ups. You seem to be defending brand against brand. I have not been advocating one brand over another, as your comment seems to indicate. I don’t care who made a particular machine, but I do care how it was engineered, it’s range of use, adaptability. The Aurelia easily demonstrates consistent shot temperature when used with a perfectly consistent (and relatively simple) flushing routine. That can be said for a lot of heat exchange machines in general, but the Aurelia makes it particularly easy to hit the repeatable temp. This is not the same thing as being temperature stable. The temp will fluctuate wildly when you deviate from the prescribed flushing routine. The Scace device illustrates this in a dramatic fashion.

    My own personal experience with the Aurelia, using it myself and tasting drinks others have made, is that I have received hot drinks more often than not. When I say hot, I mean a little to a lot over-extracted as a result of hot temperatures. That’s not to say you cant get it set up and use it in a manner that delivers great espresso. But most people don’t have that set up and are not armed with the knowledge of how to use their machine properly. Not to mention that so many people using these, or any espresso machine, also have not learned how to taste espresso.

    Double boiler machines take a lot of this out of the equation, making it that much more likely that you will get the temperature you need. You still have to know how to use them. If you had a real, technical, and functional knowledge of the Aurelias (there are different models out there) and the Linea, you would know that you can get a reliable temperature as easily, if not more easily on the Linea. If you wanted to adjust the temperature on the Linea you just need to turn a screw. If you wanted to change your Aurelia temperature, you will need you technician to come and replace valves that are not necessarily easy to get to. This is only one of the reasons why a double boiler set up is a much more elegant engineering solution to a heat exchange system for temperature stability and control. And there are many more brands out there, other than LaMarzocco, who are making double boiler machines.

    • Shadow
    • January 17th, 2011

    I can’t agree on the Aurelia needing any sort of flushing routine. I do no flushing at all to alter the extraction temperature and get very consistent results time and time again. I do flush the screens after I knock out the pucks, but that’s it.

    I’m just tired of hearing about La Marzocco…. when there are other brands easily as good.

    • Not flushing is a flushing routine, and a very consistent one. If you are making back to back drinks and you flush for the screen after the first, you have altered your flushing routine for the second shot. There may, or may not be a perceptible difference in shot quality from one to the other.

      And while your brand bias was apparent, I understand and appreciate your frustration of seeing people having machine love for what appears to be the wrong reasons. This blog post was never about LaMarzoccos or double boiler machines. It’s just a close up look at the Aurelia.

    • Shadow
    • January 18th, 2011

    Not flushing IS a flushing routine? How ass backwards does that sound? Like I said I go by taste, color, texture more than anything else.

    I do have brand bias after seeing how well the Aurelia can function day after day and be on par with any other machine out there. Also really appreciate its user friendliness as well as the ability to perform Preventive Maintenance quite easily on it.

    One last thing I’d like to add. Just remembered a discussion I had with a tech at NS some time ago. I was asking him about measuring temperature at the group and his response was that measuring a stream of water is incorrect. He said the only way he’d recommend measuring brew temperature is by measuring the temperature of the espresso once it has extracted into a preheated ceramic cup. He said shoot for around 170 degrees for proper temperature. Provided you have good/consistent brew temperature, pressure, dosing, distribution and tamping this seems to have merit. Moreso than what most “geeks in the know” seem to believe.

  10. OK Mr. Tommy Meeks,
    I will try to make time to stop by the LOT next week, if I can, and taste your yummy midnight lotus and say Hey to you and Tina.

      • Shadow
      • January 20th, 2011

      Nothing else to add? Just like the rest of the coffeegeeks in the industry. Later!

      • No. I have no further information or data to add to what I have already written at this time about the Aurelia. And judging by the repetitive nature of your posts, apparently neither do you. You do seem to have a persistent need to “get in the last word”, even though you have exhausted your well of knowledge on the subject, and you have been reduced to this redundancy, coupled with what seems like a little hostility. For this I have lost patience. I get your point already. And I get that you resent the popularity of LaMarzocco. You generalization of “coffee geeks” as numbers obsessed people who are out of touch with real sensory experience is simply a straw man of your own construction to support an incoherent argument with no substantial foundation in logic. Your very limited experience with the technology of the industry is not helping your argument either.

        If you continue to feel the compulsion to beat the dead horse, please stalk someone else’s blog, or better yet, get your own.

    • Shadow
    • January 19th, 2011

    Sure thing… Tommy may be my birth name, but my screen name will always be Shadow! Don’t know where the Midnight Lotus thing came from as I have only sampled that and have no intention of serving it. Much too dark for my taste. Later!

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