ericcomposer72 Senior Member Joined: 16 Nov 2013 Posts: 56 Location: New York Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Oscar, Silvia, Breville... Grinder: Vario
Posted Mon May 12, 2014, 12:43pm Subject: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
The best shots I have ever had in my life were pulled at Blue Bottle, with their "Retrofit" blend.
I'm trying very hard to reproduce something as good as what they pull on their Strada's with Mazzer grinders. Am I fighting a losing battle trying to replicate this with my Oscar/Vario setup?
I've overheard lots of barista chatter, from both Blue Bottle and other cafes, and it seems that one of the keys to getting their heavy, buttery ristretto shots is filling a double basket up to 20-22 grams (the have such recommendations on their blend descriptions).
Their shots are super rich, sweet, complex, balanced, not sour or bitter, etc.
My shots always seem to have an edginess to them and lack the sweetness and complexity. I watch my naked portafilter and observe the flow seems to be even. Shot times seem correct. I have adjusted the dose and grind, trying to keep the shot time consistent.
I have played around a lot with the temp. I do two flushes: one before I prepare my basket, and then one about 2-3 minutes later, after I've ground/distributed. I usually flush it an additional second or two after I hear the end of the flash boiling; usually same for both flushes. I am still not sure if flushing differently (more or less on the first or second flush) would result in better temp. consistency, so please advise if therein lies any means for improvement.
itsleighton Senior Member Joined: 17 Oct 2009 Posts: 56 Location: Texas Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: La Marzocco GB5, PID Silvia, Grinder: Mazzer Robur E, Mazzer Major...
Posted Mon May 12, 2014, 6:14pm Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
Not to sound like a downer, amigo, but if you could get that taste with an Oscar and a Vario, then Blue Bottle would have Oscar's and Vario's. One big thing you may be able to change for a large improvement is your water. What water are you using?
Posted Mon May 12, 2014, 7:12pm Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
The purpose of flushing is temping. The purpose of temping is balancing and bitters and sours. If you're getting balanced bitters and sours, then there's nothing Blue Bottle can do with a Strada along those lines that you're not already doing.
There are a lot of Oscar fans here on GC, but I'm not one of them. Stock Oscars are difficult, finicky machines to temp because the groups overheat and the water temp in the HX recovers so quickly. Your two flush routine -- or at least some variation of it -- is a good idea. Use the first flush to temp the group; and the second to re-temp it and the HX.
Because Oscars often have a rising "hump" mid-pull, you want to run the second flush a little cooler than might otherwise be ideal, and allow the recovery to pull the brew water temp back up during the shot. It's less than ideal, but there you go.
Oscars bring some other difficulties to the table. The biggest of which is the lack of an OPV -- and that puts a premium on your puck building skills; the second largest is the lack of meaningful pre-infusion which does the same thing.
If you get temp and puck building right, there's no reason an Oscar can't pull as good a shot as anything else. But that's espresso machines for you -- once you're up to a certain level of competence, more money buys an easier and more pleasant route to consistency, but not necessarily a better shot.
Without gicleurs and an OPV the Oscar is marginal. With them, it's a little better than marginal; but only a little.
For a couple of hundred more than the cost of a new stock Oscar you can buy a very competent machine. While none are perfect, there are a lot of choices.
But just in terms of "bang for the buck," your best option is probably to mod the machine you already have by adding gicleurs (aka "flow restrictors"), an OPV, and a vacuum breaker. There are plenty of threads on CG to tell you the hows, whats and how muches. I'm no expert on this, but as I understand it, the best source of advice on Oscar modding is a CG poster named "Plindy."
GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER Don't know what you tell you, other than that money into the grinder DOES buy you a better shot every darn time -- unless you screw it up.
The Vario is a good grinder, and such huge bang for the buck, that you have to spend a lot more (or go manual) to do enough better to make an upgrade worthwhile. You have to move up to a big flat like a Ceado 10, Compak K8 or Mazzer Major, before you're going to get enough better in the cup for a definite, in your face difference.
But, as you know, Blue Bottle -- like most top cafes -- uses huge "Titan" Conicals. Because... well... because they're hugely better. Worth it to them? Yes. Worth it to you? Not with a stock Oscar; and probably not with a modded Oscar either.
If your machine was one step better than an Oscar, I'd encourage you to start saving for a new grinder.
A $1300 BDB 920XL with a $1500 Compak K10 PB will pull a much better shot than a $6000 La Marzocco with a Vario (or a Super Jolly, or a Forte, or any lesser grinder. )
Bottom Line Consistently good espresso costs the time to develop barista skills and the money for good beans, a competent machine and a great grinder, and a competent machine.
You're doing an excellent job of thinking your way though the skills, and bought the beans. With care you can pull a very nice shot on your Oscar + Vario; but better equipment would make a difference in consistency and ultimate quality too.
Buckley Senior Member Joined: 25 Jan 2011 Posts: 423 Location: Internet Expertise: I love coffee
Posted Tue May 13, 2014, 4:45am Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
I am enjoying Blue Bottle's Hayes Valley right now. On that roast they also suggest using 21 grams (on line they suggest 20 grams). I am not using an Oscar but another HX and a lever. There is no way that your Oscar is going to perform well if you are trying to jam 20-22 grams into the stock double basket but the NS triple basket seems to fit the standard, uncut, PF, by all accounts if you want to make the investment. On line BB suggests 18.5-20 grams for Retrofit. The salient character of BB's espresso recipes is keeping their cup ratio high, about 80%. You can ristretto whatever dose winds up working for you. My advice if you want to enjoy your current beans before they go stale is to limit your dose for what is the appropriate maximum for your basket, grind finer and don't be afraid to infuse longer. These roasts can take it I suggest trying 16 grams. Buckley
CarloM Senior Member Joined: 1 Apr 2013 Posts: 323 Location: Los Angeles Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: Vetrano V2B Grinder: Mazzer Mini-E Type A, SJ... Drip: Toddy
Posted Tue May 13, 2014, 12:35pm Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
Aside from grinder quality (which I agree is just as important, if not more so, than the machine), in my opinion there's another thing working against us: the aging of our beans, and the need to constantly readjust our grind to get "the best" out of them.
I hit relatively few "god shots" on my V2B+Mazzer Mini E, but when I do, it measures up well with what I get from the retail shops near me (Intelligentsia, Profeta, Tomo, etc.). I won't say it's as good, but it's in the neighborhood.
However I only make 1-2 drinks a day for myself. By the time 1-2 days goes by, I've lost the setting due to the aging of the beans and I need to change the grind setting.
I'm on very good terms with most of the baristas in the shops I named above. They always dial in their grind even between barista shift changes, and of course that stays consistent throughout their shift, which is why these shops can make consistently great shots every time you come in. Because they've "burned" through a bunch of calibration shots every day. Personally, I can't afford to (or rather, I'm unwilling to) burn a few shots every day to get that one "god shot". Then I end up spending 3-4 times more on beans. So I've learned to settle for "pretty darned good" almost all of the time. The only time I do calibration shots is when I change beans or put in a new batch of beans. I sink 3-4 shots and that next shot is usually the closest to the god shot, and then it's downhill from there as I try to keep up with recalibrating as the beans age.
ericcomposer72 Senior Member Joined: 16 Nov 2013 Posts: 56 Location: New York Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Oscar, Silvia, Breville... Grinder: Vario
Posted Sat May 17, 2014, 11:01am Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
I have gotten pretty comfortable temping my oscar. Something that's working for me now is timing between my two flushes (I time now exactly 1:30 between and am happy with where that's getting me)
But I still feel my shots are harsh. I'll be honest; the best I've done with the Oscar is "decent" shots; no god shots since I've owned the machine (sincer February). I was able to get some god shots with my Silvia before this. I feel the oscar can get richer shots with nicer "mouth feel," but the flavor always seems to be on the harsh side.
I have burned through beans out of frustration, dialing it in, and really not had much luck. At least I'm able to cover up these flaws with milk and a bit of sugar, as I like capp's in the morning, but obviously this is not as satisfying as a naturally sweet cappuccino with no added sugar...
The main thing, especially if I'm going to talk specifically about Blue Bottle's "Retrofit" blend, is that I just cannot get anything near the sweetness that they get at the cafe. I can adjust the temp downward to get "sour," but never the rich sweetness that they get at their shops.
I'm wondering if this "harshness" could be a result of the lack of an OPV? I'm not going to say it's impossible that my barista skills aren't to blame, but I've done as much reading/practicing/asking baristas for advice/etc. that I feel I'm running out of options.
I used to buy the line that the manufacturers sold about setting the pressure higher on vibration pump machines due to the difference in nature between vibration and rotary pumps... but now I'm wondering if that pressure increase is giving me a margin of error that I can't seem to work within... or maybe that's all hocus pocus and I just haven't developed the right touch yet...
Coffeenoobie Senior Member Joined: 11 Dec 2011 Posts: 3,030 Location: PNW Expertise: I like coffee
Espresso: N S Oscar Grinder: K30 & Vario W
Posted Sat May 17, 2014, 6:34pm Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
Rising heat profile on my Oscar made it harsher before the mods. It is much better now. It is not strata or lever machine smooth, I am not sure it will ever be because I believe it is pressure profile that is making a huge difference. Unless you do the lamp dimmer mod there is not much pressure profiling on the Oscar.
Buying advice: GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER. Don't cheap out on the grinder.
Posted Sun May 18, 2014, 11:03am Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
Lack of an OPV... The Oscar uses a vibratory ("vibe") pump. The more load there is on the line, the more pressure (up to its limit) a vibe puts out. If there's too much load on an espresso "circuit," (from a poorly constructed puck, usually overdosed and/or too finely ground) the pump pressure will rise to the point where tastes are adversely affected -- usually too harsh -- and flow rate is no longer useful as a diagnostic.
An OPV can be set to relieve the pressure so it never exceeds the near ideal maximum of 8.8 - 9.5BAR.
While it's easy enough to see if there's not enough pressure (gushing, channeling, etc.), unless the pull is running way slow, without a pressure gauge it's impossible to see what's going on with pressure. And, since we can't use flow rate as a diagnostic, we're limited in the information we have to figure out whether you need to dose lower, coarsen the grind or both.
Fortunately, there's always taste.
Proper Dosing No matter what the roaster recommends as a generic, proper dosing depends almost entirely on your basket; and more specifically as a function of headroom -- the space between shower screen and puck-top.
If your basket works best with, for example, ~18g for almost any coffee, it will work best with ~18g of nearly every coffee.
However, note I'm talking about an appropriate dosing range for your basket(s); not a dose measured to the nearest 0.1g, or even to the nearest 0.5g. Most double baskets will give you plus or minus 1g from "ideal," without getting in the way of the shot.
Note also, that "~18g" is by way of example only. I have no idea of the right range for your basket -- and neither does anyone else unless it's a labeled IMS, Strada or VST. Individual baskets from other makers are too variable from sample to sample for anyone unfamiliar with the particular basket to say much about it.
What Blue Bottle is probably trying to say is that they feel their coffee works best if slightly overdosed at an appropriate flow rate -- which is a way of making the "bolder," a bit less bright, and bringing out the "bottom end" chocolates and nuts.
But... you have to go with what works best for your machine and grinder.
Temping It's better to balance bitters and sours by staying within the "sweet spot" than starting a little cold and finishing several degrees too high. The stock Oscar is a lot more Plan B, than it is Plan A.
GRINDER GRINDER GRINDER Without being there and isolating all the variable it's hard to know exactly what -- in terms of bean, technique, machine and/or equipment -- is causing any give taste defect. More difficult still with anything as nebulous as "harshness."
There's at least as much difference between a Robur and a Vario as there is between a Strada and an Oscar. Very possibly your grinder (not just your grind setting) is part of the problem; in that you might create problems with dose and grind in an attempt to get something which the Vario's limitations won't let you taste. I don't know if that's a factor here or not. I only know that I (I as in "me," not necessarily everyone) can do consistently better with a better grinder.
If you were running a Faema Cuadra, I'd say get another grinder, because at a certain level of machine competence -- even if you get everything as right as it can be -- the grinder does a lot more to affect ultimate shot quality than machine. And if you were running a stock Gaggia Classic, I'd say get a new machine, because it's insufficiently competent. But the judgement's a little more complicated, because a stock Oscar is neither incompetent nor competent, but marginal.
BTW, that's not a judgment on you or your decision. It's just a description of the way things work.
Miscela Matters Most, But the Other Three Ms Matter, Too Sure, you're buying great beans. But...
Assume the same miscela (beans), but better mano (skils), better macinazione (grinder) and better (macchina) espresso machine at the shop than at your home. Who do you think will pull the better cup?
You want to push what you have to the limits. If you hit those and still aren't satisfied, you have to change what you have.
JasonBrandtLewis Senior Member Joined: 9 Dec 2005 Posts: 6,390 Location: Berkeley, CA Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: Elektra T1 - La Valentina -... Grinder: Mahlkönig K30 Vario -... Vac Pot: Yama 5-cup Drip: CCD, Chemex Roaster: No, no, not another...
Posted Sun May 18, 2014, 1:46pm Subject: Re: Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar...
>>> Replicating Strada results on a stock Oscar... <<<
Can't be done. Period. But there certainly are steps one can take to improve what's in your cup . . . I'd take what Rich/BDL is saying to heart.
That said, both your Oscar and your Vario have their limits. You probably haven't reached them yet -- and your coffee will improve -- but you will, and (sorry) long before you duplicate a Strada/Robur setup. After all,
. . . if you could get that taste with an Oscar and a Vario, then Blue Bottle would have Oscar's and Vario's.
What I can say with certainty is that the biggest single improvement I ever made in terms of the quality of my espresso, of what was in my cup, was improving my grinder. Yes, improving machines can help, too, but not as significantly as the grinder . . .
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