I have participated in the analysis of standard
reference materials for the US Geological
Survey, the Indiana Geological Survey, and
in my current secular employment, for the
automotive catalysts industry.
Reference materials are indispensible in a
world where different labs are using different
methods and everyone needs to know what
the results mean and how they compare to
other methods. Without further explanation,
I hope the relevance of this will become evident
First some background.
After 30 years of coffee-shop consumption
during which no espresso set before me was
exciting, I finally entered the exciting world of
home-roasted espresso by purchasing a
reconditioned Krups Gusto last year at
Overstock.com for about $40. I tried to be
happy with it, but finally gave up. Last summer,
as my wife and kids will attest, our vacation
across 11 states had an aspect of being the
search for great espresso - with a reasonable
amount of success. This only deepened my
longing for great espresso at home.
Upon receipt of the information provided by
some kind soul on this list a few weeks ago,
I went to the SmartBargains site and purchased
a closeout Krups 2300 Plus Heat Exchanger /
Pump machine for $99 ($106 with shipping).
The list price on this (discontinued?) machine is
$250, but like the Gusto, it is available now and
again for considerably less. Local retailers used
to sell it for $199 and many on the web still do.
Whole Latte Love still charges $229, and no
additional comments about that data point seem
necessary. But the good news is that several
places are down to $169 and just this morning I
found it for $139. These are new, not reconditioned
units. While none of these are as good as the
$99 price from SmartBargains, who knows when
that price will be seen again?
I am very glad I got one while they were still in
stock at $99, but I am writing, in part, to suggest
to you all that even at $139 this machine is still
a very big bargain. You can read reviews about
this machine at the usual places, so I won't trumpet
its features. I wanted to wait until I had given it
my acid test before I shared my report.
My acid test is Vivace Vita. I was immediately
spoiled by this upon first tasting this Fall in Kansas
City at Bar Stephano at 71st and Wornell. The
owner of this shop uses a Schomer-tweaked LM
machine, was trained by Schomer and serves only
Schomer's Vita in his espresso offerings -- in a class
well beyond anything I have had elsewhere. I
thought all this Seattle stuff was hype until I tasted
properly extracted Vita. Also, my wife's Latte
looked just like the art everyone raves about, and
my shots were intoxicating - I love the taste of treacle
but I have never had anything like this taste, short of
some good British treacle caramel - and never
before in a complex espresso.
Of course, just like at Riley's, I couldn't pay for
anything, which only meant the tip was huge - I just
had to pay for the value of such treats with more
Anyway, the next thing I did was go back to Bar
Stephano that afternoon when the new shipment
from Seattle arrived and buy a 1/2 pound of beans,
drive home and try to come close to re-exper-
iencing the flavor using my Krups Gusto. I came
close enough, at least a couple of times, to justify
buying another 1/2 pound directly from Seattle -
which arrived here in Tulsa two days after I
ordered (roasted and shipped the same day I
ordered - but at a price - $10.05 for a single
half pound, including premium shipping). But
it wasn't good enough.
Let me digress some more to finally get to my point:
Shortly after I first acquired my reconditioned Gusto
I took Tom's advice and ordered a couple of cans
of illy from SM to see what I was doing wrong.
That preground taught me what was wrong with
my grinder and what was wrong with my tamp. It
also clearly showed the limitations of my particular
Gusto unit (which may not be typical of the design -
remember mine was reconditioned - it is too loud,
and does not have as much pressure as I now know
it should have for "15 bar". It is too easily choked -
esp by illy's grind.)
But it was the Vivace Vita and the standard set
by Bar Stephano that showed me what was really
wrong with my Gusto. It isn't just the choking.
The Vita is not dark roasted (only SW4 or so.
2 out of three batches were cinnamon, but the
latest was darker with a hint of sheen) and not
oily therefore reasonable tamp and grind does not
choke the Gusto, but still the flavor profile was
way off. All my reading on this list and alt.coffee
finally sunk in - it had to be the temperature. (and
probably the pressure a bit too)
I quit surfing to max temp and went completely
in the opposite direction. I began to pull cold
water in to temper the boiler almost to the point
of activating the heater before I pulled shots.
Things got better - sometimes much better - but
my Gusto's thermostat simply just runs too hot
and kicks in too soon for me to get down to the
temperature that consistently gives me the flavor
of treacle out of the Vita. I could turn off the unit
to keep the heater off and then turn it back on
with the pump running after some additional cooling,
but what a pain!
Until the Novo arrived... Tonight (Wednesday) I
re-experienced the taste I had been longing for.
The order of Vita I placed Monday arrived and I
put the new machine to my ultimate test. Bravo!!!
er, Novo!! I don't need no stinkin' Schomer-
tweaked 3 group LM unit (not yet).
And what does this all have to do with HomeRoast?
Well, along this path I discovered that the currently
available Brazil Mogiani gives me some of that treacle
flavor. Neither the Brazil Cooxupe nor anything else
I have found so far comes close (I still have a little of
my favorite Blue de Brazil left to try). Any suggestions?
Tuesday morning I blended mostly Mogiana with some
Oaxaca, some decaf Ghimbi or Mokha Raimi and some
Panama Mama Cata (in that order - no exact percentages -
sorry I blend by zen) My memory - while tainted by
the current Vita treacle flavor in my mouth - is that the
treacle aspect is similar. Vita has more going on though -
perhaps more Ethiopian.
But the really great news is that a $99 clearance unit is
giving me consistently good to great espresso at home.
It has eliminated most of the variables that were
confounding my previous experiments using the Gusto.
I would not have believed it unless I had a standard by
which to compare - and Vita pulled by Bar Stephano
is my standard for the flavor I go ga-ga about.
All this made me recall how important Barry's Mystery
Cup Challenge was in training my palate before I got
into espresso. Maybe his concept -- many people
tasting and comparing the same thing -- can be extended
without all the effort (by Barry) and angst (by participants)
required for the Mystery Cup Challenge I would also
like to zero in on espresso needs.
I suggest that Vita is also a great training tool (but like
a good college, that tuition is high). Is Intellegentsia's
Black Cat also as consistent and therefore useful for
acting as a standard for on-line descriptions? I never
thought I would be suggesting pre-roasted blends, but
a roaster like Riley's or Vivace or Intellegentsia can
apparently provide a consistent standard - and we
need that to compare to now and again, so that we
can all come closer to being on the same page. Of
course this works best if you have tasted these standards
done right - like at Bar Stephano. But even without
that there is a huge learning opportunity here.
I propose - if someone with a large drum roaster
could be convinced (Barry?) - that periodically a
special batch of readily available beans be roasted
for distribution along with some of the greens - maybe
eventually on a subscription basis - so that all who
participate can have a common basis for comparison.
I have used illy to check grind and tamp, Vita to
check temperature/flavor, Dan's Sherwin Williams
chips to compare color, and now I could use some
samples to run through my new in-control extraction
system in order to compare my own roasting techniques
to a good drum roast and to others' experience on
the same readily available beans. (Can you tell that
I bought both the roasted and the green Mystery
Cup samples?) I would suggest Vivace Dolce (available
green and roasted) but I don't think I like that stuff.
I still have one Fresh-Roast's load of each of Barry's
Mystery Cup samples, but of course no Riley's roasted
versions, and all my previous experience on those was
as a cupping experiment, not as espresso.
Since SM no longer has a roaster and isn't in the
business of selling roasted versions of their beans,
I guess what this entire post really boils down to
is a request to Barry to consider offering a standard
espresso comparison package periodically. We
would arrange payment up front and you could
roast and ship when you have the time - no pressure
that way. Maybe begining after the X-mas rush.
The package I propose would consist of a half pound
of expertly roasted blend or single beans shipped with
a 1/2 pound of the green beans which were roasted.
This would be a great boon to those of us still trying
to develop roasting technique and palates along with
grind, tamp and extraction technique. Of course
we can aleady do this with Barry's extant blends, but I
am talking about branching out a bit on a small scale.
I can't even order on-line only a 1/2 pound of green
Decatur Street Blend. A pound of this green plus
1/2 pound roasted plus shipping totals about $17. I
am not complaining - $17 is not a bad price comparatively,
but I am hoping the cost could be lowered by
subscribing to a program of periodic delivery of a
small quantity of green and roasted beans/blends.
I paid $14.10 to get a half pound of roasted and a
half pound of green from Vivace shipped via their
preference of USPS Priority with delivery confirmation.
Making something similar available for anything less
than that would fulfill my desire.
I don't think anyone expects Barry or anyone else
to again offer the extreme bargain which was the
Mystery Cup Challenge. I am suggesting a profitable
enterprise of benefit to all. Since Barry is roasting
anyway, and sells green beans anyway, how about
a program of providing "standards" for us to use in
our home equipment comparisons and development?
Anyone else like this idea?
pr Mark Gilstrap
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