Beans, Machines, and Human Beings

There is a big difference in Espresso drinks from one shop to the next (or from one house to the next).  I am generalizing that there are 3 variables:

  1. Beans (source, blend, roast)
  2. Machines (not just the espresso machine, but also the grinder)
  3. Human Beings (timing, settings on the grind, tamp, pull, the pour, temperature, ….)

On a trip out to Vancouver (visiting a Brother-in-Law and his lovely wife) we visited a lot of independent coffee shops (between 2 and 4 a day;-).   After one spectacular cappuccino, we bought some beans so I could try that at home. Later that morning, we were in another coffee shop where the cappuccino was rather bland and mediocre.  The shocker was that the bland coffee-house was the bean roaster/supplier to the spectacular coffee shop.

The difference: the bland shop was mostly about image.  The spectacular shop was all about the product.  They were asking specifics about how we wanted our drinks done, and followed up asking what we liked about it.  It may have helped that I was noticing the very high-end machines they had.

Note that I have been into shops with the same machines, and had mediocre cups as well.  I believe the Human Beans are the most important link in making a great cappuccino.

Could I make a cup as good as the better shop? No, but I did make cappuccino (and straight espresso) as good as my best home-brewed cups with these beans as with my other preferred beans.

hmmm…. the people are most important.  The beans are extremely important.  The machines are key.  I guess I better go do some more research.  Care to join me for an espresso, cappuccino or latte?

Express Espresso Repair

I may be a bit tired today, but I have my daily quota of cappuccinos, with minimal fuss today.

After 4?!? years, my Breville Cafe Roma was getting a bit messy inside.  It was just the filter screen, so I thought I would remove 1 screw to clean the screen, like I did when the machine was 1 month old.  It turns out that the screw was firmly corroded into the thermoblock, so with very little effort, I unscrewed just the head of the screw.  Now nothing held the screen (and pressure gasket!) in place.

$40 and a week to wait for a thermoblock to arrive.  I picked it up late Sunday afternoon to install.  Everything went very smoothly until trying to get the control knob off, for the last 7 screws to get to the thermoblock.  I eventually got in without breaking anything.  Then, re-assemble.  At 1:00AM, it is amazing how many ways you can drop a tiny screw, lock-wasker, the piece of metal it holds, or the nylon part that everything is fed through.  Add on that I should have made one last cappuccino before I started this….

But this morning, I had a very satisfying cup.  The thermoblock seems a bit quicker than the previous for coming up to temp, and it steams great.

I think I should just get to writing here more often….