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Yet another newbie experience
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 654
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Fri Jul 20, 2012, 10:35pm
Subject: Yet another newbie experience
 

Well, here's another one of these threads. I'm going to apologize for the length of this post, but I thought I'd like to share my experiences with all of you.

So, I've been saving my pennies for an espresso machine and a grinder for a while. After lurking on these forums for a while, I was convinced that I didn't want a machine "With compromises". No sir, no SBDU machines for me! I was only going to consider a HX or DB machine. I knew I had to save my pennies, these things weren't cheap! I was pretty much intent on getting my hands on either a Breville BES900XL or a La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi. Then my wife mentioned to me, "When you are learning how to play a violin, do you go out and buy a Stradivarius right away?" .. She had a very good point and that made me rethink things a little.

So, I decided to start trudging through Kijiji and see if I could find a used machine. Strangely enough, at the time all that was in Kijiji were either 4 group commercial machines, $2500+ machines or steamtoys.

I finally found a Rancilio Silvia and Rocky selling for $800. The owners bought it about six months ago and only made about 30-40 drinks with it. (At least according to them anyway.) I got them down to $700 because it was missing the single shot basket and the backflushing disk, both of which I picked up relatively inexpensively from the Capuccino King. Considering that a Rocky/Silvia combo sells for roughly around $1200 new here, I thought it wasn't a bad deal. I'd only get six months of
warranty instead of the full year and if I decided that I didn't want to peruse this anymore, I wouldn't be blowing four months of pay on a machine I would rarely use.

About a month earlier, I had walked into the Capuccino King about half an hour before their closing time and kept the poor lady there busy answering question after question for about an hour past their closing time, then I left without buying anything. As you can imagine, This was before I started perusing these forums and of course, I was hit with "Sticker Shock". It was kind of like walking into a Lamborghini Dealership expecting to pay Yugo prices.

So, today, I thought I'd compensate them for the time I cost them and buy all of those little accessories which go with an espresso machine. A nice solid tamper, 20 oz frothing pitcher, two shot glasses, a thermometer, a chocolate powder shaker, a knockbox, a bottle of espresso machine cleaner, etc. The only thing I was missing was a tamping stand and a grouphead brush. (The previous owners of the machines mentioned to me that a toothbrush works well for this.)

Anyway, $165 and a jug of 2% milk later and I was off to the races!

I let the machine warm up for about 30 minutes, checked the setting on the Rocky, it was set to about 11.. Ground up a small "mountain" of coffee in the portafilter, then shaking it to even it out. Then taaaaamp.. I don't know how much force 30 lbs is, so I just gave 'er and squished that coffee down hard. Locked in the portafilter and flipped the brew switch. (I wanted to focus on dialing in the machine, no temperature surfing yet!)

What I got was a bunch of "Holy crap!". Two shot glasses filled in about 8 seconds. Barely any crema and they tasted like really nasty well... I don't know how to describe it. Sour may be one word I would have used. It was as if a thousand
Bunn coffee machines in run down gas stations across all of the US with two week old coffee in their carafes were boiled down and concentrated into that little shot glass.

So, my thoughts were... maybe I didn't tamp hard enough? Maybe I didn't grind fine enough? So, I figured I'd lower the Rocky down to 9 and tamp harder. It would be easier to choke the machine, then back off, right?

When I knocked out the puck, it looked kind of soggy and watery, almost soupy. I knew that wasn't right.

So, I ground out a small mountain of coffee again, shook the portafilter and tamped again, this time I would GIVE 'ER on the tamp!

Locked in the portafilter, Pushed the brew switch in and hoped.... This time, the shot came out a teeny little slower this time, but it was still too fast. Both of the shot glasses filled in about 11 seconds this time. There still barely any
crema, but there was more than last time. It still tasted like run down two-week old gas station coffee.

OK, so I knew I was getting there... So, I set the Rocky down to about 5, knock out the wet soggy puck (It wasn't soupy this time), rinse, flush, clean, scrub... grind and tamp again.

Pushed the brew switch again. Imaging my dismay when the shot came out at 11 seconds... Still too fast. At this point in time, I'm a little WTF... so, wash, rinse, repeat, but this time, set the Rocky at 3.. I'm a little worried now because
I'm wondering if the burrs are touching. The Rocky wasn't making any nasty noises when I turned it on, so that was a good sign.

This time, I nearly stood ontop of the tamper, I was tempted to get a hammer out of the garage and use the tamper like a big nail... No WAY I'm not tamping hard enough and the stuff coming out of the grinder is fine powder!

Clean, scrub, rinse, flush, Grind, shake and tamp again. This time, my wife is wondering why I just drank six shots of espresso... I didn't, they were all sink shots I told her. Here we go again.. Flip the brew switch and.................

13 SECOND SHOT!!! Barely any crema!!!! Of course, this doesn't matter now because the drip tray is overflowing. I was so focused on doing the shot that I didn't realize that the entire kitchen counter is now covered in water.
I didn't realize how shallow the tray is. A scream of frustration comes from my wife and out comes the shamwow. It didn't help either that now I'm trying to pull out a very overflowing drip tray out of the machine. Sure enough, it spills onto the floor and now my wife is really mad at me because I'm leaving coffee grounds and water everywhere!

At this point in time, I'm convinced that she's going to alter the functionality of the Rocky and the Silvia to "Non Functional" and "It's going to the E-Cycler tomorrow." .. but fortunately, she knows that it's only water and it will dry up.

So, At this point in time, I'm getting a little frustrated... I'm tamping like hell, I'm using coffee which is being ground so finely you could mistake it for burnt icing sugar. (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.)

I'm about ready to give up and call it a night, but I notice that there are barely any coffee beans left in the Rocky. So, I grind the rest of the beans in the hopper, but find that I don't have enough to fill the basket.
So, I toss the coffee into the sink and rinse the portafilter out.

I'm >< This close now to flipping off the switch and calling it a night, but my curiousity got the best of me and I wondered, "Will it matter with these new beans? Who knows how old these other beans were."

Fortunately, While I was at the Capuccino King, I decided I'd buy a bag of their house blend, just to make sure that I had fresh beans once I ran out. So, I filled up the Rocky with the new beans.

I set the grind setting at 5, tamped 'er like hell, locked in the portafilter. Turned on the brew switch..... 15 seconds.. nothing. 30 seconds... nothing.... 45 seconds... nothing... Maybe something is wrong? I expect the pump is going
to overheat and blow up at this point in time and I'm starting to get worried... Finally, after one minute I turn the machine off.. I get maybe... well... three drops of coffee out of the portafilter..

Finally, a choker. Suddenly I realized the importance of having fresh beans in the hopper. Who thought that stale beans could make all the difference?

Unlocking it, I notice the puck is very dry. So, I reset the grind setting at about 8 this time, tamp normally instead of insanely and try to pull a shot. This time, I manage to pull about half a shot glass in about 45 seconds.. Well, I know
I'm getting closer, but I know I'm not quite there yet. It's still kind of a choker.

Wash, rinse, repeat... Set the grind setting at about 12 this time with normal tamping. Finally, I get a good 23 second shot.. the coffee is up to the line and the crema is up to the rim of the shot glass. OMG..

I take a sip from one of the shot glasses. Do you remember when stereos had a "Loudness" switch? Well, this is what it was like.. Suddenly the espresso had flavors that the other four attempts didn't have. As I tasted it,
I noticed that it tasted almost exactly like the shot I had from the Slayer espresso machine located at the local farmers market, so I knew I did something right... and maybe I was as lucky as hell that I didn't pull the shot
at either end of the boiler cycle. (When I write this, I feel like I'm that teenager who claims that his $25 earbuds sound just as good as those $200,000 audiophile grade speakers...)

Finally.. Two shot glasses of good espresso. I get out the frothing pitcher and add about 1/3rd of a pitcher of 2% milk. I flip the steam switch, point the steam wand in the drip tray (After emptying it) and crank the knob.
First, nothing... Then it starts hissing... then it starts spitting and hissing... Finally, the stream of hot water transforms into an angry bellowing blast of steam.

Unfortunately, I thought I could just slip the pitcher underneath the wand easily, but not quite.. I kind of have to angle it in, then slip it under the wand... So, I turn the knob and build up the foam on the milk, first down deep,
then draw upwards slowly, then to the top where I can hear a difference in the steam blasting. As soon as I start to see large bubbles appear, I dip the wand back down below to build up the foam.

Then, as the thermometer starts slowly climbing up, the milk builds more and more... until I find out that I put too much milk in the pitcher and it starts to overflow out of the pitcher, damnit! I quickly turn the steam knob off,
carefully remove the pitcher from the steam wand, dump the espresso shots into my favorite large cappuccuno style mug, then follow it with the hot milk. I'm not going to try any latte art right now, I just want to make this drink!

What can I say... bliss. That first sip, it was like a cappuccino every bit as good as the ones I had in the coffee shops in San Francisco. (But with one heck of a lot more froth... ooops!) I didn't have to spoon the foam out, there was
so much of it, it just filled up the cup. Someone once said, a good cappuccino is poured, not spooned. (I've always seen them spoon foam in the cafes.)

So, $865, an hour later, a somewhat pissed off wife and a messy kitchen, I finally produced my very first cappuccino all by myself. What a learning experience!

I can see why so many people complain about the really shallow drip tray. I'd be tempted to drill a hole in it and siphon it off to a large water bottle or something.

I have to admit, it's been a very steep learning curve to get to this point, but I'm glad that all of that work paid off. I hope that next time, I can prepare a cappuccino in less than 15 minutes. :-)

I guess in retrospect, I should have thrown out the beans which came with the grinder right away and started with fresh ones, it would have made it a lot easier to dial in the machine.

Well, now I just have to make myself 215 more cappuccinos to break even on this machine!!! :-) I guess the next step is for me to post a youtube video of my "Technique" so that everyone can tell me how much it sucks. :-)

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 654
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Fri Jul 20, 2012, 10:39pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

Here is a picture of the first good espresso I made. Yes, I realize that there's more in one cup than the other, my tamping still needs work. That crema almost looks like it's an inch thick...

qualin: SHOTS.jpg
(Click for larger image)

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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atarinaper
Senior Member


Joined: 26 Dec 2009
Posts: 27
Location: San Jose, CA
Expertise: Professional

Espresso: LM Strada MP
Vac Pot: nope
Drip: Able Kones, Chemex, Fetco
Roaster: nope
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 5:02pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

First things first, tamping harder is not going to make your shot pull any slower, it's going to take around 100-115lbs of force to get the shot to change much.

Use a scale when dialing in, it will help tremendously in making sure that your dose is accurate every time.

I like to keep things the same when dialing in at work. I only change one thing at a time to change my shot. You have 3 factors that you are controlling when brewing coffee:
  1. dose
  2. grind
  3. temperature of water

Home-barista has an excellent thread on dialing in here that I suggest you read:

Click Here (www.home-barista.com)

Also, fresh beans are a must, I like my espresso to be around 5-8 days off roast.
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CMIN
Senior Member


Joined: 14 Jun 2012
Posts: 1,375
Location: South FL
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Crossland CC1
Grinder: Baratza Preciso
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 6:16pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

Another thing, the Silvia is honestly a pain in the arse and finicky to use without a PID. You'll have to learn temp surfing with it without a PID. Search on here or home barista, and you'll find tons of post to learn about temp stability with the Silvia and how to temp surf with it.
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calblacksmith
Moderator
calblacksmith
Joined: 25 Nov 2007
Posts: 7,772
Location: Riverside, Ca, U.S.A.
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: ECM Vene. A1, La Cimbali M32
Grinder: Azkoyen Capriccio, Major
Vac Pot: 40s era Silex
Drip: Msl. Com. brewers
Roaster: gave it a try, decided no
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 6:35pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

Really the first things first...
Welcome to fresh, home espresso!

It is true, you can NOT make good espresso with old beans, nope, ain't gonna happen!

Had to laugh at the story, I could see myself doing all the same things!

Like what was said above, a scale that reads into 1/10 g (1 g isn't ideal but will help a lot more than no scale at all) will really help, consistency is the key after you have fresh coffee. The same size dose goes a long way to dialing in the grinder.

A small point of difference with your wife though, a HX or DB machine is much easier to make shot with than Sylvia (yes I own both and can say without a doubt this is true). Sylvia can turn out a very nice shot though, just with a bit more hassle that's all.

It won't be long before the upgrade bug bites, I think I will give you 6 months before both the grinder and machine show up on the for sale board, esp because you like milk drinks and they are SOOOOOOOOOO much nicer to make on a HX or DB machine (yes I like both milk drinks and straight shots too!)

 
In real life, my name is
Wayne P.
Anything I post is personal opinion and is only worth as much as anyone else's personal opinion. YMMV!

Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
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Coffeenoobie
Senior Member
Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,030
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 10:32pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

Great job! And I have to say, I guessed you were having bean issues early in the story.  I guess I am getting better.

 
Coffeenoobie

Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.

My coffee treasure map...
Click Here (maps.google.com)

Oscar trick out: http://s156.photobucket.com/user/GandBteam/story/14231
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 654
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 11:25pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

atarinaper Said:

First things first, tamping harder is not going to make your shot pull any slower, it's going to take around 100-115lbs of force to get the shot to change much.

Posted July 21, 2012 link

I think I would have to be Arnold Shwartzenegger to tamp that hard.  "I'm going to tamp dis potta filta now.... AAAARRRRGHARGARHARGHARGH..."   .... :-)

atarinaper Said:

Use a scale when dialing in, it will help tremendously in making sure that your dose is accurate every time.

Posted July 21, 2012 link

What is the best way to measure the dose? should I pop out the portafilter basket, tare it on the scale, then grind into the basket, then pop it back into the portafilter?
It seems to me that the Rocky is set up in such a way where it was meant to grind directly straight into the portafilter.

atarinaper Said:

dose

Posted July 21, 2012 link

If I'm seeing the hex bolt embedded in the puck, does that mean that my dose is too big?

I'll admit, The temperature surfing aspect doesn't look too hard to do. I'll have to play with this. Sometimes I feel that pulling shots with this machine is like a box
of chocolates, you'll never know what you're going to get! :-)

atarinaper Said:

Home-barista has an excellent thread on dialing in here

Posted July 21, 2012 link

Thanks for the link. I guess this is something I'll have to mess with. It sounds a little tricky.

atarinaper Said:

Also, fresh beans are a must, I like my espresso to be around 5-8 days off roast.

Posted July 21, 2012 link

Ahh.. Well, I've learned my lesson, when I can't dial in the shot anymore, the beans have had it.

Now, it makes me curious, if I can't pull a shot with stale beans, should I just grind them up for drip coffee and leave it at that?

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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qualin
Senior Member
qualin
Joined: 30 Jun 2012
Posts: 654
Location: Calgary, AB
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3
Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A
Vac Pot: Looking to buy
Drip: Manual
Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 11:36pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

calblacksmith Said:

Had to laugh at the story, I could see myself doing all the same things!

Posted July 21, 2012 link

I'm glad the story made you laugh. I'm quite happy to share my experiences on this board, maybe others will learn from it!

calblacksmith Said:

a HX or DB machine is much easier to make shot with than Sylvia

Posted July 21, 2012 link

I can certainly say that after using this machine for a bit, I can see why. Especially when it comes between switching between brewing and steaming.
One of the reasons why my wife is putting up with this, is because the Silvia doesn't use too much counter space. When she saw a Breville BES900XL,
she thought it was a space hog. Perhaps I'll get her used to this, then "Sneak" a bigger machine in later when upgradeitis hits. :-)

calblacksmith Said:

I think I will give you 6 months before both the grinder and machine show up on the for sale board,

Posted July 21, 2012 link

Heh. I think that it's nice to know that these machines don't really depreciate in value all that much. I've made the investment, it only gets better from here!

Drinking straight shots is going to take some getting used to, it's certainly an acquired taste. It's like listening to classical music while the $ex Pistols is blasting
at 100 decibels in the next room. Coming from the world of drip coffee, it certainly is a massive punch in the face!

 
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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NobbyR
Senior Member
NobbyR
Joined: 10 Jul 2011
Posts: 2,044
Location: Germany
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Poccino Opus One, Ariete
Grinder: Eureka Mignon Istantaneo
Vac Pot: N/A
Drip: Melitta Linea Unica de Luxe
Roaster: N/A
Posted Sat Jul 21, 2012, 11:58pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

qualin Said:

What is the best way to measure the dose? should I pop out the portafilter basket, tare it on the scale, then grind into the basket, then pop it back into the portafilter?
It seems to me that the Rocky is set up in such a way where it was meant to grind directly straight into the portafilter.

Posted July 21, 2012 link

That's one way of doing it, even though the Rocky was designed to grind into the portafilter. It helps to remove the spring that holds the filter basket in place. That way you can easily replace the filter.

qualin Said:

I'm seeing the hex bolt embedded in the puck, does that mean that my dose is too big?

Posted July 21, 2012 link

The shower screen should leave no mark on the puck, exept for the screw in the middle. If it does, you'd be dosing too high for the basket.

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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calblacksmith
Moderator
calblacksmith
Joined: 25 Nov 2007
Posts: 7,772
Location: Riverside, Ca, U.S.A.
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: ECM Vene. A1, La Cimbali M32
Grinder: Azkoyen Capriccio, Major
Vac Pot: 40s era Silex
Drip: Msl. Com. brewers
Roaster: gave it a try, decided no
Posted Sun Jul 22, 2012, 12:11pm
Subject: Re: Yet another newbie experience
 

:D
You did buy equipment that holds it's value well so you should not be hurt when it comes to selling.

Straight shots really can take a little to adjust to but once you do.... :D :D :D :D

Room on the counter? Who needs to make anything other than coffee?????

At first, you will try to save stale beans, after all, you spent good money for them. And yes, for other brewing methods I personally find that I can get a little more time from the beans than for espresso but it will not be long before you can taste a huge difference between fresh and stale coffee in other methods as well, the beans then become mulch for your plants.

I buy in 5# bags to cut down on the cost and I break the large bag down into smaller bags of about 3/4 pound each. Then I remove as much air as is reasonably possible to do with a zip top bag, place in the coldest part of your freezer and I have found no real loss in quality. Only open one bag at a time and then ONLY after it has come to room temp before you open the bag. This way, you will not get any water condensing on the beans as they warm up. Do not refreeze them either, just open and use enough for a few days at a time.

What Nobby said will work. I use a scale to check my doses before brewing even though my grinder weighs each porta filters worth each time. I have a scale that has enough ability to weigh the PF also so I just leave the whole assembly together and tare the scale to the empty PF, then grind, dose and check on the scale, which now will only show how much coffee is in the PF. Until you get the hang of what the proper dose of grounds is for your setup, grind just a little more than you think you need, use the scale and if you need to adjust the dose, you can either add or remove from the basket until your dose is correct.

Tamping is the least important part of the whole process, just be consistent and your exact pressure is not of a great concern. The tamp is just to remove any air spaces in the coffee bed and to make the whole bed of coffee as consistent as possible for the water to flow evenly through, it is not to adjust the time of your shots. As said above, the pressure of your machine when brewing is about 140# so you will have a hard time by hand of getting near this for your tamp.

Welcome to the geek side of coffee.... and I am sorry for your wife in advance ;<P

 
In real life, my name is
Wayne P.
Anything I post is personal opinion and is only worth as much as anyone else's personal opinion. YMMV!

Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
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Rancilio Silvia - How to
Step by step guide for easy brewing and steaming with the Rancilio Silvia
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