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Thread: Help needed!

  1. #1
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    Help needed!

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    I am going quite mad with my coffee setup at present, and just cannot get a consistent cup no matter what I try.
    I have: a La Cimbali Junior D (20 years old?); the group handle is original and I use a double basket; a Rancillio MD50 (grinders replaced last year); and I roast my own using a KKTO (about 600gm a week) . I've had this set up for about 5 years.

    In a nutshell, my ristretto tastes like rubbish and the difference between a half decent pour (which is still a bit dodgy) and something that either runs through the machine like water, or clogs up the machine is incredibly fine - almost arbitrary. What would seem like a normal minimal adjustment to grind, dosing, or packing technique can change a pour from clogging to running through.

    What I have done so far :
    I did a barista training course when I first got the machines;
    I clean the Junior thoroughly every few weeks;
    I have an inline water filter and it was professionally descaled last year - not that it was bad;
    I've had it professionally serviced twice in 5 years;
    The burrs in the grinder were replaced last year;
    I've tried several packing methods, including the Weiss, and tapping regularly while dosing.

    Confessions : my tamper does not fit the basket perfectly snugly, although it is pretty close - maybe 1 to 2mm off snug;
    I don't use the hopper on the grinder as it's too tall for the space in the kitchen, and I only grind what I need at the time. Given the grinder does not spit out all the coffee grinds, I tip it forward and sweep out the shute each time (after its stopped of course);
    Until recently I've only drunk milk based coffees, but now I prefer ristretto - it's possible my technique has always been faulty, but I don't think so...


    Anyways, I am fairly sure the roasting is sound, and the aroma (and taste) of the beans is good, so I am fairly sure the problem lies with machines and technique. Any tips, tricks, advice and places to look would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers

  2. #2
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    Oh, and I also weigh my beans to try and standardise the amounts, but I haven't weighed them after grinding into the basket...

  3. #3
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    OK, you might have several symptoms, which may not be related. Some things that might help diagnosis...

    When you get a 'pour' instead of a choked basket, how is the pour? (not the taste) Does it come out looking good? Is it thin & black all the way? Do you get the lovely light brown crema look at any stage in the pour? Does it blonde early?

    When you say 'ristretto tastes like rubbish' what do you mean? Bitter? Sour? Thin taste?

    If you run a shot with no basket, what is the water like? Does it sputter or drip instead of pour steadily?

    I don't know the machine so this might not be relevant, but is it a step-change on the grinder or worm drive with no discrete steps? The abrupt change for very little alteration suggests there's something in the burr set up that isn't right. I can go from clogged to almost a gusher on my SB EM0480 in 2 steps (or 1 sometimes if I forget to change my tamp pressure) but the 480 has 24 steps in 90 of turn, so they are large changes. To get that in a Rancilio, from what I have read on here, suggests something is magnifying the change. Can you pull the burr assembly apart and look for anything not right? Or maybe something in the drive that might be causing a 'step'?

  4. #4
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    You say you've had this setup for 5 years. Have you always had this problem?

    As you say, you haven't weighed the dose in the pf. Check this first - ie, are you getting consistent doses from shot to shot?

  5. #5
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    also, considering you only recently went black with your coffee, have you been able to get a consistently good ristretto in the past?
    any change in beans since?
    have you tried measuring the temp of water coming out of the junior?
    Last edited by timdimdom; 17th May 2014 at 02:53 PM. Reason: re-read OP

  6. #6
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    Hi Journeyman

    The ristretto is generally bitter and thin, and the pour usually similar. It can look quote nice as well, and the taste sites improve, but at no stage is it a decent pour, other than by pure luck.

  7. #7
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    The water comes out well without a basket too.
    Loads of steps with the grinder. I upgraded from a 480 and noticed a big difference at the time.

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    Hi Pete

    I never really drank ristretto regularly early on, so I can't honestly say that my pour was anyways spot on, but I don't remember it ever being so inconsistent. Certainly I have only begun to swear at my machines over the last year or so....

  9. #9
    Senior Member artman's Avatar
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    Is your brew pressure ok? Is it rotary pump? If your pressure is high it will really affect your consistency. Also don't forget a decent cooling flush, these machines run quite hot.

    Cheers
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  10. #10
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    Don't worry about "spot on", because as you say, you've just started drinking straight shots - you just want consistency first. I would really concentrate on dose first. If you have a constant dose and the shot weight keeps changing from shot to shot, then you start searching for other problems. Really good grinders are really easy to use because they give a consistent grind and dose. I found with the sunbeam and breville I used, the dose varied quite a bit (by about a gram or more). The breville was a bit better. Once I sorted ways to get a pretty consistent dose, things got much easier (and convinced me that tamping pressure makes almost no difference at all).

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    Thanks Artman
    Yep, always do cooling flushes. As to the brew pressure, my gauge shows 1.1 bar at rest and goes down to about 1 during a shot. I'm not even sure if that's high or low!

    Weighing the coffee both pre and post grind is now giving some consistency. It's still not a great taste as yet, but it is better and much more consistent again. It feels like I'm walking a tightrope though - one tiny bit one way or the other and -_- Is that normal? Obviously drinking milk based drinks can hide a multitude of sins....

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    Oh, It's an older vibe pump too - a bit noisy, but that has remained the same over the years.

  13. #13
    Senior Member flynnaus's Avatar
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    There are lots of things to try. I don't think it's your tamper. Are you making a single shot as a doppio ristretto or are you pouring two shots from a double basket?

    Haveyou considered it might be your coffee? Milk can mask a few 'defects'. What do you usually drink and how do you roast it? How long do you let it rest before drinking?
    Try a bean that is known for producing good creamy pours with lots of body. The KJM blend is a good candidate.
    You might also need a benchmark. I would consider buying a bag of premium coffee and trying that out. Alternatively, do you know someone who doesn't mind black coffee and could give your coffee a try and an opinion?

  14. #14
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    I think tamping, for a given method, is a fine tuner for a shot. But tamping method can make a big difference.

    Something to try... I found it made a hell of a difference to my consistency in shots. Progressive tamping is a way to remove the tamping differences from the issue. By tamping lightly every couple of mm's, you get a more consistent pressure profile through the puck. Heavy and single tamp tends to give a high pressure surface and almost no pressure at the bottom of the basket.

    So try checking your grind by hand and then progressive tamp it using about a 3kg tamp at least 3 times through the grind process. I find 3kg is MUCH easier to guesstimate than more than 15kg and is much easier on the wrist as well.

    By check manually I mean, grind some and then take a pinch and squeeze it between thumb and finger. Remove finger and look. If you can see your fingerprint, it is too fine. If the mini-'puck' breaks apart instantly into a wad of crumbs, it's too coarse. You want a compressed mini-'puck' with maybe a couple of cracks in it, but most of it should hold together.

    Next, 'smear' the puck - rub your finger across it as if to brush it off your thumb. You should get most of the grinds gone but still have some fines in the print ridges.

    Once you have that, grind enough into the basket to make sure the tamper will compress it. (baskets with a taper might need several mm's before you can get an unbroken surface) Tamp lightly and polish. Repeat until you have the dose where you want it. A good starting point is to grind the weight the basket is rated at if you know it. Otherwise a double of 15g - 16g should do fine. Try doing a nutating tamp for the last one - roll your wrist to make the tamper compress all the way round the edge. Gently!

    None of the tamps should be more than 3kg. The final product should be well down from the rim of the basket - both my SB's and my VST's perform best with the grind about 4mm - 5mm down. At that level the 5c test doesn't even register.

    Now pour your shot. I've also found on my EM6910 machine that starting the shot till the 1st drip then stopping it and starting it again often gives me a richer shot. YMMV so try it with or without the faked pre-infusion method.

    Let us know what kind of shot you get...

  15. #15
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    Also, milk hides sins but not pours. If your pours looked OK before but now look wrong, that's not milk.

  16. #16
    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    Based on all the different definitions used an obvious question would be what is your definition of a ristretto? What volume over what time period?


    Java "Yet another variable" phile
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickleback View Post
    Thanks Artman
    Yep, always do cooling flushes. As to the brew pressure, my gauge shows 1.1 bar at rest and goes down to about 1 during a shot. I'm not even sure if that's high or low!
    G'day Sb...

    This will be your Boiler Pressure, not your Brew Pressure... Brew Pressure should read (on its own gauge) around 9-10Bar. If you don't have a separate gauge for this, then you would be advised to either sign up for a session with Greg Pullman's PF Pressure Gauge, or take your machine to a reputable Espresso Machine Tech. and request them to test and setup your machine so that it's producing 8.5-9.0Bar at the Group Handle using a Scace Device or while pulling a shot.

    All the best,
    Mal.

  18. #18
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    I agree with flyn.

    Sounds like you've got some consistency. To answer your question about "normal" sensitivity to dose - how much is "a little bit" do you think? You need scales that weigh to 0.1 gram resolution - 1 gram resolution is not good enough. I have found I can see and taste a change of 0.2 g.

    I would strongly advise avoiding things like "progressive tamping" which only introduces more variables. Have not used your machine, but it looks like a standard 58 mm, so try a dose of 18g and then adjust grind to get about 45 g shot in around 25 s and see if you can do that consistently and get something that tastes ok (not looking for god shots yet). If you can't (assuming your scales are ok) then get some good quality coffee and try that.

  19. #19
    TC
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    I think:
    • take a deep breath
    • purchase a known coffee which is fresh and works well and consistently (to eliminate any home roast variables/flaws which may or may not be present)
    • eliminate any group pressure issues (not likely to be significant)
    • check temperature with the right gear and work around it if required
    • lastly and most importantly- have someone who knows what he/she's doing verify your technique and run some basic palate work with you.

    Cimbali gear can and often does run hot and depending on what your gear is actually doing, it may be an influence.

    Ultimately one or a combination of you, you coffee and your technique.

    Good luck

    Chris

  20. #20
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    @Pete39 - Progressive tamping, done properly, removes or reduces the tamping variable rather than introducing it. Setting aside the possibility his/her equipment has failed in some way, Stickleback's process has been in use for 5 years. The issues came up after swapping to black shots, which would suggest there's a process issue. Clearly s/he has spent considerable time experimenting, so continuing to keep on keeping on with what isn't working is not helping.

    A 'normal' tamp of ~15kg can vary considerably by 1kg - 2kg either way, simply because of the effort going into it. Using scales demonstrates this perfectly, which is why people use scales to check their tamping and can be surprised when, after time, they test again and find their 'normal' has strayed by a significant amount.

    On the other hand, 3kg is a much easier level of tamping. It is less stressful in trying to get an even tamp on a possibly wobbling PF and it is easier to judge within a few hundred grams or less (mine vary by as little as 50g after some months of using it) and so provide a much more consistent tamp, thus reducing the variation per shot.

    And as mentioned above, it also evens out the pressure profile across the depth of the basket - I can't see how that could possibly be a bad thing.

    You may perhaps be referring to the variation from what Stickleback is currently doing compared to what s/he would be achieving with a progressive tamp method, and you'd be correct if so. But once progressive tamping is started, the variation in pressure applied to the basket for consecutive shots is much less.

    Once the tamping variance is removed, things like grind consistency and dose can be addressed more easily. I use the method because I prefer the taste in the cup that gets delivered, but it's also a good technique just to remove variation in the process, even if you then return to 'hulk smash' levels of tamping.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Barry O'Speedwagon's Avatar
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    With respect, JM. Normal variation in tamping pressure is unlikely to cause the thin bitter espresso that the OP is experiencing. I'd keep it simple, starting with making 100% sure the beans ain't the culprit....as per Talk Coffee's advice above.

    I'd leave the progressive tamping for some later fine tuning.

  22. #22
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    Agreed Barry,

    The way to make it unsolvable is to make it impossibly difficult.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Barry O'Speedwagon View Post
    With respect, JM. Normal variation in tamping pressure is unlikely to cause the thin bitter espresso that the OP is experiencing. I'd keep it simple, starting with making 100% sure the beans ain't the culprit....as per Talk Coffee's advice above.

    I'd leave the progressive tamping for some later fine tuning.
    Fair enough.

    I've noticed that I can use tamping to make my coffee great again when it starts to gush a bit as it ages. The 480 grinder steps are a bit too large to compensate in small increments so I use tamping. Recently I have been trying a number of different beans and when I came back to my dark roast blend I found it gushed and gave me thin coffee with almost no crema. Tamping slightly more gave me a much better brew, so I clicked a notch finer and tamped lighter and got my normal lovely coffee.

    So my advice is based on my experience with varying my tamping to compensate for bean differences. The tamping might not cause the change but it's a quick way to identify what might be wrong.

    While beans may be an issue, I figured Stickleback would have identified any sudden change in his/her beans - this is not a case of a person being unable to make a decent brew, this is one where, apparently not making milk coffees has resulted in a drastic change in the coffee. To me, the difference in pour when making coffee is quite clearly visible so I presumed it would have been noticed in Stickleback's attempts to resolve the issue. i.e. thin watery pours would have been noticed before, whether or not milk was going to be added.

    I don't really see the logic of focussing on the beans as a first instance when the process has been in operation for 5 years.

    And to be honest, I also don't see how trying a tamping method that removes a lot of the normal inconsistency involved is making a situation 'impossibly difficult.' If I can get my head around progressive tamping so quickly, it is clearly an easy process to use.

    EDIT: If the issue was that the taste of the coffee was now unacceptable, where previously it was fine, I would choose the beans to look at. The milk might cover the taste issues. But that isn't what is being said. The issue is with the shot itself and a bitter watery shot will be so whether or not you are going to add milk.

    I'm not being argumentative here, just pointing out the logic of why I posted what I did. Often I've found people don't think about why a poster posts things and they tend to argue from preconceptions or habitual actions. i.e. THIS is correct because that is how it is done. But if such processes and actions were so absolute, this forum would have 1/10th the posts on it.

  24. #24
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    Have to say, if I had to resort to "progressive tamping" to get a decent extraction I'd give the game away.
    All I've ever needed to do with any of my machines was to establish the dose, get the grind right and use moderate tamping pressure, works for me every time
    In my opinion introducing variables only serves to complicate and confuse.

  25. #25
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    Agree with Chris (and Barry), but am assuming the OP wants to try and solve the issue via the forum. So make it really simple by using scales (ie, no dosing techniques needed, no confusions with clumpy/fluffy grinds etc). Pro's like Chris know how to dose with high accuracy and precision and have the tools that make it possible. But unless you've got someone like him to tutor you, weighing dose and shot seems an easy way to minimise two variables easily.

    JM, have seen no evidence to support progressive tamping - it seems to be asking for trouble (by making the process more complicated) and is totally unnecessary (tamping is probably the easiest thing to learn in espresso). Have however, seen it demonstrated conclusively (and it has been reported in reputable references) that tamping pressure has very little effect. No problem if you like doing "progressive tamping", but it makes things complicated and difficult for people having trouble.
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  26. #26
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    Wow, things move fast on this thread - posted the above after reading Chris's #22!

  27. #27
    Senior Member Yelta's Avatar
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    As an afterthought Stickleback, do you know anyone with a machine that is producing good coffee? If so perhaps you could ask them to pull a couple of shots using your beans and compare the results, this May narrow your search area.

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    Great - thanks for that

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    Yep - 1gm scales so might need an upgrade.

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    Thanks for all the help guys

    I call ristretto about 15ml and I use a 21gm basket (apparently! ).

    The issue could be my beans, maybe I'm just a crap roaster! I use a KKTO and always roast by sound and some sight. I usually aim for between 1st and 2nd crack, with a preference in the past for the start of 2nd crack, but now a little earlier moving to ristretto. Good idea to try someone else's beans - will buy some tomorrow.

    Shame, I was hoping someone might tell me I needed a new Pullman tamper

  31. #31
    Senior Member Barry O'Speedwagon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickleback View Post
    .

    Shame, I was hoping someone might tell me I needed a new Pullman tamper
    Mate, I could tell you that if you like. I've got one that is fitted to my VST basket, and which is about 1mm too small for my EP basket....and seriously it doesn't make a huge difference...I just altered my technique a little. Great piece of engineering though....so don't let me put you off....I have no regrets.
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  32. #32
    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickleback View Post
    I call ristretto about 15ml and I use a 21gm basket (apparently! ).
    So you use a large double basket and only extract 15ml out of it? How long does it take you to extract the 15ml?


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    Hi Java

    I usually aim for about 15 seconds and our the first signs of blonding - when the shot is good of course.

    Bought locally roasted beans today - same result in regards to taste.

    My scales are definitely a weak point - even weighing beans post grind is not giving consistent puck height after tamping. 1gm is not enough.

    Also, I'm obviously having difficulty clearing all the beans from the grinder chute as there is a definite mismatch between the weight going in to the grind coming out - sometimes more and sometimes less by up to 3gm or more

  34. #34
    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickleback View Post
    Hi Java

    I usually aim for about 15 seconds and our the first signs of blonding - when the shot is good of course.
    If you're seeing blonding after 15 seconds and 15ml extracted while using what is in essence a triple basket my immediate thought is there's something wrong with the coffee. You say you bought locally roasted beans today and got the same result. When were they roasted and how have they been stored?

    All the symptoms you've listed are classical signs of using stale beans. Stale beans would also be the simplest explanation for what you're seeing.

    Less likely is that the anti-vac valve has become stuck and you're seeing a false boiler pressure. With the air not super-saturated there is less energy transfered in the HX and you end up with brew water that isn't hot enough. If you open your steam valve does the boiler pressure dramatically and take some minutes to build back up to full pressure?

    Going the opposite direction, as someone has already mentioned Cimbali's tend to run hot. Even doing a cooling purge may well not be enough at the extraction rate you're using. Cimbali's are designed to run flat out non-stop. With the size basket you're using I would be shooting for 30ml in 15 seconds.


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    Cheers Java - I'll give the extra ml a go, and order some beans from Andy to compare. My beans are never stale at least - I roast about 600gm a week in advance.

    Cheers Nick

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    Oh - boiler pressure drops about 0.2 but then jumps back up again straight away

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    Hi all, I'm still having problems but I have managed to improve things a bit.

    I bought some good beans (espresso wow) - similar result.

    I bought an HG-One (yes, it's amazing) - sadly similar results. As there are no retained grinds, I have some shot consistency, and worked a lot on dosing. I think now that I was probably cramming in 21gm into a normal double basket - oddly enough changing grinder seemed to make this obvious.

    I bought a naked portafilter and my technique is apparently pretty solid as a rule. It came with a 21gm basket making it very obvious my original basket was only 14gm. (I ordered a pullman tamper and a vst basket just to be sure )

    Doing the 5c piece check, I have found that 16 to 17gm seems about right now.

    So now my shot coming out appears to be ok and consistent , but it blondes quite early, and it still tastes like crap, and all the beans all taste the same.

    So with all of that it seems most likely that I'm burning the shot. How can I change the brew temp or brew pressure? I found the adjustor screw for the brew pressure (I think) and played with that, but the manual is rubbish and there is no indication whether it's going up or down.

    Any Cimbali familiar folk out there?

    Cheers

  38. #38
    Mal Dimal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickleback View Post
    Any Cimbali familiar folk out there?
    Our very own Javaphile is a very experienced and knowledgeable La Cimbali advocate. He may well spot this and offer some guidance...

    When you say that you have had the machine serviced, was that with a specialist La Cimbali service agent or just someone close by? I know from past comments about La Cimbali machines, they have their own set of idiosyncrasies...

    Mal.
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  39. #39
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    Hi Stickleback
    I use the exact machine that you use (I've had mine from new about 8 years but I don't think Cimbali have changed much other than the aesthetics of this unit over the years).
    The only difference in my configuration is that my grinder is a Mazzer mini.
    Ditto to everyone who told you to run a cooling shot. These machines run super-hot and will burn your shot otherwise.
    I've experienced your symptoms in the past for the following reasons:

    - Using coffee of indeterminate age or quality.
    - Not cleaning/backflushing the machine often enough (I noticed the quote in your first post "I clean the Junior thoroughly every few weeks". This is might be too infrequent. Try backflushing at least weekly).
    - Roasting too light.
    - trying to make a shot with the machine when it is insufficiently warmed up. I like to give it a full hour on a timer early in the morning to get it really hot. (although I guess from your comments if you are pulling a cooling purge, you've got it pretty hot).
    - Mostly through a lot of trial-and-error over the years, I've come to like most of my roasts, however, there are 1 or 2 bean varieties that I always have trouble with. (Sulawesi Blue comes to mind).

    At the end of the day, the Junior is a wonderful agricultural wily beast that has legions of fans but it's fair to say, I think that it's not kept up with the rising standards and tastes of the average home coffee enthusiast given the recent proliferation of thermally stable, sophisticated machines that are available nowadays (upgradeitis alert). That's not to say it won't make a great shot but it can be quite demanding and not very forgiving. (which I can attest to when I get a bit slack on machine cleaning or technique).
    Like the others posting above, I think tamping technique is the least of your problems, but for the record, I've found what works for me (which doesn't make it "right" folks ) is a slightly coarser grind followed by a light tamp, leveling tap, then a gorilla-strength tamp followed by a light spin of the tamper and you're good to go. (yes I'm a simple creature :-) )

    Good Luck,

    Tim
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    Hi Mal

    I think they are the local selling and servicing agent in town. Having said that, they were less keen on repairing and servicing my machine (that's a long story in and of itself) than trying to sell me a newer one as mine was so "old" :what:
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  41. #41
    Super Moderator Javaphile's Avatar
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    Hot. Hot, hot, hot! That's the Cimbali line. Especially the older ones. As stated previously they are designed to run flat out non-stop. The groupheads on Cimbali's are huge masses of brass. I didn't weigh mine when I had my M28 apart for rebuilding but I ran across a reference some years back when put their weight at over 7kg. That's a lot of heatsink! As a result as Tim said they need a nice long warm up period. An hour warmup (Some even use an hour and a half.) ensures that the machine is fully up to temp. Additionally, due to all that brass, when they sit idle the grouphead gets way too hot and requires multiple cooling shots before they're ready to pull a shot.

    While the timing will vary one person/machine to another the basic process I use is to remove the portafilter and do a long cooling flush (Stopping 5 seconds after the sizzling stops.), put the portafilter back on the grouphead then measure and grind the beans, then remove the portafilter and do a short cooling flush (Stopping 3 seconds after the sizzling stops.), then dose and tamp, then a quick 1 second flush to verify that the grouphead isn't overheated (ie There should be no sizzling. This last flush can usually be eliminated once you have your routine down and the idiosyncrasy's of your machine figured out.), then immediately lock the portafilter on and pull the shot. The exact length of time you will need to continue the cooling flush after the sizzling stops in each flush will vary one machine/person to the next. Use these times as a starting point and adjust the process to your machine and your personal tastes.

    Cimbali's tend to produce their best shots when run a bit faster than the standard 30 seconds. Depending on the bean/roast I've found the sweet spot to be as short as 17 seconds with most running in the low 20's, starting the clock when the first drop appears.


    Java "Big brass" phile
    Last edited by Javaphile; 13th June 2014 at 09:05 PM. Reason: Added more
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    Toys! I must have new toys!!!

  42. #42
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Hi All

    Another problem and question. I recently changed the group seal on the machine, along with a couple of shims, but there was still a bit of leakage out the back, especially with my shiny new VST baskets. So, I decided to cool it off and do it again, then put a protectant on the bolts so they didn't seize up when I put them back in. Needless to say, the first bolt sheared off in the grouphead. So, given I was not keen on my last servicing agent, does anyone know of a reputable machine repairer in Perth at all? Can't seem to find any in the Sponsors list
    Also, am I likely to need a whole new group head or can it be drilled out and put back together again? *sighs*



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