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The art of espresso making, people's tips that work for them?
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Discussions > Espresso > Q and A > The art of...  
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Chanty
Senior Member


Joined: 26 May 2005
Posts: 227
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic
Grinder: Vario, had an MDF
Vac Pot: none
Drip: none
Roaster: I buy beans from many...
Posted Fri Sep 20, 2013, 1:19pm
Subject: The art of espresso making, people's tips that work for them?
 

I own a Vario grinder and a Gaggia Classic Espresso machine that I use a double shot basket with the portafilter.  I probably am repeating myself, but I have been on a very long journey of trying to make the best espresso for years now.  One of the roasters I know and frequent has very expensive equipment (Compak grinder & a double boiler super automatic espresso machine...forget the brand). Anyway he has spent more than $1,000 on his grinder & I believe about $3-4,000 on his espresso maker.   He makes the best cappuccino that I have ever had in my 58 years on this earth.  He contributes it more to his equipment than to his techniques.  Yet, making only two double shots per day--I could never justify spending that kind of money for the one time a day (4 shots a day) habit I have.    I would love it if people could give their best tips on what they do to make a beautiful shot( timing, dosing, tamping).  I have been religiously perusing Youtube videos of baristas showing their espresso making techniques.  There are so many different techniques among various Baristas that my head is spinning.  One says, "Do this", the other says, "NO, don't do THAT".   I used to think it was a problem with my Vario being inconsistent.   Still debating that, but thinking it may be more my techniques.  I only use freshly roasted beans from reputable roasters.   I have my Vario set on Macro (way at the top or 1) and normally the Micro starts at Q, and as the roast gets older--moves up maybe to L or M.   I would think that if the Macro is on the finest, I should never have to go very high on the micro, but that's another thread.  I recently started weighing my beans.  Always eyeballed in the past for dosing.  If I didn't put enough beans in the hopper, I would end up with gushers.  If I put too many in the hopper, would choke the machine.   I've weighed 16 and 17gram beans.   I still do not understand how taste is affected by --say--a 16 gram vs. a 17 gram shot.  No one can seem to get that one in my thick brain either.   When the beans are ground into the Gaggia Classic double shot portafilter, there is a "hill" of ground coffee.  What I used to do was knock the portafilter on the counter to get the excess espresso off & level.  Then I would tamp firmly.  It never looked even (always lower on one side) in the portafilter after tamping.  Sometimes I would get the perfect shot (slow, but not too slow & a little darker ending up tiger striping in a rusty brown within 25-30 seconds).  Other times, gushers or blonding in 20 seconds.  Supposedly doing the same techniques.  People told me, "Don't hit the portafilter on the counter, as this can cause the espresso to break away in areas from the basket and since water takes the least resistance--causing channeling, causing gushers."   So I stopped hitting it on the counter.  I went by further advice of once the espresso mounded into the basket--using the heel of my palm, I brushed and leveled off the excess mounded espresso.  Then I tamped firmly.    At first I was getting more of the wonderful shots.  Then it seems to go back within a couple days to problems.  I get so frustrated, and I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself--but I am not ready to give up my espresso making--as I enjoy doing this.  Plus I think, for the very most part; I make a better cappuccino than what I can get in cafes.  So if others would be so kind as to give me their technique tips that have helped them stay consistent in their espresso making--I would be very grateful.  Thanks in advance.
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Chanty
Senior Member


Joined: 26 May 2005
Posts: 227
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic
Grinder: Vario, had an MDF
Vac Pot: none
Drip: none
Roaster: I buy beans from many...
Posted Sat Sep 21, 2013, 12:59pm
Subject: Re: The art of espresso making, people's tips that work for them?
 

Awwww come on geeks!  I really am trying to pick everyone's brains (the ones who are truly into their espresso experience).  I've gone on youtubes, articles on the web...still want to get this as downpat as possible.  I'm still not consistent & I don't know why.  Your tips would truly be appreciated.  Thanks!
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DeanOK
Senior Member
DeanOK
Joined: 24 Sep 2012
Posts: 678
Location: OK
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: QM Vetrano 2B
Grinder: Vario W
Posted Sat Sep 21, 2013, 1:29pm
Subject: Re: The art of espresso making, people's tips that work for them?
 

Chanty Said:

Awwww come on geeks!  I really am trying to pick everyone's brains (the ones who are truly into their espresso experience).  I've gone on youtubes, articles on the web...still want to get this as downpat as possible.  I'm still not consistent & I don't know why.  Your tips would truly be appreciated.  Thanks!

Posted September 21, 2013 link

If I am to be totally honest about how I feel, I would imagine a lot of people would tell you I am wrong... but here is where I am coming from:

I too have been on a long road... and I have made more crappy espresso drinks than I care to think about over the last two years... first with a super auto and then with a semi auto. My honest opinion is that my semi auto (that I was using at the time) simply did not have the ability to make a decent shot when I took it out of the box... I am not going to mention the brand because I believe this phenomena is common among low end espresso machines. Now I realize that low end means all kinds of things to people. If you have a 5K machine then you may think a 3K machine is low end. For the sake of my argument I will talk about machines below 1K that rarely have any or an accurate brew pressure gauge and usually have some sort of hybrid portafilter.

Let me go back to my experience. I now believe that I was dealing with two ongoing issues for almost a year that I was not aware of at first. First, my brew pressure was way low much, if not all, of the first 9 months and my brew temperature to my way of thinking was also way low. The combination of these two issues yielded a bunch of crappy espresso. I didn't learn of either issue until I bought a PF pressure gauge and then built myself a scace type temperature measuring device to measure water temperature at the brew head.

So, based on my experience, if you are using a machine that is delivering questionable shot quality, my advice would be to check these two items first. You need a reasonably close brew pressure and you at least need to be able to pull a shot between 195 and 205F at the coffee puck. If you cant do these two things, your spinning your wheels even if you have the best coffee and the best grinder.

The good news is that I am now able to pull a pretty decent shot off of my less expensive machine.... but I didn't totally get there until after I had already purchased a more expensive E61 dual boiler machine. I am sure the temperature stability of my V2B does add to the quality of taste experience.  Do I think you friend with expensive equipment will always beat you on taste? Yes I do if he is a good barista. But I think a properly tuned up less expensive machine can come in a respectable (and drinkable) second.

Another thing... by having a temperature measuring device (like a scace) that I can measure water temperature right as it entered the PF, I was also able to determine the correct warming flush routing to get the temperature and stability I needed.  This info is hard t get unless you can get it from someone who has the same machine you have and you trust their knowledge. One thing the Internet is great at is delivering knowledge that is not all that accurate. Sometimes you need to know the answer for yourself.

Temperature/pressure controls and machines are mass produced and most of them may perform just like they are supposed to... but all it takes is one thermostat or pressure regulating device that came through production out of calibration to mess up everything.  Testing pressure and temperature for yourself will give you the peace of mind to know for sure what your machine is actually doing.
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Chanty
Senior Member


Joined: 26 May 2005
Posts: 227
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Expertise: I love coffee

Espresso: Gaggia Classic
Grinder: Vario, had an MDF
Vac Pot: none
Drip: none
Roaster: I buy beans from many...
Posted Sat Sep 21, 2013, 3:38pm
Subject: Re: The art of espresso making, people's tips that work for them?
 

Appreciate your reply Dean.  I had an expert (really...he is) that was 200% familiar with my Gaggia Classic machine go over the machine with a fine tooth comb--making sure he had the temperature right where it was supposed to be.  I don't know how often this needs to be checked cuz that was about 1 1/2 years ago.  I can make killer shots where I can taste wonderful flavors of chocolate, nuts, blueberries punching through the steamed milk.  Granted, this is not all the time--but I'm thinking if it was the brew temp., wouldn't it be nasty or not so great all the time instead of just part of the time?  I'm not real mechanical.  I know I do make sure I descale regularly and backflush.  I also clean the screen and without the screen holder plate.   Many will say it is either the grind and/or the techniques (leveling it off, making sure there are no areas where the coffee breaks away from the basket causing channeling, tamping, etc.), but yes I 'm sure people can have temperature problems with their espresso machines.  Things is I can only afford (for how often I use it & our budget) what I have now--the Gaggia Classic.
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emradguy
Senior Member
emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 3,066
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 Mon Sep 23, 2013, 10:29am
Subject: Re: The art of espresso making, people's tips that work for them?
 

As you know, consistency in technique is key. Really though, it's consistency in the entire process. That includes, in addition to your technique, bean freshness, grind adjustment, and temp surfing your SBDU. I doubt your machine has drifted since it was adjusted and checked. I suspect your technique is micro shifting on you. In your first post you described off center shots on occasion. You probably need to check tamper levelness before and after pressing. I use a technique I saw in one of Chris Nachtrieb's videos. Letting my finger tips extend past the tamper base to feel the basket edge. Then you can hold the pf up to eye level and see if the tamper handle is tilted in any direction (before and after). Re distribution, it's a matter of find what seemed to work for you and then sticking to it. If it seems to stop working then you have to figure out what you're doing differently. I use a slide my pf around on the forks to collect the grounds as evenly as possible from the doser. I use a finger sweep to distribute the rest of the way. I use back and forth, after a stockfleth's rotation. I time my shots and adjust grind based on that (and flavor). I don't weigh my finished shots, but I've thought about it.

 
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Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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