Pressure Got The Drop On You

p1010046What did I learn about coffee this week?  Well largely that it tastes like shit when you have a cold and it’s best to give it up as a bad job.  With the planned Aeropress experiment put on hold I concentrated on finding the best Lemsip recipe (1 sachet Lemsip Max, juice of 1 sastuma and a big squidge of honey.  Man that stuff has a stimulant kick.) and the best whisky recipe (don’t mix it, get it down your neck and HTFU).


What was dwelling on my mind during this forced abstinence was why the previous experiment with the CoE Sin Limites espresso could not be successfully repeated on a  Marzocco Linea.  Same coffee but that intense sweetness seems impossible to extract.


Pulling very short shots on this machine seems to bring out all the salt from the coffee.  The sugar is there but is overwhelmed by an unpleasant brininess.  Pull a more regular ‘normale’ type shot and this goes away but you are left with an espresso which lacks sufficient body and is overtly sharp.


So what incredible revelation does this lead me to?  Well, believe it or not I have discovered that a lever machine will deliver a very different tasting espresso to a pump machine.  Seriously.  No shit. 


Ever since I have been lucky enough to have access to commercial kit I have been slightly concerned that I could not make espresso I enjoyed as much on the big-boy kit as I could on the domestic gear.  But it has nothing to do with being at home, having time or comfort zones or any of that cobblers.  It’s pressure delivery pure and simple.


We see machines coming out with adjustable preinfusion systems and selectable pressure profiles.  All much hyped and surrounded with hyperbole but to me it looks like that wheel you were perfectly happy to roll along in has been reinvented.  No rotary pump wizardry is going to be able to deliver the perfect pressure profile for your coffee the way a lever machine can.  The feeling up the forearm as the puck begins to saturate and the pressure needs increasing, the steadying as the pour forms correctly and turns from initial drips into a steady pour and the tailing off of the pressure as the puck exhausts and the stream thins.


Compare this to a standard rotary pump equipped machine.  Pre-infusion:  What, you gonna blast that carefully prepared puck at full bore for a second before you press play?  Extraction:  Linear 9bar pressure applied from beginning to end regardless of how much those solids have left to give.  A fancy fully adjustable machine is better, line pressure preinfusion has got to be a good thing, but you never know exactly how long is best, nor do you know during extraction exactly when those pressure changes need to come into play or how analogous the transitions are.


Operating a lever machine is a truly visceral sensation and one which teaches the operator so much more about the relationship between pressure delivery and extraction than a pump machine ever could.  It’s all the machine you need.


~ by bombcup on December 8, 2008.

3 Responses to “Pressure Got The Drop On You”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more – pressure profiling has so much to offer, especially with coffees that traditionally don’t want to play ball.

    I’d like to get a decent pressure logger and get a load of pressure profiles from different machines – from the Achille to an old Arduino. Then feed them into a repeatable profiler (here comes the inner nerd) and then play!

    When I get my profiler back online I might have to grab a bag of the Sin Limites and have a go myself.

    I’d still like a lever machine though, ooh – maybe a early 50’s Faema or something unpredictable…..

  2. The best monmouth espresso based drink i have had for a long time was by Jack on the lever machine at Leila’s shop.

  3. too true, lever machines are so much more tactile! I spend a lot of time messing around on a 3 group Rancillio @ Baristas in brizzle, bless it its not subtle, but its is so much fun and adds to the experience of making coffee.

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