Niche Zero / Breville Bambino Plus - Grind size, different coffees, altitude

Grinders are one of the keys to exceptional espresso. Discuss them here.
MPA

#1: Post by MPA »

Hi all,

First post, been lurking for a while and mostly reading/searching. I got into espresso just over a year ago, have a Bambino Plus and recently got a Niche Zero grinder (end of August). The Niche Zero is a huge upgrade over my previous grinder, and has me down the rabbit hole again since I finally have fine control over the grind.

I have a few issues I could use some input on.

Details:
I'm using high quality medium roast type coffee, from local roasters, between 7-18 days old. I use the standard portafilter on the Bambino, and purchased the Breville single walled non-pressurized basket. I'm dosing 18g on a basket designed for 16-19 or 18-20 (depending on where you read). I've cleaned and calibrated the grinder multiple times now, and understand it is in a break-in period. I typically like a cappuccino type drink - extraction ratio between 1.5-2 in ~30 seconds, with ~100g of milk.

Questions:

1. On the Niche Zero, I'm finding myself in the mid 20's range (usually between 25 and 30). I understand that the number really doesn't mean anything, but am wondering if this seems too high to anyone? If I go down lower, I very quickly get to the point of refusal (nothing coming out). Obviously depends on coffee, but I was surprised to be in this range which is closer to the label for "filter/drip" than the label for "espresso" and when I search, I hear most people talking about ranges in the 10s for their espresso which kind of makes me wonder if my espresso machine isn't producing the right pressure or something. That said, if I'm judging by what's in the cup then I'm pretty happy. I believe I'm getting lots of nice mouth feel/lasting flavor and good chocolatey/berry tastes with most coffees.

2. I just bought a single origin coffee, another medium roast - and dialed it in at a setting of something like 33. Anything lower resulted in total refusal of water through the puck. I was on vacation at 3,300 feet elevation (I live at 230 feet elevation) and thought all of the issues had to be related to altitude somehow, so did a bunch of research and ended up with altitude related solutions (dose more, with longer pre-infusion time, cannot lower temp since machine isn't that fancy) and I also allowed for longer extraction times to keep grind as fine as possible. I was able to slightly improve on the extraction strength with these methods, but not in a huge way. I then returned home to my normal elevation (230 feet) and had the same crappy results with the high grind setting being the only one that worked. It is logical to me that the espresso isn't as strong with a more coarse grind, but It's the first one that I haven't been able to dial in to something "good" and I can't get my mind around why the grind setting needs to be so high. Is it possible that this coffee just sucks as espresso? What am I missing?


Mike

Jeff
Team HB

#2: Post by Jeff »

MPA wrote:
Details:
[...] extraction ratio between 1.5-2 in ~30 seconds, with ~100g of milk.

Questions:

1. On the Niche Zero, [...] I believe I'm getting lots of nice mouth feel/lasting flavor and good chocolatey/berry tastes with most coffees.

2. I just bought a single origin coffee, another medium roast - and dialed it in at a setting of something like 33. Anything lower resulted in total refusal of water through the puck.[...]possible that this coffee just sucks as espresso? What am I missing?
Welcome to H-B

That you're getting tasty espresso with good texture says your grind is probably "right", no matter what the number says.

Single-origin coffees don't have the benefits of a blend to add components that many people enjoy in espresso. Depending on where they're from ("species" and growing conditions), how they have been processed, and how they have been roasted, they can be very different in the grind that they need. For me, "espresso range" on the Niche Zero is sort of a ±3 mark thing with all medium-light and lighter beans. So your change doesn't seem wildly huge. My guess would be a hard, brittle bean, like an Ethiopian or maybe a Kenyan.

I find that single-origin, medium-roast coffees often taste better as espresso to me at somewhere near or over 1:2, perhaps as much as 1:2.5.

It is also possible that, for your grinder, water, machine, and personal tastes, it isn't a great coffee for espresso. With an E61 and good temperature control, I was only about 50/50 with "drip" coffees. I usually slugged it out through the whole 12 oz. bag. In retrospect, if I was more than 6 shorts or so in, I probably should have just switched to pour-over or immersion.

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MPA (original poster)

#3: Post by MPA (original poster) »

Thanks that's helpful & good input.

The "bad" bean in question is from Guatemala, not sure if that helps.

Glad to hear my experience seems to be in the normal range of things. Definitely still developing my skills, feel, and taste so it helps to get external input. Just started playing around with manual control of the machine too (pre-infuse and shot time) . . . next experiment is if I can actually find a way to taste over vs. under extraction. The silver lining on the experience with this coffee is that I was actually able to taste and tell that something wasn't quite right . . . even if I spent all weekend searching to find out why. Hah!

MPA (original poster)

#4: Post by MPA (original poster) »

One more thing I just thought of and looked up: When you calibrate the Niche Zero, there's no real guide to how tight to turn things -- I looked back at their video and in the comments they mentioned it didn't matter but they just go until they can't go farther with the tips of their fingers. I was definitely going tighter than this . . . which definitely adjusted my range upward. I'll probably be closer to 20 tomorrow . . . so things are making a bit more sense now. (for the moment)

thirdcrackfourthwave

#5: Post by thirdcrackfourthwave »

Don't sweat the numbers on the Niche; they seem to be all over the place. FTR I'm around 8-12. If you are happy with the extraction that is all that matters.

As far as the possibility that the 'coffee sucks as espresso?' There is a definite possibility the characteristics of that coffee are not what you like in espresso. If you buy your bags from the cafes direct don't hesitate to ask and tell the barista what you are after. If you purchase from stores (often not fresh enough around here) you may have to research a bit more.

Jonk

#6: Post by Jonk »

Play around with the pre-infusion and you might find yourself able to grind at a much lower setting.

scrane

#7: Post by scrane »

It's just a number, but your number seems very high. I'm around 10-12 on a dark roast. I've had my Zero and have never had a reason to pull it apart. Could there be a problem with the way you're setting zero? Or a weak pump on the Bambino. Do you get any Crema?

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Jonk

#8: Post by Jonk »

I'm also at 8-14 usually on my machine/basket/dose/bean combo.. But look at James Hoffman's settings for 18g:



I guess it's mostly a matter of calibration.
The Bambino uses a 54mm basket, so 18g should be a fairly deep puck and hence the need for slightly coarser grinds.

Quester

#9: Post by Quester »

I just spent a week pulling shots on my college daughter's Breville Infuser using a Niche and lots of different beans--most of them single origin. I realize you have a slightly different machine, but here are some things that we've been doing to increase the odds of a nice shot.

1. Pull a "shot" with an empty portafilter inserted right before pulling your first shot to warm everything up and increase consistency.

2. Use a scale under the cup and stop the shot manually at your desired weight.

3. Invest in a bottomless portafilter so you can see what's happening with the shot and whether there are significant prep issues.

4. Get a good WDT tool like the LeverCraft Ultra or one you make on your own with 0.4mm needles.

FYI, she is at 5,000 ft elevation.
★ Helpful

MPA (original poster)

#10: Post by MPA (original poster) »

scrane wrote:It's just a number, but your number seems very high. I'm around 10-12 on a dark roast. I've had my Zero and have never had a reason to pull it apart. Could there be a problem with the way you're setting zero? Or a weak pump on the Bambino. Do you get any Crema?
Yes, get plenty of crema. With the recalibration and me not twisting as hard, I'm closer to ~22 this morning for a reasonable shot. Perhaps the number will go down as the grinder breaks in.