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  • Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge) Review

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    In mid-September 2012 I emailed Ross Spencer at Portaspresso about a Rossa device. The bloke had the integrity to inform me that in a month or so a new model would be available, one lighter and better. So instead of selling an old one, he said to wait.

    Having never used a Rossa device I was in no position to judge what was better or not, but I do own a Rosco Mini-hand grinder and have been very pleased with the quality and craftsmanship.

    I’m willing to bet that if you owned a Portaspresso device and your town was engulfed by magma from a volcano, in a thousand years time archeologists would be able to dust off the dirt, and begin happily grinding their favourite espresso blend while musing over their latest report.

    Two of the biggest criteria for coffee purchases for me are durability and portability. I want them to last a long time and to go travelling.

    Once the new model became available I ordered a Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge).

    The set comes well packaged in a small box, capable of worldwide delivery. The first thing I noticed was that it is lighter (0.75kg) than the Rosco hand grinder, even with a pressure gauge. The latter being brass and about 1.2kg.

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    After reading and carrying out the first use cleaning instructions I began preparing the first shot.


    Charging the Cylinder:
    Luckily for me I’m a road cyclist and have two floor pumps already. The air cylinder adapter has a thread so using the pump with a female thread is easier in my opinion.

    The other thing about the screw on type pumps is they make much less hissing noise than the lever squeeze pump heads (when removing from the cylinder thread adaptor). This makes a difference if you are going for an early morning ride or off to work. Either that or pre-charge the air cylinder the night before.

    Pumping up above 11bar became immediately disconcerting when I noticed the gauge on the pump only went up to 11bar. But the needle spun passed the maximum without too much effort.

    If you need to buy a pump to use the device I would avoid a hand pump and have a look at the Lezyne mini floor drive range. Especially the micro floor drive or the travel floor drive. Lezyne make reliable and durable products that are good for both home and travel.

    Judging by the Popeye sized forearms of Ross in the youtube videos he probably doesn’t have a problem getting up to 120PSI with a hand pump, but I did have trouble on my little hand pump I take cycling.

    Had to muck around a couple of times to get a sense of whether or not the valve was open, or I was pumping into the closed circuit of the pump hose. There’s little chance of breaking the device, so I wasn’t worried.

    The valve thread takes a little getting used to and may be a little sticky to begin with. I did think that maybe an armed head like a water tap might be easier to turn than the round head. Jury is out on that front functionally, but the aesthetics would suffer.

    [Update: After a week of use I can say the current round head is perfect for the job]

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    Trick with the cylinder valve is to treat it gently when opening and closing. With pumping, get the pump adaptor on first before opening the valve. Any pressure inside the cylinder will quickly show up on the gauge. You don’t have to open the valve up passed the black o-ring on the valve stem.


    Making the coffee:

    My first attempt was a disaster because there was no air in the cylinder and the water just flopped through the basket. That was ok I thought, and had about 5 goes pumping the cylinder up and having dummy runs with a wet and used puck.

    Most of us will get the device in the mail in the afternoon. For me, I didn’t get anywhere near mastering the technique on the first night. After about 5 or 6 air cylinders’ full (running through a wet puck) I gave up for the night and read the manual and watched the tube video again.

    I recommend the video instead of the written manual on the first night as the manual tends to digress and Ross runs through the steps slowly enough on the video that you can follow him. The manual is good for fine-tuning your technique.


    All this makes it sound difficult. It isn’t. I’ve had the device for three days now and have started to make good coffee. I imagine it will be about 1 month before I have complete control over the settings. Having said that the coffee on the first morning was a set up from my previous machine.

    I ordered the grind transfer adaptor and whilst a nice little addition I am not convinced it’s absolutely necessary.

    [Update, the adaptor and I have since become friends. It centres the coffee raised from the base of the basket making it easier for tamping]

    Now. About the coffee quality. I’m no expert. After about 20 shots I’m getting somewhere. Sometimes I have enough control to get the pressure gauge up to six bar at around the 15 second mark, and sometimes not. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong like not opening the valve enough, but the coffee still tastes great. After a limited run there is a variety of tastes. Perhaps in time I will know how to deliberately create those different tastes.


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    During the ‘photoshoot’ a friend Lorenz took the photos while I made the shots. I made about 3 shots in fifteen minutes while chatting. Could be done a lot faster.

    We could easily taste the differences; some fruity, some caramel, some bitter, some not. At one point our conversation seamlessly shifted to whisky. Making these comparisons, you could say I’m working toward the highest taste of coffee drinking with this device.

    I’ve taken to grinding the coffee while the device heats up with boiling water. I also have a blender jug on hand to collect the heat-up water instead of tipping it down the sink.

    One of the best aspects of the Rossa PG is that you can control the pressure in two phases. Once in the air cylinder itself and then the second time when you open the valve during infusion. If you put less pressure in the air cylinder there’s less danger of over extraction. Also, if there’s less pressure to begin with there’s less chance of messing it up.

    Tamp consistency and the amount of coffee has an impact because this will change the time it takes from starting to open the valve, the valve opening, and then coffee passing through the naked filter head. For my level of experience, at the moment there feels like a delay between opening the valve and coffee coming out. You have to keep slowly winding the valve open.

    There is a level of satisfaction with the interactivity of the device. I find myself having to stop wanting to make another shot to see what it will taste like otherwise I’ll be floating on a coffee cloud all day. It’s not like a jumper or an electric coffee machine; you put it on and it does it’s job. There are no buttons or chords or fuses.

    There is an old fashioned quality to the Portaspresso range I find very appealing.


    A couple of conclusions:

    With the purchase, I would welcome some spare o-rings, a spare head seal, and a spare air cylinder pump adaptor. I can see myself losing the adaptor at some stage (especially on the road) and it would be a annoying to have to wait a week or two for a replacement, as it is not after market.

    One limitation to the device in both the mini hand grinder and espresso device is that they’re not ultra-lightweight. I’d be very tempted to take the Rossa PG (0.75kg without PG) hiking or cycle touring, but at 1.2kg the mini-hand grinder is a little too heavy.

    Perhaps carbon fibre or titanium? Or plastic? One of the previous materials morphing into alloy (like a bike fork drop out) for the threads?

    Furthermore, I am not sure the bores need to be as large as they are, since you’re only grinding and extracting one shot at a time. I could be totally off the mark here however.

    Having said this, these little dudes are definitely coming along on the next backpacking or camping adventure.

    If you could get both the grinder and espresso device down below 1 kg and a combined cost of $500AUD you would have a world beater.

    Another touch I would like to see is a molded and padded briefcase for the kit.

    The future of lightweight espresso is very bright and Ross Spencer at Portaspresso has a sound portfolio to work from. The Air Espresso PG is an excellent device for any coffee enthusiast because it offers a high level of control over all factors of espresso creation. Thus far, every morning I wake up stoked with my purchase. My bosoms have never swelled so frequently as I stand back to admire the Guinness-like settling of each pour.

    If you would like to see more photos, please click here.


    Last edited by eljimberino; 17 December 2012, 04:55 PM.

  • #2
    A few questions with the maker:

    Q: What did you do before starting Portaspresso?

    A: I started out as a Fitter and Turner and worked in industry in related
    roles from the shop floor to various leadership roles, but I was never
    really happy in that field. The coffee business emerged largely by
    chance while I was working on another business idea. I studied
    psychology and HR management with a plan to specialise in workplace
    motivation and performance management, but from a different perspective
    than what is currently done. That approach required to go ahead
    independently, but I needed a way of generating a basic income outside
    of regular employment so that I could resign from my job at the time to
    focus on the new project.

    After much contemplation, I decided the most flexible option to earn a
    basic income was to make a product and sell it online. The concept was
    sound, but I had no idea about what to make. I've always been an
    inventive type person, so I was thinking about what I could make that
    people would want. I came up with a number of ideas, but nothing that
    stood out. It was a slow afternoon at work and I needed a coffee to help
    stay awake, but I couldn't bring myself to drink the instant coffee.
    Frustrated about the lack of good coffee, I looked at bringing an
    espresso machine in from home, but there really wasn't enough room in
    the lunch room. I then searched for a portable option, but found that no
    such device existed that could produce the quality I desired. With my
    current options exhausted, I just made a tea and got back to thinking of
    a product I could make.

    I couldn't decide on what to make, and I still had to tolerate bad
    coffee at work. I eventually matched the two problems with the obvious
    solution, which was to make a high quality portable espresso device.
    That was all good in theory, but I still had to come up with something
    that would do the job. Nevertheless, that was the point that the
    Portaspresso idea was born.

    Q: Did any of those skills transfer into the coffee world?

    A: As noted above, I've always been an inventive person, even from a very
    young age. The trade training and subsequent experience certainly
    provided the skills to both design and make the Portaspresso products.

    Q: When did you develop the first Rossa prototype?

    A: The first design was in 2009 if I remember correctly.

    Q: Was the design based on other coffee devices you had seen? Or completely
    unrelated?

    A: The design was started from scratch. As it turned out though, it shared
    the screw piston design that was part the original espresso machine
    design, but I did not discover that until some time later. It was
    interesting to read that the original design suffered from the same
    problems that I experienced, but the difference was that I was able to
    use modern materials to overcome the problem. I'm sure the original
    designers would have done the same if the materials were available at
    the time.

    The piston design was the means of generating pressure, but it was a
    challenge to make it small enough to work as a real portable option. The
    original design was quite different to what it is now. The first
    prototype was not exactly the most useable device I've ever made, but it
    did prove that the idea could work. The first shot I made was
    unbelievably smooth when compared to the semi-commercial machine I used
    at home. I then knew that the idea could work, but had to dramatically
    change the design to make it useable.

    Q: Did you always have the air cylinder idea in mind? Or did it develop from the original Rossa?

    The Air Espresso design came from user feedback about the Hand Espresso models. Some don't like the weight of the brass and others struggle with the coordination to turn the handle. I also wanted something that would appeal to a larger group, specifically campers and caravan travelers.

    I would prefer to not use air because of the extra need for a pump, and I originally dismissed the idea because of that problem. I continued to ponder the design and looked into the availability of suitable pumps. I realised that most of the 12v electric car pumps that many people already have would work fine, and as a keen mountain biker, I also had a number of high pressure hand pumps. After I realised that suitable pumps where readily available, I revisited the design. I'm glad I did because the end product far exceeded my expectations as to what it can do. It is an amazing device, and so simple to use.

    A: Will the original Rossa be phased out now? If not, can you compare and contrast the pros and cons of the Rossa and the Air Espresso?

    The Rossa Hand Espresso models are great designs and will remain, but some people don't like the weight of the brass and others struggle to hold the device and turn the handle. The Air Espresso models were designed to overcome those problems and to otherwise offer people another choice. All work great, but are not necessarily suitable for all. The original Rossa Hand Espresso was revised to the Rossa HC to provide more control and improve useability, but the original model will remain because it is more compact than the HC. Again it is about providing choice.

    The main difference between the Hand Espresso and the Air Espresso designs is how the pressure is generated. There is no magic bullet to produce the pressure and control. With the Hand Espresso, you produce the pressure buy turning the handle during extraction. You don't need anything other than manual effort. The Air Espresso works from air, so the cylinder must be charged beforehand. The advantage of this design is that the effort can be less, and no coordination is required to hold the device steady during extraction. I personally like the Air Espresso because I exert all the effort in one go before I make the shot. I charge the cylinder, grind the coffee then sit back and wait for the water to boil and the steamer to heat up. Once all is ready, the remaining effort is minimal. I also like the light weight of the Rossa TR for travel. Hand pumping is not an issue for myself, so the whole setup suits my travel needs more so than the other models.

    Q: Have you ideas for an evolution of the air espresso?

    A: I have ideas, but nothing to share at this stage. I can't see anything replacing either the Hand Espresso or Air Espresso designs, but I want to make variable pressure control (pressure profiling) easier for the average person to understand and control. I have a few ideas about how to do this, but taking an idea to a tangible product that anyone other than myself wants can take some time. I also have some devices I intend to make for my personal use, but not sure if any of them will be added as a new product.

    Q: My girlfriends' sister recently made some quilts for her family. Beautifully done. She said that if she was to calculate the material and labour costs, each quilt would be around $700AUD. Is there a way for you to rationalise the costs of one of your devices to a potential customer?

    A: If I were to rationalise the cost, all products would sell for much higher than what they do. Some people think they're expensive because they are the first high quality portables, and my products are often compared to other portable devices. It's not dissimilar to comparing a cheap car to a performance car. They're both cars, but there are clear differences that most people can understand. Quality espresso requires precise control over the variables, and any device that offers the required level of control must be precisely made. Unfortunately, that level of precision requires care to manufacture, and consequently the costs are higher. A simple way to rationalise the cost from a lay perspective is to compare the cost of a Rossa / Rosco combo with any other machine and grinder that can produce comparable results. You will soon find that the Portaspresso products cost a fraction of any comparable setups.

    Comment


    • #3
      Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge) Review

      Hmmmm... The silence is deafening... :sic

      It would appear that the lack of 'lever' or 'electronic push button' has left the natives baffled and stunned into mute silence...

      BTW I love Ross's out of the box creative thinking....

      Surely top shelf espresso cannot be achieved with such elegant simplicity :scary :tic

      Comment


      • #4
        Hey there

        I also give him full marks for an innovative product. I hope it sells well. Just looked at the website and some video - very nice machining and great to see someone having a go and making a quality product. Ace.

        Mike

        Comment


        • #5
          For the record, the Rosco mini hand grinder is 1kg.

          Ill be making updates from time to time.

          Should also mention, I do not know Ross from a bar of soap.

          Having said that, his technical support thus far has been great.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by eljimberino View Post
            [ATTACH=CONFIG]1618[/ATTACH]



            In mid-September 2012 I emailed Ross Spencer at Portaspresso about a Rossa device. The bloke had the integrity to inform me that in a month or so a new model would be available, one lighter and better. So instead of selling an old one, he said to wait.

            I wish he had done the same me, a few months on and I have an expensive out dated coffee maker that has left me somewhat underwhelmed
            The grinder is a totally different story, it's an excellent piece of equipment.

            Comment


            • #7
              Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge) Review

              I'm a tradesman... Giving me permission to say that a poor tradesman often blames his tools... Yet I can achieve fine work using those same tools... :Go figure

              So, is that the tools fault? I think not.

              Understanding the time it can take to fully appreciate the nuances and quirks of a new tool I have said several times that there *is* quite a learning curve to learning and ultimately mastering the Rossa... Particularly the hand crank model that you have.
              It is still being sold so you have not been short changed...

              You only have to read through the Quick Mill thread to quickly realise that even at the pointy end of coffee machines there is a rather steep learning curve which some master quickly and sadly others seem to struggle to grasp...

              Please don't blame the tool.... (Or shoot the messenger) :eek

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Ol_Grumpy View Post
                I'm a tradesman... Giving me permission to say that a poor tradesman often blames his tools... Yet I can achieve fine work using those same tools... :Go figure

                So, is that the tools fault? I think not.

                Understanding the time it can take to fully appreciate the nuances and quirks of a new tool I have said several times that there *is* quite a learning curve to learning and ultimately mastering the Rossa... Particularly the hand crank model that you have.
                It is still being sold so you have not been short changed...

                You only have to read through the Quick Mill thread to quickly realise that even at the pointy end of coffee machines there is a rather steep learning curve which some master quickly and sadly others seem to struggle to grasp...

                Please don't blame the tool.... (Or shoot the messenger) :eek
                Does it also give you permission to be rude? suggest you don't talk down too me Grumpy, I'm not an idiot.
                Last edited by Yelta; 21 December 2012, 04:50 PM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge) Review

                  Nah, I'm neither rude, nor talking down to anyone... Just sayin it how it is...
                  Last edited by Javaphile; 22 December 2012, 06:10 AM. Reason: Removal of obnoxious/objectional material

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Yelta View Post
                    I have an expensive out dated coffee maker
                    Your Rossa isn't outdated at all. With its pressure profiling ability (HC model)...it is still way ahead of almost any other machine in the shot controlling stakes. And having the handle as the source of pressure build up means that you don't need to have a separate pump and power source (to operate the pump) to get a shot.

                    I actually prefer the Rossa due to its total brass content. The new machine is machined from aluminium, which is of course lighter but a no-go for me. Gran ordered all aluminium cookware out of our house a long time ago.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge) Review

                      One thing I have noticed with the Portapresso products and the Rossa in particular is that it (they- being the products) really polarise people into love/hate positions...
                      :curious
                      It will be interesting to see if this new version will bridge the middle ground?

                      Interesting point about the aluminium construction...

                      I've used a cheap aluminium camping brew pot for years and have heard many claim the aluminium effects the taste? Dunno myself, I never noticed it but that could just be a poor palette and my sense of smell is quite poor as well. :interesting

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Ol_Grumpy View Post
                        Interesting point about the aluminium construction...

                        I've used a cheap aluminium camping brew pot for years and have heard many claim the aluminium effects the taste? :interesting
                        I am thinking more from the angle of potential health concerns than taste.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          You dont need an electric pump, thats what i like about it, no electrics.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge) Review

                            Perhaps there are genuine health concerns- I honestly don't know.
                            But my simple logic tells me at the sub boiling point temperatures ie; <100*C that this device is always used at; that risk is very low.
                            After all Brass can de-zincify in certain environmental conditions, Teflon is coming off my frypan as I use it and in certain conditions the fumes will kill my birds, I nuke my food every day with radiation, I breathe the toxic fumes from cars which can and do kill. I'm not trying to be smart- just pointing out we live in a toxic environment and risk is a constant in our lives that we all must manage. Hell, just goin out in the sun gives us Melanoma's and yes at least once a month I am handling friable Asbestos sheeting at work....

                            I'm happy to be proved wrong but I just can't see the health risk in using the Rossa air to make a couple of coffee's a day is that great....

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Ol_Grumpy View Post
                              Perhaps there are genuine health concerns- I honestly don't know.
                              But my simple logic tells me at the sub boiling point temperatures ie; <100*C that this device is always used at; that risk is very low.
                              After all Brass can de-zincify in certain environmental conditions, Teflon is coming off my frypan as I use it and in certain conditions the fumes will kill my birds, I nuke my food every day with radiation, I breathe the toxic fumes from cars which can and do kill. I'm not trying to be smart- just pointing out we live in a toxic environment and risk is a constant in our lives that we all must manage. Hell, just goin out in the sun gives us Melanoma's and yes at least once a month I am handling friable Asbestos sheeting at work....

                              I'm happy to be proved wrong but I just can't see the health risk in using the Rossa air to make a couple of coffee's a day is that great....
                              I refuse to eat from teflon and aluminium pans....avoid asbestos....don't smoke...only drive a car when I need to...don't use a microwave....don't use a mobile phone for lengthy conversations...in short, I am doing what I consciously can to minimise what I perceive are known risks/concerns.

                              I agree that the risk, (if you could call it that) from using an aluminium product to make a few coffees each day would be minimal....but it just seems to be such a backward step and is a deal-breaker for me in what seems to be otherwise another brilliant product.

                              Comment

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