Greetings fellow baristi...and Happy New Year !
Having lurked around this forum for a number of years now I thought it high time to extend my appreciation for the knowledge gleaned from Dan Kehn and the entire H-B community.
By way of introduction, and the circuitous route that led me to Home Barista...
Bought my first Chrome Peacock in the early 70's while knocking around Italy with my new bride.
After spending the first month or so choking off the machine to get a ¼ ounce of thick, black, highly viscous asphalt, I soon began to develop the art of pulling a shot. Something in my DNA, perhaps.
Initially, the gunk that I was producing probably had as much to do with the coffee beans available at the time and a Braun blade grinder as it was to my nascent barista skills. It was either Italian Roast or French Roast. Cleaning that Braun grinder after a session with an Italian roast would have challenged an AAMCO technician..
As time passed, availability of coffee beans got better, home grinders got better...as did my barista skills. Never measured, never weighed and never timed. Instinctively dialed in by grind, dose volume, viscosity of flow, crema, blonding, output amount in the cup, the below mentioned temperature surfing...and of course, taste. All seemed within traditional tolerances.
In the ensuing years I've had about 3 Pavoni's moving from the 8-cup single switch Europiccola to the latest 16-cup Professional. Played around with the Tin Man, Cremina and Microcasa a Leva but always felt the Pavoni Pro, despite it's quirks, suited me best for a manual home lever and the ability to profile to one's tastes. It's possible that was more the result of a 30-year intimacy.
Performed the usual preventive maintenance and easily handled its well-known annoyances with the tried and true methods, The fact that most of the time it was only my wife and I drinking espresso or a cappuccino made its most notorious problem of overheating less of an issue. We chose not to crank up the kids too early by introducing them to espresso. We got them puppies, instead !! With company...friends or family...we just fired up a large Bialetti Moka pot.
Which brings me to Home Barista...
About 10 years ago, when taking a break in one of the so called "high-end" coffee bars that dot the streets of NYC (my home town) I ordered my usual ristretto and since it was crowded, I moved off to the side next to the gleaming La Marzocco and was absentmindedly watching the barista do his thing. And like most things in life (in my life, anyway) out of the blue, it occurred to me that despite losing my virginity to my beloved La Pavoni, after 30+ years of monogamy it was time to move on and take a walk on the wild side.
Never thinking of anything but another manual lever machine, I researched and stumbled upon H-B and Dave Stephens (Cannonfodder) thoroughly and wonderfully detailed bench review of the Gaggia Achille. I realize this is ancient history and probably old school...what with the Londinium, Profitec and other high-end spring levers for the home barista. But for my money you can't beat what a skilled barista can get out of a manual lever machine. Plus I prefer the more hands on ritual...thought not in an OCD type of way. In any event, bought the Achille and had it now for about 10 years and use it 3 or 4 times a day...every day, pulling consistent shots.
From a preventive maintenance standpoint...replaced the infamous #45, 47, 95 and 16 gaskets twice over the years, along with the group head gasket...more to "tighten- up" the machine than anything else. Many thanks to some earlier H-B members for having paved the way on those issues! Canned the steam valve and found that the internal valve from the Brasilia Baby works perfectly. Got it chrome plated at a local shop. You'd never know the difference. Also, a number of years ago, bought a shiteload of spare parts from WLL just in case.
And, yeah...I've shaken my head more than once when I think of a country (mine) that once produced the Lamborghini and Ferrari having produced a wonderfully conceived espresso machine wholly dependent on 10 cents worth of o-rings, a couple of springs the size of a pencil eraser, cheap plastic one-way valves...and the aforementioned steam valve.
In any event, all through these 10+ years I'd occasionally clock in to H-B...peruse a few articles, but primarily was checking out the latest coffee reviews. Until, I decided it was time to upgrade from my Mazzer Mini. So I began to deep dive the HB archives, conversations, reviews, back and forth debates, trending topics, etc. All things grinder/espresso related. Though, I must admit, the wonderfully exhaustive treatise on filter basket construction and hole size distribution by Jim Shulman et al. a few years back, did have me against the ropes.
The breadth and depth of knowledge of the entire HB Team and community is sincerely appreciated by those of us who just lurk.
Anyway, bought the Mahlkonig K30 Vario and having some time on my hands due to a minor cycling mishap, I also bought a few tools...or toys, if you prefer...to see if the coffee I was producing all those years yanking on the Pavoni and Gaggia was respectable. It always looked and tasted as good as the coffee bars or restaurants I would frequent. But I wanted to know if it was theoretically good. Weight in and out, timing, temperature, over/under extracted, etc.
Thanks to all for your expertise !