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Barista re-entry student doing home study

Postby Bradley Allen on Wed Jun 22, 2005 4:34 am

Hello everyone. I found this amazing forum by following various reviews and discussions of La Valentina espresso machines. Since this is my first post, allow me to introduce myself.

I used to be a barista in the 1980s. To the best of my recollection, I learned on some sort of old, dual piston-lever Gaggia. I was 16 years old, and was hooked. The last machine I used daily was a state-of-the-art La Marzocco, circa 1990.

I've been out of the game since then, but now I have the means to start playing with making espresso at home. I understand a lot has changed over the years. And I've probably forgotten even more.

I poked around coffeegeek.com for a while and eventually made the impossible decision that everyone must go through... and put in an order with the folks at 1st-Line.

A few days later, a shiny new Brass and Chrome Elektra Micro Casa a Leva and a Mazzer Mini arrived on my doorstep. When I opened the Elektra up, I'm not sure what happened, but I was filled with self-doubt and returned it unused back to 1st-Line. It's a lovely machine, but I realized I didn't want retro just for the sake of style. And I was afraid I'd hurt the thing too. Cool bird, though.

Back to square one minus restocking fee. I then agonized between the Olympia Cremina and the La Valentina Levetta. Yeah, I know. Apples and oranges. Afraid that I'd be making a big mistake not going with a E61 group and all the other commercial bells and whistles a modern machine can offer... I went with the La Valentina. It didn't hurt that it was less expensive too.

I started trying out the equipment yesterday afternoon, with both the Mazzer and the Levetta at their default, as shipped, settings. Just for the sake of having something to play with right away, I brought home some beans from Peet's Coffee (less than a mile away). The grounds came out a bit fine to my eyes, but hey, what do I know?

I'm currently using the included plastic tamp which I know I need to replace ASAP. After full warm-up and flushing, the Levetta manometer gets up to 1.1 - 1.2 BAR, though it dips down below 1 BAR in the red zone (is that a good thing?) during pulls. Maybe this is too hot or maybe this is ideal? I'm not sure.

So far, after about a dozen attempts, I've had only one, barely drinkable shot... and truth be told, it was over-extracted and grainy as hell. I'm not sure if it's the beans, how they're ground, portioned, tamped, etc... or just me. I don't have diagnostic gauges and thermometers (I'm not that much of a geek :wink:), and I really don't want to start blaming the equipment because I know I'm very lucky to have this stuff in my home in the first place.

Since some of you guys have the exact same equipment, where should I start - use and settings-wise? I'm totally willing to try different beans and grind settings, but I'm of the opinion that it should be possible to yield a good cup of espresso without constant tweaking or the need to mail-order Black Cat, etc.

But again, what do I know?
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Postby shadowfax on Wed Jun 22, 2005 9:44 am

hey, Bradley! welcome to HB! you're the first person I have seen with the exact same machine as me, and one of a very few here that have Valentina (of any breed). Isn't Levetta gorgeous?

I pulled about 10 shots my first day with her. The neighbors said that the porch in front of the house reeked of coffee that afternoon, hah. I didn't have many good ones, either. The dialing in process took a lot of shots for me. I didn't get it to where it needed to be till about the second day.

Since you don't have a brew pressure gauge (neither do I), I have to say that I recommend doing this:

http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/espres...ines/46475

A nice graph and an example photo from Levetta are here:

Valentina brew pressure adjustment

I did this 2 days ago (made a final adjustment last night), and it's made my shots a lot smoother. 12 bar is pretty high for the OPV to be set at. I think this will help your shots and also decrease the laboring of the pump when you backflush and when you choke it with fine grinds....

as for beans and tweaking...

you're right about tweaking. When you get everything the way you want it, and get your method down, there should be only one thing that ever changes: your grind.

as for beans, it really depends. Here in Los Alamos, NM, it's mail order or die. There are no places that fresh roast here, and the nearest one (> 40 mi) doesn't have a stellar reputation. The deal with beans is that as long as you're getting a blend you like that is fresh roasted. If you aren't familiar with a blend and don't know whether it's any good even if you do make it right, it might be a good idea to get a well reputed coffee off the internet. personally, i think Caffe Fresco has some awesome, awesome coffee at a great rate. if you order 2 8 oz bags Tony''ll send you 2 12 oz bags as an introductory offer. He's great to answer email, and will tell you just about anything you want to know about the coffee and how best to make it, hah, if you order some, tell him I sent you! ;)
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Postby malachi on Wed Jun 22, 2005 1:43 pm

Ahh... welcome to the world of the freaks!
Heh.

Good to hear you've got a real tamper on the way - it will make the learning curve a little quicker.

I'd suggest focusing on getting the basic fundamentals dialed in. Don't worry about the settings on your espresso machine right now (you can start tweaking them over time). Instead I'd suggest working on your dose and distribution methodology and (most importantly) on adjusting the grind. Yes you're going to need some better beans eventually (where are you located?) but right now technique is going to be key.

The "stock setting" on your Mazzer is irrelevant. You need to get comfortable adjusting the grind (making tiny often micro-adjustements) to tune your extraction.

For getting your "sea legs" (so to speak) it's worth having a couple lined shotglasses and a timer. This will allow you to start evaluating your grind and learning how to adjust grind to get within the window of your target extraction.

Your goal is going to be to get to the point where your dose and distribution and tamp is consistent each and every time and then start adjusting the grind to get to your target extraction time and volume (I'd suggest starting with a 2oz double in 27 seconds).

Have fun!

(Oh... if you have not already read them, the following are useful resources:

http://www.home-barista.com/espresso-guide.html
http://www.home-barista.com/hx-love.html
http://www.espressovivace.com/archives.html
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin
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Postby HB on Wed Jun 22, 2005 2:52 pm

There's also HB's carefully vetted Resources page.
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Postby Bradley Allen on Wed Jun 22, 2005 3:03 pm

Guys. Thank you for the responses. I'm honored that you're taking the time to share your wisdom. I've read some of those listed links before, but obviously, I need to keep a log or at least take notes. So much to take in and retain.

I live in the SF Bay Area. Technically, in Palo Alto these days. CalTrain goes through my backyard. It keeps things almost affordable, if not loud. I know I have good local coffee available (Blue Bottle, Barefoot, etc.)... I just went for the Peet's because I had limited time, wanted to play straight away, and to also find out what would be the experience using 'normal' (non-geekified beans). But I'm totally cool with adjusting the grind, and expect to do so, as needed, per batch.

I haven't orderd a tamp yet, but all roads seem to lead to a certain Mr. Reg Barber. I take it I need the 58mm model?

Is the red barred area of the pressurestat the 'sweet spot' that I'm supposed to be hitting... or is that the area to narrowly avoid? I want 9-ish BAR don't I? Yes, I still need to get my sea legs back. I'm dog paddlin' now, but hope to do the backstroke eventually while squirting out naked shots from my lips in a perfect arc.
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Postby malachi on Wed Jun 22, 2005 3:20 pm

What tamper you like is going to depend largely on the size of your hands and the proportion of finger length to palm size.

Options would include the Reg Barber, the Vivace Ergo-packer, the EspressoCraft tamper and the Deluxe Lava Tamp.

Oh... and expect to adjust grind not per batch but rather per day if not per shot. Seriously.
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Postby HB on Wed Jun 22, 2005 5:24 pm

Bradley Allen wrote:Is the red barred area of the pressurestat the 'sweet spot' that I'm supposed to be hitting... or is that the area to narrowly avoid?

There's a balance between steam production, recovery time, flush amount, and desired brew temperature. In Valentina / Levetta's case, most will run the boiler in the 0.9-1.1 bar range (top of cycle). The lower setting implies a longer period between the flush and when the water in the heat exchanger goes over temp. At your current setting (1.15 bar), I would guess that you'll have around 15-20 seconds after the flush before passing all reasonable brew temperatures (it's closer to 25-30 seconds at 0.9 bar).

Take these suggested parameters with a grain of salt since I haven't used a timer in many, many months. Rather I determine the initial flush by sound and observation (e.g., end of hissing + five seconds) and then adjust the rebound time to taste. This is different than the "pro method" described in Chris' Mia writeup and favored by some home baristas. For Valentina, I prefer to catch the temperature rising rather than falling. On the other hand, with the Elektra A3, it's always flush-and-go since it recovers in only a few seconds independent of the pressurestat setting.

I want 9-ish BAR don't I?

True, but there's no brew pressure gauge, so you can only infer the brew pressure by time / volume (link).

PS: Check out Thermal stability: Commercial vs Prosumer for related background discussion.
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Postby Bradley Allen on Wed Jun 22, 2005 8:14 pm

malachi wrote:Oh... and expect to adjust grind not per batch but rather per day if not per shot. Seriously.


I'm sorry, I meant per brewing session, if not per shot.

And though I dig buying local, I look forward to trying various recommended coffees available via mail-order. It's all part of the fun.
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Postby Bradley Allen on Sun Jun 26, 2005 5:29 pm

Bradley Allen wrote:I haven't ordered a tamp yet, but all roads seem to lead to a certain Mr. Reg Barber. I take it I need the 58mm model?


Sorry for quoting myself, but would one of you please confirm that I need a 58mm model for the La Valentina. I believe the portafilter is 58mm... but should I get a tamp that's 57mm instead?

By the way, I bought some magic beans from Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara, California yesterday. Andy (the owner/roaster) very kindly took the time to show me how they roast and make espresso 'the Barefoot way'.

I went home and took his advice to heart and practice. And I'm happy to report that just a few minutes ago I was able pull a decent double. Not god-like. But definitely fit for human consumption.

Oh what a difference the beans (and improved technique) make! But I know I could do better if I had a proper tamp.
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Postby HB on Sun Jun 26, 2005 6:16 pm

Sorry Bradley, missed your original query... yes, 58mm is correct. The EPNW Espresso Hand Tamp Piston Sizing Chart lists many others.
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