Do I need an upgrade to make good espresso? - Page 2

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
zepol (original poster)

#11: Post by zepol (original poster) »

I spent the early afternoon running a temperature experiment. I pulled a series of eight shots using reverse temperature surfing where the variable was the length of time to start the shot after the boiler light went out. I let Silvia warm up for 45 minutes prior to starting the experiment. For all shots I used fresh Black Cat coffee with the same volumetric underdose, WDT, and Rocky setting of seven clicks above true zero. Here are some notes I took from the tasting:
  • 70 sec: harsh; a little sour
    60 sec: harsh; less sour, with the sourness a little fruity
    50 sec: harsh; less fruity; some spicy flavors
    40 sec: intensely harsh; hard to taste much else
    30 sec: harsh; dried fruits; some spice
    20 sec: harsh; dried fruits
    10 sec: harsh; very bitter
    0 sec: ashy; awful
I'm no expert on espresso tasting, but I think I tasted a progression from sourness to fruitiness to dried fruit tastes as the temperature increased. The hottest shots had an ashy bitterness in addition to the overall harshness. But the overall harshness was there for every shot.
Psyd wrote:If they tend to blonde early and/or run fast, updose to the level basket.
I've never had luck with a level basket, but just to be sure I tried one by leveling the basket with a flat credit card before tamping. I felt resistance locking the portafilter in place. I removed the portafilter and found that the shower screen had destroyed the puck. So with my Silvia you must underdose.

The final thing I tried was to use lower doses and finer grinds. I had to grind finer, at four or five on Rocky. With these I found that the body was thinner, but the harshness was still there.

You know what would be nice? If there were a store (in Chicago) that let customers play with equipment before buying. Maybe you pay $100 or so for an afternoon with a roomful of machines and grinders. If you decide to buy the $100 would be deducted from the bill.
- Rob

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Psyd

#12: Post by Psyd »

zepol wrote:
I'm no expert on espresso tasting, but I think I tasted a progression from sourness to fruitiness to dried fruit tastes as the temperature increased.
In my experience, the temperature increases after the light goes off, till about twenty seconds in (IIRC) and then starts to descend back to the same at between sixty and seventy seconds as it was when the light went out. I have an older (200) Silvia, with the newer 100C 'stat. so, yours may differ in other ways.
My pull with a level basket this morning, just as the light went out, was smooth and chocolaty. I'm gonna get me some o' that Black Cat and see what's what.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

zepol (original poster)

#13: Post by zepol (original poster) »

Psyd, could you comment on your use of level baskets? When I try to use them, the shower screen tears into the puck. Therefore, my dosing experiments are limited to underdosing and really underdosing. I had thought that maybe I had assembled the shower screen wrong, but when I took it off yesterday to check this it seems that there is really only one way it could go on. Is the shower screen clearance something that has changed over time with the Silvia?
- Rob

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Compass Coffee
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#14: Post by Compass Coffee » replying to zepol »

Psyd may have been referring to level before tamp. I used level before tamp for 4 years with Silvia. The actual dose can be varied whether lightly tapping down while filling, and how many times. After tamp lock and remove and see if there's an indent from the screen screw. At the most screw should just barely touch and screen itself not at all.
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
http://www.CompassCoffeeRoasting.com

Randii

#15: Post by Randii »

Have you tried dosing by weight? I think (if you don't have one) you should get a scale and weigh the dose in grams. That will help to stabilize one of the many variables you are dealing with. Without a scale, you really don't know how much coffee is going into the portafilter, and that affects the quality of your extraction as much as the temperature. I know it starts to feel like a science experiment, but from my experience, you really have to control all of the variables in order to learn how to extract good espresso with Miss Silvia. She requires you to be on top of your "game". It can be done. Don't lose hope just yet. Silvia likes to surprise you when you are just about to give up! :D

zepol (original poster)

#16: Post by zepol (original poster) »

When I said that level baskets don't work I mean the following procedure: Grind until there's a little mound in the basket. Use a flat edge to level the un-tamped coffee. Then tamp with around 30lb of pressure. The coffee level is now below the rim of the basket. When I load this into the machine the shower screen tears up the puck.
I know it starts to feel like a science experiment, but from my experience, you really have to control all of the variables in order to learn how to extract good espresso with Miss Silvia. She requires you to be on top of your "game". It can be done. Don't lose hope just yet. Silvia likes to surprise you when you are just about to give up!
Thanks for the encouragement. I am going to keep plugging away with my science experiments. I find this fun, being an ex-scientist myself (even if I was a theorist).
- Rob

ChrisC

#17: Post by ChrisC »

One thing to keep in mind is that just leveling the basket every time doesn't result in the same amount of headspace every time -- finer and coarser grinds will pack down to different heights (depths?). Weight seems to be the only way to be really sure you're using the same amount of coffee.

One thing that made a HUGE difference for me was when my local cafe gave me a 'La Marzocco-style' double ridged basket. Almost everyone hates the Rancilio single, but I hate the double just as much -- never got a good shot while using it, noticed drastic improvement with the LM-style. Might be a much cheaper upgrade path for you.

And, when trying your temp surfing experiments, try pushing it out to around 2 mins after the light goes off, especially considering that Black Cat likes to be brewed a little colder. I was having luck this way before PIDing my Silvia, got the idea from a post of Dan's on reverse temp surfing: Temperature surfing Rancilio Silvia

Good luck!
C

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Compass Coffee
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#18: Post by Compass Coffee »

ChrisC wrote: Weight seems to be the only way to be really sure you're using the same amount of coffee.
Except when changing beans/roast level the weight will change for a given dose too!
One thing that made a HUGE difference for me was when my local cafe gave me a 'La Marzocco-style' double ridged basket. Almost everyone hates the Rancilio single, but I hate the double just as much -- never got a good shot while using it, noticed drastic improvement with the LM-style. Might be a much cheaper upgrade path for you.
Excellent point, switched to LM double ridged 2nd month I had Silvia and used it ever since, now with Bric'. Forgot to mention that, good catch.
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
http://www.CompassCoffeeRoasting.com

zepol (original poster)

#19: Post by zepol (original poster) »

I should have mentioned that I am using a La Marzocco-style double ridgeless basket,
http://www.espressoparts.com/product/MZ_107A,
which I agree makes better espresso than the stock Rancilio double basket. However, my Rancilio double basket may be defective because it has perforations that are large enough to admit some espresso grinds into the cup, and the whole group of perforations is several mm off center.
Weight seems to be the only way to be really sure you're using the same amount of coffee.
I guess I'll go back to weighting the coffee. I had a routine that skipped this step. It's still surprising that a level basket of loose coffee hits the Silvia shower screen with a reasonable grind / coffee / tamp pressure.

Thanks for all the help. I'm going to keep experimenting with my current equipment.
- Rob

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HB
Admin

#20: Post by HB »

zepol wrote:The problem is that my espresso shots are consistently bitter and harsh.
Closing thought... perhaps it's worth experimenting with lowering the pressure and start dumping the extraction. Both will lower the intensity ("harshness") of the espresso. Tasting the extraction separated into shot glasses can help identify where the objectionable flavors originate (I'm betting the first 5 seconds):

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