Using the Olympia Cremina

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ladalet

#1: Post by ladalet »

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Hello, I was asked by Steve to start a post on the coffee aspect of the Cremina. I remember seeing on Ebay the Cremina that Steve purchased and is rebuilding. I almost bid on it. From the sellers description I was just afraid that it would be exactly what Steve actually got. It turned out it was a good purchase for Steve since he was planning on rebuilding it before he purchased it. Steve's project now has me thinking about blinging out my Cremina. My wife already thinks my coffee obsession is a little overboard.

I just upgraded to the Cremina from a Pasquini Livia 90 about 2 months ago. I was using a 21 gram basket with my Livia and the Cremini with a 14 gram basket still produces more crema, body, and a sweeter finish than the Livia--even when using the single basket. The espresso just tastes better.

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I have only had better espresso from machines in 2 espresso Cafes. As a frame of reference I was using the same coffee both cafes were using--Cafe Doma's Vitos blend. This is the best locally available espresso. The first Cafe, Cafe Doma in Coeur d' Alene Idaho, was using an E61 group Mirage Triplett with a 21 gram basket. The second, Lindamans here in Spokane Washington, used a La Marzocco Linea and a 21 gram basket. I produce espresso the same color and about 3/4 the crema that stays for about 2/3 as long. The flavor of my espresso by comparison is about as creamy and sweet, but not as much body or flavor

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The Cremina takes about 10 min to heat up. I have pulled up to 8 back to back shots without any overheating. The machine gets hot to the touch, but not hot enough to burn you and only slightly hotter than my Livia. The machine gets a little too hot when the water level in the sight glass drops below about 1/4. The only time I get portafilter sneezing is when I overtamp, grind too fine, or pull the shot early (turning blonde) and all of the shot has not come through yet. The machine is fairly stable while pulling a shot. I sometimes hold onto the boiler filler cap for additional stability. The drip tray does not hold much, but I have got into the habit of removing, emptying, and rinsing it out after each use anyway.

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The filter baskets fit into the portafilter handle loose and fall out easily. I placed three adhesive backed cork pads inside the portafilter and now the basket stays securely.

This machine out froths my Livia almost 2 to 1. I can froth 8oz of milk to the brim of a 20oz pitcher long before it reaches temperature. If fact, I can steam 1.5oz of milk to the brim of a 4oz pitcher without overheating the milk in about 8 seconds. This is nice when making a single Macchiato or Cappuccino. You don't waste any milk.

When you are in tune with the machine it is espresso Nirvana. You can just feel the water pushing through the coffee puck through the lever. From just the feel you can close your eyes and already know what the shot looks like. When you have a bad day, you really have a bad day. You cannot pull a good shot to save you life. But most of the time even so-so shots taste better than good shots on my Livia.

ladalet (original poster)

#2: Post by ladalet (original poster) »

1) Begin by filling the Boiler with fresh filtered and softened water. I use a LaPavoni water commercial water softener and a carbon block filter.

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2) Turn machine on to warm up. I leave the steam wand open to release false pressure and to let me know the machine is almost warmed up by the noise of the steam as the signal. After you hear the steam, just turn the steam knob off and wait for the light to go out.

***WARNING: if you do this do not forget about it and stay in earshot. You could potentially damage your machine by boiling all of the water out and overheating it.***

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3) Preheat the group, portafilter, cups

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4) Dry off the group screen and portafilter basket

5) Grind the coffee. I find that when the coffee is fresh it works best to grind a little on the coarse side and tamp a little harder 40# + or -. As the coffee beans get older I find that a finer grind and slightly lighter tamp works best. You will have to pull the lever progressively harder as you grind the beans finer to get a good shot.

6) Dose into the portafilter until heaping with quick flicks of the dosing lever while rotating the portafilter and tapping it on the griders fork continuously. I have found a tremendouse improvement in shot quality and consistency between shots by improving my technique here. Getting this down has been one of the most important things that I have learned in perfecting my shot quality. This has virtually eliminated channeling.

7) Level the coffee in the portafilter. I have experimented with several styles of leveling and found that using your finger to level back, front, left, right, and then clean and level off excess grounds flat with the basket brim works best.

8) Tamp: I use a 40# tamp and quick polish with fresh beans. I get less channeling if I do not tap the side to get the grounds off of the side of the portafilter basket. I use a 49mm RegBarber convex tamper.

9) Loosely place the portafilter into the group so that there is no seal. Lift handle slowly to a point just before water begins to enter the piston (see picture below for approx hight). Leaving the portafilter loose eliminates the chance that the vacuum generated by lifting the handle with break the seal between the coffee puck and the basket--or just break the coffee puck.

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Approximate hight to lift lever before water starts coming out.

Lock the portafilter snugly in place and then lift the lever the rest of the way slowly allowing the water to fill the piston.

10) Pre-infusion. Begin counting to 10 seconds as soon as water begins filling the piston. I usually time it so that it takes 10 seconds to lift the lever all the way up to fill the pistion to reduce the damage to the surface of the coffee puck from the force of the water filling the chamber.

11) Pull Shot:
Single: Pull just hard enough for the coffee to flow out in two nice mouse tails. If the shot pulls too fast or too slow adjust the coarseness of your grind. It should take about 25 - 30 seconds not including the pre-infusion. You should not be straining to pull the shot. You are done: enjoy

Double:
Using a smooth continuouse motion and pressure pull the lever about 3/4 the way down for two 3/4 oz ristretto shots and or all the way for two espresso shots. As you hit the bottom of the first pull, quickly snap the lever back the other way in a fluid non-jerking motion taking just a couple of seconds to get back to the top of the pull to begin the second pull let the piston fill with water and complete the second pull with smooth continuouse pressure just hard enough for the coffee to flow out in two nice mouse tails. If the shot pulls too fast or too slow adjust the coarseness of your grind. It should take about 25 - 30 seconds not including the pre-infusion. You should not be straining to pull the shot (with fresh beans). If during your final pull you get blonding just stop and pull the shot glasses away.

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Beginning of shot forming mouse tails
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15 seconds after end of shot. The camera shut off and I had to turn it back on to get the picture after most of the crema settled out.
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Shot after 30 seconds.
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Shot after sitting for over 60 seconds

Sorry these are not pretty shots. I was really struggling to pull the shot with one hand and take a picture with the other. It is much worse than chewing bubble gum and walking at the same time. Basically, I was having a bad shot day--both for the espresso shots and photo shots. You can hardly see the Guiness effect settling out in the pictures. I really give people credit that can pull a great shot while taking a photograph at the same time. I will get some more practice and submit better pictures later

If there is anything that I did not cover or you would like more information on please let me know.
Lance Goffinet
LMWDP #019

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Teme

#3: Post by Teme »

Hi Lance,

Nice pics and beauty of a machine...
ladalet wrote:My wife already thinks my coffee obsession is a little overboard.
You are not alone ;-)
ladalet wrote:I have pulled up to 8 back to back shots without any overheating.

This is interesting. With the La Pavoni Europiccola, overheating was easily noticeable on the third shot. If the Cremina does not overheat, it would be able to serve as the only machine even when one is entertaining...
ladalet wrote:This machine out froths my Livia almost 2 to 1. I can froth 8oz of milk to the brim of a 20oz pitcher long before it reaches temperature. If fact, I can steam 1.5oz of milk to the brim of a 4oz pitcher without overheating the milk in about 8 seconds. This is nice when making a single Macchiato or Cappuccino. You don't waste any milk.
Again a very interesting observation. How long does it take to froth e.g. 8 oz into nice microfoam? And do you froth your milk first and pull the shots later or vice versa?
ladalet wrote:Preheat the group, portafilter, cups
What's with the dirty water? Or am I imagining things?

Br,
Teme

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luca
Team HB

#4: Post by luca »

Teme beat me to the punch in asking about the overheat problem. I tend to turn my Silvia on in the morning and leave it on all day if I'm at home, so that I can pull shots whenever I want. Is it possible to do this with the cremina?

Looks like a very satisfying experience!

Cheers,

Luca

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srobinson

#5: Post by srobinson »

Lance great set of posts and great pictures as well. You seem about as obsessed as the rest of the gang here at LMWDP. You will fit right in. See you have Teme hitting you for questions already...my plan is working.


Could you do me one favor? I would like to see the placement of the Olympia Express logo on the back of your machine. I need to put mine back on my newly painted case this week and I don't trust where it was when I got this machine.


many thanks.
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

ladalet (original poster)

#6: Post by ladalet (original poster) »

Hello all, I will answer Teme, Luca, and Steve in that order.

Teme, here are the answers to your questions:

Teme wrote:
[This is interesting. With the La Pavoni Europiccola, overheating was easily noticeable on the third shot. If the Cremina does not overheat, it would be able to serve as the only machine even when one is entertaining...]

The one time I was entertaining more than just a few people I had to serve 8 double shots back to back. I did not experience any overheating. I have experienced overheating with the boiler level dropped below 1/4 as displayed in the sight glass. My old Pasquini Livia 90 would have been much more convenient and alot less work--my arm was getting sore. However, the extra work is rewarded by the Creminas superior shot quality.

Teme wrote:
[Again a very interesting observation. How long does it take to froth e.g. 8 oz into nice microfoam? And do you froth your milk first and pull the shots later or vice versa?]

I have not actually put a stop watch to it. I think it is around 25 seconds. The last 4 or 5 seconds is just getting the milk up to temperature. I will actually time it the next time I make a Latte for my wife and post the time. The Livia takes a couple of seconds longer and does not reach quite the same height because it gets up to temperature faster. I do not do Latte art so I do not know if the foam is Latte art worthy, but it does pour like silky smooth warm yogurt. Using my 4oz, 8oz, and 16oz pitchers I can get a much tighter microfoam than with my 20oz pitcher. The main frothing advantage over my Livia is its ability to easily froth smaller quantities of milk without overheating. The Livia would just about blow the milk out of my 4oz and 8oz pitchers overheating the milk generating no froth. I primarily think that the Creminas steam tip is better or easier to use. A more experienced or proficient milk frother may have a different view. Also, what I have described above is using 2% milk. It does seem to froth a little faster with whole milk. I just usually by 2%.

I pull my shot first and then froth after. It seems to work out best for me right now. I cannot give you any strong argument for it. If you froth first your crema dissipates. If you pour your shot first your froth separates. With my Livia I did both at the same time. I will probably go back and forth for a while before I make a final, until a good contrary argument comes along, decision later.

Teme wrote:
[What's with the dirty water? Or am I imagining things?]

Yes, that is dirty water. The picture was actually a shot of me flushing out the portafilter and group after a blown previous shot. I was having trouble maintaining the correct pressure on the lever with one hand and taking the picture with the other. I just used the shot because it was essentially the same action and did not think about the water coming out dirty. You caught me.
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Luca,

Luca wrote:

[I tend to turn my Silvia on in the morning and leave it on all day if I'm at home, so that I can pull shots whenever I want. Is it possible to do this with the cremina?]

No I would not leave the Cremina on all day. I may have been unnecessarily scared by the overheating stories involving the Elektra and LaPavonis, so I just have not taken the chance. What I do when I want a coffee is place a pitcher under the steam wand, turn on the machine, and wait to hear steam come out of the wand. I then turn off the steam and wait about a min. for the light to go out and pull my shot. It usually takes less than 10 min. I will make attempts to leave the machine on for longer periods and pull shot to check for overheating and report back if you like.
Just remember that if you follow this warming up technique, do not forget about it and stay in earshot. You could potentially damage your machine by boiling all of the water out and overheating it.
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Steve, here you go.

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By the way, the logo is mounted 28mm down from the top and 28mm in from the left hand side facing the back of the machine.
Lance Goffinet
LMWDP #019

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srobinson

#7: Post by srobinson »

lance, perfect...I appreciate the help. First Black logo that I have seen. Mine is bright red. Should be able to show you the new color combo by the end of the week.

Many thanks.
Steve Robinson

LMWDP #001

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espressoperson

#8: Post by espressoperson »

Why didn't I find this place sooner? A forum for levers, and a thread for the Olympia Cremina. I've been using mine for over 20 years (bought it new for $350). I'm amazed at srobinson's handiwork restoring his Cremina. I've never had my machine apart, I send it to 1st-Line when it needs maintenance or repair. Jim has always treated my machine with the respect it deserves.

I have enjoyed reading about ladalet's usage. Here are a few additions and a few alternatives to what he has posted.

I do two lever pulls for my doubles. A couple of seconds to raise lever, about 10 seconds preinfuse, then a good size pull about 3/4 of the way down, then a quick up and then back down until I hit bottom, or more likely until I pull the cup away (with my third hand) when crema starts thinning and blonding.

A memorable shot can take anywhere from 30 to 50 seconds, but IMO it's not about the time, but the pressure and smoothness of the pull. It's amazing to be able to tweak the mazzer to get perfect pulls just on the edge of stalling, but pushing through the puck to produce thick crema filled streams and close to 2 oz of rich, sweet espresso.

Right now I'm using 15 g of coffee in the basket. I weigh out the exact amount, toss into the mazzer, grind, and then sweep and brush all into portafilter. I use a funnel with the bottom sawed off to to about 1.5 inches that sits in the portafilter and catches the grinds. Then carefully lift the funnel and stockfleth the heaped up grinds into the basket. Then 30 lb tamp and polish with 49 mm convex thor tamper. Then...

...I always place a filter paper disk on top of the basket before locking portafilter in place. I draw 6 circles on a #6 melitta filter and cut them out to produce 12 filters. They last a long time. My machine is so much cleaner using these disks. They totally prevent backwash and keep dispersion screen and gasket spotless. IIRC the use of these disks was described in the archives of altdotcoffee a long time ago.

Latteart is possible, but not always easy. Now I'm getting success about 60% of the time. The way I do it is to use toothpicks to block off 2 or 3 of the 4 holes in the steamwand tip. Sometimes I've had it just right where I can get latteart pours all the time. I guess if I cared enough I might experiment with alternate tips, but I'm hoping someone else takes this on and shares their results with us. Oh, I use a 12 oz pitcher with 3-4 oz skim milk.

I've done Americanos every which way. Current method is to fill a regular size cup with 4-6 oz filtered water, heat with steam wand, then pull the shot right into the cup. I'll do this with most SO coffees rather than use filter or French press. The kinds of coffees I prefer (low acid, dry process) may be more amenable to this method than other kinds of coffee.

I look forward to hanging out here and sharing tips and experiences with other creminauts and leverites.


MichaelB

ladalet (original poster)

#9: Post by ladalet (original poster) »

Michael, in your post you stated that when you pull your shots that:

[I do two lever pulls for my doubles. A couple of seconds to raise lever, about 10 seconds preinfuse, then a good size pull about 3/4 of the way down, then a quick up and then back down until I hit bottom, or more likely until I pull the cup away (with my third hand) when crema starts thinning and blonding. ]

I had had bad luck with a 3/4 to full first pull. I was really trying to be careful and pull slowly to keep from damaging the puck. I believed that lifting the lever faster would increase the risk of damaging the puck. This is why I developed the technique of using about 3 very short pulls. Well, I WAS WRONG. I pulled my last 4 shots just as you described in your post, except that each shot took about 30 seconds, and the results were amazing. I was able to get 2 full 1+ oz shots with great crema and no blonding. It seems that if you use a smooth continuous motion as you hit the bottom of the first pull and quickly snap the lever back the other way in a fluid non-jerking motion taking just a few seconds to get back to the top of the pull to begin the second pull, you do not damage the puck. In fact, I think that you have a better chance of damaging the puck with the 3 short pulls. I will continue with your technique and report on the continued success.

Michael also wrote:

[Latteart is possible, but not always easy. Now I'm getting success about 60% of the time. The way I do it is to use toothpicks to block off 2 or 3 of the 4 holes in the steamwand tip. Sometimes I've had it just right where I can get latteart pours all the time. I guess if I cared enough I might experiment with alternate tips, but I'm hoping someone else takes this on and shares their results with us. Oh, I use a 12 oz pitcher with 3-4 oz skim milk. ]

So, I also broke off a toothpick into one of the 4 holes in my frothing tip. I can easily froth 8 oz of milk in my 20 oz pitcher into latte art worthy (in theory as I have not the skill) microfoam in about 25 seconds--most of the time. I would say that Michaels 60% of the time may turn out to be about right. Before the mod the velocity of the steam was too low for a pitcher that size. It actually steams more like it did in my 16 oz pitcher before the mod--still not quite as easy as my 4 oz and 8 oz pitchers. I was able to get dense microfoam like this in smaller 4 oz, 8 oz, and most of the time in my 16 oz pitchers, but not as easily in my 20 oz. I think the stock tip is designed for pitchers 16 oz or smaller.

I will be revising my post above describing my technique with these suggestions by Michael. It is nice to have someone with experience on this machine handy. It is really amazing what just a small adjustment in technique can accomplish.

Thanks Michael
Lance Goffinet
LMWDP #019

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espressoperson

#10: Post by espressoperson »

ladalet wrote:It seems that if you use a smooth continuous motion as you hit the bottom of the first pull and quickly snap the lever back the other way in a fluid non-jerking motion taking just a few seconds to get back to the top of the pull to begin the second pull, you do not damage the puck. In fact, I think that you have a better chance of damaging the puck with the 3 short pulls. I will continue with your technique and report on the continued success.
I'm delighted to pass on a little of what I've learned from so many other users and from constant use over the years. So much of the time I'm on automatic when using the machine; I enjoy times like this when I start to focus on the machine and technique again.

In the past I used to get more channeling than I do these days. I think the main reasons were stale coffee, poor distribution of grinds, and inconsistent tamping technique. These are not a problem now that I roast my own coffee and pay attention to all the advice about these topics on the coffee forums. Perhaps the less than ideal pucks caused their problems by allowing the upward lever pressure to break the pucks.

The point here IMO is that puck breaking and channeling due to upward lever pressure may be a symptom of some other defect rather than a direct cause of the problem. So if you do everything else right, you should be channel free and able to use the smooth technique that produces the best shot.
ladalet wrote:So, I also broke off a toothpick into one of the 4 holes in my frothing tip. I can easily froth 8 oz of milk in my 20 oz pitcher into latte art worthy (in theory as I have not the skill) microfoam in about 25 seconds--most of the time. I would say that Michaels 60% of the time may turn out to be about right. Before the mod the velocity of the steam was too low for a pitcher that size. It actually steams more like it did in my 16 oz pitcher before the mod--still not quite as easy as my 4 oz and 8 oz pitchers. I was able to get dense microfoam like this in smaller 4 oz, 8 oz, and most of the time in my 16 oz pitchers, but not as easily in my 20 oz. I think the stock tip is designed for pitchers 16 oz or smaller.
You may want to consider blocking up a second hole. I seem to have the best luck with microfoam when I can get the milk whirlpooling around. I could never get that kind of motion with three holes but I could with two. That was actually my best time with frothing, where I would get latteart 100% of the time. Then I started using less milk, blocked up the third hole, and now have a success rate of 60%. Next time I cleancaf the machine I will clean out the holes and go back to two.
ladalet wrote:Thanks Michael
Thanks Lance. I look forward to a productive exchange of information. I sense a few plateaus about to be broken through!



MichaelB