The Cremina and The Beginner

A haven dedicated to manual espresso machine aficionados.

#1: Post by choroidalfusion »

Hey all,

I'm a long time lurker on the Lever forum and thought I'd chime in with my experience making espresso at home on a new Cremina. This is not so much a review on the Cremina (As I don't have anything to compare it to), as it is my impressions making espresso for the first time. I'll finish this post with a few questions for all of you who are much more adept at crafting home espresso than I am. My thoughts are fairly disorganized but perhaps this post will be helpful for others who have only brewed filter coffee and are wondering if they should venture into the world of espresso.

About Me
  • I've been home brewing with a Kalita, a Moccamaster, and a Comandante for about 7 yrs
  • I've been resistant to start the home espresso journey because I've historically enjoyed filter coffee much more then espresso. I've had a dozen or so straight espresso shots over the years at reputable third wave shops and have not enjoyed them. The taste was too powerful, or too acidic, or just too acrid. I liked the standard espresso shots ok during a trip to Italy, but it was nothing that I truly aspired to replicate at home.
  • My wife has been desiring espresso based drinks at home for some time and had hinted at a Jura fully-auto machine for Christmas. As a home brewer who very much enjoys spending half an hour in the kitchen on the weekends playing with pour-over variables, I knew that something like a lever machine would be much more enjoyable to me.
  • Going with the buy-once, cry-once mentality, I received a Weber Key grinder about six months ago, and then pulled the trigger on a new Olympia Cremina when I saw a small discount from Cerini on Cyber Monday.
  • Olympia Cremina
  • Weber Key
  • Acaia Lunar
  • Bottomless portafilter from creativewerk
  • Wedge distributer and palm tamper from creativewerk
  • Sworksdesign WDT tool
Impressions after my first few weeks of use:
  • This is LOTS of fun! Not sure if it's just the novelty of a new brew method? Not sure if it's the multitude of new variables to tinker with? But I have found myself really relishing the time I spend in the morning on the weekends making espresso.
  • Manually pulling the lever, while watching the liquid pool from the basket and then coalesce into a nice stream is just...XEN
  • How did I pull several shots in a row in the exact same way and some channeled and some didn't? I have so much to learn!
  • Did I mention how much fun a manual lever is?
Unexpected (to me) advantages of espresso vs. brewed coffee
  • I burn though less coffee and water. My standard kalita recipe was 25g/400. I'd brew several times each morning, trying to dial in the extraction. Or I'd brew a half pot or full pot (for guests) on my moccamaster. I use a ZeroWater filter and Third Wave Water. With filter coffee, I felt like I was always making water and running through 12 oz bags of beans at a fairly quick rate. With espresso, I've been pulling 14g/28. The gallon of TWW I make lasts much longer and so do my bags of beans.
  • I feel like espresso making is much more conducive to sampling several different types of beans in the morning. At any given time, I've got a darker roast and maybe a couple different single origins. It's easy to pull 3 or 4 shots and sample each one in the morning. It feels more arduous if I wanted to sample three different roasts by hand pouring them all.
  • The coffee flavor notes are much more prominent with espresso then brewed coffee. I had a Honduran coffee from Coava that was *OK* for filter. There was a "pear" note that was elusive. I pulled it as espresso and wow. The flavor was intense, rich, and yep, there was that pear note. A shot really pulls out those flavors that are sometimes more subtle with brew.
  • I now enjoy a wider range of roast levels. I find that I'm enjoying darker roasts in a way that I have not before. I've never really enjoyed counter cultures "46" very much as a filter brew for example. But it's quite good as espresso. Darker roasts pulled as espresso just sparkle in a way that they never do for me as filter coffee.
  • My wife seems to be over the moon happy with the latte that I make her in the mornings. I use counter cultures 46, some oat milk and some maple syrup for her. Not ONCE has she brought up the cost of the machine since I've dialed in her latte : ) The milk steaming process and pour is actually kinda fun.
  • The average house guest seems to really enjoy the milk drinks I make from the Cremina, more so than the filter brews that I used to make them. The lever machine is somewhat novel and is a great conversation piece.

Thoughts on the Cremina
  • I absolutely love the small footprint. I didn't want a large machine sitting on the counter. My wife agrees that the size is perfect
  • I love how quiet the machine is. With young kids in the home, the game is *quiet as possible in the morning* so I can have some time to myself before they wake. The only sound from the Cremina is the whisper from the boiler. The Weber Key is relatively quiet also.
  • Temperature management is simple. Thanks to all the work already done on the forum, not least of which the Olympia Cremina Temperature Studies, I find temp management very simple. Turn on the machine for ten minutes then about 8 half-pumps later, the group head thermometer is 80C and I'm off and running. After a shot I soak the group head in a small tupperware container of cold water until my temp reads 70. By the time I've ground, tamped, and am ready to pull the next shot, the group head is back to idling at 80-85C. Very simple.
  • The fit and finish is impeccable. For any curious like me, there is a small amount of horizontal and vertical play in the lever arm that is normal (I confirmed this with Johnny Cerini). I have no question that with proper maintenance I'll not need to purchase another machine ever.
  • I like the smaller 49mm basket with the accompanying smaller shot volume. It's the perfect amount for how much coffee my wife drinks in the morning and the smaller volume is conducive to sampling two or three roasts in a session. Just a *little* less caffeine than a standard basket size
  • I've not felt the need for the pressure piston gage modification. The espresso is tasting good, and I'm just trying to develop muscle memory for the pull. Perhaps a pressure piston gage will be down the line

Remaining questions. Warning: newbie questions
  • Tamp pressure doesn't matter? Reading and learning about espresso, it seems like the general wisdom is that one should not be too fussy about the pressure used during tamping. However, I find that *lightly* tamping is a sure fire way to get channeling (I notice spraying from a portion of the basket during the pull, and flow is too quick). And then if I pull the exact same shot with the same parameters, except I tamp very firmly, then I get no channeling. Seems to me like this is an argument for: No, you can't tamp too hard, but YES, you can tamp too lightly?
  • Consensus on pre-infusion parameters? The general wisdom seems to be: pre-infuse for 10 seconds then pull. I've read that some folks wait for a few drops then pull. Should seeing drops fall in the cup at around the ten second mark be a good way to judge my grind size? In other words, if I pre-infuse for 20 seconds and see no drops fall in the cup, then does this mean I've ground too fine? And conversely if I see drops in the cup after 2 seconds, then I've ground to course? Or does this not really matter, and I can just pull after 10 seconds or so regardless of drops?
  • Does anyone know approximately what an in-the-cup flow rate should be for the Cremina? Using my Acaia scale, it seems like my mechanics are coming together well and the taste is generally good around 0.8g/s to maybe around 1.2g/s, while 2.0 g/s seems a bit fast. Does this seem in the ballpark for flow rate?
  • One more question on flow rate. All parameters equal, it seems as though lighter roasts flow faster then darker. I'm sure this is related to fines production. Should I just accept that light roasts will flow faster? Or should I adjust my grind size so that the flow is roughly equal between light and dark roasts? Obviously, the ultimate guide is taste, but as I'm still refining my palate for espresso, it is nice to have some general guidelines
  • Distribution tools? I like using the WDT followed by a wedge distributer then tamping. I like the nice flat bed the wedge produces. Elsewhere I've read that wedge distribution is unnecessary... just use WDT and tamp evenly. Does anyone else consistently use a wedge distributer for the Cremina puck prep?
  • For those that simply pre-infuse and then pull (no Fellini), do you simply ramp the pressure up right away, or do you briefly pull at 2-3 bar to help pre-infuse the puck a little more, and then ramp up to your max pull pressure?
Finally, is it unusual that within several weeks I feel as though I'm making better espresso then I've had at reputable third wave shops? Must be some kind of bias related to the fact that I'm crafting the stuff myself at home right?

Thanks for reading the ramblings above!

★ Helpful


#2: Post by jpaulm »

Thanks for the great write-up.

I have a La Pavoni, so similar process for pulling a shot as the Cremina. What I have settled on is to push down gently to aid pre-infusion. (I have a pressure gauge, so 3-4 bar.) When drops cover the bottom of the basket and maybe one or two in the cup, I very gently (so as to minimize disturbance to the puck) ease off the pressure and return the lever to the top, then begin my pull at 9 bar, easing off as the shot progresses, mimicking a spring lever profile. The forced pre-infusion and re-start at the top enables me to get a larger volume of water.

I think you have to develop your own process. The above works well for lighter roasts with a long pre-infusion. For darker roasts I would do a short pre-infusion followed by a straight transition into the pull. But that's just me! Enjoy experimenting. That's half the fun.

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#3: Post by JJ420 »

Any lever, and most certainly a direct one like the Cremina or Pavoni, is certainly not a good choice for the beginner imo. But if you're having fun with it and it's working out well for you then congrats, you've won! Most quickly give up and run right back to their E61s.

I miss my old Cremina but my equally vintage Pavoni certainly fills that empty space in my heart however quite nicely. I really think the key to mastering any lever machine, is to understand and know just how and when to implement Fellini pull(s) during a shot.

Still I barely ever use my two levers (Pavoni EP and MCaL). When I wake up I want to immediately stumble into the kitchen and have my latte ready within like three minutes max of rising out of bed lol. There's really no way that's happening, smoothly anyhow, 100% of the time with a lever.
maybe the real satoshi is all the friends we find along the way. LMWDP #688

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#4: Post by beer&mathematics »

Congrats Matt!

A fun read-sounds like you are well on your way. Everything seems reasonable to me, so just follow your tastes. I recently got a Cremina so I'm having fun with my first manual lever. I'd say you've got the most important part down: temperature control! The rest will depend on the coffees you like and try.

A true "Fellini" move isn't necessary but for light roast coffees I do lift the lever after about 20 seconds of pre-infusion and then ramp up slowly. I've settled on 15 g in, 40 g out.

One thing I can't master on my Cremina is the steaming. Like to hear how your texture is with the new machine.
LMWDP #431


#5: Post by mikel »

Regarding steaming, I found the hole size (relative to the machines steam output) makes a big difference with both the Cremina and Maximatic. Once you get the hole size right, making good foam is easier and consistent.

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#6: Post by mrgnomer »

Fellini move fills the group quicker for a higher volume shot. One fun thing is pulling down and up feeling for the preinfusion point until you get as high as you can go before the preinfusion happens and you start the pull. It's good with light roasts to draw out what they have to offer.
LMWDP #116
professionals do it for the pay, amateurs do it for the love

choroidalfusion (original poster)

#7: Post by choroidalfusion (original poster) »

Thanks all for the input!

beer&mathematics, I've not figured out how to make good milk texture yet. As someone who only buys filter coffee when I'm at a shops, I'm not even sure what good milk texture is supposed to look and feel like, or what I need to aspire to. My wife seems to be satisfied with her latte as long as its hot. Its possible that all I'm doing is heating the milk? A work in progress to be sure.

It seems as though judicious use of the Fellini is key to good extractions especially with light roasts. I'll start practicing.

I feel as though my puck prep has improved over the past several weeks, so that it infrequently appears that there are visible defects in extraction while observing flow through the bottomless portafilter. Its my palate I need to work on. If the flow seems right and the length of the shot seems right, and yet the shot still tastes "off," then I'm not quite sure where to take the adjustment from there.

As jpaulm mentioned though, half the fun is experimenting!

I really appreciate the input from this great community!


#8: Post by HH »

What a beautiful machine! Congratulations on a superb choice. I enjoyed reading your post and look forward to hearing about your progress, even if it does make me a little envious!

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#9: Post by mrgnomer »

There's a lot of variables to work with. I read where adjusting the temperature here, the dose there, the grind to that, preinfusion to this and playing with a host of other variables from roast degass time, grinder burrs...all have a noticeable affect on extraction flavour. I've been doing this awhile and pay some attention to temperature, pressure, dose weight and preinfusion but what I've found has a big effect on the extraction flavour is grind quality, puck prep and using your machine to control the extraction. Levers are great for extraction control.

There's lots of YouTube videos on milk stretching and latte art. Micro foam is what you shoot for. Very small bubbles that thicken the milk and you spin in the pitcher to a temperature almost too hot to hold of around 140F. The milk has a good texture and pours smoothly for latte art. Stretching milk takes practice and so does art. The YouTube videos explain the principals pretty well.
LMWDP #116
professionals do it for the pay, amateurs do it for the love


#10: Post by jpaulm »

Just to add: I've found a higher temperature to be beneficial for lighter roasts, and a cooler temperature for darker ones.