Espresso, learning how to pull a proper shot, and delicious failure

Urg.  I have this love-hate relationship with fussy things.  On some occasions, I enjoy the fussy aspect of really perfecting something.  On other, either the artfulness of it is lost on me, or I just don’t care enough to put forth the effort to get it “just right.”  Such has been my experience with espresso.

A few years ago, I picked up a cheap espresso machine as a birthday present for myself.  It was a cheap little refurbished machine (highly rated though) that is essentially internally identical to the Starbucks Barista machine.  It has what is called a pressurized portafilter. The portafilter on espresso machines is the little basket with a handle that the coffee goes in.  A pressurized portafilter eliminates the fussy aspect of pulling a really nice shot of espresso.  It gives you a consistent product, eliminating the need for the “correct” grind size, tamping, etc.   It is consistent, and good, but not great.  Enter my nature.  Why improve on good?  Because I could use a good knock to my ego.  A manual portafilter, one that doesn’t have the safety net of being pressurized has potential to make exquisite shots of espresso.  It also has the potential for extreme failure. The benefit of the potentially extreme failures that a manual portafilter can provide are that they are a) cheap and b) still espresso (yum).  A couple years ago I got a burr grinder (also cheap, but highly rated), for the ability to freshly grind my beans, and knowing that at some point in time, I would decide that I had nothing better to do than spend $60 on a manual portafilter and continually hurt my own feelings in the quest to make great espresso.

The pressurized portafilter is visible sitting on top of my espresso machine in the first photo.  It is a big honker.  The non-pressurized portafilter is much slimmer, not having any of the extra crap in it to pressurize the chamber.  An additional wrinkle in the standard portafilter game is the bottomless, or naked portafilter, where they cut out the bottom of the portafilter so you can see the basket from the bottom.  This allows the barista to see exactly how the coffee is coming out of the filter.  It basically allows you to figure out WTF you’re doing wrong, so you can try to correct it.  And boy-o is it apparent!

manual portafilter for saeco aroma

There are a whole host of problems that you can create with different variables.  The variables include: grind size, tamp pressure, inconsistent tamp pressure,  and quantity of coffee.

bottomless portafilter

You wanna hear how my first attempt went?  NOT PRETTY.  Side spurting like nobody’s business, too short of extraction times, blonding, over extraction.  It was a clusterfuck.  And no crema.  NONE.  It was still coffee, so.. you know… I drank it. Then I made a second attempt this morning.  A little better. I got SOME crema, but not much.  I still had a spurter, multiple streams, over and then underextraction.  I tried again.  This time with a little more coffee, a little more pressure, and a slightly finer grind.  Better results.  A spurter still developed, but it took a while.  Extracted too fast.  I have work to do.  And by golly am I going to love both my successes and my failures!

not very much crema
I used a ramekin so it would help catch any spray.

Updates will follow.

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