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Saturday, July 19, 2003


backflushing for dummies

frankly, i've never backflushed my lovely rancilio silvia, because none of the machine retailers i know recommend it. a lot of people do it safely, but i was always wary of those warnings about blowing the boiler seals. . .

so i was a tad concerned when i came to backflushing "carlos" expobar. but i had to do it today. what's great about the automatic model is that he backflushes himself. really.

what is backflushing exactly? all better machines have a 3-way solenoid valve, which is a handy mechanism that allows excess pressure and water to escape from the group area after you pull a shot. to massively oversimplify, this allows you to instantly remove the portafilter without waiting for the pressure to abate naturally or having hot grounds spray everywhere.

this valve can become partially clogged with coffee oils and gunk; thus you need occasionally to force a light cleaning solution through it. you do this by removing the regular filter basket and replacing it with a so-called blind basket, one without holes. add a teaspoon of urnex cafiza powder and then you can start your cleaning process.

since the basket doesn't have holes, the water and pressure build up against it, the solenoid opens, and the excess water carries the cleanser through the valve. the water then runs out into the drip tray. sounds pretty clear, right?

the first task is to lever the regular basket out of the portafilter. for this i always use a cheap old butterknife. then you just pop in the blind basket and go to town, running water through the group for 5 seconds, stopping for 1 second, repeating. . .and repeating. . .and repeating. . .

not with carlos! carlos has his own handy self-cleaning cycle. warm him up, turn him off for 60 seconds, press one of the automatic pre-set buttons, turn him back on, and he knows what to do. two of his little green lights blink and he just starts back-flushing himself.

while carlos has some minor flaws -- his drip tray is a tad narrow, it's hard to read his water level -- the automatic backflush makes up for it all. carlos finishes in about 75 seconds.

then all you have to do is rinse the excess soap out of the filter and run water through the group for a few seconds. it's true the instructions tell you to do this 10 times. but it takes just 60 seconds.

in sum, backflushing carlos turns out to be a dead-simple painless task that takes less than 3 minutes. in home use, you should probably do it once a week. then grab your grouphead brush and give the gasket a scrub.

carlos has ample room around his gasket, unlike silvia, who is a bit cramped around the group. again, this helps make carlos quick and easy to clean. right on!

and of course after you've backflushed, you have to make a seasoning shot. some people keep some old coffee around for this purpose, since you're just going to toss whatever you pull. but after that first shot, don't you want a real one?

i did.

thus, gillies carioca espresso, which i guess i'll call a medium medium-dark brown roast (dry, no oil).

this is a sweet-tasting coffee, full, with a toasted caraway fragrance, malty brown-rice nose, spicy pink peppercorn aftertaste, juicy. it makes a creamy, light-syrupy espresso that clings to the back of the spoon slightly. yummy over ice!

posted by fortune elkins | 5:48 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, July 18, 2003


reprinted for the benefit of all humankind

since bruce cole (see yesterday's comments) noted his love of the shakerato, i thought i would shamelessly post here a message from don schoenholt of gillies coffee to the secret e-mail list that scaa consumer members get access to.

i tell ya people: join now, the stuff on this list is gold, gold, gold. . .

"Melting Ice Creates Problems
If you don't believe me ask the dinosaurs

Brew with a blend that has stronger flavors, or choose a blend that you enjoy every day but brew it really strong. That is, decrease the water-to-coffee ratio so that you end up with a substantially stronger coffee concentrate that will be less likely to go over the edge when the ice melts. Try using 25% less water.

I like blends with some dark roast blended in. Also Kenya/Sumatra blends (distinctive strong taste/heavy body). This is not a blend I would normally mix for hot coffee beverage due to their conflicting qualities.

You can brew the beverage a day before and refrigerate in a tightly closed container. That's what most beverage retailers do. This slows the action of the ice by starting with a cooler base beverage. I'm not keen on this oft accepted solution as the coffee clouds down, and tastes refrigerator stale by morning.

Also if there are left over garlic cloves in the refrig. Watch Out! You have just invented a new flavor and it doesn't compare to Pistachio Ice Cream Flavored Beans.

I like the idea of making trays of brewed coffee ice cubes. When the ice cubes melt there is no dilution of the brew. Want to make them sexy? Add cream or milk to the coffee ice-cube mix. As the cubes melt the cream mixture marbles the brew making it very exciting (don't mind me, I think coffee's exciting, he said, putting ice on his forehead).

When I was a boy the Jello dessert people used to suggest making Jello the fast way. Use a very large bowl. Mix in only one cup of boiled water instead of two (mix until crystals melt). Instead of the second cup of boiling use a second cup of cold water.

Then take a tray of ice cubes and put them in a plastic bag. Then put the closed plastic bag in the brewed Jello liquid. Stir. The ice cubes and cold water drop the temperature of the slurry fast without diluting as the ice melts. Voila! Jello in half the time.

Now think coffee. Brew fresh coffee and pour into a wide mouth pitcher. Put ice cubes in a zip-lock bag and add to mix. Temperature drops and coffee is not diluted. When the coffee is tepid regular ice cubes will not do too much damage to beverage strength.

Also try tall pre-frosted glasses (rinse glass and put wet glass in freezer for a half our), or try sugar frosted glasses by wetting a folded paper towel and place it on a dish. Pour superfine (10X Bar Sugar) in a saucer. Ok? Right.

Now invert a tall thin "Julep" type glass [ed. note: in kansas where i come from, juleps were traditionally served in a distinctive silver cup. i think don has what we would call a collins glass in mind. not that i would ever presume to correct don on anything having to do with coffee!] in the water then in the sugar.

Wow! A sugar frosted lip. Now put it on the side to dry. The sugar will stay on the lip. When dry the sugar will be crystals. Great Iced Coffee glasses either way.

Want an extraordinary iced coffee beverage? [ed. note: yes, don, we do!] Start with great coffee beverage in a tall thin sugar-frosted rim glass. Then go and find a fresh soft ripe peach. Carefully peel the peach without bruising. Score with a fruit knife, and bend the slices back the until they separate from the stone.

Bruise one slice by twisting and drop it in the glass, then butterfly another luscious slice and drape it perpendicularly over the frosted glass rim. A little juice will run down the glass. Never mind that. Fresh peach iced coffee is luscious stuff.

This works with apricots too, but not apples. [ed. note: i believe don saves apples for a charming concotion he makes with chilled white wine.]

Enjoy.

DNS"

posted by fortune elkins | 12:57 PM | top | link to this |


Thursday, July 17, 2003


buying deruta

i did it. i just caved in and bought 4 deruta cappucino cups.

i love the way coffee looks in them, and their thick walls do hold the heat well. it brings back such pleasant memories of having breakfast by the pool on capri at the villa brunella. . . .

but memory aside, here's a cool chicago article that mentions the trend toward iced milk-coffee drinks, and how they're picking up with the desireable young demographic.

we hope as this group ages a year or two, they will move to higher-quality, more authentic italian-style drinks.

it's a good omen for the future of coffee, and it mentions bccy pal doug zell's intelligentsia coffee!

finally, time grows short, dear readers! hurry and get your plane tickets to the great scaa homecoming event for consumer members.

it's this weekend; don't miss it if you're on the west coast! but we'll probably all be able to read about soon in the l.a. times. . .

since i can't go, i'm having my own personal coffee party this weekend with a few select friends to console myself. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 10:39 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, July 16, 2003


colombian coffee you can support

today i'd like to tell you about a very nice colombian coffee that i think deserves to be better known. it's organic and shade-grown.

the executives who run the north american office are fantastic people. they get it.

i'm talking about andeano gold. at the recent fancy food show, i had the opportunity to talk to their green coffee sales person, cristina de lima. she is awesome.

andeano offers health and educational benefits to the coffee workers. all good. what's cool is that cristina says she'll be getting in a shipment of her new certified fair-trade coffee in just 2 weeks.

in the meantime, she's sending out her "preservation" coffee, a coffee that helps protect a very bio-diverse section of the rainforest. double good! i'll ask someone to roast it up for me. . . .

posted by fortune elkins | 12:39 PM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, July 15, 2003


brain wash

first off, the cool thing of the day is ruta maya coffee soap. haven't ordered this yet, but the ruta maya coffee thing is very cool.

austin, texas' ruta maya is exactly the kind of local roaster/coffehouse we here at bccy wanna support.

and the best part of the day was my lunch with the charming jane mcabe of tea and coffee journal.

(if you haven't read the recent story written by famed coffee author mark prendergast about the montangards, you're missing out. )

that's heaven -- a sunny day overlooking the little park on edgar street downtown, and a woman to whom i can burble endlessly about coffee grinders. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 12:13 PM | top | link to this |


Monday, July 14, 2003


regional coffee cultures part vi

i think these people need to be invited to the scaa conference in atlanta in 2004. they should become scaa consumer members!

hartwell, georgia is a small town of about 4,000 people, a town where the guys love their coffee.

some may object that these are not the kind of upscale people likely to be interested in joining a food or beverage group, nor are they likely to own an expensive espresso machine or alessi brewer.

but dear readers, these guys and their activities are totally coffee -- coffee is the foundation of their social scene. they are fully in tune with the meaning of this most sociable and intellectual beverage.

in fact, their coffee appears to be central to the life of the entire little town -- when they get together at a different place or time, it's serious news! they love coffee, but they are not yet mindful of what their coffee means to them.

they have subsumed coffee silently into their hearts. . .all they need is better quality coffee, specialty coffee. . .and all they need to know is that it exists. . .

i praise the coffee club of hartwell, georgia. they are my comrades-in-cup! i hope they someday become scaa consumer members.

half a world a way, we see more coffee in-roads in a major producing country, vietnam. two visionaries are attempting to move both upscale and working people to real coffee, away from tea or instant. both of these men seem committed to coffee culture, and to helping it flower.

and in an english village, the closing of a local coffee shop that roasted its own beans meant so much to the town, that a former patron was sparked to create a home-made documentary.

isn't this amazing? yet people still wonder about us coffee lovers! coffee in and of itself has a magic that inspires this passion, in all cultures around the world, and has done so for centuries.

remarkable, and yet almost completely unremarked upon. that marketing miracle, coca-cola, does not inspire such depth of feeling.

there are people who love coke and won't drink anything else, but is there a culture of coke as there is a culture of coffee? of course not!

even when schrafft's was in its heyday, and the girls in bobby socks went to giggle at the fountain counter, to practice flirting with the soda jerk, was there a soda culture?

no way. . . soft drink life is a marketing creation, not a spontaneous affection around the globe linking sufi scholars, voltaire, william harvey, and a group of men who live in an average rural town near a regional dam . . .

in an amusing note, i must remark that several indian coffees from karnataka (my rant here) have won the illy caffé cupping prize. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 11:15 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, July 13, 2003


the spoon & i

so after waaay too much detailed correspondence, it does appear as if nyc tap water is probably fine for expobar.

i might not even need to pop it through a brita, tho' i'm still determining that. however, since i don't want to take any chances, i think i'm going to stick with bottled for a while. . .

this points out an entire area of heat exchanger (hx) commercial/semi-commercial machine usage for us coffee lovers at home. do take the time to check out your water quality!

unlike silvia, you can't just run cleancaf for 5 minutes through the hx machine to descale it. the process is more involved.

in the absolute worst case you have to take the machine apart and soak its parts in acid. so don't even start down that road!

you have to make sure your water is good lest you literally clog your machine with lime scale deposits. thus the obsession with water quality.

it now seems like the best water has a low hardness, say somewhere around 3, a ph of 7 or very close, and about 80 mg per liter of calcium. this should meet the criteria of little/no scale and good coffee taste.

of course, if you're tired -- as i certainly am -- of this maniacal concern with water, you could just take the advice of long-time alt.coffee guy jim schulman, author of the famous insanely long water faq, and use volvic or crystal geyser.

i think i'm going for the volvic personally, but after actually reading the official city water report (adobe acrobat required) and discovering what's really in nyc water, i went out a bought a little pur water pitcher. a little knowledge is a scary thing. . .

on the whole, carlito is just fun to use. the espresso plops from his portafilter in heavy discreet globules of red crema. all good.

my only complaint with him so far is that his drip tray is a little narrow front to back, meaning it can sometimes be hard to fit 2 shot glasses on it. this is due to his "column" at the back of the tray. however, since it's more common to put the shot glasses side by side, it's not a serious issue by any means.

i was also afraid that i would burn myself on his partially exposed thermosyphon, e-61-style grouphead. so far that fear seems to be unfounded.

however, if you have a child or spouse, you might need to warn them about it since it does get quite hot. there seems to me to be no doubt that it's easier to make good coffee off the bat with expobar than with silvia, all other things being equal.

the milk steaming however -- that's still the rub for me! my milk is still too thin or stiff. this is i think (pray) merely a technique issue for me.

i need practice! i need to have more coffee parties!

speaking of coffee parties, i want to remind all you west coast people -- or those with frequent flyer miles -- that the scaa consumer membership homecoming coffee event in long beach, california is next weekend. book your ticket on jet blue!

finally, yesterday's mail brought the promised picture of myself with stuart allan's (of allann bros. coffee) cupping spoon. on the back, in a spidery, hurried hand, stuart wrote:

"yes indeed 2 think you are an excellent cupper -- ! no? doubt about it -- 2 think you hit the Eth.[iopian] right on the NOSE kind regards, stu, 09.03"

stuart, i know you're busy, but it was june, my friend, not september! but still, thanks so much and i'm glad you're a guy who keeps his promises. now the last person who owes me a cupping spoon pic is former scaa president steven colten. . . .

posted by fortune elkins | 2:29 PM | top | link to this |

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