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Saturday, July 12, 2003


water water everywhere

still struggling with question of the best water for carlos expobar.

i understand that for perfect tasting espresso -- all other factors being equal -- we need water with 90-100 parts per million (ppm). 90-100ppm of what minerals exactly?

the problem it seems as if most of the common bottled water web sites tell ya what's in the water, but not in a useful way! for example, poland spring.

that's what's in it! what's it all mean??? nothing about ppm or ph or whether it's "soft."

so i rush over to cirqua -- the espresso water specialists -- to see what's up, and i can't find much useful there.

it seems to imply that any calcium is all bad. but then other people say you need some for the water to taste good and the autofill needs it.

water -- so confusing!! so i go here for the ppm & ph info.

now i know poland spring is ph 6.4 and has a ppm i guess of 44, making it all bad for the expobar and espresso. . . or am i confused?

for data about nyc water, i find this a large and totally bewildering mineral report (adobe acrobat required).

but what the heck does it mean? it seems as if on the ph level, new york city tap water is fine for the machine, maybe better than the poland spring. that's a shocker! but i don't see a ppm anywhere. . .did i miss it?

and i'm still trying to get decent foam from my new guy carlito! all new machines have a learning curve from which almost no one is exempt. . .

maybe i shouldn't make fun of that guy who calls himself the water sommelier at the ritz hotel after all!

posted by fortune elkins | 8:06 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, July 11, 2003


untaping the new expobar

it's hard for me not to feel a close kinship to the expobar so kindly sent me by todd and gary of wholelattelove. why?

because like myself, it just doesn't photograph well. once you unpack expobar and peel off the strange baby blue protective tape, a gleaming steel guy emerges.

large, sturdy, but not beefy or muscle-bound. if i met him downtown on broadway, he'd be wearing a square-cut gray brooks brothers suit and i'd bet he managed a desk.

no custom english shirt or bespoke shoes. red striped tie. he's earnest, plays racquetball, and wears ralph lauren's citrusy safari.

were i still single, i'd give him my phone number if he asked me for it, but i wouldn't swoon or call my best girlfriend to tell her who i just met.

he's just a friendly guy. and this is probably good, because you have to live with him in your kitchen everyday. . .hard to believe he's actually a steamy latin from valencia, spain. maybe once you get to know him his inner piazzolla reveals itself?

mr. right, who loves my rancilio silvia, compared her to an eccentric little italian sports car. finicky, charming, a unique personality. he's not attracted to expobar -- well, we wouldn't expect him to be, would we?

expobar is a completely different technology inside than silvia. he has what's known as a heat exchanger, a little bit of interior tubing that gains heat from the system. this means that you can pull espresso shots and steam milk without switching on a new button to heat up the system and waiting a minute, as you must do with silvia.

actually, you could steam milk while you pour a shot, which is impossible on silvia. so this saves time if you make a lot of drinks at once for friends and family, or like myself, have taken to having regular coffee parties.

further, he has a thermosyphon, an e-61 type grouphead. this means the system circulates water around the grouphead to keep it at an even temperature. so theoretically, he has a more stable temperature than silvia does when making coffee. and we real caffénauts believe that this contributes to better espresso.

also, expobar has a real pressurestat that can be adjusted. since we all remember our basic physics, we know that pressure affects temperature. so by adjusting the pressurestat, we can set the machine to different temperatures.

this is important because many people feel that different espresso roasts call for markedly different machine temperatures; darker roasts should usually have a somewhat lower temperature. finally, expobar has an automatic water fill, so you don't have to manually flip the switch to make sure the boiler refills with water; again, as you must with sweet silvia.

so now i hope you understand what's different about expobar and silvia. the expobar i have, the automatic office control, also has a manual mode, which is the one i plan to use. but i know many people feel more confident with the choice of automatic or manual, which is why i was interested in trying out this model.

further, the automatic has a pre-programmed back-flush cleaning mode, which is certainly an attractive feature. anything to make the machine easier to clean!

so here he is, sitting on my kitchen counter, next to sink, across the way from silvia. he's about 4 or 5 inches longer than silvia, but not much wider, and only about an inch taller. the new model i have has shorter feet, a reinforced frame, a one-piece solenoid, and useful modifications to the boiler. all of this makes him more attractive and sturdy.

todd and gary worked with the manufacturer to incorporate these improvements, which shows the kind of concern the wholelattelove crew has for the home user and the respect in which the manufacturer holds them.

an interesting thing about expobar is the water tank, which looks like a nice tupperware juice container with a handy flip lid. very easy to refill.

and this is the first task -- to put water in expobar -- he really needs a name, and i can't use eduardo, so right now i'll try out carlos -- to prime his pump. he needs soft water that still has some minerals. so distilled won't do.

carlos auto-fills. the instructions say, find a level surface and push the button. ok, in my historic brooklyn apartment this is a challenge. so i just go with the kitchen counter.

i add some poland spring mineral water to the tank, flip his switch, and wa-lah! in 1 minute 32 seconds he chuffs and chugs and fills himself. (actually, i'm still unsure if poland spring is the best water for him. must find out more about this.)

no problem. no work. he just did it. a reliable young man. i'm beginning to like carlos.

the new improved instructions todd sent with him say he heats up to serving temperature in just 10 minutes, whereas silvia takes 20 or 30. i don't believe it, and i let him heat for 30.

heat exchanger (hx) machines get really hot. so it's the usual practice to run about 4 or 6 oz. of water before you make coffee to draw off any steam or too-hot water. before i did this, i had to assemble the portafilter and basket.

carlos comes with a nice portafiler, with the spouts on the bottom unattached. i just left him that way because the more daunting task was inserting the little tension ring that holds the basket in place. i needed to fetch mr. right to get that done.

his portafilter is perhaps slightly better balanced and a tad sleeker than the commercial rancilio one i have taken to using on silvia. but his double basket is much different -- larger holes, unique pattern. this is important to note, because it will affect the grind.

silvia is known as a tad finicky on the grind; the larger holes of expobar's basket probably means less grind sensitivity; on the other hand, it might be harder to make a ristretto shot because if you're not careful you'll get mud in the cup.

i drag out my beloved mazzer mini and use some of the just-for-me gillies espresso don schoenholt makes. i grind as for silvia; why not?

dose, tamp, lock the portafilter, push the manual mode button, and start the timer. tick, tick, tick. in 7 seconds i get the first thick pompeii red globules. like motor oil! amazing. but the 7 seconds tells me the grind is probably too fine -- i'd rather the flow started at 5.

in 25 seconds, i get a nice 2 oz. shot. but i don't drink it -- there's a bit of white in the crema, which tells me since the grind was too fine, the coffee is probably bitter and overextracted. toss this shot.

i have to learn to think coarser. am i surfing carlos or the holes in his basket? if i changed his basket with my la marzocco ridged one, or the standard silvia double basket, would i require the usual silvia type grind? readers, that's an experiment for tomorrow!

so i pull several shots, always nudging the mazzer slightly coarser. . .the texture of all the shots is noticeably thicker than silvia, more syrupy. even with this imperfect grind.

ok, how does carlos steam? the learning curve on steaming with silvia is a couple of weeks, and then maybe months to get the perfect thick microfoam. this takes about 35 seconds on silvia.

carlos has a different steaming set up than silvia. he has separate hot water and steam wands; silvia you push a button to differentiate between water and steam. carlos' wand doesn't have silvia's elbow and for a moment this worries me.

i fear i won't have adequate clearance for the pitcher against the drip tray. but it turns out to be no problema. the problem is that carlos' steam tip has 2 smaller side holes instead of silvia's 1 larger center hole. so you have to angle the pitcher differently.

further, with silvia, you have all this time before the milk heats to 140 degrees. and before you steam, you have to drain off the water sitting in the wand. not with carlos! at first his steam seems weaker than silvia, but he steams quickly! about 17 seconds until my just-from-the-fridge skim milk is at 140.

this means you have to work faster to get the same thick shaving cream body to the foam. and i'm trying to figure where to put the wand in the milk to get the best whirling circulation.
so the first time, i produce sort of starbuck-y stiff foam, but the bubbles are micro.

this is unlike the first time i steamed with silvia, where all i got was burnt milk. must work with carlos on this.

in sum, i find on first use that carlos is just an easy-going guy. i think he has real boyfriend potential. could be a keeper, as single new york ladies like to say. . . .

posted by fortune elkins | 7:30 PM | top | link to this |


Thursday, July 10, 2003


pitiable weeping

this is the only way to describe my state today. you see, i received in the mail a copy of the famed newsletter written by celebrity foodie david rosengarten.

long time readers know i loathe most celebrity chefs and foodies. that's an old rant.

so i think you know already i'm going to deeply disagree with the statement on his home page -- "i think you'll love my print-only periodical, the rosengarten report, as much as the food insiders do."

i'll drink folgers before i ever allow myself to become a food insider or follow those who are. the whole point is to create your own real situation with your own good food from your own community in your own home with your own family.

yours, not rosengarten's. here's my beef with the foodie-porn star newsletter:

"italy's best coffee. . .the result of frasi's fanatical devotion is a finely-ground powder that comes to you, vaccum-packed, in a turmeric-colored bag. i've been using it to make regular coffee in my electric drip machine and enjoying spectacular results."

spectacular only if you have no idea what real coffee is, david! real coffee is fresh coffee. aren't modern foodies supposed to be into freshness, local ingredients, all that?

this old (who knows when it was roasted?), stale (pre-ground coffee stales in minutes, meaning it's probably lost precious aromatics by the time it's packed), vacuum-sealed (the high heat used in most vacuum-brick packing is detrimental to the coffee). . .it's just a nightmare.

but this is what foodies think is great. this is why you can't trust foodies about coffee! they just don't know -- it's really not their fault.

they are seduced by trends, by rarity, by the lust to run after something exotic, hard to get, foreign. they need to feel like they have found the secret, the inside, the mystic club handshake. when in fact the best coffee is no secret!

dear readers, the best coffee will be freshly roasted, fresh-ground coffee; coffee you buy from your local independent roaster/coffeehouse on your way home from picking up the dry-cleaning, and grind at home yourself just before you brew.

coffee you buy online, if correctly roasted to your order and most carefully packed, will be good too. i realize many people still don't have access to a high-quality roaster/retailer nearby.

wonderful online coffees are their best resource -- see gillies, caffe orsini, wholelattelove, caffe d'arte, batdorf, etc. -- if they can't roast their own at home.

not to boast, i finally managed to prove the importance of fresh coffee freshly ground to the charming writer deborah baldwin by inviting her to my kitchen, grinding fresh, and showing her the shots, shots which had as much crema as coffee.

(look at the pic accompanying the times article online [log your bad self in: bccy1, password] and see the espresso in shot glass on top of my silvia for proof!)

look, it's nothing about frasi himself. i'm sure his coffee, fresh-roasted in verona from his little boutique, is just heavenly. even if it is based in karnataka coffees. . . .note that none of these as coffees reviewed by ken davids get a 90.

and as i understand it, if it doesn't get a 90 in cupping points, it's likely not what i would call specialty coffee. . .

in fairness, i must point out that this last statement is somewhat controversial. as one friend of mine is wont to state, a specialty coffee is any coffee with an extraordinary thing going on, anything that stands up in an interesting way and waves at ya. . .


posted by fortune elkins | 9:22 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, July 09, 2003


funky coffee, new machine?

since klatch at 9 maiden lane has now been open for a few months and things have settled down, i finally stopped in.

nice funky college-type coffee bar atmosphere with chill-out music, bad student art on the walls, and a lovely lovely astoria superautomatic espresso machine with what looked to me like a mazzer major grinder.

the bleached blond guy acting as person-behind-the-counter didn't know what a doppio macchiato was, but at least the portafilters were in the grouphead!

when i explained to him what i wanted, he did have the wit to ask if i wanted the shots short or long, so i specified ristretti. again, he didn't know the italian, but there's hope for him i think.

it's a nice atmosphere, but alas the coffee was from porto rico, which meant it was over-roasted to my taste. . . .it was reasonably fresh.

if you're in the nabe, i recommend it. however, it's still far better to make your own at home.

and this i intend to do even better than before, thanks to gary and todd of wholelattelove, who so sweetly sweetly sent me an expobar!

i took it out of its huge box last night, but haven't yet taken the baby blue protective tape off. first task -- to find a level surface so that i can properly prime and autofill it.

in my charming apartment in the historic district, a level surface isn't exactly easy to find; the building is beyond settling, well into slumping. . .

but dear readers, silvia will not be forgotten, and i will truly give you the in-depth day-by-day skinny on thermosyphon living.

the advantages of the expobar should be -- more consistent espresso shots, more syrupy espresso body, no wait time to steam milk, improved microfoam milk texture for silkier cappucinos, and better pressure and temperature stability.

silvia has a 2 or 3 week learning curve; and i expect the same of the expobar.

ok, dear readers, please use the comment field below. i need to name my new expobar. tell me your ideas please! look at the pic and give me your best and most fun ideas.

how about phineas?

posted by fortune elkins | 11:28 AM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, July 08, 2003


truth, beauty, coffee

the first two at least meet in sada sat kaur, a tremendous yogini with a beautiful voice.

her kirtan cd is amazing and highly recommended.

she will be performing in brooklyn at the first presbyterian church on 124 henry st. at 7:30pm thursday, july 24.

take the 2/3 to clark st. or the A/C to high st, bklyn bridge. it's only $10 to hear some truly transporting and surprisingly fun music. . .

and just when i think the brouhaha from yesterday is over, i find it popping up everywhere! for example, in tuscaloosa -- and then europe!

at least on this website you can see the other photo with the scaa consumer members and steve schulman of kudo beans gathered around the roaster.

now that coffee's hip again -- and that our dear silvia is the machine to own, apparently -- i hope all you readers will consider becoming scaa consumer members yourselves.

soon you'll be able to sign up online at the scaa website. until then, download the membership form (adobe acrobat format) and mail it in. . .please!

posted by fortune elkins | 10:22 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, July 07, 2003


we make the times

yes my friends, it's true -- the nyc scaa membership event and previous coffee party did in fact make the front page of the new york times this morning. i don't mean the front page of the food section; i mean the front page, A1!

once again, let me express my gratitude to the scaa; deborah baldwin and chester higgins of the times; david dallis, steve schulman, and jim munson of dallis coffee and kudo beans; gary and todd of wholelattelove; as well as to all the great consumer members of the scaa who came and participated!

the print version has a great photo of the consumer members gathered around a batch of fresh-roasted espresso. the web version (log your bad self in as bccy1, password) features a photo of my own rancilio home machine, the silvia. sadly, no pic of the equally lovely mazzer grinder, the mini.

i should also take a moment to thank glenn surlet of rancilio, who has always stood up for us home users of beautiful silvia, as well as don schoenholt of gillies coffee (buy his coffee here!), the behind-the-scenes guy who helped make so much of this happen.

and dear readers, let me thank you. your comments and email have long offered great inspiration for this site.

finally, let me thank my husband mr. right, for his patience with all this coffee stuff, and his willingness to endure my travelling and all the time i put into it. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 9:37 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, July 06, 2003


dreaming of deruta

i find myself remembering my last visit to philly, where i had la colombe coffee in deruta.

mr. right actually prefers vietri, usually, but those traditional bird & fish designs he likes don't seem to sit well on cappucino-sized cups. they look better on plates and bowls to my mind. the more modern vietri patterns could be good tho'. . .

the web is filled with deruta, no doubt. sites for italian majolica are legion; but most of the patterns are a tad, um, touristy. and the photos don't always do justice to the items. . .

however, i have rather fallen for a deruta pattern featuring peaches and apricots. note i'm interested only in the cappucino cups; the espresso cups would be lovely, but don't seem to come with their own saucers.

but hey, i do like that rectangular tray with the cute handles and matching sugar bowl! sadly, it's rare that i get to have a coffee party and so i doubt i need so many cups.

heck, i'm still searching for the perfect demitasse spoons too! most so-called demitasse spoons are too large and ungainly to my sad eyes. . .

but since the pix aren't so great, i'm still have trouble deciding if the above honeyfruit pattern is good or tacky. maybe vietri is the way to go? readers, what's your call?

more modern patterns with summery stripes are available, true, but the question is -- how good will they look with coffee in them? i want them to be pleasant on their own and also showcase the brew. .

posted by fortune elkins | 12:24 PM | top | link to this |

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