Rancilio lever goes to work

•March 23, 2010 • 4 Comments

Over the winter I’ve been doing up this 1998 Rancilio lever machine. Picked up as a non runner for a ton in east london, I ripped straight into it and got it back on its uppers. I don’t have any before pics as all the covers were off within 30 minutes of getting it out of the van but believe me it was a mess; filthy, corroded and entirely neglected.

With the machine now back on its feet and gleaming like a new penny in the garage, Neil at exchange coffee http://www.exchangecoffee.blogspot.com needed a machine for the gig at Brighton chocolate festival, an ideal shakedown for a newly rebuilt machine.

The machine was faultless for the full 800 drinks we served over the weekend, with just two lever snap-backs caused by my own fuckwittedness and a couple of airlocks in the Flojet requiring a big boiler fill and 10 minutes downtime. Until the evening before the event the machine was only operating on 2 groups because the replacement dip tubes which had to be ordered from Italy had been delayed. They came in the afternoon before the event, result. I hadn’t worried about being a group down as the experience of working the shots at Monmouth in Borough Market had taught me that I am not nearly the fastest shooter in the west and it’s a real stretch to get all 3 groups going on a Linea, but on a lever 3 groups gives you a perfect rhythm for workflow, here goes: Load and lock handle 1, cock the lever to start preinfusion. Get straight on to handle 2, dose, release lever 1 to start extraction, level, tamp, lock and cock the lever. Keep your eye on group 1, dose handle 3, release lever 2, tamp, lock and cock lever 3, by now the shot on group 1 will be just about ready to serve. And repeat…

Temperature management was no real biggie. Those big brass groups are real efficient at sincing (sp?) the excess heat away, a little too efficient for being out in the wind, you need to really work some heat into those groups to get best results. When you’re busy and pulling shot after shot it’s perfect, if you’ve had a quiet spell and not pulled a shot for a couple of minutes you need to get warmed up again. Keeping pucks in the baskets helps, and running through a dead puck before pulling a shot recovers the temp from idle. A bigger problem was an issue with the Robur E which sidelined it only to be substituted by the Mazzer Mini decaf grinder. That was a hot little bastard after a few shots and it was a treat to be reunited with my faithful Major on Sunday, give me one of those over an auto any day.

Pic stolen from here. Permission pending…. http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/

Overall I was real happy with the way the machine performed, it’s gonna be a lifer that’s for sure, the shots are beautifully mellow and gooey and working the machine is so much more fun than pushing buttons. There were lots of happy faces around the stall and several returning customers which can’t be bad for a 2 day pitch. We’re doing it all again this weekend (26-28 March) outside the Royal Festival Hall for the London chocolate festival, hope to see you there.

Permeation Drip Brewing on a Commercial Scale

•May 31, 2009 • 4 Comments

This video from Hario was brought to my attention by Barismo’s excellent blog.  Be warned, this is a six minute video of someone making a filter coffee, but have a look at the first half if you care to humour me.

I was sceptical about the uniformity of extraction using this method, but I would rather give it a try than give myself a headache thinking about the fluid dynamics of drip brewing, so I did.  And it’s good.  There was a noticable boost to the base sweetness and a clarification of the top end dark fruit tones of the Colombia Quebradon Co-Op coffee I used for the comparison, even without one of those slightly superfluous kettles and the funky wire cone. 

It looks like a great method for an individual cup, maybe two if you’ve got the ambidexterity skills but it requires your constant attention throughout the process which wouldn’t be practical in a busy commercial setting.  So how do you go about making 8 of these bad-boys at once?  You’re gonna need some way of automatically delivering the water to the ground coffee at the correct rate and with roughly the correct volume.  You need a device which holds about as much water as a filter cone and flows like a filter cone.  You just need to pour through a filter cone right?  I went off to the shed…

…And came back with The Double Decker Automatic Manual Filter Permeator Rack. Bien sur. The idea is that you dump the water into the top cone, go and sort out your other orders and come back a couple of minutes later and collect your beautifully permeated brew.  What actually happened was that despite bunging one of the holes and putting in a paper to slow down the flow, the delivery was too fierce and it flooded the bloom leaving me with a thin cup.  Oh, and I even managed to get the grind wrong.  However, it was not an unmitigated failure, if you can imagine that rack extended for eight cups with a properly made slow flowing cone this thing could do the trick I’m sure.  Thoughts please.


I’ve had to give this another shot. Got the flow rate a little more managable and sorted out the grind. However it seems that the flow needs to increase as the coffee extracts to allow the whole bed to permeate properly and not leave the horrible overextracted doughnut you see in this video. Not only that but the water in the top cone looses too much heat while it’s waiting. Somewhere between these two brews we have a winner.

Places to drink coffee…

•May 25, 2009 • 3 Comments












The Veedubya came out of hibernation for the first night of camping this year.

We did the coffee properly.

Do Roasting.

•May 20, 2009 • 2 Comments

If you’ve found your way here you’re either my mother (sorry for being rude about the police) or you’re a burgeoning or established coffee dork.   So you had your awakening in a Soho coffee bar, bought the espresso machine and had the grinder moment followed shortly by the dissatisfaction with supermarket beans.  By now you’re either pulling your hair out, happily mastering your rosettas or chucking it all out having rediscovered the cafetiere you put in the cupboard in 1993.

Perhaps it’s time to make the next move.  Take the blue pill and enter the unpopular world of the home roaster.

HeatGunDogBowl, Whirley Pop and breadmaker mod are terms which have started to slip from common newbie vernacular and I think this is a shame.  Photo0149Having a basic first hand knowledge of roasting coffee is a valuable tool when trying to expand your understanding of coffee in all its forms.  You know that roast level is a pretty big factor, but what happens if you arrive at that level in 12 minutes rather than 17?  Why did first crack run straight into second?  Why did second crack never arrive at all?  Sometimes it pays to give yourself questions to answer, drive your research and send you down side tracks to destinations you never expected to arrive at.  It also gives you the opportunity to train your palate and refine all of your sensory skills.

A major secondary factor for me taking the plunge was a financial one.  Learning to make espresso in a home environment is an expensive business.  Once you’ve shelled out for all the kit, the £60 per month I was spending on coffee started getting pretty uncomfortable.  I wasn’t able to make as much coffee as I would have liked and that just would not do.  Green coffee is available for about half the price of roasted, and while the professional roasting is worth every penny, drinking coffee from one of your own roasts despite all its flaws has a big grin factor.

Does this mean another big investment in gear then?  Well no.  You can buy expensive specialist home roasting machines, or even a commercial small capacity sample roaster, but for me this is not really in the spirit of what we’re doing.  My equipment consists of a 25 year old paint stripper heat gun, a pair of sieves and a long handled spoon.  There are plenty of innovative ways to get the job done, check out www.sweetmarias.com the home roasting gurus, then buy your green from www.hasbean.co.uk .  You’ll have an adventure, just not one you wanna tell your friends about.  They won’t get it.

You’re just a thug with a badge.

•April 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This is a coffee blog.  It’s been dormant for a while but it’s still a coffee blog.  However, it is also a ready platform for spouting vitriol and right now I have plenty of that.

The murder of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London’s square mile has left me stunned.  I attended the rally, just as he did, out of curiosity and the desire to make my own opinion of how the event was handled.  He didn’t make it out and only now is the media starting to show the brutality with which the police handled the demo.  Reporting at the time almost exclusively described the police as having done very well under such tough circumstances and behaved impeccably throughout.  This included the BBC who, like the police was an institution I had always respected until last week.  Having seen the actions of the police at first hand I can confirm that this reporting is entirely fictional.  I was coralled with hundreds of others around the Bank of England and on all sides police were shoving and batoning anybody who came close to them including tourists, city workers, photographers and news crews.

I am the son of a police officer and until now have had no axe to grind with the police for any reason.  I have no criminal convictions and have never been wronged by the force, but now all respect I had for the police is lost.  The original attack was disgusting, the denial and cover up was disgusting.  The lies about having to leave the victim because of missile attacks is disgusting and now apparently despite the city of london being the most highly suveilled area in the country, on the most politically significant day in recent history, there were no CCTV cameras operational in the area.  Thugs and liars.

The only way the Metropolitan police can hope to regain a thread of respect from this is for the officers involved to be dealt with to the full extent of the law.  If the Jean Charles DeMenezez case is anything to go by this is incredibly unlikely.  They will close ranks and walk away scott free.  This must not happen.

Scott Griffiths – Officially The Best Espresso In London

•February 26, 2009 • 1 Comment

photo0100And the whole of the South East.

If you’re queuing at Borough market waiting for a coffee, take a look at what this dapper looking chap is up to.  Because nobody in London is making better espresso.

Scott was awarded best espresso in the SE heat of the UK Barista Championship, the last heat before the semis.  If you haven’t seen one of these comps in the flesh, try and check one out because the tension is quite incredible.  Sure, they look pretty dull on YouTube but it is truly dramatic watching the performers, you want to vomit as much as they do.  The presentation was emotionally comparable to Mr Wilkinson’s boot guiding that droppy between the posts in Sydney in 2003.  And that is emotional.

The overall event was deservedly won by Gwilym Davies of Colombia Rd market who put in an exceptionally polished presentation and rocked a most elegant cravate.  Good luck to all the qualifiers in Glasgow.

As well as congratulating Scott I should thank all the Monmouth folks who made it such a great day out, especially the latte throwdown back at the roastery afterwards. Watching two men who spend their working lives pouring milk giggling like children whilst pouring more milk, at night, on paid leave makes me feel good about the London coffee scene.

Sorting the chaff from the chaff.

•January 31, 2009 • 4 Comments

gurnks62It’s nice up here in the ivory tower; having a choice of some of the highest quality coffee on the planet.  Some of them I’m not even that keen on.  I will dismiss them as not being hugely exciting or not having developed much from the previous year’s crop.

I have been spoiled.  I need to drink less of this fancy stuff.  Tasting some new coffees the other week illustated this.  Three amazing examples and one which did nothing to excite me at all.  Asked what I thought about it I replied in bullish fashion “It’s crap.”  Of course it was not a crap coffee.  In its company it failed to shine but nonetheless it had been produced and processed with the same level of care as its peers and in isolation would certainly impress.

So bad coffee gets better the more good coffee you drink.  That is a poorly constructed and confusing sentence.  When one is used to the highest quality coffee, merely good coffee can taste bad.  Better? Meh.  So what about the people aiming for the mass market?  What about your purchasers for Dowe Egberts, Kenco, Nestle et al.  What a job they have to do.  These guys know what the great stuff tases like but have to chose the best from the lower division to meet their financial constraints and huge volumes.  Surely this is a much harder task than simply picking the best coffee on the table.  Having to weigh up the pros and cons between flawed coffees, trying to estimate how they might detriorate over the course of the contract and judging how they might be blended to highlight their strengths is an unenviable task but one which surely takes at least as much experience and skill as choosing between cup of excellence candidates.  Imagine you had to pick the Radio 1 playlist.  Nothing truly inventive or awe inspiring please, we don’t want the population getting restless and nothing really terrible, just pick the best of the mediocrity.  Soul destroying definitely, but still challenging.

The cupping table at which I spout my ill-qualified bilge is one festooned with caffine [this word has just been invented.  Please suggest a better word for something pertaining to coffee.] gems, selected by highly skilled people which means I don’t come into contact with much coffee which is anything less than exceptional.  When one does come along I am ill equipped to analyse it as I will immediately focus on what it is lacking and pull faces.  This is something which definitely requires attention, but is the converse also true?  Would a mass market purchaser be able to spot that the acidity in a Guatemalan micro-lot is slightly lower in the mix than it should be or would they be so blown away by the cleanliness of the coffee compared to their bread and butter that they don’t notice?

Of course the answer is that it depends on the individual but I think perhaps the big boys, or more specifically the little people working for the big boys deserve a break from the bile, pith and vitriol they are more usually discussed with.  If not for their ethics then for their olfactory sacrifices.

In this together.

•January 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

By Jason Scheltus


2910268464_4cd591a43fIt’s not just about the gravy. Coffee roasters in the UK may be limited by the availability of interesting clean coffee, but it’s not yet a problem, and it shouldn’t affect their prosperity.


The points of difference between these roasters will be shown to be service, branding, distribution, and reputation; rather than presenting a product that is completely unique to the market*. For example, in Melbourne (between the 70’s and now) most of the wholesale coffee companies were all offering low-grade (read: not “specialty”) coffee that was roasted in Italy, and cut with low-grade robusta. The difference between these companies, and how they competed, was in the branding, price and reputation, which was built on good relationships with successful cafes (e.g. Brunetti’s, Degraves, Lygon St Food Store, et al.). 


The same argument could be applied to specialty coffee roasters. Except it doesn’t. Oddly, competing over “specialty coffee customers” seems to be against each company’s best interest. Sharing that small market of people who like good espresso, or whatever, is a very small loss compared to the gain of converting one of the many Tesco instant coffee drinkers. I remember visiting a café, which had a list of other cafés that serve good coffee in the same city, right there on their blackboard. I thought that was useful and nice, so god-darned nice – wouldn’t you go back if they made you a good cappuccino? It’s self-promotion too, “hey look how confident we are in our awesome cappuccinos, theirs are good too”. Nice.


It wouldn’t hurt Coffee UK to have a greater selection of good clean coffee, but I think everyone will do very well with what is out there, especially if the focus is on promoting good coffee, not just “our awesome cappuccinos”, at least for the time being.






*An excellent example of a company being limited by one of these factors is Has Bean, who, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t have a retail outlet – limiting distribution. The online customers that are served so well by Has Bean (and I am one of them) give positive feedback on the internets, and so it goes forward to more internet custom. Having limited exposure on High Street (Hi Obama) isn’t a problem for Has Bean. Excellent product, top service, and we know where to get it – nice one.



Exotic coffee, posh cups… Must be December.

•December 30, 2008 • 2 Comments

p10101221What cups are you using?  Probably not thought about it since you last bought some, maybe you’ve never deliberately bought specific cups for different coffee drinks.  Can’t say that I blame you, there are many and greater things to think about, but opening these beauties on christmas morning focused my mind on this very subject and got me through the day.

They’re 5oz cappuccino cups from the 2002 Illy collection by Norma Jean and I don’t think I’m imagining it when I say they make my coffee taste better.  Thing is cups are something of a bugbear for me.  Too big and the drink ratio is all wrong, too wide and the mouthfeel of the crema is lost.  Too thin and they lose the heat, too thick and they feel nasty on your lips.

These seem to have it right in all departments and as a bonus they look pretty too.  Thanks Kate, you know me too well.  If you’re pulling espresso into teacups or making flat whites in mugs, steal buy a proper cup and see whether there really is any truth in this.

photo00181Secondly in this two subject bumper double post is this coffee from the Galapagos Islands.  According to the packet it is a blend of washed coffees roasted in September on the island, which is a lot of information compared to commercially available coffee over here.  If you have ever drunk coffee destined for its own domestic market you will have an idea of my level of expectation for this coffee.

To the cupping lab it goes then and things start off running true to form.  Opening the bag releases a smokey tarrey aroma and a brief inspection of the beans shows them to be scorched or tipped at the ends, but the roast level is definitely closer to medium than dark and there is very little in the way of surface oils.

The surprises begin when the crust is broken in the cupping bowl.  The brewed coffee gives off a pleasant toffee and caramel aroma, with no hint of the smokeyness present in the dry bean.  The initial tasting of the coffee whilst it was till rather hot was a disappointment after the aroma, tasting fairly flat and nondescript, but given a couple of minutes to cool the sugar flavours really developed.  The cup delivered a huge amount of sweetness, with a very cocoa base propping up some burnt sugar toffeeness.  It lacked complexity and there was certainly none of the crisp acidity alluded to in the packaging, but this is indeed a speciality coffee, on a par with a cheaper Brazil or mellow Sumatra.

Many thanks to Mo & Steve for bringing this coffee for me in their suitcase, it’s been fun putting it through its paces.  Samples are always welcomed from anybody visiting coffee producing nations!


Stop yapping and drink it.

•December 16, 2008 • 7 Comments

p1010027Made myself a shot this morning.  Didn’t tamp it, just roughly levelled the dose and banged it in the machine.  It was good.  Did it again with a naked PF just to check and yep, good again.  So pleased was I with the accuracy of my grind setting that I filled up the doser.  Made another shot with that same coffee 20 minutes later and guess what?  It was good.

I’m not going to start talking about the whys and wherefores of this.  God knows the last thing the world needs is another article pontificating on the minutiae of tamping technique but it led me to wonder what the enthusiastic observer would make of it all.  I’m talking about the 0.5%.  The enthusiast, you, us. 

We all pay close attention to how our coffee is prepared.  That’s part of the experience of getting a coffee from a good shop.  But how much does what we see influence our evaluation of the drink.  There are some of a Daily Mail persuasion for whom technique as described above would ruin their day.  There would be no need to taste the drink. Heresy on this level would immediately prejudice the tongue and Outraged of Middle England would be on that keyboard without delay.

Maybe Outraged of Middle England should just drink it.  The shot I made this morning was not an act of slovenliness, just an experiment.  An attempt to streamline a coffee making process which is bogged down in folklore and common wisdom.  There is no need to tamp.  Ground coffee does not turn to manure in 10 minutes.  You don’t get salmonella if you don’t polish the basket.

I don’t think any of us would complain if the next time we ordered a coffee the Barista gave a full WBC style presentation complete with running commentary and a signed photo of the coffee farmer, but should we expect it?  No.  The making of espresso has been so thoroughly dissected, poked and prodded that it has become this holy grail which everyone hopes to find in a cafe but never will. 

Of course we should never stop trying to improve espresso but I think a lot of the time we should just relax.  Put those 0.001g scales back  in the cupboard.  Don’t get the hoover out next time you use your grinder.  Leave the yogurt pot for holding yogurt.

It’s really not that difficult.