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Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
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coffeeapostle
Senior Member
coffeeapostle
Joined: 5 Feb 2013
Posts: 18
Location: UK
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Bialetti Brikka 2 cup
Grinder: Krupps GVX231
Posted Tue Feb 5, 2013, 8:25pm
Subject: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

Hey everyone,



I'm new to this forum and this is my first post, so I'd like to try and make it as useful and informative as possible.

A few months ago I came across an ingenious and ramshackle-looking device on the internet, after searching endlessly for a way to make proper espresso without spending thousands on an espresso machine. It's now my one and only espresso making tool, and it's known as the Bialetti Brikka. I've come across countless videos, discussions and blog articles for this device, but none of them I've seen so far really seem to give you the 100%, exhaustive, no-stone-unturned low-down on how to get proper, professional results with it. Now, I know this isn't a professional device, but the results I've finally managed to get with it, after months of experimentation and practise in the kitchen, I would say are without doubt comparable to professional espressos (at least where I live anyway), and I'm really getting some impressively complex yet smooth flavours. In fact, they are the best espressos I've drunk so far in my life, though to be fair I haven't done a lot of travelling... and the UK isn't exactly the best place to be for sampling coffee. But at the end of the day, compared with espresso from the top cafés in the world, a cup of Esmerelda or even Kopi Luwak (if you're really hardcore), yes, it will probably be left in the dust. But we're not expecting world class or award-winning coffee from a £40 moka pot. We're just expecting what it says on the tin - "an authentic espresso with crema just like one from the Italian bar." Well, it was invented in Italy, where Maserati, Georgio Armani and pizza come from. So before you've even bought the thing you can at least afford yourself some hope (although remember that Fiat also came from here).

So without any further adue, here's my review of the Bialetti Brikka, and how I've managed to achieve that elusive crema:


When I got the Brikka out of the box, the first thing I did was clean it and brew a few throw-away cups with it, using cheap Tesco Value ground coffee. This is really just to get rid of the taste of the aluminium, and to "bed it in". For what it's worth, the first espresso I ever made with the Brikka had no crema and was utterly undrinkable.

For the next couple of months I was desperately trying to achieve a nice thick crema, like the one you see in this YouTube video (posted by a guy who unfortunately doesn't reply to anyone's questions):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni8oMwxcmR4

At this time I was using a Grunwerg manual conical burr grinder to grind my coffee, and filling the water tank to the marked level. I was grinding my beans, which were sourced either from Whittard or illy, on a fairly fine setting. I experimented with many grind settings, but contrary to what most people out there said I found coarser grinds yielded no real qualities espresso should have - strength, complexity, and of course crema. I believe this is due to the exact same reason you don't use coarse coffee in an espresso machine, though the scale is obviously a lot smaller but nonetheless entirely relevant. Coarse grounds allow the water to pass through a lot quicker, and don't release much of the flavour, or the oils which produce the crema. Too fine a grind, however, and the water will take too long to pass through the grounds (as finer grinds bind together a lot more), causing the coffee to burn and be very bitter. In my experience, at the pointy end of espresso quality, I've found you can gauge the correct grind setting by the colour of the crema. Too dark and it's usually bitter, too light and it's usually weak.

Anyway, back to the Brikka. Despite playing around with the grind settings and following the advice of people who bothered to reply on their YouTube videos, I still wasn't able to get a thick head of long lasting crema. That was until I upgraded my grinder and bought myself a Krupps GVX231 electric burr grinder. Now, I'm 100% convinced there are much, MUCH better coffee grinders out there, but considering I'm spending £40 on a moka pot, it seems ridiculous to go spending £400, say, on a grinder. It's remarkable how much you can get for £40 these days though, and I'd say Krupps have done a fine job here. The results I've gotten with it have proven to be very consistent, and the coffee comes out in uniformly sized grounds. It goes down to a very fine setting, but I've found the optimal grind setting for the Brikka is 2 clicks from the finest.

One piece of advice I did follow, though, was to fill the water tank to below the marked level, with 58g of water (well, I use 60g for good measure). This particular guy also said to use 16g of coffee, and I now use an electric scale to accurately measure these quantities. His video is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCUEPFZhxEg

Combining a fine grind setting, these quantities of water and coffee, and a little more patience and caffeine, and I was finally getting that decent amounts of crema, along with complex, full-bodied, smooth flavours. Honey, caramel and chocolate to name the ones I can detect. But the most predominant flavour was espresso, yes espresso - that stuff you're supposed to be able to enjoy, not endure!

So, before I finish off here's a more in-depth set of instructions for anyone who's wondering exactly how I get these results with the Brikka, along with a few added extras:



I grind my coffee beans just before use, on a fine setting with a Krupps electric burr grinder (2 clicks from the finest setting). The beans I use are locally sourced, roasted no more than 3 days before purchase, and are custom blended from 3 different arabica varieties. I fill the water tank with 60g water, and fill the filter with 16g of coffee, feeding the grounds through a funnel to get rid of any clumps. I weigh the exact quantities of water and coffee using an electric scale. I then tap the filter on the work surface to get rid of any air pockets inside the coffee grounds, which also acts as a light tamp, helping to create an even build-up of pressure inside the system. I heat the pot on a very low flame, and it takes around 2 mins to produce the espresso. If all the above steps are followed carefully, there should only be a sudden burst of coffee from the valve. If there is a slow trickle of brown coffee before the burst, it means that some of the pressure is being lost, and that there is most likely a gap within the coffee grounds, creating an easy escape route for the water.

After months of experimentation and many hours in the kitchen, I personally found this to be the only way to get a nice thick crema, and a delicate balance of flavours. I sometimes use sparkling mineral water instead of the usual tap water, and find it produces a different consistency of crema and an interesting flavour. I store my coffee beans in the deep freeze, which I find keeps them incredibly fresh. The espressos I drink now are rich, sweet and super smooth, and are never the slightest bit bitter. Despite what many ill-informed coffee critics think, based on my own experience, I honestly believe there's no way I'd be able to match espresso of this quality without going to a top café or spending an obscene amount of money on a high-end espresso machine.

To look after the Brikka, I wash it only with hot water, and wipe it dry with a towel. To make sure it's 100% dry though, I put all the parts in the oven at 60 degrees for around 20 mins. This avoids limescale build up and corrosion. To keep it looking shiny and brand new, I scrub it with vinegar every few months. This won't actually affect the "taste" of the aluminium. You can also dismantle the entire thing using an adjustable spanner if you want to clean every last millimetre of it.


This excerpt was taken from my YouTube video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeEindjT7TY


And if anyone's interested in sharing their own experiences with the Brikka (videos/ photos/ whatever), then you can head over to the Bialetti Brikka fan page I set up for this very reason. It'd be cool to get a little community going there:

Click Here (www.facebook.com)


And if you prefer Twitter:

http://www.twitter.com/bialettibrikka


--------------------


I hope I've provided enough information for everyone to be on their way, but please don't hesitate to drop me a reply if you're still not able to produce decent results.



Ciao,

Reuben

 
One man's meat is another man's poison.
~Lucretius
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Owl
Senior Member


Joined: 30 May 2011
Posts: 37
Location: US

Posted Tue Feb 5, 2013, 9:24pm
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

You have a lot of reading to do: Confessions of a Brikka Lover
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coffeeapostle
Senior Member
coffeeapostle
Joined: 5 Feb 2013
Posts: 18
Location: UK
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Bialetti Brikka 2 cup
Grinder: Krupps GVX231
Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 8:32am
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

Yeah, I read some of that...

Great thread :)

 
One man's meat is another man's poison.
~Lucretius
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CoffeeRoastersClub
Senior Member
CoffeeRoastersClub
Joined: 6 Jul 2005
Posts: 4,455
Location: Connecticut
Expertise: Professional

Espresso: Vintage La Pavoni Lever...
Grinder: Breville Smartgrind,...
Vac Pot: Vintage Silex, Nicro...
Drip: Technivorm Moccamaster...
Roaster: javaPRO-CRC AIR Fluid Bed...
Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 9:22am
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

I have a brikka (4 cup model) and have been using it for years.  I consider it an improvement over a regular moka pot, however it really does not make crema in the actual meaning of the word.  The resulting crema like layer you see is really microfoam, maybe also consisting of some components that crema does have.   You will really only get real crema from an espresso machine due to the method of extraction and high pressure of hot water going through the grounds.

Len

 
"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

www.CoffeeRoastersClub.com     www.javaPRO-CRC.com     www.KaffeeFrisch.com
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Owl
Senior Member


Joined: 30 May 2011
Posts: 37
Location: US

Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 11:03am
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

CoffeeRoastersClub Said:

I have a brikka (4 cup model) and have been using it for years.  I consider it an improvement over a regular moka pot, however it really does not make crema in the actual meaning of the word.  The resulting crema like layer you see is really microfoam, maybe also consisting of some components that crema does have.   You will really only get real crema from an espresso machine due to the method of extraction and high pressure of hot water going through the grounds.

Len

Posted February 6, 2013 link

I agree here. I don't think the Brikka reaches the level of carmelization that you get with a proper espresso machine. It does make a good cup, for this kind of method.
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Coffeenoobie
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Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,014
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 11:48am
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

Good post.  I can't wait to see what you can do with a real espresso machine.

 
Coffeenoobie

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

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Click Here (maps.google.com)

Oscar trick out: http://s156.photobucket.com/user/GandBteam/story/14231
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coffeeapostle
Senior Member
coffeeapostle
Joined: 5 Feb 2013
Posts: 18
Location: UK
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Bialetti Brikka 2 cup
Grinder: Krupps GVX231
Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 12:06pm
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

Haha, it's ironic that I probably don't rank that highly when it comes to espresso machines!

That said, I have worked in a café and like to think I began to get the hang of things pretty well...

But at the end of the day, I recognise there's a pretty large distance between making amazing coffee with a Brikka, and becoming a pro with a machine.

 
One man's meat is another man's poison.
~Lucretius
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Owl
Senior Member


Joined: 30 May 2011
Posts: 37
Location: US

Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 12:09pm
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

coffeeapostle Said:

Haha, it's ironic that I probably don't rank that highly when it comes to espresso machines!

That said, I have worked in a café and like to think I began to get the hang of things pretty well...

But at the end of the day, I recognise there's a pretty large distance between making amazing coffee with a Brikka, and becoming a pro with a machine.

Posted February 6, 2013 link

Remember, we're hardcore here. ;)

Don't take things personally.
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coffeeapostle
Senior Member
coffeeapostle
Joined: 5 Feb 2013
Posts: 18
Location: UK
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Bialetti Brikka 2 cup
Grinder: Krupps GVX231
Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 12:13pm
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

Owl Said:

I agree here. I don't think the Brikka reaches the level of carmelization that you get with a proper espresso machine. It does make a good cup, for this kind of method.

Posted February 6, 2013 link

I would have agreed with you here a couple of months ago for sure.

But have a look at the video I posted on YouTube, and see how it compares to crema from a machine. The crema I get now settles at between 10-20mm, and never disappears during the time it takes me to drink it. It even stays there at the very bottom of the cup, as I take my last sip.

But I really don't think crema is everything. It may be the sign of a well-extracted espresso, but I don't believe it should be the one and only focus with coffee-making.

 
One man's meat is another man's poison.
~Lucretius
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coffeeapostle
Senior Member
coffeeapostle
Joined: 5 Feb 2013
Posts: 18
Location: UK
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Bialetti Brikka 2 cup
Grinder: Krupps GVX231
Posted Wed Feb 6, 2013, 12:24pm
Subject: Re: Bialetti Brikka: getting that elusive crema
 

Owl Said:

Remember, we're hardcore here. ;)

Don't take things personally.

Posted February 6, 2013 link

Did I take something personally...?

On the subject of machines, I think that being able to play around with pressure profiles is something I'd want. That being said, I believe these facilities aren't available unless you get a Marzocco or Slayer, or just get yourself a laboratory. I know Marzocco do the GS-3, and that there's a mod available for it that makes it "pressure profilable", but it's still a helluva lot of money for a guy like me. Coffee is a hobby, not my life.

For pressure profiling without spending an *obscene* amount, I believe this is perhaps what I'll be getting in the near future - http://www.portaspresso.com/

I like the idea of being able to travel with my coffee too.

 
One man's meat is another man's poison.
~Lucretius
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