Beware, the rant follows

The process of making decent espresso is not difficult. The Italians have the 4 M guidelines, drawing attention to the blend, the machine, the grinder and the barista. It only takes a bit of effort between these four to achieve drinkable results resembling true espresso.

The machine and grinder (Macchina e Macinazione):
I’ve always been astounded at the price differences between different manufacturers. There appears to be no correlation between price and quality either… Purchases of major pieces of equipment seem to be guided by either brand or dealer loyalty. I respect this to a point. It just bothers me that there are incredible pieces of equipment out there, often for less than local prices for mediocre machines, and business owners still settle for the mediocre. As long as your machine is well maintained, service issues shouldn’t be the dominant factor in the espresso machine decision.

Also, grinders. Working more and more with different grinders has made me realize why there is such negative talk around espresso grinders. I was spoiled with using a Mazzer Major, as there are much worse out there. When the grinder collar is hot to the touch after moderate operation, you’ve got a problem. When a notch on the adjustment (who has stepped adjustments on their commercial grinders anyways?) is equal to 8 seconds in pour difference, you have bigger problems. When you are pulling shots in the notoriously variable Southern Alberta climate, you run into issues that are debilitating for a quality cafe. Yes, I am frustrated with grinder manufacturers.

The blend (Miscele):
You need fresh stuff. I have fresh stuff. It’s not that expensive as far as I know. Comparable to less fresh stuff from larger scale roasters in the area. Probably less expensive than the ridiculous status symbol of imported espresso from Italy. You also need a blend that is capable of being poured as a short shot. I also have this, but almost every place in my city doesn’t. Oh well. At least it’s available somewhere.

The barista (Mano):
The skilled hand. We are plagued by a labour shortage in Alberta, but I think we are most plagued by a lack of passion. Espresso is not an impossibility. You do not need to be hefty or male to tamp with enough pressure. You just need to concentrate on the task at hand, focussing on details that are not even considered by 90% of anyone who has ever touched a portafilter. I am living proof. I taught myself by watching skilled baristas in Victoria pour shots and reading the forums at Coffeegeek. The same story is valid for my latte art. I have not been formally trained by anyone, ever. But I happen to have a passion for the bean.

With that, I will end this rant. I had a bad espresso at a Calgary cafe today (not my own, thankfully), something I have not had in awhile. That’s my justification.


2 Responses to “Beware, the rant follows”

  1. 1 coffee activist May 30, 2006 at 10:40 am

    I have difficulty bothering with espresso most places in this city, I usually try a small latte first, and if it doesn’t taste terrible I’ll think about trying an espresso. Aside from a few places, that hasn’t happened yet.

  2. 2 Mark June 1, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    Just a heads up on prices. One reason why LMs or Synessos are so expensive (and others are not, or if they are, they’re out of line) is because unlike most companies, LM and Synesso manufacture about 75% of the parts in their machines, or higher. AFAIK, LM is the only company in Italy making its own boilers and groupheads. Everyone else buys prefab’ed parts from one of the three big parts makers in Italy. Synesso fabs even more of the machine, or custom-sources the parts.

    Also, LM builds to order most of the time. Yes, they have a running inventory of “off the shelf” machines, but you have an option when you buy – buy to order, get it in a few weeks, or buy ready made. Made to order gives you all sorts of special options for it, including things like the hybrid group, special gs3 package, GB5 package in a Linea body, that kind of stuff.

    On the downside, one of the big drawbacks to any machine purchase is the amount of middlemen involved. For some machine makers, the path from ex-factory to your store or home can cross as many as four hungry wallets, or more. Each expects a fairly healthy cut. Really adds to the price.

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