"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2912/21/00 - I suppose that you need to have some bad days to know the value of the good days. This morning was a bad day. I had roasted some Monkey a little lighter- just a bit over 6 on the HWP roaster. The roast looked like a city roast- a nice medium brown. I was going for something a little lighter than I had been using just for a change, and for no other reason than that, but I think that I went a bit too far (that is, not far enough as roasting goes).
Frustrations and Solutions
The first pull was OK, but was a bit long in time. It was marginally drinkable, so while I was consuming that, I decided to grind a bit coarser and try again. That was even worse. Very long- well over 30 seconds and still not close to two ounces. I increased the grind two clicks and that was also a very long pull. I went two clicks coarser again and this time the pull lasted only about ten seconds and tasted very under-extracted. Sipping it and expecting espresso and I got Folgers. Just a coffee taste with none of the depth you would expect from an espresso. The last measure left of the Monkey was ground a bit finer than the last but once again a very short pull and under-extracted in taste. I went through that entire roast this morning and got nothing but a collection of foul pucks and a sink of poor espresso. I think I'll stick to a darker roast.
12/26/00 - Was at Costco this afternoon and for yuk-yuks we walked down the coffee isle on the grocery side. Of course there were the usual ten pound cans of Folgers (or at least so they appeared) and coffee-ish things like Frappaccino (which, surprisingly enough had no artificial ingredients). The bags of Starbucks beans were interesting. The beans and the inside of the clear plastic bag in which they were packaged had more oil than my week-old full-city roast of Monkey (and more than on the bottom of the oil pan of my '48 Chrysler). Oily would not even describe them as they approached greasy. The Starbucks French Roast was packaged in opaque bags and I can only guess that if those other Valvoline-ish beans were the regular roast, what would pass for French with them?
The same day I also had a sample cup of "Summatra" at a local store that sells packaged beans from the local roaster. I mentioned a few weeks ago that they had some Summatra Mandehling brewed that was excellent. Some of the best cupped coffee I can remember tasting. Today's just said "Summatra" on the vac pot as well as on the bags of roasted beans there on the little table with the little paper sample cups. This stuff tasted like it had been poured over some badly over-roasted Starbucks beans (that's sort of redundant, isn't it?). I could easily taste the over-roasting. Something like a mixture of carbon and BBQ'd coffee beans. Not pleasant (unless you like that sort of thing). Interesting enough, there was no Mandehling for sale.
12/30/00 - Lately I have been getting very inconsistent results from my pulls (see above 12/21/00). For the most part they were tasting a bit under-extracted and bitter with a lot more foamy crema than usual. Although the pulls would fill the shot glass, the crema would settle down to far less than two ounces total for the pull. After running the variables through my mind for days I decided to get back to basics. I pulled the bathroom scale out again and measured my tamping pressure. I had found that, much like when I work on vehicles where I tend to "gorilla grip" stuff, I had slowly lost the feel of a thirty-pound tamp. I don't know to what pressure I had progressed but the 'weighed' tamp measured on the scale felt quite a bit more gentle than what I had been using and my pulls came back as did the espresso. I guess I'm just an animal.
12/31/00 - The last week or so has been frustrating. The problem I just related concerning the quality of my pulls was part of it. The use of the scale helped out yesterday. I also mixed up some espresso-machine cleaner and cleaned the portafilter and grouphead thoroughly. That always helps.
But I was also having a problem with my steaming. It seems that it was taking quite a bit longer than usual and even starting with a bit more soymilk I was getting less stretching- just a mug of hot milk. I tried a lot of variables to remedy the problem: more milk, less milk, bleeding off more steam before starting, bleeding off less, a number of different steaming techniques, and more. Nothing seemed to help. Then this evening I put together two "New Year's" cappuccinos that we enjoyed in the hot tub. They were excellent. The espresso was rich and tasty and the steamed milk was nearly perfect. The difference? The soymilk was from a batch we made this afternoon- fresh and barely cooled off, barely hours old. The stuff from earlier in the week was about ten days old. It still tastes OK and is not spoiled or anything, but it certainly changes as it becomes aged and it's ability to stretch nearly disappears.
So, as the soymilk aged the quality of my frothed milk declined proportionately. I was thinking there was something wrong with Silvia because things just slowly got worse. I actually contemplated giving the folks at Whole Latte Love a call to discuss possible remedies, that's how bad it was getting. Very frustrating, but the excellent cappas last night made up for it.
Wifee also mentioned that our protein breakfast also shows the same behavior. When she uses the Braun hand mixer to blend the protein into the soymilk that it foams much less as it gets old.