The Dirty Portafilter

My corner of the Internet, mostly espresso related but occasionally life will interfere.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Red Star, Parting Thoughts

I just ran the last of the Red Star from Caffe Fresco through the Mazzer. As I mentioned in the previous article, I was developing a bad cold. I did, and it was. I am still trying to rebound after missing three days of work.

I did enjoy the Red Star but the Ambrosia was my favorite of the two. The Red Star has a very deep flavor profile. An intense earthy note with plenty of sweetness. There is a bit of brightness that presents itself at the end of the sip. That helps to balance the deep flavor, the secondary note was interesting, and I would swear I was getting a bit of berry in there.

I found that the darker roast worked best for me at the lower end of the temperature scale. I was getting a touch of bitterness at 199 and below and a bit of carbon above 201. A brew temp of 200 worked best for my pallet.

I found that I enjoyed this blend better as a shot, in part for its intense sweetness. I found that the more delicate notes of this blend got lost in anything larger than a macchiato.

Would you enjoy the blend? If you like a deep earthy cup (read this as Sumatran), then I would say yes. If you find the earthy notes of a Sumatran to be overpowering, than you would want to steer clear.

Black Gold...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Red Star, Day Three

I have had a little time with the Red Star so I thought I would drop in some thoughts. The Red Star is defiantly roasted a bit darker than the Ambrosia. The blend contains a generous helping of Sumatra. In my limited experience, Sumatran coffee takes a little darker appearing roast than most. I have found it to be a bit of a balancing act to roast. If you go a little to light than the earthy must will overpower the cup, roast it a tad to long and you get a carbon taste (yes I do home roast 90% of my coffee).

I am still playing with the extraction temperature. I started a bit high on the temp, around 201-202F. While the Ambrosia worked better for me at the higher end of the spectrum, I am finding the Red Star works better at the lower. I pulled a double this evening around 199F, and the cup was even smoother and the carbon hints I was getting in the higher temps were disappearing. It was the best shot yet.

Unfortunately, my family has been sick for a week now and as usual, it has finally started to hit me. It is moving into my head and as a result my taste will be severally affected. I believe human taste is over 90% olfactory (smell), so not being able to smell anything is going to have a severe impact on my ability to pick out the nuances of this blend. I am holding my final thoughts until I finish the blend later this week.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Caffe Fresco Red Star Blend

I cut into my bag or Red Star this morning. The roast has had eight days to rest and is in the middle of its prime. I cut the bag open and took a good sniff. The first thing that came to my mind was earth and sugar. This blends aroma has more depth and earthy must with a bit of sweet aroma, interesting.

Here is the blend the hopper. This roast appears slightly darker than the ambrosia but that may be due to the change in bean. I would say there is about 30-40% surface oil coverage.



My first shot helped me dial in the grinder and season my machine so it went down the sink (had to backflush prior to trying the new blend). A minor adjust on the grinder and off we go. I decided to use my Bodum glass so I could see how the crema develops. It pulled almost all crema.


About 30 seconds after the extraction finished, the crema settled out to a solid 50%. The first sip, wow, is this sweet and deep earthy tone. My initial perception was a very sweet and deep cup with less acidity than the Ambrosia, but a slight brightness that presents itself a few seconds after the sip.


Then on to a cappuccino and another very slight adjustment to the grind. The timing was on the mark with this shot. The tiger flake was striking in the cup with a thick brick red crema.



The milder, smoother, cup profile of the Red Star seams to get a little lost in the milk. You defiantly would not want to use this blend in a late.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Ambrosia, End Of The Bean…

Well, I have finished the remainder of my Ambrosia blend. I have to say that it was quite tasty. Unfortunately, I had to cut into the bag prior to the roast reaching its prime. The plus side to that, I had a unique chance to see how the blend develops over a few days.

I must point out that Caffe Fresco ships the same day it roasts, and while that guarantees the consumer fresh, quality, micro roasted beans, you do have to be patient. If you find yourself almost out of beans when you order a batch (as I did) you may have to go without for a couple of days.

Would you like the blend? As long as you like a medium acidity espresso with hints of spicy floral/fruity coco, I would say yes. It makes a good shot, but it was just a touch bright for my taste (possibly due to my premature use), it did make an exceptional cappuccino for my pallet. Will I purchase it again, yup. On my smiley face cappuccino scale, I give this one a big grin.

I will leave you with a couple of parting shots of the last bit of ambrosia. Up next, Red Star from Caffe Fresco.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ambrosia Day Three




My Ambrosia is now 5 days out of roast and I must say, it has substantially developed in two days. It is much smoother, a nice mellow flavor. If I had to guess as to the origin of the blend, I would say it contains a bit of Yemen, some Ethiopian, some deep notes from a dry processed Brazil or Sumatran and maybe a touch of New Guinea . In milk I get a bit of coco, some light floral/tropical note with a bit of spice. I do not notice the coco as much in a straight shot.

Nice tiger flake in the cup

Be Thankful For What You Have


My wife said something to me a couple of days ago that got me thinking. I was lusting after the Elektra A3 and talking about how ‘awesome’ it would be to upgrade my Isomac. I was rambling on about the 6 liter boiler, rotary pump, …. Of course she had no idea what I was talking about, or really care. Then she looks at me and says ‘you should be grateful for what you do have’. I hate to admit it but she is correct, I should be more grateful.

I have to say that I have been blessed. It was not that many years ago (11 I believe) that I was out of work for almost a year. I did not have two penny’s to rub together, a wife, new baby and more bills then I could even comprehend. I did whatever I had to do just to keep my little apartment and went bankrupt.

I moved back to Dayton from Denver, quit feeling sorry for myself and made another hard run at life. Now I have a nice job (IT manager) making a decent salary, nice house, 20,000 gallon swimming pool, two motorcycles, truck, van, and most importantly my family, first and only wife, daughter, son, dog and cat (bet you thought I was going to say espresso machine).

It has been almost a year now since I dove into the espresso world. I have had an Ebay special pump machine, KitchenAid Pro, Gaggia Factory, Isomac millennium, KitchenAid A9 grinder, Gagga MDF grinder and a Mazzer Mini-P, all in ONE YEAR, and I still want something bigger and bad’r. I should be more grateful for what I have, you take it all for granted until you lose it all (as Two Martinis did in a fire a month ago). I still have the Factory, Millennium, A9, MDF, and Mini.


With all of the natural disasters the world has seen this year, we should be more grateful for what we have. If you have a roof over your head, food in the refrigerator, and a few dollars in your wallet, you are among the top 95% of the world’s population. So slow down, kiss your wife/husband, hug your kids, pull a shot and take a moment to count your blessings.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ambrosia day two

Ambrosia, day two

I got an email from Tony at Caffe Fresco clarifying a couple of points. The Ambrosia and Red Star both have a recommended brew temp between 199 and 201. As with most things, this is a recommended starting range, as Tony put it ‘let your taste be your guide’. If it has a hint of sourness, up the temp, if it is bitter, lower it. As with all espresso, what is in the cup is what counts.

My guestamation as to the rest time was correct. Caffe Fresco roasts every weekday morning, so my Thursday order was roasted Friday and sent on its way to me. One of the unique things with Caffe Fresco is that your order is on its way 4 hours after the roast. My roast is on day 4, the blend will come into prime in another day. Here is an attempt at a rosetta with the ambrosia.

Incase you are wondering, Caffee is the correct spelling

Monday, September 19, 2005

Caffe Fresco Ambrosia Blend

Being out on travel last week I did not have time to roast up a batch of espresso. I decided to order some Ambrosia and Red Star from Caffé Fresco. Tony Sciandra (founder and roaster) has stirred up a bit of a buzz on CoffeeGeek. I have to say, it lives up to the hype.

My package arrived today.



Nicely packed and with information about the company, blend and the Rainforest Alliance.

This is the ambrosia in my Mazzer hopper. If you are wondering about the blue around the top, that is a rubber band. I get a good seal on the lid which helps to cut down the oxidation and prolong the life of the blend (but it never lasts more than 5 days).

I only get out the Illy Collection cups for special events, I thought this qualified. This is the first shot. No grinder tweaking, truly the first shot.


I had to have a sip before the photo


It was a little edgy; I think it needs another day or two to rest. They recommend 199-201F for the brew temp. I pulled two shots, one in the 199 range, another in the 201 range. The higher temp pulled a better shot.

Next up was a cappa and a slight grinder adjustment, the timing on this one was on the money.



Good stuff Tony.

A dismal search for a drinkable shot...

Well my friends, I am back from a week long business trip to Newark New Jersey. As any self respecting coffee geek, I tried to research the offerings in my destination city. Having come up short on a web search I turned to my friends at Coffee-Geek. I was met with less than enthusiastic results, but I thought to myself, it can’t be that bad. After all, this is next door to New York and a major metropolitan area.

Once I finally arrived at my final destination, it was too late to go searching for a café. I made note of a two group in the hotel bar as I passed. I also made an inquiry with the hotel attendant; once again the results were not hopeful.

I set out on my quest the next day. A walk through of the bar provided the expected let down. There was a machine, but no grinder. As I sat at the bar I noticed the two big boxes of POD’s. I had the unfortunate experience of watching the bartender prepare an espresso and cappuccino for another unlucky patron. He picked up the portafilter from the drip tray (good and cold) opened a POD and dropped it into the PF. Now, as I sit there watching I notice that there is no POD adapter on the machine. He promptly drops the POD into the PF basket, locks it into the group and hits the double button. What came out appeared more like tea than espresso. Now he moves on to the cappa, same procedure, same result, but then came the milk. Now this machine was not too dirty. The steam wands had a little residue on them which is to be expected after a few uses. The froth was the typical dish soap bubble and the drinks appeared to be more milk than anything else so decide to pass. A couple of days later I notice the froth wands still have the same residue on them and portafilter still had residue in them. I appears that they did wipe the machine down with a damp bar towel, but I seriously doubt it has had a good cleaning in weeks. My search continues…

I wonder around the hotel and happen onto a café that looks promising, so I return the next day to sample their wares. The place was jumping, a line of customers out the door and the aroma of coffee floating on the breeze, my hopes were elevated. They even had a sign describing each drinks proportions, and it was correct. So I order up a double cappuccino and an orange/cranberry muffin. Now I can not see the preparation area, but I do see a couple of Mazzer’s beside the machine. I hear the grinder spin up. A few moments later I hear the milk being frothed. Now I can tell from the sound of gurgling that it was going to be a bit bubbly. I get my drink and have a seat at a small table. I pop the top on the cup. Now that was not microfoam by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a medium sized bubble and appeared drinkable. The key word here is ‘appeared’. The beans had a distinct stale taste to them. They were probably a couple of months out of the roaster and purchased through a general restaurant supply house, but the muffin was good. So my search continues…

Now it is off to the local StarBucks. Say what you will, they at least have consistency, most of the time. I found one a couple of blocks from my hotel so I wander in about 5pm. Now my first impression was not good. Neither person behind the counter appeared to know what they were doing. So I ordered a medium cappa with an extra shot (quad shot cappa), pay the lady and step to the side to watch the PBTC make my drink. I really, REALLY, wish I had looked behind the counter prior to ordering. They had the filthiest machine I have ever seen. Baked on milk splatter all over the machine, crusty parts, yes folks, coffee crust. There was no drip tray, there was a drip reservoir, but there was no tray on top. You could not see into the dose chamber of the Mazzer through the windows, they were caked and stained with ground coffee and the grinders and work surface was just flat out disgusting. They under dosed into the PF from the doser, tamped using the leveling attachment on the old nasty looking Mazzer and locked it onto the group head. Then he picked up two nasty looking shot glasses out of the drip tray, remember there is no cover, they are sitting IN the drip tray. You can not even begin to imagine how filthy these two shot glasses were. It looked like they had been pulling shots into the same two glasses all day, and neither had been washed in who knows how long.

Now you may be thinking it can’t get any worse, but it does. After putting the two nasty shot glasses into the drip tray and pulling my shots into them he proceeds to froth my milk. He dumps milk into a dirty pitcher, jams the crusty frothing wand into the pitcher and blows milk completely out of the pitcher. Heat, heat, heat, stop and stare into the pitcher. ‘Ay, ther anint no froth in here’ he calls out to the lady. To which she replies ‘Ya gots to move it up and down to make bubbles’. So they pour some of the scalded milk into my cup, then pour more milk into the scalded milk currently in the pitcher and away they go again. Woosh, goosh, splatter goes the milk. Now they have some bubbles, and quite literally boiled milk. So they dump more of it into my cup and proudly hand it to me. I give them a half hearted nod and walk over a small table by the window.

Now my stomach is turning. The cup is so hot from the boiled milk that I can not even hold it. I sit there in a daze staring out the window as the crush of humanity goes by. Bankers, lawyers, secretaries rushing to Pen Station to get out of Doge, the drunks, vagrants and occasional stoner staggering around in the sea of humanity, just to end up staggering into an ally where they slump down against a building. I do hazard a sip, just because I went through all of the trouble to walk here. I wince at the scalded, acrid taste, stare out the window for another few moments, walk to the door and drop my drink in the trash and retreat to the hotel bar to drown my sorrows with a beverage of another kind. Owe how I miss home…