Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why is the Ascaso Dream's Polished Aluminum Not Perfect?

Sometimes, we are asked questions or concerns about the imperfections of the polished aluminum on Ascaso's Dream espresso machine. Here is a short video (in Spanish) on the manufacturing process of polishing the polished aluminum at the Ascaso manufacturing facility.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tamping By Volume (TBV)

Pictures of tampers at 1st-line Equipment, LLC
Photo courtesy of 1st-line Equipment. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
Over the last 15 years, there has been much discussion about tamper types (flat vs curved), sizing, tamping pressure, and polishing. This is a helluva lot of reading to do, and when clients visit us, we follow one simple rule which is inline with the KISS principle:
Keep It Simple & Stupid.

In other words, our philosophy is


What does this mean? The barista will only tamp to the point where the top rim of the metal base of the tamper will be even with the top rim of the filter basket holding the coffee grinds. In this scenario, the tamping pressure always remain the same without the use of any scale. The back and forth polishing also makes sure the tamper stays even when the compression occurs and when rotating the tamper for polishing the surface.

As long as the filter basket is filled to the rim evenly every time, the tamp by volume method removes tamping pressure and volume of coffee grinds from the espresso extraction equation. The only variable remaining is finding the correct fineness in the coffee grind.

Picture of tamper base too small for filter basket
Photo courtesy of 1st-line Equipment. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.
The only scenarios this method will not work is if
a) The tamper is not right sized to the basket width (pictured to left), or
b) The tamper base is of the el'cheapo plastic types that are too thin (pictured above on left side), or
c) The tamper base is too thick (both tampers in rear pictured above).

The tamper we like best for this practice is one that has a base thickness similarly sized as the Concept Art (black handle one picture above in front right).

Below, you can watch a quick video of the TBV tamping technique. Remember, to keep the ground coffee, loosely filled, consistent and even to the rim of the filter basket.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Powered On: To Leave or Not to Leave?

One question comes up quite frequently for all espresso machines....

Can I or should I leave my espresso machine powered on all day?

 As an attorney would answer, it depends. First and foremost, if the machine does not have an automatic water refill relay (this is the electronics usually found on a heat exchanger machine or double boiler machine and also known as motherboard or brain unit), the machine should be turned off when not in use. These machines are typically those that have a separate button/switch to get to steam mode.

The reason is that although there is water in the machine's reservoir, this does not mean the internal boiler is filled. Now, some may argue that after making an espresso or running water through the steam wand, the boiler is filled. This is true. However, if the machine was left on in steam mode or if the machine has an overpressure valve (OPV) that leaks from limescale build up, the internal boiler will eventually run dry. When the internal boiler runs dry, the heating element is no longer submerged in water, and it can start to melt down. This becomes a costly repair, which usually is not covered under any manufacturer's warranty.

On machines that have the automatic water refill relay, one can leave the machine powered on all day and night. However, one needs to keep in mind the following:

a) Wear & Tear - All electrical components will have more wear and tear as the machine has to cycle on/off to maintain temperature. The portafilter gasket will dry rot faster due to the heat, and
b) Electrical Usage - Typically, energy savings is achieved when an espresso machine is powered on all day as there is more energy usage powering a unit from a cold state to a fully heated state. 110 volt espresso machines are less efficient than 220 volt espresso machines, and
Photo courtesy of
Copyright 2012. 1st-line Equipment, LLC
c) Electrical Spikes - 110 volt espresso machines are more susceptible to voltage spikes and surges than 220 volt machines. Powering off the 110 volt espresso machines makes it less likely of damage to an espresso machines terminal block, power switch, wiring, heating element, and/or auto water refill relay when the machine is powered off, and
d) Limescale - Some believe there is less limescale build up in an espresso machine that is powered on all day, and there are reports that one can find more build up on an espresso machine that is powered on/off everyday. We have yet to find conclusive evidence to support either argument.

Our opinion... we prefer that all day capable espresso machines in a home environment be powered off when not in use or not used within 2 hours. In an office or commercial environment, our opinion is that the machine be powered off at the end of the day and restarted at the beginning of the day. The only case where a machine should be powered on all day is if the espresso machine has night cycle programming to reduce power consumption.

What is your opinion?

In all cases, a surge suppressor (not a GFI outlet) with a rating of 1080 joules or higher should be installed on the outlet. The suppressor should also have an indicator to notify you when the suppressor is failing and needs to be replaced. One quality brand we sell is made made by Panamax. They have 15 and 20 amp versions.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

When to remove the spent grinds from the portafilter?

Should we leave the used spent grounds in the portafilter or knock them out right away?

Elektra Portafilters with and without spent grinds
Photo courtesy of Not to be reproduced
or copied in any format. Copyright 2013.
There are two schools of thought that need to be evaluated. In all cases, the portafilter handle should always remain on the espresso machine while powered on. The main reason is that the portafilter needs to be hot to the touch prior to extracting an espresso.

A not-so-well known, but highly educated coffee roaster in Italy has once advised us to leave the spent grinds in the portafilter until the next extraction. The sole purpose was to stabilize the heat dissipation in the grouphead, especially an E61 grouphead connected to a heat exchanger (not double boiler machine). The reasoning is that the grouphead would overheat less. Although we have not tested this, this is a possibility. The second reason is sweating in the portafilter basket - water vapor would build up in the basket.

There are a few reasons against leaving the spent grounds in the portafilter handle:

a) the espresso puck can stick to the dispersion screen,
b) there would be an increase of rancid coffee oils passing through the dispersion screen, and
c) in a commercial environment, it would increase wait times for cleaning.

Update Mar 14, 2013 4:05pm - We just left a spent coffee grind puck in the portafilter for 3 hours. The puck knocked out great, except for the residual stuck to the basket.

What are your thoughts?