Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grinders -- the most important aspect for quality coffee...

Well, It's been longer than I thought for both this 'blog and the ham radio one.  Unfortunately, I have no updates for the ham 'blog since I've been busy.. vacation, family issues, etc.  Life does get in the way of your other plans.

Anyway, even though I have a very small audience of people who are home roasters of coffee, I would only rank the home roasting process as the second most important aspect of having good coffee.  I would say, especially with Espresso, but in fact any cup, that you want coffee that is no older than two weeks past roast.  However poorly ground coffee is in fact more bitter and lower quality than properly ground stale.

The best solution for everyone is to go out and spend $400-1000 on a high end home grinder such as a Baratza Vario or a "low-end" commercial grinder like a Mazzer.

But not of us want to or can do that.

I'm going to give two suggestions for someone starting off with coffee for grinders, with some annoyances and quirks that can do a good job at fine and a completely adequate job at course.

If you want to spend <$50.. then my obvious first pick for a grinder is a manual Conical Burr Mill.  There are a few varieties such as the Hario Skerton, Kyocera CM-45 and the Hario Slim Mill MSS-1.

I recommend the MSS-1 because it will eventually become your travel grinder.  I recommend that even people with the $1000 grinders have 1-2 of the Hario MSS-1's around because it can work from Espresso to French Press (a little loosy goosey at French Press but it tastes ok to me!) and is portable and can work in an emergency.  (Which I had today.. I'll get to it.)

Hario MSS-1 Disassembled, showing simple internals and the Kyocera conical burrs that work remarkably well in this and the other similar Japanese hand grinders.

Hario MSS-1, assembled.  Note that the 2 cup legend is completely warn off and the 1 cup one and the Hario is starting to wear off!  I use this a lot!

I'll now show you what not to buy, even at the same price as the Hario was.  I got a noisy Cuisinart Flat Burr mill.. but the problem is that is a "crusher" and not a cutter because as you can see from the pictures, the mechanics are not precise.  I no longer have this unit, I traded it for a Guitar practice amp.  Despite being not a decent mill, it's still better than the blade grinders that my friend used.. so I didn't feel too guilty about the trade.  The reason you want to avoid a unit like this is twofold:  1. It can't grind fine enough for Espresso or even pressurized portafilters.  On the coarser grinds, you get a mix of "Turkish fine" grinds, and the size you want.  I always chucked as much of the powder as I could.  This was because the places that were crushing the beans always makes this dust.  All around, I'd save my $35-60 (yes, it's $60 are BB&B) for something better.  I'll recommend my current pick for cheapest capable electric mill soon.

Cuisinart "supreme grind" burr mill:

OK, notice how the burrs invariably rub each other due to the lack of mechanical precision.  Because of this, the mills can not be sharp, they would instantly destroy each other and the unit.  So these dull mills "crush" the coffee rather than mill it.  It works, it's better than a blade grinder, but it adds a fine dust to all grinds.  I suppose that would be okay at the Espresso end if it could grind that fine but it can't.  It's also not noticeable on drip because the paper filter filters it off.  But it's sludge central on any press drip.  It was, of course, ok for Aeropress.. but for the MSRP of $60 it's not a good choice.  I don't even think it was a good choice at the $30 I paid for it.

It was also extremely noisy... it would wake up the dead.

So what do I recommend for a capable low end grinder?  Luckily Baratza decided that their least expensive grinder, the Encore should be capable of a full grind range, albeit not with enough "stops" in the stepped selection to make it convenient.  But it's doable.  I will add that if you really know you want to go for Espresso mainly eventually that you may want to move up to a better grinder immediately than the Encore-- or play it the way I am right now, and that is the Encore will eventually be my grinder for "everything" else-- which it does REALLY well, and I will also get a less expensive, but very fine adjustment Espresso grinder.  I went into this deciding to do it this way because I didn't know if I'd really like Espresso (I do) and didn't want to go the "Rocky/Silvia" $1K route to try it.  This is the essence of "Cheapskate Coffee"... not to be cheap but to do things in a logical fashion to see what one likes before blowing a small fortune on equipment!

The Encore, when recalibrated for "fine" and kept PERFECTLY CLEAN, like blown out with compressed air 2x a week, can grind fine enough for decent Espresso.  There are the snobs and the "home barista" types that will correctly tell you that the grinder makes the Espresso (hey, that's what this post is about!)--- and that the Encore doesn't let you "dial in" fine enough!  It doesn't but there are tricks, such as tamp and dosing that can make up for this somewhat.  I will get into that in a future post.  You can start with this grinder for all types of coffee making.
"ENCORN!" Ok, that joke's been covered at Seattle Coffee Gear.  Apparently the first run of these grinders, which I was lucky enough to get into, I guess, had the plain misspelled with box.   And the model number is #485, but it's written as 485# so you can make jokes about the working out helping....  It's a pretty plain looking grinder.

The 40mm burrs.  Smaller than the "better" Baratza's but still a decent set of mills.  The Internal gear box on this grinder is a DC motor with a circuit to control speed and safety features.  It's pretty quiet too.

View looking down into the unit.  The "pulse" button for portafilter use is shown here too.

Unlike the Maestro series which this replaced.. there is no timer.. just the on off switch.  I personally believe that the gearbox is improved enough on this unit that the timer is no longer needed to protect the gearbox like it probably was on the Maestro/Plus.

  Now.. when I got mine.. it did okay for Espresso on the finest and 2nd finest settings.. not like #6-7 that the "Evaluation units" that SCG and WLL showed on this videos.  So if you want to do Espresso, the first thing you will want to do with the Encore is "calibrate" it as fine as she goes.  Look up the WLL video on how to do this, it's the best explanation-- even better than the instructions on the Baratza site.  Doing this literally has no effect on the coarse end because even set to fine... French press is at about setting 25/40 on the unit.

Here is mine apart when calibrating it.  In order not to scratch or bung up the unit.. use a butter knife and not a flat screwdriver to take the cover up.  The wider width of the knife and the inherent dullness will help pop off the four clips and not scratch up or "indent" the plastic.

Unit before cal-- set to "Coarse" by the factory.  That ring needs to rotate to the third set of holes.  I wish there was a fourth as if I could ONLY get it one click finer.. maybe after the warranty is up!  The burrs are capable of at least one to two steps finer!

View from the other side showing the DC motor and motor control board.  Sorry it's slightly blurry.
The one think I do not like about the Baratzas and I believe this would be the case even on the very expensive ones, is that coffee does get into the inside of the unit.  So I'll be popping the cover off of the grinder a lot.  This is because my penchant for grinding mostly fines.  The clip idea simply sucks.. if they were to put screws from the bottom instead so the cover was easily accessed without prying the plastic off I'd be much happier.

So, in a way, I'm happy I went this way.  The $400+ for a Vario instead will go for an Encore -AND- a Lux, Le'Lit or Ascaso Espresso only grinder.  Certainly the internals are almost exactly the same up to the Precisio and that means the grounds getting inside will certainly happen on those pricier units.

My Emergency today requiring the Hario?  My two week old Encore decided to only start grinding to drip-ish on the finest setting.  I decided to go to French Press grind yesterday.  Little did I know, that some of the Espresso grounds which were on the oily side last week (I roasted darker) settled down somewhere into the Encore and kept the bottom mill (the ring-- the adjustable part) from seating past a certain point.  I actually had the unit apart three times and made sure that the "calibration" had not slipped, the burrs were not damaged (they look like brand new).. etc.  I finally re-ground the beans with the Hario (Yes you can do that with the little hand grinder.. you can regrind packaged coffee to dust if you want!) and had my Cappucino so I could think-- and then decided.. well, lets "blow 'er out" with the air compressor in the garage.

I did that, and I can grind down to almost Turkish again.  The scary part of this is I still don't know and couldn't see where the bottom burr was binding on the unit.  (I HAD IT APART!)  Seeing that all of the Baratzas appear to have that part of the chamber be the same design -- I will go against the crowd here and recommend for true Espresso grinding to go with another unit from a different manufacturer.  I'll be unpopular I know..  Maybe the most expensive Vario won't have this happen.. but from Precisio down it will. Look at the calibration instructions.. the adjustment mechanism is the same for all but the Vario!   Now I'm going to take it outside and blow it out 2x a week.. but that's annoying. Really Annoying.   Really, Really Annoying!

Despite my criticisms, you really can't beat it for $129 shipped, though.  But bear in mind that if you push it to Espresso which it certainly is useable with, that it needs extra care.  Mine also needed to be adjusted "calibrated" to the finest setting to allow me some "dial-in" area.

For all other uses, in the home, I don't know why you'd need better.  I think when eventually I am fully set up the Encore will be the Aeropress, Drip and French Press grinder and I'll have a step-less for the Espresso always "dialed in" for Espresso.  SO-- if you want to progress with this obsession in "baby" steps like I do.. get the Encore and then later get a $200-250 Espresso only grinder.  My humble opinion on this.

Here is a teaser from my next post.. maybe later today.. maybe next weekend -- on the MyPressi Twist V2 and the trials and tribulations of using that device.  But here is what it's capable of with the $129 Encore...

A pretty decent looking double.  THE Second shot pulled with the Encore/MyPressi Twist V2 combination.  Tiger striped and pretty much perfect crema.

Of course, the Espresso-only grinder will likely come after a more expensive machine than the MyPressi Twist.. and now.. after a drum roaster (Behmor 1600) which I have ordered... so yeah.. it's an expensive hobby... even for a "cheapskate!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Roasting Video

OK, it's getting late, and I need to go  sleep.. but I figure I will quickly post the video of my Technique.

Here are the tools I use:

WB Air Crazy... Silicon Hot Pad, chimney, beans and Chinese *C K-type bead thermocouple thermometer.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe... 2.87 Oz.. a little less beans for a lighter roast.  C+ is about it for Yirgacheffe.  FC I typically roast to requires exactly 3.00 Oz. 
 The Technique... hmm...

 The "Shake n' Bake" technique of using the WB Air Crazy.   The thing is low wattage at 1040W and has a weak fan.  No biggie if you manually help the unit.  The Nesco roaster for as bad as a design IMHO as it seems has an interesting feature.. that is the screw that agitates the beans in the chamber.  This makes up for a weaker fan.  So why not do the same for $135 less?  Why not indeed.

Here is the only of the four videos I did last weekend that came out.. but it's okay even if my ugly foot enters the picture a few times...

But as you can see.. it's not that difficult, there are some tricks you can do to stretch out the roast a bit.  Every one of those tricks also tends to equalize the bean temps, meaning more even and ultimately more tasty roasts.

If you are like me and do maybe 2-2.5 cups of beans a week (meaning 2 strong cappucinos a day 7 days a week) and like to have a different single origin or made up on the spot blend every day, this is a good technique.  As much as I'd like a Behmor or a GeneCafe or even a HotTop, roasting a pound at a time I'd find to be really boring.  The advantage to buying beans from Burman's and Sweet Maria's is that they will sell you a pound or two of fifteen different types of coffee for only a buck or two more a pound than buying 50-125 lb. bags from e-bay or a distributor.  I'd take advantage of it.  So that's why I love this technique.  It's quick, easy, forces you to learn quite a bit about the beans and also teaches you technique you'd never learn on an "automatic" roaster.

Hopefully this can get you started.  There are probably better air poppers out there.  The Poppery I's certainly are, and if you find one at Goodwill, you are golden.  If you think e-bay.. hell, get the SR500 or even the Behmor instead.  But you can do perfectly fine with today's much cheaper quality Chinese junque if you help the units out by bypassing the thermostat (which is occasionally needed even in a Poppery I!) and by shaking the beans to help out the weak fan.

Trust me it works.  My roasts are in demand by others.

Until next time...

Cheapskate Coffee is on the air...

This is my adventures of becoming a coffee snob without spending a fortune.  Actually I'm considering a Rancillio Miss Silvia, but since I've not yet done that I'm still a "cheapskate",

I don't know if you can get Italian Barista quality with what I've done so far but it beats the heck out of Starbucks IMHO.  Okay that isn't that hard but...

I started to drink coffee because I needed, for medical reasons, to drink a couple of skim milks a day.  Well I hate skim milks.  I lost like 150 lbs and at the same time needed a "transfer addiction."  Getting into coffee seemed perfect.  Except I didn't like most I tried.

So I started to grind my own.

Cheapskate grinder:  Best choice, IMHO Japanese manual hand grinder, Hario Slim Mill MSS-1 - available for around $30-40 on many sites.  Conical Burr, the best for Espresso.  This takes effort but will grind down to Turkish if you have the time and strength.  But sine they lack bearings on both sides of the mill (unless you pick up a modded one from Orphan Espresso for 2x as much, but a good deal nonetheless) they aren't good for coarse grinds beyond drip.

If you prefer French press, then a plate type burr mill cheap grinder such as my crappy (but on sale for $30 when I got it) Cusinart works well at that level.  With some Aluminum foil you can get it fine enough for Moka pot.. but not quite for a pump Espresso machine.  The Hario will work with a Miss Silvia if I can ever get one... :O(

If you want to only do drip (why?) or French Press, then the Hearthware $30 special from Burman would work fine too or the $50 Cuisinart which is only a bargain when you can find it for <$35...

Note:  Do not use a blade grinder for anything.  It's supposedly okay for grinding up Cumin for your weekly chili, but even in that use it doesn't grind evenly and roasts the spice again.  Really whoever came up with blade type grinders has a special place in hell waiting for them.  They ruin coffee.  Period.  End of debate.

Brewing Equipment:  I don't like drip.  I don't like paper filters.  However, I do make an exception for the Aeropress.  This combination French Press/Espresso maker is like the Frankenstein of the coffee world.  At about $30 it's the best possible taste compromise to have in a desk draw at work.  Therefore, that is what I recommend it for.  It looks a lot like a "pump" you'd get at an adult bookstore for...ahem... male...enhancement.  But it's good at work.

Because I don't like paper filters, espresso and French press are my preferred methods.  It's like Black versus White, AC versus DC, night versus day.  The coffee tastes completely different with either method.  French press is good and a $15 Mr. Coffee works as good as a $30 Bodum.  It simply doesn't matter if your coffee is good and ground correctly coarse, it's s great choice for a Gourmet that's in the poor house.

For Espresso, unfortunately I now use a Stainless steel Moka pot (the "Radig" from IKEA).  Okay.. they are cheaply made in India but work well for a Moka pot.  The Bialetti's that you see everywhere might be okay, but they are made of Aluminum which IMHO is about the worst material out there to come in contact with coffee.  The Radig works for a long time but the stainless is cheap quality and discolors quickly.  If you don't care about that.. it's as good as it gets for a steam pot.

I had a Mr. Coffee pump espresso machine for 35 days that made about 40 pulls before it caught on fire.  I know now I need to get a pump machine again.  It was a sucky machine but it did so much better than the Moka pot.  I am dreaming about a Miss Silvia now.. PID controlled.  But realistically I might try a DeLonghi and a $16 PID from China first.. If a add thermal mass to the boiler and PID it.. maybe..

I've also thought of a Saeco Aroma.. but at $230, that's 1/2 way to a Miss Silvia...

Of course then again $4 coffees are the reason for going cheapskate, isn't it?

Beans:  Well here is where I'm going to concentrate initially on this blog.  I decided to do this at all because of the series of posts over at Sweet Maria's coffee.  They are one of two reputable sources I have personally dealt with.  I will mention the other one because I'm not posting to SM's site.  The other one is Burman Coffee Traders in Middleton, WI.  Tom and Maria at Sweet Maria's encourage cheapskate coffee people like us to get into the hobby cheaply and their site is a cornucopia of information for the beginner.  Tom also really prides himself on carrying only coffee he thinks is good.  This means you can't go wrong with his samplers.  This also means that about 1/4 of types of coffee you might like will likely never be available from him. 

I've kinda filled that void with Burman Coffee Traders who seems to have complimentary tastes in coffee.  Which in my case lately have more been in line with my likely less "enlightened" tastes.  In my case, living in IA, he also can ship with a local delivery service that makes it considerably faster (overnight) and cheaper than ordering from SM.  I do owe Tom and Maria another order though.. it'll happen once I see something there I can't live without.
Beans, Beans.. the not so musical fruit...

Notice that both these sources are "GREEN" sources.  Well, if you are going to get premium grade coffee, you don't want it stale, do you?  Coffee over two weeks old roasted is stale no matter what you do to it.  No, your Keurig with the Nitrogen filled pods don't do crap to keep the coffee from getting stale.  Oxidized, yes, that matters too... maybe 50%... but even in the vacuum of space roasted coffee will go stale.

So what is the cheapskate to do?  I now know that you can get $6-7/lb coffee that's better than the best swill at Starbucks and even better than the $15/lb crap you get at the "Whole Foods" place.. but what do you do to roast?

But a $600 HotTop?  Yeah, if you are into that whole spending money thing..
$400 for a GeneCafe?  Well.. maybe..
$300 for a Behmor?  Closer but still not "cheapskate"
$159 for a SR500 or even a Nesco?  Okay if you want basically a corm popper for 3x the price.

My current suggestion if you are going to spring for new is the West Bend Air Crazy from Target or Menards.  $19.99 at either place.  $14.99 on sale at Menards if you can catch a sale (I DID!)  Now that Poppery I I got from my Mom will eventually be my deluxe roaster.. but I'm waiting for something I can't fix in 5 minutes to go wrong with the Air Crazy first.
West Bend Air Crazy, with discoloration in the chamber from COFFEE OILS!

You need to bypass the thermostat.  I'll eventually show some pictures of how to do that.  But once done, with the proper technique you can do a decent home roast with the Air Crazy on 7-10 minutes per 1/2 cup or 3 oz by weight green (about 2.8 oz roasted).  This is enough for maybe two French press pots or 6-8 espresso pulls.

I also use a chimney... that is a light sconce from Menards.  This allow the chaff to come straight off of the Air Crazy while you shake them off with my technique.  Here is a picture of the chimney...

Chim Chim-en-ey, chim chim cherie..
 And the chimney on the Air Crazy...

Ignore the Sweet-N-Low package and the messy stove, please...

My next post will be a little out of order in that I will posts some pictures and video of the beast to keep my promise to the members of the SM web forum to show them my technique.

But here are a few examples of what you can do for even roasts...

Robusta.  Tough, dirty crap to roast, but occasionally your Espresso blends need 3x the caffeine and a slight tinge of burnt rubber.  This is worst case, and proves you can burn the beans if need to.  Notice they are all oily even though there are a lot of "quakers".

More like it.  Very fine Rwanda.. roasted at about City+ to Full City.  Tasty stuff.. really.  Among the best.  Notice how even the roast is with good technique and beans.

Costa Rican At FC.. still a very even and tasty roast!

So.. do you want to see the innards of the Air Crazy?  Why not.  These pictures are when I tried to clean up the inner chamber, got it together wrong and blew out the thermal fuse.  That's bypassed in mine too so I think I might have lost my UL approval.. oh well..

See, the heating element isn't quite as cheap quality as the rest of the unit.  It CAN survive shaking.. so shake away!

The horizonal "squirrel cage".. see... the thing really is a turbine!  I don't advise taking this apart, it's hard to get back together correctly and if you don't.. you will "DO" the thermal fuse like I did!

The "cost reduced" DC motor.  Hell, it works fine though!

Anyway.. I'll show the thermostat bypass too.. why not?  I didn't get a good picture of the switch.  What you want to do is take off the wires on the thermostat on the top aluminum part.  Connect those to the power switch... after taking off those wires.  The wires that went to the power switch go like the following:

Hobby brass cut to a snug fit to splice the connectors.  Heat shrink as shown in the first picture.

That's about it for the first post in the series.. I went into what should have been a separate post on modifying the Air Crazy.. but why not.   I'll go back to cheap brewing and cheap grinding soon.. but lets do a little more cheap home roasting first...