Is variable pre-infusion important when starting out?

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Scathefire

#1: Post by Scathefire »

New member here, and I want to start by saying "thank you" to the community for so many resources. I've ordered my first espresso machine and after a lot of research I landed on the Rancilio Silvia Pro. I've been tinkering with coffee for years, but have never owned an espresso machine so this is an exciting new chapter in my coffee adventure. Usually when I pick up a new hobby I'll get pretty invested in it, so I wanted to pick a machine that would give me a strong launching point without being too much equipment before I'm ready for it.

There were a number of machine options I looked at in this tier (BDB, Lelit Elizabeth, etc.) as well as agonizing over whether to wait for the Silvia Pro X. I ended up with the Silvia Pro because I was able to get a lightly used unit from a trusted source at a great price, and at nearly $600 cheaper than the Pro X it was hard to say no to the savings. I'll be pairing it with a Sette 270 or a Niche Zero, I'm still thinking through which one will be the best fit for me. I know down the road I'll want a more capable machine, but this tier of equipment felt like the right starting point given my current budget constraints and desire to be somewhat sensible with my purchase.

As soon as I placed my order I started having doubts on whether I got the right machine. Specifically I'm getting hung up on the lack of preinfusion options on the machine. I feel like I've read a lot of varying opinions on how important this feature is when starting out. Specifically when it comes to lighter roasted coffee, some of the opinions I've read make it sound like it's nearly impossible to get a drinkable shot without a lot of flexibility over your pre-infusion. I'm sure if I stick with the hobby I'll eventually hit the point where I want to tinker with that variable, but my hope is that even without it I'll be able to experiment with different beans and roast levels on my Silvia Pro to figure out what espresso I prefer and learn how to pull the best shots I can at home.

So here are my questions:

1. How important do you consider pre-infusion to be in the espresso making process?
2. What real world limits will I have with a Silvia Pro that is unable to tinker with pre-infusion?
3. Do most machines have a natural pre-infusion curve that is part of the ramp up process? For instance, will my Silvia Pro introduce some level of pre-infusion naturally, and the main thing I'll miss out on is the ability to make that time longer/shorter?

I'm trying to remind myself that there will be far more important things to learn and master before worrying about this stuff, but I'm trying to set my expectations for what I should expect out of my current equipment. I'd love some "expectations management" help from you all who have been in the hobby for a while. Help me understand the relative importance of variable pre-infusion when working with espresso so I can have a clear perspective on what I'll be able to get out of my machine when it arrives.

BodieZoffa

#2: Post by BodieZoffa »

I've never found pre-infusion to be the least bit important. Might be helpful with puck saturation of very light roasted coffees, but I'm not into anything lighter than full city to be honest. I've had a few machines years ago that did have some sort of pre-infusion built in and the only realistic advantage I saw was maybe a bit less puck degradation. That of course can be minimized with decent puck prep to begin with and Rancilio lists that as one reason they incorporate a soft pre-infusion. I did have a V1 Silvia and it was rather harsh on the puck on pump startup, but I've had the Pro version for some time now and immediately noticed in stock form it's much easier on the puck and the pressure ramps up a bit more slowly than the V1. Also noticed the Pro version has a much better flow control rate/less volume being pushed through the group, putting it inline with more expensive machines I've seen flow rates mentioned. It really is a very capable machine and has a few nice features added along with the rock solid build quality. I believe Rancilio decided to add pre-infusion and a pressure gauge to sorta keep up with what sells/what's mentioned on forums, etc. Personally have no need for either of those 'features' as once you have a machine dialed in you simply don't need to rely on numbers to nail it time and time again.

FWIW I have my setup dialed in for very restricted/low volume extractions. Don't like to even see the first drop until the 15-20 second range and push extractions upwards of 1 min and end up with around 1 oz. in the demitasse, sometimes a bit less. Not the least bit harsh for my taste and gives me insanely heavy texture. Actually have a heavy duty Ulka pump on standby so when the warranty on the Pro is expired I will swap out the main pump in case I routinely want to push extractions over the 1 min point repeatedly with no ill effect. This sort of routine might not appeal to many espresso enthusiasts, but anything less just doesn't cut it for my expectations.

User avatar
RapidCoffee
Team HB

#3: Post by RapidCoffee »

You seem to have a pretty good understanding of preinfusion. My take: it gives you another extraction parameter to play with. This is particularly useful with lighter roasts, which are harder to extract, and benefit from a finer grind. Longer PI allows finer grinds without choking the extraction, and helps tame acidity. Classic espresso blends benefit much less from extended PI.

And yes, every machine has some level of "preinfusion" (a misleading term). Vibe pump machines take several seconds to saturate the puck, and only then does pressure rise to ~9 bar.
John

PeetsFan

#4: Post by PeetsFan »

Taste, my friend. Espresso is all about taste.

Don't let the internet ruin the experience. Over twenty years ago, I bought a Pavoni Pro in Italy. I loved that machine. My friends loved the coffees. I was happy.

How did I use it? I'd buy a pound of coffee at Peet's and have them grind it. I put a teaspoon of sugar into an espresso cup and pull a shot, stir, then use the milk frother attachment (not the steam wand) to put a little milk on top. It was a cross between a Cubano and a Macchiato. I didn't know anything about dialing in, or using scales, or checking the roast date. Everybody raved about my drinks.

Now we have the Internet, and there's a lot of great information here, don't get me wrong, but don't overdo it. Making a perfect espresso, with no bitterness, no sourness, and a full flavor palate is very hard, no matter what equipment you have. At least, you've got to put your thousand hours in, or whatever.

What caught my eye is that you want to brew light roast espresso, and my question is: "Are you sure?" Have you been to a specialty cafe that perfectly brews light roast espresso, and you decided that taste is what you want at home? Because, personal opinion, I think it tastes like a cross between lemon juice and wheat grass. I have great respect for those who can do it, but I just don't care for the taste at all. I'll take a French or Italian roast any day. If light roast is really what you want, then go for it. But don't let the Internet (or me) tell you what tastes good. You need to decide.

Back to your question: On my dual boiler machine today, I think pre-infusion reduces channeling. I think it wets the puck, causing it to expand, and this reduces channeling. I assume that EVERY machine ramps pressure one way or another. And I don't think it's worth troubling over.

To try to cut the confusion down: Making a perfect espresso is like hitting a perfect shot in golf. You do it once, and try ten more times and repeat it once. It can be maddening. For me, at this point, I get a shot "in the zone," and I'm happy. I don't obsess over it. Well, everybody I know thinks I obsess over it but compared to the certifiable lunatics here, I don't. :-)

Get the machine and enjoy the drinks. Savor every drop. When I get a cappuccino in a decent local cafe, it takes me 20 minutes to drink. When I make one at home, it takes me three sips. No joke: It's just that much better. Enjoy!!!

Scathefire (original poster)

#5: Post by Scathefire (original poster) »

PeetsFan wrote:What caught my eye is that you want to brew light roast espresso, and my question is: "Are you sure?" Have you been to a specialty cafe that perfectly brews light roast espresso, and you decided that taste is what you want at home? Because, personal opinion, I think it tastes like a cross between lemon juice and wheat grass. I have great respect for those who can do it, but I just don't care for the taste at all. I'll take a French or Italian roast any day. If light roast is really what you want, then go for it. But don't let the Internet (or me) tell you what tastes good. You need to decide.
Thanks for your reply, it was helpful! I think it's less about wanting to brew light roast espresso because I think I'll like it more, and more about wanting to make sure my equipment is capable of tackling of gamut of challenges. I tend to prefer medium roast coffee, so I assume my palate will be chasing sweeter, less acidic flavor profiles and more developed roasts. That being said, I may want to experiment with some lighter roasts, and wanted to get a better understanding of whether those tasks are simply out of reach for machine with no access to that pre-infusion variable. It sounds like, from what you and others have shared, that pre-infusion is a tool that will let you dig a bit deeper into those coffees, but not necessarily prohibitive to getting something drinkable from them.