Advice to Newbies from a Newbie

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.

#1: Post by oconee »

Ok, newbie here. Just like to make some comments on the early learning process. As the experienced members point out, there is an abundance of information on the web that one has access to which can get you started. Lots of discussion about beginner's machines (I chose the Gaggia Coffee, which I got new for $200 from WLL based on many articles and postings from here and other sites) as well as the importance of a good grinder (I went with the Le'Lit PL53 for the early price of $200 based on the Marketplace postings here). I went through the period of poor espresso and very tough foamed milk. Fortunately my wife still liked the cappuccino's that I was making, but I wanted to make really good espresso to drink straight. I had started my fixation on espresso during our trip to Italy last year (Rome, Florence, 5 days biking in Tuscany). Every hotel we stayed in had a free breakfast and included espresso. It was very good and I spent time researching after we came home. After reading many of the posts here and watching video of extractions, I knew that what I had had to that point for espresso was still not what I saw in the videos. What I had in Italy was good, but not syrupy like I saw and read about. I certainly was not getting anything like that at home. I had tried the espresso at *$, and it was not very good (similar to what I was making at home). I saw a good rating for Octane in Atlanta near Georgia Tech, so I had a chance to go by and try it out. Really, really good. What I had imagined. The Baristas were not busy at the moment and were really nice to me and discussed several issues about making good espresso. I can seriously recommend them. So, I came home realizing that what I was making was something different altogether. I suspected my temperature based on some of the diagnosing extraction posts (my shots were typically sour to start and then bitter to finish). I got a digital thermometer and checked the temperature using the cup method. Pretty low, ranging from 178 to 188. I then pushed the steam button for different intervals until I got a temperature closer to 198. I used that technique to pull a shot. Wow, what a difference! Certainly not as good as what I had at Octane, but definitely espresso and a sign that I was going in the right direction. I also watched several videos of steaming the milk and using that information I have improved my technique significantly. I know I'm not where I need to be, but at this point I feel that I can continue to improve because I have learned a lot. I also have gotten a Fresh Roast roaster so I will be learning more about the beans. My recommendation to other newbies is to keep using the information on this site and others and keep trying. It made a significant difference when I finally tasted really good espresso because I could tell how poor my shots were and some of the characteristics my shots were lacking. That helped my identify the problem using the diagnosis articles. I certainly wish to thank those that have contributed their knowledge on this site, it has been extremely interesting and informative. I hope to be participating more in the future.

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#2: Post by lberg »

Newbie here too....the equipment I have listed is still on order (to be shipped in about 10 days). Thanks for the post--I'm always looking for/researching different ways of controlling the brew temp on a Gaggia semiauto machine, so when my equipment arrives, I'll have some stuff to try. I haven't had an exceptional cup of espresso yet, but, like you, I'm going based on videos and stuff. I hope to someday be able to produce a passable cup of espresso, and some ok microfoam...

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#3: Post by oconee (original poster) »

Lber, I also had the Carezza on order. Whole Latte Love called and said it was back ordered and offered me the Coffee Deluxe for the same price, so I accepted. I tried the pannarello wand once and it flew off during steaming. I put it away and have been using the bare metal tube since, I think that is the way to go to get better microfoam (although I don't think I'm quite there yet). I think the temperature setting on my machine is too low, but rather than send it back I'm going to continue to learn how to manually manipulate the temperature for best results. Good luck when you get your setup and let us know how you are progressing. Pretty fun hobby, and I like making my wife a nice decaf cappa every evening and having a decaf straight shot myself.

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#4: Post by lberg »

Hmm. I have mine ordered from 1st-line.
oconee wrote: I put it away and have been using the bare metal tube since
Did you try it with "half of the wand" still attached to the bare metal wand? I mean, without the black "covering," but still with that little nozzle thing? I've read that some people do that. I'm definitely going to experiment with all three options for myself: red band moved down a notch (but entire wand on there), just that black nubby thing, and bare metal wand.

Edit: how does the steam come out of the bare metal? Is it in any sort of "pattern?" A single hole? I'm curious about that...

oconee (original poster)

#5: Post by oconee (original poster) »

I did not try with any part of the wand. The tube has a single hole, so no 'pattern' to speak of. I'm sure that a better wand would help, but I hope that with improvement in the Mano dell'operatore (hand of the operator) that I can create the desired result. I started out trying to stretch the milk as much as possible and ended up with the often mentioned soap bubbles. I started stretching less and the product improved. Then I saw a video that showed the Barista moving the wand to the opposite side of the pitcher and 'rolling' the milk after reaching 100 deg. I tried this and was rewarded with even better results. The Gaggia using the bare wand has sufficient steam to swirl the milk during stretching and to roll the milk to finish. I only turn the knob about half a turn. Again, I'm sure better equipment would result in better and more consistent results for the espresso and steamed milk, but I am enjoying the process of learning.

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#6: Post by cannonfodder »

I think the Rancilio Silvia articulating steam wand conversion kit that sells will fit the Gaggia's. I have read reports of it but never tried it myself.
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#7: Post by aindfan »

I don't think that's quite it. The one I have is here. Seems to be out of stock right now, though. I did see some MAJOR improvements when I installed the new wand. There are some instructions here for the installation, which took me about 15-20 minutes (the only issue was bending the original wand out of shape to remove a nut... I had to take a quick trip to a hardware store to borrow their vice) but should take 5-10 for someone who really knows what they're doing.

If you do use this mod, when you click the steam switch on (once the machine is at shot-pulling temperature) you should time about 30 seconds (or the time it takes your machine to reach steam-ready temperature minus about a second) before you start steaming. I usually purge the wand after about 25 seconds and begin steaming shortly after 30. You want the ready light off the entire time so the heating element stays on the entire time that you are steaming in order to maintain a steady amount of steam pressure.
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#8: Post by lberg »

Yeah, I wondered about that one cf linked to... Maybe I read it wrong, but I thought it advertised being "only 1 mm clearance from the drip tray"--which, on a Gaggia, would be rather impractical. On a Gaggia, it would probably hang down on the countertop, if it's that big on a Silvia. Also, thanks for the tip on steaming.

oconee (original poster)

#9: Post by oconee (original poster) »

Thanks aindfan. I had read about that mod, just not feeling the need right now. I have been waiting 15 sec. with the steam switch on, then purging, then counting to 10 to begin steaming. I'll try your way!
lberg, I have my Gaggia set up to the left of my sink, so I'm steaming over the sink with the wand rotated out from the machine. If I made the mod mentioned above I would still not have a problem since the sink is so much lower than the base of the machine. Also, I would like to recommend that you follow the advice of many here about getting a good digital scale to weigh the amount of grounds you put in the filter basket. That was great advice and has allowed me to control my variables. I have found that 13.6 grams to be a really good target for the Gaggia double basket (I assume that yours is the same as mine). I did the headspace measurement with a nickel in the middle of the basket and found that 14.5 g was the weight that would leave an impression when locking the portafilter, but it seems for me that about a gram less yields better results. I don't try to tamp extremely hard, just to the point that the puck seems to firm up. The volume is different for different coffees and grind levels, but with the scale I eliminate one variable.

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#10: Post by Marshall »

oconee wrote:I had tried the espresso at *$, and it was not very good (similar to what I was making at home). I saw a good rating for Octane in Atlanta near Georgia Tech, so I had a chance to go by and try it out. Really, really good. What I had imagined. The Baristas were not busy at the moment and were really nice to me and discussed several issues about making good espresso. I can seriously recommend them. So, I came home realizing that what I was making was something different altogether.
Yes, "something different altogether." For a long time, I have encouraged people to calibrate their home espresso (and their home roasts) by measuring it against a top-quality artisan shop. They are often shocked to find that the bar is much higher than they thought it was (but still reachable with some effort).

With artisan (or "third wave") shops spreading all over the U.S., those calibration trips are becoming much more accessible than they were just a year or two ago.

When the SCAA Conference was in Atlanta in 2004, there wasn't a single shop anyone would recommend to us for espresso. Looks like we'll have at least one shop to enjoy in 2009 (hope there will be more!).
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