Give The People What They Want: October Espresso Gear
OK, so I admit to being a tragic gear-head. That means that I always prick up my ears in October, what with many manufacturers debuting new stuff at the HOST convention in Milan. I'm sure that we'll get a deluge of reports, but I thought that I might get everyone in the mood with a quick overview of some relatively new stuff ...
Forget BHP shares, I wish that I had bought shares in words like "brew temperature" and "thermostability" - every man and his dog "knows" that you can only get a great espresso on a machine that can give you a rock-solid straight-line temperature profile that can be adjusted to 0.1 of a degree F. If you look around any manufacturer's or vendor's webpage you'll see that they all seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. Don't get me wrong; I change the temperature all the time on the FB80, but it does seem to me that people often lose sight of the basic goal - to get a coffee that tastes great. (Of course, if you put that claim to anyone the response is that it tastes the "best," the uninformed consumer gets a cup of whatever trade-show swill is on offer and the world keeps spinning ...)
From my perspective, the interesting thing is that the HX manufacturers seem to be pushing it a bit. After all, let's not forget that the original Faema E61 enabled people to run different and relatively consistent temperatures on different groups loooooong before Synesso did. The Brasilia Excelsior seems to be the machine that the Rossi group are pushing at the moment. It has an adjustable thermosyphon on each head. Last year there was a Brasilia machine with brew temp individually adjustable on each group head through a digital control panel floating around the roastery. I couldn't find it on the Brasilia webpage. The Elektra Kappa offers both adjustable brew temperature and, apparently, adjustable brew pressure through its front panel. Call me crazy, though, but I kind of don't see the point of having both steam wands on one side of the machine ;P Very interesting developments - but will the cool kids pay attention?
Well, if there's one thing that I love it's actually trying out new equipment. On Monday, Syd was kind enough to take some photos for us at Veneziano, after which we grabbed a bag of the same coffee that we had been drinking on the FB80, pulled by David Seng, and swung around to EES to run it through the GS3. Ben had only recently received the machine and was very accommodating, allowing us to basically pull shots on it for an hour to work out how it ticks. In a nutshell, we got the machine pulling some great shots. The ones that we finished up with had a bit less body than the FB80 shots, but had more complex flavours. Surprisingly, the GS3 seemed to produce more crema than the FB80. Fooling around with the various settings did produce notable changes ... exactly what you'd hope for.
So what's the dirt on the GS3? Chris Tacy famously put it that the GS3 takes the machine out of the equation, making it the barista's fault if anything went wrong. We found that to be true, except for two narrow circumstances that happened to represent the first part of our use. First, the machine seems not to like having the steam boiler temperature (and therefore the steam pressure) adjusted. The first thing that we did was to drop the steam pressure from 1.9 bar to 1.1 bar, which resulted in the subsequent shots tasting sour and the brew PID going out of whack. Presumably this had something to do with the fact that the brew water is preheated by the HX in the steam boiler. Setting the steam boiler back to 1.9 bar fixed the problem. Surprisingly, at that steam pressure steaming was still slow and restrained relative to the FB80. The second scenario in which we had to take the machine's needs into account was after refilling the reservoir, which also caused a temperature drop. After a few minutes, everything was back to normal. I didn't look at the PID, but perhaps the problem was that the elements switch off whilst re-filling. Other than that, there were a few niggling issues. This machine had the old water reservoir and guide holes for the drip tray that LM is replacing. Even after having worked on a Synesso I still find that style of steam wand a bit awkward, although the results were good. Besides, you buy an espresso machine to make espresso - most of them will steam acceptably.
Anyhoo, all up, I liked it a lot.
Photo courtesy of Syd:
Proponents of grinder manufacturer Compak often say that their virtue is that they listen, whereas current king Mazzer sits aloof in its castle. As far as I can tell, Compak's big act of "listening" to pro baristi has been making a K10 without an auto-fill function and without the stupid tamper moulded on to the front. In other words, they made their star grinder more like the existing Mazzer Robur. (Not to knock Compak's product generally - the K10 is cheaper than the Robur and has been getting rave reviews.)
I guess that you do have to give something to the critics, though. If Mazzer really were a company that listened to its customers, surely we would have some sort of doserless Robur with a very accurate grind timer and built-in cooling fans.
... it just remains to be seen how it will perform. That said, I'd love one for home - it would be a great match for a GS/3.
Of course, I'm sure that Compak will also be showing off some new products at HOST. They seem to have dropped the A6 from their range and replaced it with the beefier A8. I suspect that they decided that the A6, being the same thing with 64mm flat burrs, was just too small and slow. Presumably we'll see an A10 version of the conical at some stage. The ability to select from grind on demand or grind one dose ahead seems pretty innovative. That said, they will have to do a better job of it than the single dose grind ahead grinder that I have used.
I'll never forget Andrew pulling beautiful shots just by tamping with the palm of his hand. Coming from that perspective, it's sometimes difficult to take the hard work that tamper manufacturers put in seriously. Perhaps it's the backyard inventor nature of most tamper manufacturers that makes them prone to endlessly tweak their gear. I, for one, am very grateful that they all seem to seek feedback and, better still, act on it.
At the moment, I'm viewing new tampers as a race between the british dominions, with Mark Prince from Canada and Australian Greg Pullman both working on new designs. Greg's tamper is an attempt to make an ergonomic and durable design for commercial use. The prototypes that I have seen so far have definitely been a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, coffeegeek Mark Prince has been working on his "precision" tamper, to be made by Reg Barber, for quite some time. Both Mark and Greg are keeping their products very hush-hush, but emails with both of them confirm that rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated ;P
Meanwhile, relative Australian unknown Steve Bailey has pipped them both to the post by very slightly tweaking his already very good tampers. Months ago, Steve whipped up a tamper for me with a third spacer ring for additional height. He of the large hands - Simon James - liked it so much that my tamper took several months break from my hot little hands to accompany him on the barista comp trail. Drop the laser-etched bottom, add a spacer ring, drop the price slightly and you have the new coffeelab tamper, photo courtesy of Syd:
... well, all up I'd probably suffer a robur electronic, a gs3 and a coffeelab on my bench, but I'm still very interested to find out if there's anything of note at HOST ...