First, a couple of tips:-
(1) Even if, like me, you have only 2 or 3 coffees a day, backflush your group at least weekly, using Urnex Cafiza or something similar – you’d be surprised at how much crap is hidden on the top side of the dispersion screen, out of sight – I certainly was when I removed it. If you have a suitable screwdriver (No. 2 Posi – and do use the correct size, the metal of the screw is quite soft and easily damaged), take it off and see for yourself – then give it a scrub. When you replace the screw, put a little food-grade lube on the thread, stop it seizing. You will, of course, need a 58mm blind filter also called a blanking disc, for back-flushing (i.e. one without holes). That link also has other sizes, plus downloadable instructions if you don’t already know how.
(2) I use a Brita Maxtra filter jug to fill the tank – it should eliminate the need for descaling without adversely affecting the taste of the coffee. I have one that I use for water, and Sod’s Law dictates that when I need to refill the machine, the jug is in the fridge full of icy water – not what I need. So I’m getting a second – Amazon has one on offer right now.
(3) In a commercial setting, the grinders would be tested and adjusted at the start of each day. Domestically, this would waste a disproportionate amount of coffee, unless supplying a large family of caffeine addicts. For me, pulling 2 or 3 shots to get it right, for the sake of 3 coffees a day is ludicrous, so I accept that now and then I will get slightly substandard coffee. If that persists for several days then I’ll make changes, but not unless. No-one ever died from uninspiring coffee – if they did, Starbucks wouldn’t exist.
This record, originally for my own use, so it didn’t matter much, would have been better had I dated it from the outset, but basically one entry = one change, which might have remained for several days.
Initially, Gaggia’s crema-enhancing gubbins was used, as that’s supplied as standard whether you want it or not. Having used it for a couple of weeks, then replaced it with a standard Gaggia basket I’m confident that, all else being equal, the crema-enhancing gizmo does precisely nothing. Appearance and taste are unchanged. What does massively affect both is failure to backflush, as I said above. In fact, when dialling-in, I’d be inclined to do it daily
Start date was August 3, but there was a hiatus as I was admitted to hospital on August 14 with pulmonary oedema, back home on 20th but still very ill** – memory of events prior to admission remains vague at best, and mostly gone completely so, sorry, but no more detail beyond what’s here.
**No idea why I was discharged so soon – I’d bloody near died less than a week earlier. And yes, I know I keep banging on about that – you would too!
Starting point: standard brew, 200ml from 14g – a caffè crema – effectively a super-lungo.
When setting up the grinder for the previous machine I took it right to its finest setting (having removed the hopper and top), then wound back the burr carrier about a fifth of its full rotation. That was my starting point, too, for what follows. As neither the adjusting knob nor the top moulding have any index marks, I improvised using thin strips of surgical tape – makes life much easier.
First brew, settings as per previous machine – very bitter, time taken approx 20 secs (mostly I didn’t bother timing it as timings routinely given are for an espresso shot – a caffè crema naturally takes longer).
Plus 2 turns finer. Time looks OK (forgot stopwatch but def slower). Coffee somewhat bland. That could be me!
Back one turn coarser. (Bland – cancelled – but could be my sense of taste**. Tried Another Coffee’s OBJ – also bland, so probably is me.)
**Probably because of all my drugs, my sense of taste occasionally vanishes, often for days. Seriously unhelpful both for this and when devising new recipes.
Plus another 2 turns finer, now 4 in total (Much more complex taste, crema lasted right to the end. Also survives stirring. Temperature fine without preheating portafilter.)
I think 2 or 3 more turns to finer, to give a fluffier, more tampable, grind might be perfect.
3 turns added (+7 finer from the starting point), beans increased to 15g.
16g next time plus gentle tamp. Also switched to standard Gaggia double basket, somewhat modified.
Grind and tamp OK, increasing beans to 17g
August 25 Reducing grind 2 turns coarser, light tamp. Better flow but a bit thin, firmer tamp needed maybe.
Later in the evening… Tried that – very much better. Will stop now and leave it alone for a while.
August 26 – same as yesterday with same result. Very good coffee I can live with – no more fiddling unless it changes! Minimal fines (i.e., dust, just a sprinkling, few enough to count on my fingers).
August 30 – too bitter again.
August 31 – adjusted 1 turn finer, thoroughly preheated** the machine and portafilter, result, a nicely complex coffee, the best so far – that seems to be it. For now, at least!
**Gaggia says 6 minutes, users say up to 20 minutes. In my case, as I forgot it, it was 20-30 minutes and it seemed to pay off.
Finally, I’ve also noticed that, as with the milk in first or last argument with tea, putting sugar in first or last gives different results. Adding three teaspoons of golden caster to the empty mug then filling it with coffee gives a noticeably smoother and sweeter drink than adding it at the end. No idea why – possibly because putting sugar in last destroys part of the crema? Dunno really.
A caveat: I’ve read – a lot – that you should always adjust the burrs for fineness with the motor running. That’s a bad idea, as crashing the burrs is a very real possibility. With the motor off, and a gentle touch on the adjusting knob, you can feel the point at which the burrs touch, without the risk of damaging them. Then you can back off a little and mark that on the burr carrier as the closest safe point – a scratch in the brass carrier that lines up with a screw-head or other component is sufficient. Only then is it safe to adjust with the motor running, and remember to remove the top cover so you can see the index mark you’ve made.