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Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
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ajellyb
Senior Member


Joined: 5 Oct 2012
Posts: 11
Location: Fremont, CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 10:55am
Subject: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

Hi all,

First post here. I'm just newly getting into espresso, and am learning a lot from you all. I just got my first espresso machine and grinder. Due to budget limitations my purchases were:

- Via Venezia espresso machine
- Bodum Bistro grinder

I'm aware of the fact that neither are top-of-the-line. Also that the Venezia uses a pressurized portafilter. Unfortunately I couldn't splurge and invest more in either apparatus, but for someone new just learning to enjoy espresso it seems to be doing the trick.

My issue is (not surprisingly, I suppose) that I'm having huge problems getting a consistent shot. I'm using good beens from intelligentsiacoffee. Grinding them fresh before pulling a shot. It seems like 85% of everything coming out of the machine has a flavor that toes the line of sourness.  Sometimes it tastes really sour, other times there's just a hint of it.

A couple things I've noticed:
- The crema always has lighter patches where the drip went in. I've read that's from overextracting, but I get light spots even when I stop well early.
- I've also been trying to temperature surf so I am getting the temperature at the same point each time. Still seems very inconsistent.

It seems like the proper method is to dial in the shot by holding some variables consistent to figure out what works. I have a few questions on how to do that:

- temperature surfing: Read this article about it: Click Here (www.saecomods.com) I understand there is a range from when the boiler turns off to when it turns back on. It starts at the low temp and then continues heating, then cools off. My process is turn the machine on. When the light goes on saying it is ready to brew I wait a certain amount of time to let the water continue to heat.  Question: How much time are we talking about here? When temperature surfing are we talking about waiting 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s and seeing which is best?  Or more like 1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, 5m, and up? Secondly, should I be clicking the steam button during that time to engage the boiler? Or just let it continue warming at its own pace? Also, I get a bit confused b/c once pull one shot (after waiting X amount of seconds) I have no idea where the temperature is. So I have a tough time trying a second time without turning the machine off and waiting 2 hours for it to cool down so I can follow the same procedure but alter the time lapse.  Is there a way to re-gauge the temperature after the first shot?

- amount of beans: I am currently grinding for 10s every time. I imagine that's not exactly the same for each shot, but can't be too far off. Lots of advice seems to be to get a scale to ensure the exact same amount. I don't want to go buying all the little accessories when just a bit of practice would work. is that ok, or will this make a big difference?

- grind: People seem to say that the Bodum grinder doesn't grind fine enough for a non-pressurized pf, but it is OK for a pressurized one. I've got it running on the finest setting possible. Unfortunately I don't have the $$$ to upgrade to one of the Rancilio or higher-grade grinders. I could (maybe) return this one and get a hand grinder. Thoughts?

- Tamping: I am doing no tamping due to pressurized pf. That ok?

I've read that the sourness is usually a case of water temp being too low (thus my attempts at temp surfing) or overextraction.  Do you all have any suggestions in my case?
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dyqik
Senior Member


Joined: 7 Oct 2011
Posts: 383
Location: Cambridge, MA
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Bezzera BZ07 PM
Grinder: Baratza Virtuoso Preciso...
Vac Pot: Cona D
Drip: Bona-Vita, CCD, Aeropress.
Roaster: Gene Cafe, Modded Poppers
Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 11:08am
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

If you are starting the machine from cold, there's no way that it will be ready to brew when the ready light first turns on.  At this point just the outside of the boiler is at the off point (high temp) on the thermostat for the first time.  With the portafilter in the group, you should leave it for another 15 minutes or so to allow the rest of the machine to come up to temperature with heat conducted from the boiler.  Otherwise you'll be putting water at the right temperature into the coffee via a cold portafilter and grouphead.  You can try and accelerate this process a bit, by drawing water through the group and PF without any coffee, but it'll still take about 10 minutes to stabilize.

Once it's fully warmed up, you can temperature surf the thermostat cycle by choosing an amount of time after the ready light goes on or off to start your shot.  Right as the light comes on will be hottest, down to coolest as the light goes off.  Taste the two extremes and then start working into the middle somewhere.  Don't touch the steam button during this process, unless you are sure that you are not getting hot enough at all, or you think the temperature is dropping too much during the shot.

Secondly, grinding by time is quite inaccurate if there isn't a consistent amount of beans in the grinder - weigh the grounds or beans on the way in if you want to keep this very consistent.  You should distribute and do a light tamp to level the coffee in the portafilter before brewing, so that there's a consistent bed of grounds to work with.

I think there's a mod out there that will let your grinder get fine enough for a normal portafilter, but you won't have a lot of control of the grind.
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Coffeenoobie
Senior Member
Coffeenoobie
Joined: 11 Dec 2011
Posts: 3,013
Location: PNW
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: N S Oscar
Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 11:10am
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

I have not had to learn to surf.  But these are useful to read.

http://www.espressomyespresso.com/   how to Guide to surfing here- Brew-Temperature Control - Small, single boiler machines have poor control over the brew temperature because of the thermostats that are used. Here is a work-around that gives better control

Click Here (www.home-barista.com)

Click Here (www.home-barista.com)

 
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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ajellyb
Senior Member


Joined: 5 Oct 2012
Posts: 11
Location: Fremont, CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 11:49am
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

Terrific suggestions. I had no idea that I needed to let everything stabilize for 15 minutes before pulling a shot. Also, I hadn't noticed that once the temperature is stabilized the light will cycle between on and off as it heats up/cools down. That answers my question about calibrating where the temp is for multiple shots.

I was not aware that warming up the grouphead and PF are important for getting the temperature correct. I'll give that a shot and report back.

Thanks! I'll look over those links as well.
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CMIN
Senior Member


Joined: 14 Jun 2012
Posts: 1,356
Location: South FL
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Crossland CC1
Grinder: Baratza Preciso
Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 11:58am
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

In addition to what's stated above, which beans are you using from them, Black Cat? I could never get a good shot of Black Cat no matter what grind or dose change I did, always had an odd sour twang to it that I didn't like. Shop by me carries their beans, fresh roasted and shipped weekly and same thing on their machines, just really sour. Barista there one day even said he didn't like Black Cat but avg person doesn't know better. They carry Anodyne beans as well and the coffee and shots are so much better with their espresso blend. Back in the day Black Cat was like deep and chocolately but they changed something. Had a post on here about the sourness and got a bunch of emails from people on here saying the same thing.
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ajellyb
Senior Member


Joined: 5 Oct 2012
Posts: 11
Location: Fremont, CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 12:46pm
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

Yep, Black Cat. I had some Peets earlier and noticed the same thing but not quite as pronounced. I'll see how heating the machine properly works and try with some other beans as well.  I agree with with the "odd sour twang" description and wonder how much that is a contributing factor.
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emradguy
Senior Member
emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 2,959
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, Macap M4 x2, VDD...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 3:08pm
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

I also do not care for Black Cat.  If changing your beans and allowing your machine to attain thermal stability doesn't solve your sourness problem, consider increasing your boiler temp.  One cause of sourness is not enough heat during the extraction.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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ajellyb
Senior Member


Joined: 5 Oct 2012
Posts: 11
Location: Fremont, CA
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 3:10pm
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

HI emradguy,

Is there a way to change boiler temp on the Venezia? Or is that a mod taking the machine apart? Thanks!

Todd
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emradguy
Senior Member
emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 2,959
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, Macap M4 x2, VDD...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 3:25pm
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

ah, I see...I didn't know that machine, but now that I see what you have (did a quick google search), my suspicion is probably not.  If you find you need/want to explore that route further, I would suggest calling seattle coffee gear (all one word .com for their website).  The are well respected espresso machine retailers and service resource, and may be able to help you over the phone - even if you didn't buy yours from them (I did see they sell it).

Being in No Cal, you should be able to get some great beans locally. At the very least, you can order online for some great roasters that do same day shipping.  For example, there's one in Montana that gets his coffee to me two days post roast, all the way in Houston, and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg either.  Look at the List of Our Favorite Roasters blog on home barista.com.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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D4F
Senior Member


Joined: 15 Mar 2012
Posts: 1,981
Location: USA
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic PID
Grinder: Baratza Forte-AP
Posted Fri Oct 5, 2012, 8:12pm
Subject: Re: Espresso inconsistency - primarily a bit sour. Any suggestions?
 

dyqik Said:

If you are starting the machine from cold, there's no way that it will be ready to brew when the ready light first turns on.  At this point just the outside of the boiler is at the off point (high temp) on the thermostat for the first time.  With the portafilter in the group, you should leave it for another 15 minutes or so to allow the rest of the machine to come up to temperature with heat conducted from the boiler.  Otherwise you'll be putting water at the right temperature into the coffee via a cold portafilter and grouphead.  You can try and accelerate this process a bit, by drawing water through the group and PF without any coffee, but it'll still take about 10 minutes to stabilize.

Once it's fully warmed up, you can temperature surf the thermostat cycle by choosing an amount of time after the ready light goes on or off to start your shot.  Right as the light comes on will be hottest, down to coolest as the light goes off.  Taste the two extremes and then start working into the middle somewhere.  Don't touch the steam button during this process, unless you are sure that you are not getting hot enough at all, or you think the temperature is dropping too much during the shot.

Posted October 5, 2012 link

That is a pretty good description of what you need to do to find the correct procedure for your technique and machine.  Another thing that can help is to measure the temperature.  That is most easily done by using a styrofoam cup and "instant" digital thermometer.  Described and shown here

http://www.frcndigital.com/coffee/HowToTempCheck.html

The thermometer shown is not current, use an instant digital.  Here is the least expensive that I know and it works ok, I have used it.

Click Here (www.harborfreight.com)

That will help you to adjust where you are going with the temperature.  A helpful hint if you do this.  Look at how fast the temperture in the cup drops and realize why an instant thermometer is needed.  The old cooking thermometers show a temperature somewhere in the falling termerature range.  Keep the thermometer in hot water, near boiling, before you insert it and run the test.  That way the pjrobe is up to temperature.

Yes there ways to "adjust" the temperature other than surfing, and yes they are mods.  The simplist is to replace the bimetal brew thermostat with one a few degrees higher.  The other is a PID.  Since you are starting, I will assume that you do not want to go there.  You can easily read about these and ask further if interested.

 
D4F also at
http://www.gaggiausersgroup.com/
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