The Dirty Portafilter

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Coffee Community, Thanks Barry..

It was just a few days ago that I made a passing comment on Home-Barista about breaking two of my Bodum cups and was hoping that someone would have cups on sale. Then I get home from a long day of work to find two packages on the kitchen counter. One was a batch of coffee from an espresso exchange we are doing on, the other a box from Illinois. Illinois? I think to myself, no one in the exchange is from Illinois.

So I open it up, low and behold look what Barry sent me!

My last glass met an untimely demise while it was perched on the edge of my drip tray. Another was dropped into my sink and shattered quite explosively.

Sometimes I forget how nice some folks can be. Something I have noticed over the past year is the sense of community that is shared within the coffee enthusiast’s domain. I am new to the espresso world but I am a long time motorcyclist.

This sense of brotherhood is something I have only experienced in the biker world. Wherever you go you have a friend just because you are part of the motorcycle community. Unless you ride you probably will not understand. In the motorcycle community there is a set of gentlemen’s rules that most follow. We wave at each other as we pass. Some may have noticed that, we don’t actually know each other, it is a curtsy, a customary greeting like shaking hands. You stop to help a fellow motorcyclist if he is broken down or in distress. Most important of all, respect each other.

Same holds true for the espresso community. There is no shortage of people willing to lend a hand or spend some of their free time to help out with a problem. I have even been invited into other people’s homes while on travel just to enjoy a good espresso and good company. I have benefited from the wisdom and generosity of others and have tried to give back to the community as much as I can.

I guess that is one of the reasons I keep returning to this community and enjoy conversing with all of you.

Barry is a coffee professional, Vice President of Riley's coffee & Fudge, and a member of the Home-Barista community. We converse over the forums, another friend two states over. If you find yourself passing through Dayton Ohio, give me a shout, you are welcome in my home.

So thanks for the Christmas present Barry, this macchiato is for you…

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Out of Bandwidth

It would appear that I have gotten more hits than expected. My photobucket account has exceeded the allotted bandwidth for the month. Many of the photos on the blog will displayed with a wonderful ‘out of bandwidth’ message until the counter resets in December. I will move some of the photos off of photobucket and host them on blogspot for now.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Science Meets Art in the World of Espresso

Below is an excerpt from a running thread at Home-Barista, How do you explore the extraction space?

I have noticed that there tends to be two distinct trains of thought in the espresso world.

You have the technical geeks. The nuts and bolts (science) behind the process. Measurements, tests, and technology used to dissect the process, to learn exactly what a change in one of the dozens of variables will result in. Then use modern tech to minimize those variations (thermocouples, PID’s, regulators, etc).

The second school of thought is the art of espresso. Don’t worry about the nuts and bolts, it is what is on the other side of the portafilter that makes the difference. The Zen aspect, pulling shots by feel and frothing milk by sound and touch. No gauges, no measurements, pure instinct that has been developed by years of practice.

There is nothing wrong with either of these beliefs, nor do I believe that one can exist without the other. In order to maximize what you have in the cup, you need to understand the mechanics behind the process as well as poses a certain amount of intuition. Science meets art, or the GS3 meets the manual lever.

So chin up and push on with the tests and measurements because they are needed. They validate and prove the integrity and abilities of the machine. Then your experience, the art, of espresso is enhanced by the science of espresso. In the end you are rewarded with an ever increasing quality in the cup.


But that is the trick. Learning the variables (science side) and being able to marry that to the resulting cup (art side). In my mind, achieving symmetry between the two is the holy grail of knowledge.

My observations were not aimed at any one person, just a general observation over the past year based on my observations of post in multiple forums. You and a handful of others have found that balance, as evident in you first post. Knowing that adding a gram here or subtracting a degree there will typically yield Z in the cup. Keeping track of all the deltas involved is mind numbing at times. That is where experience, art and science meet in the cup. Without understanding one, you will never master the other.

And with that I must shut down and head off to bed. I am standing here in my smoke filled garage at 1:30am, covered with chaff and looking at six different beans and a notebook with scribbling that only a another coffee enthusiast would understand. I am getting there, slowly but surely, and one day I will hopefully hit that balance.


Without challenging the currently accepted ‘norm’ there will be no continued evolution. As I look back at the history of espresso (or anything else), every milestone was created by one person that asked one simple question, is the there nothing more?

In each case, the technology and cup were thought to be at the zenith, there is no way to improve upon what we currently have. Then someone thinking outside of the box questions the established dogma. Applying a bit of new technology to the old art suddenly yields the next big breakthrough. In a hundred years people may look back and wonder how we ever made due with the GS3 and its low tech PID controllers and rotary pump. We have not even touched on the source, the Arabica tree. Maybe the next big innovation will come from the field and not the lab.

Using technology to enhance the understanding of the art of espresso. Learning to balance the two is the trick IMHO and is what I am targeting. I believe the best baristas have a solid understand of both. As I said, without understanding one, we will never master the other.

These are just my comments, to read the entire conversation follow the link up top.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Importance of Fresh Roasted Beans

I see questions about bean freshness or the occasional ‘help new machine but no crema’ post in just about every coffee/espresso forum I frequent. I am surprised by the number of people that purchase a $1000+ espresso machine but continue to purchase beans from the local grocery store. No matter how expensive you machine is or how good your grinder, old stale beans are incapable of producing an acceptable shot.

Fore those of you that are new to the espresso world, and those veterans that have forgotten how bad it can be, here is a short post with a few photos to help reinforce the importance of fresh roasted beans. Keep in mind that these photos are from beans that are no older than 7 days out of the roaster. The beans are ground in a Mazzer Mini and with the exception of one photo, all pulled from an Isomac Millennium. The one odd ball photo is me pulling a shot on my Gaggia Factory lever machine with beans ground in a Gaggia MDF (that is my office setup).

My tale begins tonight. I have been in Toledo on business all week so I was unable to roast any coffee. I ordered some Code Brown from Coffee Emergency Wednesday. My package was due this Friday, however Friday being a national Holliday the post office was closed. So I worked around the house today while I anxiously awaited my package. I waited, and waited, and waited, but still no delivery and it was now almost 5pm. Having not had a drink of coffee or espresso for a week, I was desperate. So having abandoned hope, I hopped in the car and ran down to Kroger’s.

Yes, I know, coffee from Kroger’s, nothing good can come of that, but like I said, I was desperate. So I picked up a bag of the freshest thing they had and rushed home to make a cappuccino.I dumped the little charcoal brickets into my Mazzer and ground away. It took about three shots to get the grind dialed in. I was getting a 2oz shot 28 seconds, pretty much perfect timing. Now for those of you with a weak constitution, you may want to look away. Here is what I got.

To contrast that, here are a few shots of some shots from beans that are between 4 and 7 days out of the roaster.

Blend #10

Blend #22

Friday, November 11, 2005

Blend #10

I revisited a blend from a few months ago. This combines 40% Sumatra, 20% Brazil Poco Fundo, 20% Guatemala Huehuetenango, 10% Indian Robusta Cannoncadoo Estate and 10% Kenya AA Karatina. It is a relatively complex blend but pretty darn good.

I preroast blended the Sumatra, Brazil and Robusta. I took them about 15 seconds into 2nd crack, a good full city roast. The Guatemala and Kenya were also pre roast blended. Being a brighter, livelier bean, I roasted them just a little longer, about 40 seconds into second crack.

This yields a relatively well balanced cup. A little citrus, spice, chocolate, fruity dry wine flavor. It pulls almost all crema as you can see from these mid extraction and end of extraction photo.

The blend works well in cappuccino. It powered through the milk but I found it to sweet for espresso. A side not, this is after I made my modifications to my Isomac. The updates did yield a noticeable improvement in the cup.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Isomac Modifications, Part Three, Pressure Gauge

Now the hard part starts. I have my Isomac Millennium disassembled; the new preheat heat exchanger line run. Now I have to cut a 1.5 inch hole into a hunk of 18 gauge stainless steel.

I decided to change my gauge placement. The brew pressure gauge is a center rear mount, 1.5 inch, liquid dampened with a 1/8 inch NPT fitting. I have to use a ¼ to 1/8 adaptor on the gauge. With the adaptor, the gauge is now too long to fit where I wanted to mount it. Second reason for changing the gauges placement, the factory boiler gauge is also 1.5 inch, but it has a nice flared collar around it. If my hole is slightly off, the flange will cover it.

I un-mounted the boiler gauge and put the pressure gauge in its place. I routed the new pressure gauge line and hooked it all up. I decided to power the machine up and pressure test my existing modifications. I used a blind basket and ran several cycles checking every fitting for any signs of leaks. Thankfully, I had no leaks, so now onto cutting the hole for the boiler gauge.

I marked my mount location with a felt tip marker and traced around the outside of the boiler gauge. Now I have my trace line and it is time to cut. Not having a 1.5 inch drill bit, I decided to drill a series of smaller holes just inside of my trace line. So I grabbed my hand drill and put a bit in the chuck. I take a deep breath, get my bit set and drill, and drill, drill, drill... Now here is my second problem. I spun the tips on three general purpose drill bits and do not have one hole. This stainless steel is HARD.

I head off to the hardware store and pick up a set of dedicated steel purposed cobalt drill bits. Now these little gems did a number on that Stainless. I drilled around the inside of my gauge trace. Make note of the wood backstop behind my drilling area. These drill bits are very shard and designed to cut hardened steel. A copper water line or boiler would not stand a chance against this thing. The back stop prevents me from drilling through a water line or into the boiler.

I used a carbide cutter bit in my rotary tool to connect the dots, now I have a rough cut hole.

I used the cutter to round out more of the hole. Then I switched to a grinding stone. I smoothed out and shaped the hole. Once I had I my mount hole ground out and the gauge fitted, I switched to a sanding drum. I made my final shaping grinds and removed the burrs from the front and back of the mounting hole.

I mount my boiler pressure gauge in the new hole and string the pressure line to the boiler connection. Now I repeated my leak test. I also want to verify that the boiler gauge is working properly. Once again, no leaks and the gauges are all working correctly.

Now that my lines check out I go crazy with some insulation. I used foil backed adhesive foam pipe insulation. I insolated the boiler and heat exchanger preheat lines. I left my new T on the outside of the insulation to prevent excessive heat transfer to the new pressure gauge. I also insulate the thermosiphon lines, the hot water tap line and the steam lines.

I carefully cleaned up the metal shavings, don’t want to scratch the shiny stainless steel. Bring it back inside, hook up my water line and let it all heat for an hour. I have to say, my first shot after the mods was the best I have had from this machine, but that is another thread…

Finished Product

Right Side After Mod

Rear After Mod

Left Side After Mod

Friday, November 04, 2005

Isomac Modifications, Part Two, Time to Plumb

Now that the machine is stripped to her bones, it was time to start cutting. I needed to cut a hole to mount my new pressure gauge. I also decided to run a preheat loop the length of the boiler, loop under the boiler and back up the other side. Then back the length of the boiler. Then I decided to insulate the boiler while I was in there.

I purchased a liquid filled 160psi/11bar 1.5 inch gauge at Granger and a panel mount kit. I needed some plumbing to pipe everything so I went to the hardware store and got a few feet of ¼ in soft copper tube, a T, a few compression fittings and an elbow.

I decided to start with the most extensive tubing work, which would be the heat exchanger preheat loop. I removed the heat exchanger input loop and cut it in half.

Now I was going to use these parts because the factory fittings are metric. Here in Ohio, you have a better chance of finding gold than a metric plumbing fitting. Unfortunately, I discovered that the tubing was also metric and my ¼ inch fittings will not work. In the end, I took the metric fittings off the pipe and sweated the ¼ inch pipe onto them.

I put the T at the front of the boiler, then ran my line down the side of the boiler, looped it under and back up the other side. Then back along the top of the boiler, stopping even with the HX boiler input. Then I put the elbow on the line and connected it to the HX input.

Now that the lines were run, the hard parts starts, cutting a 1.5 inch hole in a very tough stainless steel.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Isomac Modifications, Part One, Getting Naked

I have owned my Isomac Millennium for a few months now. I decided that I have spent enough time getting to know the machine and getting all of the performance it has to offer. Now I don’t have the money to upgrade (but I really, REALLY, want an Elektra A3), so I decided to try making a few mods.

One thing I have always wanted in this machine is a brew pressure gauge. There are several vendors that sell portafilter mounted pressure gauges. While these are good for adjusting the OPV (over pressure valve), they can not be used during a real extraction. I believe that having the gauge would give me more insight as to what is happening inside the espresso puck. So I thought to myself, Self, lets put a gauge on this thing. After all, it is only plumbing, not rocket science. It may only be plumbing, but it is plumbing under a 140 psi load at 255 degrees.

So I pulled my waterline and moved the machine to the garage for some surgery. Now I have to admit, the idea of pulling this apart was a little daunting. We are talking about cutting up a $1300 peace of equipment. Thankfully, the Millennium comes apart relatively easy.

Start by removing the water tank, then the back panel. There are two screws under the bottom of the panel, and inside the water tank reservoir cavity, there are two more screws at the top corners. Remove them and the back comes right off.

Now you have to remove the inner shield. That is what separates the inner works from the cup warmer topper and forms the inside of the water reservoir cavity. This entire peace is held on with two screws. Looking at the top, you can see them on the front corners, under the cup warmer. After you remove those two screws, gently raise the entire peace straight up. Under the water reservoir base, you will see a switch with two leads. This is the water tank pressure switch. When the tank is empty, springs lift the base and disconnect the switch. Once disconnected, the power shuts down. You will need to pull the wires off in order to completely remove this inner shroud. Make note of which wire goes on which prong.

Now to remove the outer shell. Under the machine, running along both sides, you will see three Phillips head screws. Remove all six of these screws. Now the front of the machine is held on with just friction. There is a clip that runs the length of the front sides of the machine. These pinch the inside of the shell to the inside of the base and hold everything together. These take a lot of pressure to remove, work the shell forward and back while lifting, it will eventually pull off. Then simply lift the shell off. Now you have a naked machine.

Right Side


Left Side


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Blend # 23

Blend 23 is a variation of blend #22. The Harrar and Yemen proportions remain the same. I replaced the Brazil bean with different varietal from the same country (a different Brazil bean).

The blend consisted of 50% Brazil Poco Fundo, 30% Harrar Oromia and 20% Yemen. I pre-roast blended the Brazil and Yemen.

I roasted the Harrar to Full City+. I dumped the roast 20 seconds into second crack. The beans were dark chocolate color with a slight sheen but no visible oil spots. The Brazil and Yemen were roasted to Full City, the first few snaps of second crack. The Brazil and Yemen roast at different speeds so while the Brazil was just starting into second crack, the Yemen was at city+ with a few stragglers at city. You can pick out each bean type based on the color.

Yum, that pretty much sums up the experience. The body was deeper thanks to the Poco Fundo. It was well balanced, a good medium body, medium acidity and a nicely balanced sweetness. Many blends tend to be a little to sweet or not sweet enough; this one hit the sweet spot (no pun intended). I get a little fruit and chocolate in the cup and sweet floral in the aromatics.

My first few shots were pulling almost all crema. As the blend ages it settles down to about 70% crema during the pull. After a 30 second rest the crema settles to a solid half inch. The prime for the blend is in the 3-5 day range then the subtle notes start to fade. I was getting the best extraction in the 198-200 range.