Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Shuttle Espresso Machine Review


Domestic e61 heat exchanger machines have been on the market for quite some time now and for all of that time, they have been quite expensive. Lately, with the rise and rise of specialty coffee, we have seen an increased interest in these machines, part of which has coincided with an increase in prices of these machines as a consequence of the Australian dollar's fluctuation against the Euro. All of this has created a climate where there is a business case for sourcing out decent machines made in a country with a lower cost of labour and a more favourable exchange rate and bringing in a pricing model where the importer sells direct -as opposed to adding a markup to support a reseller network - in order to deliver a cheaper machine to the consumer. This is exactly what e61 has done in bringing the Shuttle into Australia from China. Of course, whilst this might be a recipe to cry "knock-off", none of these things
actually gives any indication as to the quality of the machine and the coffee that it creates. For this reason, I was interested and grateful to Matt from e61 to be given the opportunity to explore the machine.

This review is written with people who might be interested in buying this machine in mind. This means that I will make reference to other domestic espresso machines that I have used and even a few commercial machines. These references will be comparisons to tease out a little more about the Shuttle, seeing as this machine falls to be evaluated against a market of competing products, but are not intended to give any sort of insight into those other machines.

Finally, I want to touch on the issue of reviewer independence in this review. To Matt's credit, from the outset he accepted that I am only interested in writing this as a totally independent review and that I might not have anything nice to say about the machine. I have sent Matt a copy of the text of this review in advance so that he could comment on it; that resulted in one amendment, which was to correct my original error in saying that the machine was manufactured in Taiwan and not China. Our arrangement was basically this: I get to use the machine free of charge to me, but get nothing else. I cover all costs of coffee.


Espresso is the most difficult part to get right in any espresso machine. If I were in the market for an espresso machine, I would give the most weight to this part and little weight to the rest of it.

Espresso - Taste Test

To evaluate the machine, I tasted a few different coffees that I am fairly familiar with.

The first was a commercial espresso blend comprising Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Kenyan and central american coffees at a medium to light roast level. This is a fairly difficult blend to work with, but is capable of delicious results. I chose this blend because the result in the cup would give me the most information about how the machine was functioning. The espresso was thin, sour, metallic and dominated by grapefruit flavours (presumably from the Kenyan component) at all dose levels, with the contribution from the yirgacheffe overwhelmed.

The second that I chose was a commercial espresso blend that was slanted more towards heavy body and chocolatey sugar browning flavours. I chose this because it is a coffee that has proven itself to have mass appeal. The espresso was a little bitterer and ashier than I expected, even at coarse grinds, high doses and fairly fast flow rates. The coffee also seemed to blonde out towards the end of the pour (but I note that this is something that I have noticed with a lot of domestic espresso machines).

I tried a few other coffees and struck gold with some home roast Tanzania Blackburn Estate Shade of September Microlot. This was a failed filter roast that went slightly too far. Too light for most espresso machines, on the Shuttle it produced a sweet, rich shot with loads of berry goodness and a lively acidity. The fact that this coffee performed well illustrates a good point about domestic espresso machines and most commercial espresso machines; seeing as people don’t tweak brew temperatures, people will tend to gravitate to blends that suit their machines, which is always a consideration to take into account when reading reviews and posts online.

These taste tests, together with the steam flashing from the group, made me suspect that the machine was running too hot.

Espresso - Numbers

I borrowed a Scace device and portafilter pressure gauge from Craig at 9 Bar Espresso Services in order to test out the machine. The first thing that I did when the machine arrived was to run the pressure gauge and see it settle at around 9 bar brew pressure. I used the brew pressure gauge before packing the machine up and got a reading of 11 bar. I should note that this was using a blind gauge.

The Scace device read brew temperatures between 104C and 99C. For reference, the Giotto at work put out brew temperatures between 94C and 89C.

Temperature measurements should be taken with a grain of salt, in that there are a myriad of factors that can give rise to inaccuracies. The Scace device does a fantastic job in creating a platform for repeatable measurements, but it is still important to be aware of sources of error, such as probe and multimeter error. In this case, the actual value of the reading may be out by a few degrees. For what it's worth, boiling water read 104C on the particular multimeter that I was using, which implies that the “true” brew temperatures were in the range of 100C to 95C. As an aside, the difficulty in measuring brew temperatures is something that people should consider when reading espresso machine reviews that give a passing reference to “temperature stability” or similar without giving any insight into their measurement process. Similarly, brew pressure measurements need to be taken with a grain of salt, as measurements taken from the gauge built in to the machine will vary depending on where the gauge sits in the internal plumbing on the machine - so two different models displaying the same brew pressure on the internal gauge might actually have different brew pressures when measured at the head. Measurements at the group head depend a little bit on the measurement device; I seem to remember that the rule of thumb is to subtract about one bar from the gauge reading for blind gauges.

In terms of how these numbers scrub up, I think that we can infer fairly safely that the brew temperature is on the high side. I should note that there is no "correct" brew temperature; most espresso blends will perform well somewhere between about 89 and 96C, depending on roast levels. I'm a little more hesitant to draw conclusions about brew pressure; I think that this is not a variable that has been well explored, seeing as most machines are set at the "holy grail" pressure of 9 bar ... using whatever gauge is most handy! That said, I suspect that lower brew pressures might be a little more forgiving for the domestic e61 HX market.

Milk - Use

In contrast to espresso, milk performance is fairly straightforward and easy to evaluate. To test out the milk, I tried frothing on a few 350mL jugs in a row. There was certainly enough steam available, such that I actually found it a little difficult to control. My housemate, a professional barista, thought that the steam was great, which suggests that it might just be a matter of spending the time to get the right

I did notice that the "no-burn" steam wand got uncomfortably hot after steaming a few jugs in a row. This is consistent with the performance of other steam wands with inserts that I have used on domestic machines, such as the Giotto that I have at work.

Milk - Numbers

The Shuttle was able to steam enough milk for a single milk drink, using a 350mL jug, in 16 seconds. In comparison, the Makin Espresso Maver machine also takes 16 seconds and the Giotto that I have at work takes about 26 seconds. A La Marzocco FB-80 can do it in 10.

In my review of the Makin Espresso Maver machine, I noticed that a good predictor of steam performance is the amount of time that it takes for the steam boiler to drop to 0.7bar, seeing as at this boiler pressure the milk isn't being moved around enough to be worthwhile. When the steam valve is fully opened, the Shuttle drops to 0.7 bar boiler pressure after 33 seconds. In contrast, the Makin Espresso took 85 seconds last time I checked and the Giotto at work takes about 28 seconds.

The Machine

This section is just some brief notes on the build aspects of the the machine.

The Good:

Stainess steel frame - won't rust as compared with a powdercoat steel frame, which can rust where the powdercoat chips off. That said, I have to note that the courier dropped the machine that I used and as a result the section of the frame holding the drip tray had bent.

Stainless steel tank - makes sense, given concerns over the past few years of materials leeching from plastic. The tank has a valve fitted to the bottom so that it can be pulled out, filled and dropped back in, though the over pressure hose must be maneuvered back into place.

Wire grill over drip tray - you don't get as much crap collecting on the top of it and transferring to the bottom of the cup. Of course, the tradeoff for this is that you can see more of the muck that collects in
the drip tray. The opposite extreme is the metal plate drip tray cover of the giotto; see the photo below to see how much mess collects on top of it after a few shots. At work, I have to wipe the drip tray after
every use.

Internal components - whilst the machine is made in China, the components all seem to be components that have been used in other machines. The brain box is from gicar and the pressurestat is from CEME. I note, though, that I didn’t get to strip the machine down - instead, this is based on the tear-down photos sent to me by Chris.

Stainless steel body - seemed to polish up very easily.

Boiler is insulated - presumably a good thing in terms of energy savings, but query whether in this instance it isn't another factor making the machine run hot. Nonetheless, having the machine come with a boiler insulated from the factory means that there shouldn’t be any need to consider embarking on this task yourself.

The Bad:

Double portafilter spouts - these sit forward and, so, make it impossible to wedge the portafilter against the bench for tamping; they are also a little wide for pouring two both streams of a double shot into a single espresso cup. The Giotto has the same issue. See photo below.

Drip tray - the drip tray is far too small, particularly if you want to flush a large amount of water through it - I was emptying every shot or two, which is basically totally impractical unless you have your machine right next to the sink, in which case it is still annoying. I keep a bucket under the bench to empty the giotto drip tray into.

Water tank cover - the water tank cover has two holes punched into it for handles. Things like dust, dirt and ground coffee can fall through these holes. Again, the giotto has the same problem.

Stainless steel tank - the fit and finish on this was somewhat poor, in that some of the edges were fairly sharp. To my mind, this is a bit of a problem on the part of the machine that your fingers are going to get near the most often.

Drip tray grate - as great as it was to see a wire drip tray grate, it was irritating that the drip tray grate did not sit flat in the drip tray.

No brew pressure gauge.

Boiler pressure gauge - I found it somewhat hard to read, as the markings are not at the numbers that I am used to; eg 0.9 bar instead of 0.1 bar.


As I flagged before, for me an espresso machine purchasing decision should come down to espresso performance. In this case, I can’t honestly say that I was thrilled with most of the espresso produced by the machine. It may be that this is simply due to the machine running too hot, which is something that can be cured in a number of ways. I understand that E61 has requested modifications to the machine to address this problem. If these work, this machine might be worth revisiting as a good value


Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Aeropress Recipe Collection (And Why It Doesn't Matter)


My espresso machine has been with some dude having some modifications done to it and my housemate has been convincing me of the virtues of the aeropress. I was pretty sceptical of it initially because of the infomercial type advertising (snuggie eat your heart out) and the rave reviews from people brewing hyper-concentrated brews and re-using the paper filters 15 times (I kid you not), bu it's pretty hard to argue with it on the convenience front and it is true that it allows you to control pretty much all of the variables, so I have been experimenting with it a bit over the past few months. One of the things that I found irritating about it was finding info on how to use the thing. So, without further ado, I present you ...

An Aeropress Recipe Collection

Manufacturer's Instructions (pdf)


Wendelblog (I think the above is updated)

Varney's Kenyan Brew

Anders Valde, 1st Aeropress World Champion (Woo! Yay!)

2009 Aeropress World Championships Top 3

Tristan Stephenson

Scott Marquand

Klaus Thomsen

Tom Owen (You Tube)

Why It Doesn't Matter

If you read through all of the above, you will find that they are pretty different. I'm sure that a big part of the difference is due to the difficulty in communicating grind size. (And the associated extraction info.) That, and the massive variety of taste preferences - people often put forward their preferences as the best without explaining why. Actually, that's a good point, so I might reiterate:

People often evaluate without describing.

For example; I was suprised at the strength of one Japanese siphon champ's preferred brew.

In other words, at the end of the day you have to adjust coffee based on taste, which brings us to ...

The Gold Cup

As with any other brew method, aeropress brewing follows the gold cup fundamentals. The gold cup has an interesting history, which is well summarised by Paul Stack here, but it basically comes down to something like this:

Good Coffee = Extraction of the right compounds to the right strength

Extracting the right amount of stuff basically means not underextracting (and having a cup that lacks flavour) and not overextracting (and having a cup that is bitter), but rather getting the right amount of flavour. The range 18-22% has become canonical; this means that, for example, if you grind 20g of coffee, 3.6 to 4.4g of it should end up dissolved in your cup. From memory, the number seems to have come from the early experiments (read Paul's post) and now that we can very easily calculate extraction using a nice refractometer and calculator, I think that we should all be repeating these experiments. From memory, for example, I think that Mr Howell likes to extract his delicious coffee to a narrower range within that 18-22% range.

The right strength is the other main matter of taste. From memory, the SCAE standard is about 1.3% TDS, whereas the SCAA standard is a bit lower. This means, in the case of the SCAE gold cup standard, that 1.3% of the volume of liquid should be coffee extract.

Got it? Simple? Should be.

(As a side-note, I did the SCAA gold cup certification last year at the Atlanta expo. Repeating the name "E. E. Lockhart" a million times made it feel a bit much like a remedial primary school history class for my liking, so I hope that my certificate arrives soon. A friendly follow up email is in order, methinks.)

(As a further side-note, Mark Pendergrast's book Uncommon Grounds mentions that initiatives such as the Coffee Brewing Institute, which did the research for the Gold Cup standard, was backed by the Pan-American Coffee Bureau. In other words, whilst the major US coffee roasters were busily squabbling amongst each other in the face of decreasing share of the beverage market, it was coffee farmers footing the bill to improve the standard of coffee consumption in a land far distant from them and to consequently increase market share for their customers.)


The whole point of the Gold Cup is to learn how to change strength and extraction to improve your cup. Doing so requires you to change variables. Fortunately, the Aeropress gives quite a lot of control:
  • steep time
  • stirring
  • grind
  • water temperature
  • coffee/water ratio
My Recipe

So at long last we come to my recipe. I imagine that this will be useful for no-one, seeing as it is very specific to my setup. To start off with, we noticed that the cups we were getting were quite bitter. It turned out that the culprit was the grinder that I was using. Big conical burr grinders might be the bees-knees for espresso, but aeropress proved to be a challenge for my Kony. The problem was solved by removing the finer particles using a drum sieve. The resultant grind was then not yielding enough per gram, so the weight had to be increased from a standard 55g/L ratio. All of which means that the following is probably fairly useless, but I'm going with more or less:
  • 22.5g coffee (post-sieving)
  • ~200mL water (a few minutes off boil)
  • stir coffee one or two times
  • 1 min 50 sec steep time (inc 30 sec plunge time)
  • dilute to taste.
Works for me at the moment. At a guess, I'd say that I'm probably at about 1.25% TDS by taste. Extraction is probably on the lower end, but I do notice bitterness if I let it steep much longer. Yes, I'm looking at getting a better grinder for filter. The ceramic burr hand grinders that I have tried so far have been pretty woeful.

I have been using the inverted method, though Tom Owen points out that if you fit the bits together, a vacuum forms to stop more coffee leaking out anyway, so I might try that. As a practical matter, it depends if you're comfortable with the risk of catastrophe if you can't fit the filter properly with the press inverted. As a taste matter, I suppose it depends if you want your coffee sitting up against a bit of rubber or a bit of paper - neither of which sounds attractive. I will probably have a go at making some cloth filters at some stage.

Of course, the absolute best thing about it is that clean up takes 2 seconds!


It may be useful to keep a collection of Aeropress recipes, so if you have any links that you would like me to add, let me know ...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Summer and the Brown Menace

OK, so I know that my legions of regular readers have been missing my contributions to this blog, so I wholeheartedly apologise to both of them.

There are a few things that I should probably talk about here, like meeting Geoff Watts and the lovely speech he gave at St Ali recently (it doesn't take a genius to predict that a bunch of people are going to try to pass off crap bought through brokers as "direct trade" over the next six months), the opening of ten million nice cafes around the place, the great performance of the usual suspects (need more links) at this week's Bolivian COE Auction and, let's not forget, the amazing work of Aida Battle's fincas Mauritania and Kilimanjaro being showcased by Square Mile ... but I'm not going to.

We're unfortunately entering that time of year that is traditionally a wasteland for good coffee. The heat just kills coffee so quickly. Some dudes have come up with some really cool ideas - no pun intended - to address the problem. Andrew at the Maling Room came up with a great idea after we got sick and tired of having a window of two days to use our deliveries at Maltitude and Maling Room; wine fridges. Nolan has put some in at Proud Mary and I'm guessing that they will become more popular. Nim came up with the great idea of using a tiny esky at home. Whilst Rio Coffee was supplying Mecca, Tony shipped coffee to them in polystyrene boxes. I have a few at home from orders from Tony and I'm using them to store wine. Surprisingly, when the ambient temperature was about 24.5C, it was about 6C lower inside the box. Not bad for a "cellar" that cost me ... nothing, and therefore possibly a feasible solution for cafe owners whose space and budget won't allow the extravagance of a wine fridge.

The effect of heat is magnified with those unsealed brown paper bags that seem to be really popular now. Sealing coffee in the gases that it gives off after roasting seems to me to make a real difference in preserving flavour and, of course, brown paper bags don't really do a good job of sealing it in ... really, the only thing that's worse is buying coffee from an open basket. Valve bags seem to do a better job, but we need to remember that those valves apparently fail quite a lot. In any case, I wonder if the plastic is permeable - at Coffeelab, the oxygen meter showed that these bags seem to vary. If we're talking about 250g, vacuum packing it in valveless bags after roasting would probably be an affordable and sensible option, but I imagine that you'd feel like a moron selling prepackaged coffee bags that had puffed up like a football. Not to mention that for some reason vacuum packaging seems to have developed a bad reputation, possibly because it is associated with stale coffee in many people's minds.

I have had great success with brown paper bags by adaptin a technique from Mr Wolff; once I buy coffee in a brown paper bag, that brown paper bag lives inside a cheap 750mL takeaway container, which seems to be the ideal size for storing 250g bags of coffee. At $12 for 50 at a restaurant supply store, they won't break the bank and it's surprisingly convenient to have that many containers with lid. Presumably they aren't airtight, but I think they certainly make a difference in the shelf life of the coffee. Now before you go saying that they run contrary to any sort of environmental reason for using paper, these containers are dishwasher safe and recyclable. The only downside is that the edges can crack.

Deadman blend; not dead coffee! Speaking of which, this coffee is absolutely delightful; one of my favourites of the past six months. A shining example of the convergence of clever blending and clever sourcing of truly spectacular green coffee. It also runs contrary to the idea that blends hide the farmer: you can clearly taste the acidity and berry of the kenyan element, the more fermenty berry of the Aricha, the body of the El Sal and the sweetness of the Colombian element. Buy it!

Finally, with filter brewing on the rise, this post seems like a good place to vent my hatred of brown filter paper, too. Most of the brown papers that I have used have been garbage - heaps of rinsing required to get a cup that tastes like coffee and not like paper. If you're opposed to bleached paper for environmental reasons, spare a thought for the litre of water that you might need to throw away in the middle of this drought ... oxygen bleached paper might well be more environmentally friendly. That said, Chemex paper is bleached and seems to be pretty unimpressive - see the Hoff on the subject. Fortunately, the bleached Hario paper and the bleached stuff with MCM's filters seems to be pretty good.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Rules

So Starbucks finally opened a store to try to go toe-to-toe with the high-end coffee crowd. The signs were there all along; from half way across the world, even I knew that they had bought the company that manufactures clover and remember people complaining about how Starbucks had apparently gone and bought up all the Blue Batak so that it was difficult for the little independent dudes to get any?

Read the Cho's article, take a look at the photos on flickr: from a five minute glance it looks like the new store is a cold and calculated attempt to jump into the little independent dude space. Take a look at the bolts sticking out of the back of the LM, the old-school kettles, chalkboards and enough recycled timber to take on even MD. This is grunge manufactured with decimal point precision.

Naturally, I think that the gut reaction of anyone interested in high end coffee will look at this venture with cynicism. I mean, they can't really be cool if the process by which they create the image of being cool is detached, calculated and analytical ... can they? These guys are just stepping into the little independent space and presumably regurgitating all the same messages about "single origins" and other buzzwords that the high-end coffee movement has been all about; any bets the coffee won't actually be all that good ... will it?

But let's take a step back for a minute. It's not as though putting together a funky looking cafe, presenting the public with a beguiling array of buzzwords and information about coffee and still selling a pretty crappy product is something that Starbucks has a monopoly on (if, indeed, that is what they are doing here). There are any number of little independent roasteries out there that are free-riding on the work of the good guys. I think that many of us have been to a cafe or roastery where the barista behind the expensive multi-boiler wundermachine has waxed lyrical about the fantastic properties of the coffee of the day, only to serve something that was disappointing, if not defective, but in no way lived up to the hype. Similarly, I think that many of us have been sold coffee accompanied by a whole page of information about it, but that two seconds of research will show is actually one of the cheaper, commodity type coffees right off the offer sheet of a large broker. (Sidebar: I'm in no way bagging the large brokers; they have stunning coffees as well as crappy coffees - the challenge for the roaster, as always, is to find them.)

The good news for the consumer is that Starbucks will hopefully mop the floor with independents who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. Starbucks has the cash, the marketing brains and the clout to beat these guys at everything that they do. The only advantage that the independents have in wining the marketing "war of words" is that they are not associated with the Starbucks brand and can position themselves free of the baggage that that entails. Hopefully competing with this new entrant will mean that independent little guys will have to deliver better quality. The news is good for those that do; hopefully this new Starbucks store will act as a stepping stone to get consumers in the USA moving towards the best coffee.

So overall, I'm quite optimistic about the impact of this new venture on the consumer (as opposed to on little independent roasteries) - more competition is usually better. I do have one gripe, though - whilst the "inspired by Starbucks" tagline obviously does the job of getting the consumer to understand that it is a Starbucks store, it is a bit of a slap in the face to all of the independent stores that would seem to have been the real inspirations for it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The B Word

OK, so it has been a while since I last updated, but it hasn't exactly been hard to get your fix of Luca coffee rants. My last article, on Fair Trade coffee, was published in BeanScene #3 and is on my other web page, complete with copious footnotes and the full reviews of the featured coffee. My recent article in Cafe Culture gave a very brief overview of the wonderful coffee tasting course that I did in the USA earlier this year. And there is much more in the pipeline ...

The one thing that is decidedly missing in the above is controversy and opinion. After all, what is the bloggosphere if not a virtual soapbox?

There was a tiny bit of controversy in response to my last post, where I dared to use the word "best," albeit with half a billion disclaimers, including prefacing the word with "one of" as opposed to "the". The person who posted the comment since deleted it. I kind of wish that that person hadn't because the comment raised a very good point. From what I remember, the comment was something along the lines of "don't use the word best; can't we all get along and appreciate everthing that everyone is doing without comparing and whilst singing kumbaya." Obviously I'm paraphrasing. The poster of that comment is welcome to take exception and correct me, but is welcome to stay silent, safe in the knowledge that I won't reveal his (or her) name ;P

I certainly agree that the B-word is used indiscriminately online in relation to coffee and its presence often indicates unreliable information. In the past, I have been careful not to use that word where possible. That said, all coffee, all coffee machines and all coffee roasters are most certainly not created equal. I don't think that it's controversial to recognise that some things are better than others and having spent a lot of time exploring the world of coffee I'm happy to mention some things that I like. (I'm even more happy to do so against a background of a disturbing rise in coffee roasters using buzzwords over substance, but that's a rant for another rant!)

In that spirit, let me point out that our good friends at Square Mile have to be amongst the world's best coffee roasters. (Stick that up your pipe and smoke it, anonymous commenter!)

On a more serious note, I have now had the pleasure of tasting coffee from Square Mile on multiple occasions and in each instance I have been quite amazed at the care taken to select different coffees and roast them to present vastly different sensory experiences, which mostly match up pretty closely with the description of the coffee.

Now, there are a few really top notch coffee roasters around and whilst the shelves at Square Mile groan under the weight of many trophies, that's not really enough to merit my dragging my lazy hide to the keyboard for this blog post. What merited this post is that Square Mile seems to be a happy convergence of an abundance of coffee talent and a dearth of accounting talent leading to a ridiculously cheap subscription for us Aussies. Long story short, we can get a 350g bag of coffee delivered to our door from merry old London every month for about $20/month (roasted for filter brewing). That's about $60/kg delivered. I actually wrote an email to Anette to check that this price was correct for Australia, given that postage of anything to Australia from practically anywhere is usually enough to impoverish all but the six richest kings of Europe. To be fair, though, this is also in part due to the AUD being the strongest that it has been against the GBP for a long time.

There's always a catch and this time around it is quarantine. It seems that AQIS has now decided to inspect anything and everything. Green coffee imports quite clearly require a permit, but I have never had a problem having roasted coffee shipped in until a few months ago - presumably because nothing nasty can survive the 200C+ temperatures that coffee is exposed to when it is roasted. The first time around, my order arrived a mere week after it was posted, but this time around it was delayed two. Here's hoping that we return to the situation where roasted coffee is acknowledged to be as low risk as it clearly is.

Great coffee every month and reprieve from the agony of choice. Lovely.

Anyway, with my obligation to put something on this blog fulfiled, I bid you adieu!


Monday, June 08, 2009

USA - FINAL POST ... and then some ...

OK, so the old blog hasn't gotten much of a workout in the last month, so time for a whirlwind update ...

USA Trip - The LAst Leg

OK, so after Atlanta, I headed over to LA for a few days of hanging out with Em, Scott and Saxon from AIR and the various Intelligentsians ...

Deaton gives us a tour of the Intelly roastworks.

Kyle and Tim showed us the training room, where the staff for Venice beach were hard at work in their intensive training program. Terry Z's GS2 looked pretty schmick.

Intelly Silverlake. This store was like a magnet; I was in LA for two days and I think that we made about four trips to Silverlake!

Gorgeous layout in the front patio; I really should have also taken some shots of the inside of the store. The store is set out to give the staff heaps of room to work, but nonetheless looks beautiful. Great coffee offered in a number of brewing methods.

Kenya Thunguri brewed as a clover. An absolute stunner, in the league of the Mamuto. Personally, though, I find a whole mug of brewed coffee to be a bit of a hard slog. Not only is it a helluva lot of coffee, but it also takes forever to reach a nice drinking temperature. I much prefer BBB's way of brewing it into a pot and serving it with a small cup, which allows you to pour a small amount into the cup at a time in order to have it at the perfect drinking temperature.

We also took a trip to Venice Beach to see how the new store is progressing. It is going to be pretty phenomenal. I'm tipping this to become an iconic photo for the area once the sign is lit up.

Home Again

Of course, there have been a lot of interesting things on at home, too. Looking back, I have actually done a heap of cuppings over the past few months. And good ones, too - good coffee, good roast levels, multiples of each sample.

(Conclusion: you can't cup with paper cups. I'd better add cupping bowls to the shopping list.)

I also feel that we're on the up-side of the Melbourne coffee cycle. Not only are we getting in a lot of new green coffee at the moment, but the cold weather allows for much better storage and ageing. I think that it will get better over the next few months as the stuff that is now new becomes an old acquaintance to the people roasting it, following which, as it starts to heat up several months down the track, things will start to decline. That said, there's every reason to be optimistic that the down side of the cycle won't be as bad as it has been in years past. For one thing, the past year seems to have seen a lot more competition come to the green coffee market, with a few Aussies starting up agencies for overseas importers. For another, I think that the better roasters are now starting to think about green storage and will be better able to manage their inventories towards the end of the year. The question is how much these best practices will actually spread; getting people to spend more time, money and effort on coffee is always an uphill battle. George Howell puts it very succinctly; to paraphrase him, good green storage only costs a few percent of the overall price - everyone in business believes in insurance, so why not pay the tiny amount for good green storage so that you don't end up having to try to sell green that has gone bad?

Finally, I suppose that I should briefly mention Seven Seeds. I suspect that the guys probably want to keep it under wraps a bit so that they can have a slow start, but that's simply not going to happen. Needless to say, it is extremely well fitted out and there are a few really clever ideas that I'm sure will be copied, such as the nursery. Taking a walk around the green room is really quite confronting; there's a lot of very expensive and very good coffee in there. Frankly, this place has nearly everything to be one of the best coffee roasteries in the world. And I don't say that lightly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

USA Trip 09 - Days 9 Through Whatever ...

New York

So after Coffeelab I didn't do too much coffee stuff in New York. Apparently there's stuff there that you can do other than coffee.

I did make it down to Cafe Grumpy and 9th St Espresso. Grumpy delivered service true to its name and coffee true to its reputation. Everything seemed to be very driven by Ethiopian coffees; more stuff of the IMV Ilk. The espresso and clovers were pretty good, but I have to say that I found their in-your-face IMV type flavour to be rather unsatisfying after the balance of the espresso that Mane busted out on our last day at Coffeelab. Fantastic cappuccino at both Grumpy and 9th St, with Grumpy pulling off a rather amazing transmogrification as the berry flavour of their coffee gave way to dark choc in the last few sips. But what's with the milk? Coarse bubbles at both places.

SCAA + Atlanta

The Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo was always going to be jam packed ... add the World Barista Championships and it was a very, very, very packed few days ...


Team Australia in their run through time; Tim, Wolffy and JP. I really wanted to spend more time with team Aussie and more time watching the WBC, but had too much stuff to try to squeeze in at the expo. In fact, I only ended up watching one performance - Mike Philips from the USA (who I thought definitely had a winning performance). Tim's run through went well; his espresso tasted really sweet and I can't wait to stream his performance, already knowing full well that he will have done us proud.

Grinders provided by Espresso Parts. Tshirts provided by

The WBC espresso bar; fancy being able to get great coffee at a barista competition!


OK, so in a nutshell, I did four labs - two brewing labs and two farming labs. The farming labs were absolutely awesome, with some guys at the cutting edge taking us through all of the various processes and correlating the many goings on at the farm with the result in the cup. Money well spent.

Show Floor

Me using the new time machine. At least I think it was a time machine; every time I came near it I lost half an hour!

The machine that everyone was talking about. Utterly amazing. Brew pressure profiling via a new lever group. Critics correctly point out that brew pressure profiling via a lever is impractical in a busy bar operation. Except when you can record the pressure profile and play it back! There were also a bunch of other cool things, including SS portafilters and teflon coated steam wands. I'll go out on a limb and say that I reckon this prototype is the best machine on the planet at the moment.

You can get an idea of the front of the machine from the photos above.

LM are popular dudes. Every man and his dog gave them coffee.

So how did the coffee taste? Pretty amazing.

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