The first leg of my espresso tech training started out a the American hub of Astoria, the General Espresso & Equipment warehouse and showroom in Greensboro, N.C. These folks are the center of the Astoria and Wega espresso machines in North America. The Astorias have a reputation for reliability and low maintenance, and coupled with a reasonable price tag they fill the primary criteria of many an independent coffee shop owner. With a heat exchange brew water system they may not be the envy of many cutting edge wavers on the fringe of the specialty coffee industry, but MOST coffee shop owners use that extra $2,000 on other essential business expenses. That is where real life hits you, in the pocket. The result is that thousands of these machines are spread across the land (and other similar brands), and these are usually what most folks are likely to get their drinks from. Pictured above is the new but retro styled Rapallo, a shimmering old timey replica with the groups on the outside.
The training involved two days, the first covering a breakdown of traditional machines, and the second day concentrating on superautomatics. I suppose if we can’t get an army of teenage mutant ninja Baristas trained up, the least we can do is make sure they can make a half decent shot just by pushing a button. We set this thing as close as we could to perfect, and let me assure you, these will not replace the practiced hand of the True Barista who has learned their craft, but it will put mochas and vanilla lattes in the bellies of a culture that is starved for culture.
The superautos are a marvel of engineering. These two pistons swivel into place after the internal grinder delivers their load of grounds into a cylindrical chamber, and the shower screen pushes up from the bottom. Espresso squeezes out at the top and is directed to the external spouts via the white tubing. The churning action created by it’s travel in the tube creates a very homogeneous colored crema on to of the shot with no visible flecking no matter what grinder setting you use. Doses and water volume are adjustable in the programing mode, and all settings can be downloaded to a memory card and transported to other compatible machines.
One traditional machine that was in for repair was this Argenta that had been subjected to water softener abuse. If you have ever had to reconstitute your water softener you will remember that you must fill it with salt pellets, flush it clean till the water coming out has no more salty taste, then open the line back into the espresso machine. In this case, the service technician omitted the flushing stage and just hooked up the espresso machine with salty water. I believe there is a law suit pending. Imagine, if you would, an Italian accent issuing the phrase, “Holly shit!”, and it will be just like you were there.
I will have more training updates as I receive ESI training and Fetco, and what not. So far it has been a great deal of fun, and quite the adventure.