One week with the La Marzocco GS3

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?
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HB
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#1: Post by HB » Jul 03, 2006, 2:13 pm

With the holiday coming and some of the staff on vacation, the roasterie at Counter Culture Coffee is super busy. They certainly won't have time to work with this... So why not put it to use? Day 1 of 7 starts now.

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PeterG generously agreed to a one-week loan
Dan Kehn

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cannonfodder
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#2: Post by cannonfodder » Jul 03, 2006, 2:31 pm

I don't suppose that is a Mazzer Kony I see peeking out on the right?
Dave Stephens

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HB
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#3: Post by HB » Jul 03, 2006, 2:57 pm

No, it's a Super Jolly. I tried to cajole a Robur that was in for repairs out of their technician's hands without success. Plans are afoot for a mini-jam at my house; with luck I can sneak one out of their espresso lab on Friday for the weekend. ;-)

I am thinking grinder upgrade again. Based on Greg Scace's glowing comments, the Kony is on my shortlist. Unfortunately the height is an issue until I find a dedicated espresso workarea. Oh bother! However, there is comfort in using one's own equipment. The GS3 dialed in nicely at home while I struggled at Counter Culture's espresso lab the other day. Peter later informed me that the "mystery beans" in the grinder were weeks old. That happens frequently, i.e., the coffee is so fresh it's still warm, or it's leftovers that have sat for weeks.
Dan Kehn

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HB
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#4: Post by HB » Jul 04, 2006, 1:27 am

No espresso machine in recent memory has been lavished with such attention as the La Marzocco GS3, despite that only prototypes are available for evaluation (according to reports, US imports aren't expected until 2007). Besides the "star" factor that drew my interest, another reason I wanted to check it out more closely is because after sampling its espressos at the SCAA conference, I was left unimpressed. In the GS3's defense, the samples were prepared using a Swift "auto-everything" grinder.

A few weeks back, Peter at Counter Culture Coffee invited locals to check out the GS3 that was recently brought in-house. I thought that a few sessions in their cupping lab would be enough to form an opinion about the espresso machine's capabilities. But during two casual Friday morning sessions, it wasn't coming together. As I mentioned in my earlier post, that's the problem with ad hoc espresso jams: You're dealing with unfamiliar equipment and coffees of unknown age and composition. After all, it's an "espresso lab" and constant change is the norm. If you want any consistent results, it requires preparation, including having known test coffees on hand.

Peter mentioned that the GS3 was a short-term loaner. With the July 4th holiday approaching, the crew at Counter Culture is shorthanded and the chances of any experimentation happening this week are low. I jokingly noted in the site's announcement box "CCC has a GS3 in their espresso lab... 2nd session and so far, it's good but hasn't come even close to rocking my world. I think a loan is required to investigate." Peter picked up on my message and asked:
PeterG wrote:Do ya wanna borrow?
To which I replied:
HB wrote:Do ya have to ask? :-)
Woohoo! In my own kitchen using my own kit and familiar coffees! In the morning, I stopped by to pick it up. It's heavy, but luggable if you're highly motivated. Trundling back home with the GS3 in the back, I mulled over a reporting angle on this machine. Needless to say, the temperature / clarity angle has been discussed ad nauseum. Given the short nature of its stay in my kitchen, I'm going to focus on initial impressions and the "forgiveness factor." I'll document more thoughts about the first day tomorrow.

As I cleaned it up for the night, I noticed how easily the grouphead surfaces wiped down. The underside of the grouphead is a smooth disk with a center hole for the screw holding on the dispersion screen:

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Grouphead with dispersion screen removed.
Nothing but smooth surfaces


The dispersion screen is slightly offset from the disk and its center screw is drilled down the center for most of its length; four tiny side-holes act as water jet breakers to disperse the water evenly across the top of the puck.

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Dispersion screen held in place by no ordinary screw
Dan Kehn

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HB
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#5: Post by HB » Jul 04, 2006, 5:44 pm

(As you might imagine, last night was a late one. Before continuing with today's report, allow me to wrap up yesterday's first impressions.)

After setting it up, I took a step back to admire the GS3. You know, compared to some other espresso machines that have passed through our doors, the GS3 isn't a looker. Rather boxy. Others have made the same observation; I recall seeing a photo collage comparing it against the Speedster, suggesting the GS3 was modeled after a Ford LTD and the Speedster after an Italian sports car. That said, cramming all these goodies into a package this small was a minor miracle. I was able to carry it myself from the car by gripping the sides. Although it's heavier than the Elektra A3, it's a lot easier to carry. Not that I recommend it; I was waiting for my spine to pop out when it came time to heave it onto the countertop.

If you're desperately looking for reasons not to buy a GS3, I would put poor ergonomics at the top of the list. Was the product designer left handed? Or is the machine's compact nature force compromises due to interior room constraints? The workflow from brew-to-steam is clumsy:
  • Steam arm is on the left, toggle control is to its right
  • Brew controls are on right, opposite side of the grouphead.
  • Steam arm doesn't reach the driptray (must purge into a steam pitcher)
And while not part of the ergonomics proper, the programming could be politely described as "Byzantine". I was able to piece it together with the help of Chris Tacy and Andy Schecter. Inexplicably, the least-often changed settings are first in the program cycling. Brew temperature is buried near the end... let's hope they revisit the ease of use in the production version.

Tonight I focused on extraction diagnosis and confirming La Valentina was tuned to the same pressure for some side-by-side action later this week. I was pleased how quickly the GS3 dialed into nice 27 second extractions. Before heading upstairs to bed, I noticed the back of the house was running 5F degrees warmer than normal. This machine puts out a beastly amount of heat. What do Italians have against insulation, at a minimum for the steam boiler?
Dan Kehn

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HB
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#6: Post by HB » Jul 04, 2006, 8:48 pm

It's rare that our household is quiet enough in the morning to make an espresso-related video. The audio tracks were removed from the few that I have made to save viewers from the roar of children in the background. But this morning was different... my lovely wife offered to take all the boys to the park. Below is the first series of extractions of the morning. Since this writeup is about first impressions, I haven't "cherry picked" the best videos. A couple espressos to adjust the grinder, then I recorded all subsequent extractions, starting with Counter Culture Coffee's Toscano.

Note: I placed a lamp with 100W lightbulb less than 18 inches from the grouphead to show details more clearly. My apologies for the washed out colors.

«missing video»

«missing video»

Approximately 18 grams of coffee, LM double basket. Both extractions were direct brew, i.e., the start-stop preinfusion was not used. Final volume was approximately 1.75 ounces.
Dan Kehn

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HB
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#7: Post by HB » Jul 04, 2006, 8:56 pm

This next series is Intelligentsia's Yemen Sanani. I wanted to try the start-stop preinfusion and pull a slightly tighter extraction. You will hear distinct clicks as the preinfusion solenoid closes and reopens. The pump continues to run during the pause that follows the initial presssurization.

The first extraction was a little slower than desirable for this espresso, so I loosened the grind for the second extraction. Overshot it slightly and the third extraction was the best of the three. Spicy red wine with cream.

«missing video»

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Yemen is denser and has a higher moisture content than Toscano. It compresses to a thinner puck, but I kept the weight close to 17 grams. Updosing Yemen tends to yield an overly bitter espresso. By the way, of the four tampers I tried, the best fit was the HB Compressore (convex). No, really:

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Photo courtesy of EspressoParts.com
Dan Kehn

Nick

#8: Post by Nick » Jul 05, 2006, 12:16 am

Ummm, did you actually taste any shots? Because you haven't mentioned doing so.
Nick
wreckingballcoffee.com
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framey

#9: Post by framey » Jul 05, 2006, 12:40 am

Nick wrote:Ummm, did you actually taste any shots? Because you haven't mentioned doing so.
HB wrote: Overshot it slightly and the third extraction was the best of the three. Spicy red wine with cream.
Kind of brief for you Dan :D

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HB
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#10: Post by HB » Jul 05, 2006, 12:44 am

Nick wrote:Ummm, did you actually taste any shots?
Yes, I tasted quite a few and they were as good or better than most cafes, including yours. But I don't consider the coffees I had on hand particularly difficult (Toscano, Black Cat, Yemen), so that comes as no great surprise. Peter, Miguel, and Jim have some coffees that will offer more challenge for this weekend.

What was a surprise to me, given my prior experience with La Marzoccos, was that the GS3 produces such good results with less difficulty than its siblings. Later in the week I plan side-by-side comparisons of the GS3 and La Valentina. It's not a fair match-up, but I hope that will give some food for thought to those considering the really big upgrade.

By the way, I'm organizing a mini-espresso jam at my house this coming weekend. Those in the area are welcome to contact me for time and directions.
framey wrote:Kind of brief for you Dan
Chris, Mark, Andy, Greg et al have covered the question of taste performance at length. I started this thread in Overextracted in hopes of finding a new, unexplored angle. Whether it will be interesting remains to be seen... :roll:
Dan Kehn