The most important lessons I've learned so far

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
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#1: Post by malachi »

I cupped coffees yesterday with one of the better Chefs here in PDX (Jason from clarklewis).
It was really interesting to cup with a food professional, with a trained palate, who is not in the coffee industry.
I learned a ton about coffee, about the palate... in the end we came to the conclusion that (when it comes to developing your palate) breadth is perhaps more important than depth. By tasting foods, wines, beers and then relating all flavours to each other we grow as tasters.
In addition, we both agreed that the Stumptown Natural Sidamo would pair quite well with a hearty grilled pork sausage.
What's in the cup is what matters.

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#2: Post by javaseeker »

The most important things I've learned so far:

1. Research, research, research.
- Google is your friend.
- Read first. Then read some more. THEN ask questions.

2. The grinder is the most important piece of equipment in your setup.
- Even if you think you don't want and don't need an espresso-quality grinder, consider getting one. Chances are you'll want to upgrade sooner or later.
- Get the best grinder you can afford. If you can't afford a good grinder *and* an espresso machine, get a good grinder and drink moka while you save up for the espresso machine.
- Shop around. Start with the companies who sponsor the forums you frequent. Also, eBay can be a good source for equipment -- IF you do your research!

3. Don't expect to get "perfect" coffee right away. This applies to ANY brew method -- espresso, moka, french press, etc.
- There are a LOT of variables involved. Don't expect to be able to completely understand all of them, or how they all interact, when you're just starting out.
- There's an art to getting "perfect" coffee, as well as a science. You need to practice, and you need to experiment. Keeping track of what you do differently each time can help. Change only one thing at a time if possible.
- Everyone has their own definition of "perfect" coffee!

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#3: Post by Dogshot »

I'm in academics now, but I used to be a professional classical musician. Back in the early days when I was auditioning for my first orchestral job, I thought it made sense to abstain from coffee on audition days. Auditions are long, have multiple rounds, and are incredibly nerve-wracking - one technical glitch, one wrong note, and you're out. I thought that coffee might make my vibrato even tighter, or worse, that my bow would shake in the quiet parts; and it's common knowledge that coffee is the wrong thing for audition days.

After the first round of my first audition I realized that my concentration and focus just couldn't last all day, so I caved and had a bit of coffee. Wow, what a performance boost! Not only did I smoke in subsequent rounds, it actually made me more relaxed.

I lost that audition to someone who played better than me that day, but I got my job eventually, and learned in the process what it means to be a coffee achiever :D .

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#4: Post by danno »

So here I am living and working in a small town in Switzerland. Great place for espresso and cafe Suisse you think? Ah, but my friend, if only you knew. Remember that from the loins of Fondue Land hath sprung Nestle, the company which did for coffee what McDonalds did for apple strudel.

What to do? With a dearth of high-end coffee machinery to be had, I did what could be considered the only option: An Olympia ECM.

Yes, I spent a ridiculous amount of money. No, wait, I spent a RIDICULOUS amount of money and had to go to another city to do so. Yes, makes it all worthwhile now.

So now I can perfect my shots and thumb my nose at crappy Swiss cafe fare. That'll show 'em!

Big props to Jonathan Cohn for being the accomplice. It is always easy to help spend someone else's money.

And the lesson learned? Um, er... Temptation. Don't fight it. Yeah, that's it.

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#5: Post by quar »

I think that one of the most important things for to remember when it comes to espresso at home is to not be afraid to open the case.

Whether you have a plastic bodied Gaggia or a intimidating hunk of stainless like the Andreja, there is no reason to be afraid to get your hands dirty. Many simple adjustments and repairs are able to be completed by the end user, especially with the semi-commercial types of machines. In less than a month, I went from being afraid to violate the pristine state of my Anita to casually opening it up and replacing the autofill sensor and fitting. Cracking the cover does a lot to demystify the machine and it really makes new hardware less intimidating.


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#6: Post by IMAWriter »

Folks, truth is, the title of this post has absolutely NOTHING to do with the subject just sounded catchy. Hopefully the next 250 or so words with justify the look.
Part of my continuing espresso journey is attempting to accomplish new (to me) goals...such as pulling a single...there are those times that I'm either short on roasted, or I just want the slightly different taste profile of a single...I've had numerous singles in Europe, and always enjoyed the simple sugar added to mine.
However, until stumbled upon a solution to my single pour woes, my attempts were usually too watery. My solution?....after the E61 flush, then grinding in my Mazzer SJ (slightly finer than for a double), I found I had misplaced my Reg flat bottomed I grabbed a fully convex bottomed tamper my friend Dan Nathan gifted me. I Stockflethed, tamped in my usually (decent) manner, inserted the nekked PF with the single basket ...then pulled...
Low and & begorra! A few luscious droplets, the a beautiful thin stripped steam...I stopped the pull at 18 seconds, to prevent blonding...I had 3/4 oz of beautiful looking crema. The taste? Very gentle, sweet, and yet pretty much all the components of the blend(Chris Coffee's "Black Pearl"), soon followed by a shot of my home roasted version of Metropolis Redline. I have to think that that large convex curve concentrates the pull toward the center...and as my single basket's holes are concentrated in the center, it worked.
Just thought I'd report my "discovery", in hopes it helps.
Cheers to all.

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#7: Post by dick-san »

(Most likely it's just a sub-clinical Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder manifestation...)

Several years ago, a friend observing me taking a long time prepping and making a single small cup of coffee, said "you sure must like coffee" -- irritated the hell out of me but I replied civilly "The journey is the reward." But he did make me think about why I had my nightly ritual of grinding, swearing, tamping with the broken Cremina tamper, cleaning up, pulling a double, thinking "wow, there's some crema there" and tasting, cleaning some more, grabbing the cup of slightly cooled espresso -- a very small cup. Now I have to admit that if the initial taste is wonderful, I taste more before cleaning up.

Still, all I have is this little cup of reasonably good coffee with varying amounts of froth on top -- if I'm lucky. But if I started to think about the payoff ratio, I'd always tell myself "remember, the journey is the reward; every life needs a discipline to make it worthwhile...." Then I finally, after 15.5 years, I "girded up my loins" and, with Steve Robinson's invaluable tutorial, rehabilitated my Cremina.

You know the routine: "damn, looks like I need a better grinder; gotta get a 'real' tamper; those Bodum double-walled glass cups sure look pretty in the espresso porn shots, ..." Done. The trouble is, my average shot now is indeed better than in the old days, but the mythical godshots haven't appeared once, while the old setup would occasionally, accidentally, produce one. And the new setup takes considerably more time than the old.

So I'm thinking again about the payoff ratio. And I'm remembering the 34 years I taught experimental psychology and all those old rat studies. Partial reinforcement, reinforce the little beasties with a rat pellet only occasionally (and unpredictably) when it presses the lever and it will continue pressing that lever much longer when it no longer pays off than if it were fed every time it pressed.

Actually, I did get a hint of a godshot once with the new setup, but I don't know how far I can push the variable partial reinforcement schedule before my lever pulling behavior extinguishes.

Now comes the sneaky point for this thread: maybe I need new roaster connections. I arrived in the Berkeley area in 1966, a few months after Mr. Peet started his small shop where he roasted his beans onsite. Soon I was buying freshly roasted beans there, enjoying that wonderful smell in the shop if he'd recently roasted -- and sometimes on Saturday morning, the smell of roasted peanuts if he were in the mood. I was hooked.

But I'm also stuck, thinking Peet's Coffee is still that little shop when it actually has over 80 stores now, with centralized industrial roasting plants. Most likely the Arabian Moka Java I've always used in the Cremina is not the same as it was in 1991 when Peet's had only a few local stores. Probably the freshness and quality of their beans declined so slowly over the years that it was imperceptible, resulting in my thinking the problem was with the machines and my techniques rather than the coffee.

But even with the best possible roasted beans, I'm pretty sure that "the journey is the reward," along with the partial reinforcement effect, will still be involved -- along with more than a modicum of OCD.

--dick floyd