As so often, when I’m ill and in a lot of pain (and depressed, too), I get an urge to treat myself, in the hope that it will make me feel better. The fact that it almost never does so rarely deters me.
Having discovered, recently, that coffee keeps me awake during the day, thus enabling me to sleep at night, has prompted me to invest in a new espresso machine and a grinder for the beans.
You might recall I bought cheap espresso machine a couple of weeks ago. It’s OK, but I just fancied something better and for which after-market goodies are available. Humour me – my life is shit, I have to take my pleasure where I can find it!
The grinder is arguably more important than the espresso machine, as fineness and consistency of the grind are paramount, and you only get this with a burr grinder. Cheap blade grinders are fine for herbs and spices – I have a Krups F203 kept just for that purpose – but you should never let them near coffee beans, they simply aren’t good enough. A burr grinder will produce consistently-sized particles with a minimum of dust**, while a blade grinder randomly chops the beans, producing particles of every conceivable size in the one batch, including way too much dust.
**Usually referred to as fines, or micro-fines – I suspect most novices will better comprehend dust which, let’s face it, is what it is.
So I bought an Ascaso i-1 Espresso Grinder (mine is matt black, but this polished version shows up better). The pergola-shaped gizmo in the hopper is to stop beans bouncing out of the burrs and ricocheting around the hopper if you just grind enough for your immediate needs, as I do. The hopper holds 600g of beans which, for most users, will mean a lot of stale beans. As I said in the previous post – link below – if I put 14g of beans in, I get 13.7g out. It doesn’t get much better – there is always some retention.
There’s a brief review here. In the 11 days since then, nothing has happened to change my mind – this is an excellent grinder.
Note: I’m seeing – on US websites – that this has been discontinued, as has the doser version, presumably. I’ve emailed my supplier to try and find out how that leaves the spares situation – burrs wear out sooner or later.
The new espresso machine, delivered yesterday, is a Gaggia Carezza de Luxe.
The colour, described as Ink Black, is dog-crap brown or brownish-grey depending on the light source, but black it is not, though since this affects the coffee not at all, I’m not unduly bothered as no matter which colour you opt for it has the same innards. I’m more concerned that I didn’t get the promised UK adapter.
Because these things are earthed, it’s not a matter of just using a shaver adapter – the proper one is huge, and almost completely envelopes the Euro plug. I could buy one from Amazon, but why should I when it’s already been factored into the price I paid?
So how’s the coffee? Well, leaving the grinder unchanged I fed it with 14g of beans, packed the grounds loosely into the portafilter basket and plugged it into the machine after very minimal tamping just to level it off (you are instructed not to tamp it at all – by implication the machine tamps it – I can see no way that this can happen.**
**Actually, I can, but it’s pretty crude. 14g of ground beans fills the basket. If you look at the group head, the dispersion screen intrudes into the basket, pressing down on the grounds. However, the rotation of the portafilter could create tiny sheer voids within the coffee puck – lines of weakness that will provide a less than optimum path for the water.
So I pulled the shot**, which tasted decidedly indifferent (acidic), and felt very dusty in the mouth. So far, so unimpressed.
**Which, for me, is 14g of beans to give me 150ml of coffee – a “caffè crema” if you like – pulled into a small mug which has a moulded-in flare at exactly the right point to save guesswork.
Today, I intend to ignore the instructions, and tamp as normal for my first coffee. That should tell me whether I need to adjust the grind for the following one.
I’m also planning – assuming the machine doesn’t get sent back for being crap – to replace the all-singing, all-dancing, Gaggia “pressurised” portafilter with a bottomless unit – which puts all the control back in my hands. Happy Donkey stocks a sensibly-priced range and I’ve confirmed the Gaggia versions will fit this machine.
Oh, and a note for those of you who like to tinker, the Carezza is held together with Torx-head screws so, if you don’t already have a set, you’ll need one.
The water tank is 1.4litres. Or 1.25. Gaggia quote both which is unhelpful and not at all confidence-inducing. It does have a sight glass in the front, but it’s very hard to discern anything useful as it’s shadowed by the machine’s overhanging top. A clear panel in the side of the machine, or even a hole, allowing light into the tank, would be useful.
Likewise the temperature gauge is an exercise in uselessness as it’s not calibrated at all – the dial is utterly devoid of numbers. It’s divided into blocks of varying shades of grey but nowhere in the manual does it give any indication what these mean. In use the needle settles at the start of the last third of the the second segment, which produces acceptably hot coffee (for me, anyway). There’s also a nubbin moulded into the clear plastic cover at the end of the segment. On the subject of whether this means anything or nothing, the manual is silent.
The manual, in fact, is pretty dire. Just so you know.
So, anyway, all this has meant a rearrangement of my worktop. The Carezza is where my hot water dispenser was (this has been moved to the other side of the kitchen, adjacent to where it’s mostly needed) and the grinder is to its right (I have to remove the hopper to open the microwave!).
From left to right, then, we have my Kenwood Chef mixer, a diamond sharpening steel (on the wall), containers of fine sea salt, Maldon sea salt flakes, golden caster sugar, food processor (Dualit XL1500), the Carezza and the grinder.
Above, as always, my knives and the Kindle Paperwhite that holds all my recipes.
And now, I suppose I’d better make some coffee.
NB: I’ve seen complaints of low coffee temperature. I suspect this might be down to user error in omitting to preheat the portafilter – there’s an awful lot of cold metal in that thing. Following the instructions gives me coffee that, for a few minutes, is too hot to drink.
I’ve just this minute made a cup and, tamping as I usually would – firmly, not viciously – the coffee is far better than the first one. The “dustiness” has completely gone, there’s very slight bitterness which suits my palate, and a hint of dark chocolate. Think I might try a slightly finer grind next time – and keep notes. Plus the toothed collar by which the burrs are adjusted (via a worm-drive from the knob on the side), is fairly soft brass, so index marks can be easily scratched on it; useful, that.
Beans, by the way, are Old Brown Java, from The Bean Shop.