"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2002 - All rights reserved
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
47When it all finally comes together it is magical moment indeed, and I have been immersed in such moments for about the last week or two.
I think I am there!
Back when (or just "when") your hit your first really great shot, even if it isn't what you might define as the proverbial "God Shot," it's a special moment. The crema flows dark and thick, oozing out of the portafilter spouts not unlike warmed molasses. It's dark and it's textured tones last nearly the entire shot, only lightening to a rich caramel color near the very end of the shot, and even then it is streaked with darker lines filled with the promise of flavorful delights.
I have reached the point that I have been experiencing these sorts of shots daily for over a week now. Was it by magic? Was it through secret incantations? Was it a phone call to Miss Cleo? No, no, and definitely no. Experience was the first factor. With that comes the ability to roast consistently but more importantly, to be able to dose and tamp consistently. And the bottom line is that how you roast and how you dose and how you tamp is not as important as being able to do them all the same way (or nearly so) all the time. Once that can be accomplished to a reasonable degree, then the grind can be finally and finely adjusted.
I noticed that my pulls were seeming to get light too early and the pulls were bordering on or just over twenty seconds, so I set Rocky one, and later two clicks finer than I had been accustomed. I realized that, when the grind is that fine it is really easy to over tamp- it's like compacting humid talcum powder. The particles are so fine that over-dosing and over-tamping is a real easy thing to accomplish if you get carried away. I actually choked Silvia one time to the point that I got a few drips of a tar-like substance dribbling out in a twenty second pull before shutting her off. Once I got it all "dialed in" everything fell into place.
I am now getting espresso that has an aroma that should be patented and kept from the masses who can't handle such incredible delights. The taste is rich and smooth, and my blends that contain Yemen Mocha have a bittersweet chocolate follow that lasts and lasts, staying on the palate like your first kiss from the mate with whom you know you will spend the rest of your life. My pulls now last for about thirty seconds and from that I get just under two ounces of espresso with a very dark, rich, long-lasting crema.
All right- so I'm getting carried away. Let's get back to the serious part- Your question might very well be, "How can I accomplish this?" (if you have not already).
Keep pulling shots. Concentrate on dosing exactly the same way every time and tamping the same way every time.
As I have mentioned before, what I do is fill the portafilter loosely as it comes from Rocky's doser, to about 80% of the basket's capacity. I then shake the portafilter gently until the grounds are leveled without being packed, then I tap the spout downward onto the counter top gently to settle the grounds- sort of pre-packed. They settle down about two to three millimeters lowe than before the taps on the counter- just enough to see that they have dropped a bit in the basket. And I am using the La Marzocco double basket, by the way.
The basket is then filled to over-capacity, and I use the straight handle of a plastic coffee measure and moving it back and forth across the top of the basket, I level the grounds off. I do not create a depression with a crooked finger as many do. I am not trying to start a debate here. I just find this method works best for me. I feel so because it can be done consistently- far more so than the crooked finger method. Once again, anything you can do to assure that every puck is formed the same way is what you need to do for yourself.
After that, a light tamp (about 10-15 pounds), a couple of light taps on the side of the portafilter body to dislodge loose grounds, then a heavy tamp (about 40-45 pounds) and a couple of polishing twists. I do not use a scale. Once you get the basic feel of a heavy tamp you will be able to feel the grounds stop compressing and at that point they offer back a good amount of resistance. That is to where I pack. It just seems to work for me and it is easy for me to do consistently.
Once you can do that the next step is to keep grinding finer and finer until you choke your machine. It should go without saying that if your machine is pumpless (steam driven) you can't do this and have already read too far. Additionally, when your machine has run more than about ten seconds and nothing has come out of the spouts, shut off the pump, set your grinder one step coarser, and go again. You are just torturing your machine's pump.
What I was doing was approaching the correct grind, but I was searching for the correct grinder setting by slowly moving from a coarse setting towards a finer one, but never quite getting to the correct point. I arrived where I am by searching for the point where the machine is choked and then stepping up the grind a bit coarser.
Don't be afraid to grind finer and finer. That is where the excellent espresso hides!