Some coffee tips

  1. Favorite Beans
    Here in Edmonton, I’ve found that Rogue Wave Coffee offers the freshest roasted coffee – you just need to let them know in advance when you want to pick up your beans.  The result is coffee that has been roasted in the past 2-3 days. Coffee this fresh should be allowed to rest a little longer to ‘de-gas’ – otherwise you may find your coffee to have a somewhat metallic taste. The package their beans in paper coffee bags to facilitate the degassing.
    The next freshest beans I’ve found are also roasted locally, by Transcend.  I go to their main shop is on the southside, a block south of Argyll Road, just east of 99 Street.  They also have a location next to the Garneau Theatre on 109 Street – parking can be tricky there sometimes.
    I prefer medium roasted beans - they'll be the color of milk chocolate, and won't be shiny (or oily)
    I prefer medium roasted beans – they’ll be the color of milk chocolate, and won’t be shiny (or oily)

    At 3 Banana’s in Churchill Square, you can get Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso – bought a bag the other day for $22 for a 454g bag.  These may not be quite as fresh roasted as the other two unless you catch them on the right day.
  2. Favourite Brewing Methods
    When brewing coffee, I either use my espresso machine, an Aeropress, or more recently, a Hario manual pour-over.  Using the espresso machine is pretty awesome – I can have an Americano in less than a minute. A latte I can make in about 90 seconds :)Lately I’ve been really enjoying the manual pour-over.  It takes a little more time – about 5 minutes tops for a mug.  When I’m camping, I pack Aeropress to make coffee.  These are sold at Transcend (and other places around the city I’m sure).  These make very good coffee!  I just have to grind my coffee a little coarser than what I use in my espresso machine.
  3. Grind beans yourself
    Don’t buy pre-ground coffee.  Buy beans and grind them yourself.  Use a quality burr grinder, manual or electric.  Check out the coffeegeek and home-barista forums for recommendations, and buy the best you can afford.

Here is my current coffee set-up – yes, it might be bit excessive, but it’s been an investment that has been serving me well – even after almost 8 years!
coffee_nirvana

Espresso machine maintenance

Andreja Premium schematic with non-standard control box.
Andreja Premium schematic with non-standard control box.

While I plan out what I’m going to do regarding the intermittent control box behaviour in my espresso machine, I decided that it would be helpful to update the electrical schematic for it – especially since its using a non-standard control box.
The control box is actually one that is normally used in the Isomac Tea – a very similar machine to the Andreja Premium.
I figured that I should do some other maintenance on the machine – having received a few grouphead gaskets from Espresso Planet, I figured I would replace that first.  Last time it was replaced was a couple years ago, and it was a bear to remove, so I’m going to try and replace it  a little more frequently.
This was also a good time to clean the shower screen – which was quite plugged up.  Replacing the grouphead gasket more frequently will allow me to clean this more frequently as well.

Raspberry Pi + Andreja Premium?

My Andreja Premium has been providing reliable service for the last 7 years – but just recently has been a little temperamental.  Seems that the controller is overheating – and so for the past couple weeks, I’ve been running the machine without its stainless steel casing, and the controller sitting beside the machine.
The controller was actually replaced once before, and it’s a fairly expensive repair – it was around $400 to replace the controller and descale the boiler. Don’t really want to spend that again – just to have the controller get wonky a few years later again.
A couple things I’m considering:
1)  Building a teak outer shell, with larger cutouts on the side to mount perforated stainless steel panels, as well as on the top.  Would also extend the wiring to that the controller is mounted where the water reservoir used to be (added the plumbing kit shortly after buying the machine)
2) Building a teak outer shell as above, but instead of using the same controller, use a Raspeberry Pi, and  do the iSpresso mod, adding the following features:

  • Programmable PID Controller for precise boiler temperature control
  • Programmable Pre-soak time, wait time, and brew time
  • Controllable from web browser, iPad, iPhone (Android coming soon) on WiFi network
  • Schedule allows programmable on / off timing for each day of the week
  • LCD readout for system status, toggle buttons for operation
  • Smart Connect for easy set-up to your WiFi network

Not sure if this mod would be easily ported to the Andreja or not, or if this would even increase the reliability – but it sure looks interesting!
[wpzon spec=”1″ asin=”B00GWTNYJW”]

Sites for reference :

UPDATE: 2014-08-30 – Picked up some bubinga to construct a new shell frame – I liked the look of the wood more than the teak – it was also $20/bd ft. vs. $50/bd ft. 🙂 Still need to get some perforated stainless steel

Fixing the espresso machine

Andreja_premium Well, after 7 years of almost daily use, it appears that the pump has failed on my Andreja Premium espresso machine.
The machine uses a 52W, ULKA EAX5 vibe pump – and as it turns out, this is a fairly commonly used pump in espresso machines.  I also found prices varied wildly.  The dealer where I purchased the machine originally sells the replacement pump for $95.  I found a replacement on Ebay for $39.99.
Ulka_52WattAfter getting the new pump swapped in, the machine seemed to be working fine.  Then, this morning, it seemed to have stopped again 🙁
So, removed the casing from the machine and hooked the water supply back up, and this time I tested things out  with the cover off.  This allowed me to see the water flow.  Everything worked fine. Maybe I kinked a hose as I put the machine back together?
I carefully put everything back together – making sure no hoses were kinked, and tested the machine again – everything was 100%.  This morning, the timer kicked in and turned the machine on at 6:00 AM, and at 7:00, I pulled a double shot with no issues.  I think that the shot was up there with some of the best that I’ve done!
Something I came across, that might be useful in future, is this page describing the process of repairing the ULKA pump itself – with lots of photos and additional comments from other readers.  I still have the old pump just in case.  They certainly aren’t that complex!

The Search for Coffee Nirvana – Part Two

espressoThe internet can be a bad thing.  In trying to get the best coffee possible, I think that the next step is getting an espresso machine.  I’ve had espresso machines before – the smaller consumer steam machines – and was satisfied – but they shots were never even close to the those that I’ve been served at various coffee shops. Research on the various coffee forums and websites seems to suggest that what I need to look at are professional consumer, or smaller commercial-grade machines.  There are a lot of machines to choose from, and the price range is pretty broad.
Over and over again, recommendations stressed the importance of a grinder as well – making the research task even more daunting.
A very popular entry level espresso machine that is often recommended is the Rancilio Silvia.  Then I read about the brew group heads – specifically the E61 – with its reliability and temperature stability.  The more I read, the more I was sold on getting a machine with the E61 brew group.  I also decided it might be best to list out what sort of features I wanted to try and narrow down my choices.  Here’s my list:

  • E-61 brew group
  • ability to produce consistent shots – 2 or 3 in a row
  • aesthetically pleasing to look at (yes, very subjective!)
  • easy to use and adjust
  • good steam wand
  • hot water dispenser
  • ability to plumb in (but could be used without being plumbed in)

Some other features that helped narrow my selection were things like cool-touch steam wands, size of the warming tray (basically, the top of the machine where cups can be stored and warmed up), drip tray size, and local product/service availability.
Andreja Premium espresso machineThe espresso machine I ended up going with was the Andreja Premium.  I was able to get it from a local supplier (Caffetech).
The grinder I chose was the La Cimbali Jr., also purchased from Caffetech.  My criteria for a grinder was consistency of grind, stepless grind adjustment, size and appearance, and durability.  The La Cimbali Jr. has a large 64mm conical burr, and grinds fast – a double shot takes about 10 seconds.  The machine is pretty quiet, and looks great!  I don’t see myself ever needing to replace it.  One modification I did make to the grinder was removing the front tamper – as it just blocked visibility of seeing how much coffee was going into the portafilter – and I have a Reg Barber tamper that I use instead.  I did have one of those Espro tampers that clicked when you were applying 30lbs of pressure – it was great when first learning, but after a while, it became unnecessary, so I sold it.La Cimbali Jr. coffee grinder
In hindsight, I would probably have eliminated the ability to use without being plumbed in.  The convenience of having a machine that you don’t have to keep refilling a reservoir is  huge to me.  In fact, it was less than a month after getting my machine when I started getting things together to plumb it in.  The reservoir refilling got old real fast!  The other criteria I would have added would be for a relatively quiet machine. The Andreja Premium is kind of noisy.  The next model up from Quick Mill is the Vetrano – which has a quiet rotary pump instead of the noisy vibe pump used in the Andreja.