How has your coffee hobby progressed?

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
User avatar
drgary
Team HB

#1: Post by drgary »

I've been thinking over the progression of my coffee hobby over the years and am interested in others' experience. This first post is an invitation for you to share your experiences. Our stories may reveal some trends, and they could provide context for people just starting out or at earlier stages in their hobby. If the discussion following our posts lead to excursions into minutia and away from the overall storytelling, please start a new thread and link it to this one. I'll start with my story without making it overlong.

By the time I came to Home-Barista in 2010 I had become aware that there was something much better than the cafe chain coffees I'd been drinking. It unfolded in stages that reflect my tastes in coffee and equipment, and my budget too. Now that I like my gear and can consistently use a number of brew methods to suit my tastes, I'm less interested in pushing the limits. Here's how my hobby progressed:

1. Acquiring sufficient gear/learning to shop for espresso bargains/getting hooked on Home-Barista
2. Exploring alternative gear, machines, grinders
3. The great Cremina search/finding gems/diving into repairs, restoration, tune-ups
4. Becoming friends with others deep into the hobby, both amateurs and professionals
5. Hosting hobbyist gatherings at home
6. Starting to roast
7. Joining Team HB and writing reviews
8. Hobby maturation: Satisfaction with current gear and decision to discontinue active collecting
9. Exploring the deep rabbit hole of roasting with a capable machine

Along the way I acquired enough gear and techniques to brew coffee to my liking to the point that I no longer have a strong pull to upgrade or collect. I can reliably dial in shots and explore their flavors. My hobby now centers on the exploration of fine coffees and the enjoyment of sharing my hobby with others. My main focus is on improving roasting skills to the point I can reliably do justice to very different coffees and roast styles. At this point most of my roasts taste good, and I'm working on tuning the roast to the best that coffee has to offer.

Because I enjoy what I'm now able to brew with various methods, I am no longer very interested in the ultimate grinder or pulling competition level shots on lab quality gear. (If someone demonstrates that gear to me, I'm interested in knowing its capabilities.) I very much appreciate the elegant simplicity and capability of high quality lever machines. And I've expanded my limited collection to include a variety of caffetieres and brewers, some of them are rare, others are attractive, working vintage examples. For light or dark roasts that require very expensive grinders, I enjoy other, more forgiving brew methods. Equipment will continue improving and pushing the limits. Eventually some of what is new and expensive now may be much more affordable in the future. Yesterday's high end gear still works very well for my purposes.

This hobby has become a refinement of good home cooking, owning and displaying some decorative, working collectibles, enjoying friendships made through the hobby, and the fun of introducing other friends to good coffee, brewing and espresso. It's a respite from the stresses of everyday life in a world in turmoil.

That's my story so far. Where has your hobby taken you?
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
IamOiman

#2: Post by IamOiman »

Current steps in personal progression:
1. Discovering home espresso equipment
2. Acquiring an initial setup without buying new and pull consistent shots/finding HB/forums
3. Research on self maintenance and discovery of restoration/refurb
4. Acquisition of used levers and the purchase of the Bosco/AICAF certification
5. Begin restoring/refurbing machines
6. Creating my Coffee Mafia to source missing parts or find machines, and share knowledge
7. Implement LDWP solo and continue finding old lever machines
8. ???
9. Profit

I got into the espresso hobby to take back my own little bar from Italy when I started college. Since it was in the US I did not have access to true espresso in my dorm, just an electric moka pot with preground Kimbo. I got a Pavoni and Lido E as my first true setup. I always try not to pay full price by going for used machines, and that expanded from domestic into commercial machines over time.

The search and acquisition of some of these finds led to some pretty interesting stories, especially while I was still in Italy. Knowing Italian as a language is pretty useful in creating new contacts and expand my network in coffee/espresso. I enjoy the hands on process of seeing what parts I need to fix up machines and the issues that crop up and must be solved before the first shot is pulled.

Theoretically I am happy with my current equipment for the espresso itself, I just like finding new toys to fix up. Since I budget really well I do not part with any machines out of necessity. I have absolutely no interest in pump/E61 machines. Machines like a Linea Mini or Slayer do not tempt me at all. I'd rather spend the funds on something else.

My biggest personal conflict I have with the hobby is what I do with the machines that I brought back to life. I am ending up with so many machines it becomes more difficult to properly use them while the rest are display pieces. It brings up the question of whether it is a waste to keep the machines as a display or find a new home for someone else to enjoy. The collector side of me does not trust others to care for a machine in my possession as much. If I ever sell any of my machines I will be interviewing the buyer just as much as they are inspecting the machine to gauge if they are trustworthy to care for it in place of me.

Roasting really does not interest me as much. I have some pretty serious brand loyalty to Saka since I did my barista certification with them and are the primary supplier for my most frequented bar. I like to support them when possible.
-Ryan
Using a spice grinder violates the Geneva Convention
LMWDP #612

CafelatStore: home of Cafelat products online
Sponsored by CafelatStore
User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#3: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Ryan, I'm enjoying your restoration posts of commercial levers. I'm sure they'll be useful as reference for others.

Also, isn't one of your steps your certification as a barista in Italy?
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
Brewzologist
Supporter ♡

#4: Post by Brewzologist »

I got into coffee by working nights in an intensive care unit as it's the lifeblood of many night shift workers. Various discussions would ensue about how people drank their coffee and what was best. I moved from charbucks style roasts with milk to lighter, tastier black roasts, while some remained dedicated espresso-heads. Then around 2009 a few intensivists I worked with were talking about roasting their own coffee using popcorn poppers. I played and progressed with electric roasting for years but never found nirvana with them. Around 2016 I decided I either needed to step up my roasting game or find a good local roaster to buy from. Hence the move to my Huky and I've been very happy with the results. I've always been mostly a pour-over guy; from Clevers to Kalitas to V60's. While I've long had a pump espresso machine I pull out for guests to make milk drinks it was never really my daily driver. Then this year I discovered the simplicity of the manual lever which I love and now enjoy an espresso or Americano in the afternoon every day.

From here I think I've plateaued for awhile. I am mostly interested in roasting unique coffees with my tricked-out Huky. I'd like to learn more about tasting but frankly my old leather tongue just isn't that discerning. I like engaging here on HB and elsewhere with folks interested in good coffee. And I agree with Gary that coffee is a respite from a crazy world; it's a ritual I'll never give up for just that reason.

P.S. There is a parallel story here, which is that I've brewed beer for a long time. Think coffee can be complex and time consuming? Try beer! But that desire for savoring a good beer led me to a similar interest in coffee. And whiskey.

P.P.S. For those of you looking for a home for your display pieces I am happy to be interviewed. I should have at least one after all...

User avatar
IamOiman

#5: Post by IamOiman »

drgary wrote: Also, isn't one of your steps your certification as a barista in Italy?
Yes, forgot to add that until now.
-Ryan
Using a spice grinder violates the Geneva Convention
LMWDP #612

drH
Supporter ♡

#6: Post by drH »

I love the idea of this thread.
I grew up in a household where Folgers and Maxwell House were the daily cuppa, and I disliked coffee until later in high school when I was introduced to freshly ground/brewed coffee. First was Dunkin Donuts, which I loved at the time, and then Starbucks, which I credit with giving me my first experience of what really tasty coffee can be [Don't laugh... at that time in my life Starbucks really led the vanguard for what high quality coffee was in the USA; at least for me].

When I started graduate school I wanted to be able to make espresso myself and bought a Gaggia Classic with Baratza Grinder. I had no idea how to make espresso. I didn't have scales or timers, didn't understand the importance of brew temperature or pressure, didn't move much beyond Illy, and didn't realize that you needed to finesse a machine like the Gaggia to get the best results. So I was content with pretty bad espresso for a long time.

Eventually I decided to invest in a prosumer machine, the E61 ECM Classika, and this was a revelation. The Classika held temperature perfectly, and I had a good grinder. (Eureka Mignon) With hindsight I realize that I didn't learn much with the Classika because it was possible to get reasonably good shots with fresh beans and no skill.

Like many others I began to get interested in lever machines and eventually picked up a Cremina. Finally, with a fully manual system, and no crutch to control temperature, I bought a scale, started single dosing, weighing output, and measuring group temp. It has really only been over the last year that I've begun to really understand (and read deeply about) espresso extraction and how to adjust my methods for taste or to overcome a challenging coffee. This excitement led me to acquire an Olympia Maximatic so I can experiment with the HX flush and compare the results and workflow to the Cremina.

I'm still firmly in the "collecting" phase, where I'm very interested to know what it would be like to use a big spring lever machine, and how that compares to a stable rotary pump setup like a Linea Mini. I think once this curiosity is satisfied I'd like to eventually settle down to just a few core instruments that I know well.

Overall, as a scientist who stares at screens and data all day, I prefer the analog simplicity of lever machines and other well-crafted equipment (I'd say that the LMLM and Londinium would also fall into this category, among many others). I'm always excited to find ways to share this hobby and learn from others.

Of course, roasting sounds like an exciting next step, but I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet. I love the idea that it is possible to directly compare various origins, learn how roast profile changes the flavor, and maybe eventually make some of my own blends to share with others.

Bak Ta Lo
Supporter ♡

#7: Post by Bak Ta Lo »

drgary wrote:
That's my story so far. Where has your hobby taken you?
10 years ago I had an espresso in a little shop in Oklahoma City that blew my mind and set me off on a life changing journey. Shortly after that espresso, I ended up living in Macau SAR, China. This geographic right turn in my life coincided with the local coffee culture just emerging. I was desperate for a coffee like the one I had tasted back in OKC and met the future superstars of the Macau and Hong Kong coffee world. Around this time found Home-Barista.com and found my people, the community here gave me a connection to home as well that was life saving. Jim S's review of the Strega led me to get my first espresso machine, that I fed a steady diet of beans ground up on one of the original Pharos hand grinders. Passion turned to crazy and I quit my IT job to open an coffee shop in the local university, earned my SCAE Barista trainer certification, traveled to the WBC in Vienna, and then again in London to learn more about the industry. My life had turned all coffee all the time! I later became the proud owner of my beloved Cremina, a Londinium, Monolith grinder, coffee roasters, and more accessories than my house could hold. Another career change later when family meant I needed more money, and a global pandemic that chased us all back to living back in my adopted USA home of Las Vegas. Now looking back on these past ten years since that first godshot, I realize it what I have most enjoyed about the coffee world is all the friends I have made coffee with, talked coffee with, and shared the passion and joy of good coffee all over the world. And of course meeting you here Gary was an honor, one of the true gentlemen of the coffee world, and learned a lot from your writing.

The sudden move back to the USA during Covid19 and a job changed forced me to leave most all my coffee gear in Macau, I just packed my 110v Cremina in my suitcase and left the rest to my friends, as it was all 220V. I now run my little white Niche and Cremina in a corner of my kitchen, my upgraditis somewhere in the back of my mind, hmmm, how about that new Monolith, how about getting a new machine? Not sure if any new gear will come my way here, but sure I hope the friends and coffee keep coming.
LMWDP #371

Aida Battle: Indigo Reserve from world renowned Finca Kilimanjaro in El Salvador
Sponsored by Aida Battle
User avatar
baldheadracing
Supporter ♡

#8: Post by baldheadracing »

My espresso journey:
  • I grew up in a neighbourhood that was at least 1/3rd Italian post-WWII immigrants. Growing up in the '60's and '70's, the "Smoke shop/cigar store" (7-11 these days) had a Faema. The local bowling alley had a Faema. The neighbourhood restaurant had a Faema. Nobody called the machine an "espresso machine" or a "coffee machine," it was a "Faema." Some of my friends' parents even had "Faema's" at home. Even today, the largest espresso machine store/chain in Toronto is called ... you guessed it: 'Faema" https://www.faema.ca/ (although they're a Rocket shop now, and sell mostly super-autos)
  • I moved to Canada's capital after school; I lived near another Italian neighbourhood, but Rancilio was everywhere. Some of the places even had weird-to-me-at-the-time Rancilios with levers sticking out of them. Lavazza was common, but I liked the coffee from the one place that served illy - as illy didn't need sugar to be palatable. I eventually bought a Bialetti Cafe Concerto. (It isn't a Moka pot.) The machine looked good, but used a pressurized basket. I drank illy pre-ground. The machine broke after a few weeks and the store didn't have another one and I didn't want to pay to upgrade to a FrancisFrancis, so I ...
  • found a used Rancilio home machine in the classifieds (remember when newspapers had classified ads?) and ended up with a Silvia v1. Pre-ground illy wasn't working so well in the Silvia. I looked around for a Rancilio grinder, but found coffeegeek.com, where a grinder called the Baratza Vario was making waves. I spent what I thought at the time was a ridiculous amount of money for a coffee grinder; and started buying beans from local (Italian) roasters who boasted about their secret blends with a dozen different origins in them. Endless hours were spent attempting temperature-surfing, but then I ...
  • took a commercial barista workshop in Toronto (http://zuccarini.ca/), and discovered that it is much, much, MUCH easier to make espresso and steam milk on a big honkin' commerical multi-group Nuova Simonelli compared to Miss Silvia. After that, I was struck with upgrade-itis, and looked at E-61 HX's at the local Ottawa espresso store (https://moralatrading.com/). However, given the beans that I was using at the time, there wasn't much difference between a Silvia and an E-61 in the cup. I also didn't like the look of elephant-snout chrome boxes - but D*MN, those Kees van der Westen machines in the showroom were amazing. (Morala is the Canadian Kees distributor.)
  • I did add a PID to the Silvia, but then I picked up a used Elektra Micro Casa a Leva on Coffeegeek, and became hooked on lever machines. Subsequently, a used Strega from Abnuceals here joined the MCaL. At the time, I thought that the Stega would be the last and only espresso machine that I'd ever want or need.
  • On Home-Barista, I discovered Orphan Espresso, and bought a Pharos. The Pharos replaced an HG-One. Even now, I use hand grinders for espresso, although I now use the Alicorn for lighter roasts. My Nuova Simonelli MDX hasn't been used for years, although sometimes I'm nostalgic about thwacking the doser, and Scotty Callaghan dosing tools.
  • The really deep dive started when I picked up a used iRoast2 on Coffeegeek. While there are five "M's" to espresso, I came to realize that the beans are the most important - everything can only go downhill from the picked cherry - and that traditional espresso is about extracting the most caffeine out of commodity beans.
  • Somehow, I discovered that ciel-007 and I shared a lot of co-workers and projects, albeit at different times. I picked up his super-modified reverse-air-flow Hottop, and subsequently his Bella Taiwan XJ-101. As with espresso machines, I found that a big honkin' commercial coffee roaster is much, much, MUCH easier to get great results from compared to my home roasting machines.
  • Recently, I got a promo from http://zuccarini.ca/ for the new Eagle Prima One and Elektra Verve. In real life, the Eagle is a beauty; the Verve ... well, Elektra was always known for stunning machines, but I think that the Verve looks awful beside the Eagle (and a Nivola brew boiler ... really?) Also in the promo were various other machines, including a refurbished Elektra Micro Casa Semiautomatica Art Deco. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what the specs are, or how impractical the machine is, or how old the technology is, or even that the pressurestat failed on the first day (warrantied) ... the espresso is going to be exceptional, just as the tagline for Home-Barista says.
Thanks for reading. It's been quite a journey.
What I'm interested in is my worst espresso being fantastic - James Hoffmann

ojt

#9: Post by ojt »

I am from a country with one of the highest per capita coffee consumption, Finland, so I was always "into coffee". Beware of the finnish older people offering you coffee, you might be overwhelmed.

Anyway, my family travelled quite a bit so I somehow caught an interest in stronger coffee and darker roasts at quite an early age, when in Finland one would mostly drink fairly light roast and brewed either with a drip machine or more traditionally steeped in a pot. This interest lead me to get a moka pot, a Bialetti Express. Then I went on using that for perhaps 15 years or so, perhaps more. Also had a percolator but wasn't really happy with that.

My parents also used to have all sorts of super auto espresso machines and blade grinders and whatnot so I had an idea about espresso. The real interest in espresso though came after a couple of visita in Italy, and many many trips in Spain where they often would brew something similar.

For some reason lever machines, and more specifically the Pavoni, caught my eye at some point. I think this was in the late 2000s but can't remember for sure. I just remember scouring the internet for info, including home-barista, and even preparing myself mentally for puck prep and temperature management. I didn't really have space for one though so I decided whenever I'll have my own house / apartment I'll get one.

Well, a couple years ago I finally did get one and was almost immediately sucked down the third wave / light roast specialty coffee rabbit hole. Still going down that hole but have added manual filter cone and frenchpress to the arsenal, and some strange italian coffee makers too :)

Thanks for the thread!
Osku

mdmvrockford
Supporter ♡

#10: Post by mdmvrockford »

Thank you drgary for starting this post. Since work issues have eased up and I am on lookout for replacement equipment (see end) I have more time to focus back on non-work/hobbies.

My coffee journey started with smelling my mother's TNTC daily instant (e.g. Folgers) coffees when I was growing up. As a child I thought the aromas were great. She mainly viewed coffee as commodity (i.e. pick-me-up and not for taste enjoyment). My father has been a lifelong oenophile and going to great Mobil-guide rated restaurants in USA with his business educational travels (no internet education then) introduced me to great food and flavors.

University life introduced me to need for caffeine and I wanted natural source. In 1990 Starbucks my university town's Starbucks had pretty good straight espresso (IIRC one of only seven standalone in entire metro area). I did not know manufacturers then. To best of my recollection now the grinder was Mazzer Super Jolly or Mazzer Major (or was it Robur). The machine was multi-group LaMarzocco. I don't drink milk then and now. Starbucks had free great informational pictoral pamplets on espresso and its milk drinks and bean origins. I still have those to this day. I noticed caffeine did not greatly affect me unless I consumed at least 3 double shots. And given university finances, I thus did not go to Starbucks often. I never liked brew coffee (tastes like flavored water) nor tea (tastes like even weaker flavored but too expensive water):(

For professional school and then professional apprenticeship (aka internship and residency) I still drank espresso from Starbucks. But as some independent cafes popped up I would try to go to those.

Once I started my job full time (aka became an attending) I had multiple meetings with a barista who brought their coffee cart into the hospital I was on staff at. They were paid by that hospital to serve milk drinks (e.g. cappuccinos and lattes) to staff in hospital. Their machine was heat exchanger (I cannot recall brand) and grinder was Mazzer Major IIRC. I requested my usual straight espresso and when customer line was just me, we would talk. They told me how Starbucks had become industrialized etc and their keys for exceptional coffee.

Once I paid off my student expenses and actually had some responsible discretionary funds, I began seeking out my first home espresso machine and grinder ~ 2005. The choices available then is nothing like choices available now. I wanted Mazzer Super Jolly or Major but that was no-go with spouse due to its size. So my first espresso grinder was Rancilio Rocky (doserless). And besides I thought I should get machine that spouse may use too. Then I also did not realize how important the grinder was for exceptional espresso. Live and learn.... My first espresso machine was Saeco Incanto Sirius (?spelling); it is a super automatic. I bought it from Williams and Sonoma (who then had lifetime return policy). I noticed the espresso was not enjoyable at all using its built in grinder. Luckily there was bypass chamber so that pre ground beans (using the Rocky) could be brewed in this superautomatic. I thought I was BMOC until going on coffeegeek.com and then realizing my setup for espresso quality was lacking.

In 2009, more online research lead me to home-barista.com. I chose my 2nd espresso machine QuickMill Alexia with PID and 2nd grinder Mazzer Super Jolly with doser. I returned the Saeco superautomatic (with pristine original box and foam) to Williams and Sonoma to help fund the new equipment. Various tweaks to the Alexia (e.g. VST portafilter basket, bottomless portafilter, WDT and consistent puck preparation) ensued. Then I started to attend home-barista.com local get-togethers and my "coffee eyes" really opened up. I think first meeting was in 2013. I do remember it was in a very affluent Chicagoland suburb and host's home was beautiful and spacious (and his Lotus coupe had a dead battery:( ). This was my first meeting with two TeamHB (moderators) (one of whom since left). This was also my first face-to-face introduction to other home-barista members. Heck, I left that first HB get together with a Compak K10 ProBarista on loan (with promise to return to its owner). That grinder really opened my "espresso eyes." Also then the predominant # of posts on home-barista grinders focused on conical burrs. The generosity of that person is just one example of great people I have met at the Chicago-Milwaukee HB get togethers. Yes, I did return the K10. And as thank you to its owner I cleaned it, polished its exposed chrome and carnauba waxed the black paint. I used obtained brew-coffee information for spouse (who does not like espresso). I soak up and applied the espresso knowledge. I continue to do ao reading these forums.

Spouse would not approve of Compak K10 ProBarista (in addition to keeping existing Mazzer Super Jolly) so on the lookout I went for smaller alternative conical burr grinder. This led me into the world of hand grinders. My first hand grinder was Orphan Espresso Pharos. I have one of the last of the numbered ones. I was too late to get the "voodoodaddy" mods. IMO for grinder performance most important mod was the metal bolt covers. So searching HB, I met yet another great member who fabricated some metal bolt covers. This was before Orphan Espresso offered them separately and "voodoodaddy" had prior sold out. Then in 2015 at Chicago-Milwaukee meeting I hosted, I decided to become LMWDP card-carrying member: I purchased a vintage Cremina from fellow HB member. Later espresso grinder-wise I wanted more ergonomic and easier effort, aligned Titan conical grinder. I kept losing the Kafatek lottery so I got lucky and found used Helor Flux/106 (71mm conical burr) in Spring 2019 . Due to other circumstances I could not responsibly afford a hyper-aligned Titan flat (like EG-1 or Monolith). So I found used SSP Red Speed high uniformity (64mm flat) and had it installed and the Super Jolly aligned last year.

As drgary alluded to in his OP, the people one meets on HB are one of cherished aspects of this hobby. As one regular Chicago-Milwaukee HB get-together member stated, we sometimes even talk about coffee and espresso:) These meetings also have broadened my world of fine food, cheese, chocolate, Scotches and also non-consumable items. At time of joining home-barista.com in 2009 I frequented Michelin-rated restaurants. So in addition to childhood exposure to quality restaurants, I still had exposure to great food. Now since late 2018, I started home cooking. I would have laughed before late 2018 if you ask me to make a classic French omelette with baveuse interior. Appreciating great coffee and espresso is also appreciating great edible items. It is great tastes we are seeking.

Also like drgary alluded to in his OP, I have become "equipment agnostic" and I focus on bean origin and blends. I am content espresso and brew coffee equipment wise: E61 with PID of boiler temperature (mainly used as steamer but also when I want triple ristretto 22 grams bean with >70% brew ratio) and manual lever. For regular brew there is Clever Coffee Dripper and French Press. Grinders for espresso are as listed above. Regular brew grinder are Helor 101 (aligned, conventional burr) and spouse uses the Rocky. Right now too many hobbies and too little time make me not pursue home roasting. I spend most ofmy free time improving my home cooking. Also bare minimum roasting equipment is not approved by spouse (equipment to easily and consistently roast >250grams). When I retire and if I responsible discretionary funds then I will likely home roast.

Recently I am back more on home-barista.com as work is more stable. Also I gifted the Cremina and Super Jolly to my son as his main university graduation gift. He will take both when he soon moves out. So I am on lookout for replacement for both. Considerations include used Steitman CT1 (or combination of used Robot Barista + Portapresso Rosco HC-P + Stagg PID kettle that would double as travel espresso maker) and used Monolith Flat (vs. used Mazzer Major with SSP burrs and alignment). I also can add flow control E61 modification to the Alexia to buy me some more time in looking for pressure/flow profiling Cremina replacement. The number of choices for aligned Titan-level flat burr grinders has greatly increased since 2009. But since my preference has remained medium to dark roasted beans, I don't have pressing need for an uber-aligned flat burr Titan grinder. I follow tips I learned on home-barista and through my own experience to tame the ultra-light roast (e.g. Agtron >80).

So in summary, this is an enjoyable journey that will continue with my other gustatory hobbies.
LMWDP #568