Fellow Prismo – Review

The Aeropress brewer is loved almost universally. I have neither talked to anyone who complained about it nor read a negative review by someone who bought it and didn’t like it. This love and appreciation by coffee lovers all over the world is mainly due to the delicious coffee the brewer produces, ease of use and portability but not due to the delicious espresso it produces. You see, the AeroPress promises to be a coffee and espresso maker but coffee lovers, including myself, disagree with the “espresso maker” part.

Now, a company named Fellow, which makes the fancy Stagg gooseneck kettles and other coffee brewing equipments and accessories, decided to try and bring the AeroPress closer to its promise of making espresso by manufacturing and selling the Prismo. To be clear, the Prismo does not promise espresso shots instead it promises espresso-style (more on that in a second) shots. According to Fellow (copied from their website), the reason they can’t claim that the Prismo produces an espresso shot is the following:

“Traditional espresso has a long and honored tradition of how it’s made, from tamping the puck to pulling a shot in the right amount of time, to that well-revered 9 bars of pressure. There were enough differences between how “espresso-style” coffee with Prismo works and traditional espresso that we felt the need to let our customers know. Here are a few important differences we wanted to share:

The pressure inside Prismo doesn’t reach 9 bars…  unless you’re superman! By our calculations, you would need to put over 2,000lbs of force on top of your Aeropress Coffee Maker to reach 9 bars (130psi) with Prismo. That’s not something we recommend trying at home!

The temperature of a Prismo shot is somewhat lower than an espresso shot. High end espresso machines tend to have pre-heated group heads, which help to maintain high temperatures in the puck while pulling a shot. Our preferred recipes with Prismo haven’t involved pre-heating, which means the coffee slurry temperature is a little lower. This lower temperature does great for producing chocolatey flavors with a lot of body and is excellent for blends and medium to dark roasted coffee. Your local cafe’s espresso blend will probably work great! However, for some lighter roasted single origin coffees, we’ve prefered brewing a full cup of coffee on the Prismo rather than an espresso-style shot.

Our best tasting espresso-style recipe takes about 70 seconds from start to finish. We’ve loved the flavor we’re getting from Prismo’s espresso-style coffee when we give it just a little extra time to develop. With some stirring, the right temperature water, and a strong press, we’ve produced full-bodied shots with a thick, yummy crema that lasts. But yes internet, a traditional espresso shot is about 20-30 seconds.”

The Prismo by Fellow

 

Fellow’s approach to the Prismo was to replace the original plastic basket (or filter holder) of the AeroPress with one that has a pressure actuated valve. This valve allows more pressure buildup inside the AeroPress, hence making it easier to produce a shot with qualities, such as crema, resembling a traditional espresso shot. The way the Prismo allows for more pressure buildup is simply by having the valve require more pressure from the user before it opens up to release the coffee. This idea is very similar to pressurized baskets used in lower end espresso machines. The pressurized baskets help cheaper machines achieve the pressure needed for an espresso shot while making the grind and the grinder less important.

The Prismo comes in two pieces, the first piece is the plastic basket replacement and the second piece is the built-in 80 micron filter.

The Prismo has few benefits that I like:

  1. It allows for the use of paper filters if you prefer paper over metal filters. I personally use a combination of both (yes, a paper filter fits on top of the metal Fellow filter)
  2. It eliminates the need for brewing using the inverted method since the valve does not release coffee unless you’re applying pressure. This also makes the AeroPress much easier to use as you do not have to rush and insert the plunger after you have poured enough coffee to start the blooming phase of your brew.
  3. The metal filter by itself, which is included with the Prismo, makes the device worth the $20 I paid for it.
No leaking/dripping from the device. Without the Prismo, this can be achieved only if the plunger is in.
No leaking, even without the plunger!

 

After playing with the Prismo over the period of few days, I don’t believe that it produces an espresso-style shot/coffee. The Prismo produces excellent coffee and an americano I made with it was absolutely delicious, and the “espresso-style” shots I made were full bodied, had a rich mouthfeel and really maintained some of the chocolatey notes I usually pick up in the shots I pull using my Nuova Simonelli Musica (coffee I used was Lavazza Top Class). However, I think the same way the Bialetti Moca Pot and the Turkish coffee made in the Ibrik don’t claim to make espresso or espresso-style coffee, the Prismo shouldn’t claim that either. The reason I believe so is that I don’t think it’s fair for the Prismo! While Fellow went to great lengths to explain what they mean by espresso-style, I’m positive that many people out there will confuse espresso-style with espresso and the Prismo will still be compared and measured against traditional espresso and the verdict won’t be in Prismo’s favor. Having said that, when the Prismo is judged by itself as a coffee making device or accessory, that can take a brewer (AeroPresso) to the next level, the results are very favorable and highly desirable.

The Force Tamper Distribution Tool vs. the OCD Knockoff Distribution Tool

For this week’s post, I wanted to compare two different coffee distribution tools, The Force Tamper distribution tool vs the OCD knockoff distribution tool. Both tools are supposed to achieve the same thing, which is distribute the coffee grounds evenly in the portafilter basket, albeit using different methods. The OCD knockoff is using three fins that are slightly angled as to push (distribute) the coffee around as you twist the tool. The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool uses a metal bar that sits on what appears to be tiny springs. The base’s weight sits on the coffee grounds and when you start twisting the tamper/base the metal bar starts pushing the coffee around to also distribute the coffee and the springs that the bar is sitting on ensures that it adapts to coffee bumps or any unevenness in the basket, the same way a car’s suspension adapts to road unevenness.

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For the purpose of this comparison, I have chosen to pull 2 shots, one using the OCD knockoff distribution tool and the other using The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool. The only variable here is the distribution tool. Both shots were pulled using the same coffee (Kimbo Superior Blend), same grinder (Mazzer Super Jolly), same espresso machine (Nuova Simonelli Musica), same cooling flush duration (5 to 6 seconds after flash boiling), same basket (VST 20gm) and even same tamper (The Force Tamper, one with base that has the built-in distribution tool and the other with a flat base without the built-in distribution tool).

The results were interesting, the shot pulled with The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool looked nicer and a little less bitter. Below is a side by side comparison of both shots 10 seconds after the first drop of coffee appeared from the basket.

The Force Distribution Tool vs. OCD Knockoff
Shot pulled using the OCD knockoff distribution tool
The Force Distribution Tool vs. OCD Knockoff 2
Shot pulled using The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool

To be totally fair, the less bitter taste could have been the result of a little longer cooling flush before I pulled the second shot but it could also be the result of a better distribution, as shown in the side by side pictures above.

Personally, I prefer The Force Tamper built-in distribution tool for the following reasons:

  • Visually better extraction (taste difference is negligible but definitely better distribution).
  • Tool costs under $30 and can be easily retrofitted to your existing The Force Tamper. The OCD knockoff costs around the same, although it can be used with your existing tamper but with less than ideal results.
  • More streamlined workflow as there is no need to switch between tools.
  • Unlike the OCD knockoff distribution tool, The Force Tamper does not need to have the depth of the fins adjusted (manually or by adding shims) every time you change dose or coffee, as it adapts to the height of the coffee bed.

I have made a video documenting the comparison and you can watch it here:

The Effects of Different Tamper Bases on Extraction

For this week, I decided to take advantage of the fact that The Force Tamper, which I have reviewed and blogged about before, have been sent to me with multiple bases and make a video to compare the effects the shape of a tamper base plays in the extraction of an espresso shot. What I’m after is to find out if there is a basis to claims that some bases perform better than others taste and looks wise. I chose the following bases for the test as they are more commonly used/known:

  1. Curve
  2. C-Flat
  3. Ripple
  4. Flat

For this test, the following variables are constant:

  • Temperature is maintained at around 200F by doing a 5 to 6 seconds cooling flush
  • The basket is the same one used across all 4 shots, a VST 20g basket in a bottomless portafilter
  • The input is 17g of coffee and the output is around 32g to 34g of liquid.
  • Distribution evenness was maintained by using the WDT distribution technique (paper clip to distribute/agitate the coffee grounds in the basket) and a Chinese knockoff distribution tool similar to the OCD.

The following are pictures showing the shots 10 seconds from the moment the first drop of liquid appeared from the basket. This will give a basis for comparison that’s pretty consistent.

First shot is using the Curve base:
Curve Base - PictureSecond shot using the C-Flat base:C-Flat - PictureThird shouting the Ripple base:Ripple Base - Picture
Fourth shot using the Flat base:
Flat Base - Picture

Looking at the pictures, I seem to think that the Ripple and Flat bases have performed best. Taste wise, I haven’t noticed any major difference, except that the shot extracted using the Curve base tasted unbalanced and the shot extracted using the Flat base tasted the most balanced. Please note that these tasting notes are based on my palette, others may be able to detect much deeper differences and complicated notes that I may have not tasted. I personally use a flat base as I find it to be the easiest to work with and the most consistent but others have found other base shapes to be best for their coffees, use or machines. You can also watch the video below for the full extractions and feel free to leave me comments with any questions or suggestions you may have.

Can the Acaia Lunar be Used for Manual Coffee Brewing?

When Acaia released the Lunar, they advertised it as the only scale you will ever need to pull espresso shots. The company, as you would expect, highlighted all its features such as water resistance as pros for espresso enthusiasts but one aspect of it really stood out to most people and it wasn’t a feature, the app or the water resistance capabilities instead it was the price! The Lunar retails for $220. Yes, that’s correct, $220 for a scale that’s designed for the sole purpose of pulling espresso shots consistently and tracking those shots via an app.

Because of this price, consumers started wondering if the Lunar, despite its small size, can double as a scale for manual coffee brewing methods such as V60 and Chemex. Thinking that way is a normal and rational human behavior as people try to maximize utility or benefits for every dollar spent. Now, Acaia also sells the Pearl scale, which is a scale dedicated to manual coffee brewing, but this scale is also not cheap at $150. In other words, you will need close to $400 if you would like to have a dedicated coffee scale for manual brewing and an espresso scale for pulling espresso shots and have both scales from Acaia.

The good news is that the Lunar can definitely be used for coffee brewing, as long as you are using the included mat that goes on top of the scale. Watch the video below and see how for $220, you can get yourself an excellent espresso scale that can also double down as a manual coffee scale.

The Force Tamper Distribution Base

Couple of months ago, Zubing Sun, the owner and inventor of The Force Tamper posted a video on Instagram demoing a tamper base (for The Force Tamper) that can distribute the grounds inside the basket before tamping, needless to say I was intrigued and impressed. Zubing graciously sent me couple of units for review along with a clear glass basket so that I’m able to see in action the distribution done by the new base.

As pictured below, the base has a thin metal bar going across the diameter of the base Zubing sent me one flat and one ripple base. This thin metal bar moves up and down as needed and depending on the amount of coffee in the basket.

The way it works, you sit your The Force Tamper on the basket like you would do for tamping, except instead of pressing down right away you let the weight of the Tamper sink inside the basket and then you rotate the tamper handle few times at either direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). This motion leverages the metal bar that’s built in the base to sweep or distribute the coffee.

Here’s a video showing how it works

Here’s another video showing the distributor tool in action, using a clear basket that was designed to showcase the distribution action.

Before receiving this base, my flow involved using a separate distribution tool (similar to the OCD distribution tool) to distribute the coffee and then tamping the coffee. There are 3 main things I like about this base:

  1. No need for a separate tool. Distribution and tamping can now be done using one tool and that’s The Force Tamper.
  2. No need to adjust the depth of the distribution tool. If you have owned a distribution tool, you know that every time you change dosing or coffee you will need to manually adjust the depth of the blade of the distribution tool to get a flat, even puck with no holes or irregularities. Since the distribution done by the base relies on the weight of the tamper, there are no adjustments needed.
  3. The price. For $29 you get a base for tamping and a distribution tool. This price is unbeatable on the market as the cheapest distribution tool out there cost more than $80. Even the Chinese knockoffs of the OCD distribution tools cost more than $40.

Overall, I’m very happy with the new distribution base for The Force Tamper. It does the job effectively and efficiently while saving you some cash in the process.

5 Things I Like About the Nuova Simonelli Musica

In my last week’s blog post, I listed 5 things I don’t like about my Nuova Simonelli Musica. In this week’s post, I’m listing 5 things I love about it. 

  1. The steam power, wand and tip: if you’re like me and you steam a lot of milk and love latte art then you will appreciate this steam on the Musica. The Musica has a 4 hole steam tip, the same tip used on the Nuova Simonelli machines used in the Barista Championships. You can watch this video here to have an idea for the steaming power. You can also watch some of my posts on Instagram to see examples of latte art. 
  2. Temperature consistency: so far my experience has been that before I pull a shot, if I flush the same amount of water after the flash boiling stops (cooling flush), the temperature in the cup is pretty consistent so is the taste (assuming other variables are constant)
  3. Design: beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I personally find the design to be very attractive and a nice combination between modern and retro making it a good fit with other coffee equipment or appliances. 
  4. LED strips: you may think that the lighting on the LUX model is a gimmick and unnecessary but I personally find it extremely cool and a nice WOW factor when I have people over at the house.
  5. Tank and drip tray capacity: both are huge compared to the size of the machine. The reservoir holds 3 liter of water while the drip tray holds close to a liter. Both don’t need to be frequently refilled/empties often. Coming from a Silvia, which had a small water reservoir and a tiny, almost nonfunctional, drip tray, the Musica is a relief. 

5 Things I Don’t Like About the Nuova Simonelli Musica

For those of you who don’t know or didn’t read my earlier posts, I’m the owner of a Nuova Simonelli Musica that I purchased off of eBay for 40% of its retail price! The Musica was a flop for Nuova Simonelli simply because it was double the price of its smaller sister the Oscar without double the features. Below I will list 5 things I don’t like about the Musica:

  1. Crazy price: the Nuova Simonelli Musica Lux (with the LED strips) retailed new for $2500 for the tank model while the Oscar retailed for close to $1000 and the Oscar 2 for close to $1300. Keep in mind, these machines are nearly identical except for the price and couple of other changes. I purchased this machine for close to $1000 so depreciation is crazy on these machines. 
  2. Missing brew pressure gauge: for $2500, you would think that a brew pressure gauge (feature found on much cheaper machines) is a given but somehow the folks at Nuova Simonelli didn’t think so, so you only get a boiler pressure gauge. 
  3. Unnecessary NSF certification: for some reason Nuova Simonelli thought that certifying a machine like the Musica, with its vibratory pump and 2 liter boiler, was a good idea. The certification was intended to make the Musica a viable option for small, low volume commercial application (e.g. galleries, small restaurants, etc.). However, the vibratory pump is ridiculous with its 1 minute on 1 minute off requirement and the heating element is only 1200 watts. The high price (for what the unit offered) and the reliability concerns all played important roles in making this machine a nonviable option for the commercial or even semi commercial environment. 
  4. Can’t choose between plumbing and tank after purchase: the Musica must be purchased as either a tank (pour over) model or a plumbable model. You can’t plumb the tank model if you choose to after buying the machine and you can’t use a tank with the plumable model. Again, for the price, the option to switch between tank and plumbing should have been a given. 
  5. Pre-infusion time is not adjustable: the Musica has a pre-infusion option, which you can turn on and off using the keypad, but the length of the pre-infusion is already set at 3 seconds and is not adjustable. 

In the next post I will talk about the things I like about the Musica and why it’s a good buy in the used market. 

The Force Tamper – Review

While browsing coffee gear and coffee-related posts on Instagram, I stumbled upon a post by Socraticcoffee showing The Force Tamper and indicating that a review of this tamper is on its way. Looking at the tamper, I was intrigued. Every tamper out in the market that promises a leveled tamp has to be manually adjusted to accommodate different doses. What do I mean by that? Basically, self leveling tampers that promise a perfectly leveled tamp and a consistent pressure works by manually setting the travel distance of the tamper base to a set level and this level is controlled by your dose. In other words, if you dose 19gm in the basket and you adjust the travel distance of the tamper to tamp down at let’s say a 30 lb of pressure but then if you decide to dose 21gm or if you change coffees (and the new coffee has different density) or if you use different size baskets then you will have to adjust the travel distance of the tamper or you will be tamping too much (or too hard) before the leveling base reaches the basket for a leveled tamp. Once Socratic confirmed that this tamper provides a perfectly leveled tamp regardless of the dose, I was ecstatic and I reached out to the owner (Zubing Sun) on Instagram (@starmoonxp) and asked for more details.

After some back and forth, The Force Tamper complete with multiple bases and handles, was on its way from China to New Jersey and I couldn’t be more excited.

CSC_0239
The Force Tamper with all its glory
The Force Tamper comes with the following:

  1. One handle of your choice (see picture below)
  2. One base (see picture below for different choices)
  3. One small pouch/bag in case you would like to transport the tamper (see picture below)
  4. One rubber tamper base to sit your tamper on it (see picture below)
  5. A plastic clear box where everything fits

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3 different handle shapes, the Jelly (far left), the Mushroom (middle) and the ball (far right)
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The bases are (in order from top left then bottom left): Flat, Curve, Euro Curve, C-Flat, Ripple, Euro Ripple, US Ripple and C-Ripple
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The pouch, the box and the base on which the tamper sits
Once I unboxed my tamper, I wanted to see how the mechanism of this tamper works and to confirm my understanding of its uniqueness and so I disassembled most of the parts but before I show you the parts and components it is important to understand why this tamper is unique. In my mind, the perfect tamper is a tamper that tamps level while applying consistent amount of force or pressure. All tampers on the market that I’m aware of (before the release of The Force Tamper), promise either a leveled tamp (by having a base that sits on top of the tamper), or a consistent pressure, or both as long as your dose is consistent and your coffee is the same. Never existed a tamper that promises a leveled tamp, a consistent pressure regardless of coffee, basket size or dosage (more on that later) without any adjustments!

What makes this tamper unique and what ensures the consistent pressure is the method it employs to apply the force to the coffee. Most tampers on the market that regulate the pressure applied to the coffee in the basket, do so by using some sort of feedback function such as a click or a compression spring that’s designed to provide a preset level of pressure. The Force Tamper unique design is different. Pressing down on the handle of The Force Tamper compresses a spring, then at a point controlled by an internal mechanism, the spring is released pushing or punching a piston down onto the base and then the bases compresses the coffee. This genius of this mechanism is what eliminates the need to adjust the tamper travel distance, like with other tampers, every time you need to adjust your dosage or change coffees.

DSC_0247
Some of the many parts making up the genius design of The Force Tamper
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A picture of the leveling base (without the tamping base) that sits on top of the basket to ensure a leveled tamping
The pressure or amount of force applied can be adjusted. You can do so by unscrewing the handle from the tamper then you will find what looks like a washer (t’s not) with two dents or bumps (see picture below). Grab a coin, then insert it in the two holes and rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. Clockwise will increase the pressure (or punch) force applied to the coffee and counterclockwise will decrease he pressure (or punch) force applied to the coffee.

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I have embedded below a video I made showing how you can easily adjust the pressure.

From the day I saw Socratic’s post on Instagram, I knew that this tamper is a game changer and once I received it and started using it, I was sold. The Force Tamper with its perfect leveling and consistent pressure tamping, practically eliminates tamping as a cause of bad extractions. Also, for cafes with multiple baristas or multiple locations it helps uniformize tamping. Finally, for working baristas, The Force Tamper eliminates elbow and wrist injuries caused by hours of tamping as you only need to hold the portafilter and tamper still while pushing down on the handle.

I have made a video review of the tamper as well. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received the tamper in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. 

 

New Coffee and Espresso Station/Table

If you haven’t read my previous post about my coffee equipment and station, please do so before reading this post as it will give you a better idea as to how different this new station is. 

For some time now, I have been scouring the web trying to find a table that’s 60 inches wide by 30 inches deep and 34 to 36 inches in height and under $100 (my total budget for the project is $100 to $120). The reason for those measurements is simply because that’s the largest table I can fit in my kitchen and I was going after the largest table since I have a lot of stuff and I wanted to contain it in one place. Also, my wife was getting tired (never complained though and that’s why I love her!) of me sharing the kitchen counter space with her so this size table will allow me to get everything done in one place and also tuck the mini fridge under the table instead of next to it. This was my setup until last weekend before my father and I completed the new station 


As you can see, it’s nice but not enough space to prepare the coffee or the espresso shot and definitely no room to add more accessories or gear in the future. 

I finally found the perfect table, it’s a butcher block, measures 60x30x34.25 inches and looked like it was built like a tank, one issue though, I live in New Jersey and the table was in Long Island, New York. 

The table was listed on Facebook marketplace for $75 and I negotiated it down to $60, which is a discount that helped offset the cost of tolls and gas. It was a Saturday and I borrowed my mom’s Chevrolet Equinox (I measured my wife’s Jeep and the table wouldn’t fit) and my wife and I decided to make a day out of it. We left New Jersey heading to Long Island around 10 am and was there, on time, at 11.30 am. The table didn’t fit all the way in the car and so we ended up leaving the trunk slightly open but tied down with ropes and bungee cords. Upon arrival and further inspection, I noticed that there are some deep scratches that will require some major sanding and paint chips on the white paint, which will require sanding and repainting. Here’s a picture of how the table looked like when I went to pick it up. 

And another picture showing the scratches 

Scratches and green stains were tough to get out, even after 4 hours of sanding with 100 grit sand paper and a palm sander

On the way back from New York, I went to Home Depot and purchased white semi gloss paint, wood stain, 2 paint brushes and sandpaper. The supplies cost a little less than $40, bringing the total cost of the table to just under $100, not including tolls and gas. As soon as I got back home I went to work on the table and called my father and asked him for help. Luckily, he was free the whole day Sunday and told me that he will stop by first thing after church to give me a hand. 

First thing I did to the table after we came back home on Saturday was to sand the tabletop


First thing Sunday, I decided to continue sanding till my father arrives and once he got here we made the cutout in the bottom shelf to accommodate the mini fridge


Once the cutout was done we started sanding the white paint to remove the paint chips and prepare the surface for a fresh coat of paint. 


Once we laid down the white paint, we started staining the tabletop and the shelf. 

My father giving me a hand and while I was taking pictures
Once the staining was done the table was pretty much complete. 

The tougher part was lifting this beast and bringing it inside the house, this required my wife’s help as my father’s back has seen better days. Once inside I proceeded to arrange my stuff and admire the weekend’s worth of hard work….and it was beautiful! 


These are pictures showing my old and new espresso/coffee tables. 



Please let me know what you think in the comments below or if you have suggestions for updates or a better layout.