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Calling all Geeks, (help me xD)
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Stopkilling0
Junior Member


Joined: 9 May 2014
Posts: 2
Location: Easton, PA
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri May 9, 2014, 8:59am
Subject: Calling all Geeks, (help me xD)
 

Hello forum goers, I have come today to you with a plea. I love espresso and good coffee and I wish I lived in WA. But unfortunately I am stuck near the jersey shore where no one gives a flip about good coffee.
About a year ago, my parents bought be a Capreso EC-100 for christmas  https://www.capresso.com/espresso-machines-ec100.shtml
Obviously not the best machine in the world, but I was determined to make it work. Over the past year or so I have educated myself on troubleshooting tips, technique, etc. Enough that I got a job at a local cafe.
But thats all really besides the point. Here is my issue. My shots taste more like strong coffee than espresso. The espresso is thin, and the crema dissipates rather quickly. My puck always has channeling holes in it. No matter what I do.

Here is the machine
http://imgur.com/VEy2wEU

Here is my grinder, I modified it to make it stepless (https://www.capresso.com/coffee-grinders-burr-infinity.shtml)
http://imgur.com/mw3nCcl

This is what my puck usually looks like after I pull a double, there are always channeling holes, no matter what I do and it drives my crazy
http://imgur.com/NHBmTUC

At this setting, it pulls much too slow, 45-50 seconds for 2 ounces
http://imgur.com/36wHh3P

But at this setting it pulls 2 ounces in like, 15 seconds, extreme early blonding
http://imgur.com/TcZz5Py

I always apply the WDT
http://imgur.com/LxIICi1

Here are my beans
http://imgur.com/s1j16f5
http://imgur.com/JhE38zw

This is the "basket"
http://imgur.com/jWTN0tY

Underside of "basket"
http://imgur.com/037pFfZ

Basket taken apart with all the pieces
http://imgur.com/a9HxkCV
http://imgur.com/9g7D7q3
http://imgur.com/kTHEJUV
http://imgur.com/MKwLg7P

When I first got the machine the espresso tasted absolutely terrible, but the crema was great, it looked great. After a bit of investigation, I found this little bugger
http://imgur.com/KJrrbjo
http://imgur.com/FyA0VjA
Its called a "crema enhancer" aka, abomination of espresso, crime against humanity. The espresso is forced through that tiny hole after it is extracted in order to produces a thick, but terribly bitter and fake crema.
I drilled it out, that tiny hole is no longer there in the part I use on my machine.

I am wondering what I am doing wrong, and if there is any way I can hope to get a decent espresso out of this equipment.
I have a stainless steel tamp, I tamp with 35 pounds of force (measured with a scale)
The dose is correct, the retaining screw of the shower screen just barely makes a mark on the tamped espresso surface
Distribution must be right because I use WDT and am very anal about any and all clumps
I have tried everything in-between those two settings on my grinder, and it either comes out way to fast, or way to slow.

Basically I have narrowed it down to a few things, and I would like some input from other more experienced geeks, on whether or not these things will make me have a thin bodied, low crema shot.

Temperature. After pre-warming this demitasse, and machine, I usually get around 170 degrees f     http://imgur.com/6eJgsxi   that seems rather low, but I dont know if that could make my shot thin, and its not like there is any way i can raise the temperature (unless you know of one)

Freshness of beans
There are no local roasters, I have to get the best I can from the local Giant grocery store. The one I use always has a "roasted on" date that isint that far away, so I always use that one. Do I really need beans that are less then 3 weeks old, to have a drinkable espresso? Regardless, I have just bought an Aircorn popper and related equipment, and will be roasting my own green beans bought off the internet soon enough. But do you guys think this could be the cause of the problem?

Not enough pressure
I have no way to measure this. But I would assume that the pressure is atleast passable, the machine is only about a year old and I decalcify it twice a year.

Just a plain bad machine
Is this machine so bad that it should not even be classified as an espresso machine? I don't know, I have little experience or knowledge on the subject.

Any help or opinions would be appreciated.


Here is the album of all photos
http://imgur.com/a/ve2cT#0
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outofnowhere
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Mar 2014
Posts: 8
Location: USA
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Fri May 9, 2014, 10:31am
Subject: Re: Calling all Geeks, (help me xD)
 

Your attention to detail is appreciated.  
You might want to try this right off the bat: two mistakes: you are not using really fresh beans (ie, stale) and you do not tell us what weight (dose) of beans you are using.  These are home barista 101 mistakes.
Never mind 'buy by' dates.  If you live in nowhere (like I do), use this forum to select some moderately expensive artisanal roast from a reliable source who will send it to you freshly roasted.  I suggest Counter Culture or Redbird just for starters.  If your cafe is supplied with coffee beans with a roast date on the bag, offer to buy some and take them home to try if they are fresher than 2 weeks from the roast date.  This is not holy scripture, but for your situation, stick to 2 week or fresher roasts.
Buy a scale if you do not have one.  I just bought another one for 6.95 yesterday from amazon (free shipping).  Whever weight of beans you have been using when your machine takes 50 seconds, use the same grind setting but grind 2/3 of the weight with FRESH beans.  I bet you will be happy.  But not too happy.  See the pebbles (large grounds) on the surface of your puck?  See the pits and the cracks?  Those are the causes and results of channeling because your grinder produces very ununiform grinds.  Your stale coffee (bought before the 'expiration date') is also to blame.  What will make you even happier is to buy a Hario, Hario slim or Lido2 hand grinder.

If not, lets continue to try to look at your machine:
I do not own either your machine or your grinder, but I have some small troubleshooting experience.
First off, your machine and grinder will not get a lot of respect on this site.  A purely thermoblock machine such as yours is not considered a good espresso maker and the capresso grinder is not considered fine or uniform enough for adequate espresso.
Yet your machine seems to choke on a less-than-extreme grinder setting - you have been very clear about this.
Most people will advise you to get a good hand grinder and then a used or new entry-level machine and opinions will be all over the place on what you should get.
I respect your investigative and can-do attitude and I will try to work with that.  Let's start with cheap diagnostics and work our way up.
When diagnostic equipment starts to cost money, then it willl be time to spend that money on new equipment.
Your problem may be that the thermoblock is too cool or the pump is too weak or both.  Both of these things can be caused by scale build up in the block and brew pathway.  It might be unlikely after only a year of domestic use, but the east coast has some very hard water in places.  Buy some citric acid from a wine and beer hobby store, put 100gm in a liter.  Run it through your brew pathway and screen.  Rinse three liters of filtered or bottled water through.  If this does not solve your problem, read on.
First, calibrate your thermometer.  Get an oven mitt to hold it and hold the probe in the middle of a pot of water at rolling boil.  Go online and adjust 212 degrees F for your altitude and barometric pressure.  If your thermomter is inaccurate (many are) buy a new one or use the money to buy a good machine/grinder.  If you thermometer is good, get a strofoam cup; it is the cheapest best insulator.  Brew your next espresso right into the styrofoam cup and measure the temperature immediately.  Better yet, fill the styrofoam cup with boiling water and let the digital thermomter probe warm up in it.  Toss the hot water, use the cup to collect your espresso and measure immediately.  If it does not measure at least 185 degrees, your thermoblock is set too cool.  Since there seems to be no way to adjust the thermoblock temperature (I read the manual), you are stuck with it.  Use your cafe job to fund a better machine.
Since the grinder has a reputation for not ginding fine enough, but your machine slows down a lot on a 'moderate' grind setting, your pump may be below par.  Or it may be choking on too many 'fines' that are being produced by the ununiform grinder.  On standard machines it is possible to fit a gauge on the portafilter but on your portafilter there is no way to do that.  You could buy an extra portafilter and epoxy all of the openings and drill and mount a pressure gauge from Harbor freight and measure your (static) pump pressure to be sure it is putting out.  Or go inside your machine, find the pump outflow pathway and figure out how to adapt the gauge onto it, then measure it, then reconnect it.  If your pump is too weak, you might buy a replacement pump, but then, everyone will tell you to use the money toward a better machine.
So...bottom line...cheapest solution: a pound of fresh, really fresh, mail order beans, a scale, a bag of citric acid.  
Next get an inexpensive hand grinder; just that and fresh beans will make your coffee much, much more to your liking.  
Everything else starts to get expensive or shows a problem that is not worth the cost of fixing.
OON
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Stopkilling0
Junior Member


Joined: 9 May 2014
Posts: 2
Location: Easton, PA
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Fri May 9, 2014, 11:07am
Subject: Re: Calling all Geeks, (help me xD)
 

Wow thank you for the fantastically detailed reply!
I will try the aforementioned solutions, and reply with my results.
As I said I will be roasting my own beans soon, and it doesn't really get any fresher than that unless you grow them too.
One thing, you mentioned inexpensive hand grinders? Would there be one that you would recommend? I'm going to decalcify my machine again and make sure the temp is right before I go buying new equipment. But maybe I'd get a better grinder if I find that this one cannot grind fine enough.
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outofnowhere
Senior Member


Joined: 27 Mar 2014
Posts: 8
Location: USA
Expertise: I like coffee

Posted Fri May 9, 2014, 11:33am
Subject: Re: Calling all Geeks, (help me xD)
 

The Lido2 is $175 (a steal at that quality but you could buy a motorized Gaggia MDF for that price) but the Hario models can be found for $40-60, depending.
Don't roast what you cannot drink.
If you can't reliably sample it you will have no idea if you are roasting correctly.  Why roast at all?
Unfortunately, the entry fee for a good roaster is a good espresso machine and the entry fee for a good espresso machine is a good grinder.
Roasting good coffee is a lot easier than roasting good espresso.  Read the posts.
If roasting is really your aim, get a pourover kettle and Haio V60 funnel (invest in cloth filter) and limit your roasting to brew coffees.  When you are satisfied, work your way up to espresso roasts.
If drinking good espresso is your aim, buy what others consider good espresso and learn to prepare it reliably.  It is not as easy or as cheap as it may sound.
No one is saying that you have to be both a barista and a roaster - it is hard to be great at both.
But if you want to be primarily a roaster, better have good friends who are baristas so they can tell you how you are doing.  If you are working in isolation you may be enjoying your roasts in blissful ignorance.
OON
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takeshi
Senior Member
takeshi
Joined: 12 Oct 2002
Posts: 963
Location: Houston
Expertise: I live coffee

Espresso: Alex Duetto 3.0
Grinder: Super Jolly
Roaster: Amaya Roasting
Posted Fri May 9, 2014, 11:44am
Subject: Re: Calling all Geeks, (help me xD)
 

Stopkilling0 Said:

Freshness of beans
There are no local roasters, I have to get the best I can from the local Giant grocery store. The one I use always has a "roasted on" date that isint that far away, so I always use that one. Do I really need beans that are less then 3 weeks old, to have a drinkable espresso?

Posted May 9, 2014 link

Yes!  Definitely read up on the 5 M's.  You can't make good espresso with stale beans.

If there's really no good source in your area you can always mail order.  Where exactly are you located?  Easton, PA in your profile is nowhere near the shore.

Stopkilling0 Said:

But maybe I'd get a better grinder if I find that this one cannot grind fine enough.

Posted May 9, 2014 link

It's not just a matter of fine enough but adjustability and consistency as well.  The grinder always matter more so it will be a limiting factor for you.
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