Brewing with the Flair
Assembling the Flair is quick and easy. Place the base on the counter. Insert the lever support into the base. Insert the drip tray. Flair provides a set screw and hex key to firmly attach the lever to the base. Although the set screw provides extra stability, you can still pull shots without inserting it.
This image of the brew group components shows how it all goes together.
Brew group components from bottom upward are the portafilter, dispersion screen, cylinder, and piston.
Additional Items You'll Need
You'll need a way to heat water, tongs for removing brew components from boiling water, a good grinder, some way to measure temperature of your brew water, and a scale for weighing grounds and shots.
Gear we used.
Gary's Quick Brew Method.
- Grinder. Dominick used a Kafatek Monolith Flat for light roasts and single origins and an Orphan Espresso Lido E hand grinder for primarily Italian dark-roasted coffees in the office. Gary used a Fiorenzato Doge Conico grinder, which is equivalent to his Orphan Espresso Pharos in grind quality and style. He tried a Trosser vintage box grinder that works well with an Arrarex Caravel espresso machine but wouldn't adjust fine enough for the Flair. This doesn't rule out using other hand grinders that are espresso-capable. The user experience thread documents many grinders that have been successfully used.
Kettle. Gary used a Bonavita 1L gooseneck PID kettle for brew water. Both used simple pots or kettles for heating water to the boil. Dominick used a styrofoam cup for immersing the brew cylinder in water from a hot water tap in an office industrial coffee machine and found it sufficient for brewing dark roasts. At home Dominick used a Fino kettle with the cylinder directly inserted inside to preheat it. Any pot or kettle will work that heats water to the boil and has room for a brew cylinder or two.
Scale. Similarly any scale will suffice if it goes measures to the tenth of a gram. Dominick found the Fast Weigh MS-600 Digital Pocket Scale to be the best for use with the Flair as it fits well on the drip tray. It is also small and fits easily inside the carrying case with everything else.
Piston -- Steel or Plastic? Both of us quickly settled on the plastic piston. It preserves heat better and without requiring pre-heating as Dominick demonstrates later. Flair offers a steel piston for those who want to avoid plastic in the brew path. There's been extensive discussion of that topic in the user thread.
Preheat the cylinder in boiling water. While it's heating, fill the supplied measuring cup nearly to the top with fresh coffee beans and grind them into a small cup. Attach the supplied dosing funnel to the top of the portafilter. Transfer most of the ground coffee into the portafilter and level it by tapping the portafilter on the counter. With the dosing funnel still attached, use the bottom of the measuring cup to tamp. Add the remaining coffee to the top of the coffee bed and tamp again. I really like the steel tamper upgrade, but the measuring cup also serves as a tamper, keeping in mind that for lever espresso you don't need to tamp extremely hard. Seal the top of the portafilter with the dispersion screen. Remove the heated cylinder from boiling water using tongs and position it above the portafilter. The silicone around the cylinder will quickly be cool enough to grip it by hand and slide it onto the portafilter. Place the portafilter and cylinder on the Flair's brewing platform. Position a demitasse cup on the drip tray underneath on the drip tray. Add hot water to the fill line. Slightly tilt the brew group to insert the piston. Place one hand on the front of the base to hold it steady and use the other hand to engage the lever. Gently press until you feel resistance and continue gentle pressure for about 10 seconds to fully wet the coffee. Then pull through.
You'll need to grind the coffee fine enough so it resists your pull for about 25 seconds. You don't need to time this exactly, but you'll want to grind coarse enough to produce crema (a buttery coffee foam), and fine enough so the coffee cake resists the lever press and brews under pressure. Avoid pushing so hard it feels like a lot of effort, letting the leverage do most of the work. This process is especially easy for someone used to a manual lever espresso machine. If you're a beginner with manual levers, read the post after the next one.
When I was starting I weighed the beans on an inexpensive battery-powered scale and found that I can get about 16.5 gm packed into the portafilter. For lighter roasts I would use less coffee and grind it finer. But with my grinder dialed in for the Flair, I simply dosed to the top and adjusted pressure on the lever for the desired flow rate. The results have been very tasty.
Dominick notes that the brew chamber can retain pressure, so opening it quickly may cause more spillage than you expect. It's best to clean the cylinder over a sink or a large knockbox. Knock out the puck, give it a rinse, and you're ready to make another shot.
Fine-Tuning with Dominick's Brew Method
Pretty much all coffees require preheating the cylinder, so let's start there. I tried a variety of preheat methods from the cylinder being immersed in boiling water to having it steam heated by sitting atop a kettle. The most effective way to preheat the cylinder I've found was to directly boil the cylinder in water for a couple of minutes while going about the shot prep. This method requires using tongs to retrieve the cylinder from the boiling water, which adds another item to your travel kit. For darker roasts and Italian blends, simply having the cylinder sit in a glass of very hot water for a few minutes seemed to work well enough.
I use the plastic piston pretty much exclusively. There was no advantage to the steel piston other than aesthetics and the fact it is likely to last longer than the plastic ones. In day-to-day use I found the stainless steel piston to be a bit of a hassle compared to the plastic one because the steel piston requires preheating and the plastic one doesn't.
I usually dose my shot between 12.5 to 14 gm. I can fit 16 gm into the portafilter with some coffees, but with this machine and my chosen shot pulling technique I prefer the taste of shots pulled with a dose of 14 gm or less.
After grinding and tamping I attach the shower screen and check on the cylinder. By now the water should be at a fast boil.
Using tongs I remove the cylinder from the boiling water and place it on top of the portafilter, taking care to not burn myself. I then quickly put the cylinder on its perch, add a cup and scale underneath, and start pouring boiling water from the kettle into the cylinder until it reaches the full line. I add the piston and then pull down with the lever slowly and steadily so it takes about 5 seconds to feel full pressure in the chamber. Once the stream is solidly formed I try to keep it at about 1 gm per second pour rate into the cup, achieved through my extremely scientific method
of counting seconds while watching the scale readout.
Now I taste the coffee. With the Flair the coffee is usually either balanced or unbalanced toward acidity. If it is too acidic I either drop the dose or grind finer. If it flowed quickly, i grind finer for the next shot. If it flowed slowly i will drop the dose by a gram or so for the next shot.
A note on choked shots
Since the Flair requires a somewhat coarse grind I found I would choke it more often than my other levers because I was switching between them so often. If you choke the Flair do not simply try to power through it. There is a warning label right on the lever not to exceed a certain force. What you can do instead is "clutch" the shot to get it flowing again. Basically let go of the lever to relieve all the pressure you were applying and let the puck expand a bit, then slowly reapply pressure. The flow will pick up and you can save the shot this way without putting undue stress on your machine. You may need to clutch it a couple times. I first saw this technique applied in person by Jim Schulman on a commercial Faema lever, so it works for all levers in general, including the Flair. Obviously you will want to grind coarser for the next shot.
A note on feeling pressure.
leverage is an important factor when using this machine. When placed on a lower surface, 40 lbs of downward force will feel easier than 40 lbs on a higher surface. So keep that in mind if you travel with it.
Another note on applying pressure
The Flair is a very light machine compared to the downward force you are applying on the lever to brew the shot. Some of this force is is transferred to the base in such a way that it wants to scoot backward while you are pulling the shot. If the surface is low enough that you have good leverage you and simply hold the base with one hand and push down on the lever with the other. If you have to use the Flair on a surface that is rather high, the Flair will want to scoot back on you more, and you may need two hands on the lever to generate adequate force. In this case simply put the Flair so that its back is braced against the wall behind it so it has nowhere to slide. The following video was made without the base screw inserted. Inserting the screw eliminates the wobble between the base and the stand, but it still works when quickly set up without it.
Dominick's Prep Adjustments for an Office Environment.
Part of my review included daily use at my office. My office currently has a "no electronic appliances" rule. I had to take my beloved Cremina home in September, so it was a good opportunity to see if I could put the Flair through its paces in the kitchenette area to get my espresso fix at work.
The first obstacle was the lack of boiling water. The industrial coffee machine installed there has a hot water tap that delivers fairly hot water, but there is no stove or kettle for bringing water to a boil; therefore I had to improvise. I took to preheating the cylinder with water from the spout. It was hot enough to require using its silicone sleeve to hold it. I put the cylinder in a large styrofoam cup and completely submerged it with hot water. Then I started prepping the shot. To get brew water hot enough I took water from the hot water spout and microwaved it. Heating water to the boil in a microwave can be dangerous because it can superheat without boiling. Try to avoid it at all costs. If you are going to risk the burns of having boiling water explode all over you then there are some precautions you can take to eliminate the risk; basically you need to break the surface tension to allow the water to boil off properly. A wooden stick in the cup of water is a good way to do this. Also, when you open the microwave prod the glass with a long chopstick or something before reaching your hand in there to grab it.
Even so, I chose to stick with mostly dark roasts at the office. The preheat, while helpful, couldn't get the brew temperature high enough to work well with medium or light roasts, so I chose my coffees to work within these limitations. I took this opportunity to practice with some of the more popular Italian import coffees, namely Kimbo Superior, Miscela D'Oro, Bristot, etc. I also dropped the dose to 12.5g to help the extraction.
I found the results rather enjoyable. The body wasn't quite as thick, the crema was a bit lighter than normal for these blends, but the chocolates came out nicely with a hint of a fermented fruit-type acidity (Miscela D'Oro took on a more vanilla flavor with these parameters).
I was happy to have drinkable espresso again at my office.