My Home Espresso Set-Up

Recently I began writing a post about the merits of weighing espresso dose and yield, and then realised I haven’t really ever outlined just what my espresso brewing equipment consists of. I’ll warn you now this most certainly is not a post about fancy high-end equipment, however what I do have does a pretty good job at producing tasty espresso.

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Of course you can spend as much as you like on this type of stuff, however I’m also a firm believer in maximising the potential of what you have, regardless of your particular level of investment. Further, I believe some great results can be achieved from what is available in the home appliance segment of the market.

So, as a preface to some more posts I am thinking of writing down the line (most of which admittedly exist only in my mind at the current time), what follows is the machinery and other bits and pieces I use to produce stunning, high quality espresso at home. Haha! If I knew what I was doing with this blogging game, that’s a better post title right there.

Before we move onto what is sitting on my kitchen bench, I think it is worth pointing out that while I may have high praise for the machine I use, your mileage may vary of course, and remember my perspective comes from a firmly narrow field of usage. I mean after all, you buy a machine and if it works well, you use it — for many years. I’ve really had no reason to look around or try others out.

In saying that, there are machines and home enthusiasts who can no doubt churn out better results, however I’m pretty happy with what ultimately ends up in my cup.

Let’s get underway then.

Machinery

Espresso Machine – Sunbeam Cafe Series EM7000

As I mentioned in the opening, with the exception of my filter grinder (more on this below), my equipment remains firmly in the realm of what I’d describe as consumer-level home appliances.

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The espresso machine is a Sunbeam Cafe Series EM7000. This particular one was bought from our local Harvey Norman after seeing an advertised price posted on OzBargain of $399.00. As you can see from the link in the section heading above, the model’s RRP is $849.00, and is routinely listed between around $699.00 and $899.00 in stores (for example at the time of writing, The Good Guys also have an online listing of $679.00).

We purchased the EM7000 fairly hastily, not wanting to miss such a good price, despite being a little wary of the reason for such a large reduction. The decision was made a little easier by the fact we had been using the previous model (EM6910) for about 4 years, and prior to that, the original EM6900 for nearly 7 years (after winning it through a magazine subscription competition). We at least had a certain expectation of reliability and performance through experience.

Although my intention here is not a full product review, suffice to say, in the two and a half years we’ve had the current model, with care and regular cleaning, it performs just about perfectly. Reviews online are mostly positive, and generally when there are issues, they centre around the performance and/or reliability of the steam wand and knob. Admittedly, in recent months I’ve had the steam control knob off and readjusted things slightly, however beyond that I’ve not had any concerns whatsoever. Beyond replacing the O-ring in the group head, that is also about my limit as far as taking things apart and tweaking them.

Why this particular model? As I mentioned, most likely familiarity in the first instance, after owning the two previous models, and the expectation of a few issues being ironed out now that a third generation had been released.

I should mention at this point that from a use perspective, the machine produces two espresso shots, with two (because one is low-fat, and one is not) associated milk steamings each weekday morning, three of each on weekends with an additional two or three more occasionally when visitors call in over the weekend. So although not high volume by any stretch, the machine does see use pretty much 365 days a year.

Other key features include a twin-thermoblock, allowing texturing of milk and extraction of espresso at the same time; relatively rapid heating when switched on; programmable water/steam temperatures and pre-infusion modes; and cleaning cycles for both back-flushing and descaling. A separate hot water arm though not essential, is certainly nice to have, and I do use it to pre-heat the cups.

An aside on the PID controlled twin thermoblock. I’m sure there are purists who prefer a twin boiler to a thermoblock set up, however at the price point we are talking about, the temperature stability is great, and having one thermoblock for espresso and one for steam is a godsend. Although it is of course not essential to simultaneously heat/texture milk and extract the espresso, not having to wait for the machine to alter its temperature before doing so has been a must-have feature for me since that initial EM6900. I don’t think it is something I could now be without.

img_6606The 15 bar pump for producing espresso performs exceptionally well, with a pre-infusion mode to improve evenness of the extraction. Of course every few years the seal needs replacing around the group head, however I have never had any issues with the pump itself.

All in all I’m pretty content with the quality of output from the current machine, and I reiterate here my belief in maximising the little things to create better quality espresso, rather than necessarily spending thousands on a home machine. That being said, like anyone I do dream, and budget permitting I would of course do both — in a heartbeat. Honestly though, my main point is that a machine like this one or others in this category do a great job if you apply a little effort towards the details.

My main gripes? Not many really. The design of the drip tray seems a little short in relation to the group head above it, and sees water splash out onto the bench top when flushing the group head, though flushing into a cup avoids this fairly easily. There is a slight delay in the steam pump shutting off when the switch is closed, however this is easily accounted for after your first couple of uses. I don’t tend to use the milk temperature or espresso pressure gauges in day-to-day use, preferring to use other methods for assessing this information.

img_3752The steam function for heating/texturing milk may be a little slow compared with some other machines (I’m not 100% sure it is), taking on average around 50 seconds for milk to come to temperature for a single beverage, and about half that again for two drinks. Again, in a home setting I believe this is more than acceptable, and I’ve no real complaints about that.

All in all, I’ve been very happy with the Sunbeam line of Cafe Series espresso machines for well over a decade now, and my current model certainly does not disappoint. This is a machine made with commercial touches (Twin thermoblock, brass 58mm group head, sloping portafilter handle etc) rather than commercial components per se (no E61 group head, twin boiler or pressure profiling), however this is what makes it such value for money in this segment of the market.

It’s a great machine I enjoy using each and every day.

Grinder – Sunbeam Cafe Series EM0700

As you can probably tell from the above, I’m pretty happy with the espresso machine currently sitting on my kitchen bench, and have no real plans to look around for another. Not so the Sunbeam EM0700 grinder designed and marketed as the partner to the machine I’ve discussed above. I would say it does an admirable job, and a replacement will probably come for reasons other than dissatisfaction entirely.

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Along similar lines to the espresso machines I’ve owned, this is the third in a line of Sunbeam grinders, which have served me well over the years also. The purchase of the current model was made in mid 2014 after an ill-fated, short stint with a Breville Smart Grinder, with which I was unable to adjust the grind fine enough for espresso. I believe the Smart Grinder Pro is the one you want (should Breville be your choice), however at the time I had picked up the particular Breville model at a very discounted sale price.

In any event, it was back to what had been the faithful tried and true Sunbeams again. I say what had been tried and true simply because the EM0700 was a major redesign on its predecessors and I wasn’t entirely sure how the new model stacked up. On the whole I needn’t have worried, as it is more than adequate in coping with the required grind size (read “fineness”) of standard single floor filter baskets along with the aftermarket VST basket I know use.

img_6572The grinder itself contains conical stainless steel burrs, has 30 steps of adjustment (more on this below), 450g bean hopper capacity, and the ability to grind directly into the group handle, with a built-in switch in the portafilter cradle to do so. It is belt driven in an attempt to reduce vibration and noise apparently, however what can I say — a coffee grinder is a coffee grinder — they are noisy beasts.

The main issues I’ve had over the past couple of years relate more to grind retention (grinds left in the chute or adjacent to the burrs), cleaning, and a little inconsistency at times. Add to that the grinds clumping a little has me thinking that if the EM0700 were to give up the ghost tomorrow, I’d probably be looking at an upgrade purchase rather than a direct replacement.

On a side note, in the images I’ve included in this post you’ll notice another grinder — the Baratza Vario, worth far more than the Sunbeam, and a much higher quality grinder in its own right. Why then would I be using the Sunbeam in preference? Simply the fact that every day I grind for espresso as I’ve mentioned above, and also for either AeroPress or my V60 drip filter. I’ve always been apprehensive about constantly adjusting back and forth between coarse and fine settings, preferring to keep one grinder for filter and another for espresso.

Firstly, a rather privileged situation I know, and my intention is to care for the grinders a little more in doing so. Whether this really makes any difference or not I’m not entirely sure, however that is how I roll, and on that basis I will continue. By the way, the Vario was an Instagram competition win through the good folk at Espresso Parts – yes I’ve been very competition-lucky in my coffee journey over the years.

So, the positives I’ve found with the Sunbeam – firstly the price. With RRP at AU$299.00, the grinder can often be found at various sales for around $50.00 less. Next, adjustment. The grinder comes with a stepped, 30 increment adjustment collar, which more importantly can be recalibrated at either end to go a little further than the standard 0 or 30.

Depending upon how you may use it, this ability could be a deal breaker. For my espresso grinders, I need to be able to achieve a fine enough grind to ensure my espresso machine is usable. That is, allows me enough flexibility to control the flow at a given dose. When using the standard single floor filter baskets which come with the EM7000 Espresso Machine, or VST baskets, the grind essentially needs to be similar to what you will find in a commercial setting. This is a lot finer than lower end machines which utilise dual floor baskets to accommodate the pre-ground supermarket coffee sold in vacuum sealed bricks.

I’ve recalibrated the grinder finer than the zero setting to the tune of 5-7 additional steps, which is a little over done, however I still like to be able to drop down a couple of steps if I need to, without hitting the zero marker. The user manual will advise if you recalibrate too finely, it will result in “a metallic grinding noise” as the burrs collide. We don’t want that of course, so if you head down this path, go in small increments. Once done, I was (and still am) more than happy with the level of control I have with the flow of espresso, using minor grind adjustments on a day-to-day basis (between settings 3 and 7 approximately).

I tend to think the EM0700 is better as an espresso grinder (once calibrated), as the particle distribution seems a little spread when grinding more coarsely for filter brewing. That is of course simply my opinion based on very unscientific tests (read a little haphazard use of a sieve to check a few times how consistent the particle size was).

img_1346Those few negatives I’ve mentioned above in relation to grind retention and cleaning aren’t massive, however to elaborate a little. For cleaning, the adjustment collar removes and takes with it the outer burr — handy for getting a vacuum hose around the top and sucking out retained grounds. Firstly, removing the adjustment collar is not an easy task, and takes a significant amount of force to rotate it to the unlocked position, and a little less to remove it off the top (I use the handle of a wooden spoon to push on the lug and rotate it, and the flat end of a wooden kitchen spachelor to lift it off).

Once it is finally off, only then will you see how much retention actually occurs in and around the burrs — and it is significant. I do understand this occurs in many grinders, however takes a little dislodging it the dogleg into the chute. Of course the grinder still functions quite well, however this is not an ideal situation, and I suspect is a major contributor to the clumping together of grinds as they pass through the chute.

In summary, the EM0700 grinder from Sunbeam will serve you well, with regular cleaning and perhaps a little calibration adjustment. I don’t grind directly into the portafilter for reasons related to my own dose-weighing workflow, which is a story for another day. For the price, I’d say the output is of a good quality.

Ultimately though, if I had to choose between replacing the espresso machine or the grinder, it is the grinder which would be shown the door.

Other bits and pieces

What else do I use besides the machine and grinder? A set of Hario scales to weigh my dry coffee dose which goes in the portafilter, and the resulting beverage weight or yield produced in the cup. I’m certainly not going to recommend everyone start weighing their espressos, however it is surprisingly quick and simple to do with the right set of scales, and provides a great deal of feedback if you are looking to become more consistent with espresso brewing.

I use the standard Sunbeam supplied tamper, however one day will up the ante on this a little as well. Does it work as expected? Of course. Another point of note is the commercially sized 58mm portafilter of the Sunbeam EM7000 machine, which accommodates commercial tampers and filter baskets. A handy thing to remember when comparing machines if you are considering some aftermarket accessories or tweaks down the track.

img_6596In addition (which relates to my weighing workflow), I grind into a decor small plastic container, which is easy enough to tare on the scales, and then transfer the grind into the portafilter, as the circumference of the container opening is a precise match for the inside of the 58mm filter basket. So, placing an upturned portafilter on the container, flipping the whole lot over and shaking a little provides a mess free transfer, unclumping of grinds, and decent initial distribution in the filter basket all in the same motion. I’ll go into a little more detail in a future post, however to explain the presence of those little plastic containers, there you have it.

As I’ve mentioned, I a VST filter basket, which is the 18g size. After trying a 20g basket, found that I am best dosing 20 – 20.8g (brew ratio approximately 1:1.8-2.0)in the 18g size. There are significant differences when using a VST basket compared with the standard Sunbeam one, and I’ve found the combination of grind, dose and flow achieved with this combination seems to better suit overdosing the 18g basket a little. Perhaps I am wrong on this, however the results seem pretty good to me.

Finally, I dry wipe the basket with a paper towel, tamp on an old rubber mat from the base of a previous (Sunbeam) grinder, and away we go. Once done, the used grinds are then disposed of in a Sunbeam knock box which sits in a corner on the kitchen bench.

To Finish

Boy, this has been a little long-winded compared with what I had in mind at the beginning, and when that happens I’ve probably made things more confusing, rather than simply providing better detail.

Frighteningly, there are a few points I’ve deleted and some I’ve left out, which I think will be best served in future posts I’ll hopefully get around to writing.

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I think the best way to sum my feelings on the current set up is to report that this morning I got up, fired up the machine (which is ready in about a minute), made my wife a 6oz decaf flat white, and myself an espresso and 4.5oz flat white (21.6g dose; 44g beverage weight), and was more than happy I had the equipment to produce exactly what I wanted.

Further, I would be happy using everything I currently have for a number of years yet, and I think that speaks volumes for both the espresso machine and (mostly) the grinder.

Cheers. Like another?

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What’s Brewing: Ethiopia Dumerso Natural Process

IMG_5204This particular coffee from the Yirgacheffe region in Ethiopia originally came into my possession in September of this year, part of an order from Ministry Grounds, my usual green bean supplier. The coffee was quick to position itself atop the heap as one of the best of the year for me.

With an eye towards the 2015 “Christmas Roast” festive blend, I quickly added another kilogram to the next order in November.

The Region

The Dumerso mill is located within the Yirgacheffe region of the Gedeo Zone in southern central Ethiopia, bordered on the south by Kochere, west by the Oromia Zone, north by Wenago, east by Bule, and southeast by Gedeb (courtesy Wikipedia).

Local roaster Coffee Supreme also tells us:

The Dumerso municipality has around 700 smallholders contributing their coffee, each bringing with them the unique characteristics of the areas heirloom seed stock

The Coffee

Courtesy Ministry Grounds:

The Natural process involves the ripe cherries being delivered to the mill where they are sorted and graded, then placed onto raised drying beds in thin layers and carefully turned every 2-3 hours. 6-8weeks later, depending on weather and temperature, the beans are then de-hulled ready for export

  • Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Dumerso Gr 1
  • Region: Yirgacheffe, Southern Ethiopia
  • Varietal: Heirloom – Ethiopian
  • Altitude: 1800-2000 metres
  • Processing: Natural, Sundried (Kebel Dumerso Mill)
  • Tasting notes: A beautiful, balanced and natural coffee; sweet with dominant notes of strawberry and other berries; creamy body and a tropical finish.

The Brew

I mentioned in the introduction this coffee quickly became one of the standouts for the year, mainly due to its great performance across virtually all of the brewing methods I prepared it with.

IMG_5328Upon opening the bag, and of course after grinding, the aroma was akin to plunging head first into a bowl of mixed berries, of which the majority were strawberries. This of course followed through into the taste as well. Given the 2 kilograms of green beans I had at my disposal, I was able to tailor the roasts for both filter and espresso brewing.

As espresso1, there was a fantastic combination of ripe berry flavours and raisins, with just a little chocolate. Also evident was a smooth creamy mouthfeel, medium body and long finish. Used as a base for a latte or flat white, similar flavours were again on show, with the overall combination somewhat reminiscent of a cherry ripe bar.

When roasted a little lighter and filter brewed with the V602, you guessed it — predominantly strawberry, this time a little lighter and brighter, with a hint of jasmine and a little citrus to the finish. Again, that creamy-smooth, velvety mouthfeel.

Lastly, amidst the afternoon office kitchen rush, the Aeropress3 again saved the day, providing enough of a pause to allow my enjoyment of a similar flavour profile. Although not quite as bright as the V60, that smooth creamy mouthfeel, strawberry, and jasmine on the finish again made for a very enjoyable cup.

The Finish

IMG_5341So all in all this coffee was certainly one of the best for the year, and as a result contributed 60% of the “Christmas Roast” festive blend overall volume, in combination with a washed coffee from Honduras (El Tamarindo Horizontes) and a honey processed offering from El Salvador (La Esperanza).

Overall I was fairly pleased with how the blend turned out, a main aim being to keep the great Ethiopian berry flavours of the Dumerso at the forefront, whether brewing with an espresso base of through a filter.

I think you can probably tell I enjoyed this one, and it was nice to end the year on a high note from a coffee perspective.

Having now turned over into 2016 (and a happy new year to all), things have kicked off pretty well with my Third Wave Wichteln coffee arriving a couple of days ago — a beauty from ReAnimator Coffee in Philadelphia, kindly sent over as part of the exchange by Greg, a barista and trainer with ReAnimator.

IMG_5283Speaking of the Wichteln, you might be able to guess which coffee I sent to Bonn, Germany to fulfil my part of the exchange. It was indeed the Yirgacheffe Dumerso, however this time the washed process coffee, roasted of course by the professionals at Coffee Supreme. Hopefully the recipient will enjoy it, and also (fingers crossed) the additional bag of my home roasted Dumerso Natural thrown in as well.

I’ll leave it there, except to say I hope your journey (coffee or otherwise) into 2016 begins well and continues — lets say for at least twelve months or so. Now I’m off to brew!


 

  1. Dose 21.6 grams; yield 44 grams; time 27 seconds ↩︎
  2. Dose 19 grams; water 330 grams; brew time 3:15 ↩︎
  3. Inverted; dose 16 grams; water 200 grams; bloom 30s; brew 30s; flip and plunge 30s. ↩︎

Learning to Love Espresso Again

In all honesty, I probably never really fell out of love with espresso — perhaps became a little disillusioned would be more accurate. Just over two years ago I even wrote a short piece on my gravitation towards longer forms of brewing in the ever so wittily(?) titled A Short Long Story1. Not an “espresso — I’m done with you” entirely, however certainly an indication of my feelings — or changing tastes as it were — at the time.

Why the sad face?

So what was it that went so wrong?

FullSizeRender 16Nothing specific really — espresso was just… what it was at the time. Perhaps my taste developed and I began to appreciate the more subtle flavours achieved when brewing lighter roasted coffee by filter methods. Maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the cause, somewhere along the way espresso became a little underwhelming to me — both in what I was brewing at home, and in much of what I could buy in cafes.

Am I now suggesting some sort of renaissance is occurring in the world of espresso coffee? Yes, and no. Perhaps just in my own little corner of that world. Whatever your views on the “third-wave” philosophy as it exists in coffee, there is no doubt things have changed markedly in the last few years in terms of how espresso is served — depending of course on the type of establishment you may be in at the time.

A few short years ago, espresso was generally a short, thick, and overly bitter drink. Again, that was simply what espresso was. More recently, we have entered another phase in Brisbane’s coffee evolution — certainly in terms of how espresso is served, and for me personally — it is an exciting time.

The purpose of this post is not to analyse or enter the debate on what may constitute a perfect or even proper espresso, but merely to outline a few thoughts on why I am really enjoying this method of brewing coffee again — probably more so than I ever have. A key point here is my reference to the brewing component. Of course I enjoy the fact I get to consume a great tasting coffee, however my world has been opened up substantially of late by a greater attention to the process, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the output I am achieving at home as a result.

What Changed?

For me — it was more so an awakening of what espresso could be, which triggered a new-found quest to get better at brewing it — plain and simple. For this I have the hardworking professionals at some of Brisbane’s best cafes, along with the philosophies of some outstanding local roasters to thank for that. In short: greater variety in the coffee being served (seasonal blends and single origin offerings); different roast profiles; and the knowledge of how to get the best out of these coffees by those working the machine.2

Ironically, further impetus for my renewed enthusiasm for espresso also came from my filter brewing. In setting myself up with equipment to accurately weigh the coffeeIMG_4624 and water when brewing with my Hario V60, all of a sudden I had a set of scales to put to use when brewing espresso as well.

In addition, I’d also begun to take a little more notice of the way espresso is approached by quality cafes and baristas, along with reading a little more deeply into the key brewing variables for great espresso. One of the definitive resources in further developing my understanding of brewing great espresso has been Matt Perger’s The Barista Hustle newsletter. I highly recommend subscribing if you have even a passing interest in improving your coffee knowledge and brewing skills.

I should also mention a recent post on the blog of James Hoffmann, which outlines The Coffee Professional Beginners Guide to resources for reading and learning. When I read this post recently, I was pleased to know I had been looking for information in the right places, having ticked of most of the first two categories already in my quest for more knowledge.

My philosophy has always been to “read up” and “read widely” — that is, if you’re an amateur home coffee brewer like myself, what better resources to learn from than those suitable for an entry-level professional. Sure, some may not be relevant and/or over your head (and certainly mine), however you most certainly will gain knowledge you will apply at home — and a lot of it.

Without a doubt however, the single biggest driver in wanting to know more, and learn more, is inspiration. For some time now, I have made my daily visit to Strauss in Brisbane’s CBD, and watched, learned from, and absorbed everything I can (hopefully without getting in the way) from current QLD Barista Champion Adam Metelmann. To say this has been the single biggest factor in changing my way of thinking about espresso would be to understate things quite substantially, and I have been extremely fortunate in this regard.

Closing thoughts

Although there is much to be written on the how of my improved espresso brewing — this post was simply to outline why I have renewed enthusiasm for this form of coffee.

In simple terms, learning more about the process, what I can control, and how to control it, along with the fantastic espresso to be had these days in Brisbane, has opened up a whole new world for me when it comes to one of my favourite ways (again) to drink coffee.

This is espresso folks — truly great espresso — aint it grand?


 

  1. In going back and reading this post, I would hardly consider the Aeropress the most refined brewing device. ↩︎
  2. Please take this particular point for what it is: My amateur observations of some the changes I have seen in the local coffee scene. It is not a suggestion of how roasters should roast, nor how baristas should “work the machines”. ↩︎

What’s Brewing: Guatemala Santa Clara

It’s a great time to sample some superb Guatemalan coffee in Brisbane at the moment, and I have also been in on the act by roasting some myself. Cup Coffee have a Santa Clara showcase of sorts, currently offering washed, honey and fully natural processed versions for sale, many of which have also found their way into a cup or two at Strauss Café & Bar in the CBD.

On a recent order of green beans from Ministry Grounds, I picked up some of the fully washed Santa Clara to roast and brew at home.

Coffee

  • Guatemala City (Image courtesy Wikipedia)
    Guatemala City (Image courtesy Wikipedia)

    Guatemala Santa Clara

  • City: Antigua
  • Altitude: 1600–1830m above sea level
  • Variety: Bourbon
  • Processing: Fully Washed and patio dried
  • Owner: Zelaya family

The farm has been managed since 1988 by Ricardo Zelaya, the 4th generation of the Zelaya family to have produced coffee at Santa Clara. The Zelaya family has been growing coffee for over 100 years and four generations. This renowned family owns farms throughout Guatemala and grows one of only a handful of genuine ‘Antigua’ coffees (coffees grown in the Antigua valley area bounded by three volcanoes – Agua, Acatenango and Fuego).

Information courtesy Ministry Grounds

While tracking down some information for this post, I also came across a brief interview with the owner of the Santa Clara Farm, Ricardo Zelaya, conducted when he visited Melbourne in 2013. He talks about managing the farm, plans for the future, and how he drinks his coffee. You can find it on the Market Lane Coffee blog.

Brew Methods

Hario V60 Filter, Aeropress, Espresso (+ Kalita Wave at Strauss Café & Bar)

Impressions

As I mentioned earlier, this shade grown coffee is processed by both wet and dry methods, and if you can, it is a worthwhile endeavour to sample both.

As I have now begun roasting each coffee more specifically for espresso and filter based consumption, this and most future posts will discuss my impressions from this perspective (that is, two separate roast batches with different roast profiles). In the past, I have written on the basis of a single roast profile for all types of drinks.

As a morning latte or flat white, the Santa Clara performed really well in milk. It created a creamy, smooth drink, with a good chocolatey base, and some of the fruity flavours peeking through as well. A very, very enjoyable way to start the day. As espresso, also very enjoyable, a bright cup, with a pleasant level of acidity, medium body and a lovely creamy mouthfeel.

The filter roast performed equally well in the Aeropress and V60 Pourover, the V60 resulting in a more delicate, refined brew as expected. Both demonstrated a fresh, bright cup, again the acidity was pleasant, with enough body to make a great “winter warming” brew consumed sitting in the sun on a cool winter afternoon. This perhaps clouded my judgement of the Aeropress (consumed at my office desk), given sitting in the backyard sunshine carries an obvious environmental advantage! Again, nice fruity flavours with chocolate and citrus in both forms of brewing.

Finally, a brief mention of my thoughts on the variety of processing options on offer at Strauss Café & Bar, which were all sampled through the Kalita Wave. My pick would be the natural process, which seemed to enhance the stone fruit flavours a little more, and at times was reminiscent of a juicy grape. Not the most elegant of descriptions probably, however hopefully you get my drift. That is all I have to say on this point – remember, I do not do café reviews.

Final Thoughts

Loved it.

Probably one of the more enjoyable coffees I have roasted and brewed this year. I must admit, the cool weather of late has made it a little easier to control my roasts (given they are done outside), and with a little experimentation, I feel these have been improving over time as well. I’ll be disappointed when the last of the Santa Clara goes through the grinder, however there may be something even more enjoyable up ahead. After all, isn’t that the basis for the journey?

Rating: 4.5/5

Pucker Up Espresso Lovers

When creating the overall tone in an article, a few key points are generally worth repeating. Put together, these can either weave a fabric of opinion or a shroud of negativity. On occasion I am not really sure which it is – for example this recent piece in The Observer, titled Hot Shot: the story behind the great global coffee revolution, by Jay Rayner, which begins:

Coffee shops have taken over our high streets, supported by a never ending supply of connoisseur addicts. Jay Rayner meets some of the major players taking the revered bean to even greater heights, and asks whether they are ruining his favourite espresso

Early in the piece Rayner describes a beautiful looking espresso, which tastes a little, let’s say, less than perfect:

The taste, however, is wrong. Very wrong. It’s fiercely acidic, a sour hit that makes my lips pucker up like a cat’s bum

That initial impression was London in 2012, with the article published in June this year. It would appear many sour espresso’s have been consumed by the author between then and what is sitting squarely in front of him now. Further, we hear how the burgeoning speciality coffee industry with it’s lighter roasting profiles is (perhaps forever) changing the way our beloved beverages taste across the board.

I don’t believe this is unique to London, given the changes I have seen across Brisbane’s cafés in the past 12–18 months. Although, within a two block radius of my CBD office, there are 3 such cafés, whereas 5–6 times as many (at least) serving “traditionally” roasted espresso. Those serving more traditional style espresso are not going away as far as I can tell (and good for them), and you only need look at the ongoing patronage of the bigger name chains to see that. You may wish to avoid the throngs queueing at these newer cafés, walk right up to the counter at one of the others and order (though possibly a little harsh, message intended in that sentence).

I’m a little curious as to why the author paints a picture of ‘espresso ruined’ across virtually an entire city. I would have thought a city the size of London perhaps may have a few cafés to choose from, many of which would serve espresso with a more “traditional taste”. Perhaps I am wrong on this point.

As far as this ‘new taste’ is concerned? Personally, I enjoy it, along with the variety of espresso now offered not only between different establishments, but also within the same café – often weekly. The more ‘typical’ darker roasted espresso? I enjoy that too – mostly. If espresso can be too acidic, there is just as much (if not more) being served that is more bitter than I care to describe. The continuum works both ways. I can however, see the author’s point of view, as there have been times where I have found the amount of acidity present in some espresso to be perhaps be a little high for my taste. Ironically, the most striking example of this came from one of my own roast batches, which you can read about in my most recent What’s Brewing post.

When it comes down to personal taste, as with anything – food, drink, art, comedy… all a matter of opinion is it not? Why does all scotch not taste the same? I assume it’s because there are those who enjoy flavours of smoke and peat, others sweetness and honey. Or am I missing the point? Are sweetness and honey flavours ruining my favourite scotch? Oh, that’s right, I just buy the one I like. Great to have choices.

Although Rayner makes a valid observation, I question whether the overwhelming negativity and gloom ensure it comes across as too much of a whine to really be of value.

~ PD.