Archive for the ‘ Espresso ’ Category


A couple of strapping young men come into the shop Friday night and ask me if they get a Guinness, will I put a shot of espresso in it. It is nice that they were concerned with my idea of aesthetics concerning the manor in which I serve the coffee, the average customer may not give a rat’s tukis. I told them, hell, not only can you have a shot in your beer, I’ll take pictures for cryin’ out loud.

I have never personally done this before, or seen this before. I was not sure what the most dramatic way, visually speaking, of serving this would be. So I just had them pour the shot into the Guinness head (after I told them to observe the Guinness effect in the shot glass first). It looked like this:

These guys were calling it the “Big Ben”, because their friend Ben was the one to turn them onto it. I called it the Guispresso. Any suggestions for serving it up, or for a more creative name, made up or pre-existing, would be appreciated.

Linea and Swift

My last day in Atlanta was spent on the Linea and the Swift. New developments for LaMarzoccos will be, or already are, the flow meter on semiautomatic machines will be saturated inside the group head. Access will be granted through a panel on top of the group head for repairs. No more lost heat in the counting of the electric pulse.

The porcelain burrs in the swift are terribly expensive, but should last considerably longer than even stainless steel, just don’t adjust them to the point of touching or they shatter.

I don’t want to name names or bash any companies out there, so will be as discreet as possible. One service tech who was taking the class with me claimed that he had taken the grind adjustment knobs off of a swift at a shop because, he said, the humidity fluctuated so much that the Baristas kept changing the grind size. This was the same repair person who trained shop managers to never rinse grinds out of dirty protafilters. His reason was that grinds will clog the drain hose, and did not want to get calls for such small problems. Now, I know that everyone has their own reasons for doing things, and sometimes practicality will take precedence over quality. But to sacrifice quality at every possible opportunity for the sake of saving himself the aggravation of talking someone through an easy fix over the phone is just plain ignorance. The deliberate dissemination of bad, improper, or corner cutting information for these selfish reasons is the kind of lazy attitude that keeps the specialty coffee industry under the thumb of a poorly informed consuming public.

Part of me feels like dope slapping the guy, who talked right through me whenever I tried to make a point of debate, and part of me is happy to leave the lowest quality crap slingers keep on slinging just to keep the quality stuff well separated from the throng.

And while I’m at it, I would also like to put a stop to the application of this cop out attitude: “It is all a matter of personal taste.” While it is true that there are any number of ways to make coffee and espresso, and every one has their own likes and dislikes, don’t be mistaken about certain basic facts of physical science and human physiology. There are well established parameters of what is considered good and bad, savory and putrid, delicate and acrid, according to the general perceptions afforded us by the nature of our senses. There is a window of opportunity that we strive for in the preparation of coffee drinks, and everything involved in the preparation is either pointing us into that window or out of it. I am sick of hearing people invoke the “personal taste” rationale to justify poor quality, inattention, or laziness in the preparation of specialty coffees. It is an argument from personal incredulity, and is borne out of an inability to step out of the comfort zone and let oneself be teachable. There are occasions when deviating from the established conventions of flavor are bold moves for progressive thinking, but many times I hear this used to cover up an inability to justify behaviors created by blindly stumbling through the unknown. Just fess up to stuff that is unknown. Sorry, too much caffeine at 3:00 am.

Atlanta II

For some mysterious technological reason I am unable to upload photos today. So imagin a thick and densly packed tangle of wires and tubes and stainless steel sheet metal. Imagine a close up of a circular micro screen and a neoprene covered boiler tank. That is the inside of the Franke superautomatic expresso machine, and it is brilliantly more simple than the Astoria superautos. The engineering was simple and elegant, the footprint was sleek and slender. The shots were, well, lets just say that I was polite enough not to spit in the sink. But that was not entirelly the fault of the machine, but mainly the blend.

After a grulling day of espresso extractor deconstruction, I was picked up by my mystery host, who took me to visit Octane, and to meet Tony, the owner. Tony was tall and slender with a cropped salt and pepper beard, and he prepared us each a shot of a mystery blend with supple agillity that apeared natural and unforced. For whatever reason, he was not even sure himself which blend it was. We all agreed upon CCC Tuscoano, which I am not sure about, but I know it was not Afficionado. Octane has a very nice atmosphere with exposed brick walls, Georgia Tech students, and “Indy alt” staff. They had no brew extractor, but offered French press which they stored in Lexus thurmoses. It was delicious.

My host and I began disscussing our coffee passions, cafe business models, and roaster business models before heading out ot his office for a quick tour. More disscussion of business ensued, ending with a quick milk texturing tip he offered me. His office just happend to be equiped with a LaMarzocco FB80. Now imagine his beautifully formed rosetta and tulip, and my electrostatic wonky rosetta. At least the milk texture came out the way I wanted it, even if the pattern did not.

I got a good look at Atlanta, as he did not seem to know his way around very well, and after a quick pass of the federal penitentiary and some housing projects, we finally found an open restaurant. A huge “Earl Burger” kicked the wiener’s ass that I had last night, though I don’t remember the name of this place.

It will be back to the grind stone tomorrow as we tackle traditional machines. Hopefully my pictures will make it up next time.

Atlanta trip

I will be in Atlanta for the next two days to train on LaMarzoccos and Frankes.  I have come down in a rental car from North Carolina with my co-worker, John, and we had a filling dinner at a restaurant called The Vortex.  My chili dog was the biggest wiener I have ever seen.


Tomorrow we take our first class with the knowledgeable folks from ESI, who have been kind enough to travel here to the East coast, despite the ongoing East vs. West rivalry.

 On our drive down, while passing through South Carolina, it became clear that the further South you go, the more stuff people are willing to store in the front yard and out of doors.  These miscellaneous items include but are not limited too: old cars, old tractors, various and sundry bits of farm equipment, sheet metal, scrap metal, metal shavings, rusty metal, furniture, clothing, piles of shoes, bare peach trees (alive or dead, I cannot say).   They also seem to take great pride in their agricultural produce.


Tomorrow I’ll be visiting a cafe in town as well as a secret host in an undisclosed location.  Pictures to follow.

Review: Hamilton Beach


This is the Hamilton Beach home espresso machine. I bought it for $69.00 American. You always hear in the coffee geeking community that you can not get away with making anything close to “real” espresso for under the $500.00 you will have to pay for the Rancillio Silvia. This machine boasts a “15 bar Italian pump”, so I figured I would give it whirl.

As I am writing this review, which I had planed to be favorable, I discover the thing has been recalled for blowing up on unsuspecting consumers. Don’t try to steam milk and pull a shot at the same time, or the steam tube might blow up, causing minor burns in 10% of the complainants. I hope they were all wearing glasses at the time. Let me tell you, this machine can not even steam 3-4 oz of milk up to temperature before it gives out, and that is without the extra resources required to pull a shot at the same time. You would really have to be in the dark about what you were doing to set up the recall conditions. Let’s not even get into the fact that in the steam cycle, the water that comes out at the group head comes in puffs of vapor mixed with spitting droplets of boiling hot water. You have to do some Olympic style surfing to get this bad boy to hit right on a temperature that is satisfactory. This is complicated by the fact that the tank on it is so small that a quick flush of the group head will cause a serious drop in temperature. But juxtaposed with the blistering temp at steam cycle, you have a good opportunity to hop on the elevator at the right floor.

The 15 bar pump is one of those vibe things that reminds me of the “magic fingers” mattresses at humpback motels. If you can rein in all the variable factors (no small feat) and hit it at optimal temp, grind, and tamp, you can actually get a “Bouya!” out of this black box (I swear I have never used that expression before). hamilton shot

This is a shot of Counter Culture’s Aficionado, the underdog of their line-up, which is constantly discounted by many in the shadow of it’s brother, Tuscano. This is what we use day in and day out at the shop, and it stands out well in a commercial environment with it’s ability to be bold and extroverted even in milky lattes. On this little home machine I have been drawing shots at a lower temperature than the shop machine, and this has made it extremely buttery with great body, clear acidity without sourness, with a warm molasses sweetness. There is not PID on the machine at the shop, and I am now wishing that I could lower the temperature on it to get this same slippery mouthfeel I have achieved at home on a $70 fear factor insurance risk.

If you have one of these, do like I do when my wife asks for a latte and warm up 6-8 oz of milk on the stove, and froth up 2 oz on the pathetic steam wand (after removing the plastic froth aid slip-cover). Just don’t try to pull and steam at the same time, you may be taking your live in your hands. Oh, you also have to leave the portafilter in the group head for a couple minutes before removing it to let the pressure drop because there is no 3-way valve. If you act with haste, you will have twice as much clean up to do as the contents 0f the basket will blow out on the machine, the counter, your shirt, and whatever cats and toddlers happen to be walking past at the time. So when I say that my review was meant to be “favorable”, what I mean is that it works very well for the money you will put out. With a little ingenuity and mad skills, you can get a great shot from the Hamilton Beach, just don’t try to get cute with it.

The 2nd Place Soy Latte

Justin Teisle, winner of both 1st and 2nd place in the Soy Challenge, is a former Barista of Alterra Coffee Roasters. Here is a photo of the his 2nd place double rosetta. Nice shape, nice flow, nice background.

second place

Level Tamp

I have noticed an incoming link to the Onion-Bean this last week from a European coffee forum for home baristas (Blogger be damned for your inability to keep track of these things). The link directed unfortunate coffee drinkers to my Naked Vs Spout acidity blog entry. On that whole matter I will say that for whatever reason (I will not try to link it necessarily to the acidity issue for lack of accurate scientific data) spout shots I have taste tested adjacent to naked shots have been noticeably and repeatably mellower and less bright. Shots split into two different demitasses by a spout are yet slightly less tangy than shots split by the spout but dripped into the one demitasse. Crema from the naked PF is enormous in the first few seconds, but dissipates quickly as the bubbles congregate rapidly into larger bubbles that pop, and spouted shots have produced tighter crema with more stability. But all that nonsense put aside, that is not the topic of this entry.

The forum topic which liked to this blog was more or less dedicated to techniques for tamping level in cases where spouts were wobbly, or for whatever reason unstable (it’s always the pool que, never the pool shooter). They seem to think the idea is to keep all the equipment level with the sea. For crying out loud, trust your instincts and use the Force, Luke. To be more specific, use your damn senses. You have finger tips calibrated to an extremely high level of sensitivity. Have you ever seen a Barista in a cafe, or during a competition for that mater, whip out a carpenter’s level, place it across the top of the basket, and make the needed adjustments to the tamp? I thought this would be an opportune moment to illustrate the technique I use. The simplicity, ease of use, and instant feedback make it perfectly desirable for any environment, professional, home, or competition. Allow me to illustrate.

tampin level

There is no need for tools or devices. I receive instant feedback from my fingertips and that allows me to make the necessary adjustments to the levelness on the fly. To the casual observer it may not even look as though anything is happening other than compression. I am also detecting the amount of grounds in the basket. As I make drink after drink, I can keep the total amount of coffee brewed at a very constant quantity for each shot because I always know if there is a tiny bit too much or too little in the portafilter.

This picture was taken in my kitchen, not at the cafe, so the portafilter is not a commercial brand ($70 Hamilton Beach-“15 Bar Italian pump”, still havn’t gotten a great shot out of it). I am placing the bottom edge of the pf at the edge of the table so that the spouts are dangling over the side. This keeps them from picking up grounds, which are all over the place at the shop.

Everyone has their own thing that they do. I try to make every step in the preparation of the shot purposeful, every action producing a particularly desired result. Many Baristas have habits they repeat every time, but when questioned, they have no reason other than they like how it feels, or that is what someone showed them. But everything has to point in the direction of great espresso. Even when you understand all the variables that should be under control, it is still hard to get great shots one after another. If you are not paying attention to every little detail, you can kiss your flavor good bye. But most importantly on the subject of level tamping, you do not need a bunch of prosthetic devices to hold everything in place and aligned with the magnetic poles in order to get good results. Just “feel it” into place, and make it feel exactly the same every time.