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Oh look, my coffee machine has died…

Posted Jul 05 2014 11:00pm

A cooker in extremis – the hotplates sprouting random hotspots like a teenager sprouts zits – prompted the last post, re the switch to an induction hob. And then more buggeration set in.

While rearranging the kitchen to accommodate the hob, I found a puddle of coffee under my Dolce Gusto machine (a shame, as this machine got me back into coffee-drinking which, I discovered in my clapped-out state, is a good way to start the day).

I moved it, cleaned up the mess while wondering how the hell it got there as the design of these machines makes it impossible to leak coffee beneath its main body, moved it back – and, hey, there was another puddle, this time of plain water. As water and electricity aren’t a fun mix, I took the hint and pensioned it off. Bloody annoying as I only recently restocked with my favourite coffee pods so, when I feel up to it, I’ll disembowel it and see if I can find the leak – not easy as it’ll have dried out by then and might be impossible to find, and it looks like it needs specialist tools to take it apart. We’ll see.

As long-term readers might know, I’ve had an on-off mini-obsession with espresso for a few years, which has left me with two spare machines, a Dualit 15-bar electric machine (a Which? best buy which does, in fact, make very good espresso, and a La Pavoni manual, lever-operated, machine that looks great but is very erratic (I spent months on the bugger – no sooner did I get the grind and tamp right, and get a few days of brilliant coffee, than it would be all change and nothing worked – eventually found out that this is standard for the La Pavoni!). Plus a grinder for each – a Krups GVX231 burr grinder – basic but effective – for the Dualit which needs a fine grind, and an Iberital MC2 for the La Pavoni, which needs an almost dust-fine grind. The MC2 is a great grinder with a massive design fault – the spout retains a huge amount of ground coffee which, I was surprised to learn yesterday, is a “design feature”. Who the hell designs something that dumps stale coffee into every grind after the first one? It’s not a problem in a coffee shop, but this is a domestic model, so ground coffee could, conceivably, sit there degrading from one breakfast to the next.

Not wanting to resurrect the frustrations of the La Pavoni, I dug out the Dualit, nice and clean as I’d boxed it up, ran a tank of water through it – and was promptly reminded of why it was put away in the first place – god, the pump is bloody noisy.

Still, since I last used it, I’ve become pretty good at quietening noisy appliances, for which I hoard packing foam from deliveries. Among them I had two 3” thick hollow slabs of what looks and feels like expanded polyurethane (much denser than expanded polystyrene), enough to make a plinth for the machine which damped out most of the racket by preventing the wooden surface on which it sits from picking up the noise and amplifying it.

It is, however, still prone to bursts of appalling noise, which will piss off me, never mind my neighbours if I use it early in the morning, so I need to rethink this.

I also managed to dredge up a couple of handfuls of old coffee beans, enough to make sure the grinder still works – and it does, though inspecting the burrs showed they’re quite badly worn so I have a replacement on the way from Amazon today** – we’re in business as soon as my beans arrive (they have – see below).

**According to Amazon’s website, my order left their Wigan base at 07.40 today (Saturday). It got here at 20.50. There’s no excuse for that and, if the same driver has been on the road all day, both he and Amazon have broken the law.

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The Krups GVX231 grinder. If, by the way, you want to clean a grinder’s innards, toss in a handful of Basmati rice and run it through followed by a handful of beans to clear any residue, or buy a proprietary product and follow the instructions. Basmati worked fine for me.

As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to favour Old Brown Java beans, and I have a couple of bags on the way to me from the Bean Shop. Until they get here, I’m afraid it’s instant, or my favourite instant brew of a mug of hot chocolate with a double shot of instant espresso and lots of sugar.

If you’re getting into DIY espresso, then a tip – get the grind and tamping right using something from the basic end of the market – don’t waste premium beans. And espresso, of course, forms the basis for other coffee drinks, the most well-known are, I suppose, the Americano (diluted with hot water – I always start that with a lungo, using 16-18g of ground beans**), Cappuccino and – shades of the 60s, the Flat White though, for me, nothing ruins coffee like milk.

**A degree of precision and consistency is needed when weighing beans, and rather than drag out my extremely accurate baking scales every time, I found an online head shop and bought a tiny stoners’ scale (also very accurate and consistent – I checked), which weighs, should I ever be that obsessive, to a tenth of a gram. A cut-down cottage cheese pot makes a suitable receptacle for weighing, and for storage, maybe a Kilner jar to which I’ll add a squirt of CO2 (replenished each time it’s opened), to prevent oxidisation of the beans as described in this post . The handful of beans I used to test the grinder had been stored in such a way, and were in remarkably good condition. After four years I wasn’t going to brew them, but once ground they did smell as good as ever.

By the way, it’s essential to store in glass (or PET), or in their original bags, as plastic freezer bags are microporous and, as with bike inner tubes, CO2 will bleed away to atmosphere pretty quickly.

I prefer Kilner jars, but there’s no denying they’re heavy, and with the current trend for glass fridge shelves, this worries me. Copella apple juice bottles (PET), are very good, and very light (I use them to store lentils – a 750ml bottle holds a kilo of split red), and they don’t retain any trace of their previous contents – that’s where my OBJ beans are going, plus a squirt of CO2 (take care – beans are very light – it’s easy to blast them right out of the container, so you need a light touch).

I prefer to reuse glass jars whenever possible, but for some reason some glass hangs on to the smell of the previous contents pretty much indefinitely. The only jars I can reliably reuse are the Bonne Maman conserve range, but they’re too small for much beyond herbs and spices (and Marigold Bouillon Powder which, once opened, deteriorates rapidly if kept in its cardboard tub).

For general use, Nature’s Finest bottled fruit leaves behind 1kg sized food-grade plastic jars that retain a hint of their previous contents no matter what you do. However, being fruity and faint I’ve found this makes no impact at all on any future contents (but if you want to remove the original smell, store Demerara sugar for a few weeks – it’ll then smell of sugar). Currently Sainsbury’s have only pears in this size – immensely annoying as I prefer the peach slices. If you run a search, Tesco boasts that it has 17 varieties of Nature’s Finest. Just one snag – it doesn’t stock the range at all. WFT, Tesco?

Actually, Sainsbury’s have plastic Kilner-style containers that might be ideal, if only they had the intelligence to put the actual size on the website, not just Small, Medium, and Large – which tells me nothing useful. Just sent them a snarly email about that.

And my beans have arrived, Yay! The Bean Shop labels the beans with their roast date, June 2 in this case so clearly roasted and posted pretty much within 24 hours.

To make filling the portafilter easier, and avoid spillage, I bought a dosing funnel from Orphan Espresso (this was 4 years ago – they might be available in the UK now, but not then).

Orphan Espresso are based in Troy, Idaho, and if you’re a John Denver fan the map of the surrounding area will ring a few bells. Despite their remote location their service is excellent, and the website will keep you entertained, informed, and possibly broke, for ages. You want to know about espresso and its machines? Odds are it’s in there somewhere. Or, actually, not – a browse around the site shows it’s a mere shadow of its former self. Pity, that, as they had a lot of stuff I’d not seen in the UK at the time, along with massive amounts of information. Seems like they over-reached themselves.

Tell you one thing, though – since I got into espresso in 2010, prices of equipment have gone through the roof, especially tampers. I swear, yesterday, I saw a tamper for £70.** It was nothing special, a metal disc on a stick, ffs, worth a tenner at most. (OK, mine was £31 from Orphan Espresso, albeit for almost 1lb of lathe-turned stainless steel and aluminium and that, in 2010, was as high as I was prepared to go, though they had a very nice walnut and brass version for £64-ish – currently on offer at £38-ish).

**I’ve seen another, since, for £120, though that was more bling than tool. 

At the moment – it’s some years since I made espresso manually – I find myself in the slightly incestuous position of having to read my own blog to refresh my memory. The number of typos I let slip though is worrying.

Anyway, how the hell am I going to make coffee if my machine is intolerably noisy? Well, I’ve spent the day online, looking at the hardware, reading reviews (including Which?), and of course, prices. Eventually I put together what I think is the perfect package.

First, a replacement for my Dolce Gusto Melody 3. Amazon often have this for around £50, but Sod’s Law dictates that it wouldn’t be today. They did have the smaller Piccolo, for £45, so I ordered one. I’d have preferred the red version or, at a pinch, black, but both were more expensive – red at £99 (sod that – the list price is £79!), and black at £59.28. The Piccolo has a 600ml tank, less than half the 1.3l of the Melody 3), but a somewhat bigger tank (950ml), is available should I need one.

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Last year, while I was in hospital the first time, my Melody 3 water tank developed a weird chemical smell. It doesn’t affect the drinks, but there’s no getting rid of it either. I’ve noticed, though, that over the last couple of days not being able to use it, I’ve felt rather less ill, making me wonder if it was toxic. That prompted me to switch to espresso but, in turn, the thought of making that as soon as I get up (when, most mornings, I’m in terrible pain), was daunting, and that,as much as anything else, set me to wondering if I could afford both. Turns out I could, and saved money too. I’d budgeted £250 maximum for an espresso machine, but in the event the total cost was £162 for grinder, Piccolo, and espresso machine.

And what of an espresso machine?

Lots available, but the standout bargain was the Morphy Richards Accents 47586. Rave reviews everywhere for both the quality of its coffee and the quietness of its operation, and heavily discounted down to £67. Looks good too. No contest.

The people at Which? marked it down because the steam button is stiffer than the other two. Er, guys, I’d wager that this is a safety feature if you stop and think about it. Something else Which? does that’s terminally pointless – if a machine, any device at all, not just espresso-makers, comes in different colours, they’ll test and score all the colour variants. Why? It’s the same bloody machine you morons! You might just as well test 6 black ones. 

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So that’s it. I might need to buy a tamper – I don’t know what size this thing needs – and maybe a dosing funnel too, though it might be possible to modify the one I have. You do get a tamper, but it’s plastic and they are always poorly designed.

As for the grinder, it has one major virtue – I can grind one precisely-weighed portion of beans in the knowledge that I’ll get it all out at the other end, and not have over 10% of it stuck up the spout, like the Iberital. I have also found a way to get the Iberital to grind a single portion, by making a single-portion mini-hopper (pinched the idea from Orphan Espresso but while theirs is turned from solid aluminium, mine is cut from a container that used to contain my Thiamine tablets ). What still defeats me is getting it all out of the bugger once it’s ground!

 


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