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Topic: More Silvia investigation (14 msgs / 427 lines)
1) From: The Scarlet Wombat
As I pursue my quest for an espresso machine, I keep focusing on the 
Silvia.  I have one issue that the sl-90 would address, but I am not 
impressed with other features of it.
If you cannot see the cup you are filling, how to you determine when to 
stop the brewing?
When filling a regular mug from a press pot, I always burn my finger, but 
that is after the pot has set for 3.5 minutes and the water is no longer 
quite as hot as it once was.
The idea of using a finger over the rim of an espresso cup to feel the 
level of 190 F liquid does not leave me warm and fuzzy...rather, scalded 
and prickly. [smile]
I may be overestimating the temperature of the liquid as it exits the PF, 
if so, I'm open to enlightenment.
Obviously, timing the shot is not adequate as grind and tamp can affect the 
speed of liquid being pushed through the pf.
With all the engineering expertise here, perhaps somebody can think of 
something I have ignored.  One kind soul suggested I might float something 
inert in the cup so I could fel it instead of the actual liquid, this might 
work, but if it meandered to the opposite side of the cup from where my 
finger was, trying to find it could put me in the direct stream of drooling 
espresso.  Ouch!
I also do not desire to over draw shots, nor give away spilled coffee to 
the drip tray.  So, it is not the most significant issue, but it is an 
important one.
As I said, the sl90 would avoid this particular issue as it has premeasured 
water dosing, but it has other features I am not sure about.  I like the 
three way valve int he Silvia and the larger pf.  The sl90 does have a 
thermal cutoff that I like.
This is almost a separate question, but why not?  Has anyone used both the 
sl90 and Silvia and has a sense of which produces better shots?
Thanks for the help and thoughts, they are much appreciated.
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2) From: Jeff Spirer
At 01:02 PM 3/8/2002 -0500, The Scarlet Wombat wrote:
I don't understand this question.  I can look right into the cup while it's 
filling.  I know exactly how much coffee is in the cup.
Jeff Spirer
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3) From: Jeff Spirer
Whoops, sorry, I understand now...I apologize for that hasty reply.
I think it you could do it by sound.  You can tell when it starts and you 
can tell about how much is going in.  I've been pretty good at having my 
back turned and knowing what happens.
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4) From: The Scarlet Wombat
Hi Jeff, perhaps I did not make myself clear, let's use the 
subjunctive:  If you could not see, how would you know when to stop the pump.
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5) From: cationic
At 3/8/2002 01:02 PM, Dan wrote:
Another problem here is that there really isn't much room between the 
bottom of the portafilter and the top of the cup. The spouts get in the 
way. You would likely get espresso on the top of your finger, even before 
the cup is full.
If you placed the espresso cup on a saucer when pulling a shot, you could 
use your finger to detect the first sign of  espresso on the saucer. It 
wouldn't be too hot, and you wouldn't waste too much espresso. You could 
even pour some of it back in the cup...
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6) From: Doug Cadmus
Hi, Dan.
I can think of three ways to approach the issue of non-sighted espresso
1) Floating something in the cup. You'd already alluded to this method, but
wondered if the "float" might get away from you. If you had a large
float -- say ping-pong ball sized -- it couldn't get away.
2) Using a receiving container that amplifies the sound of the pour.
Perhaps one of those tiny stainless shot pitchers would have a "ring" to
3) A third approach is perhaps more direct. I'd imagine you're already
adept at using your fingers to test for how full a container is... it's the
temperature of the espresso that's bothersome, right? So how about a finger
cot or finger glove that would offer enough sensitivity to test liquid
levels, but would insulate enough that you don't scald yourself while
you're about it? A search at Google.com for "rubber finger cots" turns up
an ample supply of sources that might do. [I'd link to them directly, but I
got scolded last time I did that.]
And, let's not forget that you'll have other cues -- the tone and timbre of
Silvia's pump changes as the shot is poured, which will be helpful in
figuring out the pour, as well as grind issues. For example, the pump will
ramp up and grunt unmistakably if you've ground too finely and are choking
the machine. You may have an advantage, however, in probably being more
familiar with how the grind *feels* [is it like sugar or sand?] than some.
Finally, there's the shot timing... you know that the ideal will be 25 to
30 seconds or so. Given that your grind isn't too coarse, you'll get a
fairly fixed volume for a fixed duration.
Best wishes,
Doug E Cadmus
 ~brewed fresh daily~
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7) From: The Scarlet Wombat
Doug, you made the very obvious point that I had totally overlooked.  Duh!
If I use a cup that is too large until I get used to how the pump sounds, I 
should be able to time for, say, 27 seconds and stop the pull.  Once I get 
the grind and tamp right, that should give me the right amount.
I'll always pull doubles, would pull quadruples if the machine would permit 
it, so learning the sound versus the time should work.  I did not know the 
pump sounded differently, but it makes sense.
I wonder if I could get Rancilio to loan me a Silvia for, oh, six months so 
I could perfect a technique for the blind, they could use it in 
advertising. [grin]
Thanks again,
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8) From: Simpson
Dan, Doug and others have come up with some ideas, but frankly in my
opinion the easy (and from my perspective) best solution is the sl90. It
offers some distinct advantages vis a vis the shot dosing, and by all
accounts over on alt.coffee, it is a highly respected device on par with
the silvia and gaggia classic. I say this because every solution that I was
trying to imagine dealt with shot volume sensing in some way. But you
understand that in the classic techniques of espresso making, observing the
shot behavior including tail movement and color is the best approach to
quality control. If this isn't possible then the next best choice, IMO,
would be to always go for a ristretto pour using a machine with
programmable shot volumes so you can err on the short side of the shot
volume. Most of the suggestions would have you err on the long side but
that's where the flavor degrades. You could find yourself going to all the
trouble of trying to co-exist with a silvia due to its supposedly better
quality espresso (a questionable premise to begin with) when the nature of
the shot volume sensing you would be using would be so imprecise as to have
you drink lower quality shots because there was either too much variance in
shot volume or the shot volume was too great. The repeatable precision of
the sl90 seems tailor made to the situation you describe. Let us know how
it goes!
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On 3/8/2002 at 1:43 PM The Scarlet Wombat wrote:
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9) From: Jeff Spirer
At 04:06 PM 3/8/2002 -0500, The Scarlet Wombat wrote:
I think the sound may work better.  The reason is that I have found that 
fairly minor changes in any of the variables can have a major effect on 
timing.  For example, a slightly longer roast, a different bean blend, a 
different grind (such as after a cleaning disassembly), or even different 
weather can all change how long a pull you get.  Sometimes I get a 10 
second pull and have to adjust things to fix it.  But the sounds are very 
Jeff Spirer
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10) From: J Micone
I have partial vision, and I haven't been brave enough to do more 
than dream about having an espresso machine. My vision is limited, 
and everything I see has missing pieces and is twisted. Much of the 
time I see flashing lights as well. It took me a couple of years of 
reading alt.coffee to decide I could roast coffee without doing 
myself injury. (I also have limited physical strength, balance and 
coordination.) I'm very happy with the FR+, but I do depend on what 
vision to have to determine when to stop the darker roasts.
I did just get a moka pot, and it's hard for me to figure out when 
it's ready. I am not going to stick my finger into the pot to see how 
much is in there.  I use a small butane burner for vac pot and moka 
pot. With the moka, the hiss of the burner makes it hard to sort out 
what's going on.
I have such a haphazard way of dealing with roasting and brewing 
coffee. I'd be happy to hear any suggestions or descriptions of how 
you manage. I live alone, so getting a more able person to help is 
out of the question. Besides, this is the first time in my life I've 
had a hobby, and I'd like to learn to do it all myself.
J Micone
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11) From: John Roche
I want to point out an issue about the SL90 that you may not be aware of.
One of the problems with using the pre-set levels is your grind has to be
more or less correct. If for example you ground too fine and started to
choke (or partially choke) the SL90 some of the water will end up in the
drip tray through the overflow. This might lead you to think "well, I got x
volume in X amount of seconds" but you would not be taking into account (or
perhaps may not even be aware of) the overflow into the drip tray. Of course
this could happen to any machine which has a safety overflow.
I was thinking about how I would proceed to make espresso if I could not
see. Here are some good points I discovered.
1. In my home I don't have to vary grind too often for the same bean/blend.
I use maybe 3 or 4 different blends on a regular basis and most end up at
the same setting on my Rocky year round (since I have no great temp or
humidity variations). Maybe with visual help I pre-determine volume/grind
ratios for fav bean/blends I use. I also know that in the first 12-24 hours
I might have to grind a slight bit coarser with certain beans. Once I have
these established I can pretty much fill, tamp, lock and load, go for 25-30
seconds and have a very decent espresso with the correct volume. If I can't
see I might not notice the tail tale signs of a problematic pour, but I
could learn to taste it in the cup. May require some visual feedback in
beginning stages of establishing a working volume/grind procedure &
troubleshooting bad pours etc.
2. I don't need to see anything when tamping- Fill by feel, slice off
excess, tamp and polish-- lock and load gently.
3. Don't need to see anything to remove, hit the knockbox, rise, dry etc.
4. Can feel for water level in tank, no problem there.
5. Would change to single spout portafilter rather than double spout to give
me more room for cup placement error.
6. Determine average time to steam light, no problem. Use towel or such too
adjust and place steam wand. Sink steam wand all the way into milk, rest is
all be ear. Determine bleed timing and aprox time to return to brew temp.
Remember to wipe steam wand clean.
All in all, I think you do do at least as good as a super-auto or auto. Main
problem I foresee is when switching beans or trying a new blend. If you use
a single spout and, say, a shot glass which is two ounces to top you know
you off if it overflows or a quick touch to liquid surface will give you an
idea of how much less than 2 ounces you have. Not exact, but close. I'm not
sure, but think with single spout you could position a shot glass under it,
perhaps even placing (mounting) a small metal circular flat target to help
place it correctly everytime.
just some quick thoughts.
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12) From: John Roche
on 3/8/02 6:38 PM, John Roche at jroche wrote:
I meant to say that each of these beans ends up at about the same setting,
not that i use the same setting for ALL of the beans/blends i use.
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13) From: Simpson
Hi, J, Dan-
On knowing when the moka pot was finished, could you use a device like the
pour-no-more audible level sensor from ann morris? I can't imagine Tom
would mind an url here since he offers no similar device:http://www.annmorris.com/view.php3?categoryTCHEN+ACCESSORIES&search=Go(Tom, tell me if that wasn't ok.) 
Its only $15.50 and might work.
I wonder if that wouldn't help with the liquid level in the espresso pour
as well. 
I bought an old commercial Gaggia espresso machine several years ago that
had a sensor feature I never used: An adjustable probe tipped with a metal
spring could sit inside the espresso cup and when the level of the liquid
touched the spring, a signal turned off the pump. A primitive sort of shot
volume measurement where the actual shot volume was monitored rather than
the flow to the head of the espresso machine by a dosimeter like we have
I've been waiting for someone to come up with this one: since roaster noise
is quite steady in volume and pitch wouldn't active noise cancellation
'erase' the roaster noise and leave only the cracks? How about those noise
cancellation headphones you can use on aircraft?
Here's an interesting url on labwork assignments with folks with vision
impairments:http://barrier-free.arch.gatech.edu/Lab/accom_vision.html#liquids_mWhich leads to another thought re: the liquid level question in the
espresso cup during the pour. How about weighing the shot? It may not be
possible to get a talking scale that would react quickly enough but how
about using the same liquid vessel (say a shotglass) all the time and mount
it in a hacked together single beam balance sort of affair such that, when
the desired shot WEIGHT falls into the vessel it pivots down onto a mini
switch and buzzes a buzzer? Sort of like those balance beam vac pot
burners. You'd have to calibrate it and then after that, so long as
everything remained constant (you couldn't change cups, say) the same shot
weight should set off the buzzer each time.
Does that make any sense?
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On 3/8/2002 at 5:55 PM J Micone wrote:
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14) From: J Micone
Thank you for the Ann Morris link. That's not a company I'm familiar 
with, but it looks like they have lots of tools that might be useful.
Since I'm not completely blind, I've relied on using a contrasting 
vessel or using my fingers to determine the level of liquids. I can't 
do that with the moka pot, though. I'm going to check into the 
different liquid level sensors to see if I can find something that 
will be reliable over several different heat and moisture scenarios.
This is very interesting. I'm going to put it aside until I feel I'm 
ready to do home espresso.
Another really neat idea! For now I'm going to concentrate on fewer 
coffees and getting used to how they sound. I'm a neophyte roaster, 
and I've been so tickled with the new flavors I've experienced, I've 
wanted to try everything once. I'm now in a state of very tasty 
That's a great link. I had the site bookmarked, but I had never 
investigated that particular area. I'm going to budget some eye time 
for it.
Not only does all of it make sense, but I appreciate the time and 
effort you put into finding information and bashing it about in your 
brain. I appreciate the creative thinking. I've been trying so hard 
to just get the roasting and new ways of brewing right that I haven't 
ventured outside a very narrow path. Thank you for the whack on the 
side of my head. This will all work a lot better if I keep in in the 
realm of play and possibilities rather than trying to hard to get it 
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