Read about current and future offerings from the site sponsors.
New Report: Amazon's Toll Road - Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Super interesting and well researched research report on Amazon. Essentially:
- PRIME's free shipping is a way to prevent other online companies from competing with Amazon
- monopoly power gained from offering free shipping (70% of online purchases in the USA start at Amazon) then forces 3rd party sellers to have to list on Amazon,
- and then Amazon can charge high fees on those 3rd party sellers
- fees on 3rd party sales have risen from 19% to 34% since 2014
- Amazon is hiding how much profit the fees on 3rd party sellers brings in by grouping it with other divisions that lose money
- for example, PRIME free shipping is a big money loser, to reduce that appearance of gouging, whereas profit on fees on 3rd party sellers actually is 2x the size of AWS
As to Decent's own experience, we did start out selling on Amazon.
- one the biggest anti-competitive features of Amazon, for me, is that you aren't allowed to sell your goods cheaper, anywhere on the Internet.
- to make this clearer: we weren't allowed to pass on the lower-cost savings we enjoy from a direct sale, to the consumer, in the form of a lower price
- People constantly abuse Amazon's free-to-return terms, and "borrow buy" from Amazon, returning the goods a few weeks later. We then are hit with a return fee, an item destruction fee, or fees to mail the used goods back to us.
- when customers have problems with a product on Amazon, they return it, because there is not such thing as "vendor-provided customer support" on Amazon. Technically, it's possible, but nobody uses it and many emails we'd write would get auto-deletected by Amazon's secrecy algorithm, which is trying to prevent us from talking directly to the customer.
- in the end, we decided that the customer experience with our products was much, much worse with Amazon.
- A big part of the "Decent experience" is how we work with you directly, and Amazon prevents that.
- So, we decided to remove all our items from Amazon some time ago, and focus on 1:1 relationships with our customers, trying to find ways to do some things better than Amazon.
Buckman article in "The Lever" Magazine
I wasn't aware of The Lever Magazine before Claudio and Simone, the editors, approached me. I took the opportunity to read, cover-to-cover, the 3 previous issues, and I was floored at how similar their view of espresso was to Decent's. They are actually scientific about it, with talk of basket diameters, temperature profiles, preinfusion times and pressures, all being a constant throughout their issues.
Surprisingly, I found nothing that is "incorrect" in my opinion. I don't mean that to sound as arrogant as it likely does. What I mean is that most writing about espresso is half speculation presented as certainty or science, when it's really just a guess. When people write something like "fines migration is causing...." it's a theory, not a certainty, and not well backed up by espresso-specific research.
The Lever presents an impressive amount of deep coffee knowledge across its 4 issues, and when they write something with certainty, you can trust it.
My favorite article in Issue 4 is not mentioned (yet) in the Table of Contents, and it's about an interesting way of making perfect water for coffee. The "gold standard" is to remineralize purified water https://www.baristahustle.com/blog/diy- ... pes-redux/ but this has many cost-and-time downsides. In their article, they suggest prefiltering tap water with something cheap (such as a Brita) to get rid of chlorine and other easy-to-remove things. Then, measure your water, and make a custom remineralizing concentrate the brings your existing water to a happy place. This is certainly cheaper, easier, and more scalable than the purified-water approach, and deserves serious consideration. Thank you for introducing me to this idea!
I wrote an article in this issue https://thelevermag.com/pages/issue-4 where I:
- discuss some important insights I gleaned from Lever machine discoveries
- looked at why Pour Overs are so universally popular with the Coffee Intelligentsia, and how to apply those lessons to Espresso
- How Scott Rao's Blooming Espresso works, and detailed instructions how to make it on a direct lever machine
- The remaining Big Problems and Questions we in the Decent community are still very much grappling with
The magazine is also published in Italian and Chinese translated versions, though the translated versions are not yet in print.
My article went through 3 extensive rewrites, thanks to Simone and Claudio's feedback and editing, and is much, much better for it.
I hope those of you with Lever machines will give it a read, and let me know what you think.
Two years ago, pre-COVID, I made an extensive video showing how to make your own coffee cart built on an inexpensive IKEA table, and Decent parts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcpNSiKILQ4
I was living in France at the time, and ran a sunday-only coffee cart at my local farmer's market. That's why there's an X in my "espresso" cart signage. Here's a video showing that cart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZPlszyxjaU
What I hoped is that others might play at running a cafe, like I did. Not having any rent to pay, and doing it part-time, keeps it fun. Also, you're only running your cafe when there's a crowd, at some special event, so that feeling of despair that cafe owners feel when you have almost no clients for hours, is avoided.
With loosening up of restrictions in some countries, we're seeing a flurry of interest in running your own coffee cart. Why not monetize that Decent Espresso Machine you bought? Also, it's a family experience, and in almost all cases, it's parents doing this with their kids very much involved. It's fun, but it also teaches your kids good values: hard work, providing something people want, teamwork, and making a bit of money for your efforts.
Two Decent owners, Todd and Erik, on opposite sides of the world (USA and Europe) are each documenting their journey, from building, to "how it went" (not always well!) and these discussions are extremely popular. There are separate topics about solar panels, lithium battery packs, and generators, as well as workflow, challenges of strong wind, and more. It's terrific to see, and everyone is rooting for each other to succeed.
For example, there's an active discussion about how to attract people to your stand. I suggested that smell would bring people from far away, and that maybe homemade coffee scented candles https://justcoffee.coop/upcycled-coffee ... e-candles/ were a way to do that.
And of course, lots of people have dreamt of opening cafe. Here's a way to do it in a light way, with minimal investment, keeping it enjoyable.
A Decent Bicycle Cafe, and a "QC FAIL" feature idea
This weekend Bugs and I rented bicycles and made the trek out to a new Decent-using cafe in Hong Kong.
Peloton cafe https://www.instagram.com/peloton.hk/ has a bicycle theme, as it's located at the end of a long coastal bike ride https://www.sircycling.com/articles/cyc ... r-skirmish and a 2020 opened new bicycle network https://www.ntctn.hk/en/track-section-t ... -yuen-long.
There's an emphasis on homemade desserts, like apple crumble, warm brownie, croissant waffles, and pancakes. There's a choice of two coffee beans, both single origin, a Kenyan and Ethiopian natural, both sourced from world-syphon coffee champion, HK-based Accro Coffee https://www.accro.hk/category/coffee-beans/
I had the Ethiopian natural a small latte, and while light roast, it was free of strong acidity, so it milked nicely. They have a DE1XXL espresso machine, and said it takes about 20 seconds to steam a drink. The latte art held for the entire 10 minutes, which is very unusual for cafe foam, which tends to turn into a volcano shortly after pouring.
I asked the co-owner Cyrus, how they were getting on with the Decent. They have two other locations: Proton https://proton-cafe.business.site/ is a restaurant with a coffee focus and about to open cafe called OneThird https://onethird.coffee/ for which they are planning on buying two more Decents.
I was surprised by the answer of why they liked the Decent. Cyrus said his staff liked the tech, and the screen in particular. "So What?" I asked.
He replied: "We're sometimes very busy, and the screen lets my staff know when a coffee is bad, or needs to be dialed in again. Also, the screen makes it really fast to adjust the grind so that we're dialed in correctly, in the middle of service".
That's a really interesting insight, and it gave me an idea. I've long thought about adding a "quality control" feature to the de1app, where a "QC FAILED" light would flash if a drink didn't match the desired standards.
Quality standards could include "shot finished between 25 and 40 seconds" and "flow rate during extraction didn't exceed 3ml/s" and would be settable by you.
I think home users of the Decent could likely benefit from such a feature, especially when making drinks first thing in the morning, not being awake enough to notice that you just made a "sink shot".
What do you think?
Start outdoors, move indoors: new Birmingham Decent Cafe
A big congrats to Birmingham, UK based "Coffee by the Casuals" https://www.instagram.com/casuals_coffee/ who started out with a Decent espresso home setup which morphed into an outdoor stand, and many, many gigs. The visibility and experience enabled them to now move indoors, about to launch a permanent cafe at One Colmore Square https://www.instagram.com/onecolmoresquare/
It's really rewarding to be a part of someone else's journey, but Bugs is particularly touched by the opening of this cafe, as it's a 10 minute walk from where she used to live. We wish them continued success, and will help them in any way we can!
Better water dispersion onto the coffee puck
We've been working for about a year, on replacement pieces that go inside the espresso machine group head, that direct water onto the puck.
A few goals we have:
- getting copper out of the water path: there's always a worry about appearing in each batch of copper products we make. We have the tested by our own lab, each time, but still, it's a concern.
- cleaner: coffee oils and particles seem to like to stick to copper, so regular cleaning to keep the best flavor, is important. Other materials are easier to keep clean.
- better temperature accuracy: two things here.
- First, copper is very much not an insulator, so it soaks up heat, and transmits that to water. That helps stabilize the water temperature, which is why traditional machines love all that metal, but it decreases our ability to quickly change the water temperature under software control. We want to do that (for instance) at the start of espresso making, to bring the coffee puck up to the defined brewing temperature
- Secondly, the copper interferences with our ability to accurately measure the water temperature directly above the puck. We're instead measuring some water that hits the puck, and some water that's hitting the copper. If we make these parts out of an insulating material, we can get much more accurate coffee peak temperature readings, and then compensate both faster and more accurately.
- better water distribution: our water distribution approach is in two passes. First, we use the "apple shaped" path to break up the water's momentum and sendit through fairly large calibrated holes. Secondly, we have an array of precision machined holes directly behind the filter screen to evenly wet the puck. Our current design is already quite good at this, but we think we can improve it slightly.
So, we're now trying to different materials:
- solid teflon: this is my preferred material. We already use solid teflon for our tubing, as it does not expand with heat (very useful) is very inert and well known to be food safe (except in very high temperature ovens, which isn't a factor here). It's also very anti-stick, so it should remain clean with minimal effort:
- PEEK: this is really exotic and gorgeous stuff, even more expensive than Ultem. But, besides the very high cost (maybe overkill in this situation) it's another material I have to explain to people who ask. However, we know it'll work, if Teflon doesn't turn out to. We're considering PEEK for our mixing manifold, which has to withstand high pressure and lots of thermal cycling. https://www.curbellplastics.com/Researc ... rials/PEEK
We're also increasing the thickness of this part by about 4mm, so bring the "head space" above a puck in line with the E61 standard. That will naturally increase the body/thickness of espresso, and there are several third-party "spacer kits" currently available that do this. For this that don't want the decreased headspace, you can move to a slightly larger espresso basket, to keep the same headspace as today.
More news on this, as we learn more.
Free portafilter stand improvement
Starting today, our portafilters stands come with a pre-cut small silicone tube that you can slide over the metal, if you want to protect the paint on your portafilter handle.
This change is especially useful if your stand is touching a grinder, which causes a lot of vibrations, and makes the portafilter handle vibrate as well. In that case, the sound produced is annoying, and you get micro-scratches in your wood handle paint.
This small piece of rubber is available free to all part portafilter stand customers, on request, as part of any other purchase you're making with us. Please contact us before you pay for your next accessory order, so we can zero out the cost of https://decentespresso.com/c?s=75747+1 from your order.
Thanks to customer Brian C, raising this issue on Diaspora, and trialing a solution, for this. Many others also chimed in with their own suggestions.
We worked on it a bit more ourselves, to find just the right material, density and thickness: no smell, stays in place. Then we had the right length precut for us, and a slit cut down the belly so that it's ready-to-be-used by you.
Those of you receiving a portafilter stand from us now will get one of these in your box, and you can decide whether you want it on or not.
Just another example of the design and manufacturing partnership we have with our customers.
New: shortcut to customer support
Fairly frequently, we get email from customers asking for an order receipt, or tracking information, or complaining that they never got any emails from us. The cause of all these problems is spam traps, annoyingly deleting the emails we're sending you.
To work around the unreliability of email, years ago I programmed an extensive web-based support and order archive system. However.... lots of people don't even realize it exists, as the link to it was buried under "Info/Customer Login".
As of today, if the system knows you (you've sent us email or bought something), your name and a shortcut icon, now appears at the top of every page on our website. Click it, and you'll get the page above. Every email we've ever sent you is there, as well as shopping carts you haven't paid for, the payments we've received, and orders. For every order, we detail every box we sent you, provide receipts, packing lists, and package delivery tracking. It's fairly complete.
If you've never bought or emailed us, the link at the top says "Customers" so you know you probably don't need to click it.
Just a small improvement, but hopefully it'll make the wealth of features I built, more findable and more frequently used.
Perfectly Calibrating Decent Flow Measurements
The DE1 firmware has a physics model of the pump we use, which allow it very closely estimate the flow rate. It's much more accurate than a standard flow meter, which typically can't handle flow rates under 2 ml/s. And the latency is much better, being able to notice very quick transitions, such as a channel opening and closing in a coffee puck.
But our approach has one big weakness. The pumps we use behave very differently if the electrical voltage and frequency is not what we expected. That's why, in the de1app, there's a settings->machine->calibration setting for "Flow".
If you own a bluetooth scale, you can use that to perfectly calibrate your DE1, and many people have done that.
However, I've been really not happy with a few extreme cases, where our default calibration is way off:
- South Korea and USA when running 240V, with its unusual electrical frequency of 60hz in the 220/240 range.
- Japan, with 100V and two different frequencies, of East vs West Japan
- customers have to be told to recalibrate their machines, or else the flow measurements are really wrong.
Last week, it occured to me that we could calibrate our machines for the two most common cases: USA and EU, and for all other countries, we could recalibrate that person's machine to the country where that machine is being shipped.
The downside is that this can delay shipping their DE1 by up to a day, but I think it's worth it so that customers who don't recalibrate (in the current system) don't have a less-perfect experience.
It also occured to me that I could find a table of combination of voltage and frequency in the world, we could build a calibration table for all those countries, and this would massively speed up our work.
I also decided that when a machine is going to a country that isn't the default voltage/frequency, that I'd print on the invoice itself, in yellow type, the suggested flow calibration. We'll do it for you, but you've got it in writing too.
More importantly, my boxing team can see the bright yellow print, and knows to hand that machine back to an engineer, to recalibrate for that person's country.
I'm a bit embarrassed that it's taken me so long to figure out how to solve this calibration question. Sometimes a problem just has to percolate in our brains for a long time, before an obvious solution surfaces.
I've also posted an updated page in the Decent manual "Voltages, Frequency and Default Calibration for every country" so that if you don't own a bluetooth scale, and you already own a Decent, you can enter the newly calculated optimum default calibration for your country.