Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ascaso (Innova) i1

I had a chance to play around with this grinder (in this same color, actually) today. It was purchased for possible use on the espresso cart for the shop, but apparently they were having problems with it. I was asked if I would take it home, check it out, dial it in, etc..

Of course, I agreed. I love any opportunity I have to try something new pertaining to coffee.

My first impressions were that it was a glorified home coffee grinder. At first, it was not grinding.. at all. The burr was spinning, coffee was in the hopper, but nothing was coming out. It turns out that the space required for coffee to fit through to get to the burrs was quite small, and it was just jammed up. A quick poke around with a skewer, and it was grinding just fine.

The worm-gear adjustment is nice.. but I was not overly impressed with the construction of the interior. The burr carrier was machined from a block of aluminum.. which is fine.. for a home grinder. This grinder is advertised as a "professional grinder".. implying commercial. Don't be fooled.

The burrs are tiny.. really tiny. As in, smaller than my Gaggia MDF's.

Dialed it in, and the grind consistency left something to be desired from a visual perspective, but from a practical perspective, it wasn't half bad.

The doserless design means clumping.. which means that the distribution will be altered to never ben perfect unless the WDT is used.

After dialing the grinder in for a 30 second, 2oz. double, I timed the grinder as taking roughly 45-50 seconds to grind enough coffee for a double.. on my Gaggia's factory filterbasket (something like 15-16 grams, I believe).

In short, this grinder is going back to the vendor. Quite nice as a home grinder at just over a hundred dollars from certain vendors, but nothing that can hold up in a commercial environment (no big surprises there), and it was interesting to find that the grind quality, and overall utilitarian aspects of the Gaggia MDF are far superior to this doserless piece of espresso machinery eye-candy.

I would put it in the "good enough" category for home use, but the "to be avoided" category for commercial use. Again.. I'm not really surprised. I think the vendor marketed it as a commercial machine, but everything about the statitics, and everything else I've read indicated otherwise.

If you can swing for something better, please do. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Senseo Stats

Yeah.. I've been bored.

I took apart the Senseo to see what was going on under all the plastic.

I was quite surprised with what I found.

I found a 1450W boiler (tiny, though it may be.. It looks to be around 4 oz. or so)

I found an Ulka ER EP8R pump. Interesting.

The P in the EP8R stands for Plastic. Meaning, the water outlet is plastic, and thus, not all too durable for the long run.

This pump is also only capable of a maximum of 2.2 bar of pressure. Sad, isn't it? It's still a pressure brewer, and from what I can tell, that's a bit more pressure than a Moka pot.

Max flow is 650CC/Min.

Noise is 58db. (not that it much matters)

Here's the problem.

The solution of pre-heating the water is a BAD idea if the intention is to keep the machine alive for any length of time. The max temperature for the pump is 25C, or 77F. That's roughly room temerature. So much for that plan.

Another idea is to set up a pre-heating system. Maybe a copper tubing wrapped around the boiler taking water from behind the pump, and feeding it to the inlet on the boiler. This MIGHT help solve the problem, but it won't fix it entirely, and this would take more heat-up time than simply pre-heating the water.

What I'm not sure of is if the boiler's heating element remains active during the brewing cycle.

Still lots more tinkering to do with this thing before I'm satisfied.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quote of the Day

So, I just arrived at work about an hour ago.

A regular who comes in daily was at the counter. He really enjoys verbal harrassment with those who he feels comfortable enough to be able to do so without insult or injury.

Anywho, on to the quote.

This guy says to me:

"You are the Waterboy of coffee."

Funny, I guess.. except that his tone was not of humor. My boss then asks, "Do you have a donkey that wonders around your bedroom?"

*sigh*.. so much for no longer feeling like an island. The moon has shifted, and the ocean is once again surrounding me.

Senseo.. drinkable coffee?

Okay, so I've been playing with this Senseo coffee machine a bit, trying to get a decent cup.

I decided to go back to trying various tactics using ONLY the provided pods, since that's what most consumers will be using.

After discovering that the brew is nothing more than a hyped up cafe crema, I got to thinking.

What if the reason the brew temperature is so low is because the boiler is being filled with water from the resevoir as the water already heated in the boiler is being pumped out.. Wouldn't the new water mix with the old?

What's the solution? Start with hot water.

NOTE: There is a good chance that you will burn yourself trying this, so if you do, be careful. I am not responsible for your own self-inflicted injury.
NOTE pt.2: I have no idea how this affects the warranty. Mine was free, so I'm not too worried about it. I can make a cafe crema with my espresso machine if I REALLY wanted to. Damaging the equipment isn't much a concern in my case.

So, you heat some water on the stove. I used a tea kettle, and removed it before it began to boil. I only filled the resevoir about half way so I could hold onto the top part of it without burning my hands.

Pour the hot water into the resevoir, put the resevoir in place, and turn on the machine. Do a quick flush through the pod holder by pressing the single cup brew button, and as soon as you see water trickling, turn the machine off, and then immediately turn it back on. (note: I use this water to pre-heat my cup)

For 1 4oz. cup, use 2 standard pods. Thus, you should have pre-heated the 2cup pod holder in the step above.

Place the two pods in the holder and close the unit. Allow the machine to recover, and immediately press the single cup brew button.

Ignore the faux crema. Note that the color of the flowing liquid remains a dark to medium brown color. It does not go pale, or as we say in espresso, it does not go blond.

Good news so far.

The brew has an improved body, less sourness, a little less bitterness, and you can actually taste a little sweetness in the coffee itself.. slight chocolate notes.

I never would have guessed it.

I think I'll give this a try with home-roast and home-made pods, and then on to the ground coffee adapter to go in place of the pod holder.

Stay tuned.

Look! An Update!

That's right, an update. I have been fairly quiet lately, and I hate to say that the reason for that is that things have been pretty consistent lately. Nothing new or excited.. until yesterday.

Yesterday I received my free Philips Senseo pod machine.

My first impression based on the machine in stock form, using the provided "Medium Roast" pods, one per cup, in factory recommended directions:

This coffee is terrible. Flat out awful. There's no way around it.

It's a LITTLE better if using two pods for one 4oz. cup, but seriously.. this is a lousy brewing system.

The low water temperature and small dose of coffee results in a cup that tastes both underextracted while at the same time tasting over-extracted. It's ridiculously bad.

I tried making my own pods with fresh-roasted fresh-ground coffee. Better, but the pressure broke the seal, and it leaked everywhere. The coffee was stronger, flowed slower, but only tasted over AND under-extracted with more intensity.

The only way I can perceive to make this thing work is to increase the boiler temperature. I'm not even sure if this is possible to change.. all warranty issues aside.

That doesn't mean I won't try, but just as an fyi. Buying this machine for anyone is a BAD idea. It's a waste of money if ever I saw one. You'd be better off with a Presto Scandinavian that may potentially break 3 months after buying it.

You'd be better off with a coffee cup, a bunch of filters, and a pot to heat water in.

Let's just say it's not worth the time.

But if you happen to be among the few for whom this advice is received too late, I hereby vow to do everything I can to try to wrench a drinkable cup from this blasphemous machine.

For those who are not too familiar with how it works, it essentially makes a cafe crema.. and nothing else, but with gobs of faux crema that's faker than the handiwork of a Hollywood plastic sergion.

In other news:

As of today, it looks like I'll have a steady account for single origin roasted coffee with the shop I work for. Hurray? If nothing else, it'll keep me with a steady supply of new green to try out and offer to customers. It will also give me peace of mind that at least ONE coffee we're offering is less than two weeks past the roast date. No matter how hard we try, sometimes, it just lasts longer than we hope for.

Maybe it's time to start building a bigger roaster.