Five Decent Days

For five days after Thanksgiving, I toured Southern California with John Buckman, the head honcho at Decent Espresso. John and I did numerous machine demonstrations in San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles.

 

We’re grateful to all of the wonderful cafes that hosted our demonstrations.  The cafes didn’t profit from the demos— they hosted us out of generosity and out of their support for a machine that has a chance of revolutionizing the way we make espresso. The enthusiasm and feedback at the demos was uniformly positive; the good vibes and hospitality I experienced made me proud to be in the coffee industry. Probably the best way to fall in love with the coffee industry is to attend events with other enthusiasts (it also helps to avoid most online coffee forums :0.)

 

John and I used the DE1+ for the demos. The machine comes with an Android tablet that displays real-time graphs of shot pressure, flow rate, and temperature (measured just above the dispersion screen). Watching the graphs during a shot is not just for entertainment— the insights they provide into espresso-making dynamics are revolutionary.  If you’ve spent time with me, you know I’m not one for hyperbole; I’m much more comfortable with “under-promise and over-deliver”.  When it comes to the DE1+, I’m not concerned about over-promising.

 

I’ve  pulled perhaps 500,000 shots in my life and spent thousands of hours pondering espresso extraction, experimenting, and writing about it.  Despite all of that, I’ve learned quite a bit about espresso preparation by watching the Decent’s graphs. I’m sure you will learn a lot, too (unless your name is Andy Schecter and you simply intuit coffee truths before anyone else.)  I expect that every serious coffee company will one day use the DE1+PRO (the more powerful, plumbed-in version of the machine) as its “lab” espresso machine.  The precision, feedback, and education it will provide make it the first serious candidate for a lab machine.

 

I’d like to share a few insights I gleaned from the DE1+ last week, and how they have made me a better barista.

 

June Haupts, one of my favorite baristas, and owner of Welcome Coffee Cart in Santa Barbara, pulls a shot on the DE1+.

June Haupts, one of my favorite baristas, and owner of Welcome Coffee Cart in Santa Barbara, pulls a shot on the DE1+.

Preinfusion

Most espresso machines don’t offer proper preinfusion, and the popularity of non-preinfusing machines has baffled me for 20 years. The DE1+ allows the user to choose the flow rate of water entering the group head during preinfusion– this is easier and more precise than attempting to influence preinfusion time by adjusting water-line pressure. The DE1+ also shows the ramp up in back pressure caused by the puck’s water absorption during preinfusion.  This smoothness of the pressure ramp is more telling than I would have every guessed.  Setting preinfusion flow rate and seeing the pressure ramp allows a barista to “dial in” an optimal preinfusion cycle like never before.

 

Let me editorialize for a moment: preinfusion is the single most important capability an espresso machine can offer. No other feature is going to improve average shot quality as much. As I’ve written in my books, preinfusion improves consistency, decreases channeling and fines migration, increases extraction, and makes any baristas’ worst shots better. One problem with the typical preinfusion cycle is that it’s dumb— meaning there’s no feedback loop or adjustments to be made. Progressive preinfusion (i.e. E61, spring-loaded style) is better than manually controlled preinfusion, for the simple reason that it’s consistent and repeatable. Manual preinfusion allows a barista to adjust preinfusion time, but is difficult, if not impossible, to do so consistently in a busy cafe.

 

Every combination of portafilter basket, coffee, ground dose, bed depth in the basket, etc, will require a custom preinfusion time and will provide a unique amount of back pressure as preinfusion nears completion. Being able to control water flow during preinfusion, and then to see when and how the pressure rises near the end of preinfusion, provides a level of control and precision never achieved before.

 

Channeling during preinfusion

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned that week came from watching the pressure curve ramp up during preinfusion. The smoothness of the Decent’s pressure curve as it ramps up indicates the quality of grounds distribution and the degree of channeling. Think about that: you can pull a shot and see how well you distributed the grounds. Given that the most important skill a barista can have when making espresso is to distribute the grounds evenly in the basket, this is revolutionary. Want to know which distribution method (i.e. Stockfleth’s, using a dosing tool, tapping the basket a particular way, etc) works best for you? The machine will tell you. Want to train a new barista in good distribution? There’s nothing like instant, accurate feedback to help someone improve his or her skills rapidly.

 

Here’s a one-minute video of the DE1+ in action, with real-time flow, pressure, and temperature graphs.  Please forgive the video quality; I made it on my iPhone during a noisy demo.  Note the short dip in the green pressure curve at around 12 seconds on the shot timer–that indicates a small channel that formed and “fixed itself.”

 

I was fascinated, but not surprised, during many shots to see how much clumped grounds caused channeling during the pressure ramp, and also later in shots.  Using a DE1+ may convince you to sell your Robur E or other doserless clump creator, er, I mean grinder. :0.  If you don’t want to sell it,  at least consider mount a dosing chamber on it to help break up clumps.

 

In a future post we’ll talk about other lessons learned from the DE1+ and we’ll analyze some shot graphs.  The data in those graphs is a whole new view on espresso, something I’ve taken to calling “Cropster for espresso.”

 

Until then, thanks for reading, and say hi in the comments box.

34 thoughts on “Five Decent Days

  1. You mention that “preinfusion is the single most important capability an espresso machine can offer.” I would love to see a list from you ranking espresso machine capabilities in terms of importance as it relates to making good and consistent espresso. Maybe such a list could be deduced from reading your books, but it sure would be nice to see that list! As a home brewer/enthusiast (who hasn’t gotten around to reading your books…yet) who’s getting the itch to pull espresso at home, the DE1 (and DE1+) is extremely appealing. Really looking forward to your future posts about these machines!

    • Hi Nate,
      The list is rather short, really.
      1. reliability (really more of a binary yes/no deal breaker than something that’s more, or less, important than preinfusion and temperature control)
      2. preinfusion
      3. adequate power and recovery time for high-volume use (obviously not important for you)
      4. volumetric or gravimetric dosing (for a busy shop, this should be mandatory– i’ve never owned a manual machine and never will.)
      5. good temperature repeatability
      6. pressure profiling
      6. aesthetics.

      that’s about it. I may be forgetting something small but espresso machines only have to do a few simple things: deliver consistent pressure and temperature, and not break. i don’t mention steam because all pro machines have ample steaming power.

      Before anyone protests about temperature being #5, how many of the potential protesters are measuring their temperature just above the shower screen? Probably close to none. When you do, on any machine (pre-Decent), you will find shocking variation… that is because the group head itself influences temperature quite a bit depending on how hot it is (it gets hotter during busier periods). So if your machine has a readout for boiler temperature and it’s generally stable, that may be a false sense of security, and your brewing temperature may be fluctuating by a few degrees over the course of a few shots. (NB: on my old Kees Mirage, we installed thermometers in the group head, just above the screen to get real-time temperature readings… that was eye-opening and gave us the feedback necessary to temperature surf (sort of) properly to control actual water-delivery temperature to within 1c.

      • Hi Scott – do T3 type group heads with a thermo lock also fix that problem? Do you have a recommendation for setting the offset in an actively heated group head? Same as brew boiler temp? Or different?

        • Hi Tom,
          I’m not familiar with the T3… I don’t really understand the question about the heated-group offset. Could you please elaborate? Why would you need an offset at the group?

  2. Hi

    Thanks for your insight. What is the significance of ramping pressure to max and taper it off instead of maintaining same pressure through out?

      • Actually my question is with reference to your statement above to Devin. I thought you meant pressure profiling as you mentioned ramping up to 8 bar and decline slowly. I was curious to know your insight on it. Unless you have already discussed it else where, Thanks!

        • hi Khairul,
          Sorry I misunderstood you. I have written about pressure profiling in my ebook Espresso Extraction: Measurement and Mastery. And I’ll be writing about it more in relation to what we learn from the Decent Espresso machine in the future.
          Thanks

  3. What is the best distribution method for a single dosing grinder like an EK43 that you have backed up with the data from the DE1+?

  4. The DE1+ is a really creative concept, which I’m following with interest.and I understand how important pre-infusion is (I use a La Pavoni and play around with PI times as well as the rate the water is introduced into the chamber, and vary PI pressure slightly with the lever just to see if it makes a difference to boiler pressure – though grouphead temp is always an issue with these things so not really practical in that regard..). You say that “The DE1+ allows the user to choose the flow rate of water entering the group head during preinfusion”, is this ‘flow-profiling’ i.e. maintaining the flow rate but building pressure in the same manor as Slayer use with a needle valve and constant full pressure, or pressure profiling using the pump only to maintain a set pressure over time with no pressure increase until full puck saturation has completed? Just trying to get my head around it all, and work out if there are any real differences in the final outcome (not taking into account other methods mentioned e.g. E61/lSpring lever)

    • Hi Rhys,
      It’s different from the Slayer. Currently, the Decent controls flow precisely during preinfusion, and then when it detects the pressure is ramping (ie puck is swelling and resisting flow), it switches to a pressure-profile mode. For now it’s a hybrid, and I believe it’s the best approach on the market. We will likely offer a complete flow-profile-only feature in the next year as a software update. That will separate the Decent’s extraction control from any other machine by quite a distance, I believe.

      I hope that clarifies it.

      • in my opinion the DC Mina sets the benchmark regarding flow profilling. Very precise flow profiling from 0 to max flow rate of the rotary pump. But in features per $ the decent is unbeatable. Hope to get my hands on a decent in the near future to compare to the Mina.

  5. Hey scott, thanks for sharing and for telling June about Color!

    Will you or John be bringing the decent to colorado for a demo tour this year? We would love to host!

    Hope the southern hemisphere is treating you well! It’s been snowing for about two days straight here in the Vail Valley…

    Best,

    Charlie

    • Hey Charlie!
      You’re welcome!
      We have no imminent Decent tour plans, but once I have my own machine to cart around, I’m sure I’ll show up in Boulder, if not Eagle, with it at some point.
      Enjoy the snow!

  6. Hi Scott,
    I do Hario pour over. May I have your opinion on paper filters versus reusable filters (gold, titanium, etc.)?
    Thanks for your consideration.
    Best,
    Louis

    • Hi Louis,
      Many types of filters can certainly make great coffee. Just please put reusable filters in a high-temperature dishwasher each day to thoroughly clean off any old coffee oils so the filters do not trap rancid odors.

        • Hi again, Scott

          One more question on a different topic, please. In your blog on hand pours you state a preference for slurry temperatures between 89 and 93 C. Can you convert this into how many seconds I should wait after the water in my pouring kettle boils? Or your temperature preference for the hot water?

          Thanking you again for sharing your knowledge and expertise,,
          Louis

          • Hi Louis,
            I typically pour from a 97c kettle, but really, you have to measure the slurry temperature yourself to know your best kettle temperature. And if you choose a kettle temperature higher than 97c, you definitely should taste-test that (well, you should always taste-test everything) slightly lower temperatures to ensure the 98c+ isn’t creating any acrid flavors.

    • Hi Al,
      I’ve never used that, so I prefer not to offer an opinion. I’m wary, though. It would be very difficult to apply that device to a coffee bed without immediately compacting the grounds in the areas where the lowest parts of the gizmo first make contact with the coffee bed.

    • I don’t know the machine well, but a well-crafted pressure curve with ramping up and down seems superior to a few pressure plateaus with abrupt changes between them. Please correct me if I’m wrong about that being the Hydra’s pressure profiling works.

      Also, it would be better to think in terms of flow than pressure. “Preinfusion at 4 bar” is somewhat meaningless, as there isn’t much pressure for most of preinfusion, and 4 bar tells you nothing about flow; “preinfusion at 4 ml/s” is meaningful. Therefore, whether you’re controlling pressure or flow during a shot, tracking flow provides probably the most important feedback you can have about a shot.

  7. I’m thinking a good distribution tool design would be basically an inverted “bed of nails”: lots of evenly spaced fine nails that extend across the whole basket and the full depth of the basket. No compression because the nails slide between the grounds. Then you spin the tool and it distributes the coffee in the basket. Thoughts?

    • You wouldn’t be alone in that thought :). There are several homemade versions at that out there, and Matt Perger told me recently he is close to having one ready to sell.

  8. Hi Scott,
    What’s the least destructive way to reheat a cup of coffee, say after an hour of standing? For instance is stovetop any better than microwave? Or low heat better than high?

    Thanks,
    Louis

    • Hi Louis,
      Can’t say I’ve ever tried! I suggest you just make a nice cup of tea if your coffee has gotten too old 🙂

      My guess would be microwave or double boiler (ie put the coffee in a pot, then put that pot in a hot-water bath heating on a stove). Anyone have any experience with reheating coffee?

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