Barista Space/Customize Coffee Tools Milk Jugs

Earlier this week, I received some sample milk pitchers from the folks at Cutomize Coffee Tools (@customizecoffeetools on instagram). One of the pitchers I was most excited about since it was custom made with my logo etched on it. I have been slowly working on getting some digital and physical branding done for my blog and YouTube channel and so I started off with the logo then the YouTube channel banner and now this pitcher. I’m also working on a video animation intro for the videos but anyways back to the pitchers.

As soon as I came back from work I ripped the package open and was greeted with 3 boxes, one for each pitcher. Packaging was generally good, enough to keep the pitcher protected but nothing fancy. The pitchers themselves though are just something else! They are beautifully coated and polished and the custom pitcher has the logo beautifully and accurately etched.

Once I moved past the aesthetics, I checked the spout and found it to be exactly what I was looking and hoping for. A narrow and more protruding spout is featured on all 3 pitchers. Having been using generic, $8.99 pitchers from amazon, the spout design was a nice addition to my arsenal.

Another feature I love about the pitchers is the handle. The handle design is simply more ergonomic and much more comfortable than the average pitcher. This however may be a less important feature if you pour one or two lattes per day but if you do more, you will appreciate the handle design and comfort.

Custom jug on the left and generic on the right

Excited, for the last few days, I simply been making lattes and pouring some of my best latte art as of yet! These are some examples of latte art I poured with the Barista Space Titanium/Rainbow pitcher and my The Coffee Field custom pitcher.

To be perfectly clear and honest, if you are not currently pouring latte art and think that the pitcher is what you need to finally pour a Rosetta, then don’t bother with these pitchers yet. Focus on more important factors such as milk quality, steaming techniques and steam wand position, etc. The pitchers are awesome is that they will take your already good latte art to the next level. I feel that the pitchers will make you better at pouring latte art and they will unlock more patterns or at least make them easier to pour more beautifully.

For full disclosure: I have received these pitchers for heavily discounted prices in exchange for my feedback.

My First Latte Art Competition

It’s been a little more than a month since I posted here despite the fact that I promised myself to post at least once a week but I guess a busy work schedule and family obligations are getting in the way.

On May 17th, I attended my first latte art competition at The Coffee Box in Plainfield, NJ. The cafe is nicely decorated and well equipped with a Mahlkonig Twin and a La Marzocco Linea 2 Groups. Also, the owners and baristas were cheerful, friendly and just awesome.

Since this was my first time, I really did not know what to expect. I did not know what the rules are or how the winner is determined. Nevertheless, I paid the $5 to pour (free to watch) and wrote my name down.

A short while later, the rules were announced and each round included two baristas. For the first round each Barista needed to pour a heart and then a panel made of 3 judges voted on the better design of the 2 cups (one for each Barista in the round). Unfortunately, I haven’t poured a heart at home in a long time and so I was out of practice and was eliminated in the first round! However, I won the first raffle prize and I had a choice between multiple items and I chose a delicious Bolivian coffee from Intelligentsia.

Just winning the coffee made my whole night, I never win anything in raffles so I was excited to have won something. Aside from the coffee, the whole night was great. People were so much fun to hang out with and strike a conversation. Also, it is always nice to meet like minded folks with the same interests and hobbies and share information and knowledge.

Even though I was eliminated after 15 mns of the competition kicking off, I stayed till the end to enjoy the coffee and art. The winner of the latte art competition won an Acaia Pearl scale (Acaia was one of the sponsors), which was awesome.

I’m looking forward to the next one, can’t wait!

Nuova Simonelli Musica Cooling Flush Routine and Scace Test

I have been wanting to this for some time, probably from the time I purchased the machine. With non-E61 heat exchange machines, measuring the temperature of the brew water is not the easiest or the cheapest task. I tried googling the subject to see if anyone else has done this test so I can simply copy their routine but the information I found was mostly for the Oscar and not the Musica and even that didn’t make me feel comfortable or didn’t make sense. My challenge was that I needed to determine a cooling flush that would get me somewhere between 197F to 200F to be exact. Why the lower-ish temperature? I mostly use medium and dark roast coffees and for those, a lower temperature is ideal.

I started by purchasing a thermocouple thermometer and luckily I found a brand new AMPROBE T-51 on eBay for under $35!

Next, I drilled a hole on the side of an extra, generic basket I had and I inserted the thermocouple and added some sealant to ensure the probe doesn’t move and the water doesn’t leak from the hole

Before I use the thermocouple thermometer, I decided to test it against my Bonavita kettle and see if it reads the same temp as the kettle, and it did.

Next, I had to come up with a way to restrict the flow of the water as to imitate a true extraction. For this I used a Rancilio rubber backflush disk that I had laying around from my Silvia days and placed a small hole in it to restrict the flow instead of completely eliminating the flow.

Finally, I was ready for business. I experimented with different cooling flushes but here’s what I settled on:
If machine has been idle for more than 10 minutes (at 1.4 to 1.3 bars of pressure), when you press the brew button you should see a lot steam (approximately 30gm of water) coming out of the grouphead, once that’s done, keep the water running till you hit 85gm then lock the portafilter and pull the shot. The shot will start at 200F or so and will drop down to 198F and will stay there (see video below)

If machine has been idle for less than 5 or 10 minutes, you should get less steam (approximately 16gm of water) out of the grouphead. If that’s the case, simply run the water for an additional 3 seconds after the steam stops for a total of 50 or 60gm of water. This should maintain the same range of 200F and dropping to 198F or 197F.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.

Espresso Temperature Consistency for the Home Barista, Is It Overrated?

Since I became passionate about coffee and espresso, I always read on the forums and elsewhere that consistency is key. I realized that people are spending thousands of dollars on heavy duty, highly respected equipment to achieve temperature consistency (among other things). Many coffee and espresso aficionados have opted for dual boiler espresso machines with PID so that they can ensure the temperature is consistent shot after shot.

Heat Exchange machines, which uses one boiler with a tube running through it, allow the user to also brew and steam, just like the dual boiler machines but involves a “cooling flush” routine to bring down the temperature to a brewing temperature range (195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit) by running water from the grouphead. To ensure consistent shots from a Heat Exchange machine the user must be able to run the same amount of water after the hissing and sputtering from the water stops. This can be tricky at times, especially if the user is pulling one shot after another, in such cases the water coming out of the grouphead won’t sputter or flash boil and it will simply be hot. Under those circumstances it’s difficult for the user to determine the brew temperature. This perceived downside of Heat Exchange machines is mitigated with PID dual boiler machines as it eliminate any guess work, counting time or weighing the water coming out of the grouphead during the cooling flush.

This brings me to the topic of this post, is temperature consistency really that important for home espresso? Is it worth the extra money spent on dual boiler machines? My answer and personal opinion is a no! Before I dive deeper into this and present my argument as to why I don’t think that temperature consistency may not be that important, I’d like to make it known that plenty of people, after spending some time with their Heat Exchange machines have developed a solid routine and can produce very consistent results. Also, I’m planning on replacing my Nuova Simonelli Musica (Heat Exchange machine) with a dual boiler some time in the future. I won’t be replacing my Heat Exchange machine neither because I believe the Dual boiler machines to be superior not because I believe in the importance of temperature consistency for the home Barista but because I had a single boiler machine (Silvia) and now a Heat Exchange and I simply would like to experience a dual boiler machine in the future.

Why do I think temperature consistency is overrated for home Baristas? Simply because I’m not sure that brewing at a temperature of 200 vs 204 degrees will yield an incredibly different result! Also, assuming there is a slight difference in taste, I’m not sure that the average espresso drinker at home has the developed, sophisticated tasting buds to be able to notice the difference. Finally, assuming they can notice the taste difference of a 4 degree brewing temperature variance, I don’t think that different is exclusively bad or horrible. This was confirmed to me when last week I pulled a shot just 20 mns after I turned on my machine and the result was a different shot from what I’m usually used to (more acidic with less chocolate notes). However, I still enjoyed that shot very much!

Have you ever tasted espresso from one cafe and liked it and tasted espresso from another cafe and also liked it? It’s pretty much the same experience at home if you get a shot every now and then that’s not brewed at your ideal temperature. Many home baristas and coffee addicts love to visit cafes to experience different coffees and espresso recipes so why not experience that at home (again, assuming you can tell the difference in taste between two espresso shots pulled at different temperatures, all other factors equal).

Breville Smart Grinder Pro vs. Mazzer Super Jolly – Taste Test (Video)

I have owned the Breville Smart Grinder Pro for a little over two years and the Super Jolly for a little more than a year and yet I have never thought of using the Breville for espresso! Up until today, the Breville was dedicated to drip and manual brewing duties while the Super Jolly was used exclusively for espresso. Seeing that I have some extra beans and time, I decided to finally dial in the Breville and the Super Jolly to produce a 33gm shot using approximately 17.5gm of Stumptown’s delicious Hair Bender blend, in under 35 seconds. The Super Jolly shines in expected reliability and fluffier grinds but the Breville is a great value at a fraction of the Super Jolly’s cost. Watch the video below to find out what I think of the taste difference and more of my thoughts of the two grinders.

Kruve for Espresso, an Experiment – Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, please do so before reading this post for complete details and tasting notes. To quickly summarize, the first and second shots I pulled were off. The first shot was too fast and the second was too slow. This time, the flow and timing were right on point using the same variables, only difference was the grind size. I started by using the 300 and 600 micron sieves and 34.6gm of coffee from the Super Jolly, which is almost two times my usual dose of 17.5gm.

I dumped the 34.6gm of coffee into the Kruve and started sitting for approximately 1 minute.

The result from the middle tray was approximately 22.5gm, which means between boulders and fines, I lost 12gm. That’s a hair better than last week’s experiments.

Out of the 22.5gm I used approximately 17.5gm (my usual dose) and pulled the shot

The shot was neither fast nor slow, very much the same time it takes for my non-sifted shots but the taste was nothing like my usual shots. The shot was absolutely delicious, creamy, sweet, rich and with a tiny little bit of welcomed acidity. I’m not a fan of too much acidity that’s why I stay away from light roast coffees but the acidity here was just a hint and it added to the complexity of the shot.

My conclusion here is that the Kruve and its impact on the uniformity of coffee grounds is undeniable but the questions are, will I be okay with sacrificing more than 10gm of coffees every time I pulled a shot? What about the time, do I really want to add more than 15 Minutes (cleaning the Kruve and the mess it makes take time), to my routine and workflow to achieve a better shot? With these questions in mind, I have decided to use the Kruve but only on weekends. On weekends, I have much more time in the morning and I can enjoy the process. On weekdays, not so much.

Kruve for Espresso, an Experiment – Part 1

Since I received my Kruve, I never gotten the chance to test it with Espresso so last week I decided to give it a shot and see what I can do with it. I started by using the 300 and 600 micron sieves and 34.5gm of coffee from the Super Jolly, which is almost two times my usual dose of 17.5gm.

After I shook the Kruve for a minute or so the yield in the middle tray was almost 21.5gm so I lost 13gm between the boulders and fines.

I chose to only use my usual dose of 17.5gm and the results were underwhelming. The shot was too fast and somehow way too bitter. The bitterness can be caused by the coffee lacking the boulders and fines but the water temperature could have been higher than usual as well.

This week, I decided to try the experiment again but this time move the adjustment collar/ring on the Super Jolly couple of notches finer. By doing so, I was hoping to create a finer grind to slow the flow while keeping the dose the same at 17.5gm give or take 0.1 or 0.2gm.

I started with the same amount of coffee I started with last week, which is 34.5gm (remember that the grind is finer here)

After shaking the Kruve for a minute or so, the result was 24.1gm, so I lost a little more than 10gm, which is better than last week when I lost 13gm. This can be attributed to the grinder being more consistent as the grind gets finer or maybe I shook the Kruve harder last week compared to this week.

To stay consistent, I kept the dose to my usual, which is 17.5gm and pulled a shot. The shot was on the slow side but the taste was much more balanced. Still, bitterness was a little higher than I’d prefer but there was absolutely no sourness whatsoever. Personally, I’m not a big fan of sourness in coffee, or anywhere really so this shot was a really good one to my taste.

Next week, I will go only one notch finer instead of 2 notches like I did today and do the same test again and see how the shot will taste. Stay tuned!

Leveraging Different Employees for Different Tasks

This is my first post in a while. As stated in my previous post, I was recovering from a terrible virus that caused me to basically be a non-functioning human being for weeks! Having said that, I’m thankful to God and my doctor for a full recovery and I’m excited to be back here posting about coffee!

In this post I’d like to talk about how some coffee shops and coffee catering businesses tend to leverage their employees (baristas) to perform tasks around the business.

The common strategy in any small business is that the owner pushes all employees to know and be able to perform all tasks. Business owners may provide training accordingly to make sure that if one employee is out then the other employee can step in and perform the task at the same level as the first employee. This strategy is a good one in a small business setting as it ensures continuity but it ignores something very important, different people have different strengths!

In a coffee catering business setting, you will typically find that two people are needed for any one event (some events require more). Those two people may not be good at exactly the same tasks and that’s fine. One person can be pretty good at the logistics aspect/tasks of the event/business, tasks such as determining, packing and organizing all the equipments, centerpieces, lighting, etc. needed for the event. The other person’s strength may just be coffee related tasks. Tasks such as tasting the coffee/shot and determining if adjustments are needed, knowing the proper proportions of the different drinks, doing latte art, etc. The first person may take the lead in the logistical part of the event and the second person can take the lead in the serving coffee part of the event.

Doing so doesn’t mean that the first person can’t serve coffee and the second can’t handle the logistics, in fact when one is taking the lead on the task/aspect of the business they are good at, the other person should be helping, but in the event that these two employees need to switch roles, their performance won’t be stellar and business owners shouldn’t be unhappy. Instead, they should celebrate the diverse set of skills they have on their team and use each employee to their strength.

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.

Coffee & Coffee Gear Misconceptions: 02 – Expensive Tamper = Better Extraction

One of the myths and misconceptions out there is that you need an expensive tamper to pull good espresso shots. This couldn’t be further from the truth. An espresso tamper serves one main purpose, which is tamping or compacting the coffee tightly together as to ensure proper and even flow of water throughout the puck. Now, the most important feature of a tamper to ensure a quality tamp, is the base size. Water is lazy and it will always take the path of least resistant. A smaller diameter tamper, will only tamp part of the coffee but not all of it. This will cause the coffee that was tamped to be overextracted while the ring of coffee that was not tamped (due to the smaller diameter tamper base) to be underextracted. The mix of underextraction and overextraction will cause the flavor to be off. For under $30 you can find a perfect size tamper, depending on the size of your basket, that will last you a lifetime and will do the job perfectly (assuming you have the proper tamping technique down).

Many people believe that tamper weight is very important and they seek heavier tampers made out of stainless, metal, etc. but I personally disagree with that. As explained earlier, the size of the tamper is the most important feature of a tamper, weight is merely a preference as some people prefer a certain heft in their hand while tamping. Having said that, there is a case to be made for lighter tampers but that’s a different conversation for another day.

Having said that, many people will spend $200 on tampers, which is perfectly fine, but keep in mind that many of those tampers serve and do the same job the $30 tamper does. The main difference is that the $200 tamper most likely has a handle made out of fancy wood or exquisite materials with unmistakable craftsmanship (and other cosmetic attributes) while the $30 tamper is made out of metal or other plain more modest materials. The $200 tamper is most likely beautiful to look at but that’s about it. There is one exception to this however, some tampers that do cost $150 or more actually do a lot more than simply ensure a full tamp of the coffee puck. Tampers such as The Force Tamper, Bravo Tamper, Espro Calibrated Tamper etc. also ensure a perfectly leveled tamp as they sit on top of the basket ensuring that when the tamper base comes in contact with the coffee, it is fully leveled, this ensures that the water is (by sliding to the lower side of the puck) not going to prefer one side over the other. A sloping, uneven tamp can be seen from a bottomless portafilter if the coffee stream/cone is off center and can also be seen if using a double spout portafilter and coffee is coming out of one side of the spout more than the other. The Force Tamper will even go a step further than most tampers by applying the same tamping force, regardless of dose. This convenient feature is nice to have if you change dosage or coffees as you won’t need to adjust the travel distance of the tamper to ensure proper pressure.

To summarize, an expensive tamper won’t do a better job than a cheaper one if both tampers are appropriately sized for the coffee basket. The only time a more expensive tamper will do a better job if it can ensure a leveled tamp (by sitting on top of the coffee basket) and/or if it can ensure a consistent tamping pressure/force, shot after shot.