DWard Senior Member Joined: 15 Feb 2012 Posts: 3 Location: Edmonton, AB - Canada Expertise: I like coffee
Posted Fri Feb 24, 2012, 4:01pm Subject: Espresso Machine, Grinder, Empty Bank, Upset wife ... great cup of coffee
When I was in Europe in the 1990s, I fell in love with two things: my wife and cappuccino. Luckily my wife flourishes here in Canada. Cappuccino? Not so much. It was impossible to find a good cappuccino here in Canada. In time my standards would fall and would I find myself consuming sugary lattes from Starbuck's and Second Cup. "Can I have a cream grande caramel macchiato, frothed for a lid?" Its funny how its not really a macchiato .. I suppose it wasn't just my standards that had fallen - the entire industry seemed to have lowered the bar. After all - if it doesn't taste right, just add more sugar - right?
Two years ago I started a low carb diet. It was a significant lifestyle change, and its been for the better. The sugar lattes had long since been removed from my diet - good old water had taken its place. I still missed my coffee however. Espresso and cappuccino are naturally low carb when they were served without sugar, but, (ironically) the only cappuccino I could buy tasted like charred kindling. A "proper" cappucccino didn't need sugar to taste great. In a lot of ways its like eating 99% Cocao chocolate: they only use sugar to hide its imperfections. Perfection was, unfortunately, very difficult to source for cappuccino. In time, I managed to find two coffee shops in my city that semi-consistently made a good cappuccino. I ended up having one whenever I could - usually once every month.
Last Christmas my friend gave me a Cuisinart Espresso machine; obviously picking up on my coffee affection. I was pleasantly surprised by the gift as this friend is the cheapest person I know .. and this gift was unusually expensive looking. It sat in a box for the longest time until I was at the store one day and saw the exact machine, with a $200 price tag. I assumed by the price, that it had to be a half-decent espresso machine, and the prospect of quality home espresso / cappuccino thrilled me. I was also totally floored that my friend would spend so much. I picked up a bag of intelligentsia espresso coffee beans and was ready to go .. just needed to find a good grinder.
I spent a day reading up on grinders. Common themes were "Don't cheap out", and "get a burr (preferrably conical burr) grinder". I suppose "cheaping out" is a relative term. In the stores I saw the $20 grinders .. $50 grinders .. but then I saw the $150 conical burr grinders. It was more than I wanted to spend - but I wanted that good cup of coffee! My choices were between a Breville and a Cuisinart. Since I had a Cuisinart espresso machine I ended up picking up the same brand - mostly because it specifically said espresso on it. I returned home and made my first home-made cappuccino. I was pleasantly surprised - it wasn't bad. It was way better than what I would get at those popular coffee places. Yes.... Alice had stumbled into the rabbit hole... and down down it went... I started doing a LOT of forum reading after this and was seriously bit by the espresso bug.
About six days after I started brewing, I started noticing a burning plastic smell followed by very light plumes of smoke. I immediately called my friend and asked if he could take it back under warranty / service. That's when he told me that it was a refurbished machine and he picked it up from a surplus store for $25 with no warranty (the 90 days Cuisinart reburbished warranty was already exhausted before sale). Wow. So there I was without an espresso machine .. and a really expensive grinder. I took the espresso machine apart and it was absolutely filthy inside. It clearly had not been cleaned internally when it was reburbished. I isolated the cause to be a ruptured pump head gasket/seal that had ended up spraying water onto the electrical components, causing one of the main wires to arc, bubble and burn. Clearly the machine was a write off.. but I had been bit .. I had this great grinder - I needed to get some good coffee flowing again. My wife too was noticeably upset at the machine's demise.
I continued my reading and found the MyPressi TWIST. I went to the local coffee shop and started chatting with one of the baristas about it. They had brought in a v1 the year before and he told me it was a phenomenal machine. Of high quality, it was capable of consistently pulling "decent" espresso shots. He filled me in on some problems they had with leaking gas canisters and heat stability issues - but quickly informed me that with the TWIST v2 those issues had been corrected. Well now I was really excited. I spent a few days sourcing and then I ordered a MyPressi TWIST v2. It arrived three days ago.
I was off work the next day, so I went to a local kitchen-type store and bought a Capresso Kettle ($70), Briki (Ibrik as some call them) ($40), a Bodum Latteo Milk Frother ($25) and a set of Bodum espresso cups ($15) (because they were cute). I also picked up a fresh bag of intelligentsia espresso coffee beans. I had spent $150 on "extras" plus another $180 on the MyPressi itself. My wife was a bit concerned about the money but that's okay .. we're good now ... we don't need anything else - we're all set.
I washed and cleaned all my equipment. I set the grinder to the finest setting and ground a bunch of coffee. I used the normal 53mm coffee basket that came with the MyPressi, I levelled ... put about 30lbs of pressure on my tamp .. preheated the water reservoir twice ... positioned the portafilter over two espresso cups .. and BOOM pulled the trigger. I started counting in my head, timing the shot while watching the colour. The shot sputtered a lot of clear caramel liquid .. and then the gas started hissing. Damn - out of water, and it took just over 5 seconds. I tried again .. tamped a bit harder .. got 8 seconds. Both shots tasted horrible and wound up down the drain but I didn't give up.
I switched to the pressurized basket (for coarser grinds) that came with the MyPressi. I washed the equipment, grinded, levelled, tamped, and pulled. I started counting as the coffee seeped out. Eighteen seconds. Tasted bitter/burnt but overall was WAY better than what we had done before. "Lets get that cappuccino made", I thought to myself. I had some cream in the Briki and it was hot to the touch. I empied the briki into the frother and started mashing away on it. Oh oh. I saw no microfoam. I saw no foam. Nothing. This clearly won't do. I tipped it over and poured it into the espresso. It tasted ok - but I needed a steam wand in order to make a proper cappuccino.
I went on the internet and started searching for milk frothers .. milk steamers ... steam wands. I found a lot of gadgets claiming to create microfoam, but the scathing user reviews that followed each one convinced me otherwise. Then, by chance, I happened to discover the Bellman Stovetop Steamer. Basically its a small pressure cooker with a steam wand and valve attached to it. I'm sure you have heard of it, but it was new to me and I liked it. I checked review sites - it was favorable. We had our winner, so I went ahead and ordered it in .. another $90 gone... I'll let this one slide by the wife for now.
I had ordered espresso shots a few times at the local cafe - I had one that was really good - the rest I sort of muscled through, focusing on what was good, trying to ignore the bitter / acidic properties. After all - I'm no coffee connoisseur - maybe that's how espresso was supposed to taste. In any case, without a steam wand, I would be drinking straight-up espresso shots.
I washed and prepped the MyPressi for an espresso shot. I pulled the trigger and started counting. Immediately I saw something that I did not see on the Cuisinart or on previous pulls: crema . . a lot of it! The shot finished at 25 seconds and at least half of it was crema. I sampled the espresso and it was so good I just drank it straight. The crema was amazing and the entire coffee just SUNG. Little did I know, that shot was a total fluke - and it would be the best shot I would pull for a long time. I tried for two days .. used up two pounds of espresso and a number of NO2 cartridges trying to get that shot - I just couldn't do it.
Through more reading, I began to understand the tamping process .. flow of water .. temperature .. all the good tidbits of knowledge to impart upon any aspiring home barista. I started reading articles that discussed troubleshooting the espresso shot. From everything I could tell, water was passing through my basket too quickly. One article that caught my eye was in regards to the naked portafilter technique. I threw the original basket back into the MyPressi, removing the bottom off the machine and exposing the "naked" basket. I pulled the shot and watched observantly. I saw no striping. I saw no single converging stream. Instead, I saw sputtering of water, coming from a single location on the basket, and "spritzing" from the sides. Something was clearly off. Over the previous few days it had become clear to me that my grinder was not sufficient, but now it was crystal clear.
I started looking into grinders. $400 .. $500 .. $600. My wife's face was tightening as I explained to her that the $150 grinder was not up to the "espresso" grade .. the grind was too coarse .. and I would need a better machine. As I started laying out our choices - she started laying out the long trail of espenses in the past month alone. She just obviously did not understand the importance of good equipment! So what if (in one month) I had spent half of our vacation budget .. the money would come and go but the coffee would last a lifetime :)
In the end there was no way she was going to let me buy a $400 grinder for a $200 espresso machine. I had spent close to $600 already .. and as she quickly pointed out .. that was a cappuccino every second day for a year. Since Europe I had wanted to get a manual lever espresso machine .. so she said that when I got one of those, she'd let me get the $400 automatic grinder. Shot down .. but I still didn't have my good cup of espresso yet. I went online and started looking at hand grinders. I found a fair number, and most of them were under $100. I managed to sell my wife on the hand grinder idea. I started doing my homework .. it seemed like I was looking for a higher end Zassenhaus .. it was around $100-$120. Then I started noticing reviews stating that the grind setting continually wobbled out of its setting and that it was slow. Through the reading on the forums I managed to see that the Pharos was getting some great reviews. I checked out the website and I really identified with the company's background, and the open community-involvement with its development and subsequent upgrading. I was sold. I persuaded my wife that we would eventually need a portable grinder to go with our portable espresso machine ... I also bribed her with a new outfit and exercise machine. <Grin> $700 later ($350 for the grinder, $350 for her bribe) ... the grinder was on order..
So here I am now. I have a MyPressi with an inferior grinder. I could cover up the "could be a lot better" espresso with some frothed milk - but alas I have no steam wand .. its still in transit and I should get it sometime next week. My grinder should arrive sometime the following week .. or maybe the week after.
So lets reflect. I've spent about $1300 on this entire ordeal. It is all the result of acquiring a $25 refurbished POS espresso machine. You know that saying? The one about hindsight being 20/20? I suppose with $1300 I could have bought quite a nice grinder / espresso setup. Oh well - I've learned so much and I got a feeling I've only scratched the surface on what I know .. and what kind of coffees I am going to be making. Hopefully, going forward, what I have now will suffice and I won't have to replace or otherwise spend more money on equipment... at least I hope so ... my hindsight is clearly not 20/20.
Thanks for hearing my story .. its time for me to leave this coffee shop and head home ...
Posted Sat Feb 25, 2012, 8:12am Subject: Re: Espresso Machine, Grinder, Empty Bank, Upset wife ... great cup of coffee
Even though you spent $1300 on the ordeal, look at it this way: You now know what the innards of an espresso machine look like and you now know how to take one apart and put it back together.
Experience is priceless.
"Coffee leads men to trifle away their time, scald their chops, and spend their money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking nauseous puddle water." ~The Women's Petition Against Coffee, 1674
That and also very very (emphasis very) expensive.
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night ------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------ I am Taiwanese.
yiplong Senior Member Joined: 19 Feb 2012 Posts: 80 Location: EU Expertise: Just starting
Posted Mon Feb 27, 2012, 2:04pm Subject: Re: Espresso Machine, Grinder, Empty Bank, Upset wife ... great cup of coffee
You have spent $1300, but that money isn't wasted. You have your machine, your grind and your wife has her outfit and exercise machine. The only thing wasted apparently is that cheaper grinder which you can sell or use for other brewing methods.
Coffeenoobie Senior Member Joined: 11 Dec 2011 Posts: 3,063 Location: PNW Expertise: I like coffee
Espresso: N S Oscar Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Thu Mar 1, 2012, 12:46pm Subject: Re: Espresso Machine, Grinder, Empty Bank, Upset wife ... great cup of coffee
I did the same thing you did with a craigs list $20 dollar krupps steam toy that I could make really good microfoam on. Then I started reading... and realized that my steam toy was never going to make crema no matter what I did. Then I was down the rabbit hole.
Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.
Posted Thu Mar 1, 2012, 5:28pm Subject: Re: Espresso Machine, Grinder, Empty Bank, Upset wife ... great cup of coffee
My journey began with a free gaggia steam powered machine (fantastico) that a co-worker was getting rid of. I started googling to figure out how to use it. Learned that my whirlyblade grinder wouldn't cut it so picked up a cuisineart burr grinder - modified it for very fine grind. Learned that steam power wouldn't cut it so I bought a Briel with pressurized baskets. Learned that cuisineart grinder wouldn't cut it and that pressurized baskets were bad. Learned I needed fresher roasts than I was finding so I bought a roaster and some green coffee - long learning curve Bought a Gaggia Carreza and a 64mm burr grinder ... decided I wanted a 3-way and OPV so got a classic ... got a Mazzer major ... and on and on it goes.
Sometimes I look at the Mazzer Major on my counter and think back to how easy it used to be to buy a can of Trader Joes whole bean and making coffee with my braun drip (with swiss gold filter) and whirly blade. If you had told me then that I would ever pay this much for a huge grinder to make coffee I would have rolled my eyes and thought you were nuts.
Dodge1 Senior Member Joined: 21 Dec 2002 Posts: 208 Location: Omaha Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: GS/3 Grinder: K30 Vario WBC & K10 WBC
Posted Fri Mar 2, 2012, 2:50am Subject: Re: Espresso Machine, Grinder, Empty Bank, Upset wife ... great cup of coffee
About 5 years ago I started down the brew your own espresso at home and save some money path. I did the math and figured that I could save about 2 grand a year but then I started to upgrade and now own the equivalent of a new small car worth of espresso gear. Then there are the coffee beans which I spend ~ $20 a pound for and when I do the math, I now figure that if I just keep everything “as is” I should be able to recoup my investment in about 4 and half years.
Note: those calculations are based on purchasing 2 espressos a day from our local espresso hut.
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