gvdub: Arrarex Caravel Manual Espresso Machine (coffee)
[personal profile] gvdub
Okay, so I’ll cop to roasting my own coffee. Mostly because the stuff you get from the market is old – in some cases, really old – and with coffee, freshness makes such a huge difference. Not to mention that most of the stuff you get from specialty coffee shops still isn’t that fresh, and the style seems to be towards over-roasting (hey folks, real espresso isn’t burnt black and oily so that all you taste is carbon. Unless, of course, you’re a big chain trying to disguise the taste of less than premium coffee beans), and over charging. Premium greens are a couple bucks a pound at most in the quantities that big chains buy, roasting doesn’t cost them that much, and then they charge you $15/lb because they put a mermaid on the front of the bag. Greens cost me about $4-5/lb on average. The occasional, really special lot that would be well over $20/lb in the fancy coffee store might run as much as $7/lb from the greens supplier I most often buy from. I’d say that roasting coffee has actually saved me money over the long run, as well as getting me much better quality coffee than I’d have otherwise.


We’ve had a mid-level espresso machine at home for a while. What they call a ‘super-automatic’, which means that you keep it supplied with beans and water and when you push a button it will grind, dose, tamp, and extract anywhere from a standard 1.5 oz. single espresso to a 6 oz. ‘long black' (depending on which button you pushed), then dump the used coffee puck into a container that you empty into the trash or compost every so many coffees. It doesn’t make what true espresso aficionados call a ‘god shot’, but it’s miles beyond that steam-pressure Krups thing you split the cost of with your college roommate during your ‘existential angst’ period when you were smoking Gauloises and wearing black. It makes a consistently decent shot at the cost of the user having a fairly limited amount of control over the end product – not great, not bad, but decent.

Recently, though, I started feeling the urge to dive a little deeper into the coffee world. I started hanging around on websites like Coffee Geek and Home Barista. Big mistake. I started reading about the science of coffee and about the art of manual espresso making, which appears very much to be about being ‘in the zone’, so to speak. I also see something I recognize from having hung out with musicians for the past 35+ years – gear lust or G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). There are guys out there with 220v three group commercial espresso machines and a three foot tall commercial espresso grinder set up in their kitchen. There are guys who collect vintage espresso machines the way that your maiden aunt collects Hummel figurines and paintings of big-eyed children playing poker with dogs. They’ve got twenty or thirty of ‘em. And they all go over to each other’s houses and admire the other guys stuff. Sometimes they fly across the ocean to see some particularly lust-worthy example of gleaming brass and stainless that was painstakingly assembled by Italian craftsmen in the late ‘50s and bring it home so they can build an addition to their home and alter their wiring to run European appliances. And a group of them takes electron scanning microscopes to the output of their various grinders to determine which one has the most consistent particle size, with they double check with laser refractometry. Now a handful of these guys are actual coffee professionals, but the majority of them are just amateurs – highly-caffeinated, totally-obsessed amateurs. It’s both scary and charming, the amount of passion that gets displayed here.

So, I got the bug. But not for one of those giant professional machines. Aside from the fact that we’d have no place to put it (and the apartment super would probably look askance on our asking to have a three-phase 220v circuit and extra plumbing installed for our coffee maker), it’s not my style. I’ve always been drawn to the things that are all about process, and things that are expressions of the Zen concepts of ‘mindfulness’ and ‘mindlessness’. So I got the bug for an old school, completely manual, lever-operated, espresso machine. The kind that gives the most direct connection between the maker and the made. The kind an Italian family would have had sitting on the counter of their little flat in Milan. Something like this. And I found one (the orange one on the right hand side, as a matter of fact). It’s tiny, It’s cute. It’s gonna be here in a couple of weeks along with a hand espresso grinder, and then I get to start learning something new. Maybe it’ll even be about coffee.
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GVDub

May 2009

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