"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2512/5/00 - I decided to give the Rocky a cleaning again. It is actually quite simple to take apart. There are three screws in the feed bin. Remove them and the entire bin comes off revealing the top burr. That unscrews by hand. There was about half of a tablespoon of crud in the feed opening in the top burr comprised of old grounds, some beans and a little chaff. It was all clotted together and smelled not very good. I used the compressor to blow out the rest of the crud (in the garage!). The entire process takes around fifteen minutes from start to finish.
Cleaning, Frothing, and a Visit From Mom
12/6/00 - Cleaning the grinder definitely helped. The cappas tasted quite fresh this morning. We could both tell the difference. I think that I will blow it out at least once a week from now on and see how clean it stays that way.
I am still using the La Marzocco filter basket. I am consistently getting darker crema. We have both noticed that there seems to be more coffee fines in our cappas though. I don't quite understand this as the holes in the La Marzocco are actually noticeably smaller than those in the Rancilio basket. More testing is needed!
After a post on alt.coffee discussing how to position the steam wand to create perfect micro-foam for cappuccinos, I decided to try it. I first used some water in my steam pitcher to be able to practice. The theory is that you can see the water and develop a style that allows the steam to force the milk to swirl in a circle. I did that. Found out where that position is. And put it to use this morning.
Making decent microfoam is a very difficult task. I use soymilk and that doesn't make it any easier- in fact, it might make it darn near impossible- there's just not much info out there for soymilk, and to make matters more complicated as we make our own. I can easily make all the thick foamy stuff, sometimes referred to as 'sea foam,' that spoons on that I could ever want (but try to avoid this), and I even get some of the floaty foam that has a thick, cream-like texture that also floats on top like in the Illy cappa cup pictures on their commercial website. I definitely do not seem get any of that kind of stuff that allows latte art. If it is in there, it is hiding. I'll keep practicing.
On the other hand, the steamed milk definitely has a heavier texture than the un-steamed soymilk, and there is a richer feel to the cappas from it, or so I perceive. I poured a bit into a shot when I was though making the cappas the other day and the milk definitely has a heavier feel on the tongue, so I must have something good going on here.
They way I see it, it seems like the first part of the steaming process, until the milk hits about 100 degrees, when you are holding the steaming wand near the surface, is to force a bunch of air in the form of fine bubbles into the milk without creating a lot of large, surface bubbles. Then, when you raise the pitcher (lower the wand) until it hits 160 degrees, you are breaking up all the little bubbles you made in step one and making the micro-foam- 'stretching' the milk. Well, I am definitely getting more volume as my 16 ounce pitcher fills quite radically from the six or so ounces of soymilk I start with. And I am working on cutting down on the "froth" and trying to get more foam, but mess up along the way and you end up with not enough volume, too much froth, and it's, "Honey! Get the mop," time.
I proved the other night that the Silvia's steam carries a lt of heat energy with it. I was frothing and when it crossed over the 160 mark the milk started to expand radically and I couldn't get the pitcher away from the steam wand or turn steam off fast enough. It is amazing how far Silvia's froth can be shot across a kitchen! It should come with eye protection!
12/7/00 - Mom came over this afternoon and we all sat down. Well, Mom and Wifee sat, and I got to play Barrista in the kitchen, putting together three double decaf cappas (one straight for me, and two with caramel syrup, dosed by Wifee, for the ladies). As we don't entertain often (like around every other never), it was a fun opportunity for me.
The three doubles came with ease. I have gotten a routine down that makes it a fairly smooth operation to pull shots. I have also gotten to the point that I found that about two heaping coffee measure-fulls of beans makes about one La Marzocco filter basket-full, so I started by dumping six portions into the hopper on Rocky. Then it was as you could guess. Grind, level, tamp, pull. Place the double to the side, knock out the puck, rinse portafilter in hot water, dry portafilter, repeat, repeat. Switch to steam. Wait a minute, bleed off water from boiler. Get milk ready, steam, pour, rinse steaming pitcher in cold water, repeat, repeat.
This is the first time I have made three cappas together, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised at Silvia's steaming ability. It had plenty of dry, hot steam to create three pitchers of frothed soymilk for the three cappas, and still had steam to spare when I was done.
And no complaints from my "customers," even though Mom was never a coffee drinker. She was actually surprised that a coffee drink could taste so good and equally surprised that she liked it. It was quite nice, sitting in front of the woodstove, sipping out cappas. While here she presented my wife with an old ring as a retirement present. it had been hers for many, many years. It was a wonderful moment.
I have some coffee-drinking friends coming in January or February, after the holiday season, and then I will really get to test my barrista abilities, such as they are. These folks usually down cup after cup at home, so Silvia will get quite a workout. Can't wait!
12/8/00 - It has been just over eight weeks since I decided to purchase an espresso machine and had started my research and only about four since mine arrived. Amazing how it has changed things around here. Before that time about all I knew about espresso was that it was a hot, brown overly-bitter liquid that was served at certain commercial, chain coffee houses and that a steam-driven machine could not make espresso.
Now look at me! I have roasted over six pounds of beans, and I have this espresso website that seems to have an interested following. Each morning, wifee and I enjoy a cappa as we sit on the couch and enjoy our morning "special time."
I wake up thinking things like, "Should I grind at 6 and tamp at 35?" The caffeine doesn't keep me awake at night- the myriad of variables going through my mind concerning my next pull do that. When you enter my home you are not welcomed by the smell of potpourri or Glade- the aroma of roasting coffee permeates everything. When you walk in the kitchen in the morning the smell of freshly ground coffee greets you.
I now have a set of "special" towels, an espresso set and a cappuccino set, and those Jack Daniel's shot glasses that were a gift from a friend now actually get daily use. I bought a dozen canning jars just to hold roasted coffee, and a portion of a kitchen cabinet shelf has been cleared to make way for much of the above, and another for the roasting equipment and other supplies.
I am certainly no espresso expert, but my nose now supplies me with a very good idea of how the next shot will taste before it hits my lips. A few weeks ago I couldn't have described what the difference was between an acidic and a bitter shot, but the results from an early pull from some under-roasted beans gave me an education in that area. Now, I can smell a shot and (usually) will know ahead of time whether it is drinkable or putrid.
How we grow!