Wednesday, September 14, 2005

   from Nick

Crazy theories: golf balls and portafilter baskets

PeterG told me yesterday that as he sits around thinking about all of the things that make different coffees different and great and growing regions and subspecies and etc... he thinks I'm sitting around thinking about brewing theories and pondering what's going on inside a portafilter basket. I just agreed, because that wasn't the main point of what we were talking about, even though it wasn't true... but then I wondered to myself, "Well, what would I think about if I WERE thinking about that?"

So a thought popped in my head: what would be the ultimate espresso-brewing environment, as far as inside the basket? I was reading through the Scace Thermofilter thread on", and my mind was swimming with different ideas. What if instead of the dispersion-screw design of the LM, a machine had a shower-head similar to the multi-hole spray of the Fetco Extractor brewers? In other words, instead of the water spraying from a central spot outwards in different directions, you had little nozzles firing straight down (let's say like 20 of them) evenly distributed throughout the shower-head area.

THEN, what if you had (this is totally absurd, but fun to think about) little thermocouple points throughout the basket bottom... like 8 different points. They'd measure the temperature of the bottom of the extraction. THEN, using this data, the shower-head nozzles could actually individually heat up or cool down different areas of the extraction matrix, depending on what's going on at the brew basket bottom?

Tacy... add that to my version of your cost-prohibitive fantasy espresso machine please. :wink:

More thoughts... what if a flat-bottom for a brew basket isn't ideal? What if a slight curve isn't ideal either? I mean, the bottom of the basket is designed the way it is because we visualize the ideal extraction as being a perfect column of water traveling downwards through the coffee, with the brewed coffee emerging from the bottom of the basket perfectly evenly. There ain't no perfect. The water that's coming from the shower-head certainly isn't uniform in its pressure and distribution.

So just as a golf ball is dimpled and not smooth, maybe the bottom of a basket needs to work WITH the imperfect flow of water, not in denial of it.

Just a bunch of random thoughts.

Here's the last one: the crotchless/naked portafilter thing from last year has been quite popular and (hopefully) has helped improve espresso coffee the world-over. Here's an idea that's along the same lines, though I'm either too tired or too lazy to go do it myself: Take a double-basket on a La Marzocco (or anything that uses the similar 4-hole brew water dispersion design), and create a basket insert that a) creates four evenly-sized chambers that will separate the brewing environment into fourths, and b) has walls that are short enough that it won't exceed the height of the 'average' coffee bed so it won't interfere with your tamp. The thought is, if distribution flaws can create negative effects in espresso brewing, what if you compartmentalized the brewing environment into smaller cells, effectively (theoretically) diminishing the negative effects of not only the distribution of coffee grounds, but the imperfect water dispersion? Of course, this could exacerbate channeling along the basket walls by creating even more walls to channel at... but whatever. Just a silly thought I thought I'd share.


Blogger Andy C said...

We need to get a superteam together to study and work on whats best for these type of things. Over on espresso lab we were speaking of how many variables are involved in this nectar we produce and how right now at least we are only focused on temperature but what about everything else.. what if we threw away what we knew and started over.. would everything stay the same?

Somehow I doubt it. However I haven't the slightest idea what it would be.


btw.. I couldn't use Other as a login today, you've restricted blog comments to Blogger accounts, which I didn't have.. but hey, guess I do now.. how useless ;P

9/15/2005 07:58:00 AM  
Anonymous jakethecoffeelover said...

One of my "supergeek" techniques is to put coffees that like higher brewing temperatures (READ: bright centrals or musty Africans) on top of the other coffee(s) in the grinder throat so they get the high temperature in the top of the basket... However, it creates the inconceivable problem of your dosing/leveling techniques affecting your blend proportions!

9/18/2005 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger phil said...

wow, dammit now you have my mind churning, gonna be up all night thinking

9/20/2005 12:02:00 AM  
Anonymous steve said...

You're assuming that the water at the inlet has a 1:1 correlation (straight line) with the water at the bottom of the porta filter. This would only be true if there is no dispersion (and therefore no mixing) though the coffee - do you think that's a safe assumption?

10/12/2005 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Science said...

The dimpling on a golf ball is to break up the laminar flow of the air over the ball making it fly straighter and further. This works only because of the speed of the air over the ball (or the ball through the air). How fast do you think the water is traveling at the bottom of the porta filter that you need to break up a laminar flow?

The real questions are: is there a laminar flow at the bottom of a porta filter; and what effect (if any) does the laminar flow have on the coffee extraction?

Before doing any of that, it would be better to verify the eveness of water dispersion through the screen on the group head, for flow and pressure. A group head that could be verified to deliver even pressure over the entire surface would be far better than trying to correct the problem at the bottom of the basket.

10/12/2005 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

No assumptions. The point is that, at least in theory, there is a heck of a lot more control that can be had over brew water temperatures.

Mr. Science:
I didn't mean that the basket-bottom was really like a golf ball... it was an analogy. Maybe just it might seem (to the uninitiated) that a ball in the game of golf should be smooth, maybe the seemingly obvious answer: flat or slightly curved (but essentially flat) basket-bottoms are optimal, is similarly not true.

Before that, I'd love to see a basket for my La Marzocco (which also fits my Synesso) that has basket-bottom holes that cover the entire bottom-surface of the basket... instead of just most of it.

As to your comments about water dispersion... I completely agree. I think that's what I was talking about earlier in this post.


10/12/2005 06:14:00 PM  
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