An Italian Proverb…

I will let this image speak for itself.

I have spent countless hours reading up on how to pull the perfect espresso. Forums, YouTube videos, dedicated how-to sites and a mish-mash of blogs detailing the importance of fresh beans, tamping, grinding and equipment. With all that in hand, I felt as if I was ready to pull a Godly shot of sweet espresso. I was not prepared to accept failure but unfortunately a combination of fate and reality hit me right in the face – I was doomed to fail.

First things first – I learned this very quickly and that is fresh beans do make a huge difference! When I purchased my rig, I was given a free bag of beans. I did not know the roast date, the origin of beans nor the particular blend. All I knew is that it came in a black 1lb. bag and that it was free. I knew that there would be a catch to the (free) beans but couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I started to put them into the whole process from start to finish.

They sucked

I learned quickly that old/stale beans require a much finer grind and will very well end up being useless and disgusting. I had to experiment with so many different grind settings on the Vario until I managed to find a good sweet spot for these beans. I blew through the bag of beans with the help of Ace who pulled a pretty good, clean straight shot. This was embarassing especially coming from a gal who does not drink coffee and has never pulled a shot in her life. Nevertheless, I was done with those beans and thankful that they were free and shitty so if anything, they were good for practicing and making mistakes.

The Second Batch – Lessons Learned

The second round of beans had to be taken a little more seriously. I was conveniently near JJ Bean’s roasting facility on Powell Street. I went in there and picked up 1/2lb. of their Espresso Nero Organic blend in whole bean. Total came to $8 and change. I was excited to try them out to see how much of a difference it would make if I tried new beans. The ones I got were roasted a day ago so they were very fresh. Most people normally give the beans a few days after roasting before they go at it with the grinder and machine however, I could not wait. The feeling was great and it reminded me of when I was younger when I had so many hobbies and interests only to get carried away and let nothing stop me. And that’s how it ended up. In less than 24 hours, I blew through a 1/2lb. bag of beans. I kept on experimenting, going from one end of the grind settings to another, giving me a bitter taste of reality of how important fresh beans were in the whole equation of extracting the perfect espresso. Fortunately with the JJ Bean, I got a little better and managed to pull a small handful of good shots. There wasn’t enough tiger striping during the extraction process as I would have liked but as I mentioned, I couldn’t wait for the beans to “cool down” from that fresh roast. But instead, I went through them like a mad man and nothing stopped me until I ran out of beans. Perhaps leting the beans settle would have made a difference. Conclusion: I’ll pass on this blend of beans. Too sweet for my liking.

Bean #3 – Getting There…

I should have mentioned this in the beginning of all this but I have a secret liking for the Espresso Gran Bar blend from Casa Del Caffe which is served at my favourite coffee bar, Gene Coffee Bar. I wanted to mimic the same kind of taste and quality of espresso from Gene except at home. I have a snobby preference of this particular blend and flavour primarily because it reminded me of how awesome coffee was in Europe when I had it there. In a perfect world, I would have loved to have started out with this particular blend of espresso beans however, Casa Del Caffe was closed. My only other option was to buy from my friends at Gene Coffee Bar. That in itself was tough because they were so busy when I went there and the last thing I wanted to do was go up to the girls there and blurt out, “Oh Haiz! I’d like a 1lb. bag of espresso beans, please!” amongst a lineup of hipsters waiting to order while giving me the staredown of Hipster shame. Any way, I got lucky this Sunday afternoon and managed to catch Gideon at a good time. Athena was back from her break, there was no lineup so they managed to get me 1/2lb. of whole beans just in time. Unfortunately, my bad karma crashed their point-of-sale terminal, rendering it useless for several minutes. Talk about being a bad omen. I was lucky to have Athena show me her ritual of dosing, tamping and pulling that perfect shot. I learned a few things from her, except I had read all of everything she taught me and had forgotten about it.

I got home after seeing the crazy weird lady dance like a freak again but this time, it was much worse because I saw enter the shop by doing weird body waves. I can’t quite explain it. It was like a visual phenomenon that cannot be described. It was just that fucked up, I could not help but chuckle non-stop for minutes as people gawked at this retardation of a show this freak was putting on. But that’s not important. I ran through my last bits of JJ Bean Espresso Nero and threw in a small handful of the Espresso Gran Bar into the Vario. I played with the grinder twice and managed to successfully pull a pretty good shot this time.

The mistakes I made, now that I think about it, had to do mainly with the grind itself and primarily dosing. In terms of the grind, different beans have different properties. The Espresso Gran Bar required a very fine grind to almost it is practically dust. I still have to adjust to make it finer and this is after 3 attempts so far. Regardless, this time required me to put into practice what Athena showed me – and that was evening out and leveling the dose. This part can be tough because when I was playing with the 2 or 3 shots I pulled tonight, I think I was underdosing, resulting in a watery/soupy puck and very early blonding of the espresso. Mind you, the blonding didn’t really happen until 20 seconds into the shot however, ideally I would have liked the espresso to start blond at 25 to 30 seconds. On a brighter note, I saw some good tiger striping consistant within the 10 to 15 second range so this is a good sign to a good shot. End result? The taste was good but I need to work on keeping that water hotter. The taste was there but requires more fine-tuning.

Conclusion: Not quite ready yet. I’ll follow up in the next few days.

Until next time…

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Say Hello…

…To my 2010 Rancilio Silvia V3, Baratza Vario, and Reg Barber stainless steel tamper.

This is the beginning of my journey to master the art of pulling the perfect espresso shot. With this combo, I hope to have equipped myself well enough to aid my journey in search of espresso nirvana. You’re probably wondering why I chose this roster of equipment. The reasons behind this is simple:

1. Best bang for the buck/Top of class
2. Local dealer/community support
3. Reputable brands
4. Parts availability
5. Resale value

So far, I completely n00bed all my shots. Luckily, the beans used were provided for free from the supplier I purchased the equipment from so unfortunately, not the best espresso beans (nor all that fresh.) I have yet to pull a good shot however, Ace managed to pull a pretty good shot on her first try. Not bad for a non-coffee drinker!

I should mention that I did upgrade to a 58mm bottomless/naked portafilter (as seen in the photos) not only as a learning aid but also to pull as best a shot as possible since I prefer Americanos anyway. In a perfect world, I would have much preferred the Wega MiniNova which is an E61 grouphead machine meant for pulling consistant and wicked shots but alas, reality dictacted that my financial breakeven point with the Wega MiniNova would not make sense. Any way, I will update my adventures of within this category so I hope you stay tuned following my progress!

Rancilio Silvia V3 – Baratza Vario – Reg Barber Tamper

Photos (again) by the gracious Ace!

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