Kalita Wave Brewing Video

October 28, 2011

Brief demo outlining some basics for brewing with the Kalita Wave. You can pick them up at Prima Coffee (prima-coffee.com/​brewer/​kalita-wave-drippers) or Wrecking Ball Coffee (shop.wreckingballcoffee.com/​).

Olympia Coffee roasters has a fantastic video on the wave here: vimeo.com/​30414920

Nick Cho also has a great video here: vimeo.com/​25068779

The Flavor of Coffee

September 13, 2011

This is another Guest Post from Pierce Young, a Coffee Professional working primarily for Visions Espresso in Seattle, Washington.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a cupping at Seattle Coffee Works. To say the least, it was one of the most interesting cuppings I’ve ever attended. I feel like “coffee tasting” was the more accurate term, than cupping. There was nothing formal at all about this tasting. There was only one cup of each of the 18 coffees, as opposed to the usual 3 (and sometimes 5) cups that are laid out to taste each coffee. Amongst the decaf, the blends, the Roasted For Espresso, the natural processed and the washed coffees, everyone found something they liked.

People wove to and from the cupping table, and around each other in a maelstrom of activity. The talk of the table was the Ethiopia Worka, a naturally processed coffee which tasted strongly of berries and vanilla. And yet, on this table, not three cups away, lay what I considered to be a true gem. While everyone was talking about how flavorful and heavy the Ethiopian was, I was lavishing in the clarity of a balanced cup that had a wonderful complexity, sweetness and a fantastic finish. The cupping was blind, and so at the time we didn’t know where the coffees we were drinking were from, but I had clearly stumbled upon a great washed Central American coffee.

With so many coffees on the table, it was clear that no two tasted the same. The Sumatra was heavy with chocolate and nutmeg, the blends were balanced and smooth, the Central Americans were sweet with light acidity, and the Ethiopians were powerhouses of wild fruit flavor. Sometimes two coffees shared a similar attribute, while others were completely different. Yet if pressed, I’m not sure that I could identify a common element that all of the coffees on the table had. I assume that there must have been one, but I struggle to pin point what it was that made all of those coffee’s taste, invariably, like coffee.

I think that this lies at what the core of what coffee tasting is about. No two coffees will ever be the same (heck, it’s really hard enough to get one coffee to taste the same twice). What makes a coffee wonderful, is how it tastes in comparison to other coffees of the same species, region, or country. And, what differentiates coffees from a certain species, region, or country is how different they are from coffees from other species, regions, or countries. Understanding the permutations of these differences leads us away from appreciating how coffee-like a coffee is, and helps us to understand how unique and amazing every coffee can be. Everyone has an affinity for different flavors. And finding a flavor of coffee which is going to suit your taste, can be a difficult task. But, I think that the start of this adventure is finding a coffee which ultimately doesn’t taste like coffee.

Some very influential people have written some negative things about naturally processed coffees in the past. And, in the past, I was inclined to have their opinion weighing in my mind every time I enjoyed a naturally processed coffee. However, as I attend more and more cuppings with non-coffee professionals, I have begun to appreciate, the differences which allow people to accept coffee as a specialty beverage. It’s always an amazing thing to see someone at their first cupping and watch them experience coffee that doesn’t just taste like coffee. And, in my experience, %70 of the time it’s not a washed coffee which changes peoples opinion about what coffee can be.

Oh, and for the record, the coffee that I loved so much on the table, turned out to be the #1 Cup of Excellence from Columbia. But, who am I to say that on that day, in that blind cupping, that natural Ethiopian coffee wasn’t the winner? Because at the end of the day, it was the natural Ethiopian coffee which I saw change peoples minds about coffee, tasting like coffee. I just happened to notice that the Columbia, while it tasted like coffee, tasted like really really awesome coffee.

NOTE: This content was originally posted over on the Prima Coffee blog, who asked me to write this review for them. Definitely go check them out and pick up a couple brewers from them, they’re great people!

The New Wave
Since the relatively recent return of manual brewing methods as legitimate brewing options in the professional specialty coffee industry, cone brewing devices such as the V60 and the Chemex have been the focus of discussion. The ubiquity of both brewers at this point in time makes the focus understandable, but there are certainly more diverse and perhaps more efficient brewers. Since Scott Rao’s book Everything but Espresso, the disadvantages of cone brewers have become more apparent, but there seemed to be very few viable alternative with such overwhelming support for both the classic Chemex brewer and the V60, both sold by Prima Coffee.
However, several companies (including Prima Coffee) recently began to import and proselytize the benefits of the Kalita line of brewers, focusing specifically on the Wave series and Kantan disposable drippers. The perceived benefits of flat bottom brewing geometry as well as the coffee geek early adopter syndrome led to the perfect storm of large early interest in these little Japanese brewers. While the rest of this article will focus on some theorization and opinions on the benefits of the Wave line of brewers, the most important aspect of these brewers is the ease and efficiency at which they brew. For the home user this is key, as it allows consistency and freedom that is not possible with other rather temperamental and inefficient brewing devices.

The 155 Series Method
The 155 Series, the smaller of the two available Wave sizes, is designed to brew within the range of 18-28g of coffee dose in the filter basket. This equates to somewhere in the ballpark of the 250-500ml range for the final brewed volume, depending on the user’s preferred ratio of coffee to water. I found my best results around a sweet spot of 24g of coffee, as it allowed for the water level to reach the top brewer without fear of flooding the brewing bed. Brewing to the capacity of these brewers also allows for minimal distance from the pouring kettle to the slurry, cutting down on uncontrolled turbulence to the top of the brewing slurry.
With such a small volume of brewing water, I preferred total brewing times within the 3:00-3:30 minute range with a pulse brewing style of multiple fills throughout the brewing time rather than continuous pouring. This style is necessary for the small brewing basket of the wave dripper, as it is quickly filled to the brim with the brewing slurry. My brewing time is structured with a 30-60 second bloom followed by 100ml fills over a period of 20 seconds with 10 second pauses to allow for the brewing slurry to drain partially, my final fill is finished at the 2:30-3:00 minute mark followed by a final draw-down time, allowing for a total brewing time of just about 3:00-3:30 minutes. Grind size is near impossible to communicate, but I found myself on the coarse end of what I would normally use for pour-over brewing, due to the small three hole style of the brewer restricting the flow of water.
While brew methods will always change based on each person’s preferences and variables beyond the control of prescription, one of the most important things about the Wave is the filter and the rinsing process. The filter somewhat resembles a paper wrapping of cupcake and is very delicate in maintaining the ridges that suspend the coffee bed away from the sides of the brewer–possibly allowing for better heat retention, but certainly forcing the coffee to flow through the bottom of the filter rather than out of the sides like one very popular brewer. In order to maintain these ridges, pre-rinsing means pouring straight on the bottom of the filter quickly, filling up the brewer to the brim to fully rinse all of the paper and heat up the brewer thoroughly. If one instead pours along the sides of the brewer, the ridges will droop and cause for an uneven and unpredictable brewing bed.

Results and Final Thoughts
Possibly due to the efficiency of the brewer, I found my normal coffee to water ratio to be unnecessarily high in dose. Through the use of the R2 mini refractometer and the MojoToGo app on the iPhone, I realized I preferred a distinctively new coffee to water ratio. I found myself using lower doses yielding a lower or equal total strength as before, meaning a slightly higher average extraction yield. Whereas with other brewers I am prone to dose somewhere around 24g to 370ml of water (19% Extraction, 1.40 TDS), with the Wave I much preferred a ratio of 24g to 450ml of water (22% Extraction, 1.30 TDS). The lower TDS is not so much necessarily strange, as sometimes I prefer a slightly lower strength coffee, but I found myself liking coffee best at an average extraction yield of 21-22% at a wide range of strengths.
Not all users will have the resources to measure these numbers to find a particular preference for Extraction Yield and Coffee Strength. However, it is beneficial information for users to know as it means using slightly less coffee to achieve an equal volume of brewed coffee out of the wave in comparison to other less efficient brewers. As well, my coffee off of the wave consistently remained very structured and balanced as it cooled in comparison to other manual brewing methods I often use, which will often lose structure and fall apart as they cool off completely.
Along with the choice of the 155 series versus the 185 series Wave, there is also the choice of different materials. The 155 series offer both Glass with a plastic base and Stainless Steel. While I generally prefer glass for brewing, I found myself leaning towards the benefits of the stainless for this particular brewer. Both are very lightweight, however the glass feels rather thin and delicate, while I personally prefer a slightly heftier material that is not prone to break, especially considering the high comparative price point of the wave. The stainless offers this, yet I worry somewhat about the possibility of rust buildup with running high temperature water over the shaped metal. The stainless material is perfect for travel, as one does not have to worry about any possibility of damage to the sturdy material, and the filters can even stack up in the brewer to protect the ridged shape.

Go check out Prima Coffee’s selection of Wave drippers and other Kalita Products.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time home-brewing with these little guys. Definitely check them out and think about picking some up from Wrecking Ball (and a bag of their Costa Rica Finca Genesis, an absolutely lovely coffee I’ve been enjoying this week). Shortly I’ll be blogging some thoughts on them for Prima Coffee and their Blog alongside John Letoto, or as some know him, Hermitudinous. Will definitely let you all know here once that material is posted!

Kone 2nd Generation

July 5, 2011

Earlier this year, I reviewed the First Generation Kone from Coava Coffee Roasters out in Portland. I am a big fan of the device for certain coffees, and it certainly brings a different sort of cup to the table than other devices, as it is both a pour-over device, yielding a crisp cup, while also being metal filtered which yields a heavier body with fine particulate in the cup. As well, I’ve been a big fan of Coava, as they are one of the only coffee companies I know of whom are actively working to create brewing devices specifically for speciality coffee, rather than adopting already existing devices and adapting them to their needs (most obvious example of this is the Aeropress).

When I heard that Coava was releasing a Generation Two Kone, I was rightfully excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. They generously agreed to send me another one to review and received it just over a week ago. Immediately one can tell something is different about this filter, it looks more sleek, more pleasing to the eye.

It turns out Coava has been working hard to take in everyone’s criticisms about their first generation filter and turn it into an even better product. They switched up the stainless steel from the last Kone, now it is a high quality matte finished stainless that is far more pleasing to the eye, does not smudge like the previous metal, and is more flexible. Like a spring retains its shape, this stainless is springy and returns to it’s circle shape rather than being easily bent like the last generation Kone.

As well, Coava heard out the criticism of the resulting brew lacking cleanliness and having fine particles in the cup. It turns out the first Kone’s filter hole size and distribution was optimized for the Mazzer Robur-E’s that their coffee bar uses for pour-overs. Espresso Grinders like the Robur output a distribution of particle size at two peaks, one at a slightly larger particle size, one at a slightly smaller particle size, which effectively creates a wall of resistance for the high pressure water espresso machines output to pass through. However, traditional filter grinders try to grind along a single distribution peak, so that all the particles are as consistent in size as possible, allowing for even extraction of all the pieces, leading to less resistance in a filter like the Kone, and allowing fine particles to pass through the bed as there is no “wall” of resistance created by the coffee bed against the filter.

Whereas I had pretty consistent results off my Preciso with the last Kone, I found that the brewer was not forgiving to different grind sizes. I could dial in the filter rather well with the micro adjustments on the Preciso to the point where very little fines passed through, but as soon as the coffee changed I would have to dial in again. However, the new Kone’s smaller hole size and distribution has allowed for more forgiving results. I have been able to use quite a large range of particle sizes and have had very good results thus far, even having one of the best cups in recent memory of the Kone 2 with Heart Roaster’s Kenya Gichathaini using a Guatemala Lab Grinder on a 2.5 setting, just slightly finer than a normal filter grind setting of 3.

I have found, however, that the Kone works best at a dose of 35 grams or more. This dose allows for easily arriving at the proper brew time of 3-4 minutes and gives the least amount of fines, something to do with bed cake filtration I think, but I have no way to prove this theory other than my experiences. As well, the increased turbulence from the kettle pouring from a further distance could be culprit for more fines in the cup from smaller doses. Coava is working on this problem though with the soon to be released One-Cup through the new Able company, which will be the face of all their brewing gear in the future.

Overall, I am supremely impressed with Coava’s improvements to their already fantastic Kone filter, and am looking forward to further developments in their gear as their One-Cup is released this fall. If you haven’t picked a Kone up yet, now is the time. It’s better than ever and more forgiving to the home user and coffee bar using it with a traditional coffee grinder. However, if you normally brew coffee for one person, I would hold off and purchase the One-Cup later this summer when they release it, as I have no doubt it will address the need for a smaller brewing device one can brew coffee on for just one person.

The Brown Coffee Co

June 10, 2011

Aaron and his DIY roaster he built

I had the chance to go home to Houston for a little over a week in May, and during that time decided to road trip out to San Antonio and Austin with my brother to see friends, drink coffee and eat great food. First on the list was Aaron Blanco and his family at Brown Coffee Company. I had tried multiple times before to see his shop/roasting facility but plans had fallen through every time in the past.

Thankfully this time we made it there with no hiccups, and even squeezed in an awesome lunch at Luling City Meat Market on the trip out to SA. Pulled up to the cafe with a warm welcome from Aaron, his wife Jenee and all three of their kids who were happily playing and working on projects in the roasting space. The space includes just a couple of tables that really force those occupying the cafe to chat and get to know each other as they are literally rubbing elbows. And in fact as we came in, we were promptly introduced to both couples frequenting the cafe at the time.

Over the last couple months I’ve been fascinated in places like Brown which subvert the idea of what a coffee shop should be in some sense and wanted to use this blog as a way to recount a couple of the ways that Brown as a shop was fascinating to me. These are just a couple things that really stuck out to me over my visit to their space.

Brown is unique and different first of all in being in a rather out of the way location within a Roasting Facility. The space itself doesn’t look like a normal coffee shop and you probably wouldn’t stumble upon it without hearing about it word of mouth. The menu is rather subversive in only offering what Aaron is confident in serving and doesn’t list the normal dozen drink names that one would see on a coffee shop menu. This subversion keeps the customer from their normal preconceptions and gives the unique chance to offer something different than what the first time customer was expecting.

The intentionality of everything on the menu showcases itself clearly in seeing how little and specifically milk and sugar are offered. The largest milk drink is a traditional cappuccino, and neither milk nor sugar are immediately available at a condiment bar for customer use. While I didn’t have the chance to see how a request for these might be handled, I imagine that having the time to properly engage why they are not available would handle most complaints that would arise. As well, only Lactose Free Milk is offered, which was surprisingly tasty and very sweet naturally.

Alongside this however, is some of the most familiar and warmest service imaginable. This seems to be one of the keys of the success of the cafe, while they serve amazing coffee and keep people coming back who search for quality, they also have empathy and dedicate themselves to forming relationships with their customers. This is something i’ve found personally lacking in my own focus at points, and certainly a wider blind spot in the speciality community as well. It was great to witness the familiarity in which they interacted with their customers, it seems that normally you only get either quality or service and hardly both in the same space.

One of the most interesting menu items was the Cold Brew. They brew some of the most delicious toddy i’ve ever had, Tegu Mill from Kenya was on tap when I was there. They serve it either “Neat” (a concentrate around 3.5-4 TDS straight up in a Gibraltar glass) for here or serve it either “Rocks” (concentrate over Ice) or “Dirty” to go (concentrate over ice with a splash of milk and simple, one of the few appearances of milk and sugar on the menu). I stole the “Neat” idea for Caffe Streets and it’s been a huge hit, Aaron is only charging us minor royalty fees on each one we sell and we have legal obligations to call it “Brown’s Neat™ ColdBrew Goodness” ;).

As Brendan and I discussed some of ideas for what our ideal shop would look like, Aaron contributed some interesting thoughts about high volume versus high ticket. For a production environment to produce the quality of beverage and experience that most of us in the speciality community seek, the goal may not be to serve low priced, high volume drinks. Instead, creating an environment where the service, experience and beverages are of the highest caliber will (hopefully) allow for a perception of value allowing for higher tickets. I continue to be fascinated by this idea and how it’s played out, and will continue to seek places that exemplify this in small ways.

Finally, I respect Aaron’s sense of balance and moderation. In an industry full of early adopters and full on buying into ideology, his moderation is a breath of fresh air to the polemics. For instance, while Aaron has the tools necessary to diagnose and measure, he uses them quietly as training tools to calibrate himself, rather than crutches (something I am guilty of doing). As well, as a dialogue partner he allows himself to have a firm opinion while actually being able to discuss reasons and have a healthy debate, a skill lacking in the simplistic echo chamber of twitter.

As a student of theology, I’ve always loved this quote that perhaps represents Aaron’s thinking in being more nuanced in opinion from his fantastic interview with Colin Harmon (IBC Champion 2009 & 2010, purveyor of 3FE in Dublin):

“As a former theologian I find similarities between doing coffee well and doing theology well: Everyone has their ideas and reflexive thoughts surrounding it, but not all of their ideas are truthful, accurate or even seeking to be so. People often just want a quick, neat answer or turn of phrase. ‘Fair Trade.’ ‘Jesus saves.’ Bumper sticker thinking can really be so damaging to the cause! There is (or needs to be, in my opinion) a bit of a systematic/mystical tension to it that requires something deeper of us if we are to really become students of it and refine ourselves. In coffee I guess we would call that the tension between the art and the science of it: the beauty of honing your craft as you use your senses of sight, smell and hearing to create a beautiful coffee versus gluing your eyes to a timer and temp readout and following a graph on some computer screen.”

All of this to say, it was a fascinating little trip out San Antonio and i’m thankful for the Blanco’s wonderful hospitality and the conversations we had. If you ever make it to San Antonio it would be a huge mistake not to mosey on over to their cafe Wednesday through Saturday.

However, for those of us outside of the promised land of Texas, Aaron’s running an awesome special on Ethiopia Amaro Gayo Dernaye that I had the chance to cup pre-ship samples of. The cup is all lavender (even the greens smelled of lavender!) and florals while still being juicy sweet in the cup. The coffee starts shipping out over the next week or so, and it’s definitely worth a purchase!

This is the first guest post of hopefully many more to come from Pierce Young of Visions Espresso in Seattle. 

The world of coffee equipment is littered with work horses, turds, diamonds in the rough, and a plethora of machines that could have changed your life, did change your life, and ones you wished hadn’t changed your life. It seems as if, the only certification you need to pass if you wish to make coffee equipment, is that you’ve tried a cup of coffee before. However, I think that most of us can agree that we’ve had some sort of experience where a piece of equipment blew our minds. In fact, it seems that we keep searching for that piece of equipment all the time–even in a time where we know how much depends on, not the equipment.

Working for a machine distributor and service company, I am often faced with the difficult-to-answer question, “Which coffee machine makes the best coffee?” And as much as I strive to tell the consumer how much the outcome cup depends on the barista and their skills, I think that we all have an innate understanding of how much the equipment really matters. In fact, I would venture to say that we can only hold our third-wave attitude up on the good equipment crutch. When you think about it, the Linea was released far before the term “God Shot” was ever invented. And yet, you still see almost every Stumptown and Intelligensia account (or any other self-respecting coffee-slinging shop for that matter) with a La Marzocco at the forefront of their display.

You could say that Kent Bakke and his team of technical geniuses were responsible for the massive boom in espresso which the industry saw in the early 90’s. After all, Starbucks was founded on the back of the Linea. One might go as far to say that, without the Linea, Starbucks could never have delivered the level of quality espresso which made them famous. Sure, interject your own opinions about the Jolly Green Giant here. But at the time, Starbucks was leading the industry in consistency and quality. American coffee was just getting started, and the Linea provided a consistent tool to work on, while Duane Sorenson and Doug Zell were still having their “Ah Ha!” moment with coffee.

La Marzocco boomed, and Kent Bakke had found the espresso machine which made good coffee better. The industry was poised for the taking, and LM was poised to take it. Still, aside from the Swift, LM was still just a one trick pony. It was time for a new machine on which Americans could rely for great coffee. Then, the GB5 came out. The GB5 was everything the Linea was not–bulky and ostentatious. It was supposed to be the cornerstone on which a cafe could support itself, demonstrating to the customers that the cafe had a tradition in quality. But quality it wasn’t. A few key design errors made the GB5 nothing more than a glorified Linea with a whole new set of nuances for the barista to deal with…It wasn’t exactly what the industry had been anticipating. And furthermore, it wasn’t exactly what the people at the USA faction of LM were pushing for.

Then, Synesso was formed. Synesso is a company who’s inception was more like the cutting of the corporate fat, rather than a new idea. The founders of Synesso, Mark Barnett, Dan Urwiler, Eric Perkunder and with additional help from David Schomer, made the machine that La Marzocco USA had been trying to make for years. Cue instant success. Not only did the company have the industry cred to give their dreams of profit wings of stainless steal, but the machine was as sexy as the GB5 wasn’t. Where the GB5 was just an iteration of the Linea, Synesso was able to deliver quality on a new level the industry needed. It was more stable, more flexible, and definitely better looking than it’s GB5 competitor. For a while it was the only thing worthy of a quality oriented cafe. Until Slayer Professional Espresso had a thing or two to say about making coffee.

Being a company formed by an inspired few who were on the Synesso and La Marzocco teams, Slayer took what Synesso was doing to the next level. They created a machine which was able to take the amazing coffee which had emerged from the sparks of the Linea, and make it taste better. I’m not sure that any machine can teach a roaster more about their coffee than a Slayer. With it’s unique flow restrictors, and sleek sex appeal, the Slayer created quite a buzz about what coffee could be for your cafe. But, not every start-up coffee shop was ready to dump the $18,000 required into an espresso machine, when you could still buy a sweet heat exchanger for a cool $6,000. Could the difference really be worth the money?

At this point, I have to take a step back and say a thing or two about our ol’ buddy the heat exchanger. Now, while it may sound all fancy and technical, the heat exchange machine really isn’t. Tube inside a tube is a more fitting name for the machine, which is controlled in a very Rube Goldberg sort of way. I mean, the temperature system is based off of a spring activated micro-switch, which turns on a heating element for Christ’s sake (pardon my French). The thing is about a bowling ball and a ramp away from making it into the next <aOk Go! video.

As far as heat exchangers go, there are really only three kinds worthy of note. First is the CMA machine. Astoria, Rancilio, Wega, and a huge list of others make up a group of machines which all basically function the same. In fact, you can use almost all of the same parts to rebuild the key components in any of them. Aside from usability features, such as button pads, and steam knobs, these machines are all interchangeable as far as the cafe owner is concerned.

Then, comes the E61. The E61 is a group head which was invented by Faema. This group head is exceptionally good at retaining heat, and is so simple to maintain that they sell the rights to it for other manufacturers to use on their machines. Internally though, it’s pretty much the same as any CMA machine.

Finally, is the Nuova Simonelli. In my humble opinion, a Nuova Simonelli machine is a head and shoulders above any other HX machine there is. This has to do with a series of more intricate nuances which lend themselves to the retention of heat, the amount of brew water ready at any given time, and the recovery time of the boiler to stay at an optimum temperature when drawing steam from it. If I were to get an HX machine for my cafe, it would be an Aurelia, the pride and joy of the Simonelli line. Of all the HX machines out there, the Aurelia really delivers the quality that most cafes need without sacrificing their budget. Still, the Aurelia has been around for about two decades. And really, aside from minor improvements, it hasn’t changed much.

So, what I’m trying to get at is: out with the old, and in with the new. All of these machines were invented by people who were around at the creation of espresso in America. In fact, most of them pushed the industry to what it is today. However, there is a new group of people out there. I’m not talking about third wave, or fifth wave, or whatever wave we are on at this point. What I am talking about is a group of kids, who learned to make espresso on their custom Synesso Hydra. They learned about coffee from the accomplishments of people who have already put in 15-20 years of serious ground-breaking work. Most of all, they started with a clean palate, and no pre-conceived notions about what coffee was supposed to taste like. These are the people that are going to take coffee and push it to the next level. These kids are poised to create the new Linea and the new Synesso. But, as far as the American coffee scene is concerned, there have only been a handful of people who have done any legitimately innovative work so far, building espresso machines. They hold the most knowledge about the equipment we work on, and create more and more great innovations on all the old ideas. Can the new generation of coffee professionals acquire enough knowledge and insight on espresso to usurp the current oligarcy of equipment engineers? Or are we looking at perhaps the last innovative espresso machine having already been built. As with couture fashion, if you didn’t learn it from the people who were around when it was invented you can’t learn it.

Perhaps, all of the best work on espresso machines is about to be over. I would venture to say, that if I don’t see a innovative take on an espresso machine in the next seven years, we may only see iterations of the same idea. Now these iterations may get better and better. But, I daresay, that there may be nothing else as ground breaking as the Linea, Slayer, or Synesso.

Mypressi Review

March 28, 2011

As mentioned previously, recently I was generously sent a Mypressi Twist on loan for a couple weeks so that I could test out the ability of my new Baratza Virtuoso Preciso to work as a home espresso grinder. The test was certainly a challenge as I was often limited on extended time to try and dial in the shots properly due to Work, Class and other commitments. However, I got a few good sessions of testing in, enough to form an opinion about the set up and how it could be made more ideal.

I’ll start out with the great things about the Preciso and Mypressi. I love the Preciso’s micro-adjustments, at every test the ability to make small adjustments was what made its use as a home espresso grinder plausible. The porta-holder insert that comes with the Preciso worked surprisingly well to keep the counter clear from excess grounds in dosing as well as allowing for easy clean up whenever I was done making coffee.

A really simple, but great addition from the last Mypressi is the shot counter on the lid of the water reservoir. One of my complaints on the last version was that it was difficult to keep track of how many shots you had pulled, but this simple no nonsense upgrade allows the user to track how many shots have been pulled on the cartridge.

As much as I’m skeptical of home espresso, I will not hesitate to recommend this pairing to customers interested in purchasing a setup. Fantastic products and a relatively small investment will always be my main priority in researching products for customers, and both of these pass these requirements with room to spare.

Some brief recommendations and fussy things I had issues with. First the lack of a metal tamper included (available for purchase from the Mypressi store) had an impact on consistency shot to shot. The plastic tamper included is useful to make due, but I would recommend anyone looking into this setup to go ahead and upgrade to the metal base tamper. As well, as with any home setup, there is issue in general with consistency shot to shot. It is difficult to hit the same water temperature, dosage, yield of espresso and shot time one after another. Scales, thermometers and more scales are my recommendations for the home user so that there is a higher chance of consistency.

As I am used to brewing filter coffee with super easy cleanup (pop the filter in the trash, rinse out brewing device), it was a bit of a hassle to cleanup and get everything back to par. Partially this was because I was mostly cleaning up the grinder and Mypressi to store for a couple days, as there were very few times I had the time or ability to use it 2 or 3 mornings in a row. Home users should know that cleanup and pulling espresso well is time consuming and potentially frustrating to dial in the coffee well. Some people will love this hobby aspect, others just looking for a quick cup might want to rethink the espresso route.

Unfortunately, near the end of my testing time the grind settings on my Preciso slipped a number of settings, making it difficult to reach a true espresso grind. True to Baratza’s consistently amazing customer service they agreed to exchange grinders with me so that they could check on the problem. This is just one of many examples of what a stand out company Baratza is in handling customers and truly offering both superior products and service than any other consumer grinder company I’ve personally experienced.

All in all, based on my brief usage. I think the setup is both a great bargain and the best sub $500 home setups available. Right now Mypressi is actually running a Preciso + Mypressi bundle for $400 flat, saving you around $115, so jump on it if you have been looking or waiting for the right time!

As a dedicated barista that spends a large amount of time working on technique and keeping tabs on what’s happening in the industry at the moment, the concept of home espresso brewing has always seemed ridiculous. Sure, my friend who is a moderator on Home Barista has a GS3 and a Compak K10 in his house, but he’s as much of a geek as I am, a barista with a day job. Home Espresso for the normal consumer is what I’m concerned with; when the regular that comes into the shop a couple times a day for a cappuccino asks me what machine and grinder to buy so that he can save money on coffee trips, what do I recommend him? Usually I recommend a V60 or similar device and a basic burr grinder like the Capresso Infinity or Baratza Maestro, about a $125 investment that can get people into coffee at home at an infinite better start out point that the Mr Coffee Maker and a blade grinder.

Unfortunately, many people still like the idea of that “perfect” cappuccino or espresso at home that they get when they go out for coffee. In these cases I tend to gently discourage the idea, as there is quite a bit of time, money and experience required to make anything acceptable at home. Generally I’ll recommend a set up like the Rancilio Silvia paired with a Baratza Virtuoso ($200) or a Rancilio Rocky ($350). which adds up to about a $850-1000 startup investment, not to mention the cost of coffee wasted dialing in espresso every morning and waste in grinder burrs, whereas home drip has much less waste and learning curve.

Opposed to all these hangups I have is the new Mypressi TWIST that is far more accessible from a cost perspective than other home setups ($150 + Grinder Price), as well as being portable enough to store in a cabinet when not in use, whereas home espresso machines will normally take up a large amount of counter space. I had the chance to test one out last summer, but only used it with professional grade grinders that are used at the shop, which is not a realistic situation for the general consumer. I attempted using it with the Hario Skerton hand mill, but after trying 3 different grinds and it gushing, being clogged, then gushing again I gave up because of my weak biceps.

Also for the sake of these same weak biceps, I recently purchased a Virtuoso Preciso primarily for brewed coffee, but I have been curious of it’s performance as a home espresso grinder as well. It’s 40 macro settings plus 11 micro settings give a whopping 440 distinct settings all the way from ‘Too fine to be useful for anything’ to ‘Chunks that aren’t very useful either’.

I recently was able to borrow one of the new Mypressi TWIST, and will be pairing the two over the next few weeks, so watch here for a big post detailing my experiences.


January 24, 2011

I received a nice shipment of used cupping glasses from the SCAA store (for $1.50 a pop, it’s not a bad deal at all), a Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel poster as well as a couple 33 Coffee‘s notebooks that I received for Christmas.

Here’s the thing, I try to cup often when I’m at the shop working to keep educated on coffee so I can better serve my customers as well as for quality control. However, I don’t cup at home hardly ever. Not only does this keep me from really experiencing coffees for all they have to offer because of possible brewing experiments I’m doing at the time, it also leaves me a bit rusty in how I communicate flavors and simple in my tasting notes.

So here’s my resolution. Every time I get a new coffee, I’m going to try my darndest to cup it at least once against one or two other coffees (of other roasters if possible). Honestly, I think you should do the same. As a shop barista, I often have the opportunity to taste a 4-10 coffees every single day side by side with different brew preparations, whereas most consumers hardly ever have the chance. Especially being unemployed in Chicago at the moment, I am realizing that I have to work exponentially harder to continue my education, while at the shop I feel like I am learning through dealing with problems and issues every single day.

This semester I’m going to try to be better about blogging and experimenting, as well as making my 33 Coffee’s handbook public domain. Hopefully this will keep me focused and accountable in my tasting, and hopefully its of some sort of service to you in deciding coffees to buy and tasting the coffees the same I have.

Heres to 2011, eh?