More Adventures in CoffeeLand
Posted March 18, 2003 6:25pm
So I guess the blog stuff was a hit, and I must continue, huh? Funny thing is, I'm so anti blog. But if you manage to find my personal website, you'll see there are "rants" dating back to 1995 and 1996, and if you look at the format, I was "blogging" before the concept of blogging was born. In fact, it wasn't until 98 or 99 that I started writing the really long stuff.
Aaron and Me on Main Street
Something I'm going to save for a longer article elsewhere on this website, but here's the short and sweet: Aaron De Lazzer (ex of JJ Bean and probably more obsessed about espresso than I am) and I did a cafe crawl on Main Streen in Vancouver a few days ago, trolling between Main and Broadway, all the way up to the 30s. We hit about 7 or 8 cafes.
Here's the very, very sad news: the best espresso shot we had out of all the shops we hit was... a Starbucks. And it wasn't the Starbucks espresso, pulled on their La Marzocco Linea machine. No... the best shot was the demo shot we got from a Saeco Italia home super automatic machine that Starbucks is now selling - yes, it was a demo machine using Starbucks' CharRoast™. Both Aaron and I agreed.
How sad is that.
If you read my personal site Spiffle, you'll know I'm a technolust guy, I like high tech toys. If you think all I do online is post stuff to CoffeeGeek, here, Spiffle, and alt.coffee, I also post to some high tech community sites like Howard Chui's Forums (for high end cell phone stuff), Apple's Discussion Forums and other places. Every few weeks, I get private messages, public ones, or emails from people who recognize my name in those forums, saying 'hey, not only do we both like coffee, but we like XXXXXXXX (insert technology here). That's so cool. But here's the real secret - why do I like high tech cell phones, ultra light computers, and pretty much anything wireless?
It's so I can spend the afternoon hanging out at a cafe, but still get some work done if I want :) I've been waiting for this ability for about 10 years now. About 3 years ago, I finally got it with the now-defunct Clearnet service in Canada and the lo-fi analog dialup service they offered - my cell phone, a big thick connection wire, and my notebook.
About a year and a half ago, I got GRPS (with a Motorola P280) connectivity but still needed a cable or infrared. The cool thing about that setup is that it worked almost in every metropolitan centre in North America, except for Anaheim, CA :)).
Now I have the very capable Sony Ericsson P800 and Bluetooth on both my principal notebooks - an IBM ThinkPad X30 and an Apple iBook. I can leave the phone in my pocket or backpack, and surf the net or answer email, or write something like this rant, er blog. Which is in fact what I'm doing: I'm typing this into CoffeeKid straight from a rather crappy cafe called Bread Garden (good interior, nice people zone, not so good espresso and coffee). The P800 is in my jacket pocket, and I'm online.
New Coffees as of Late
I haven't had much opportunity to try third party coffees as of late - I've been drinking Black Cat and Luzatto from Caffe Artigiano (care of Intelligentsia out of Chicago). Vince from Caffee Artigiano graciously donated 4 lbs of his coffees to me last week for a weekend testing session I did with four machines: the Isomac Venus, the Rancilio Silvia, the Gaggia Carezza, and the Solis SL-70.
I've been mainly roasting my own, and as always, I'm seeking the perfect chocolate blend - for me that means Yemen in the blend, but Yemen has been tricky this year. The most recent blend I've built was about 25% Yemen, 25% Colombian Excelso, 10% Haitian Jacmel (don't look for it, it can't be bought right now), 10% Costa Rica Tarrazu (La Minita), 10% Ethiopian Harrar, and usually 5% of high quality robusta (I have a couple to choose from) then either some Sulawesi or Monsooned Malabar. It's been good as straight espresso, but weak otherwise.
Let's see - two references in comments, and seven emails. I actually didn't want to "announce' the La Marzocco because I didn't want people jealous or pissy with me. But I can shed a few more details here since some have asked.
It's a genuine La Marzocco single group Linea, automatic. Bill Crossland, the plant manager at the Seattle factory has been working on this machine for about 10 months now - learning the secrets of making a double boiler, high energy, rotary pump machine run on 110 volts, 15 amps, normal household current.
As a result, Bill has handbuilt or modified about half of the innards of the machine. Here's some differences between my La Marzocco and the stock, off the shelf single group:
- The brew and steam boilers are the same size as stock; however, the steam boiler is reinforced and has a different heating system inside that takes a fair amount of time to cycle (low power draw), but is tuned up to 2.0BAR (stock is 1.4BAR). This has positive and negative side effects: positive - it is probably the fastest steaming machine on the planet right now. Negative - drawing hot water off the tap is dangerous - pressurized water flashes to steam big time, splooshing everywhere.
- Brew boiler takes a little bit longer to cycle, about 30 to 40% longer than stock. Again, reduction in power used in the special heating coil setup inside the boiler is the reason.
- The pump is an experimental, preproduction thing from Procon - it doesn't sound like any rotary pump you may have heard - it sounds like a turbo. Very low power draw, liquid cooled, super high rpm.
- much of the electronics and power drawing things inside the machine have been retooled, modified, or handbuilt by Bill and his crew to draw much less power than the stock La Marzocco
Bottom line on this machine? It's a genuine La Marzocco Linea, with the massive actively heated grouphead, brews near perfect shots in the hands of skilled technicians (so far I've had three championship calibre Baristi use the machine and they've gone nuts over it) and it steams like a banshee. The biggest workout it's gotten so far was a marathon 14 drink build session in about 20 minutes, and the machine never skipped a beat. There's something to be said about microfrothing 12 ounces of milk in 12 seconds. I even steamed two pitchers of milk during one double pull of espresso shots, it was that damned quick.
Next time around, I'll explain more why I have this machine. That's an interesting story in itself.