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Decent Espresso Machines (DE1) - Any thoughts?

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  • Spotlight on Damian's DSX Skin.

    Last week Damian Brakel hosted a Decent Zoom call, where he gave an in-depth review of the alternative skin he's developed for Decent Espresso Machines.

    While it may not be to everyone's aesthetic taste, there's no denying the many innovations in espresso workflow that Damian has brought. In the call, several things he's working on came out (recipes based on flow rate into the bluetooth scale) and ideas for improvements to the history viewer were also discussed.

    We've chopped up the over-2 hour long video into separate bits and posted them today.

    The best (but also longest) is the general overview:

    And Damian's espresso history viewer:

    some people complained on a previous post I made, that this skin was "ugly". It might be, but (a) it's free (b) it's optional (c) it's very powerful (d) it's an open source labor-of-love and (e) you're under no obligation to use it with the DE1. The skin I wrote ("Insight") is the default and is what most people use.

    And yes, Damian is Australian. I'm not going to apologize for his accent. :-D


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      No more waiting for Decent Espresso

      Throughout the 3 years we've been making espresso machines, every buyer has had to wait. It's never been less than a month, frequently 3 months, and some waited much much longer. In South Korea they called us "the genius machine that nobody can buy".

      Finally, FINALLY! this won't be the case.

      Even though our monthly sales have been increasing, my team has been getting better and better at their jobs. We did double the staff count in August but this had only a modest effect on machines shipped per month.

      The real shift came from human factors. I had long ago figured out that Western-style management doesn't work here. Hong Kongers do not want to be "bossed", and by extension, none of our employees would accept a promotion to be a manager. What I had learned about Management in California didn't work here.

      I tinkered with the workplace culture of the company, and I finally have found a good fit.

      There's an opposing tension between individualism and communal-spirit here. Some of the workplace experiments I tried, such as having small teams, were actually a productivity and HR disaster, and actually promoted conflict. It's difficult to figure out the right structure and balance.

      What has worked best, and REALLY worked, is copying the French restaurant's "battery de cuisine" concept. In a "battery de cuisine" kitchen, everyone has a speciality, and there's always work to be done in that job. There's no "boss, what should I be working on?" And when it's mealtime, the pressure is on for each person to produce in their speciality. Everyone knows how they fit into the whole, when they're expected to perform, and they feel both individual pride in their contribution, as well as in the output of team.

      I adapted the "battery de cuisine" system to the Decent factory.

      Keith, for example, is responsible for fully testing every DC PCB (the "computer") that will go inside the espresso machine. Every day, he plugs temperature sensors, LED and motors into a board on his desk, and painstakingly tests it. Each takes about 20 minutes. That's a long time, but thanks to the extensive prep work, when it's time install them, Keith can put 50 computers into 50 espresso machines in just 2 hours. And rarely do any have problems that need later fixing, when it'd be quite a bit harder to do so. Like a restaurant dish with a frozen-in-the-middle steak.

      Decent Espresso is now run like a professional kitchen. Everyone has their own "prep station". And when the 50 machines on the line need their part, they're "in the kitchen" installing their part, so they don't slow anyone else down.

      Initially I started with 2 lines (a "kitchen") of 50 machines each, with 1 actively being built, and the other being tested. As the testers got faster, after 1 day they finished 25 machines, we squeezed the remaining machines down, and started a 3rd line of the next 50 machines. Thus, most of the time we're actually running 3 "kitchens".

      This puts more stress on good prep. But as each person is totally responsible for their part, they know what is expected of them, but also they are empowered to improve how they work.

      And that's how we managed to go from 23 machines per month, to 69, to 108, to 213 and this month: to 291 machines in one month!

      I had the "talk radio show" turned off, and it's quiet in the factory, except for power tools pulsing. There's an intense concentration on people's faces. And come Friday, they're mentally drained, but happy, because everyone can see the success of the week.
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      Tomorrow we're testing 50 DE1XL 220V machines, and in a few days we'll have the same quantity of 110V DE1XL done. That has us almost wiping out the queue that has been a weight around our neck:

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      I had hoped (dreamt!) to be at this point before Christmas, but it looks like we'll be there by the end of November, a month early.

      That also means that if you buy a DE1 before mid-December, there's a good chance we can get it to you in time for Christmas.

      . . .

      Am I worried that we're now building much much faster than we're selling?

      Yes, of course I am.

      However, I'm also aware of just how many people have said "no thanks" to a Decent Espresso Machine, because they didn't want to wait.

      People are used to getting instant satisfaction from their purchases, and a several-months-long wait doesn't cut it. So I'm hoping that "ships within 24h" will have a positive effect.

      And finally, we're getting a tremendous number of inquiries from small cafes. I think that now that the COVID vaccine is in sight, planning has started on the orgy of travel, restaurant, and entertainment spending that is likely to follow.



      • seventwo
        seventwo commented
        Editing a comment
        Thanks, really interesting. Note I think you mean ‘brigade de cuisine’; ‘batterie de cuisine’ is the knives, pans, utensils, etc.

      • decentespresso
        >decentespresso commented
        Editing a comment
        Absolutely correct seventwo and doubly embarrassing as French is my mother tongue, and all my French native friends were too polite to correct me.

    • 1st time using an espresso machine

      This video is from Henry of Even0 coffee in Hong Kong. He writes "Hi John, just want to show u a video. This woman has zero espresso making experience. It is her first time even touching a portafilter, and look at how acceptable 1st shot she made with the DE machine. ?? She is one of my stall staff who does sales and cashier."

      Last edited by decentespresso; 2 weeks ago.


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        Buy Johanna a Hot Toddy

        Buy Johanna a Hot Toddy, to thank her for all she's done for our Decent community:

        Johanna has had a Decent for only 9 months, but WOW! has she made a massive impact on our community, through her inventions, collaborations and improvements to the Decent app.

        In that short time, she has:
        - programmed support for all the major bluetooth 0.1g scales out there: Acaia Pearl, Acaia Lunar, Felicita arc, Hiroia Jimmy where previously we only supported the Atomax Skale.
        - rewrote Reed 's proof-of-concept USB/wifi support for the DE1 app, into something that is suitable for production use. That will allow us all to run the de1app on Windows/Mac/Linux and with wifi or a USB cable, control our Decents.
        - helped me migrate the de1app to have 3 versions you can choose from: stable, beta, and current, from previously just one (which, let's be honest, was always "beta"). Now, those of you who want a stable daily Decent software experience, can have it.
        - convinced me to move my app from being privately maintained, to being on github, inviting far more collaboration.
        - personally moved 4 years of code changes to github, without losing any of the commits and changes that I had in my personal version control system
        - she's working on a bunch of super cool things at the moment, which she hasn't revealed yet, but which are just as wow.
        - fixed a bunch of my (cough) bugs and made many code improvements. In fact, she's done that so much, and helped so much on the Diaspora forum, that people assumed she was a Decent employee.

        You haven't heard from Johanna these past 10 days, as she's home, quite sick with a cold that won't go away. That's because on top of her crazy busy day job, she's often up at 5am chatting with me on telegram about her latest idea, and then again back at it at 10pm! She's productive because she's talented, but oh boy, she also puts the time in. So now she needs a bit of rest, and thanks from all of us.

        So, please THANK JOHANNA by buying her the scotch whisky, lemon and spices that she needs to get well, by making that wonderful British medecine, the Hot Toddy:

        I know that Johanna likes her fine whisky, and she's in bed with a cold now, so a Hot Toddy is exactly what she needs right now.

        As with the "Buy Damian a cake" giveaway, we'll paypal her 100% of the proceeds so she can send her partner off to the local store to get the goods. All of you chipped in to Damian 10 cakes!



        • Scott Rao interviews John Buckman

          A one hour conversation recorded live from Instagram. We'll be releasing chopped-up single-question videos from this, next week. From


          • Thanks for posting that interview - I learnt a lot


            • 12 questions from when Rao interviewed Buckman

              Scott Rao interviewed me last week, and we've split the hourlong conversation into 12 questions, which makes short, sweet & "to the point" viewing.

              Calling it an interview isn't quite right as Scott (quite rightly) spoke a fair amount. I tend to babble on too long in most interviews, but with Scott I found that I reigned that tendency in, likely because I knew that he'd continue to pilot the conversation is an interesting direction.

              Scott suggested to me, that we have another conversation in maybe 6 months. However, as this one went so well, I'm thinking of perhaps more regularly conversations between the two of us. And perhaps with less of of an interview structure, more of a conversation about topics besides Decent, might be quite interesting.


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              • A unified theory of espresso making recipes

                I've been working on a "unified theory of espresso making recipes", which results in 4 "mother" recipes.

                The optimal espresso curve

                But before I plunge into that, I want to make the argument that there is an arguably optimal pressure curve for espresso recipes.

                You can see it as the pressure profile that occurs naturally when constant flow water is used to make an Allongé recipe coffee on the Decent. The resulting pressure is a reflection of the declining puck resistance over time, as the puck loses material to the espresso drink.
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                This curve has the following characteristics:
                • a preinfusion that takes about 10 seconds before pressure builds
                • a peak pressure around 8.6 bar
                • an end pressure around around 4 bar
                • a total espresso making time around 30 seconds
                I think it's no coincidence that this is exactly the pressure curve that most spring lever espresso machines naturally give you. The people who designed their machines, very likely did this on purpose, by using their eyes and taste buds, as they didn't have access to the data we now have.

                I'm going to argue that the "best" espresso recipes are all variations on the curve above, as they recognize the reality of the physics of the coffee puck during espresso extraction.
                For me, "best" = "tastes most pleasing" = "most good flavors, minimizing bad flavors". I realize that people have different levels of acidity they seek, and I'm deliberately putting that aside here, focussing instead on flavors.

                The "four mother" recipes

                My position is: a bean's roast level is the most important consideration in choosing a recipe for making espresso.

                This is because, the darker a coffee bean is roasted:
                • the more soluble it becomes ("more easily gives up material to water")
                • the more integrity the coffee puck will have (it is less likely to fall apart and channel badly during espresso making).
                Put another way: the less soluble a bean is, the more your recipe will have to work harder to get material out of the bean.

                The three main ways to get more material out of a bean are:
                • increase time: the amount of time that the beans are in contact with water
                • increase water flow rate through the grounds bean puck
                • increase the water temperature, which increases the efficacy of the water to extract material (but not always the good flavors)
                Finer grind size also increases extraction, but is not an independent variable. There is typically an appropriate grind size for each type of recipe.

                This gives us:
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                Which gives us these insights:
                • Classic Italian espresso machines are hard-wired to give their best results with Italian-style roasted beans (medium dark to dark). FYI: I consider the common "flat 9 bar" profile to be a simplified (and less good) version of the Lever profile. Lever Profile results in typical extraction yields of 19% to 21%, that are the lowest of the 4 recipes, since flow rate is lowest and water contact time is the shortest, with this recipe.
                • Light roasts are known to fall apart quickly and channel during espresso making when using the Lever (or flat 9 bar) profile. This is likely why those whose machines can only that recipe of espresso will tend to compensate by either making Ristretto (short time) shots, or putting a lot more coffee into the basket. If you don't do this, you get very acidic, generally under-extracted espresso, because you haven't appropriately compensated for the lower solubility of the beans you're working with.
                • The Blooming recipe works well on medium to light roast beans, but with ultralight roasts, the puck tends to fall apart at the end of Blooming shots, as ultralight beans don't have enough puck integrity to survive the last stage. Rao tries to work around this by having the last stage flow profiled, so that if the puck integrity fails, at least the flow rate doesn't go super-fast. The long preinfusion demands a super-fine ground. Blooming results in the highest extractions, both because of the long water contact time, but also because this recipe requires the finest ground beans, which also increases extraction.
                • The Allongé recipe works best with ultralight roasts because it demands so little puck integrity, and the fast flow rate require coarse grounds in order to not go over-pressure. The Allongé recipe is the follows the findings from the widely quoted Hendon research paper that coarse grinds, and fast flow, result in relatively high extractions and good consistency. The typical EY of 21%-23% is likely due to the coarser grind than Blooming. But because Hendon didn't use a flow-profiling or pressure profiling espresso machine, his espresso suffered from rapid loss of puck integrity, and so he ended up advocating for shorter duration espresso recipes. By using constant flow (or decreasing pressure) it's possible to use the coarse grind/fast-flow approach but to pull the shot to the normal 30 second duration.
                • Each recipe has an ideal bean roast level. If you use dark roasted beans for any non-lever recipe, you'll likely over-extract it. Light beans on Lever will often under-extract and/or channel.
                • People with manual lever machines are able to make all these recipes, and have long been able to make delicious espresso with light roasted beans. Typically, this has been either a Blooming shot, or they've cleverly made 50 seconds Lever profile shots, thus extending the water contact time over the entire duration of the recipe.

                End notes

                My definition of roast levels is flavor based, which isn't necessarily that common an approach but here is how I think of them:
                • dark roast: dark chocolate flavor, some "burnt forest" flavors. Often served very thick. Taste profile similar to dark cooking chocolate.
                • medium-dark: a mix of chocolate flavors, both dark and medium, with little (if any) burnt flavors, and some layering of different styles of chocolate.
                • medium: less dark chocolate flavors, but no burnt flavors. Can include layers of different chocolate roast level flavors.
                • medium-light: same as medium (layers of chocolate), but with some fruity (tropical and red fruits are typical) or floral notes added as well. Can have a "milk chocolate" flavor. Taste profile is similar to expensive "single origin chocolates".
                • light: no chocolate flavors. A "well developed" light has other Maillard flavors such caramel, toffee, cooked pear. A "less developed" light roast will not have any flavors arising from caramelization. Fruit, floral, meat, and more. An amazing panorama of flavors is possible with light roasted beans, which is why so many coffee experts favor this roast style.
                • ultralight: intense fruit flavors. Often tastes more like expensive tea than traditional coffee.
                This article is a work in progress, and represents my current thinking. I very much would like to discuss it and you're welcome to revise my chart above with your ideas.


                • What we're building now

                  The Decent Espresso queue page now shows you what models we're currently building, and what we're building next:

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                  We run two lines "assembly tables", one for each voltage, and each is always at a different stage of completion.

                  What we build next is very simply defined as: whatever machines are at the top of the queue.

                  Each run takes a total of about 10 work days from start to being handed over to UPS. So, the "will build next" models should definitely ship in less than 20 days, and usually less than that.

                  In November we sold 202 machines to new customers, but we managed to ship 275 machines in that same month. So we're managing to make machines faster than they get ordered. 202 machines presented a 32% increase over our previous record of 152 machines sold in a month. I'm guessing that sales increased due to the decreased wait time.

                  I don't know if we'll be able to stay ahead of the order queue in coming months, as next year just has so many unknowns in the world. With a vaccine coming, but the economic cost hitting, will our sales go up or down? No idea, but for now, we're able to keep up, which is good news.