Sunday, October 21, 2007

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 ...

Machines

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:




Grinders

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.

Tampers

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 ...

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12 Comments:

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Westy said...

Mate, when are you coming up to Sydney next to school me on everything? I come down to Melbourne about once a month, you up for a tour? John

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger Luca said...

Dude, I'll be up to do a clerkship for two months from the end of November until the end of January, staying with Susu.

Get in touch next time you're coming down and we'll work something out. I work Saturdays here:

http://www.venezianocoffee.com.au/first-pour

The Melbourne coffee scene is kind of interesting in that we have a lot of cafes that just plain suck, a few that do a pretty good job and maybe five, if we're lucky, that you could actually get an amazing coffee at.

Cheers,

Luca

 
At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Framey said...

Funny thing is that the Mini e doesn't get a mention in the new doserless line up. It is already doserless of course (I have one) but it hasn't got that nifty digital adjustment feature.

A world with doserless grinders means a world without ground coffee going stale in dosers.

Just a note for La Marzocco tragics like myself, the official La Marzocco E-shop opens today.

 
At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Simon James said...

Interesting brew "Hiccups" with the GS-3.
Did Ben have anything to say about the temp situation in those circumstances?
Could the manual shed any light.

I've had a read of Paul Pratt's site (http://www.espresso-restorations.com/GB5Linea2.html) and found some comments relating to the GB-5:
Brew boiler has preference over the pump at all times - If you decide to brew when the machine is in autofil it will stop and let you brew and then start again after brewing. Also it will not decide to autofil "mid shot" and wait for the brewing to stop. That means no pressure fluctuations anymore!

Fill time out - will shut down the machine if the steam boiler has not filled in the pre-set time allotment.


I'll have a look in our FB-80 manual, and see if it sheds any light.

Cheers,
Simon.

 
At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hot off the press from Milan.... Mazzer have signed both Genovese Coffee and the reformed CMS (aka Saeco) as exclusive distributors for Australia!

 
At 9:09 PM, Blogger Luca said...

Sweet! Geno seem to have been pretty good customers of theirs, so it's not really surprising. I wonder if they're exclusive with WEGA, too - they deserve it! Hmm ... now to work out who to schmooze to get a doserless robur ...

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger Luca said...

Hey Simon,

Ben hadn't had much time to get used to the GS3, so he was pretty much as in the dark as we were. The Sydney guys are the experts at the moment - I'm sure that Ben will catch up, though. I know that I would if I were pulling shots on that thing every day ;P

Frankly, I think that the hiccups were pretty understandable. There has been a bit of speculation that the key to the GS3's performance is that the brew boiler loses temperature quickly, which supposedly makes it easy for the PID to handle overshoot. If this is the case, it makes sense to me that it would need a minute or two to stabilise after refilling the reservoir, presuming that in the meantime it switches off the element. The steam thing was a bit wierd ... presumably it's just a case of tweaking a mix valve to remedy it if you want to run the machine at a different temperature. It probably isn't worthwhile screwing around with, though - the machine seemed to steam fine at 1.9bar. I'd be more concerned with the fit and finish issues that others have reported and which are being addressed. For example, there is going to be a new water reservoir and they're going to do something about the guide holes for the drip tray.

Framey,

The mini E has been around for ages, kicking butt and taking names. Time to give the ROBUR-E a chance at it!

Cheers,

Luca

PS. I wish you hadn't reminded me about the LM E-shop. I'm on a student's salary!

 
At 8:45 PM, Blogger Theodore said...

Well,if you fill the reservoir,temperature drops,and needs time to reset.
If the machine, is plumbed in, what is the case?Always wrong temperature?
Theodore.

 
At 9:35 PM, Blogger Luca said...

Hi Theodore,

No idea, as I only got to have a brief stint with the GS3.

Presumably if you plumb the machine in, everything is at a constant state, so you will get a consistent result.

Cheers,

Luca

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger Theodore said...

Ī¤hank you Luca for your response.
Now, I want to upgrade from Mini, to one of the Mazzer Roburs, doser,(single or three phase), or doserless, OR, the Electra Nino,68mm conical also and doserless, with solved static problems, and little motor, to cool the beans.
Have you any idea,what should I choose?

 
At 10:13 PM, Blogger Luca said...

Hi Theodore,

I think that that is a wise step. You might notice some improvement in going to a grinder of a more mid level, but, IMHO, if you are going to spend the cash, do it once and do it well.

I, personally, have reservations about the Elektra Nino, though I only got to use it very briefly and it was a stepped version that I gather has since been replaced by a stepless version. The looks of the Nino would be a big deal for me. Macap have tried to make it look flashy, but, to me, it just looks downright cheap. The body appeared to me to be made of some sort of plastic, though it might well be metal. The little grinds tray sits in the protruding foot of the grinder, which, IMHO, is the worst way to set up a grinds tray. This shouldn't be much of an issue, though, because it is relatively clean. Still, if you use a high dose, you might get coffee bouncing around, overshooting the tray and ending up on the foot and/or table. On the other hand, if the tray isn't necessary, why have it there? I am spoilt to have a knock box built into my bench at home and I can tell you that having the doser/chute of your grinder positioned above the knock box is super convenient. Down to the big issue - grind quality. The few shots that I pulled with the grinder started off very dark and proceeded to go blonde relatively quickly. If you youtube up some videos, you'll see what I mean. There's a guy in Germany who has the GS3 and every high end doserless grinder known to man and he might be worthwhile getting in touch with. This struck me as very odd and the cup tasted rather burnt. Don't know if that is a glitch in the early grinders or not ... usually, conicals result in longer pours that start and stop at a similar flow rate.

I haven't used the Robur E yet and, so, can't really offer you much advice there. I'm dyyyyyying to try it out one of these days. On the spec sheet, the Robur E does everything that the Nino does. One can only hope that the shots live up to the normal badass Robur. I would love them to add a pulse button to the Robur E and to put the Mini E fork on it.

The normal Robur might also be worth considering. The dosing chamber seems to have been improved, but some seem to dose straighter than others. The advantage would be that you would save a bundle of cash on it, but the Robur E is probably better ... presuming that the shots are as good.

I can't imagine that a timer E would be all that useful at home, unless you really stuck to the same bean all the time and didn't have much of a fluctuation of temperature and humidity.

I'd also say that I struggle to believe that a cooling fan is at all useful if you are only making a dozen shots a day at home.

As for three phase, they are fantastic, but you might need to think of practicalities. Having three phase power put in isn't cheap and you won't really be able to take it around anywhere.

Hope that helps,

Luca

 
At 11:38 PM, Blogger Theodore said...

Thank you Luca for your response.
About Roburs, I asked about three phase, because it is good, but also, because AndyS,has written, that he has one, driven by single phase line, via a special converter, and works well.
So, I forget Nino, and look about Roburs,so as to choose one of them.
Last, I ask, how can I find this German guy, with the huge experience on grinders?
Thank you,
Theodore.

 

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