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First Post - ramblings of a newbie and lessons learnt

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  • First Post - ramblings of a newbie and lessons learnt

    Six months or so ago, I decided I would love to buy a new coffee machine. I work near to a couple of very good Melbourne cafes (St Ali & Dead Man Espresso) and really enjoy a good espresso before and during work. On weekends, the best my old Breville pressurised basket machine (appliance) could give me was a nice hot cup of disappointment. So I began trawling these forums and thinking about what my options were. Eventually, I decided that (although it would stretch my budget), I really needed to get a Rancillio Silvia as the minimum that would make the type of syrupy espresso I enjoy. I kept looking and thinking about whether to make the jump and spend the money (knowing that I would also need a much better grinder than my Breville).

    Around two months ago, my Breville died (rest its soul), so I visited a coffee equipment retailer who went through the options with me, and I realised I wanted something better than the Rancillio. Options were the Expobar Office manual, or the VBM Picollo (although the budget was really burst at that point). The trade-off was between HX, so I could steam and brew, or an e-61 grouphead. Plus the VBM looks lovely. I didn’t buy a machine that day. A few weeks later (after more forum trawling and constantly wanting bigger and better things), I decided to throw the budget completely out the window so I could get a VBM Junior HX (so I didn’t need to worry about the trade-off). I went to see Chris at Talk Coffee, who was fantastic and set me up with the VBM and a K3P. Happy camper.

    Now, on to my espresso making journey. I have been through a LOT of beans, and plenty of it has gone down the sink. I tried everything, but just couldn’t get things quite right. Knowing that espresso is an art, and takes time to perfect, I persevered. Still, shots were either gushers or chocked, and it was really a lottery, and plenty of (bitter, horrible) coffee was poured down the sink.

    I then did three things that turned it all around. I bought a timer (in fact, this doesn’t really count, I was using the kitchen clock any way but it’s just nice and easy to have a timer right above the machine). More importantly I bought some digital scales (measuring at 0.1g), and a naked PF. When I first used the scales, and used my ordinary dose/distribute technique, the scales told me I was WAAAYY over dosing (circa 23/24 g in the stock double basket). So I moved the dose down to 18.5. and that change (combined with the new consistency) has meant that I am able to get the grinder dialed in right rather than changing it constantly and wondering why it never works because my dose was always completely different. That has instantly made an enormous difference to my coffee. The naked PF was also helpful (and fun to watch), to make sure in dosing and tamping evenly. Still, there always seems to be one or two tiny little squirts flying off at some point in the pour – I’ve got no idea how to fix that. But the coffee is already immeasurably better, and much better than most cafes in my opinion, and I’m able to make an espresso before work or on the weekend which is delicious to me.

    The moral of the story I think is that as a complete new comer, it is really helpful to get some good scales, a naked PF and a timer if you need one. The scales probably made the biggest difference for me. Now I realise that for more experienced people (and me one day hopefully!) scales are unnecessary and a good technique can give you consistent dose. But when starting out, it was really like shooting blind, and even if you can get a consistent technique, you don’t know the size of the dose resulting from that technique. I’m sure that comes with experience however – I’m already getting a feel for it.

    Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and it’s nice to have made a first post - This place has been invaluable when researching equipment!

  • #2
    Good stuff Brad, and welcome. Wouldn't worry overly about the occasional squirt if the coffee tastes good. I too trundled along without the use of scales for some time (though I think my dosing in the standard double basket that came with my machine was fine). When I tried using VST/Synesso baskets (just an experiment) I initially had some trouble....then worked out that I too was throwing about 23g of coffee into nominally 14-15g baskets. Once I dropped that to somewhere b/w 18-20g (depends on bean / roast level) all was good again (and yes...this does result in a slightly lower dose level relative to the shower screen...but within an apparently acceptable range....I don't care what pucks look like). I don't use the scales regularly but they are a fair reference point when one is needed. When dialling in a new bean I usually weigh one shot for interests sake. What's even sillier, is that every now and then I weigh the extracted coffee...just so that I can calibrate my judgement of volume for a particular bean. Not for everyone, but helped me.


    • #3
      Very interesting thread and a great post to read too brad - thanks. I have never weighed my dose (had a heck of a lot of chokers and a few gushers too) but these days I dose substantially less than I used too. Reading these forums has been a great help to me as well with regards to the art of grinding, dosing and tamping.....and what a wonderful art it is to perfect, that of the worlds most delicious caffeine delivery method.

      Nice idea with the scales, as BOSW says, a very good refence point when ever needed to compare doses when dialing in a new bean. I might buy some scales to check a few before and after shots (I saw a movie that says the body is 21g lighter after the soul leaves it....) to see if there is a little change in weight after extraction.

      Again, nice post, it was a good read with some good ideas and solutions. Welcome aboard.
      Regards, M
      Last edited by Mariner; 9 August 2012, 06:49 AM. Reason: Stupid iPad auto correction


      • #4
        Funnyyou mention the dosing!
        I have been badly over dosing for a long time and quite disappointed but sort of worked around it. Two things have happened this year.
        1. My grinder I think has at last "run in" (2yrs) and it now produces very, very even grinds.
        2. I replaced the bean hopper on the grinder so I grind only beans for the shot. When I did this I made its cap so it would hold only 17 gms. Wow the coffee has been fantastic. Today I made two cups that were as good as our local super good coffee shop. Looking back I must have been dosing at about 22 gms.
        Last edited by dumiya; 13 August 2012, 07:32 PM. Reason: Grammar


        • #5
          dumiya really interested to know what this cap mod looks like! and what grinder you're using. any chance for some photos? =))


          • #6
            The cap is a plumbing pipe end cap. I have two, one shortened to contain 17gms of beans when level (for the Giotto), the other 14gms (Silvia). The grinder is a Masser Kony-e. It is a commercial grinder so has taken longer to run in when grinding for two cups a day instead of 300!! The mod included all the built in safety controls of the original hopper collar that prevented the straying figures being gripped by the cones and ground to a pulp! I can take pictures if wanted.