Any Questions to Ask Chris Cara?

A haven dedicated to manual espresso machine aficionados.
User avatar
drgary
Team HB

#1: Post by drgary »

Hello All:

I'm going to visit Chris Cara at Thomas E. Cara, Ltd. in San Francisco. Chris specializes in La Pavoni and in lever machines in general, and most of you probably know that his dad was the first to import a La Pavoni machine to the West Coast in 1946. Chris also sells a traditional espresso blend that some people love and others don't. The back of his store has lots of non-functioning collector's items. Do you have any questions you want me to ask Chris when I visit?
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

garth breaks

#2: Post by garth breaks »

Ask him why he (allegedly) has his hate on for lever enthusiasts.

User avatar
drgary
Team HB

#3: Post by drgary »

Really? His shop is dedicated to lever machines and the repair of them. Also another lever enthusiast on a different thread I was participating in is happily looking forward to getting Chris's help taking the spring out of his lever machine for more nuanced control. Another knowledgeable person describes him as a nationally known coffee expert. Since I'm just discovering this whole scene, can you write more about the apparent gripe you're voicing?
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
mikekarr

#4: Post by mikekarr »

Seriously, Chris has been nothing but helpful through the multitude of calls I've made regarding a Riviera Baby Lusso I was working on. I must have spent two hours or more on the phone with him about it. I will say he's not a fan of the Graziella/Marcfi machine I'm using, but I'd say he really cares about levers and making things run right.
LMWDP #235

garth breaks

#5: Post by garth breaks »

I've never met him, though I've walked past his shop while in SF and must say it looks amazing. I'm curious to know his thoughts on leverheads because a lot of posts on this forum have painted him in a less than favorable light (below are a few).


San Francisco Bay Area Lever fans (LMWDP)
the only serious lever store in town is Thomas Cara, Ltd. near North Beach. I should warn you though, that Christopher (who actually runs the shop) takes a dim view of the sort of detail-obsessed fanatics who frequent online forums like this one!
Olympic Cremina Repair Services?
I saw a mention of sending your Olympia Cremina to Thomas Cara for repairs on the West Coast. I spoke with Christopher today, and he prefers not to work on these machines (long story, not worth others bugging him for it).
Info needed on 'La Cara'
I also spoke to Chris Cara earlier today-he was very helpful, yet simultaneously condescending (asked how old I was at one point?).
Need gaskets and seals for an old Riviera lever machine
I have already spoken with Chris at Thomas Cara. They no longer have any sources for the Riviera machines and will not accept them for repairs.

User avatar
drgary
Team HB

#6: Post by drgary »

Thanks for clarifying. Having chatted with him for a half hour the other day, I get the sense he's a character with definite opinions about his craft. I don't think it's a hatred of lever enthusiasts but maybe about fussiness, or, he may have preferences over what he will or won't carry or repair. Rather than speak for someone I've only visited with briefly, I'll be interested to find out his take on such things and how he developed those preferences, "right or wrong." When I first entered the shop and he didn't know me at all, I noticed several high-end E61 machines in his shop. That surprised me. When I mentioned I was acquiring an Isomac Amica, he was quick to say he doesn't repair them. But when he saw I was generally interested in him and his shop in an appreciative way he warmed up, relaxed, and welcomed my interest.

Later added thought: Some people have an analytical way of approaching the world; others are more feeling/intuitive/artistic. These aren't mutually exclusive, of course. But Chris said a couple of things to me that suggest the latter way of approaching espresso. He told a story from his father of a man who falls in love with espresso in Italy. So he gets the beans and gives them a try and it doesn't come out right. Then he gets the water just right. It's still no good. So his father says "what's missing is the romance you felt when you were there!" Chris also said that when some people ask him how to pull a shot he responds, "I don't know. It's in my blood." This doesn't mean of course he doesn't have lots of know-how, since he's lived espresso since childhood and obviously loves what he does. So to learn from him adequately, I'd like to let him tell me what he wants to about the art of espresso, which he's likely to do in figurative ways that will provide clues for those who are more analytical, and it may come out as opinions about current trends versus what he does. And if I want to learn from him how to pull a shot, I should probably watch him do it and ask about what I've just observed. Hypothetically someone like him may explain it to me or watch me while I try and offer suggestions because the words about something that's felt and sensed through long experience may be hard to conjure.
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
orphanespresso

#7: Post by orphanespresso »

We have often marveled at the entire idea of being the 'first importer of home espresso machines', after all, when Thomas Cara started, they were all lever machines. The rebranding and copying designs, for the various La Cara lines was truly brilliant, too bad it didn't work over the long run, and too bad they won't work on, or carry parts for the machines they were originally responsible for bringing to the market. But, that kind of thing has opened the niche for people like us, so we can't be too sorry about it! There must be a fascinating story there - the contacts, manufacturers, how it all came about - the intrigue of the Spanish manufacture of the various La Pavoni clones at the time, we do wish Chris would write the story so we could read it!

User avatar
drgary
Team HB

#8: Post by drgary »

Thanks, Doug! I'll be sure to ask about that history.
Gary
LMWDP#308

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

CoffeeOwl

#9: Post by CoffeeOwl »

I wish very much someone started manufatcuring simple lever machines like Caravel and La Peppina. Soon there will be none left second hand. Maybe that's a good question to ask - why nobody does it yet.
'a a ha sha sa ma!


LMWDP #199

User avatar
doubleOsoul
Supporter ♡

#10: Post by doubleOsoul »

I went to the shop about the month ago. I loved it. Yes, he was crisp but I hadn't called first and he had a ton on his plate - clearly. He softened up a tiny bit once he understood my exuberance at being there. I made it known I appreciate meticulous craftsmanship because that's what he's about.
The shop is a must see. It was beautiful and I've added a photo to testify.
I'm kinda used to the brush off anyway. I had to deal with the 'boys' clubs when I was publishing a blues magazine and I get it with the espresso clubs too (unless my latest acquisition is smokin' hot).
C'est la vie.
Image