Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 5:57am Subject: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
I bought a Gaggia Evolution espresso machine and Dualit burr grinder about 5 years ago when I started developing a taste for coffee. I did some basic research at the time and both the machine and grinder fitted my budget and needs.
At first I was very pleased with the results but about 12 months ago the quality of my coffee started to fall to the point I was making very little and I wanted to work out what was going on...
First of all I started weighing the grinds into the portafilter and realised I'd been putting far too much in, so I reduced the amount to ~16g, but I could then pull a double shot in less that 10 seconds... So I increased my tamp which improved things a little, but the espresso was still very under-extracted. I experimented further and ended up tamping using my entire body weight on the tamper and got to about 25 seconds for a double shot.
I suspected my grinder wasn't fine enough (I don't really have anything to compare it to) so I took it apart and could see an obvious wear line on the burrs. It seems replacement burrs aren't available for my grinder and it wasn't the best to begin with so I'm looking for a new one.
I'm living with the excessive tamping for the moment (until I can afford a better grinder), but I'm still getting very inconsistent espresso. Sometimes it's a massive improvement on what it was, other times it's just as bad (sour and thin).
My current thinking is that the inconsistency is being caused by variable temperatures at the brew head and while I've tried a few things to improve it (like aggresively descaling, running water through the brew head before pulling a shot etc), nothing has really worked - so I'm probably looking for a new espresso machine as well...
However - nagging self doubt persists and I know that spending lots of money on shiny kit (however much I'm tempted by anything with a Mazzer or Rocket badge) won't compensate for my own limitations... So - is there anything that I should be doing to improve my own technique, or am I most likley limited by my kit?
NobbyR Senior Member Joined: 10 Jul 2011 Posts: 1,925 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 Fri Aug 31, 2012, 6:21am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
Anything between 14 g and 18 g (some people even use 21 g) for a double shot is fine. It all depends on your personal taste. However, you should be able to adjust your grinder to a setting where you get an extraction time of around 25 seconds with a dose of 16 g. You'll just have to grind fine enough. If you can't accomplish that, there something wrong with your grinder. Tamping, after all, is the least important factor in this.
Does your grinder choke your machine at its finest setting?
What kind of beans do you use? Old beans can make it very hard to get the percolation time right.
*** "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)
Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 7:36am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
I'm running my grinder on its finest setting and without the 200lb tamp it pulls a ten second shot... I've never been able to choke my machine but my grinder has never been particularly good quality.
I'm currently using Old Brown Java coffee beans which I order online. The company I get them from grinds to order so they normally arrive very fresh (within a day or two of roasting) although my current batch is now about 2 weeks old and getting a bit long in the tooth. I can definitely taste the difference when the beans have got a bit older, but my problem with inconsistency is the same whether I'm using a fresh batch of beans or not...
Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 7:45am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
There is no reason you should have to tamp at 200#. As you said, since you're grinding at the finest possible on your grinder, it either needs calibration or replacement. Also, when you're using the pre-ground, your beans are stale before you even start. It's surprising you get any espresso at all from them, even at 200# tamp.
If you want to continue making espresso at home, you need to take care of your grinder problem asap - either re-calibrate it, if possible, or replace it. Do you have a budget for a "new" one?
. Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 8:11am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
Unfortunately as it's a budget grinder it's pretty much destined for the bin as it can't be recalibrated and even from new wouldn't choke my machine, but at the time I bought it I was amazed you could spend £100 on a grinder, let alone more..!
Now I'm taking my coffee drinking a bit more seriously, I am thinking about spending decent money to get decent kit so I'm looking at a Mazzer Mini E...
I was looking at the Mahlkoenig Vario as it's a bit cheaper and has some excellent reviews, but I was talking to Claudette at Bella Barista and she sugested that the ceramic burrs are prone to chipping if a foreign object ever gets in the grinder and are around £100 to replace - on the basis I've had 2 small stones in my beans in the past 12 months (although I caught them before they did any damage) I figure the cost of the Mazzer is about the same as the Mahlkoenig plus a new set of burrs and the Mazzer is probably more durable...
Feels a bit odd to be considering a grinder that costs twice as much as my espresso machine!!!
germantownrob Senior Member Joined: 2 Dec 2007 Posts: 2,103 Location: Philadelphia Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Duetto 3, A Dead Oscar Grinder: Vario-W, Preciso w/Esatto,... Drip: Brazen Roaster: Diedrich IR-1, HT B
Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 8:51am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
Sounds like it is time for a new grinder and I am certain you will notice an immidiate improvement in your shots. A grinder is really the machine that makes your drink posiable, an espresso machine is just a way to deliver hot water.
I don't know what maintenance you have done on your espresso machine over the years but descaling and cleaning the group are a regular routine to keep a machine delivering the best shots.
JasonBrandtLewis Senior Member Joined: 9 Dec 2005 Posts: 6,204 Location: Berkeley, CA Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: Elektra T1 - La Valentina -... Grinder: Mahlkönig K30 Vario -... Vac Pot: Yama 5-cup Drip: CCD, Chemex Roaster: No, no, not another...
Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 9:11am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
No offense, but the grinder is $#+! . . . it is to blame.
The Four M's of Espresso: 1) the Macinazione is the grinder, and with it, the correct grinding of the coffee beans; 2) the Miscela is the coffee beans/blend itself; 3) the Macchina is the espresso machine; and 4) the Mano is the skilled hand of the barista.
All four are important. Nothing is more important than the grinder.
Start saving . . .
P.S. Tamping, by the way, is the LEAST important part of the whole process. Some people use a heavy tamp, some use a light tamp, and some don't tamp at all. It doesn't matter, as long as you are consistent.
Posted Fri Aug 31, 2012, 10:49am Subject: Re: Variable espresso quality - am I to blame?
I know stones will wreck pretty much any grinder, but I reckon I'd rather replace the burrs in a Mazzer for about a quarter of the cost of the Mahlkoenig (I think they're branded Baratza in the US) if the worst did happen... I don't know why but they seem to be cropping up more regularly in my beans at the moment - I think I've found 3 in the past 5 years with 2 in the last 12 months...
I've been regularly cleaning the group etc but had overlooked the importance of descaling when I first bought the machine as I live in a very soft water area (our kettle is at last 3 years old and has no trace of scale). After a while I noticed a few problems with reduced flow through the head which were fixed by descaling so I've been doing it regularly since.
I did wonder if some of the problems were a legacy of my initial poor maintenance so I tried aggressively descaling it which made a bit of an improvement but wasn't a "magic bullet".
It certainly seems like the root of the problem is the grinder so I'll be working on a Mazzer fund for a while!
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