The Dirty Portafilter

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

HotTop Coffee Roaster

Owe how I love my HotTop. I have been home roasting for a little over a year now. I started off with the home roasters first right of passage. The hot air popcorn popper. After a month I was hooked, but as most roasters that start off this way, I quickly became frustrated with the small roasting batch. I also drink 99% espresso, the fast roasting of a fluid bed roaster (generic term for any roaster that uses a bed of hot air to roast) accentuates the acidity and brightness of a coffee. If you like a very lively espresso, that is ok, but I prefer a deeper bodied brew.

So I decided to make my own roaster from a rotisserie roaster oven. I added another heating element, built a stainless steel roasting drum and other modifications. That rig served me well for about a year. Having proven to myself that this was not a passing fad, I decided to drop the coin on a HotTop Digital roaster and join the big leagues (of home roasting).

I love my HotTop

It is easy to use and reliable. Plug it in, push power; push the time button to set the roast time, push power to start. Once the machine finishes its preheat cycle, it beeps, lift the charging chute cover and pour in your green.

Now you are roasting. Watch you roast develop through the window. Around and around the drum goes. I love watching the roast develop (this is a small batch).

I use three queues in my roasting, smell, sound and sight. The aroma turns to a wet straw aroma as the greens begin their metamorphosis. You see a light wispy steam rising from the machine as the beans heat and give up their moisture. As the roast progresses and the beans begin to yellow, the aroma changes to a nutty hint and the steam stops.

As the beans increase in temperature and approach first crack, a light white smoke starts to rise. The aroma gets a deeper darker roasting aroma and the nuttiness dissipates. Then the magic first crack, POP! The beans have reached their first major milestone. The first crack is easily heard on the HotTop, like popcorn in a kettle, it is very distinctive. As that subsides we are in the city roast stage. As the roast progresses the smoke increases in both volume and pungency. It develops into a light gray heavier smoke, second crack is almost here. Then you hear it, the snap, snap of the first stages of second crack. I usually hit the eject button at this point to dump the roast. Depending on the variety of bean, I occasionally let it go a bit longer until a steady snap, crackle is starting (Full City+). At this point the smoke is rolling out of the roaster.

Push the button to dump the roast, or let the timer run out and the machine will dump the roast on its own. Into the cooler it goes, the stirrer stirs and the cooling fan kicks on.

A few moments later and it is ready to go. Nothing says love like a half pound of freshly roasted coffee.


Don’t forget to empty the chaff tray after each roast unless you want to set the machine on fire!

Monday, May 29, 2006

My First Love

This is a completely non coffee related post. It is a pure gloat post. I just wanted to show off my two motorcycles. Long before I started my trip with espresso, my first and still favorite obsession was motorcycles. I started riding when I was around 10 years old, that would be 25 years in the saddle of a motorcycle.

My two current scooters are a 1993 zx6-e1 Ninja and a 2003 GL1800 GoldWing.

My ZX has served me well. I have made several performance modifications but nothing to radical. A bit of maintenance and a lot of care and it runs better than it did the day I took delivery. I have over 50,000 miles on this bike. Hard to believe…

My GoldWing is the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden. I added some high flow exhaust pipes, a bunch of chrome and a backrest. The backrest was one of the best add on parts. It really makes a difference on those long rides. I regularly run a couple of hundred miles or more at a time. My longest run was just about a thousand miles in one day. I rode from Dayton Ohio to Denver Colorado in a day and a half.

My next bike, I am thinking hard about getting a Ducati. I love the sound of the engine and it is as close as I will ever get to owning a Ferrari.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Take a Break From The World

I have been ignoring the BLOG for a couple of weeks. Work has been very hectic, rewiring the network, deploying a new WIFI system, new VOIP phone system and integrated voicemail etc.

I took my first weeks vacation since spring of last year. I like to think I am a relatively seasoned hunter. I grew up hunting and fishing with my father and learning the traditions and values of a real huntsman.

I use the term huntsmen instead of hunter. In today’s world a hunter is not necessarily a good term. I was raised to respect the land and property of others. I never cut a fence, trespass or hunt on someone else’s property without permission. I don’t take a questionable shot or blindly blast into the brush at what I THINK might be game. Too many huntsmen have been wounded or killed by hunters blasting at an unidentified target.

You have to respect the land and the animals you are harvesting. I do not go into the woods to simply kill something. To me, taking an animals life is somewhat of a sacred act. After all, you are killing another living thing. I don’t hunt for trophies, not to say that I would pass on a nice buck. I hunt for food, with the exception of some critters like groundhog and coyote (I have eaten groundhog and it is pretty good).

For those that do not understand why you want to shoot something like a groundhog, they are destructive little critters. Many horses and cows have had to be destroyed because the animal stepped into a groundhog hole and broke its leg. The farmers are more than happy to have someone clear them out of their fields.

So I took my spring vacation and went up to the old farm with my father. A week of solitude, no paved roads, running water, cell phones or computers up there. You have to bring your drinking water; water for washing can be pulled up from the old well house. Take the lid off and drop the bucket down the well hole, let it fill, and crank the handle up to retrieve your water.
No tom turkey this year, lots of hens but spring season is strictly toms. I had deer nearly step on me, baby squirrels playing all around, coyotes, grouse, and a rather large skunk. I spent the day fishing at the farm pond or hunting other critters. Then spend the evening sitting by the tent enjoying the sunset, clean air, and the sounds of nature.

Monday, May 15, 2006

How To Cut Your Own Naked Portafilter

I decided to cut a bottomless portafilter for my Faema. When I got the machine there was an old, nasty, beat up portafilter in the parts pile. Once I finished rebuilding the machine, I ordered a proper portafilter and basket. Problem here is that I have become accustom to using the bottomless portafilter as a learning tool. That tool is especially helpful when dialing in a new machine. So I decided to chop the bottom off of this old reached PF. I wrenched off the old busted handle and soak the PF head in some Joe-Glo to clean it up and then off to the garage for a lobotomy. The first step is to mount the head on a secure working platform. You do not want this to wiggle around while you are cutting on it.

There are several ways you can go about chopping the bottom off a PF, but what I find easiest is to drill around the bottom of the PF. This easily removes excess material and makes sure you do not cut to close to the inner edge. As you can see from the photo, I ended up using a rubber-padded clamp to securely hold the PF to my work surface.


Next, I put a tungsten carbide cutter in my rotary tool and commence to connect the dots. The closer you drilled your holes, the quicker you will be able to cut between them. Keep that in mind as you drill the base.


A word of caution. Using this type of cutter produces an incredibly fine shaving. Experience has taught me to wear gloves and long sleeves while doing this. Some eye protection would be a good idea as well. This fine metal ‘hair’ will float on the breeze created by your working tool. It gets on everything and without gloves; you will end up with dozens of these fine shavings stuck in your hands and arm.

Once the base is off, clean up the shavings and move to a ruff grinding stone. Round out the jagged edges but do not get to close to the inside wall of the PF.


Now switch to a medium or fine stone to remove the remaining excess material. This is where you want to make the final shaping of the hole and make it nice and symmetrical.

You could stop here but I like to go one further. I use a polishing stone to remove the mill marks left by the fine grinding stone. This polishes the inside edge and gives it a professional appearance. This is also when you want to remove any burrs around the outer edge. You do not want a sharp base, it will cut your table to pieces when you tamp on it.
Now you have turned that spare old portafilter into working piece of equipment that should provide you with years of service. Just remember to take your time. You can always grind a little more, but you can never put back. Total start to finish, about one and a half hours.