Thursday, February 19, 2009

   from Nick

Open letter to espresso machine manufacturers:

I'm coming off reading the first hands-on critique of a newly developed espresso machine, and my mind is racing with thoughts... mostly frustrations.

Having had the opportunities to talk to many designers and engineers who have developed espresso machines in the past, I've observed a recurring issue where people seemed to be trying to build machines around a few key ideas that they had that they wanted to see realized, rather than really setting out to analyze how the resulting taste experience happens "in the puck," and then working backwards to design a machine to achieve 'perfection.' Frankly, this seems to ring true with every machine I can think of.

Since the temperature-stable P.I.D. controlled machines debuted in 2004, all we've seen are solutions that are looking for problems. Except, perhaps, for the teflon-type application to steam wands and portafilter innards, we're on our 5th year without anything I can think of that's truly helping to improve the taste experience.

What we really need is real work and development in portafilter baskets: geometry, hole patterns, hole sizes, etc. We need more attention paid to the ways that the showerhead delivers water to the puck, as well as overall group-head/shower-head design improvements. We need grinders that work with the baristas, not against them. We need better grind-profile development through burr designs. We need dosing mechanisms that provide (or help provide) a truly lateral-density-level dose. We need ways to help us measure things by mass, not by time or volume. We need group-head designs that keep the brewing-water-contact surfaces clean. Grind delivery mechanisms that leave little to no grinds behind. Grinder burr carriers that are designed to help keep the burrs cool (heat sinks or some other passive or active cooling), rather than keep the heat in (heat soak). The list goes on and on.

A fairly well-known espresso guru once told me many years ago that he believed that the obsession with brew water temperature stability stemmed from the fact that brew water temperature is something that is relatively easily measured and corrected. Much more difficult are things like managing the migration of fines (the finest grind particles) during extraction, which is a more significant variable than a couple of degrees of water temp, he told me. I think he's right.

It's time to start thinking outside the box. It's time to start attacking the difficult problems that have significant outcomes.

All said, the good news is that since 2004, rather than complaining about our brew water temperatures, baristas have been focusing on the coffees, getting to know the coffee itself and how everything relates to taste. Obviously, there's still a ton more to learn, but it's time for the espresso equipment industry (both big and small) to attack the real problems.

Oh yeah... dosers for lefties too. That's one for my favorite left-handed barista, Mr. Barack Obama.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

   from Nick

the next big thing...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

   from Nick

This is the Fourth-Wave of Coffee

The magic starts at about 25 seconds in.

Tonx, can I borrow your shoes? I have some practicin' to do!!!