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Early experience with the Portaspresso

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  • Early experience with the Portaspresso

    After years using Breville BES200 + BCG450, I decided I had too few years left to drink mediocre coffee anymore. I read Choice Magazine tests at the library, and was somewhat stunned at the ridiculous testing carried out. So off to search the Web. I kept a close watch on eBay to see the pricing on quality machines, and purchased a La Pavoni Professional in late 2011 at a small fraction of the new price – the machine turned out to be in very good nick, except for some small areas of rust under the drip tray that probably led to the lack of bidding. Of course the BCG450 grinder was totally inadequate; so I tried the Hario Mill Slim Hand Grinder I use with the AeroPress (acquired a few months ago) for travelling. The Hario produced an acceptable grind (and provided upper body exercise), and I focused on getting the best out of “The Lever”. When my espresso (on same beans) was better than the café, I decided I was in sync with “The Lever”.

    I continued my Web searches for a quality grinder (the Hario takes a long time to grind) … and discovered the Rosco Hand Grinder. Looked good on the video clips, was Made in Australia to what looked like battleship standards, and was easily the most expensive hand grinder available. I kept on looking at quality electric grinders … and my wife kept on encroaching on my bench top coffee making space … and quality electric grinders are … big. Christmas was coming up, and a request in the right ear resulted in the complete kit - grinder (Rosco) / espresso maker (Rossa) / stand - under the Christmas tree. Family engagements left me with little time to get into the learning process until the 27th.

    Early experience was a bit discouraging; the instructions make it clear that the espresso maker takes a while to “bed in”, and one needs to be patient and work at the variables – but the early espressos from the Rossa were not much good, maybe my lack of coordination. However after a few days mucking about, and making coffee, I made considerable strides; and espressos were approaching La Pavoni quality (in both cases using Rosco grinder).

    Early Observations:
    • The grinder and espresso maker are 1.1/1.2 kg, so quite heavy, - but quite comfortable. These are precision instruments. The espresso process is finicky – but I cannot see how it could be made less so. From turning on the kettle, takes around 6 minutes to make an espresso. It takes 10 minutes for “The Lever” to heat up; I understand some top end machines take at least an hour, so elapsed time is ok. Bench space needs are minimal
    • Getting the grinder fineness setting to stay put takes some getting used to (and this took me a while to master, check instructions); however if it works loose, the grinder setting moves to super fine and stops grinding, so you get to know pretty quickly. The grinder works quickly – 30 secs, and produces a very consistent grind, with minimal clumping – I suspect the slow speed makes a hand grinder like this with quality cutters very difficult to surpass by any domestic suitable (perhaps any) grinder. The Rosco is brilliant
    • The Rosco is a long way in front of the Hario – in a different class; the latter is however excellent value and I suspect as good as most/any electric grinder under $500 or so (I have not tested high end grinders so…)
    • There is minimal maintenance or de-scaling etc, unlike electric equipment. The Rosco is simple to disassemble for periodically cleaning any oily deposits, or dust off the burrs; the only reason I can see to disassemble the Rossa is to replace the seals. There is no shower screen to clog
    • Mess - Because (a) the grinder grinds the ground coffee straight into the portafilter, (b) which is screwed into the bottom of the Rosco, (c) there are almost no grounds retained by the grinder, and (d) tamping is simple and clean – there is no mess. Lubricating the Rossa screw with water is somewhat messy, although using only water as a lubricant has advantages. Heating the Rossa is messy, you definitely need a sink or basin and a bench top designed for water. For camping the pre-heating water can be used for washing up water, so no waste on last trip. After the 30ml espresso is made, coffee still drips from the Rossa. Cleaning up is very good; a few grounds to brush from the base of the grinder; knock the puck into the box; wash a few grounds from the basket; and rinse the (already clean) base of the Rossa
    • The plastic tamper is reasonably sized at 53.9mm to the 54.4mm basket (nominal 54mm? I understand there is some variability in basket dimensions across all makers; the one supplied to coffeesnobs was, from picture, 54.9mm). Would be nice to have a quality tamper exactly at 54.4mm; I might get a (very expensive unfortunately) Pullman tamper. For the present, I polished the bottom of the plastic tamper on an 8000 grit waterstone, and this was an improvement – I recommend doing this
    • The website indicates that the standard basket is 14gm, however the Instructions indicate 21gm of beans be used (in the 14gm basket); on the video Ross is using a 50ml shot glass of beans – which is 21gm. So far I have not produced an acceptable coffee with 14 gm (which is the amount I use for the La Pavoni with good results). Therefore one uses a lot of beans in a Rosco. This may account for my need for fewer cups of espresso per day
    • You get a maximum of 50ml of coffee from the Rossa (you put 90ml of water in). But the quality suffers at 50ml – the optimum volume of coffee is 30ml
    • Ross says to carefully follow the Instruction Guide, he should put this is big bold letters – because every instruction must be followed

    After Two Months
    • I have reached the point where I am making great coffee consistently across a range of beans and suppliers. This is not trivial, in private correspondence with Paolo he is unable to get a consistent coffee - now he has a range of top quality equipment, and roasts his own beans, and perhaps his standards are higher than mine. For what it’s worth, my coffees looks like those in Ross’s YouTube videos – and I am increasingly finding café espresso ranges from unsatisfactory to undrinkable
    • Getting to this point, for me, involved firstly re-reading the Instructions carefully a few times, and following every point; secondly, reducing the grind size considerably below the figure of 0.8mm in the Instructions, down to 4.5mm for the Rossa, 0.4mm for the La Pavoni (for visitors/wife who want milk drinks); my experience is that you reduce the grind size (in the Rosco) to as low as you can, i.e. until the Rossa is starting to get hard to wind. For example 0.4mm was too hard to wind in the Rossa
    • I do not change anything now that I have arrived at good espresso. Across different beans (mostly single origin), humidities, age of beans (3 days to 3 weeks), different roasters (Beanbay - SO, Pablo&Rusty – Blend & SO, Peaberry -SO, Campos - SO) – I use standard water temperature as per instructions,  same grind, same tamping, same winding of espresso (i.e. same pressure)
    • I am using Sydney tape water for all coffee, I must like fluoride with my coffee – but not sugar. Might get around to filtered, I do not buy bottled water on principle

    Comparison to the Plastic Combo - AeroPress / Hario Slim
    In terms of espresso, there is no comparison, because the AeroPress simply lacks the pressure to produce espresso. For $100, the plastic combo provides an enjoyable coffee drink; the combo is light, packable, and unbreakable (important for travelling), easy to use; not very messy; and is nice with fruity single origin beans. My previous travelling maker was a single cup stovetop that worked ok on a gas burner, but produced not particularly good coffee (which may relate more to the supermarket pre-ground I used to use when travelling). I have also used a plunger for travelling, and this is an acceptable option; but not an espresso of course.

    The Portaspresso is certainly the best portable coffee system I have used by far; note I have no experience of the Presso [A$180], mypressi TWIST [A$249], or handpresso [A$199] – none of which address grinding. The only reservations are – weight; packing, with the handles not readily removable; and concern about theft. I will however, take on next trip to USA (along with enough beans to last road trip Dallas to Chicago – in the latter I know I can get good beans).

    Apologies for length

  • #2
    Re: Early experience with the Portaspresso

    Originally posted by 505D594E59564B595A574E5D380 link=1331268969/0#0 date=1331268969
    Apologies for length
    No need...Proust never apologised and he took 4000 pages to say that tastes/smells/touches can make us remember incidents from our past.
    Thanks for a very comprehensive and potentially useful (to me) post.



    • #3
      yeah, great post Peter


      • #4
        I just found out about portapresso not too long via this very forum. Have been reading a lot of good things about it. The cost is a bit too steep for me at the moment but I have added it into the range of coffee equipment I would like to get eventually. Hopefully not too far in the future..


        • #5
          Bought a new Portaspresso for my birthday and had it for 10 days now and although the coffe is improving I'm still not seeing any crema from any shots. Admittedly I started a bit rough with older beans and grinding with my BGC450 which I know realise can grind no where near fine enough. I'm now buying a freshly roasted 250gm's of coffee from "The Roastery" in Canning Vale/Perth and getting them to grind it slightly finer than the espresso setting on their Compak.

          This has helped a lot with progress as I'm now feeling pressure build in the handle, although still no sign of crema and the resulting shot is still on the bitter side. I'm starting the extraction process by slowly winding in 14 times, then stopping for 15-20 seconds then starting a slow wind quickly moving on to a steady wind similar to what Ross is winding on his youtube videos, about 6-7 winds in from the pre infusion stop I'm feeling the pressure come in.

          Not sure exactly what to look at monitoring/changing next, whether I need to change the way or how much I wind into the pre infusion stage... I guess another week of practice and I'll see how I'm doing then as progress over the last week has been huge. Sure is a beautifully made device, looks great and feels substantial but not heavy in the hand, I do wish the tamper had been made to fit the basket better.


          • #6
            There's no point in getting coffee pre-ground for you, as it'll be stale by the time you get it home. Coffee goes stale very quickly after grinding. You really should to be grinding immediately before brewing. I think that will be why you're not getting any crema.


            • #7
              Thanks Bill I understand this and will invest in a new grinder very soon... Tax return is due back in a week or so Would still expect to see some crema, today I was tamping the coffee only 15 minutes after being ground at the shop. Happy with my progress anyway and the Rossa and being able to sip on a shot at work 3 times a day.


              • #8
                Even a cheap hand grinder should be able to get you through making some good shots, kyrocera / hario etc


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Roz View Post
                  Even a cheap hand grinder should be able to get you through making some good shots, kyrocera / hario etc
                  ive had a pretty good experience with the hario as a starter grinder - at 50 bucks you cant really ask for much more! =) also, i bought the grinder from the very same place you get your beans from


                  • #10
                    Just back from skiing, starting each day with an excellent espresso. A couple of thoughts:

                    1. the Rosco grinder works so well with the Rossa...
                    2. I have a Hario I used with the Aeropress; have no need to use with the Rossa, but works well with the La Pavoni Pro, where it was my only grinder for a period. However, the Hario does produce fines, and I found it could easily choke the La Pav. A very fine grind on the Rosco does not choke the La Pav... so you need to experiment with grind settings on the Hario... but for $50...
                    3. I get best results using the "standard" pressure profile : fast initial wind - no preinfusion - slow extraction (25-30 secs for 30ml)
                    4. use 20gm of beans
                    5. use single origin beans for more flavour
                    6. when making espresso the coffee is infused with crema, which soon settles into a 5mm crema on top
                    7. check the water temperature to get the heating correct. Perhaps not critical - I found a combinatiopn of a Zip on-tap boiling water unit and 1765 metres of altitude meant a max temp of 87 degrees and still good (I did heat unit three times with boiling? water
                    8. I grind pretty fine
                    9. Don't wind past 30ml. Wind down to 30ml, and then slip another cup under the machine and then wind down further and compare the taste - this might be the bitterness, or just stale grind

                    Beans and grind critical.



                    • #11
                      Thanks for the input Peter, my main problem is grinding fresh I can see and I'll sort out very shortly. I'll also buy a milk jug thermometer and test my zip temps at work be good to confirm it is above 95 otherwise I'll buy a small kettle to boild the water.

                      For the past 8 months I've been buying beans from my favourite NZ roaster which is Supreme, they have a roastery in Melbourne but even then by the time the beans arrive here in Perth they are 8-10 days after roasting. So its taking a bit of experimenting to find a new bean that I like and can rely on. Off to a place in Victoria Park tomorrow to pick up something fresh.

                      I'll admit I do often wind past 30ml as its hard not to stop! Will get a better measurement into my cup so I know for future extractions and be a bit more strict about that.


                      • #12
                        Cheers timdimdom, I was buying my beans from there as its close to work but have now switched to Antz Cafe in Vic Park. Very friendly and honest cafe with helpful/generous staff and they roast often and advertise in large when the beans were roasted and always let you know when they'll be roasting next, although they don't have eftpos!

                        Really loving their Cuba Beans super smooth yet strong, however the Cuba seems to be very popular as the few times I've been they have hardly any left!

                        I've just bought myself a Compak K3T grinder which was definately the missing link in my setup, can now work with repeatable results and start getting the Rossa dialed in.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by heavansabove View Post
                          . For the present, I polished the bottom of the plastic tamper on an 8000 grit waterstone, and this was an improvement – I recommend doing this


                          I just would like to check you meant to write 8 thousand, instead of 8 hundred grit?


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by thegoner View Post

                            I just would like to check you meant to write 8 thousand, instead of 8 hundred grit?
                            Yes, as fine as possible I think (this is the finest I had/have). 18 months after polishing, the tamper bottom is now quite scratched! Time for a polish I think.

                            You might want to start at 800 to get out any coarse grinding marks I guess, but I did not do so from memory.