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. 

How Involved Should Your Business Be in Politics?

The short answer? Not at all! Here’s my logic on this. Currently, the nation is extremely divided and what that means is that if you, as a business, take the left’s position on a social or political issue, you risk alienating the right and if you take the right’s position on a social or political issue, you risk alienating the left.

As a business, especially if you have investors, your job is to make money. Sure, it is important for your business to stand up for something and have a social cause(s) attached to it but there are plenty of neutral social issues (instead of political positions) and ways your business can get involved without alienating anyone. Some examples include:

  • Veterans issues
  • Autism
  • Breast and other form of cancers
  • People with disabilities
  • Homeless assistance
  • Obesity and health choices
  • Children education improvement
  • Healthier lunch options for schools
  • Community building and cleaning

These are all issues that the left and right can get behind and won’t risk alienating people on either side. If you, the owner of the business, feel one way or the other on some hot button social or political issues such as immigration or refugees you may want to consider keeping your opinion out of the business. You may use your personal social media accounts or other personal platforms to publish your personal opinions while making sure that your customers understand that those opinions are yours and yours only and do not reflect the views of XYZ Coffee Company.

I understand that if you have a physical location/coffee business it may be tempting to attach your business to the political opinion of your business’s geographical location. An example can be a coffee business located in San Francisco, California, where it is predominantly liberal, taking a liberal position on illegal immigration. The issue with doing this is that you may be limiting your business if you are selling coffee and coffee products online or if you have plans to expand your business beyond your current location. A customer located in a predominantly conservative city/state such as Texas, who loves your freshly roasted coffee, may end up taking their money elsewhere.

The backlash Starbucks received after their decision to hire refugees is a great example as to why businesses shouldn’t dive into politics. This article from Fortune.com talks about the boycott Donald Trump’s supporters have initiated and financial impact on Starbucks as a result.

Staying politically neutral is best for your business.

The Importance of Consistency in Coffee Catering and How to Achieve it

Very few things are more frustrating than ordering a drink or a meal and you love it but then when you go back to the same place and order the same drink or meal, it comes out different. Consistency is much more obvious for brick and mortar coffee shops but unlike serving coffee from a fixed place where the same people may stop by every day for their daily dose of caffeine (the frequency of order from the same customer is not as spaced out as with a catering customer), coffee catering is mobile and you may end up serving different people every day so why does consistency matter? It matters because with coffee catering you may still serve repeat clients. Think about a situation where you were hired by a company to serve a group of 50 employees who are out in a resort or a hotel for their annual conference or new products launch. In this case, you will be serving the same customers every day and so consistency will matter. A client (company) who will hire you once and receive a mixed feedback will probably not be a repeat client. 

This brings us to an important question, how can you achieve consistency in the coffee catering business (some of these concepts apply to brick and mortar as well)? I have narrowed the answer down to two main factors: 1) People and 2) Equipments and Supplies. In the table below, I summarized qualities required in every category to achieve consistency.

How to Achieve a Consistent Cup
People Equipment and Supplies
Training to all baristas so no matter who’s working, the result is still the same.  Weight-based grinders or seprate scale to weigh grounded coffee
Passion about the craft. This will make it easier for the barista to do what’s right. Weigh shots the shots (don’t eyeball or go with volume)
Patience to learn, grow and be able to repeat the inputs to achieve the same output (consistency) Espresso machines with brew temperature control (PID)
Use the same coffee from proven roasters who have a good tracking record in being as consistent as possible with their roast profile    

 

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

DSC_0251
3 different handle shapes, the Jelly (far left), the Mushroom (middle) and the ball (far right)
DSC_0253
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
DSC_0256
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
DSC_0248
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.

dsc_0249.jpg

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. 

 

Coffee & Coffee Gear Misconceptions: 01 – More Money = Better Coffee

I have decided to start a series of articles and videos (on my YouTube channel) to address some of the misconceptions out there related to coffee and coffee gear. These articles and videos are not intended for the professional barista or the advanced home Barista who may have already upgraded their home coffee equipments to a semi-professional or semi-commercial equipments. Instead, the articles and videos are intended to provide basic understanding and things to keep in mind when buying coffee gear or when looking to improve coffee and espresso shots.

The first misconception I’d like to address is that some people believe that spending more money on equipments and upgrading their Coffee gear will automatically result in better coffee (take their coffee game to the next level). The reason I’d like to address this first is because from my experience and from my time roaming and reading the coffee forums, home baristas and especially the new comers to the coffee world, tend to constantly upgrade their equipment in pursuing the God shot or the best coffee possible. This pursuit is problematic for many reasons and can be a money pit for home baristas for the following reason: the law of diminishing returns. 

You see, the law of diminishing returns, which refers to a point at which the level of profits/returns or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested, applies here. To illustrate this point I will be focusing on coffee grinders as an example, as it is one of the most discussed and upgraded piece of coffee equipment. I will also be making a set of assumptions in regards to each of the grinders’ performances as it relates to taste, based on online user feedback and coffee forums discussions. To start, I have chosen the following grinders and rounded up their prices (for ease of calculations).

  • Hario Manual coffee grinder (Hario Ceramic) = $50
  • Breville Smart Grinder Pro = $200 (4X the price of the Hario Ceramic)
  • Baratza Sette 270 = $400 (2X the price of the Smart Grinder Pro)
  • Mazzer Super Jolly Electronic Doserless = $1200 (3X the price of the Sette)
Grinder Price Utility/Benefits (scale of 1 to 100)
Hario Ceramic $50.00 5
Breville Smart Grinder Pro $200.00 25
Baratza Sette 270 $400.00 75
Mazzer Super Jolly Electronic $1,200.00 80

Looking at the table, you can visualize the point of diminishing returns in this case, which is going from the Baratza Sette to the Super Jolly. In this move, you would be spending $800 more just so you can gain 5 additional points or units of benefits! Definitely not a good value. On the other hand, the best move value wise seems to be going from the Hario Ceramic manual grinder to the Breville Smart Grinder pro as an additional $150 multiplied your points or units of benefits by 5 times!
Please keep in mind that the table above does not take into consideration things like durability, looks & design preference by the user, etc. This table is to simply illustrate the point that spending more money may lead to a better coffee but only up to a certain point, after which any incremental increase in coffee quality will require a disproportionate (much higher) dollar investment.

10 Things to Do for a Successful Coffee Catering Business

As someone who’s been working in the coffee catering business for some time, I have the opportunity to experience and observe the business first hands. The 10 to-do things below are things I see all the time and things that I would personally do if I ever start my own coffee catering business. The advice below will make it easier to operate the business smoothly and successfully.  

Photo credit: blog.microbiologics.com
  1. Use 110/120V equipments: this one is a little tricky because most heavy duty commercial machines are 220/240V and catering work requires commercial machines. The good news is you can still buy 110/120V commercial equipment but you will have to look a little harder than if you were buying 220/240V. 
  2. Use new equipment whenever possible: used/second hand coffee equipment may seem like a good value at first glance but look deeper. Used equipment, especially ones without service records or invoices for all the work done, can cost you a lot of money in the long run, making any financial benefit of their lower price questionable at best. Think of a scenario like this you find a second hand machine for $2000 and new the same machine goes for $4000. At first, this seems like an excellent deal, a 50% discount off the original brand new price but look deeper. Getting a commercial machine with heat exchanger or a dual boiler professionally descaled can cost upward of $300 (scale buildup in the boiler is common if hard water is used)! Replacing a solenoid valve can cost upward of $150 per group. This number can be $300 or $450 for machines with 2 or 3 groups. Rotary external pumps is another item that can cost upward of $350 with installation. Adding any combination of some of these items together may cost you anywhere between $500 to $750 and this is only for parts and maintenance without taking into consideration any opportunity costs. What opportunity costs you ask? Imagine this, you’re doing an event and you are serving for 2 hours, after one hour and when you’re having a line of people waiting for their drinks, the machine acts up and starts losing pressure. An incident like this may cost you explicitly and implicitly. The lost money/profit you’re making off of the event (or whatever compensation you will offer to the venue or the event manager) is your explicit cost but what about implicit costs such a as damaged brand image and reputation? Adding all this up, you can easily see why buying new is the way to go. Finally, new machines have warranties, so even if something were to go wrong with a new machine, the fix is one service call away. No out of pocket cost for repairs and parts. 
  3. Buy your equipment from local, close by vendors: last thing you need, if something were to go wrong with your equipment, is to have to ship your machine or drive for hours to a service center. Shipping will not only cost you a lot of money (machines are heavy), but the reckless way UPS and FedEx handle large, heavy packages/ shipments will likely cause damage to the machine and result in more work for your technician.   
  4. Always have a backup machine and grinder in your van: this may seem like a waste of money at first but look deeper. A backup machine and grinder can be the difference between a happy customer and a successful event and miserable customer and a nightmare event. If you’re still not sure where the nightmare will come from, go back to my second point and the part I talk about implicit and explicit costs. The good news here and to save money, your backup machine can be a used one, why? Because a backup machine is just that, a backup machine, it’s only used in case of an emergency. This is not your main work horse and its sole purpose is to help save the day when your main work horse is out in the middle of an event.
  5. Don’t buy machines with 2 or more groups: instead of buying one machine with 2 groups, buy 2 machines with one group each. This may seem like counterintuitive and inefficient at first glance but look deeper. Buying 2 one grouphead machines is better than buying one machine with 2 grouphead for the following reasons: 1) If a machine with 2 groups goes down, that’s 2 groups out. If a machine with one grouphead goes down, no problem use the other one grouphead machine. 2) one grouphead machines are lighter, easier to use and carry. They are also easier and cheaper to maintain 3) many baristas cannot multi task to take advantage of both groups. The end result is one group is used way more than the other. 
  6. Your image, your image, your image: I can’t stress that enough! Your business and brand image are critical for your success. If you think showing to an event with a faded black shirt or a shirt missing buttons is not important, think again. If you think showing up with a nasty machine is no big deal, think again. If you think using a 20 year old banged up van is okay, think again. Every little detail matters. Your equipment, shirts, looks, van, etc. say a lot about you. A nasty image give people the perception that you don’t care and no one wants to do business with someone who doesn’t care. Your van is a mobile billboard advertising for your business so make sure it’s clean, in good shape and a good representation of your brand and company. 
  7. Don’t hire people who don’t drink coffee or can’t drink it late at night: this may seem obvious but you need to make sure your employees are comfortable drinking coffee late and/or at any time, why? Because your employees must be able to taste the coffee before serving it to the guests. Someone who can’t drink coffee after 5 pm because “it keeps me up at night” won’t be able to dial in the machines and taste the espresso shots/coffee to ensure it’s good for the guests. Going by coffee color, flow and crema is not enough to ensure good tasting coffee, a good Barista must be able to drink coffee before the start and during the event to ensure consistency. 
  8. Maintain an exact set of brewing parameters and define your drinks: Ideally, you want repeat customers to taste the same coffee and drink the same beverages. The last thing you want is for a client to hire you for an event and love your coffee then hire you again just to taste different coffee! Imagine how annoyed will you be if you go to McDonalds, order their McMuffin and love it just to go the next day to order another McMuffin and have it taste different, missing ingredients or have ingredients you don’t necessarily like. Consistency is key, not just to maintain clients but also to diagnose issues. If you were hired by a client for an event then the following event you learn that they have hire someone else, having consistent drinks will rule out quality as the reason why you didn’t get the job. It could have been pricing, customer service, presentation, etc. but definitely not the drinks. Also, make sure those parameters are listed on your menu and don’t deviate from them unless explicitly asked by the guest. 
  9. Focus your energy on straight espresso orders: pulling straight espresso shots (single or double) is very important since they will not be diluted with milk, syrups, whipped cream, etc. the espresso quality in this case is extremely important. Any bad flavors or weaknesses will be totally exposed. On this topic, always ensure that you do a cooling flush before you pull a shot. Running some water through the grouphead helps stabilize the brewing temperature and clean the shower screen of old grounds from the previous shot. 
  10. Fresh coffee makes a huge difference in taste: Ensuring your coffee is fresh for all events is critical as it helps ensure consistency. Don’t store the coffee in its original bag, use a vacuum sealed coffee storage canisters. This won’t eliminate coffee deterioration as time goes by but it will at least slow it down.

Amish Village and Aura Espresso (Lancaster, PA)

For this Saturday my wife and I decided to go to Lancaster to tour the Amish Village and explore the area. Since I’m always on the lookout for good espresso, I used Google Maps to search for espresso bars and local roasters in Lancaster and found a few but one stood out for me and that is Aura Espresso. Later on in the post I will explain why the place stood out and describe my experience.

At 7 am, I got out of bed and first thing I did was go to my espresso station and prepare my latte. My Nuova Simonelli Musica is plugged to a TP-Link Smart Plug WiFi timer that ensures the machine is on on weekends at 6 am so by the time I’m up at 7 am, the machine is all warmed up and ready to go. After I prepared my latte I sat down to read the August edition of Barista Magazine and enjoy my morning cup. Around 8 am and after I was done with my latte, I started preparing a V60 for myself and my wife (the latte is just a warmup). After we enjoyed our morning drip, we started to get ready to leave the house and by 9.45 am we were already on the highway heading to Lancaster.

Before arriving to Lancaster, we decided to grab a quick lunch as we were both starving and after a delicious lunch at Cracker Barrel, we resumed our trip to the Amish Village. Finding the Village was pretty easy with huge building pointing where the village is.

DSC_0126

We parked the car and lined up to buy the tickets for the tour. The ticket office is located inside the gift shop, which is located inside of an actual Amish house where an Amish family used to live back in the 70s. After we purchased the tickets, we were led to a small room (what used to be a functional living room for an Amish family) to listen to a quick introduction of the Amish, their homes and their lifestyle. After the very informative intro, our tour guide walked us through and explained the different parts of the house and how the Amish lived in it. The tour ended outside the house after we were shown the summer kitchen and were told to roam around the village to explore.

After the tour was over, we drove and got lost (on purpose) in the backroads to enjoy and admire the Amish’s farms and vast green and beautiful lands. After that was done, it was time for Aura Espresso. Aura Espresso initially grabbed my attention because they serve and sell Lavazza coffee. For those of you who know me or follow me on Instagram (if you aren’t, you should) know how much I love Italian coffee and specifically Lavazza. My favorite two blends are Lavazza Top Class and Super Crema. Both blends are not sophisticated but are excellent choices for milk drinks and even for straight espresso if you’re like me and don’t like the lighter roast specialty coffees with the fruity, bright and acidic notes/taste. Earlier in the week, I decided to reach to Aura Espresso through Facebook Messenger and let them know that I’m coming and also ask for their permission to photograph the place. It’s one thing to take few pictures with your cellphone and it’s another when you show up with a professional camera and start taking pictures like if you’re the Paparazzi. The response I received was very gracious and was told by George (one of two owners) that I’m more than welcome to stop by and photograph all I want. Upon our arrival, we were received by Tina who introduced herself to us as George’s business partner.

DSC00011.JPG
Beautiful espresso cup outside the café. There is also a window overlooking the street to order drinks without going inside the café, excellent idea for morning commuters.
As soon as you enter the café, you are greeted by an Aura Espresso Room sign and a beautiful decor, incorporating two of my favorite colors, white and blue, giving the place a cozy and calming ambience while at the same time serving as a perfect match to the logo and the brand image of Lavazza. After a small conversation with George and Tina, I learned that they are both from Greece, which explained their color choices for the place (white and blue).
CSC_0232

DSC00010
Beautiful decor all around and nice oval shaped tables

DSC00036
George getting to work preparing our drinks
DSC00039

DSC00041
Nuova Simonelli is one of my favorite espresso machine brands (I’m biased since I own a Musica). Aura Espresso uses an Aurelia 2 (2 groups) espresso machine.

csc_0233.jpg
Lavazza coffee is being sold in the café if you would like to make your own cup at home

CSC_0236
More coffee bags for sale and all displayed in an attractive way. Nicely done.
Looking around in the café, I noticed a sign explaining what the word “Aura” means, which I thought was smart and it shows that a lot of thought was put in the name and it wasn’t just picked cause of a cool factor or by a marketing company.

csc_0234.jpg

After I was done looking around, I ordered a small latte and my wife ordered an Americano, both were delicious and served with fresh thin waffle cookies, a perfect complement to the coffee. George explained that the cookies can be eaten as is or can be placed on top of the coffee mug to heat up and become softer. Either way, it tasted delicious.

DSC00014
Our drinks were served in Lavazza branded mugs with beautiful white and blue saucers
Being the gracious hosts they are, George and Tina offered us an apple cinnamon muffin and made us their signature Aura Espresso drink called Freddo Cappuccino. The Freddo Cappuccino is made of 2 shots of espresso, frothed milk and Aura’s secret syrup. George adds a nice touch by etching some art on top using chocolate syrup. The art doesn’t affect the taste but it shows that he cares and loves what he does.

csc_0235.jpg

All three drinks, waffle cookies and muffin were so delicious that this is how the table looked like 15 minutes in and my wife loved the muffin so much she took what’s left of it with her.

dsc00038.jpg

If I’m back in Lancaster, I would definitely come back to Aura Espresso for a latte and a Freddo Cappuccino. The place and drinks are everything a coffee aficionado can ask for. Delicious coffee made by an excellent barista and unbeatable service, all in a gorgeous and clean ambience. Can’t beat it!

Grounds for Sculpture (Hamilton, NJ) and The Coffee Room (Newtown, PA)

Saturday my wife and I decided to do something different. Lately, we have been spending our weekends cleaning up the house, hosting or visiting friends and family so it was time for a change. One of our favorite towns to visit and walk around is Newtown, PA. The town is located in Bucks County and less than 20 mns away from New Hope, PA (also in Bucks County) and Lambertville, NJ and 35 mns away from Frenchtown, NJ. All 4 towns are quaint and charming and have something for everyone. Plenty of clothing shops, antique shops, bike shops, restaurants, cafes, espresso bars and bike trails. Since my wife and I adore coffee and love biking, all 4 towns offer a great deal of fun for us.

Map
This map shows the location of all 4 towns, only 40 mns between Frenchtown, NJ and Newtown, PA

As we headed out to Newtown, PA from North Brunswick, NJ, we decided to stop at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township, NJ. As outdoor lovers, we enjoyed our visit tremendously. The Grounds for Sculpture is located where the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds used to be and it includes three of its major historic buildings. The Grounds have a gorgeous and diverse collection of Contemporary outdoor sculptures and acres of perfectly manicured landscapes for your strolling enjoyment. The Grounds allowed me to practice another hobby of mine, photography. The pictures below, although taken with so much care and effort, still don’t do the Grounds justice.

After we have spent hours checking out the sculptures and admiring the trees, flowers and landscapes, it was already 2.30 pm and it was time for us to head to Newtown, PA and enjoy another stroll on Sycamore and State Streets. We arrived around 3.15 pm and first thing I did was to open the PlugShare app and check to see if there is a car charger in town to charge my Chevrolet Volt. Sure enough, there were 4 chargers on Swamp Road available for free. Luckily Swamp Road was a 5 minutes walk from State Street so we parked and plugged the Volt and headed to The Coffee Room. After we made a right on State Street coming from Washington Avenue, the Coffee Room was right there on our left. For full disclosure, I have been here once before and I enjoyed the coffee and ambience then.

DSC_0100dsc_00882.jpg

Enter the shop and you are greeted by the coffee bar/counter on the right and a wall with merchandise (t-shirts, mugs and Counter Culture coffee bags) on the left.

IMG_7744


Once you have placed your order and if you would like to stay in the café, you have two seating options either you walk in and sit in the back or you can sit facing a beautiful window overlooking State Street.

Part of the seating in the back is this table designed for a larger group of people
This counter style seating is across from the group table. I especially loved the coffee posters and the directed warm lighting
The high chair window seating overlooking State Street
In addition to the beautiful yet simple decor, the place is very well equipped for folks who love to get work done while sipping on their favorite coffees as electric and USB outlets are readily available for charging all your electronic devices.

For my order, I asked for a small latte and a chocolate biscotti. The latte was served in an 8 to 10 oz latte cup but no latte art, which struck me as strange for a hip coffee shop serving specialty coffee such as Counter Culture, but nonetheless the latte tasted excellent (latte art is more of a visual treat but its lack thereof can be an indication of improperly steamed milk, not the case here). The excellent beverage taste was courtesy of the barista but also the slew of professional grinders (Mazzer, Mahlkonig EK43 and a Mythos) and of course the espresso machine (LaMarzocco Strada). Every time I visit a café, especially a newer one, I’m simply fascinated by their choice of equipment and the way it’s all laid out for workflow efficiency. High quality equipment serve as a sign that the café is serious about coffee. Of course the barista plays a critical role but the equipment are the first impression.

Overall, I found the location of the café to be convenient, the decor to be comfortable and inviting (warm light helps, LEDs are not cozy) and my latte and biscotti to be delicious. I will definitely come back the next time I’m in Newtown for a stroll or a bike ride.

P.S. here’s a money saving tip, before you visit The Coffee Room, visit one of the local stores on State Street, you will find discount cards like the one below. Enjoy!

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. 

Who I am and how I started my journey to coffee addiction? (Part 2)

My home gear journey started in 2013 when I decided that I want to spend the rest of my life with my girlfriend (now wife) and proposing to her. Once she said yes, the wedding planning began and I realized that saving for the wedding of her dreams will require some sacrifices on my part. At the time, I was working a banking job in New York and as I looked for ways to save money, I realized that in one year I have spent close to $2000 on Starbucks! This sounds crazy but a simple math will show how I got to this number, so follow along.

One year has 365 days or 52 weeks.
One week has 5 working days for a total of 260 days
Deducting the paid time off (20 days) and annual official holidays (10 days) leave us with 230 days of working/commuting days.
Every day, on average, I had one latte in the morning and one regular coffee in the afternoon. The latte costs around $4.50 and the regular coffee around $2 for a total of $6 per day.
Multiplying 230 working days by $6.5 brings us to $1495 (not including weekends, just working days)
On weekends, I usually had one latte per day so adding that to the math brings us to $468 (2 day weekend x 52 weeks = 104 days and multiplying that by $4.5)
Adding $1495 on weekdays + $468 on weekends = $1963!

Looking at ways to cut my spending (Junior Analysts salaries are low and the cost of working in the city is high), I decided to stop buying coffee by bringing my own from home. This decision started a snow ball effect!

I already had a Cuisinart coffee machine that I thought was okay, at that time, in making regular coffee so I focused my energy on finding an espresso machine I can afford. From talking to my fiancée , I already knew that we will be registering at Bed Bath and Beyond for our wedding registry so I started looking in the store at what espresso machines they had in stock and I came across a Dualit 3 in 1 espresso machine.

47661943019984p
Picture courtesy of Bed Bath and Beyond

The machine seemed reasonably priced at around $200 and without any experience or much research, I decided to pick it up and take it home. Since I didn’t have a grinder at the time, I was using preground coffees from Lavazza and Illy and I thought my lattes tasted excellent (little did I know!). Once I had the espresso machine, I needed a table to put it on because our cabinets are very low and my wife (we were living together at the time) wanted the small counter space we have for cooking and making smoothies, etc. I started looking at Craigslist for used table that I can use as an espresso station and it was my lucky day! I found someone selling a butcher block table, that they have customized to include a knock box for their Rancilio Silvia. His reason for selling was that he can no longer drink coffee for health reasons. This gentleman gave me one of the best deals I have ever made. He sold me the butcher block table ($300) with the built-in knock box ($70), an Espro calibrated tamper ($80), a Concept Art tamping stand ($70), a tamping mat ($30), espresso and cappuccino cups made by Nuova Point ($100), Cafiza espresso and coffee machine cleaning solution ($20), Grindz grinder cleaning tablets ($30) and bunch of brand new, unopened, Monin syrups ($100)! All of this for $200 (approximately $750 in retail value)! Ecstatic, I took the stuff home and officially had the first iteration of my espresso and coffee stations setup.

IMG_2636
The table, my first espresso machine, accessories, ground coffee and some syrups

As I dove deep into the coffee and espresso world, I realized that pre-ground coffees are not the best and a burr coffee grinder is the way to go to grind the coffee beans on demand. This led me to purchase my first grinder, a Compak K3 Touch.

IMG_2633
The setup, now including the Compak K3 Touch

Further research revealed that my espresso machine was using pressurized baskets, a no-no for espresso enthusiasts. Pressurized baskets are used on low-end machines with low end pumps to help build enough pressure to extract the shot. A pressurized basket usually have an internal screen that filters the coffee into a small reservoir and has a single hole in the bottom where the shot is released from. Pressurized baskets are for beginners as they can be used with pre-ground coffees and don’t require attention to ground distribution, tamping pressure, coffee ground size, etc. Looking to improve my espresso quality shots further, I decided it’s time to jump into a Rancilio Silvia to replace the Dualit.

IMG_3045
The setup with the Silvia. You will also notice that I started upping my drip coffee game (lower shelf)

In the meantime, I worked on upping my auto and manual drip coffee game so I upgraded my Cuisinart and replaced it with a Behmor Brazen Plus, one of the few SCAA (SCA now) certified auto drip coffee machines. The certification means that the machine is capable of brewing coffee using water heated within the recommended SCA range of 195 to 205 degrees. I also added a Chemex, a gooseneck kettle from Bonavita and a scale (also from Bonavita).

FullSizeRender
The setup, now with upgraded auto and manual coffee brew section

Although I loved the Compak K3, I hated the clumping. Also, further research revealed that I’m still missing out on taste and my espresso can become even better if I upgrade my grinder. This is when I decided to go with a Mazzer Super Jolly Electronic Doserless. Not wanting to spend $1200 on a brand new one, I decided to start looking for a used one but being the picky person I’m I couldn’t settle with one that’s not like new with no cosmetic damage whatsoever. I finally found one for sale in Brooklyn, NY that was less than 1-year-old with less than 500 shots on the counter. The seller promised the grinder is in excellent condition and was asking for $900. I brought it down to $750 and drove to pick it up. The grinder looked brand new, no scratches or dings anywhere and worked flawlessly.

IMG_5354
The setup, now with the Super Jolly

My quest for better espresso did not stop there, I added a PID to the Silvia to improve shot consistency but still, since I drink mostly lattes and cappuccinos, a single boiler machine like the Silvia where I need to switch back and forth between brewing and steaming was started to become a pain in the neck. This led me to look for a heat exchanger machine so I can brew and steam at the same time. Since most of my drinks are mostly milk based, I started looking for the best steamer in town using a 110V (I’m renting and have no access to 220V/240V for the foreseeable future). With that in mind, I landed on the Nuova Simonelli Musica! The Musica, at $2500 brand new is a no go for me but used, they looked like they depreciate quite rapidly. Lurking on eBay, I finally found one for less than $1000! (eBay had a deal going on and offered 10% of the purchase back in eBay bucks, which made the deal even sweeter). This is the tank model with LED lighting, exactly what I was looking for. The machine was described as in pristine condition, which upon receipt of the machine and inspection, turned out to be inaccurate  but I’ll leave this for another post. I also added a dedicated drip coffee grinder (a Breville Smart Grinder Pro) since it’s a pain to switch the Super Jolly back and forth between espresso and drip coffee grind.

IMG_7345
The setup, now with the Musica, is pretty much how it stands today.

While in the process, of upgrading grinders and espresso machines, I kept adding accessories and other brewing vessels such as a V60, milk pitchers, coffee storage canisters, etc.

In future posts, I will be reviewing and writing about each of my equipments but if you can’t wait, I already have videos on my channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/hazzi15/videos). Enjoy!