Does struggling with unforgiving equipment make a better barista? - Page 5

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#41: Post by Martin »

another_jim wrote:There is no better way to learn this than going on a cafe crawl with several HBers or other enthusiasts.
True enough, though I'd put it as another factor rather than something quite so hierarchical.
In fact, all the factors mentioned in pursuit of a better cup (equipment, experience, suffering, etc.) are less linear than some posts suggest. A useful model is reflexivity: each new experience or enhancement jostles all that happens in the other domains of espresso prep.

The very notion of "struggling" is not something that most people associate with coffee, so I'd say that the OP question works just as well in reverse. Does one's increasing comfort with struggle justify the greater capacity of better equipment?


#42: Post by Anvan »

Let's go back to allon's original question which posited "unforgiving" equipment. Later he mentions "inferior" too, but the idea of "unforgiving" is more interesting since that choice brings in the notion of progress and a process, as opposed to a static situation. And as with any process, the value to the barista can be high if learning comes from the experience with his L'UnForgivio XL/350.

Any equipment has limitations, compromises and constraints. But only a truly "bad" machine (BasTurd 1000 Series II anyone?) would provide the obverse of insanity - meaning that even doing everything identically will yield different results. Our poor barista can expect nothing but frustration, with the only expectation being a career change to something easier and more predictable - hostage negotiations perhaps.

I suppose a lively debate can ensue whether or not the original La Pavoni lever machines were "forgiving" or not (so I'll take the first shot and say yes they are since you can do a lot wrong and still get something better than just sink-worthy). But the important point is that it's one of the few designs that gives the barista control of every variable, and so you CAN learn about how the beans, roast, grind, dose, distribution, tamp, temperature, pre-infusion, pressure, time - every factor - affects the results.

Back in 1975 when I got my first espresso machine, the LP was just about - or maybe it actually WAS - the only choice. With no forums like H-B, and precious little advice of any kind, it was just you, your taste buds, and Peet's, then going over to North Beach in San Francisco every once in a while to remind you of what you were aiming at. It sure was "the opposite of an arial view" but if you want to know what makes espresso work, 35 years on a La Pavoni is one way, with a lot of good espresso along the route.

This is by no means a criticism of the great new machines now available. Some of them are marvel, and yes, I sure appreciate the way I can dial in all those machine variables and the ease of the resulting consistency. But same as always, those traditional factors are still determining the results, so having all that hands-on has helped me to get the most out of the new stuff. And it's also why I still regularly take the old La Pavoni for a spin - it's an elegant machine that returns, with interest, all the care you put in, and with results that can astonish.

In fact, one useful routine for training a new barista might include a few days (with help of course - this isn't a pitch for training via decades of trial and error) with a very basic lever machine - and not one with springs either.