FB80 and GB5 bug

IMPORTANT: We don’t yet know if this is a one off glitch or common to all machines.

This is probably of interest to anyone who has competed or watched competitions since 2005.

In some competitions the La Marzoccos used were GB5 and FB80 AV machines – meaning they have a line of buttons linked to volumetric controls.  More recently a lot of machines just had one big on/off button.

Anyway – I remember back in 2005 in Seattle and in other barista competitions that during a competitors set the machines just seemed to switch off.  Everyone was very confused how a barista could have done this as you have to push and hold an on/off button for at least 3 (or maybe 5) seconds.

Continue reading “FB80 and GB5 bug”

SCAA/USBC

(warning – long post and lots of big photos)

So – many of you know I was very kindly invited to Minneapolis to be part of the blog team updating the SCAA Blog. I was in esteemed blogging company – Erin Meister, Travis (quiet but awesome videoist) and Katie and Zachary who happened to change the face of coffee blogging back in Tokyo last year. Our remit was simply to cover the show, and to some extent we were making it up as we went along.

This was my first USBC and my last SCAA show had been Seattle in 2005. I had never attended any SCAA workshops before, so didn’t really know what to expect from that angle. Covering a talk ate up a lot of time, and often resulted in what seemed like not that much text. I think all of us were aware that we were writing for the SCAA, at their expense so we just tried to find the best of the show.

Of course the real draw for most people was the USBC. This has to be the most hardcore of the barista competitions outside of the WBC. The open rounds had 50 spots, and those baristas were whittled down to 16 who joined the 9 regional champions in the semifinals. Some amazing baristas didn’t make it through round one, which was oddly depressing and inspiring.

Chris Deferio

A very calm Chris Deferio in the semis pouring lovely tulips

Bronwen Serna

Bronwen watching the clock

The highlight of the competition for me was getting to MC the finals with Nick Cho. It wasn’t getting to be onstage, or talk rubbish into a microphone. It was getting all six of the finalists to make us an espresso after their performance was over. I know what you are thinking, it is what everyone has been asking – which was best?

It is a difficult question to answer. Drew certainly had the advantage of making my first shot of the day, and it always tastes better when your body wants caffeine. Nick’s shot was really interesting though I was more focused on looking for the leather/sweet suede he described (which I totally got!). Heather’s shot reminded me of the WBC blend she brought to machine testing – quite heavy and with some prominent naturals. In contrast Chris Baca’s single estate Brazilian natural was not very naturally and super clean and complex. Pete’s blend was, in my humble opinion, more a traditional espresso blend (certainly in contrast to the three other single estate shots I’d taste) – quite heavy bodied and sweet. Kyle’s shot was stolen by Katie and he very kindly remade me a double. At this point I was quite caffeinated but his pull was very different to Nick’s – shorter and more intense, with the acidity a bit louder. Looking back it is tricky to pick a favourite but I told the people right after that it was probably Drew’s – though that isn’t to demean those other shots that were also truly excellent but suffered an increasingly caffeinated taster.

I get to this point and I realise I haven’t really talked about the first round or the semis. I didn’t get to see all of either though it was kind of fun to be allowed onstage (to photograph) whilst a few awesome people performed. I enjoyed Ben Helfen go job hunting in Finland, and Lem Butler… what can I say – Lem was a pure drama, rollercoaster-ride of a performance that brought tears to my eyes when against all odds he came in on time despite luck being against him and scuppering the start of his set. Watch the video…..

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Sexy Foam

Come to think of it that stage was crazy – being up there was not a comfortable experience. The combination of the lights, the sound and the stadium seating meant you felt very distant from the audience and I think the overall experience threw a good number of the competitors. Perhaps those who had to go through round one had an advantage over those in the semis in that they knew a little more of what to expect from that. It looked great as a stage though!

Chris Baca dosing

Chris Baca in the Finals

For onstage photographing I was often accompanied by Meister who was far better at being out of the way than I was, and also by Liz “Twitchy” Clayton. Talking to Liz we would often joke and aim to get the best possible intense judging pictures. This is one of my favourites, in my mind the portafilter is glowing like gold…..

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Intense Judging

Jay’s libation (I know Jon isn’t a God technically, but I couldn’t think of a better word – “toast” just doesn’t seem to do it) was a lot of fun – people always have high expectations of Jay’s performance and this was more touching than shocking.

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Jay Handing out the beer

One thing was clear this year – lots more talking about the coffee. Lots more, which I something I thoroughly approve of. Baristas were there representing their coffee in a different way, seemingly more aware of a barista’s position in the coffee chain. It seemed to be the first competition I’d seen where the espresso upstages the sig drink and that is something no one can complain about.

I didn’t taste as much as I would have liked to – in terms of all the drinks, but I did manage to snaffle a few glasses out of the bussers trays. I’d like to apologise to the busser who tried to stop me tasting a drink, telling me I wasn’t allowed but unable to stop me because she was stuck holding the tray with both hands. (And no – I didn’t give it the “don’t you know who I am?!” crap, despite several people suggesting that this is the way to go in such situations…)

No doubt Kyle’s individual sig drink preparations were a great little concept, in line with espresso being a drink prepared to order, for an individual opposed to other bulk brewing methods. Scott Lucey’s sig drink was also great – simple, yet very tasty and totally ticking the texture box for me with its custard component. I would have killed to taste Baca’s drink but the judges drank it all every time (as asked) so we (me, hopefully bussers, audience members, friends and bloggers) were left salivating but unsatisfied. I have to just add that the whole Ritual crew were very inspiring to me, as were the Intelli crew. People like that get me excited about coffee and I don’t think it is out of place to say that if there were a barista’s barista award at the show (as there have been at some regionals) then Baca may well have picked that up.

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Those crazy

Scott Lucey

The ever awesome Scott Lucey

One more note on the competition – the live feed. I can’t believe how well it worked out, how much fun it was to interact with people watching and on occaison to pick up the laptop and do a little backstage cam stuff. Sorry for my silliness. The quality of the feed will only improve and I hope to online as well as live at the WBC, interacting again with all those online watching things unfold.

There is lots of other discussion circling around online – from the SCAA blog coverage to the grinders baristas were using onstage and the techniques that went along with them. The doserless Roburs are terrifyingly fast (2.5s for around 19-20g by the look of things) but I suspect the Anfim’s scored higher. It was great to talk to John Ermacoff about the mods he has done on the ones Ritual are using. I suspect that if you put John Ermacoff, Greg Scace and Andy Schecter into a workshop for a month, gave them unlimited budget, then they would come up with something that would totally change the way we brew espresso.

I spent virtually no time on the show floor, which was quite frustrating as there were lots of people I wanted to see, but I had a few good drinks – the Chemex of Ethiopian Konga from Lindsay at 49th was delightful as was my espresso from Jeremy on the Synesso booth. Getting into lectures and workshops at the show was a privilege but I don’t really have anything to add to the stuff on the SCAA blog.

So congratulations to Kyle. I am a big fan of his, it was a pleasure to watch him perform three times and to see that performance evolve onstage. He is not only technically outstanding as a barista but a great ambassador for specialty coffee in the United States. That and he makes me laugh quite a lot. Hopefully I’ll catch up with him before WBC, but if not I can’t wait to see him again there and see what he brings to the stage.

I know I’ve missed out people, coffee and things and I apologise – I always forget stuff and my head still isn’t on the right way around. I am sure people reading this will have questions and I will try and answer them – and if I have forgotten obvious stuff (not unlikely) I will add to it asap.

The GS/3 Arrives

This isn’t going to be a machine review. There are plenty of those done in great detail on a variety of forums and blogs. Plus it only just arrived today!

This sort of thing makes me childishly pleased, and it was pretty easy to setup. The autofill takes care of most of it, and after bleeding the group (not too difficult) and correcting the expansion valve (mine appeared to have been set at 5 bars instead of 12 bars, which was quite interesting when you hit brew all the water just went into the drip tray with nothing coming out of the group!) it was ready to go.

I haven’t Scace’d it yet – Anette was teaching all day and had mine with her – but I will play tonight, though I don’t expect to discover much. Instead it was time to pull some shots and see if I still enjoy espresso. It turns out I do – I had some coffee given to me by Peter James and having messed around with the manual pre-infusion I pulled one of the best shots I’ve had in ages! A wonderful creamy texture and yet light, clean and sweet. Splendid.

I’ll be messing about with it a lot more over the next few weeks and I have to say it is a great tool for espresso which I’ve only just scratched the surface of (anyone got any PID settings they want to pass on?)

I had read people had had issues with steaming – I have to say I had no problem though it will take a while before the placement of the lever becomes normal. My only real complaint at the moment is that there seems to be a bug in the software which means I can’t change the first letter of the name to anything but L, which is really quite odd. (Anyone had similar issues?) This isn’t really a complaint – I am having a lot of fun with this machine. Expect lots of silly espresso pics on my flickr!

GS/3 Espresso ShotA little espresso porn

HOST 2007, Milan

So – it is an odd year (numerically speaking), which means that the HOST show is on in the RHO Fiera in Milan. It is huge. It is obscenely huge. It is unnecessarily and obscenely huge and to be honest everyone could have had stands half the size and it would still have been massive.

Anette and I had travelled over very early on the Friday morning with David, and we spent a little time in the show in the afternoon. Winning the WBC is easily forgotten in the UK but when you come to a coffee show it is a little different. It was great to see loads of people and lots of others came up for a chat which was cool.

Anette and I tried to have a little look around the show but didn’t get too far. Too many people to talk to, and in truth not that much new or innovative to see. La Marzocco’s booth was quite impressive as it was their 80th anniversary and they had a fair few vintage machines up on their stand which were beautiful.

La Marzocco 2 group Lever

One group La Marzocco Lever

I suppose the doserless Robur is interesting, but I can’t really pass any sort of judgement as I didn’t see one in use in the show and I am unlikely to get my hands on one anytime soon. (Hint hint!*)

Amongst the people I was very happy to see were the guys over from Ritual working on the Espresso Warehouse stand – Chris Baca and Eileen. It was really nice to hang out with them at the show and at dinner at the La Marzocco drinks party. I think their experience with Italian espresso was very interesting, and a bit like my own but I will leave them to talk about them online if they wish. It was also good to meet and chat to Kiril from EspressoRun who was also over there working for Espresso Warehouse/Clover. (Had a really nice Clover of Ritual’s Yirg, just at the right time when I was sick of espresso and a bit depressed about coffee in general – perked me right up).

I am always stunned when I visit at the coffees that are served – the quantity of robusta for one, and the acceptance of the consumer is utterly alien to me.

I worked a little on the La Spaziale booth on the Saturday before flying home, which was quite cool. I think the important thing about working within another espresso culture is that it drives home that whilst you may really prefer the style of espresso you brew it is by no means more correct than another cultural style. It is a little headbreaking to realise that while we may really like the style of espresso that we brew it is no more correct than anywhere else – I guess as long as the customer is happy….

I think the best shot of the show came from Fritz, despite his age he’s still got skills (I do so hope he reads that!)

Fritz Storm at HOST

I am not going to try to list all the people I saw, or was very happy to chat to because I will probably forget someone because I am a little skatterbrained. I did wish I had stayed a little longer but Blighty was calling and it was back on a plane Saturday evening. I suppose overall I was a little disappointed as I expected/hoped to see more innovation revealed which didn’t really seem to be the case anywhere in the show (unless I missed – comments please!) I think, whilst many ideas are floating around, like many I am unsure where the next step in espresso quality will come from.

*I don’t actually expect this to work!

Presents!

The last couple of days have been great! Three different parcels, all cool stuff.

First off was a large box from Compak. I had no idea what this might be and I opened it up to find this:

Large cup from Compak - WBC Prize

They had planned to give it to me in Tokyo but it had got stuck en route and hadn’t made it in time. I have no idea if it is possible to pour latte art in it (it must be at least 4 litres in size!) but I will try…

Then I had a very kind gift from Guido at La Marzocco – three of their books.

La Marzocco book with vintage machines

Many of you probably know I am a fairly obsessive collector of books – and I do love machine books with all the old drawings and photos of beautiful vintage machinery.

The third package came from Cindy Chang at Counter Culture Coffee.

Coffees from Counter Culture

The box had six bags of their coffee – two bags of Toscano and then coffees from Mexico, Nicaragua, Kenya and El Salvador – this being the first time I’ve tasted the coffee from Aida Batlle, having read so much about her in the last couple of years.  It did not disappoint.

So – lots of coffee to drink from a giant cup, whilst reading.  My weekend sorted!

Thanks to everyone for their kindness.