Does struggling with unforgiving equipment make a better barista? - Page 2

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
asicign

#11: Post by asicign »

malachi wrote:With espresso in particular I find that there is an additional flaw in the argument. The most common challenge for beginning baristas is not knowing what good espresso should taste like.
There's a difference between being able to tell if an espresso is really bad, and being able to tell if it is excellent. Probably even the least sophisticated palate can tell if a shot if too sour to drink, or if it tastes and looks like dishwater. I think the advantage that an unforgiving machine provides the learning barista is that he/she learns that some technique must be acquired in order to be successful. If your machine accommodates your poor technique, you get decent espresso, and might not feel the need to learn how to improve.

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Randy G.

#12: Post by Randy G. »

another_jim wrote: Buy a hand grinder and press pot, learn about coffee, and save up for good gear.
Might even upgrade that and say:
"Buy an OE PHAROS Hand Coffee Grinder and an Espro Press."
Why? Pairing what is probably the best hand grinder (in terms of output) ever made (simple, dependable, and consistent) with one of the best manual brewers made (make the traditional French Press obsolete, IMO) would mean that if you make bad coffee with that then it's either the coffee, the water, or you, not the equipment (or you just don't like that coffee).
www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
* 22nd Anniversary 2000-2022 *

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allon (original poster)

#13: Post by allon (original poster) »

asicign wrote:There's a difference between being able to tell if an espresso is really bad, and being able to tell if it is excellent. Probably even the least sophisticated palate can tell if a shot if too sour to drink, or if it tastes and looks like dishwater. I think the advantage that an unforgiving machine provides the learning barista is that he/she learns that some technique must be acquired in order to be successful. If your machine accommodates your poor technique, you get decent espresso, and might not feel the need to learn how to improve.
This is kind of the comment I was wondering if I'd see.

The "upgrade your equipment" posts miss the entire question.

Anyway, it's an interesting discussion; also keep in mind that often the adversity isn't necessarily due to choice - learning is a journey. People seldom start the journey at a peak. The question is what one learns from the journey, even if one ends up at the same place.

I've seen people with world class equipment pull shots which stink. I've pulled better shots on a crappy thermoblock machine. The point is that it's the Mano, and how the barista applies their knowledge.

I feel that with broader experience, as long as the barista learns with an open mind, and maybe a scientific approach, they'll be able to apply that knowledge. Someone who knows how to pull great shots on a great machine knows how to pull great shots on a great machine. Put them in another environment, and how they do depends on their breadth of knowledge.

To go back to the race car analogy, sure, anyone could wreck a race car; you might be able to train someone who had never driven a race car, and get them to run a race with precision, but change the scenery and put them on a dirt track and they'd be completely out of their element. Learning on your parent's minivan, getting an old stick shift beater, upgrading to a muscle car and fixing it up, street racing, amateur racing, then pro racing - which driver would fare better overall? The one who was trained in place, or the one who made the journey? Who has more love for the machine?
LMWDP #331

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spiffdude

#14: Post by spiffdude »

As far as race cars go, i think a Ferrari is pretty unforgiving compared to a Audi. These top of the line race machines will bite you in the ass if you make a slight input mistake (especially if the traction control is off, yikes)

Seems to me that high end espresso machines and grinders work the other way around: they are more forgiving. That's why pro baristas can get away with moves like the grind and tamp. No redistribution, no levelling, no coffee god dances.... Mind you this is what i've read, i don't have the mullah to buy a Robur, spent all my money on bikes.

But i can tell you this: buy the best possible equipment that you budget will allow you to get. Life is too short to sweat over sh**ty equipment just because you need to pay your dues. I don't feel like i learned better technique because i spent 10 years with a crapola machine. What i did learn when i finally bought my Rocket and Mazzer was that it's damn more fun to work with. Actually, i think i learned much more with that equipment since i was finally able to taste nuances in my shots. Jim said something like that earlier in this thread and i agree.
Damn this forum, I've had too m..muh...mah..mmmm..much caffeine!

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HB
Admin

#15: Post by HB »

allon wrote:The "upgrade your equipment" posts miss the entire question.
Or, the initial question "Does struggling with unforgiving equipment make a better barista?" assumes a false dichotomy. That is, why would anyone knowingly buy unforgiving equipment in the first place if there were better choices within the same price range?

As I noted in How to choose an espresso machine and grinder at the "right" price, the primary distinction between the first and second tier is consistency. Sure, a skilled barista can compensate for the quirks of a crappy espresso machine, but life is short... why bother?

Whether shopping for espresso equipment, audio equipment, or kitchen equipment, I've noticed the same guidelines about shopping on the margin applies. That is, if you're considering a model of X that fits in the high end of class N, you may be better off either (a) saving money by moving your desired price range down to the middle of class N with the understanding that you may upgrade someday, or (b) considering a model at the lower end of the next class "N+1" with the intent of forestalling upgrade fever for a long time.
Dan Kehn

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allon (original poster)

#16: Post by allon (original poster) »

The situation was contrived to force the question.
HB wrote:That is, why would anyone knowingly buy unforgiving equipment in the first place if there were better choices within the same price range?
There are different ranges of performance, or else there would be one espresso machine on the market and it would rock!
HB wrote:As I noted in How to choose an espresso machine and grinder at the "right" price, the primary distinction between the first and second tier is consistency. Sure, a skilled barista can compensate for the quirks of a crappy espresso machine, but life is short... why bother?
Okay, but let's say not crappy. Maybe my initial example was too contrived, leading people to consider how to avoid the situation altogether, totally missing the question.

You say three tiers, okay. Barista in universe 1 gets a Silvia for his Nth birthday, upgrades to a Duetto after 3 years, then gets a GS3 three years later.

Barista in universe 2 has a rich uncle who gives him GS3 for his Nth birthday.

In year N+9, they meet. Who wins the competition? Barista 1 has had three years on each machine, Barista 2 has had 9 years only on the GS3.

The machine isn't the question here -it never was. In both cases, the person has the same machine.
Same coffee. Same grinder. Same person, same will to learn, but different experiences.

Isolated variable - the Mano.

No diff?
LMWDP #331

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HB
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#17: Post by HB »

It's an amusing thought experiment; I'll play along, but there's no answer.

Three years is a long time, enough that the three-year Silvia/three-year Duetto/three-year GS3 owner could certainly be on equal footing in terms of skill with the nine-year owner of the GS3. If you changed the parameters to 3/3/3 months versus 9 months, the latter would have a clear advantage over the barista who spent most of their time learning subtle performance differences between equipment that didn't transfer to the next kit.

Bottom line: I believe struggling with unforgiving equipment wastes time that could be put to more fruitful use and doesn't make for a better barista. Unfortunately, having advised many people on their equipment selection, I accept that few will listen to such recommendations and will have to convince themselves thorough personal experience. C'est la vie! I didn't listen either.
Dan Kehn

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RapidCoffee
Team HB

#18: Post by RapidCoffee »

Dunno about better, but struggling with unforgiving equipment certainly makes for a more appreciative barista...
John

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Randy G.

#19: Post by Randy G. replying to RapidCoffee »

Stated mathematically:
The level of appreciation for a fine espresso kit is directly proportionate to (the frustration endured) * (the time spent) using inferior equipment.
www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
* 22nd Anniversary 2000-2022 *

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Heckie

#20: Post by Heckie »

I have learned a significant amount about how to make a better espresso from struggling with my Gaggia 2 group D90 at work. The machine itself (and issues w/ our grinder) have proved to be difficult to get a handle on and yield inconsistent results, to say the least. Early on much of the extraction issues centered around my lack of understanding and the lack of a consistently effective technique. Later on, the equipment proved to be the achilles heel. Being that my cries for a new or at least an improved set-up, have fallen on deaf ears from upper management, I have been forced to do the best I can with the situation. I have become discouraged often and yet that also forces me to be inventive, creative, thoughtful, deliberate, and consistent. Bottom line it has made me a better barista b/c it has created a path for me to hone my skills. Would I be potentially better if I had more reliable set-up from the get-go? Who knows. Who cares. I am a firm believer you work with what you got.