More signs of ECD (espresso-compulsive disorder)

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

Steve turned me onto a nice beach house that we're renting this week and next on Oak Island, North Carolina. The beach is across the street, huge deck for outside dining and several loft views of the ocean. He describes this to me and I listen intently. Guess what my first question was?
  • "Are there any good cafes nearby?"
He mentions a place called The Flying Pig that's not far and has high-speed Internet access. I was wary in the same way you would be if a friend replies "She's really a good dancer" to the question "Is she pretty?" when asked about your potential blind date. His final answer was that I'd have to decide for myself. Dial-up Internet access and the Elektra Microcasa a Leva / Mazzer Mini seemed more and more attractive. And anyway, I've always been curious how well HB performs for the non-broadband crowd (overall it's pretty zippy, except for loading photos; some of the Bench threads really tax the phone line).

Luggage space is always an issue when we travel. And yet my wife hasn't forced me to jettison my espresso equipment. This year was not as nutsy as last year's beach trip when I brought two espresso machines (PID'd Isomac Amica and the Microcasa). I wanted some quality testing time and it seemed the ideal opportunity to me. What's some rolling eyes from your spouse and lugging 120 pounds of equipment up three flights of stairs (no elevator) for a few great shots? Nothing wrong with that, right? Right?!?

Below is my Microcasa when she's waiting for the weekend or the next road trip:


If you want a travel machine, this isn't a great choice and doubly-so if you buy the travel case as I did. The case is designed to withstand harsh treatment; together they weigh over 40 pounds. Either keep the very nice custom cardboard box the Microcasa arrives in, or consider a lighter machine like a La Pavoni, or maybe even the modified Presso. But hey, I've got it, so I'm using it:


This was the first shot out of the gate. The grinder was last set for the Elektra A3 and the beans were fresher. A quick mental calculation figuring that it should be coarser for fresher beans plus the falling pressure profile of the Microcasa... and nice drippy slow pour. Ristrettos from this setup are super sweet, intense, and usually bursting with chocolates. This particular espresso had all those characteristics, except the finish was marred with a teenie bitterness. Still very nice though.

Espresso done, how about a quick cappuccino? This little beaute is my favorite steamer. The volume, velocity, and angle are simply ideal. As an aside, because of this I had great expectations for the Microcasa's bigger sibling, the Elektra A3. No disappointment there--the A3's my favorite "big steamer" with its hyper-fast pace and nearly effortless microfoam. Both of these Elektras are quick, which I believe contributes an extra sweetness. Back to preparing my drink:
  • "Uh oh. Forgot the cappuccino cups." :?
Rental properties are renowned for their sparse kitchen accompaniments, but this one is pretty plush. But not a single bowl-shaped cup. Shelves and shelves of mugs. Tall mugs. Wide mugs. Plain mugs. Logo'd mugs. Mugs, mugs, and more mugs. The chances of finding one that even fit underneath the portafilter looked bleak. OK, time to think "out of the box."

Glassware maybe? Never tried a cappuccino in a wine glass. No, the heat might crack it and the angle is severe. How about these tumblers? I grabbed the smallest one (eight ounces) and pulled a long double ristretto. Being on vacation, why not something a little different like a monkhead? As it turns out, using glassware was a moment of serendipity: I was rewarded with what looked like a cascade of delightful cinnamon along the sides as the layers of microfoam separated. Sipped away on the deck and looked out over the ocean.

And thought about my next session with Elektra tomorrow...
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#2: Post by HB (original poster) »

Last night we headed to Wilmington to check out the Children's Museum (recommended) and have dinner. Dining en famille is always a challenge with young ones, so we arrived long before the dinner rush. The staff was friendly and efficient, even though our waiter clearly has no kids (e.g., places knives within the reach of a four year old, no tops on their drinks, etc). All and all a decent dinner.

A centerpiece of the restaurant is the bar area and behind it a three group La Cimbali. Last year I visited this same establishment and noticed a placard declaring that they served Counter Culture Coffee. My temptation to order an espresso was immediately squelched by the universal red flag: Portafilters neatly stacked on top of the machine, not in the group. But this time around the portafilters are ready to go.

I think to myself, "Should I risk it?"

I introduce myself to the bartender / barista and mention that I'm from the same area as the roaster who supplies their coffee. He didn't know who that might be, but acknowledged my comment in a friendly way. I asked him to make me one of his best espressos. The first attempt was a thin, watery, blistering-hot 10 second extraction of three ounces. He heard my gasp and didn't offer it to me. I really was in the mood for a good espresso, so I asked him if he would mind if I have a go at it (nobody was at the bar and there was only one or two tables other than ours).

Oh my, I feel for the folks at Counter Culture Coffee. It must sting to have your product abused in this manner. The grinder setting was appropriate for French press. No tamper other than the grinder's appendage. Doser 1/4 full of yesterday's grinds (to his credit, he emptied it without hesitation when asked). Steam tips clogged and unmentionable buildup; I suspect cleaning was comprised of wiping the driptray nightly. The barista was unaware that a cooling flush was required; he mentioned that he did time at Starbucks before this gig. Maybe he was used to their La Marzoccos? Or their super-autos?

The barista and manager assured me the coffee was fresh (looked like CCC's La Forza blend). After more than six attempts, the first drinkable shot approached what I would expect from an average Starbucks. Figuring that a cappuccino with lots of milk might salvage the drink, we had a go with their huge 32 ounce bell-shaped pitcher. Nothing but big a** bubbles (BABs). One sip and into the sink. Another vote for the super-autos.

My family had cleared the place and headed for ice cream by this time. I said my farewells, thanked them for their indulgence, and dashed out to join them. One scoop of cappuccino chip in a cup please...
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#3: Post by HB (original poster) »

Steve should have warned me about The Flying Pig. I swung by the day before yesterday around 7:30am but the shop was closed, despite the posted opening of 6am. Two regulars were lingering outside (biker type and an older gentlemen). "They're closed. They will probably open later," the elder suggested. The side door leading to the terrace was ajar; I didn't pry further.

Today I returned around 8:30am with the kids in tow. The same two guys were lounging on the bench in front. Harley guy joked about my car full of boys. We headed inside and were greeted by the music of a dulcimer and hand drum played by a man and woman donning Flying Pig T-shirts. Very cool in a New Age sort of way. The interior had an eclectic feel to it; the lady behind the counter was stirring a pitcher of steamed milk in an unhurried manner.

When I check out a cafe, I usually order two drinks: One espresso, one cappuccino. The first drink to judge their coffee au naturel, the second to act as a chaser should the former leave a bad taste in my mouth. Sadly a "rinse drink" is necessary more often than I care to recall, and today was one of those days. The purported espresso was three ounces of ashy flavored brown water. Describing the cappuccino as marginally drinkable would be kind. Starbucks has nothing to fear from this independent cafe.

That scary thought keeps returning to me: For travelers in these parts, super-autos are a welcome sight. :(

PS: Steve informs me that this establishment is the town's "cultural epicenter." Considering the abbreviation for this area is OINC (Oak Island North Carolina), it seems oddly appropriate.
Dan Kehn

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HB (original poster)

#4: Post by HB (original poster) »

A year later and we're back at Oak Island and the same beach house. This time I have the Olympia Cremina from 1st-line that Steve is evaluating along for two weeks instead of the Microcasa. I thought of writing a series Two weeks with the Olympia Cremina similar to the GS3 thread, but that requires a lot of thought, more thought than I can justify on vacation. Maybe a few words for the Lever boys...

Tonight I made a late night espresso and macchiato. Prior to packing up yesterday, I spent a week practicing with the Cremina so it wouldn't be all new to me on vacation. Must admit to liking the all-manual aspect, especially with respect to crema volume. Overall the espressos were solid, thanks to Steve's private lessons a month back. Still, I only had a couple one pull doubles that he does with ease (you know, the one where one pull fills to 1.5+ ounces). Tonight I switched to Black Cat and guessed at the grind - super super tight. The first espresso was a workout, but still enjoyable. The second, which I tasted then added milk, was smoother and the volume was closer to the volume I wanted (double ristretto). It's an easy machine to steam with and I love the quick startup time - 10 minutes from power up to first pull.

No high speed access at this locale, I'm spoofing from my neighbors. The connectivity is dicey. For best reception, I have to perch my laptop on the edge of the balcony railing. You'll know it went over if you don't see me online until I get back. ;-)
Dan Kehn

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#5: Post by srobinson »

I'll have to get you a bungee cord for it.
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

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#6: Post by woodchuck »

Dan, its often hard to find a spot to chill out and do a little web surfing at the same time.



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HB (original poster)

#7: Post by HB (original poster) »

I was reminded of this thread as once again we spend our summer vacation at Oak Island. My sister and niece spent the first couple days with us and she did pass by the famous Flying Pig cafe, despite my warnings. She said her drink was tasty and she liked the atmosphere. Maybe I'll give them a second try.

This time I didn't go manual, opting instead to bring along the Elektra Semiautomatica and Mazzer Super Jolly. We were in such a rush to get out the door, I didn't even box it up... just wrapped it in layers of beach towels and strapped it into a car seat. Somehow it seemed appropriate. Setup at the beach house was a snap since the Semiautomatica clears the kitchen cabinets if I leave off the domed lid. There's room right next to the sink, which is more convenience than its usual sinkless location in my home office.

I brought along several coffees to enjoy: PT's Bella Vita, Paradise Roasters Classico, Intelligentsia Black Cat, and a sample of Counter Culture Coffee's Esmeralda Special microlot. Mornings have begun with the Esmeralda; I found that it's more fussy about grind setting than other coffees, so results have varied from "ho boy!" to "ho hum". The best cups could be described as 'juicy coffee'; a real treat to be savored slowly. Espresso has been no fuss with familiar equipment and absolutely no consideration for testing. Ah, that's a nice change. :D
Dan Kehn


#8: Post by CoffeeOwl »

I didn't even box it up... just wrapped it in layers of beach towels and strapped it into a car seat.
Dan, do you have a sticker 'Attention! Coffee Machine in Car' on your backglass? :D
If you want a travel machine,
I'm just waiting for my Caravel to appear at my door, bought last days of July on eBay and having some trouble arriving.
'a a ha sha sa ma!

LMWDP #199

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#9: Post by peacecup »

That's because the Italians all take off for vacation for the month of August.
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."