coffee fun

Had way too much fun today.

Drew Catlin and Ben Kaminsky were by. Had some lovely coffee from Ecco Caffe, a bunch of really nice coffees from Ritual... in general had way too many shots of espresso!

I have to say, however, that it was a really good experience. We spent hours and spent almost no time talking about espresso machines. We briefly talked about the Anfim grinder - but perhaps for 1 minute. We talked some smack about the industry and people/companies. But mostly we talked about coffee.

If this is what the new crop of baristas is going to turn out like... I'm happy.

In fact, we even talked a little around the whole issue of dogma and "rules" of espresso and I got the feeling that there is some open-mindedness and flexibility.

All about the coffee... willing to question beliefs and dogma...
Whew... maybe the coffee industry isn't fucked after all.

And for what it's worth... the monster Mia held up really well. I didn't hear any whining about the machine, didn't have to do any juggling - nor did anyone else. Just pulled shots. And if a couple pro baristas (and one has-been pro) can spend a couple hours pulling shots on a home machine and not bitch about it... well then that's one bad-ass home machine.


more monster mia

As mentioned, I'm moving.

Well... the Mia is now set up in the new place.
Been a bit epic, but it's working.

I've got two more days of experimentation under my belt.
I'll take pics this weekend.

In the meantime... what can I say?
Terry and the boys at Espresso Parts NW have done good.
I've now tested three different espressos.
This thing really is as close to a (espresso only) GS3 as one can get.
Shot pulling process is:
1) build shot.
2) quick rinse flush (no need to time or measure)
3) insert portafilter
4) pull shot

Adjusting temp consists of:
1) up/down on controller to right set temp
2) wait about 60 seconds
3) proceed

Downsides noted so far...

1) the stupid cup tray still sucks
2) steaming milk is between challenging and very frustrating
3) cups rattle a lot when pulling shots (rotary pump seems to really vibrate the body)


Monster Mia


So in the middle of relocating from Portland to SF... and in the middle of starting a new job... and in the middle of some triage on an old project... I still got some time to play with the new baby.

I have no photos yet (my cameras are packed already). Those will come later.

Some background on the Monster Mia as follows:
- Reservoir and vibe pump removed (now plumbed in with a nice Procon rotary pump)
- Modified to take a long thermoprobe into the boiler (and the requisite electronics including front mounted PID controller)
- Some tweaks and tricks to the internal plumbing
- All crazy work performed by the guys at Espresso Parts NW under the guidance of madman Terry Z.

The machine runs at a far lower boiler pressure than normal (of course). There is still sufficient pressure to steam (for example) two 5oz cappuccinos in succession. But it's not a machine for someone drinking long milk drinks.
It's pretty much a machine for me - and someone like me. I drink espresso, Valerie drinks macchiattos and the odd morning cappuccino.

So far I've worked with the Olympia Roasting Big Train espresso and Stumptown Hairbender.

First thoughts are that this is an easy machine to work with. VERY easy.
It's like working on a Mistral when making espresso in that you do a quick pulse flush and then just go. Temp is quite stable and predictable.
Because of the front mounted controller and the small boiler, changes in brew temp are very quick and easy.
Both espressos extracted beautifully. I've been swapping back and forth between an LM stock portafilter (with plating removed and a ridged double basket) and a crotchless (with either an LM ridged double or a triple basket).
In both cases I'm getting excellent mouthfeel and great clarity and reproduction of flavours. I've been running over to the Belmont Stumptown periodically to compare shots against the 5 group Mistral and I have to say this little machine is actually holding its own!!

Small amounts of milk in a small pitcher steam reasonably well. It's not the same as on a dual boiler machine. You can't apply as much energy to the milk before it starts to cook and as a result both sweetness and consistency are slightly impaired. I'm using one of the early EPNW dual hole tips on it.

I need to spend some time with the Scace to evaluate the offset from the display to the actual brew temp. I'm starting to think it might not be strictly linear.

It's in a box now heading to SF -- and I can't wait to unpack it.
I'm starting to call it "the poor man's GS3".

Photos and notes to come...


Machine Swap, more

So the Monster Briccoletta is back to the shop. The 'explosion' was fixed, but then I started having odd, unfixable problems with the modified thermosyphon. After fiddling and diagnosis, it was determined that it needs to go somewhere with more sophisticated equipment.

And now, in its place, a new test machine.

The Grimac Mia I reviewed a couple years ago is back on the bench... albeit in much modified form. It's now a plumbed, PID'ed, rotary pumped, modified thermosyphon monster.
It's going to be really interesting to check it out and compare it to the stock Mia.

Also, I just returned from Sydney, Australia.
Had some gorgeous espresso drinks from Paul Geshos and the fine folks at Mecca. An absolutely top-notch, world class espresso bar.



Back when I used to live and die with coffee (no... seriously), I spent a lot of time writing for this blog, posting on coffee sites, writing for Barista Magazine, etc.

The other day someone asked me what the best thing I ever wrote was. My first choice was my last article for Barista Magazine - my piece on CoE Brazil and Espresso. As I have been told, however, that this is "my Valis"... I figure I might not have great perspective on it.

So I remembered that I was asked (on Home Barista.com) "how do you explore the extraction space" with espresso? And I remembered that my response was seen by folks as pretty good. So I went back and re-read it. And, to be honest, I thought it was pretty good indeed. It seems to have become buried in that site - so I figure I'll re-post it here from it's original thread.


To be honest, it's largely trial and error leading to some vague understandings of general rules. I wish I were better at it or it were more scientific.

I tend to follow a pretty clear process and will happily describe this if it will help.

If I have a new coffee I tend to always start with the LM ridged double basket and a target extraction volume of between 1.75 and 2.0 oz.

First I'll establish a brew temp starting point.
I'll evaluate the coffee for two characteristics. First - roast degree and second - bean composition.
With the former, I tend to make some quick rough decisions. If the roast is light, I tend to start with a baseline temp of 202F. If medium, I will stick with 200F. If dark, I'll drop it down to 197F.
Now... I'll also adjust this based on the bean composition. If, for example, I'm working with high-grown washed arabica I'm going to reduce the brew temp. If I'm working with aged or monsooned coffees I will up the brew temp (both from the baseline above).
So a light roasted coffee with monsooned beans will move up to 203F as a starting point.

Once I have a temp starting point I'll establish a dose starting point.
For this I'll look at two aspects - the bean composition again and then the "signature taste."
If the coffee has a lot of naturals or pulped naturals I'll go with a lighter dose. If the coffee is mostly high-grown arabica I'll up the dose.
So, for example, with the Terroir Daterra Reserve I'd go with a 17.5 gram dose. But with the Stumptown Hairbender I'd go with a 20 gram dose.
The "signature taste" is a harder one and requires some knowledge of the roaster. Is the person roasting this coffee a fan of low acidity espresso? Are they a "chocolate bomb" aficionado? If you know what they like out of their espresso you can do minor adjustments to your dose. So, for example, based on this I would actually drop the Terroir Daterra down to a 17 gram dose but would up the Stumptown Hairbender to a 20.5 gram dose.

Once I've got temp and dose I'll start experimenting.
I always start by re-evaluating temp. So I'll pull a shot and evaluate it for brew temp. Is it alkaloid? Is it thin? Is it sour? Astringent? Based on the taste, I will alter the temp by small degrees to find the sweet spot.

Once I've found what I feel is the brew temp sweet spot, I'll start working on dose.
The way I tend to do this is focus on two things. First - clarity of flavour and second - roundness and balance.
If the cup is "muddied" I'll reduce the dose. If the cup isn't fully developed and sweet and rich I'll up the dose.

With many coffees this will get me to the point where I'll have a cup profile I really like.
But there are exceptions. There are times when I won't be able to get to where I want to be with just these factors.
It's usually only at this point that I start looking at changes to extraction volume and basket size.

For example, I've found that some lighter roasted delicate coffees tend to end up poorly developed no matter what I do - especially when they are pulped naturals. But if I then swap to a triple basket and deliberately down-dose (19 grams) I "open up" the coffee and it becomes more defined and clear. Or with monsooned coffee I find that the only way I can get the desired sweetness without getting a "wet cardboard" aftertaste is by going with a triple basket, normal dose and then pulling a ristretto shot.

A lot of the time I'll find a "sweet spot" that I like but then start wondering about what a coffee would taste like when pulled differently.

To be honest... I'm incredibly lucky. Most of the coffee I experiment with is free to me. If I were roasting my own, especially in small batches, I don't know if my approach would work at all. And if I were paying retail... I don't know if I could force myself to throw away so much money.



o-ring failure.

waiting on replacement to resume testing.



Yeah... I know that I haven't written up something that is complete and final yet. Sorry - but I've got stuff going on. Be patient.
And no, I'm not going to be posting schematics and diagrams and final part lists.

Finally, yes... it would be deeply ironic if I (who has talked so many times about the dubious value of using a PID on a single boiler dual use machine) had PID'ed this machine. But that display you see is just that... a display. There is no controller.

And now, without further ado and based on your requests... some photos of the guts of the new Bricc (as with previous pics, if you click on these you'll get a larger version).



The plumbing arrived (via Utah and Colorado -- don't get me started).
Install is complete.

Testing is underway. Results on way.

But first... some photos.

The Bricc... ready to go

Hmmm.... what is that odd pink/red glow?

Moving in a little closer for more detail.

It's starting to become more clear...

The only visible sign of anything different about this Briccoletta becomes obvious.

So... as I've mentioned in the past, there were a lot of things I really liked about the Briccoletta. But there were some things that made it "impractical" for use for novices or in "recreational" use. The primary challenge was brew temp management.
With sufficient practice/training/insight it is possible to manage your brew temp with a fair amount of accuracy and consistency -- but learning to do this is non-trivial and doing it in practice requires a lot of attention and focus (not the easiest thing at 5am).

When the Monster Briccoletta project began - the idea was to turn the base machine into something closer to a commercial machine. The idea was to make repeatable brew temp significantly easier and to reduce the "art" of barista brew temp management to something closer to a science. In addition, a few of the missing elements of a commercial machine needed to be added (in particular, the ability to pre-infuse with line pressure was highly desirable).

There were a huge number of options pursued for how this all would be handled.
The obvious directions were pursued and discarded for various reasons. It became clear that a couple additional issues were going to need to be addressed. The combination of a horizontal boiler and horizontal heating element in an HX machine created some constraints. The semi non functional thermosyphon added its own issues. In then end, the thermosyphon simply had to be redone -- but replacing the boiler was deemed impractical (grin).

In the next post I'll add some thoughts on the actual solution to the problem -- and with luck will have some additional commentary on the topic from Terry Z (the madman behind the mods). For right now... some initial thoughts on how successful this has been.

Well... first thoughts are pretty clear.

1 - It's nearly braindead easy to manage brew temp on this machine. Seriously. Not only is there little to no "hoop jumping" in the process -- but the machine is pretty forgiving when it comes to how accurately you flush.

2 - The machine is very consistent shot to shot as a result.

3 - The potential range of brew temps (once set up) is very narrow (unless you do something really crazy like flush 8oz of water). How narrow? I'd say a couple degrees in total. I'll have more accurate numbers soon.

4 - All of this has the obvious pros... but also some less obvious cons. I'm guessing the "make it like a commercial machine" goals are going to be comprehensively met. One of the downsides of a commercial machine is that you really don't get to "play" with the brew temp. It's "set and forget" for the most part. As a result, I'm guessing that this machine is going to be the sort of thing that is VERY easy to live with -- but it's not really going to be a "lab" machine at all.

As noted earlier... coming soon:
- technical details (hopefully with commentary from Terry Z)
- coffee tasting results (all that really matters)
- more pictures
- measurements (sigh)


i hate UPS

So the plumbing part I'm waiting for to begin real testing of the 'Monster Briccoletta' didn't show up. UPS decided that this was something that required in person, adult signature. Of course... it was shipped to my house and between paddling and work I'm only here (on average) from around 9pm to around 7am most days.

It's being re-shipped (to the Stumptown Annex).

As soon as I get it, I'll start testing in earnest.

I'm going to run through a range of coffees so that I have a chance to deal with a wide range of brew parameters. I will, of course, post results and pictures here.