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looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
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Discussions > Espresso > General > looking for help...  
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benthetiger
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Joined: 25 May 2013
Posts: 7
Location: Paris
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 9:32am
Subject: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

Hello espresso lovers,

I need your help to improve my shots.  

After more or less perfecting my technique on a La Pavoni, I switched to an Isomac Zaffiro a few years ago and have never really mastered its use.  I sadly slipped into accepting and expecting an average shot until recently when I decided to get the situation under control.

Here's the problem:  I have found it next to impossible to get the syrupy ristretto-like consistency that I desire and still obtain a descent crema and non-overextracted taste.  My grinder is not great (an old Saeco burr machine) but my espresso machine (the Zaffiro) and my beans (Lavazza, Vernagno or locally roasted Kenya, etc) are top quality.  So I am guessing that the problem is with my technique.

To get the consistency I like, I grind fairly fine although it is frequently clumpy.  I pack a double filter tamping at around 40 pounds and in about 30 seconds get a thick ristretto with great consistency but dark crema and overall a burnt taste.

If I grind even slightly coarse or tamp less strongly, I get a watery espresso with lousy consistency and lousy flavor (although not burnt).

I am having trouble balancing the consistency and flavor but there is little wiggle room in my process as a mild change in grind or tamp pressure completely wrecks the consistency.

I should say that my renewed interest in the subject is due to having succeeded at getting the thick consistency I am mentioning.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I could only produce watery, lousy flavored shots because I was grinding coarser and tamping less.  This was necessary because I was using a single filter basket which with the grind and tamp pressure I am now using would consistently clog and I would get droplets or nothing at all.  It was changing to a double basket that allowed me to grind finer and tamp harder thereby producing the thickness that has made me optimistic.

Any ideas of how to maintain thickness while improving crema and flavor?

Many thanks!
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dana_leighton
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dana_leighton
Joined: 11 Jan 2002
Posts: 1,914
Location: Little Rock, AR
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Isomac Relax; Caferina...
Grinder: Macap MXK; Baratza Vario-W;...
Vac Pot: Yama 5-cup
Drip: Technivorm; CCD; Melitta
Roaster: Poppery I w/PID controller
Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 9:48am
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

benthetiger Said:

My grinder is not great (an old Saeco burr machine) but my espresso machine (the Zaffiro) and my beans (Lavazza, Vernagno or locally roasted Kenya, etc) are top quality.  So I am guessing that the problem is with my technique.

Posted May 25, 2013 link

You are right about the machine - it is quite capable of an excellent shot. I tested this machine at Mark Prince's house 10(!) years ago, and it produced an amazing shot, rivaling a La Marzocco (see Mark's review here)The grinder is likely part of the problem. You're likely not getting a consistent and bimodal distribution of particles. The freshness of the coffee will be paramount, and the Lavazza and Vernagno will fail in this account. The locally roasted beans are only fresh if you are getting the roast date form the merchant, and they are with 2 weeks of roast. For example, I have a local roaster who routinely has beans on the shelf that are more than a month old. Needless to say, I don't buy from that roaster.

Is your machine's pressure gauge reading about 10 bar on the extraction? If the OPV is set incorrectly, that will affect the extraction of the coffee.

(edit) Also, what about your brew temperature? You should verify the thermostat on the Zaffiro is set to around 93 C - this can be checked using the styrofoam cup/steaming thermometer method if you don't have any more sophisticated equipment. The thermostat seems to have a high failure rate as well.

 
Dana Leighton - Espresso hack and CoffeeGeek moderator
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CMIN
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Joined: 14 Jun 2012
Posts: 1,224
Location: South FL
Expertise: I like coffee

Espresso: Crossland CC1
Grinder: Baratza Preciso
Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 10:40am
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

You need a far better grinder, that Saeco isn't capable for espresso. But also Lavazza is far from top quality, its basically stale by the time you buy it. And the locally roasted Kenyan who knows, depends on how it was roasted, if they don't know what their doing it won't matter if it was just roasted.

Those are your two main problems, poor grinder and beans. Remedy those, especially the grinder and you'll see a massive difference.

The machine is fine but you may want to check the OPV and thermostat as mentioned above.
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benthetiger
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Joined: 25 May 2013
Posts: 7
Location: Paris
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 12:20pm
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

Thank you both, this is good information and I will start looking into a new grinder.  Will a Rocky give me professional results or do I need to shell out for a Macap/Mazzer, in your opinions?

Regarding the beans, the local roast I have been using is fresh--purchased within 2 days of roasting.  

The pressure of my machine is between 10-10.5bars.  Is that the right pressure in your opinions?  I have read a lot about 9bars being more suitable but I am not sure what effect this will have on my problem...

For the temperature, I have not measured it.  Incidentally, I have also not measured the quantity of coffee I am using, I just overload the double basket and tamp it down below the inner line.  The occasional times that I have used less coffee, I get watery results.
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dana_leighton
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dana_leighton
Joined: 11 Jan 2002
Posts: 1,914
Location: Little Rock, AR
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Isomac Relax; Caferina...
Grinder: Macap MXK; Baratza Vario-W;...
Vac Pot: Yama 5-cup
Drip: Technivorm; CCD; Melitta
Roaster: Poppery I w/PID controller
Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 12:47pm
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

benthetiger Said:

Will a Rocky give me professional results or do I need to shell out for a Macap/Mazzer, in your opinions?

Posted May 25, 2013 link

Rocky will help, and at one time was the state of the art in home espresso, but with time it has been shown up by other, better grinders at similar or lower prices. Rocky's main fault is some wobble in the burrs, and its wide step adjustments. There is a middle ground between Rocky and Macap/Mazzer. Mainly you want to look for stepless or nearly stepless adjustment. The smallest adjustment in grind can make a big difference. For example, the Vario is close to stepless even though it technically has a sortof step system, and is not as expensive as the Macap/Mazzer lines. The Pharos hand grinder is less, if you don't mind cranking away to get an espresso. :)

Regarding the beans, the local roast I have been using is fresh--purchased within 2 days of roasting.

OK - sounds good. They should hit their peak 4 days or so post roast. They're not dark roasted and oily are they? If it's Kenyan, it should be roasted at a medium roast.

The pressure of my machine is between 10-10.5bars.  Is that the right pressure in your opinions?  I have read a lot about 9bars being more suitable but I am not sure what effect this will have on my problem...

High brew pressure can cause problems with extraction, and if you're reading 10 bar on the gauge of the machine, the puck pressure is probably about 1 bar lower which should be just about right.

For the temperature, I have not measured it. Incidentally, I have also not measured the quantity of coffee I am using, I just overload the double basket and tamp it down below the inner line.  The occasional times that I have used less coffee, I get watery results.

Water temperature will likely be more important than coffee dose. Based on the fact that a lower dose reuslts in "watery" results, that leads me to believe that the extra coffee is providing more resistance which will benefit the poor grind quality. I'd start with better grinder and measuring brew temperature.

 
Dana Leighton - Espresso hack and CoffeeGeek moderator
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emradguy
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emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 2,753
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, 2 Macap M4s, OE...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 3:08pm
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

I've mentioned this to a couple other people who've asked about a Macap, but as afik no one has pursued it. Ther is a lightly used Macap M4 in the BST forum for $325...a very good price IMO.

I have no relation to the seller. In fact, I don't even know off the top of my head who he/she is. In truth, I have no interest at all in whether it gets sold or not, but rather, I'm just trying to help out people who want to improve their experience. It's a darn good grinder, but to me...not commercial quality. For that I'd say you need a larger motor an larger burr set - which costs quite a bit more.

Having used a Rocky before, I'd recommend against it - especially with that M4 still up for grabs. They are t anywhere close to being in the same class.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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emradguy
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emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 2,753
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, 2 Macap M4s, OE...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Sat May 25, 2013, 3:37pm
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

Actually, I just checked the BST forum...the M4 price has been reduced to $300! If it goes any lower I'm gone but it and sell my oldest one on eBay for $400...maybe more.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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benthetiger
Senior Member


Joined: 25 May 2013
Posts: 7
Location: Paris
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Sun May 26, 2013, 1:26am
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

Thanks for the lead.  I live in France so this one will not work but if you think used grinders are a good option, I will pursue this locally...
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emradguy
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emradguy
Joined: 31 Mar 2011
Posts: 2,753
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Duetto II; Twist v2
Grinder: M Major, 2 Macap M4s, OE...
Drip: Espro presses; Aeropress
Roaster: H-B "List of Favorites"
Posted Sun May 26, 2013, 5:58am
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

used vs new is in some regards a personal preference...ie, there are some people who wouldn't buy anything once the term used is applied to it.  When looking for used grinders (and I'm no expert in this realm), I'd pretty much stick to well known reliable commercial brands (not necessarily models)  This Macap is a case in point - commercial brand, with excellent reputation and build quality, but a home model.  Of course, it's out of the picture for you, given shipping, but illustrates my point well.  Many of the commercial grinders (if you have the counter space for them) will outlast your grand children. They may need extensive cleaning and new burrs, but if the motor is in good shape, they can be a great buy. Look for posts from calblacksmith, among others, regarding used grinders.  He's restored many Mazzers, and will likely contribute to your thread.

.

 
.
Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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RichardCoffee
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Joined: 2 Dec 2010
Posts: 108
Location: Long Beach
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: gaggia baby twin, mini...
Grinder: fiorenzato pietro 63mm,...
Roaster: weber grill with rk drum
Posted Sun May 26, 2013, 6:27am
Subject: Re: looking for help to get a thick espresso consistency
 

Weighing my dose as well as output improved my shots quite a lot.  Also, check to insure your espresso machine is clean.
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