how to get decent espresso from thermoblock espresso machine?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
gregjp48

#1: Post by gregjp48 »

Okay, so I am a teenager, interested in the art of pulling a shot. I am not one of those people who just wants a convenient cup, and I do want to learn the proper technique, because it really is an art.

Now, my parents decided to buy a Breville Cafe Roma. I think it's what they thought was the best we could afford. It got good reviews, however, much to my dismay it has a thermoblock core, and pressurized portafilters.

My shots are extracted in 10-15 seconds instead of the 20-25, no matter how fine a grind of coffee or use, or how hard I tamp it. I know that a grinder and fresh coffee makes all the difference, but i bought a very fine grind, so I'm guessing grind isn't the problem. I really want a good shot and it just seems to gush out too quickly with it, and I've tried quite a bit, i've even tamped it a lot harder than 30lbs to make sure it wasn't the grind, etc.

It's on my top priorities to get the grinder and order fresh. Now where do I get freshly roasted beans online, or in a store? Besides the coffee, is there anything I can do to insure a good shot? Should I buy a non-pressurized basket, and a better tamper than the plasticy thing that came with my machine? Is the sizing on the portafilters universal, and would new ones fit my machine? Since the pressurized filter completely disregards the grind and tamp pressure, a finer grind of coffee isn't going to help until I get a better portafilter, no? It seems the pressurized tries to make it easy for most consumers to pull, and is "acceptable" and creates fake "crema", but I'd rather be in control and be able to produce espresso that's a joy to drink, rather than a bitter shot with houdini crema. Is the thermoblock a problem, or can I get away with it? Again, I know the freshness of the coffee is important, but that should be really only affecting the crema, not the extraction time, no?

Thanks a bunch I'm a bit new to this.

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HB
Admin

#2: Post by HB »

gregjp48 wrote:It got good reviews, however, much to my dismay it has a thermoblock core, and pressurized portafilters.
Double ouch.
gregjp48 wrote:I know that a grinder and fresh coffee makes all the difference, but i bought a very fine grind, so I'm guessing grind isn't the problem.
Preground coffee = stale coffee (longer answer).
gregjp48 wrote:Now where do I get freshly roasted beans online, or in a store?
The Coffees forums has a number of recommendations. You can't go wrong with the sponsors / roasters listed under Commerce on the Resources page.
gregjp48 wrote:Besides the coffee, is there anything I can do to insure a good shot?... Thanks a bunch I'm a bit new to this.
Check out the site's recommended reading, it covers all the "getting started" questions.

The short and honest answer to your original question: You have great parents. They would have benefited from some seasoned advice or reading Mark's How to Buy an Espresso Machine, but hey, how would they know? Although I'm not familiar with the particulars of your espresso machine, the thermoblock and unregulated brew pump means yours is not capable of greatness. Coupled with a good grinder (suggestions), good coffee, non-pressurized portafilter, and well-fitted tamper, it will produce a cup on par with your average cafe (which sadly isn't difficult).

With all due respect to your gift-givers, I would return the Breville Cafe Roma for a good grinder and a French press (longer answer). You'll enjoy better coffee from day 1.
Dan Kehn

gregjp48

#3: Post by gregjp48 »

Yes I have very great parents, unfortunately they did not ask me for my consideration when buying, and went solely on consumer reviews instead of guides or a place like coffee geek or this site. well i can't return it, as in truth it does not belong fully to me, plus the return period is far over by now. So I guess I have to make do with the espresso machine I have. Plus, i would rather espresso than press coffee.
I've been looking at the solis maestro as a grinder, which I will be chipping in for/ buying myself. I definitely don't want to skimp in that department. I will also look at the thread of recommendations you recommended, as well as the coffee.

Where would I be able to get a non pressurized portafilter from that will fit the machine?

Honestly, I have money saved up, and almost want to buy my own machine with it, and do it right. i would be forsaking other pleasures instead, but for good coffee, I'm pretty sure i'd be willing to swallow it (heh, no pun intended).

Ugh, the machine's site really does scream FOOLED CONSUMER. Oh well. maybe by upgrading the portafilter and getting fresh coffee i can at least be happy with this machine for a little while, and upgrade later on?

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HB
Admin

#4: Post by HB »

gregjp48 wrote:I've been looking at the solis maestro as a grinder, which I will be chipping in for/ buying myself.
That would be fine for presspot, but you need better for espresso and it will cost only a teenie bit more (e.g., Cunill Tranquilo, Nemox Lux, etc.).
gregjp48 wrote:Where would I be able to get a non pressurized portafilter from that will fit the machine?
I don't know, but Google is my friend, leading me to the answer in less than 1 minute on at least two other sites: Breville+Cafe+Roma+portafilter.
gregjp48 wrote:Ugh, the machine's site really does scream FOOLED CONSUMER. Oh well.
You're not kidding. My casual searching with Google turned up pages of the same glowing review spammed on multiple websites. :roll:
Dan Kehn

AndyNZ

#5: Post by AndyNZ »

Your story closely resembles my own! Nice to know I'm not the only espresso obsessed teenager.

I started out with a Breville early last year. It was the model slightly cheaper than the Roma but probably about identical (BES200 if I recall). Using pre-ground, I did manage to pull some decent shots (relatively speaking of course, they wouldn't stack up to anything I'm used to now). But I could pull a ~25 second extraction that would stay a rich-dark colour during the pour. I was using a relatively coarse "espresso" grind (ie. more of a fine french press grind - which is exactly what my mother had been buying it for!).
Depending on how the basket was loaded/tamped results would swing wildly. However after a month or so I did manage to become somewhat consistent. It was over a year ago now, but I recall my technique was to load to the BRIM, tamp lightly and LOAD MORE - then give it a long and heavy (like, as hard as you physically can) tamp to finish off, while trying to keep it level.

If you're buying a decent grinder, you may as well look at getting a new machine now. These machines are designed for pre-ground, you will likely become fed up with your results very quickly.

I've no idea what the secondhand market is like NY, but hopefully cheap second hand machines are readily available on sites like ebay? If you're looking to save money, that's where I'd start.

If you're interested in my story, after living with the Breville for a few months (and doing much learning on the internet ;)) I found a 2nd hand Krups 880 (Vivo) and used that before getting very nice deal on a near-new plumbed in Brasilia Lady (similar class as the Silvia) which I've been using since. I've also just finished restoring a Carimali Uno I bought very cheaply, and will be switching to that once it's all plumbed in (and the kinks ironed out :)).

Of course I have had a couple of grinders too. I started with the Sunbeam EM0480 (lux burrs) which I had been using up till a couple of months ago when I got a nice deal on a Nuova Ricambi Junior (50mm flat burr, probably an Anfim Haus clone). I find the EM0480 produces less-clumpy grinds, and would recommend a lux burr grinder or better for your first.

PS. I found this article very helpful in ranking machines: http://www.coffeegeek.com/opinions/alanfrew/07-01-2002
(though you may have already stumbled across it?)

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Randy G.

#6: Post by Randy G. »

gregjp48 wrote:....my parents decided to buy a Breville Cafe Roma. I think it's what they thought was the best we could afford. It got good reviews, however, much to my dismay it has a thermoblock core, and pressurized portafilters.
My first recommendation is to get your parents to read my website. I started thinking much the same way when I started, but I did the research and ended up with a machine and grinder that has served me well for nearly 7 years now (although I just upgraded). I have made drinkable espresso with a thermoblock machine but it was an older, well-designed one. They are not the best, and you will never get consistent results as you would from a single-boiler or HX machine, but some are capable of producing a beverage that you won't need to spit on the floor- that machine is not one of them (and if there are any currently being made I do not know).
.........but i bought a very fine grind, so I'm guessing grind isn't the problem. I really want a good shot and it just seems to gush out too quickly with it, and I've tried quite a bit, I've even tamped it a lot harder than 30lbs to make sure it wasn't the grind, etc.
As others have told you, forget pre-ground. The grinder is MORE important then the machine.
.... Again, I know the freshness of the coffee is important, but that should be really only affecting the crema, not the extraction time, no?
Freshness of the coffee is not important- it is CRITICAL! Ten days from the roasted date is about as old as let my coffee get. Once you get accustomed to REALLY fresh coffee, nothing else will do. Look for a local roaster- some coffee shops are roasting on premises. Ask them what days they roast. To generalize (non-scientifically), green beans will last 6 months to a year or more. Roasted whole beans will be good for about two weeks if properly stored. Ground coffee (at least for espresso) is good for about ten or fifteen minutes (after grinding, mine doesn't sit for more than three or four minutes).

It's too late now, but I would have told you (depending on your budget) to get the grinder first. Figure on spending at least $250-300. If you can't afford a decent espresso machine after that, I would recommend the Aerobie Aeropress. Regardless as to what the packaging says it does not make espresso, but with freshly ground coffee it probably makes the best cup of coffee you have ever tasted- for an investment of about $30. For decent espresso, if you figure ABOUT $700-900 for a basic setup you are closer to reality. If you want an upper-crust home setup, figure closer to $1500-2000 (rough, off-the-top-of-the-head estimates).

The Breville = eBay.

Just my $.02
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

acquavivaespresso

#7: Post by acquavivaespresso »

do not get it wrong : household espresso machines can be thermoblock or boiler and based on this specific difference, a thermoblock machine will always make a better espresso for a number of reasons, that I will not entirely explain hereafter : ACQUAVIVA (live water) was a patent back in 1962 (and the very 2nd household espresso machine on the market), and then as the patent expired it remained as registered trade mark : you draw fresh (live) water everytime you make a coffee (so I am supposed to know a little bit).
The water is heated to the correct temperature as it passes through a "metal block with a heating element", (not exactly the HX in boilers of professional machines) and pressure builds up as the water hits the coffee giving place to a natural infusion time that makes the brew of better quality: Of course the size of thermoblock and heating element go for the thermal stability and consistency of brew, while the speed of brew should not affect the brewing temperature, although that does happen in the lower quality thermoblocks that are not well balanced, underpowered or overpowered.In such cases slower flow results in hotter water and you burn your espresso, while faster flow results in cooler water and your coffee is underextracted: Still if the grind is correct you get the correct ratio and the correct temperature and a top brew : the sole way to correct the brew speed is working on grinder: the coarser is your grinding the faster is your brew, grind finer and you get longer brew time : it does not take long to get to the best result if you have a good grinder and you have an idea of what to do.
Breville is not a bad machine (otherwise Solis would never dream of having the very machine in their line and under their name), but again espresso machines should only be sold by people who can show you how to use it, and when used right it will give good results: so your parents did not wrong except that they did not realize or were not told that without a grinder (and some teaching)you would get nowhere: Maybe this comes late (given the date of your original post, but alas I only joined recently), but believe me that "even" the Breville if used correctly can make you a more than decent espresso, but again remember that with espresso you have at least 5 variable M's : that's Macchina (machine), Macinacaffe (grinder), Miscela (coffee blend), Mano (hand (yours)), Manutenzione (maintenance, that's regular servicing to your machine), and you need all 5 to make a great cup.
It is not as bad though: you just need a lot of practicing.
Would like to know how you dealt with the matter and if I can be of more help

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HB
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#8: Post by HB »

acquavivaespresso wrote:a thermoblock machine will always make a better espresso for a number of reasons...
Sweeping generalizations are easy to make, but carry little weight among those who are well informed. I cannot name one thermoblock espresso machine that has earned recognition for its superiority in the US market. Perhaps they've garnered more attention overseas?
acquavivaespresso wrote:ACQUAVIVA (live water) was a patent back in 1962 (and the very 2nd household espresso machine on the market), and then as the patent expired it remained as registered trade mark
Was this patent issued in the US? Because I could not find it in the USPTO searching under "ACQUAVIVA". If you happen to have the patent number handy, would you post it? Thanks.
Dan Kehn

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Bluecold
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#9: Post by Bluecold »

I really doubt the acquaviva was the second espresso machine on the market.
The Gaggia Gilda was first. Then you had the Gaggia Gilda v2, the Faema Faemina (not even counting the baby), the Peppina was probably earlier too. I don't know about the Caravel, Brunella, Zerowatt et al, but they probably were earlier too.
LMWDP #232
"Though I Fly Through the Valley of Death I Shall Fear No Evil For I am at 80,000 Feet and Climbing."

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another_jim
Team HB

#10: Post by another_jim »

The first thermoblock home machine, afaik, was by Quickmill, in combination with a rotary pump, in the late 70s. They still make thermoblock home machines, using steel and copper, rather than the usual aluminum, priced roughly the same as Silvias.

About 1.5 seconds of thought will convince you that a thermoblock in combination with a conventional lever group will produce stunningly transparent espresso.

Thermoblocks have the potential to respond fast enough to make intrashot temperature profiling possible. Needless to say that won't happen with a button thermostat most thermoblock machines use.
Jim Schulman