But there's something that bothers me. I see it here and in your writing elsewhere. Why -- especially in a detailed review like this -- do you insist on constantly using "old beans."
In this particular review, you mention that you're using "months" old espresso pods. And in the next sentence, you write that the shot tasted pretty horrid. What, this is supposed to prove something? That the X3 isn't, in fact, magic?
Ditto for the bit about your barbeque where you and a friend compare the X3 to a machine costing many, many hundreds more.
You go at the machines -- again?! -- with "stale, old beans." I realize you (like most folks) have a lot of old, stale beans sitting around. Fair enough. I do, but if were to review these things, my four month unopened bag of Peet's is not gonna be the first thing I'm gonna grab. It makes no sense, proves absolutely nothing, and gives meaningless feedback. Yeah, coffee goes bad when it gets old. Espresso machines don't like old, bad coffee. Okay, we know this. And so what?
But when you're writing these reviews -- especially the detailed reviews -- I don't want to read that a reviewer is using pods that are six months old. Nor do I want to read about "horrid" coffee that you had sitting around.
If you're trying to demonstrate whether or not the machines are solid contenders, then -- cripes! -- use the freshest beans you have. Come up with a 'Reviewer's Roast' and use this every time, through every machine. Maybe even a custom review roast -- your own, Sweet Maria's, whatever. But enough the stale stuff.
If you're trying to prove that, well, even with old beans the shots are still "horrid" -- well congratulations. Here ya go.
If you're trying to find that one machine where it can make 'magic' from six month old beans, I have a feeling you're going to be looking for a long, long time.
I guess I don't get it. You have brand new machines, a pretty good testing methodology, yet you continue to insist (brag even?) that the beans are "old" or "stale" or whatever.
Am I missing something? Is there some point to the usage of old beans? You're not doing your readers a favor. I could care less how a 400 dollar or 3000 dollar machine performs with stale pods or old beans. I would never drop four C-notes (or whatever) on an X3 and then -- minutes after setting it up -- reach for a box of six month old pods. Who does this? Some mythical, clueless reader you're writing for? And if they do -- wouldn't you rather nip that shit in the bud?
Again, I'd like to hear a little bit about a specific "review roast" that you pump through these machines so we -- the readers -- have some sort of standard. I mean, I was recently knocked out by Sweet Maria's 'Liquid Amber' -- it's a helluva blend, and roasted properly (even in a three year old Hearthware Precision) it's a knock-out.
But I think there are a lot more of us who would like to see how specific blends perform in these machines so we can get an even better idea how they -- the machines perform. Likewise, it'd be instructive to folks new to home espresso to show them that, yes, a pre-roasted blend like Intelligentsia's 'Black Cat' or a self-roasted blend like 'Liquid Amber' does, in fact, produce superior espresso -- and then take some nice photographs to prove it.
Not meant to be a personal attack or anything -- just sorta of an observation. You take such nice photographs, put together such nice websites -- and yet -- of all things! -- you insist on crappy beans?!?
Is there some 'lowest common denominator' thing going on? What's the deal?
I'm thinking that "Farber55" is a bit strident in the criticism (although he does it in a constructive way) but I agree with him in part.
It makes sense to use up old beans in the process of dialing in a grinder and also establishing some metrics for a given machine both on its own and compared to a benchmark machine. I suspect Mark P. has more old beans kicking around than most of us do in light of his (probably) receiving various pre-roasted samples from folks who want him to try/comment on their product. It's good to use that stuff up - I hate to see any usable product go to waste, even if it's just used to "season" the new machine.
At the same time.... it would be a nice plug for some vendor who chose to supply their product to be the reference bean for comparative testing and it would provide a more constant reference point.
Admittedly, it's in the nature of taste testing to be subjective and even the same blend may be a bit different or taste a bit different on different machines tried months apart but I see it as a way to reduce the number of possible variables in the reviewing process - just as we all try to do in the process of seeking better shots.
I've read your comments, and you have some great ideas - I like the idea and sound of "review roast", and I'll start implementing something like that. I want to further standardize how I do these reviews, and the FF!! X3 is moving towards doing that (notice it's a different structure than the older reviews, in fact, it's in the structure of the new version of the site, but just stuck in the old (current) templates).
I'll have to figure out a fairly consistent way of doing it. One thing I could probably swing is only using Black Cat Espresso, which I'm sure I could get Doug Zell or Vince Picollo to sponsor (ie, donate the coffee, which would average about 7 to 10 lbs per machine test).
With regards to the old beans thing. I thought I explained this at some point, but I'll cover it again:
Why Mark Uses Old Beans
It's because many consumers will in fact use old coffee, and I have to see what the results are (nb: I have an article in the works about how you, and you, and yes, you too, should buy Tasters' Choice :))
It's because of the volume of coffee I go through testing these machines. When I do temperature tests and the like, I need to use a LOT of coffee, and it can get expensive and wasteful using only my freshest stuff. Sometimes, stuff happens in the testing which makes me add addl' comments to the review, sometimes talking about taste (or lack thereof).
To season the machine - I used the old pods just to get some coffee oils resident on the machine before I used the good (kawf kawf) pods.
In the Iron Barista contest, it was argued (not by me) that using the Italian coffee obtained two days ago at the trade show (and the bag was not opened until just before the competition) would be an equalizer of sort. A couple of the observers felt that using the best possible coffee would totally give the nod to the La Marzocco. Since the contest, I've regretted using the robusta-laden coffee, but mainly because I lost :)
Yeah, I understand what you're saying. I didn't actually stop and think about the cost angle. You're right: the good stuff would get ungodly expensive. Didn't think about that.
I don't have a problem with you using the old beans for the seasoning. I guess my problem -- and what irked me -- was the way in which the use of the old beans several times figured so predominantly in the review. It struck me as odd: like -- okay, Mark's using old pods, but then why the heck is he surprised they taste horrid? So I'm reading along -- and I'm wondering: well, is this the fault of the X3? I mean, it's predominantly a review of the product and only tangentially (sp?) a review of the *process*. But if the old beans are part of the process -- then what am I supposed to read into this regarding the product?
Anyway -- you know what I'm saying.
BTW -- testing it with Black Cat Blend is a *great* idea. It's easily obtainable, guaranteed fresh when it arrives on your doorstep, and is available to everyone. So it pretty much levels the playing field -- at least as far as beans are concerned. (It's also -- much to my surprise -- on sale at Intelligentsia mail-order -- and a pretty good deal. I don't work for Intellgentsia, but I dig Black Cat -- and I especially dig their new digs in the Monodnack -- but I digress. Don't mean to shill for Intelligentsia. Just really dig their stuff.)
What I personally would like to see in each detailed review is a detailed -- lots of photographs, maybe video -- 'Black Cat pull' from start to finish. In fact, I'd love to see a Black Cat shootout -- three or four or five of the best machines from the low-end to the high -- and then shots pulled from each.
Just a short update. It's been a busy day for me (busy few days actually) as I prepare to head for the east coast for a week, but I was able to speak to Geoff Watts at Intelligentsia today, and Geoff graciously agreed to be the official CoffeeGeek Detailed Review Gobs of Coffee supplier. Starting once I get back to Vancouver, Intelligentsia Coffee will be sending 2lbs of Black Cat every week, and 24 pods (they make black cat in pods!) every two weeks, for the specific use in the First Looks and Detailed Reviews I do. Very generous of them, and a good step to "standardizing" the coffee I use in products.
We'll see how it goes for a few months, but I'm hoping 8lbs a month is enough - I'm worried about being greedy. Also, they're sending some special coffees for me and Aaron to cup in a few weeks, and it looks like I may be able to pick the non-espresso blend coffee I'll need to test with, from time to time, from that batch.
A big thanks and a shoutout to Geoff and Intelligentsia.
Awsome review as always, but one small thing. You stated in the introduction that the X5 was FF's buget machine, when actually the X3 is the buget machine according to FF. Just thought you might want to know.
Great review, thanks for all the effort to get us the facts, it really means a lot. I've actually read the review three times. It's great to know what things are critical on any machine. I love the details.
How about one for the Silvia? It's the machine I'd most like to hear what you have to say about.
dbk Senior Member Joined: 21 Feb 2004 Posts: 1 Location: New York Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Francis x1 Grinder: krupps
Posted Sat Feb 21, 2004, 9:16pm Subject: Re: Francis! Francis! X3 Detailed Review
I just made my first pitcher of microfoamed milk. The tip about the tip was crucial. I twisted the nozzle so the hole faced me and I was able to "surf" the milk beautifully. I only wish I knew about this it months ago when I first unwrapped my Francis Francis X1.
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