"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2311/16/00- This morning was my first chance to use my new tamper. In case you haven't been following along, I have been using the plastic tamper that came with the Sylvia. Not only was it smaller than the portafilter basket but it's bottom was very curved making any consistency a near impossibility. My new tamper was purchased from Espresso Supply. It is of the correct diameter (58mm) and has a flat bottom. It made a lot of difference. Before I would have to tamp five or six times, working my way around the basket. Now, a five pound tamp. A tap on the side to dislodge stuck grains, and one good thirty pound tamp followed by a spin or two to polish off the surface of the puck and that's it. It takes about one-tenth the amount of time and it produces much better results. The two doubles I pulled this morning were very nice indeed, with the second approaching nirvana. This was using the Monkey roasted at 6 on my Hearthware Precision roaster.
Biscotti, Knock Boxes, and Crema- Oh My!
I have commandeered an old cake pan- the narrow, deep type, from my wife and it will soon become a knock-box after the addition of a wooden cross-piece.
11/18/00- My homemade tamper box was created as described above using some oak to make a slide-on knock bar that fits across the top of the cake pan. The bar is about an inch thick and resembles a stylized, elongated capital "C." It works great, and the no-stick surface of the pan cleans up instantly. It's really nice to have that right next to the machine. It is much better than walking across the kitchen, dripping coffee on the floor, to get to the trash compactor (we don't keep a trash can in the kitchen). It also means that the portafilter is out of the brew head for a shorter period of time so it retains more heat. To clean the portafilter between pulls, I knock the puck out, replace the portafilter, then dispense some water through the brewhead (like a short pull) to wash out the remaining grounds. This has the added benefit of putting some heat back in the brewhead/portafilter.
My pulls are becoming more consistent and I am becoming a bigger fan of Monkey and Donkey all the time. I suppose that I will eventually try some different blends and maybe even a different supplier, but this stuff tastes so good, is priced quite acceptably, and brews up with so much crema (see my pour video) that I see no reason to switch at this time.
I really like the new tamper. I still can't believe that Rancilio includes that stupid plastic one with a machine as good as the Silvia. Even in plastic, they could have included a tamper that was flat and actually fit the portafilter. I have learned that it is important to tamp straight down. It is easy to get the tamper cocked a bit to one side and end up with a puck that is thinner at one end than the other. Just another variable to watch out for and control. To verify your tamping efforts, check the puck after tamping to see that it is about the same thickness all the way across before brewing.
When I started with this equipment the Rocky was set to about 12 or 14, but now it is best when set at around 8 or 9. I would have to assume that this is a matter of the Rocky breaking in more than anything else. The burrs rubbed at around 7 when I first got it and now they rub at around 3 or 4, so there was evidently some sort of break-in period.
My pulls are more consistent. I am sure that part of that is zeroing in on the grind and tamping consistently. I am still using the bathroom scale to measure tamp pressure. Generally speaking, I tend to get heavy-handed so the scale keeps me honest. Even the pulls that are short or long in time show beautiful crema so that is not necessarily a sign of quality espresso. Still, the pulls that are off are only off by a bit, with nearly all my pulls usually falling between 18 and 28 seconds. I can taste the difference between the pulls a little more now as my palate becomes accustomed to the taste of espresso and I have come to enjoy the taste of straight shots.
11/19/00 - I pulled a couple of doubles this morning, one for each of us as morning cappas, sipped leisurely and thoroughly enjoyed with the homemade low-fat biscotti we made together last night from scratch. Yummm!
Afterwards I decided to clean out the Rocky. I took it apart and while doing so did a couple of minor modifications. I removed the plastic doser forks which I never really used and also removed the shiny chromed separator in the doser compartment. It is meant to shear off excess grounds so only one dose is dispensed at a time, but since I only grind one dose at a time regardless of how many I am brewing, all it did was get in the way when cleaning. If you are interested in the details of how to do either of these modifications, let me know and I will include a simple "How To" on this website.
I did notice when I was removing the top burr to clean the grinding chamber that the upper portion of the doser, where it enters the grinding chamber, was cracked and a small piece, about 4mm x 8mm had broken off and was laying in there. I am planning on making my own dosing chute and totally removing the dosing chamber. I believe it can be fairly easily done with a scrap of thermal plastic and about an hour of my time. Let me know if you are interested in this as well.
When reassembling the unit I could not get the "0" to line up when the grinder's burrs begin to touch. My burrs rub at about three and the grind I have been using is about a 7, so does that mean that in reality I grind at 4? I suppose that it doesn't really matter anyway as the numbers are just a relative thing for your own use, but it means that comparing numbers from one Rocky to another is meaningless. It appears that the stick-on number strip was not installed at the factory with the "0" lined up. There is a built-in stop so that the hopper, which is also the grind setting device, cannot be screwed in more than one revolution. Unfortunately, there is no way to align the hopper's stop, the "0" mark, and the spot where the burrs rub all together. I was thinking about removing the number strip and replacing it aligned at the proper place, but it appears that the number stip's adhesive is a one-use sort of thing. Once again, it doesn't really matter as long as there is a range of adjustment that works for your machine- the numbers are just a relative thing.
I spent some time late in the afternoon having a roast-a-thon as we were getting a bit low. I roasted two batches of the "American" and two of the "Natural" beans from Alpenroast that came with my Whole latte Love order. The American appeared to have a lot of robusta beans in it which would make sense. Other than that, there was no identification on the bags and I found no information at the Alpenroast website. Taste will tell...
Afterwards I put in another order for green beans from Sweet Maria's- five pounds each of Donkey and Monkey. In the larger quantities, even allowing for shipping costs, this stuff is quite affordable and I doubt I will ever find green beans locally priced as reasonably. Besides, Tom has done a really great job putting together a blend of beans that can roast so easily together and still present such a smooth taste when roasted to around a full city which gives a nice balance between bitter and acidic which we like. I am enjoying the taste of both these blends quite a bit and am I am getting to be quite a "master" at roasting and brewing to bring out the best of each of them... Well, OK.. So, I get lucky a lot. Sue me! DOnkey seems to work well at about 6 where the Monkey likes to be roasted at about 6½ to 6¾.
After I finished the roasting, wifee "coaxed' me into brewing up two cappas, (which, incidently, were made from incredibly delicious espresso), and bringing them into the 'master suite' where we enjoyed an hour of each other's company in the soaking tub. Call it "Family Home Quality Time." Ain't life grand?