Flair Espresso - Steps to Perfection (From a Newbie)

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?
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Postby ChanceTheBarista » Sep 09, 2017, 2:39 pm

After having amazing espresso everyday in Italy for 2 weeks, I needed a good espresso fix when I came back to the states. I bought the Flair and after a LOT of trial and error (went through 2lbs of coffee beans in less than 10 days), I've finally arrived at a great cup of espresso. Here's my process and some tips that I've discovered:

Equipment: Flair, Capresso Infinity Burr Grinder, food scale, LaVazza Super Crema Coffee Beans

My Process:
1. Boil filtered water in kettle
2. Grind 18g of coffee beans at 3 clicks from the finest setting on Capresso Infinity
3. Evenly distribute grounds in portafilter and tamp HARD. Put on shower screen.
4. Heat stainless steel barrel and cup in nearly boiling water (>205F) for at least 30 secs to 1 min
5. Dump water in cup. Put stainless steel barrel on portafilter.
6. Immediately pour water into barrel up to etched line.
7. Immediately put piston in
8. Pull lever enough so that water seeps into grounds but not enough where espresso starts to come out. Pre-infuse grounds for 5 seconds.
9. Pull lever firmly and with consistent pressure. It shouldn't take a lot of effort, but it shouldn't feel like a hot knife cutting through butter in a second. It should take roughly 20-30 seconds. There shouldn't be sputtering.
10. Viola. A great double shot of espresso. When I finally got a great cup, it tasted better than a single shot from a cafe in the area using a La Marzocco.

The places where I saw the greatest improvement were:
1. Get that stainless steel barrel hot! If it's not hot, you're going to get sour espresso because it'll under extract.
2. Pre-infuse for 5 seconds. I perfected everything else but was still getting sour espresso. That meant I was under extracting so pre-infusing did the trick.
3. Tamp HARD. I experimented with tamping (light vs hard) and occasionally I might get a great cup with a smaller dosage, but it was never consistent. I'd love to get my dosage down to 14-16g so I'm not over-caffeinating myself, but right now, the sweet spot is 18g for me. I might have to get a better grinder to go with less.
4. Use water that's over 205F. Water temp management was the trickiest part. Going hotter (> 205F) was consistently better than going colder (195-205F).

What I LOVE about the Flair:
- Flair is cheap relative to other espresso machines (though I haven't tried ROK) that produce high quality espresso.
- Relatively easy to clean and I would guess it's going to last a long time. Quality parts.
- Great espresso once process is fine tuned.

What I don't like about the Flair:
- It's very TIME CONSUMING! Once I perfected the process, I timed how long it takes: 9 minutes and 45 seconds for the first cup and 11 minutes 16 seconds for the second cup (I have an additional portafilter so it takes roughly 1.5 minutes to make the 2nd cup after the 1st one). When I factor in the cleanup, it was 16.5 minutes for the entire process to make 2 cups (double shots).
- I can't make a single shot and the double shot requires 18g of coffee beans. A typical double shot for an espresso machine is 14g. I tried doing 14g and failed, but at this point, I'm just going to live with 18g until I feel like experimenting again.

My Questions:
- Does anyone have experience with the Rancilio Silvia? I'm thinking about getting that to save time. I'd like to get a quality comparison of espresso between the Silvia vs. Flair. As much as I like the Flair now, I think the Rancilio might be worth the extra $485 to save 30 mins a day. I'm looking at the Rancilio because I want a brass boiler. I almost bought a Gaggia classic but realized it had an aluminum boiler.
- Anyone able to get their dosage down to 14g-16g on the Flair and still make a great cup? I've noticed that I have to grind finer and without a better grinder, it's tough to get right.

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Postby AustinBill » Sep 09, 2017, 9:36 pm

I have a Silvia, it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to heat up, so you will want a timer, inexpensive, you will also need a better grinder, not so cheap. Your technique with the Flair gets around the limitations of your grinder, the Silvia only pulls one way, unless you add a PID.

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Postby ChanceTheBarista » Sep 09, 2017, 9:44 pm

Thanks. That's really helpful. So basically I'm looking at $1k for Silvia + grinder then? What kind of grinder would you recommend? Vario?

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Postby MNate » Sep 09, 2017, 10:35 pm

Wait and keep reading on here and you'll find lots of good advice on what to buy at each price range. Don't hurry it since you're doing well with your Flair. Or if you do want more advice quickly it's good to share price limit (and expect to be talked into raising it), what you drink (makes a big difference if you steam a lot of milk daily, some occasionally or none ever), and what your tolerances are for certain aspects like effort, precision, or ability to tweak things. In fact, reading a bunch of these forums will probably help you know what sorts of things you value.

So enjoy your coffee and dream a bit.

(And I think everyone would say the Sette of the Vairio these days but there are other good options depending again on your tolerances and budget. And most would talk you out of a new Silvia too, though I still have my old one and use it for trips and it can certainly make good espresso but may not be worth it for new prices.)

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Postby ChanceTheBarista » Sep 13, 2017, 3:50 pm

Thanks. So if folks will try to dissuade me from buying a Rancilio Silvia, what's the next best thing? Quick Mill Silvano? Nuova Simonelli Oscar II? I looked up the Sette, but I see some reviews about it having reliability problems? What's the best grinder for under $500? I'm at the point where I realize I only have 1-2 settings for espresso on the Capresso Infinity.

Are there any black friday deals on these type of things?

By the way, the flair is really growing on me. I've streamlined the process where it takes me 6 mins to make the first cup of espresso. Probably 10 mins total from start to end of clean up for 2 double shots.

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Postby cafe+leche » Sep 13, 2017, 4:08 pm

ChanceTheBarista wrote:What I LOVE about the Flair:
- Flair is cheap relative to other espresso machines (though I haven't tried ROK) that produce high quality espresso.

It took me weeks to perfect my process with the ROK, whereas I got a great first shot from the Flair that surpassed anything I ever got from the ROK. I was quite surprised.

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Postby Randy G. » Sep 13, 2017, 4:57 pm

cafe+leche wrote:It took me weeks to perfect my process with the ROK, whereas I got a great first shot from the Flair that surpassed anything I ever got from the ROK. I was quite surprised.

I pulled two shots from the Flair right off and both were very drinkable. Today my Bonavita cordless pour over kettle arrives so I can go at it more effectively. Going back and forth to the kitchen for hot water from the microwave and rinsing parts in the sink got old. A big part of it is that I am an old dog with old tricks, and the Flair's workflow is so foreign to me that it will take some time getting a process down. But I will say that if those first two extractions are any indication, this is an impressive device.
Espresso! My Espresso!

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Postby YDandA » Sep 15, 2017, 3:21 pm

I have a Rok -- back in its tin that it came in.
It might be OK if you have an endless supply of water (I don't), hot water to preheat it in. Anyway, it lacks thermal mass.
I'd pass it by. Your Flair is an upgrade.

I have a Silvia as well. It's... touchy. I've just gotten a portafilter pressure gauge, so I'll dig the Silvia out and check that. For now I'm getting passable espresso with a new Gaggia Classic which I've set at ~9.75 bar (static pressure).

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Postby TreCime » Sep 15, 2017, 4:22 pm

I had a Silvia until recently upgrading. It was a fine machine as part of my espresso progression, but you can do better in the price range.

As for your grinder, consider a hand grinder. I love my feldgrind--Kinu, helor, o.e. lido would all be excellent choices. Advantages of a top hand grinder are a superior grind over many electric grinders costing considerably more and virtually zero retention of grounds. Fresh coffee beats stale coffee.

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Postby dominico » Sep 15, 2017, 5:14 pm

I hope you had a good trip in Italy! I just came back from a month there visiting family.

I would say get a better grinder before getting another machine. The grinder is the weak link in your chain and not only will it help you get your dose down but it could also actually wind up saving you time in your routine as well, and most likely help your coffee to taste even better.
Getting a better grinder will solve your dose problem with the flair, with a better grinder you could dial in easily to a lower dose, using a lower could potentially mean saving some time preheating as well, as you won't need to pull at quite so high a temp with a lower dose, you may even be able to achieve a higher pressure during your pull as well.

There are a lot of options for espresso worthy grinders under $500, most of them are hand grinders: great quality but will add time to your routine.
For electric grinders under $500 you have the Baratza Vario and the Sette. I have used both extensively, I prefer the Sette, and I single dose it (weigh each dose separately and them throw just that dose into the otherwise empty hopper right before you are going to grind) rather than trying to program for a timed dose or weighted dose with the W.

I also used a Silvia (w PID) for about a year before I got rid of it. It will be quicker than the Flair for sure and if you are using only traditional espresso blends you could probably be quite happy with it, (unless you want to steam milk as well, then get ready to take a long time to make drinks again). The Silvia was made for traditional espresso blends and pulls those off rather well. I found it difficult to pull consistently good light roast and single origin coffee with it though. The complete lack of preinfusion combined with the vibe pump made it very unforgiving for more delicate coffees which always came out tasting tannic or flat. I wound up trading it for a used lever machine at around the same price point. A lever machine allow a faster prep than the flair but not as fast as the Silvia, and will have some other benefits such as being usable for a wider range of coffees and the ability to steam milk instantly when you want to make a cappuccino or latte. Your other option would be to increase your budget to a prosumer machine if you want both speed and flexibility.
Il caffè è un piacere, se non è buono che piacere è?

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