Archive for the ‘ portafilter ’ Category

Ever wondered what causes big bubbles to push out of the portafilter spouts when you pull a shot? I use to think it was a massive gurgle of CO2. I thought that fresher coffee gave off lots of gas, which is true. But the gurgle effect is something a little different. Steam is building up in the space between the portafilter basket and the bottom of the portafilter. The steam pushes out big bubbles once the stream of crema and espresso fills the exit chute. This may not bother you, and I didn’t give it much thought till David Lamont mentioned it. But if you like to read the signs of good extraction you may not want bubbles or a back log of espresso to get all churned up before you get to see it. If you really want or need to stabilize the flow you can ventilate your portafilter.

This video shows the effect of a ventilated portafilter as compared to a stock portafilter with both fresh gaseous espresso and a slightly more aged and stabilized espresso.

Ventilated Portafilter

Ventilated Portafilter

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.

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.

Perceived Acidity: Naked vs. Spout

The other morning I was preparing a shot of espresso, Counter Culture’s Aficionado, in a Naked Portafilter. Recently, I received the bottomless as part of an assembly of training tools I have been putting together. I have not really espoused these gadgets before, but I am not opposed to them. The value as a training tool seems obvious, since the feed back relating todistribution and tamping is immediate. The grinder was very well dialed in that morning, and I prepared theNPF and drew a thick, viscous shot into a demitasse. It was like watching something in slow motion the way the droplets clung onto strands ofcrema, almost refusing to fall off. The surface of the crema in the cup was beautifully mottled with speckled flecks of burnt sienna colored textures. This is the espresso I drink practically every day, and I have become so familiar with the flavor from this machine, with these beans, through these portafilters, that I have lately been craving something new to shake things up on my toungue. I was almost floored by the bright, sharp, brilliant, tangy acidity in this shot. Turning to my co-worker at the shop, I commented on how tangy the espresso was. He concurred that his shot earlier in the Naked PF seemed hyped up with tang. It had notoccurred to me that the NPF was the cause, I thought it was this weeks batch of beans, or the massive humid low pressure that has caused us to use air conditioning in December. But as I thought about it, there seemed to be something to this.

I was just reading a couple days ago about the different acids in coffee. The spectrum of many acids in coffee run from delightful Citric acid to astringentQuinic acid. There can be anywhere from 1%-2% of these acids present in brewed coffee. That not really chump change in terms of overall quantity, it is novinegerette , but it is still a respectable quantity nonetheless. Even with someone who does not consider themselves to have good perception, a good instructor could show them how to determine a high acid coffee from a low acid coffee with relative ease. Looking at the worn down, scrubbed out interior of the spouted portafilter with much exposed brass surface area, I began to imagine acids bubbling away and etching into the molecules that make up the channel through which every drop of the espresso will have to pass over the course of a protracted 25-30 seconds. Are my shot becoming partially neutralized on their way to the cup? Are the precious acids dropping electrons like Britany Spears drops husbands, and babies for that matter?brass

It may be that Naked portafilter shots have more acid, since there is nothing to react with the acids as the espresso falls directly form the basket to the glazed porcelain. It may be that the old portafilter with spouts, the nickle plating a faded shadow of the past, are robbing shots of delicate brightness and eye opening Zip. I do not think ph paper strips would be nearly sensitive enough to measure the relative acid levels in these two types of shots, but I can’t help but wonder about glassy carbon electron probes connected to digital data processing devices with colorful GUIdisplays . Is anyone familiar with studies done on this? If someone has written a thesis for their Masters degree or PhD., I would love to hear about it. I will have to stick to direct comparative taste testing and anecdotal evidence, but my math will be a little fuzzy. Any one in Europe know anything about this?