Café Research

The blog of a humble home barista.
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Able Disc Filter for Aeropress

For a while now I’ve been using a stainless steel filter disc made by Able (formerly Coava) with my Aeropress. 

Coava Disc (now known as the Able disc)

The nice thing about the Able Disc is that it removes the hassle of needing the paper filters, instead you can just get on with brewing and it cleans up just as easily as the rest of the Aeropress. When I travel for work, I always bring my Aeropress and Porlex grinder and beans so I can brew wherever I am.

Inverted brewing method for Aeropress

Another thing I’ve been doing more recently is brewing with the Aeropress inverted. All you do here is set-up the aeropress upside down with the plunger resting on the counter. Take the filter and screw-top from the aeropress and fill it ~15-20g of freshly ground coffee (touch coarser than espresso grind though in that ball-park will work fine) and fill with just off the boil water.

Because of the inversion you have more control over the brewing time as the liquid isn’t going anywhere. I tend to leave to steep for around a minute, turn it over and plunge it over about ~30secs.

This gives a beautiful clean cup. As with everything experiment with brew times and amounts to your taste.

The Able disc is available at all good coffee suppliers and costs around £13. Definitely recommended if you’ve got an aeropress.

Square Mile: Kilimanjaro Natural review

Kilimanjaro Natural

This coffee roasted by Square Mile and coming from Aida Batlle’s farm in Santa Ana was something super special. Reading the description and seeing the reference to strawberry notes made me think “surely not, strawberry in coffee - I don’t believe it!”. But I could not have been more wrong. The fragrance of strawberries is right there when you open the bag.

This coffee is nothing short of amazing, for me this wins the award for the most delicious and unusual cup of 2011. It’s excellent as an espresso; the strawberry notes are right there providing the background delicious acidic tang of perfectly ripened fruit.

There’s a nice balanced sweetness here which works well with the rest of the flavours and it’s very, very good. I took this coffee with me whilst travelling to south america and in an AeroPress it was really quite something.

Back home, I tried this coffee with milk and it worked fantastically well  - kind of like strawberries and cream, just a really different but awesome flavour. Sometimes unusual can be something that you wouldn’t necessarily want to drink every day, but this coffee just works and is incredibly drinkable all day long. 

Flat White

I very strongly recommend getting your hands on this coffee whilst it’s still available at Square Mile, it’s a definite 9+/10.

Extract Coffee: Strong Man Espresso

Extract’s Strong Man espresso blend is something a little different. Extract’s site lists this as being based on Ethiopian Harar (the other coffee’s that make up this blend are not listed). As an espresso there’s an initial slightly earthy flavour followed by some spicy chocolate notes accompanied with fair amount of body to the mouthfeel. 

It’s with Milk though that this coffee really shines. The earthiness present in the espresso is rounded off, the cocoa notes provide depth and character followed by a pleasant velvety mouthfeel. It’s a good combination and one that easily becomes quite moreish.

With 50p on every 1kg donated to the Movember Foundation I’d highly recommend checking this out.

Strong Man is currently available online

Extract Coffee: Original Espresso

I recently came across Extract Coffee Roasters when looking for new coffees to try out. Their original espresso seemed to be a good starting point for checking out their wares. 

This is a nice daily brew which is what any standard espresso blend should be. I found this coffee noticeably improved with time. So you should expect to see better results from at least week after you get it though YMMV.

There’s plenty of cocoa notes going on but there’s also a punchier side to this which provides body. The subsequent sweetness seals the deal on what amounts to a tasty espresso.

In milk this worked really well as you’d expect. It’s doesn’t have quite the depth of the recently reviewed Havana X-blend but it’s not really all that far off. Good stuff.

Extract Original Espresso is available online.

Square Mile: Red Brick Espresso

Initially I found this coffee difficult to brew and I was getting what seemed to be quite delicate results which seemed at odds with the description. However after a little experimentation I upped the brew temp (in my case via the Auber pid) I went up to 108/9C at the boiler which equates to somewhere in the ball-park of ~95C at the brew-head (sadly I’m not measuring the brew temp currently though that’s a mod I’d love to do at some point).

Once everything was dialed-in it felt like I was starting to taste some of the cherry/rosehip notes in the espresso. The mouthfeel became more full and that made the espresso sing a lot more. 

With milk I didn’t really find the knock-out flat-whites I’d hoped for (perhaps I’d been spoiled by my recent daliance with the Havana X-Blend) but this espresso is more subtle than that. To put that in a different way I’d say this is an interesting blend. It’s not all about warmth and cocoa notes and huge sweetness but more about quality fruity dark chocolate flavours with some delicate spicy overtones and with that it’s well worth some experimentation.

Red Brick is available from Square Mile’s web shop.

Havana Coffee Works X-Blend Beans Review

From New Zealand we have X-blend beans from Havana Coffee Works

X-blend Packaging.

The packaging is fairly minimal with little details on the beans that make up this fine blend. As a result I really had no idea what to expect.

Beans

Clearly with something from New Zealand the obvious thing to do is make a Flat white and see how it works with milk.

Flat White

As you’d probably expect this coffee sings when made in this way. There’s an initial brown sugar/caramel sweetness followed by bursts of cocoa/chocolate flavours with a hint of roasted nuts with a pleasing mouthfeel. Simply delicious. This is the kind of brew that you could keep drinking all day until you’re bouncing off the ceiling.

In espresso the same flavours are present but a little more of the spicier side of the dark chocolate character comes to the fore along with the balanced acidity and velvety mouthfeel.

So this coffee gets a big thumbs up from me - now if New Zealand wasn’t so far away I’d be up for trying out some of the Havana Coffee Works other offerings.

I’m very lucky to have got hold of these beans for review (thanks Lisette!). 

Pimping Miss Silvia with an Auber PID

I’ve recently started to drink a lot more espresso than milk drinks and this change really made me appreciate better shots over imperfect ones. With milk drinks imperfections are smoothed out to some degree and I started to realise I wanted better control over temperature, as surfing temperatures [1] is a hassle.

So I decided to give Miss Silvia some love. I considered buying a newer more advanced machine but decided that I would have to spend quite a bit of money to get an improvement so I decided that fitting a PID (proportional–integral–derivative) Controller would be better value for money. The PID works by allowing the user to set a temperature of the boiler and the pid will control the boiler to maintain the temperature to that setting. 

I ended up going for the Pre-infusion/Steam Control kit from Auber as the kit is one of the least expensive compared to other suppliers but has plenty of good reviews. The pre-infusion mechanism pumps a little water onto the grounds prior to brewing to prevent tracking through the grounds which causes poor extraction. On the whole it seems to work well, but I’ve not yet tried doing any A/B comparisons. The steam controller kicks in earlier than the stock thermostat and I noticed using it there seems to be bags more steam than before.

Fitting the kit was fairly straight forward and took about 2 hours overall - I took plenty of time over it and took lots of photos along the way. 

During the pid installation

Having the temperature control has eliminated the need for temperature surfing completely and I’m getting nice shots with more consistency. It’s also allowing me to focus much more on consistent tamping and grinding (after-all barista skills can always be improved :))

Service has been excellent, the first controller I installed had an issue with it that prevented the steam control switching off when it reached the set temperature. After a series of emails back and forth with instructions for measuring the voltages across the relay and other tests, a diagnosis was confirmed and Auber promptly sent out a replacement controller which took about 10mins to fit and has subsequently fixed the problem. So I’m very happy on that front.

After the install

So on the whole, I’d definitely recommend fitting one of these kits. They’re relatively in-expensive, easy to fit (the instructions are clear and detailed) and service from the supplier has been first class with dealing with a problem. Best of all you can forget temperature surfing and you’ll get better shots.

[1] Temp Surf or Time Surf?

Fixing Wonky Pump Mounts on a Rancilio Silvia

In taking apart my Silvia to fit a new group head and pid-kit. I noticed the pump mounts were looking decidedly wonky:

Pump with saggy pump mounts

This wasn’t good because it meant that the pump was coming dangerously close to the self-tapping screw that holds the pump mounts to the frame.

Fortunately the coffee machine company were kindly able to source a replacement set of mounts and I resolved the problem:

Pump with new mounts

The good news is the newer mounts also make the machine a whole heap quieter too.

The mounts themselves aren’t particularly solid and I noticed that the pipe with the stainless steel cover is a bit on the long side. What I reckon happened is that the pipe is quite stiff and over time this pushed the mount on the left down causing the sag. When I fitted the new mounts I deliberately angled the pipe back more to alleviate some of the downwards force.

Rancilio Silvia Group Cover Peeling for the 2nd Time

Whilst I love my Rancilio Silvia the one weak spot is the chrome-plated group cover. Unfortunately, despite appearances, it’s made of plastic and the chrome film has a tendency to bubble up and peel off over time.

I use my machine twice a day and this is the second time this has happened. The first time I got a replacement free of charge from the company I bought the machine from. This time though I’ll be picking up the tab.

I’m really hoping that this is something that will be re-considered in future models. If it was made of metal this would last as long as the rest of the machine which is built like a tank.

Rancilo Silvia Group Cover Peeling

Buy a Virtual Coffee to Provide Aid Following Earthquake 

Make a donation by buying a virtual espresso or flat white, or even a virtual coffee machine to provide aid to coffee professionals affected by the recent earthquake in ChristChurch, New Zealand. (via boingboing)

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