Mean machine

Our trusty Rancilio served us well over the past two years but since we settled down and don’t have to put the machine in and out a car boot every week, we started thinking about an upgrade.

We’d heard great things about the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia. It was the World Barista Championship machine for several years which is usually a pretty good sign. Asking around, anyone who’d worked on an Aurelia only had good things to say about it. A bit of research online yielded similarly positive results.

We managed to bag a good deal on a refurbished 2013 model, and after waiting a few weeks for delivery it was in place.

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The machine was running great but we had a feeling it could be better. After contacting a technician from Nuova Simonelli for advice, we modified the machine to WBC specification by fitting caps to disable to Soft Infusion System and also fitting smaller flow restrictors.

While the chrome finish was nice and traditional, we wanted to do something a bit different and so got busy with a few spray cans.

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There’s one or two more things we want to fine tune (marginal gains and all that), but so far the Aurelia has been fantastic. Super stable, no need for big cooling flushes, amazing steam levers and wands, digital volumetrics…and it looks amazing. We can’t wait to get things really nailed with it.

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Our wee shop

Settling down in a shop was always a longer term ambition for us, but a few things happened at the start of the year which acted as a bit of a catalyst. A nice wee unit came up, so in the middle of January we put in an offer, and it was accepted.

“You can’t open a shop in a month”

Things then ground to what seemed like a halt for what seemed like forever while the solicitors did their thing.

We eventually got things signed and sealed on 13 April and quickly went to work.

After a couple of weeks stripping, sanding and prepping it started to look a bit like a cafe:

We downed tools for Glasgow Coffee Festival, teaming up with our mates Foundry Coffee Roasters again:

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A few new toys arrived:

And then we were pretty much done:

So, a month to the day after getting the keys, we had a ‘not so secret’ secret opening to work through any issues.

Things seemed to go pretty well, which sets us up for the big opening on 20 May:

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Ethos

We’ve always been about searching out the best, most exciting coffee from roasters in the UK and abroad. Having a constantly changing selection and always offering new experiences is at the heart of what we do, and that’s going to continue. We’ve got a few tried and tested roasters we always go back to when new lots come on (Foundry, Workshop, Caravan), but we’ll also be casting the net far and wide to try out any roasters that match our philosophy. Lots of naturals, lots of African coffee, lots of fun, interesting tasting notes and (hopefully) sweet, juicy, fruity brews.

We’ll also be serving tea from Pekoe in Edinburgh. Too often tea is just an adjunct, but we’ve invested a wee bit to do tea properly. It would be a shame to bust a gut trying to do amazing coffee only to serve up lacklustre tea.

Vibe

Coffee is the focus, and we take it seriously, but we also want to have a friendly, welcoming and inclusive atmosphere; people shouldn’t feel intimidated or put off coming to somewhere that serves ‘speciality’ coffee. We’ll be doing our utmost to be accessible to everyone, regardless of coffee knowledge or experience.

Grub

Coffee will always be the #1 priority, but we’ll also be doing bakes. Once we’re properly into the swing of things, we’ll start doing sandwiches and light bites too.

Gear

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For espresso, we’ll be using our custom Mahlkonig #weeK43, Nuova Simonelli Mythos One, and (for now) Rancilio Classe 6. There will be a new arrival on the bench at the start of June which we’re pretty excited about, so watch this space.

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To the left we have a Fetco 2131 batch brewer. We’re big advocates of batch brew and will be serving this as our primary filter method. We’ll probably do hand brews in the future, but for now it’s all about the batch.

As we’ll be indoors and don’t have to worry about the wind making scales go crazy, we’ve upgraded to some Ohaus Navigators for weighing portafilters. These are super fast, super accurate, basically just super in every way. We have Acaia Lunars for weighing yield too.

Next to them, we have a new Marco Mix PB3 multi-temperature boiler. This instantly gives water at up to three different temperatures, which is ideal for teas and Americanos. It also gives us flexibility should we decide to do manual filter too.

To finish

We’re mega excited about this. Working indoors, in the dry, without the wind and the rain, should mean we can be more consistent. Being open every weekend means we have a chance to search out even more great coffee to serve. We’re also pretty nervous about the whole thing, but that’s part and parcel of pushing yourself.

We can’t wait to get started, and hope you’ll come by for a brew soon.

Tampers (again)

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In an earlier blog post I compared two new tampers; the Clockwork Espresso PUSH and the Mahlgut Palm. For me, the Mahlgut was too heavy to use constantly. When tamp came to shove during service, the PUSH was the clear favourite.

Mahlgut read the blog and kindly offered to send me a Palm SL to try out. The SL is lighter than the Palm and aimed more at use on a bar, so this should be more of a fair comparison.

They are both very nicely designed products and feel premium (as they should for the price).

Some differences/observations:

The PUSH has a lip on the rim compared to the Mahlgut’s straight sides. Although it is 0.5mm smaller, the Malhgut tended to get stuck in the basket more often than the PUSH. Stray grinds accumulate in the area above the lip on the PUSH, but they have nowhere to go on the Mahlgut which might cause the jamming.

The PUSH has a scale on the adjustment mechanism, the Mahlgut doesn’t. This makes the PUSH easier to change between settings and to ‘dial in’.

To adjust the Mahlgut, you unscrew the top section and the base then screws in and out. The knurled finish on the upper part of the Mahlgut provides a nice textural contrast as well as giving some grip on the locking mechanism.

To adjust the PUSH, you use a key to loosen a grub screw and then screw the base in and out:

This means the PUSH has a lower profile, but the downside is that if you have to adjust the tamper, you need the key (or an equivalent sized Allen key in case of emergency).

The adjustment on the PUSH felt more robust than the Mahlgut. Once the PUSH is locked in, it doesn’t budge. The Mahlgut can move slightly – particularly if you’re trying to un-jam it from the basket. Losing your setting during a service is a bit of a stress.

The Mahlgut is taller and, despite being ‘lightweight’ version, still weighs in at over 300 grams more than the PUSH. It fills the hand, and the extra weight makes it satisfying to use without being overly heavy. I can’t decide if I prefer it to the PUSH, which is more maneuverable, but the PUSH can feel lacking in heft in comparison (which it isn’t; the PUSH is still almost 400g). Cop out: they’re both good in their own different ways.

Size matters

The PUSH is a 58.65mm and the Palm SL a 58.6mm. Although I love the clean basket they leave after tamping, I think both of these might be slightly too big.

As Matt Perger explained in relation to the Pergtamp, tiny differences in tamper diameter and design can have a massive impact on the effective area tamped. You obviously want your tamper to be as close to the size of the basket as possible, but the problem is that the baskets aren’t a uniform size – they’re a stamped part, and have set manufacturing tolerances.

In the previous blog on tampers, I mentioned that I got two new VST baskets which were too small – 0.1mm smaller than ‘normal’ – and the 58.65mm PUSH got jammed in them. Socratic Coffee had this issue too with their Pullman Big Step:

While bigger is therefore better up to a point, it’s important to be aware that super big tampers won’t be necessarily fit all VST baskets.

Occasionally both the Mahlgut and the PUSH get slightly jammed in the basket, although the Mahlgut seemed slightly more prone to sticking. This is usually caused by grinds building up on the side of the tamper and the Mahlgut may be more susceptible because of the straight sides. When you’re skirting so close to the limits of the basket, there’s really no space for anything else – even a few bits of ground coffee.

VST recommend a tamper of 58.4mm maximum diameter. If you go above this, there’s a chance the tamper won’t fit (and it won’t be the tamper’s fault). After using 58.55mm and 58.65mm tampers, 58.4mm feels a bit slack and leaves a few crumbs round the edge of the basket.

Anecdotal research on forums and the web indicates that very few people have problems with 58.5mm tampers – that size seems to be a happy medium between tamping the biggest possible area of the the bed and not getting your tamper wedged in your basket from time to time. It’s that extra 0.1mm going up to 58.6mm where problems start occurring.

While both these tampers did stick occasionally, stepping down the size slightly should eliminate this. You can order the Palm SL in 58.5mm, and Clockwork has said the production version of the PUSH will be slightly smaller than the Beta model I have.

Verdict

Having used the two tampers at various events over the last fortnight, it’s hard to recommend one over the other. Tampers are so subjective; you might prefer one because of the weight, or another because of how it feels in the hand.

If I had to choose one to throw in my bag and take to a pop-up, it would probably be the PUSH. The adjustment scale makes it easier to move between settings and while you need a key to adjust it, the mechanism is more solid. I felt more confident in it and the lighter weight makes it more comfortable to use over and over. And it’s orange.

You won’t really go wrong with either of them, though.

Vital stats:

Clockwork Espresso PUSH tamper

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Weight: 393g

Diameter: 58.65mm (Beta edition; production model TBC)

Price: TBC

Colours: loads

Mahlgut Palm SL

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Weight: 681g

Diameter: 58.6mm – other sizes available

Price: € 149

Colours: loads, but not orange

Post script

There’s a lot of debate on whether these type of tampers are the best thing since sliced bread or something that’s more likely to introduce inconsistency than reduce it.

One of the main arguments that has come up recently is that unless your dose is consistent all the time, the tamp pressure is going to be variable. It’s been shown that tamp pressure doesn’t actually make that much difference; provided you’re compacting the coffee to a decent density, whether you end up with 6kg or 16kg of pressure won’t affect the shot. As long as your tamper is set to a depth that your lowest dose gets tamped sufficiently, you’re sorted.

Pete from Clockwork gave his thoughts on the Barista Hustle Facebook group, making reference to Matt Perger’s article on maximum density:

I think maximum density is a slightly misleading term, since the graph of grind density against tamping pressure would never ‘technically’ become totally flat. It exponentially decays, which means that the amount of force required to compress the grounds another 1mm say, increases exponentially. I’m being a bit pedantic though, and other than that I thought Matt’s post on tamping pressure was really good. Another thing to take into account is that ground coffee is very slightly springy, meaning if you tamp it hard with a PUSH, then release, the handle will sit slightly above the basket. I’m talking ~0.1mm, or maybe slightly more if you’re tamping really hard.

So what that means is that if you’re tamping with a fixed dose, and then another fraction of a gram sneaks in, as long as you’re not already tamping as hard as you possibly can (and therefore you’re reaching the limit of your own strength) then the handle will still touch the basket, with slightly more force. When Maxwell tested it out before WBC, he said he found that it coped well with +/-0.5g.

I guess this could depend on lots of things – type of coffee, grind size etc.

I’ve done some tests comparing the effects of inter-barista tamping variation with a fixed dose vs. small dose variation with a fixed tamp, using flow rate as a measure of consistency. Several baristas all having identical doses varied a lot more than a fixed PUSH tamper with slightly different doses.

I also think from an ergonomic point of view, this type of tamper is much more comfortable to use. Your hand and wrist stay in a natural position. Going back to tamping with a handle feels like an act of contortion.

Read up, try one out if possible, decide if this style of tamper is for you. I reckon they’re the future.

 

Section33 – the aftermath

From 3-6 March 2016, Section33 took over Sammy Dow’s pub in Glasgow to host a pop-up restaurant featuring some amazing Scottish produce. We gave a bit of detail about what Section33 does in this post.

It was an all-out four days, but it was incredible.

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It All Started Here was on coffee duties. We left the EK at home and took our custom Rancilio Classe 6 and Nuova Simonelli Clima Pro, along with our two Push/Palm tampers and some beautiful Inker cups from Machina Espresso:

Black and orange, black and orange. Didn’t Wiz Khalifa write a song about that?

We got a sneak peak at the menu a few weeks ago and had our suspicions the food would be good, but it was seriously good.

Knockraich Crowdie salad:

excellent night at @section33 – delicious scottish tasting menu.

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Venison / potato galette / parsnip / cabbage:

 

The venison was stunning. The haunch was so tender. The gravy and potato galette were perfect. One of the best plates of food I’ve had.

We wanted to try and ensure that food of such a high standard was given a good send off instead of the usual disappointment of after dinner coffee. We also wanted to do something slightly different, so enter our naturally processed Ethiopian friend, Foundry’s Rocko Mountain. It’s light, fruity, a bit boozy and slightly bonkers, which is why we love it. We did some tasting with the servers and everyone was surprised by it, with comments like “it’s so fruity” and “it doesn’t even taste like coffee”. Those moments when people realise the range of flavours in coffee are amazing to see.

Although it’s a fantastic coffee, I expected more people to not like the Rocko Mountain. Serving a coffee you don’t expect customers to like might seem weird, but if people are used to dark, bitter espresso after dinner then getting a fruit bomb might be a bit confounding. While diners are usually open to new food experiences, as Mads Kleppe from Noma states in this article, they tend to have more fixed expectations of what coffee is:

“Most of the people who come here are quite open-minded, but coffee is something that everybody has an opinion about. Luckily most people really enjoy it, but a lot of people get really provoked and upset because this is not how coffee tastes for them, it’s not how it looks and smells, and they have very strong ideas about how it should be…The people that want to have a strong espresso at the end of the meal are still going to be angry at us. It’s going to be light and fruity and acidic and delicious, and it’s not going to be served as hot as they want, but it’s still going to be great.”

Pretty much everyone loved it though – it was great to hear that people liked ‘different’ and were open to having new experiences. We’re all about new experiences!

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There was lots of this, which was good

And feedback on social media was very positive:

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Read the full review from West End Daze

(Excuse the latte art on this one – I’m still finding my feet with skimmed milk.)

We had such good fun working with the Section guys, they have an amazing team and are so committed to great customer experiences. It was hard work but completely worth it. Can’t wait for the next one, but we need a wee break first!

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If you’re interested in which tamper came out top between the Push and the Mahlgut, that post will be coming soon. Team IASH just need to catch up on some sleep first…

 

Section33 – The Takeover

If you’ve been following us on social media recently you’ll have noticed us talking about Section33.

Section33 are a pop-up, like us, but who host guerilla dining experiences in unusual spaces. Previous events have seen them take over iconic venues such as Govanhill Swimming Baths and The Britannia Panopticon on Trongate, the world’s oldest surviving music hall.

When we heard that Section33 were planning another event, we knew it would be good and wanted to get involved. Their focus on quality throughout the supply chain and providing a top-end product at affordable prices mirrors ours.

The whole menu was revealed recently, and it’s pretty amazing:

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For a high resolution version see this link

Coffee in restaurants tends to be a bit of an afterthought and it’s often a disappointing finish to an otherwise excellent meal. We want to change that and make sure your dining experience ends on a high point, so we’ll be serving an incredible Ethiopian coffee, Foundry Coffee Roasters Rocko Mountain Reserve. It’s light, fruity and floral and should be perfect to round the evening off.

The location of the next pop-up is still a closely-guarded secret, but we can confirm that it’s a famous space which has hosted some of Glasgow’s best unsigned musicians. To pay homage to venue’s history, up and coming artists will feature throughout the four day event alongside sets from local DJs.

Tickets are going fast but there’s still some available: to find out more or to book, go to the Section33 website, their Facebook page, or their Twitter.

See you there!

Team IASH

Tamper tamper

One of the big things we aim for at It All Started Here is consistency – you’re only as good as your weakest drink, so you need to make sure your weakest drink is still up there.

I’m all for letting equipment do the work where possible as once it’s properly set up and dialled in, it’s one less thing to worry about. You can focus on the customer and keeping things flowing instead of weighing everything twice. Volumetrics and grinders with reliable timers are invaluable during service. Tamping is a bit of weak point in the search  for consistency as it needs a person and people are prone to error.

For bigger events there might be a few of us working on the stall. Generally I would set up the grinder and volumetrics and put other people on shots. They could get on with grind-tamp-pull (a fairly mechanical process, if we’re honest) and I could keep an eye on shot times while doing milk. I’d always get a bit paranoid about tamping being the likely source of error in this though; it takes a lot of practice and muscle memory to get repeatability which can stand up when stuff starts hitting the fan.

There’s two elements to a consistent tamp: pressure (using the same amount of force each time) and being level (making sure that the bed of coffee is perfectly flat and not sloping to one side).

At the moment, opinion seems to be that pressure doesn’t make that big a difference – as long as the bed has been given a reasonably firm tamp, the job’s done. Some unscientific tests showed that pressure doesn’t really affect time (although extraction wasn’t measured), so beyond tamping firmly, the big concern is getting your tamp level.

If your tamp isn’t level then water might not flow through the puck evenly, which is bad. Sure, learning to tamp evenly is great, but that takes time and time is a luxury we don’t always have. If there’s a way to make sure that a tamp is always level, I’m all over it.

Enter two products which address this: the Clockwork Espresso Push Tamp, and the Mahlgut Palm tamper.

The Push first came on the scene around April 2015; Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood used one in his UKBC routine and the internet was immediately ablaze with discussion.

Clockwork announced that it would be producing a small number of Beta testing models; these were to be paid for in full by the ‘testers’ (of which I was one). It was several months before the first Betas made it out into the wild, but, in October 2015, we managed to get our hands on number 1:

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Since then, Clockwork have continued to refine their product – slight variations have been spotted, like the below, but still nothing on general sale.

a tiny push in the right direction.

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In the meantime, Mahlgut have released a similar product. Someone at Coffee Forums was kind enough to lend us their Palm tamper, so we got a chance to put them side by side:

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The Push is 393g but feels heavier. I’ve had a few metal handled tampers before which weighed in at 500-700g and the Push has a similar ‘heft’ to those in the hand, perhaps because of how the weight is distributed. It is a 58.65mm base which is pushing the boundaries of what will fit in a VST*, although Clockwork have indicated that the production version may be a 58.55mm. Pricing hasn’t been confirmed yet, and we’ve been asked not to disclose what the Beta versions cost, but this is a premium product. Adjustment is made by loosening a grub screw, and the base has handy markings so you can go between settings easily:

I wasn’t bowled over by the Push immediately; it took me a while to get a good routine going with it. Because it fits so well in the basket, if you were a bit carefree in how you remove it you could end up creating a vacuum (at least I think that’s what was happening) and damaging the puck . The really tight fit in the basket can also make it ‘stick’ if grinds get trapped between the side of the tamper and the basket. Going down to 58.55mm would likely fix this.

It got a bit of a baptism of fire though – at Glasgow Coffee Festival, we worked with Foundry Coffee Roasters and did 600 shots over the day. Not much scope to learn new equipment when you’re so busy! Slight niggles with it sticking from time to time aside, the Push really seemed to make the process easier and help us keep up with the demand.

Previously, getting a pour to start out each of the spouts at exactly the same time was a cause for minor celebration (and giving yourself +10 barista points). With the Push (and the Mahlgut, and likely any good fitting palm tamper), it just happens. Every time. Although you lose a bit of manual input into the process, you’re making it much more repeatable.

The Mahlgut weighs 1152g. Over a kilo. It is seriously heavy. The version we tried was 58.4mm, which is more of a ‘standard’ oversized tamper, but it’s available in various sizes up to 58.6mm. The tamper costs €139-149 from Mahlgut. Again, an expensive bit of kit. You adjust it by unscrewing the top part, which then allows the base to screw in and out. Although this mechanism is presumably what adds to the height of tamper, it’s nice being able to make adjustments without having to remember where the key is.

I’ve been enjoying the Push the last few months, both at home and on the stall. The only drawback with these tampers is at home; I single dose and change beans/dose/grind settings several times a day sometimes. Different beans have different densities and so sit higher and lower in the basket. I try to use a ‘one setting fits all’ approach but sometimes the edge of the tamper doesn’t quite make it to the basket which means you lose the guarantee of it being level. (You could get round this by recording a setting for each bean and adjusting for each shot, but I’m too lazy for that).

Last Sunday we were doing the coffee at Bakery47’s first birthday, which was going to be busy. I took both the tampers with me, set them up and pulled a few shots with each when dialling in. I thought it would be interesting to see which I gravitated to when the pace picked up and I needed to work quickly and consistently.

We ended up doing about 150 coffees in a little under four hours, and it was just me working. Pretty hectic.

 

In terms of how often I used it, the Push won hands down. For me, it felt a lot more comfortable in the hand than the Mahlgut. The Push is lower profile and easier to grip; the Mahlgut is heavy and slightly cumbersome. For the home barista, the extra heft of the Malhgut might not be an issue, but I wouldn’t want to pick it up 200 times a day.

The Push leaves a much cleaner seal around the side of the basket, although it is a larger diameter than the Mahlgut. The Mahlgut comes in several sizes, up to 58.6mm, so maybe it isn’t fair to compare them on this. I also didn’t feel that the Mahlgut locked entirely reliably – there was still some play in the base. The Push doesn’t move once locked, although you do need the adjustment key to make changes to it.

It’s likely that more and more Push/Palm style tampers will come to the market soon, and that’s a good thing; they are so much more consistent and I could see them becoming the standard eventually. I’m not entirely sure at the current price points they represent good value for the home barista, but a lot of premium tampers cost in the region of £100 at the moment so it’s not too much of a stretch.

If I had to choose which to buy tomorrow, it would be the Push (you could actually order a Mahlgut tomorrow, however; the Push isn’t available for general sale).

Although the Push edges it for me, this was mainly based on subjective things like weight and feel in the hand – both perform the same function in a similar way and there isn’t much between them in terms of results. Either of these tampers represents a big step forward in addressing a fallible part of the process and really helping to improve consistency.

*It’s worth noting that I ordered fresh VST baskets after I got the Push, and they didn’t fit. Turns out they were 0.1mm smaller than standard. A tiny amount, but when you’re pushing the limits these fine margins can make a big difference. I emailed VST to ask about this, and they said they recommend a maximum tamper size of 58.35mm to match their basket sizes; any tampers produced in bigger sizes were at the manufacturer’s risk. Given standard tampers are creeping up towards 58.5mm (The Pergtamp is 58.55mm and the Pullman Big Step 58.6mm), it will be interesting to see how this pans out.