Breville/Sage Bambino Plus Coffee Talk

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When I first started on my home espresso journey, I had an ancient hand-me-down Krups1, but it made awful coffee2. I donated that to a charity shop, as I thought my Aeropress3 and its “espresso-style coffee” was sufficient. Then I added a Fellow Prismo to the mix to add a bit more pressure (and cleanliness), but this still wasn’t espresso. Then my eye got caught by the Flair Classic, which was much better at making espresso but also much fussier. So I started investigating a bunch of home espresso machines, and I decided I wanted the Breville Bambino Plus… but it was pretty much impossible to buy.

After trying to buy it from a few different places, and trying to order a few other machines, I eventually settled on the Gaggia Classic Pro, which I used fairly happily for about a year and a half.

But there were still a bunch of things I didn’t like about it, such as the lack of preinfusion, a difficult-to-use steam wand, and a water tank design that made it way too easy for fruit flies to reenact Hotel California4. So, last November, when the Bambino went on a pretty deep (20%) discount for Black Friday (and when I was already spending large amounts of money getting my kitchen remodeled anyway), I decided to take the plunge and get the machine I’d wanted in the first place.

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Cascara experiments Coffee Talk

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I recently bought some Colombian EA decaf from S&W Craft Roasting, as well as their sampler pack and a bag of cascara tea. The order shipped immediately and got to me within just a few days, and I am pretty happy with the decaf.

But let’s talk about the cascara!

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My updated current espresso process Coffee Talk

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9 months ago I posted my then-current espresso process. As this is a constant experiment and processes change over time, I figure it’s time for an update:

  1. I have returned to single-dosing, and have 3D printed a single-dose hopper for that purpose. This makes it less convenient for me to rest/outgas my beans but it’s easy enough to just, y'know, open the bag while it waits in the refrigerator. Oh also I grind into the dosing cup, not direct into the portafilter, and I give the dosing cup a little shakey-shake before pouring it into the portafilter (with a dosing funnel).

  2. My dose is now 18g, and since I’m single-dosing there’s no time calibration necessary. Also, I give the beans a quick spritz with water (aka “RDT” in coffee nerd circles) to cut down on static and clumping.

  3. My leveling process is now to do a vertical tap, and then WDT, with no additional leveling. Also, for the WDT I ended up settling on a bit of cat6 Ethernet cable which I stripped down to the wires which I then straightened, forming a sort of whisk. It’s probably not food-safe, but it works.

  4. I still tamp as before, although as part of my tamping I also turn the tamper around a couple of times to ensure that the puck is flat and releases.

  5. I extract either a 1:2 ratio (i.e. 18g in, 36g out) or 30 seconds, whichever comes first, and use that as a guide for dialing in my grind.

Zen and the art of Kitchenaid mixer maintenance

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Tonight, my Kitchenaid Classic Plus stand mixer (13 years old, according to the serial number) started to really heck up in some really obnoxious ways, to the extent that I thought I might need to buy a new mixer. But it turns out that there’s just some simple maintenance tasks that need to be performed, and that all of the issues I was having are very common!

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Espresso tonic variant: Tropical ginger beer Coffee Talk

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Okay, so, a lot has been said about espresso tonic. But there are other interesting combinations of espresso with carbonated beverages.

One fairly obvious one would be an espresso kola, namely espresso and a cola-type beverage. It’s okay with Coca-Cola but really good when using Q Kola.

Earlier this year, Morgan Eckroth won the US Barista Championship with a signature drink that involved lime extract, mango purée, and orange blossom water (among other things). And those flavors have a profile pretty similar to Q’s tropical ginger beer, so I figured…

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⭐️ Dish Dragon

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Dish Dragon is an interesting site where you tell it one or more ingredients that you have available and it recommends recipes to make with it. Pretty handy if, like me, you tend to accumulate a lot of ingredients with good intention but then never know what to actually cook for dinner. Great for meal planning and so on.

(via u/perpetual_stew on Reddit)

Ruixin knife sharpener

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Lately on Facebook I’ve seen a lot of ads for a knife sharpening system, particularly one being advertised as by “Wasabi knives.” I was interested in the product, but not $120 interested… but it turns out that all of them are just rebrands of the one by Ruixin Pro, which is a much more palatable price. I paid around $30 for mine, but the price has further dropped to $20, although it seems to vary a lot over time.

Anyway. After a couple of ordering issues (due to my payment not going through) and then a bit of a wait for shipping direct from China, my sharpener finally arrived.

I’ve sharpened all my knives with it now, and I think it’s pretty good! There’s a few things to watch out for, though.

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My current espresso technique Coffee Talk

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Update: See the update to this post.

I’m still learning how to do good espresso, and my current technique seems to generate better, more repeatable results than before.

  1. Let your beans outgas before grinding them

    Inspired, as usual, by a James Hoffmann video, I’ve started doing this much more regularly after noticing that super-fresh-roasted beans keep on resulting in horrible channeling. So now when I get a new bag of beans I put it into my countertop storage and let it sit there while I finish off the previous bag.

    Relatedly, rather than keeping my current beans in an airtight container, I’m actually using the hopper on my grinder instead of single-dosing stuff.

  2. Target 15g of ground espresso

    I’ve settled on a 15-gram dose. Since I’m now using the hopper instead of single-dosing, I’m continuously adjusting my grind timer; I first tare my scale with the dosing cup, then put the dosing cup under the grinder, run it for my set time, then weigh the ground beans and then adjust the timer based on targeting 15 grams (for example, if my grind time is set to 4.5 seconds and I get 13 grams ground, I adjust the timer to \(4.5s \times 15g/13g = 5.19s\)), and then also grind a bit more until I get to 15 grams. If my initial grind was too much I just go ahead and use a larger dose.

  3. Sideways-tap level, then WDT, then sideways-tap again

    I’m no longer using the spinny-spinny leveler, unless I’m having a really difficult time getting the puck level before tamping. I am using a WDT for declumping. I’m still using the crappy WDT but I will someday get around to printing one of the acupuncture-needle ones that everyone’s in love with now.

  4. Calibrated tamper, but go extra

    Instead of trying to get a precise pressure-based tamp, I’m using the calibrated tamper by Decent to indicate the minimum force to pack it down by. Apparently it’s easy to undertamp a puck but pretty much impossible to overtamp, and the depth-based tamping I was doing before was way too inconsistent, especially when using lighter roasts (which tend to grind denser).

    (If you don’t want to pay the premium for the Decent tamper, this one on Amazon looks pretty okay.)

  5. Extract based on time, not ratio

    This is a thing that’s made a huge difference to the quality of my output. Instead of targeting a 1:2 in:out ratio and adjusting the grind to get it closer to 25 seconds, I brew for 25 seconds and then adjust the grind to get it closer to a 1:2 ratio. Extraction time is the primary driver of flavor profile, and a 25-second extraction seems to get pretty close to the peak. So if my grind is too fine I might get a 1:1 ristretto, or if it’s too coarse I might get a 1:3 lungo, but either way I’ll end up with some pretty good-tasting espresso (although a lungo will tend to be a bit more bitter than I like).

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