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April 2010 Newsletter

I've had a number of requests for newsletters on various topics,
and I thought that this month would be a good time to knock them
over. First, however, a number of "housekeeping" items.

1) We will be away (SCAA, London, Milan, Brescia) from FRIDAY APRIL 16th  until SATURDAY MAY 8th inclusive.
2) The Equipment Order Page on the website will show all items to
be "out-of-stock; it's the easiest way to shut the page down.
3) Coffee sales will continue as normal, BUT ...
4) my green coffee supplier has not so much dropped the disco
ball as let the whole opera chandelier come crashing down.
Several of our critical beans and blend components are
simultaneously out of stock.

I am currently in the process of sourcing substitutes, but there
will definitely be differences in the appearance and in some
cases the taste of some of our coffees. Fortunately it's
temporary, but it means a couple of weeks of mad scrambling,
roasting and cupping to make sure the quality and flavour of our
coffees doesn't suffer. It's also bloody expensive, but selling
prices won't be affected.
5) There will be no monthly special for this month or for May,
for obvious reasons. I will try and hack out a May Newsletter
during the long flights, probably a recap of the SCAA conference
and my visit to Lelit, but no guarantees.

Now that's out of the way, on to the "most requested" topic,
Espresso Tamping.

Customers are always asking about tamper sizes, tamp pressures,
tamper shapes etc. and tamping technique seems to be important in
the World Barista Championships. Funnily enough, in Italy the
most experienced baristas barely bother, simply using the plastic
protrusion on the front of the grinder. Watching them might lead
you to believe that tamping isn't all that important, and you'd
be right.

Most of the original emphasis on tamping comes from David Schomer
of Espresso Vivace in Seattle USA, who wrote a couple of books on
espresso in the late 1990's. These books are the origin of the
much-quoted "30lb tamp" pressure.

Then in 2006 another American, Michael Teahan of Espresso Part
Source, gave a presentation at SCAA Charlotte (one of the reasons
I attend these things.) Among other gems he demonstrated that
varying tamp pressure from zero to 300lbs made absolutely no
difference to the quality of the shot. The really important
factors are coffee dose, distribution and levelling. (And getting
a level tamp - at any pressure - is harder than you'd think!)

So these days, when people complain they are getting poor shots
and blaming their tamp, I tell them, "Grind finer, dose accurately, tamp lightly and evenly" which seems to work in most cases.

The next most requested topic is changing the group gasket on the
Salda/Quaha/Imat/Nemox/Lelit  machines.

It's important to start with the machine upside down. The hard
way is to hook out the old gasket with something sharp and
pointy, clean out the groove by scraping, brushing and rinsing
and then poking and prodding the new gasket into place.

The easy way is minor surgery on a cheap 8mm hex socket. The
outside edge needs to be filed down enough either manually, by
rotary grinder or Dremel to fit into the spaces in the group
collar. Then all you need to do is undo the nuts and remove the
collar, after which removal, cleaning and replacement is a

It's been leaking around the portafilter a bit but it still looks pretty clean. Time to break out the 2.5mm Allen Key & look.

Crikey! It's a wonder any water is getting out at all. I've got no desire to find out what coffee brewed through this is like!

Trusty modified 8mm socket to the rescue!

Oh Yuck! No wonder it was leaking.

Cleaned up & ready for the new gasket.

I'll be in intermittent email contact via Gmail but won't
guarantee any answers to queries until we're back.