Why crema enhancing filters...

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

#1: Post by jsy »

I realize this site is perhaps a loaded place to ask this sort of question, but does anyone know why manufacturers came up with those dual-walled "crema-enhancing" filters? I had a machine with that type of filter for about a year, and basically no matter what I did with the coffee (old beans, coarse grind, etc), the cup would always come out with a tan layer of bland-tasting fizzy bubbles on top. I've realized in the 3 short weeks since I bought a good grinder and a lever machine that the "enhanced crema" is nothing like the flavorful stuff I get when I use the new machines properly. My impression is that it's a marketing ploy (ie, let people who don't really want to take a lot of time to learn what they're doing make something that looks like it "should"), but it's an especially unfortunate one, because its biggest effect is to make it nearly impossible to get much better at making good-tasting espresso with the machine. If the bubbles show up no matter what happens with beans or grind, you can't systematically improve technique (and thus flavor).

I think this is a big shame, because many of the machines on sale at department stores have this feature/drawback, and it would be much nicer to sell a machine that rewarded good technique with good appearance and flavor than to leave people thinking "enhanced crema" is part of what makes espresso better than drip coffee.

I also wasted a lot of time thinking "real crema" would be too hard to get without a huge time investment, though I've found that isn't true either with a decent set of machines. When I first thought about getting an espresso machine, I thought sites like this one might be intimidating and not worthwhile, but what I ended up learning is that it doesn't make much sense to put the time and money into making mediocre espresso with a machine that hurts the learning process more than it helps.

Jake
LMWDP #172

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HB
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#2: Post by HB »

jsy wrote:...does anyone know why manufacturers came up with those dual-walled "crema-enhancing" filters?
Good question. There's been a lot of discussion of what a pressurized portafilter is, but not much about "why".

The majority of entry-level espresso machine buyers use stale coffee and poor quality grinders (blade grinders or pseudo-burr grinders). In fact, a pressurized portafilter basket will do a better job of producing something drinkable from stale coffee than a traditional basket. Marketing types who advise those designing entry-level equipment have their eye on producing something that looks like the picture on the front of the box when the consumer pushes the button. The pressurized portafilter may generate fake aerated crema, but it prevents a complete blowout extraction.

To use an analogy, the crema enhancer is the "Wiffle Ball" of espresso machines. Easy for the novice hit, but they don't go very far. I don't blame the manufacturers for promoting them.
Dan Kehn

Beezer

#3: Post by Beezer »

I think Dan's right. Crema enhancers make it easy to get something resembling crema without having to spend money on a good grinder or fresh beans, which companies realize most people won't bother to do. So pressurized baskets make some sense for lower priced machines.

However, I wish more companies would make the crema enhancer optional by providing both pressurized baskets and non pressurized baskets with the machine. Then the directions could explain the difference and let the consumer decide which one he or she wants to use. Gaggia machines used to come with a crema enhancing rubber disc that fits under the traditional, non pressurized basket. If you don't want to have your crema "enhanced", you could just leave the disc out and brew espresso the old fashioned way. I think that's the best compromise.
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cannonfodder
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#4: Post by cannonfodder »

Including both kinds of baskets would push the price point up several dollars. While that does not sound like much but you are talking about the most entry level of machines. In that market, price drives the purchase, not quality. A 10 dollar difference is enough to drive many purchasers to the lower priced, non second portafilter machine (just guessing on the price difference). It is about sales, not quality.
Dave Stephens

Beezer

#5: Post by Beezer »

But I've seen some machines costing as much as $400 with crema enhancing PF's, like the Breville 800. The Solis SL-70 and SL-90 also have crema enhancers, even though they're otherwise pretty nice machines. It seems to me if you're going to charge that much money for an espresso machine, you should at least allow for the possibility that the buyer is going to want to use a proper grinder and fresh beans. And if Gaggia can include an optional rubber disc for a $200 machine, why can't other companies do the same? Surely a piece of rubber can't cost more than a few cents.
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cannonfodder
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#6: Post by cannonfodder »

You got me there, I do not know. Maybe the manufacturers do not care or their demographic target market does not care or they just do not know better. I would still put a $400 machine at the entry level range.
Dave Stephens

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HB
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#7: Post by HB »

Beezer wrote:It seems to me if you're going to charge that much money for an espresso machine, you should at least allow for the possibility that the buyer is going to want to use a proper grinder and fresh beans.
Simple. The market demographic we're discussing will in all likelihood not have a decent grinder and will not use fresh coffee. Including a non-pressurized portafilter will increase the number of "not working as expected" returns. It doesn't take many returns to kill the reseller's profit; models with a higher than average return rate don't get restocked.
Dan Kehn

King Seven

#8: Post by King Seven »

I am sure the larger international roasters producing supermarket omni-grind espresso have a bit of sway in this....