How can I stop worrying and learn to love Livia?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
waxnyc
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#1: Post by waxnyc »

A lot of the HX tips here seem to apply to E61 machines. I'm a relative newbie (six months into the obsession) and getting relatively good results with my Livia semi-auto. I've tried a lot of the HX flushing/cooling techniques on this site, but still getting a little sourness in the shots.

I'm using a Gaggia MDF grinder and have no problem hitting 20-25 second doubles. I primarily use illy whole bean and go through cans about once a week, so the coffee is relatively fresh. I've got a good quality tamper and have been practicing various distribution techniques.

But I can't seem to hit a "god" shot. The crema always seems a bit blond. Can't seem to ever get any real tiger striping going.

Do the same flushing techniques for E61 machines apply to Livia (which is an HX, but not E61). Without a flush, the water temp is definitely too high. Takes a good 6 oz. to stop the dance, then I typically pour out an additional couple of ounces. Grind, dose, distribute, tamp -- all under a minute -- then pull the shot, but they are consistently sour. Not terrible, mind you, and better than most of the junk you can get in NYC, but never a god shot.

I've been to countless illy coffee bars in Italy and quaffed cup after cup of unbelievable brew. I know the coffee is capable of greatness (at least on commercial-grade machines).

Any quick tips on the first things to try to get a great shot out of Livia?

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HB
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#2: Post by HB »

waxnyc wrote:I primarily use illy whole bean and go through cans about once a week, so the coffee is relatively fresh... The crema always seems a bit blond. Can't seem to ever get any real tiger striping going.
My experience with Illy whole bean coffee from the can mirrors your description, especially the day after it's opened: Light crema, low body, little striping. I found the flavor "OK" though not particularly interesting; the thread Good coffees I've had recently names others that I would rather have. Illy's patented nitrogen flushed cans may preserve coffee longer, but why bother when genuinely fresh roasted coffee is readily available in the US?

BTW, I tried out Bob Barazza's Livia 90 before he upgraded to the Elektra A3. It was definitely capable of respectable shots. He reworked the holes on the diffusion disk to reduce problems with channeling; I'll ask him to post a few more details.
Dan Kehn

Bob Barraza

#3: Post by Bob Barraza »

I found the Livia to be very sensitive to overdosing. The stock baskets are quite shallow, and my tendency was to overdose. Once I started to cut back, the channeling was much reduced.

Unfortunately, I did not take pictures of the modification of the brass shower screen. As I recall, it came with six holes. I bought a spare shower screen and had the holes brazed. Then I redrilled four holes. This seemed to reduce the 'water hammer' effect, allowing what appeared to be a more gradual increase in water flow and pressure that gave the coffee some time for expansion.

I would switch back and forth between the two shower screens, and in the end, I think that the dosing amount was the more significant factor in the channeling.

I sold the machine to a friend who used the Illy coffee for a while until he found a local roaster. He concurs with you finding and that of Dan and others. If you haven't tried it, you might want to find some fresh locally roasted coffee.

Good luck.
Bob Barraza

LMWDP#0021

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another_jim
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#4: Post by another_jim »

waxnyc wrote:I'm a relative newbie (six months into the obsession) and getting relatively good results with my Livia semi-auto. I've tried a lot of the HX flushing/cooling techniques on this site, but still getting a little sourness in the shots.

I'm using a Gaggia MDF grinder and have no problem hitting 20-25 second doubles. I primarily use illy whole bean and go through cans about once a week, so the coffee is relatively fresh. I've got a good quality tamper and have been practicing various distribution techniques.

But I can't seem to hit a "god" shot. The crema always seems a bit blond. Can't seem to ever get any real tiger striping going.

Any quick tips on the first things to try to get a great shot out of Livia?
Mark Prince was one of the first amateurs to get an HX machine, and he chose a Livia. Well after the fact he reported it took him a very long time to get up to speed on it. There's some how-to hints on Marks coffeekid site, and I got what I'm writing below from chatting with him. I know of no website that gives a full how-to for the Livia.

While E61 machines have a much shorter learning curve; Mark thinks the Livia, once learnt, is as good or better. The same would apply to the old Bezzera 90 or the new 02 (being sold at 1st line for a killer price), which have the same internals.

First off, get a deeper basket -- the LM doubles are apparently best for this machine -- the Bezzera baskets are very shallow and sensitive to overloading. Alan Frew in a long test found that many so called machine differences were really differences in basket size. There needs to be ample headspace between the top of the puck and the screen, since there is no room behind the screen for water to steep. Even after the puck has expanded, there should be no shower screen marks on it after the shot. This also means you'll need to tamp very meticulously, so the puck doesn't disintegrate.

The Livias have a high water debit and large gicleurs; therefore they are quite sensitive to grind. You may need to do in-between grinds on the MDF, either by holding the setting wheel between two stops, or by starting the grind at the finer stop, and clicking it to the coarser one half way through.

The thermal setup on the Livia is a largish 6 ounce or so heat exchanger in a vertical boiler, with much of the stored water in the steam, feeding a light weight brew head bolted to the boiler. The brewhead will run about 10F to 15F too cool on idle. This design is sized so that the flush of overheated HX water will heat the head and cool down the HX at the same time -- it requires the famous "blank shot," a 1 to 2 ounce flush rather than the extended ones used by the E61s. This is actually more convenient for the first shot from idle; although the design is not as temperature stable for a long series of shots. The cooling flush may only take 3 to 6 seconds -- all the water dance stuff described for the E61 machines does not apply. Use a measuring cup to find out how long it takes to get this amount of water.

There's lots of consumer reviews of the Livia up on the coffeegeek site; some have user tips.

waxnyc (original poster)
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#5: Post by waxnyc (original poster) »

Dan/Bob/Jim,

Thanks for all the great tips. And I have indeed tried other beans beside illy, including freshly roasted Black Cat. But I've got cans and cans of illy based on joining their membership program to get the Livia at a discount, so eager to run through some of it (if I can make it work). Regardless of bean, the sourness is there.

I'll definitely try experimenting with dosage and getting a deeper LM basket, as well as upgrading grinders to either a Mazz Mini or a Macap M4 or MX. However, none of my pucks seem to be touching the screen. The Livia manual recommends a 1/4" space between tamped puck and top of portafilter. I believe I am well below that. I do notice that the left side of a double spout tends to consistently pour a bit faster than the right. Perhaps I still haven't perfected distributing/tamping.

I've read a lot of stuff about Livia online and the sentiment seems to be that the machine runs a bit cold (unlike E61 machines). Yet if mine has been idle for a while and I turn on the pump, water splatters everywhere for about 4 ozs. finally calming down into a vertical stream. I take it this is the so-called "water dance" referred to in the How I Stopped Worrying article. So Jim, do you still think a short 1-2 oz. flush is sufficient if the machine behaves as I've described? Or could this be a pressurestat problem (turned up too high)?

Barry

akin

#6: Post by akin »

Hi Barry,

as a Bezzera owner I would strongly recommend that you make the spare portafilter naked.
All the sourness was gone after I chopped the PF and saw that I was always getting channeling and/or
uneven pours. The Bezzera is finicky, very sensitive to the dosage.
The sourness is most of the time because of the underextraction other than the cold brew water.
It took me a while till I corrected my distribution and dosage.

Jim, I do not know if Mark's Livia was modded or not but my Bezzera's brewhead gets up to 102 C after 40 minutes idle - adjusted to cycle btw. 0.9-1.1 bar - so that one can severely burn himself. Reading at CoffeeGeek I also thought that the Bezzera has a cold nose but this is not what I measured.
If you open the top and leave it like that the group will run at least 6C cooler. May be owners were doing the measurements with a naked Bezzera.

Akin

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malachi

#7: Post by malachi »

waxnyc wrote: Regardless of bean, the sourness is there.
If you're getting sourness from all coffees, it's likely your machine is running cold.
This is especially true if you're getting sourness from the black cat.

Your other descriptions also sound like it could be a temp issue.


Some quick thoughts:

1) buy a LM double basket. seriously.
2) work on dosing and distributing.
3) most importantly... try flushing less.

the easiest way to check your temp is to try the "flush and go" method of flushing and shot by shot decrease the time you flush for. taste the shots. you should get sourness, then slight sourness and thin on the palate, then sweet spot, then thin and harsh, then bitter, then burnt.


Finally... just because you can get a great shot of fresh, locally roasted Illy in Italy doesn't mean you can get a decent shot of that same coffee once it's a year old and sitting in a can here in the US. I know you got the coffee for free, but you're handicapping yourself.
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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HB
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#8: Post by HB »

Good suggestion Jim, I've split your post to The $10 Method for Temperature Tuning an HX Machine so it doesn't get buried in a Livia-specific thread...
another_jim wrote:


Sure contradicts what I heard; but seeing is always better than hearsay.

If you read the posts here, you'll get the impression that temperature measurements require a major outlay. This is true if you want temperature graphs of the whole shot using procedures that are repeatable across different brands. It is not true for measuring average shot temperatures and determining the required flush amount. So back by popular demand:

(cont'd in split thread)
Dan Kehn

waxnyc (original poster)
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#9: Post by waxnyc (original poster) »

Thanks for all the tips, everyone. So far, I have:

1) Purchased a naked portafilter with LM triple basket

2) Upgraded the Gaggia MDF to a Mazzer Mini

3) Bought some fresh roast from NYC's Ninth Street Espresso (their Alphabet City blend), which hit its peak today (Merry Christmas Eve!)

4) Reduced the HX flush volume to a couple of ounces (the "blank shot") and experimented with shorter and longer flushes

Wow, what a huge difference! Sourness is all gone, I'm finally pulling the shots of my dreams, with real crema and no blonding. My shots are a tad off of Ninth Street Espresso's Faema Legend and their professional baristas, but a lot closer than I ever thought I would be. Livia might not be an E61 machine, but she is quite capable nonetheless. This is the day when it all finally came together for me. Still have lots to learn, but the path forward is now quite clear.

Thanks again for all the tips!

mineralman55

#10: Post by mineralman55 »

waxnyc wrote:
2) Upgraded the Gaggia MDF to a Mazzer Mini

Thanks again for all the tips!
How much do you think the switch from Gaggia MDF to Mazzer helped?

I got an MDF for Christmas, and enjoy the daylights out of it. I'm researching an upgrade for my espresso machine right now (anyone here have the Bezzera BZ02S?), and while most people seem to go with a Mazzer or Rocky, no one has directly bad-mouthed an MDF.

Larry
Mandeville, LA