ECM Synchronika / Ceado E37S - New Owner

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.
AtlasRearden

#1: Post by AtlasRearden »

I have never made an espresso at home before today. I recently bought an ECM Synchronika w/ Flow Control and a Ceado E37S to pair with it. So I kind of jumped into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim, but that's ok. Now to figure out what I'm doing before I drown.

I bought a can of Espresso from Trader Joe's to test it out and see if I could dial in the grind. It turned out to be a lot more challenging than the video tutorials I watched. I'm trying to get it to 25-30 seconds from first drip to start out. Out of the box, the grinder produced a powder that resulted in a very slow shot. Made a large adjustment, and the shot was still too slow. Adjusted again, and it was super fast. Then started backing off, but it kept being too fast. Adjusted past my previous setting where it was too slow, but it was still too fast. Then it got too slow all of a sudden. Then I started adjusting in the other direction, and never quite got it to the right zone, but went through over a half pound of coffee messing with it. While I was throwing most of the coffee away, I was taking little sips to taste test, and ultimately decided it was time to call it quits before I totally fried myself on caffeine.

I was just trying to fill the portafilter and level using the ECM coffee distributor (which I purchased) and the tamper that came with the machine. It seemed like my pucks were a lot more wet than what I see in videos. I set the flow control setting at 1-1/4 turns to try to achieve a stock flow rate while I learn what I'm doing (What's the stock flow rate for a E61?). These results were all straight out of the box, and I subsequently came across this video: Breaking in a New Espresso Grinder: Burr Seasoning and More Tips, so maybe it will even out as the burrs are "seasoned." Perhaps there was some retained grinds that I didn't clear out between adjustments that threw me off. And I also was not good about "adjusting while the grinder is running" like the video suggested.

I ended up ordering an Acaia Lunar Espresso Scale, so I would have an easier time following some of the advice here: Espresso 101: How to Adjust Dose and Grind Setting by Taste, and have an easier time of achieving the right dose by weight in my portafilter. I also ordered a Jack Leveler, so I could experiment with that.

So it was a slow and sloppy first attempt that wasted a lot of coffee and over-caffeinated myself, but interesting nonetheless! If anyone has any words of wisdom, I'm all ears. I'll keep at it, and hopefully the scale will help.

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Jeff
Team HB

#2: Post by Jeff »

Many grinders need 2-5 kg of coffee grind through them to start to settle in and 5-10 kg to stop "drifting" significantly.

There good news is that TJ's coffee is probably reasonably inexpensive. I'd grind through that, checking carefully for non-coffee things (happens even with the best roasters), taking your time to let the grinder cool a bit between batches. I wouldn't run it more than a minute or two at a time. Then I'd switch to one on the many good "comfort" blends from a well-respected roaster. Coffee needs to be reasonably fresh for espresso. A week to a month after roast, then finished within a week of opening. With a better-quality blend and roast, you hopefully won't have much roast bitterness or other defects clouding your ability to tell how well you extracted the coffee.

I'd stop buying toys. Anything past a comfortable tamper for your hand and a good "WDT" tool has the potential to increase your variability or make things worse. I like the LeverCraft tool or similarly arranged acupuncture needles (0.4 mm or a bit smaller) in a cork. With that you can break up clumps and level well enough.

If, and that's a big if, you have a reason to use other tools, you won't know it until you've got the basics of pulling shots down. Before then, your spending money to solve a problem you likely don't have. $50 in good coffee is going to make a bigger difference in the cup.

AtlasRearden (original poster)

#3: Post by AtlasRearden (original poster) »

Thanks! 2-5 kg is quite a bit, and answers one of the questions I was wondering about. I have a 1 kg bag of Lavazza Super Crema, but was trying to work out some of the kinks before cracking the bag. In all actuality, I think it was cheaper than the TJ's stuff by weight, but I can't just go down to the store to pick it up.

I do recognize some of the items I mentioned are "toys" and may not end up in the daily rotation, but I promise I'm done buying stuff (other than coffee). I do hope the scale ends up being useful in the long term though.

I was looking at the WDT tools, but wasn't sure if the distributors/levelers might accomplish the same thing to a degree, so thought the WDT might not be necessary.

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Jeff
Team HB

#4: Post by Jeff »

TL;DR

* Buy some medium-dark, espresso blend from one of the reputable, "specialty" roasters, open it within a month of roast and use it up within a week of opening the bag (roast levels on websites or bags are mainly marketing fluff, anything that is suggested for espresso and isn't shiny or oily is probably medium-dark or medium).
* Learn to pull shots with a WDT tool to homogenize and level the grinds, with "any" non-plastic tamper, using your fingertips to confirm you're square to the basket
* Trust your taste, taking the time to learn to distinguish sour vs. bitter, especially with roast bitterness in the mix
* Take lots of notes. At least coffee, dose, grind (inputs), time, yield and flavor notes (outputs). The flavor notes don't have to be fancy. "Yuck, super bitter" is probably enough to start. For me, it helps me see patterns and learn what changing X by some amount often does.

---

I've read that the Lavassa may stale very quickly once opened. You might want to consider immediately splitting it into batches of a day or two and freezing it. Several threads on how to do that, with the smallest Mason-style jars (or Weck) filled to the top being a reasonable option if you don't have a vacuum sealer.

There have been many discussions of various levelers and distributors here. The "original", OCD-style ones, as I understand it, appeared to address a specific judging criteria in barista competitions, how the puck looked. Not taste, but they were and are a way not to lose "technical points". As much as one might wish that barista competitions are about who makes the best drinks, there's a huge amount of "presentation" involved.

As far as I can tell, these tools and most of those that followed only groom the top couple mm of the puck. They aren't going to deal with clumps, voids, or already uneven distribution in the bulk. If you're not close to perfectly level to start with, they have the potential to unevenly compress the puck, which would likely lead to uneven extraction. There are several reports of the Ceado grinders resulting in a "mohawk" distribution of grinds in the basket. This kind of unevenness is one of the things that a good WDT tool can address, along with the clumps. Even a nice, neat pile might be more compressed in the center of the basket than at the edges. Shaker cups can deal with some of it, but then many have found that flipping over the cup results in uneven compression depending on which way you flip it. Lots of snake oil out there, in my opinion.

I'd avoid VST and other fast-flowing baskets until you have a confirmed need for them. They will make your life miserable until you get your puck-prep skills down. Even then, they may not be the right choice for your coffee, grinder, machine, and tastes.

For decades, I made great espresso with an ancient, ordinary, manual "58" tamper (pre-"precision"), stamped-metal baskets, and an 0.1 g resolution scale for weighing doses. I occasionally pull them out and always end up with the same result. Yep, that stuff works.

Edit: Here's a photo of the idea of using your fingertips to help make sure you're square to the basket. You should be able to feel the rim of the basket as you set the tamper in and then start to press.


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JB90068
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#5: Post by JB90068 »

Congrats on a great setup. The Luna is an excellent choice as well.

Everything that Jeff says is spot on.

I will add from my own experience with my Synchronika that having the FC open to 1-1/4 will yield too fast of a shot in most cases. I don't open my FC more than 3/4 and that's not for the whole shot.

If you don't have a bottomless portafilter, you might want to get one. It allows you to see if you have any channeling happening and is also a great tool to refine your puck preparation. If you go that route, having a mirror that sits on your drip tray is less taxing on your back.

You are doing all the right steps and I'll wager you will be pulling some nice shots very soon.
Head of lifestyle maintenance.

AtlasRearden (original poster)

#6: Post by AtlasRearden (original poster) »

Thanks for the tips. I do have a bottomless portafilter, so maybe I'll get that out to start testing with. Sounds like some good ideas for me to play with.

I actually do have a vacuum sealer, so that's a good strategy to break up the beans for into smaller batches for the freezer, since I do think 1 kg / 2.2 lbs would be a lot for just me and my wife to go through in a week.

Really appreciate the advice!

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JB90068
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#7: Post by JB90068 »

The La Crema works really well frozen and I found you can grind it right out of the freezer. I bought a few bags of it to season one of my grinders and liked it enough to freeze some. While it's not my go to beans, I found I actually rather enjoy it. It's very chocolatey and has a rich mouthfeel. Since you have a vacuum sealer, you won't need to get an airscape container either.

FWIW - with my EG-1, I ran 15 lbs of beans through it before I started pulling shots to be tasted. I asked a bunch of my neighbors how they prepared their coffee and then gave them 1-2 lbs ground to their liking.

Laguna should have some good local roasters. If you haven't found one you like from drinking their espresso keep sampling until you do. Once you get your grinder dialed in, I would buy from them. This way it assures you of the freshest beans. Also ask the roaster if the date on the package is the roast date or the package date. My favorite roaster lets his beans off gas for a week before he packages the beans or uses them in his cafe. It means they are ready to be used as soon as I bring them home. I still store them in bean cellars with one way valves, but I don't buy more than what I need for more than two weeks.
Head of lifestyle maintenance.

Ypuh

#8: Post by Ypuh »

Make sure you adjust your grind with the grinder running, and purge a few grams for it to settle on its new setting. It is very likely you want to save your precious coffee at first and half of the grounds in the machine are still on the old setting and half on the new. You then keep shooting at a moving target.
I don't want a Decent

bobkat
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#9: Post by bobkat »

!. Congratulations on your new set up! This is what I have.
2. You have received a lot of good advice.
3. Patience, patience, patience
4. I obtained an out of date 5 pound bag of beans for free from a local roaster....and it helped me season the burrs. It does make a big difference when the burrs are seasoned.
5. Once the burrs are seasoned, you can begin to more accurately assess your grind and dose. It is important to change grind setting when grinder is running. This is especially important to do when you are decreasing the grind setting.
6. It will take a while to get where you want to be....but you will get there!

AtlasRearden (original poster)

#10: Post by AtlasRearden (original poster) »

More good info. And found a couple local roasters:
Jedidiah Coffee - This husband/wife team seem small but deliver for free in my town, which is cool.
Common Room Roasters - This business isn't too far away, and has a number of options.

The Lavazza Super Crema has been tasting quite a bit better than the TJs stuff despite still not being able to get very consistent yet.

Also stumbled onto this thread, which is helpful and has a lot of similar advice: Tips you wish someone had told you...

One thing I'm curious about is what people with similar equipment have settled on for a daily cleaning routine. Obviously this is a bit dependent on your usage, but a lot of the tutorials online seem to deal with the more infrequent cleaning that includes the whole Cafiza/backflush rigmarole. I'm wondering about the right things to do after pulling 2-5 shots and then letting it sit for the day. Do you just wipe out the portafilter? Rinse with water? Wash with soap and water? Do you just wipe out the group head with a cloth? More? I'm sure it's a super simple answer, but just wondering if there's an established best practice.