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August 2013 Newsletter

Following on from last month's history of espresso machines, I
thought I'd delve into some of the "improvements" that have been
made since the Faema E-61 was released.

First, a bit of coffee industry terminology. A MANUAL espresso
machine is a lever machine, with the operator controlling the shot
via the lever, and controlling the boiler water level with a tap and
a sightglass. Boiler temp and pressure is controlled by an electric

A SEMI-AUTOMATIC machine has an electric pump which runs when the operator presses a switch, electronically controlled boiler water
level, called Autofill, and a pressurestat for temperature control.

An AUTOMATIC machine has volumetric dose control, which
automatically dispenses the required amount of water for each shot,
usually controlled from a keypad, boiler level control, pressurestat
and electric pump.

As each increment of automation was made the electronic controls got
more complex, with the programmable dose controllers which appeared
in the 1970's requiring early computer circuits. These developed
into the modern day computerised touchpads and brain boxes.

However, the point of all these "improvements" wasn't better
espresso, it was to make things easier for the café owner and the
barista, to make more drinks in less time with fewer people. Shot
quality was a secondary consideration. Despite the advent of small,
cheap computer chips, things stayed that way until the late 1990's.

The sad fact was that most of the world's espresso machine companies
were Italian (most still are) and their ideas of innovation were
concentrated on looks and ergonomics, not the taste of the espresso.
Then came the internet, and everything changed.

A group of enthusiastic amateurs started discussing all things
coffee using the internet social media of the day, newsgroups. Some
of the people involved actually were rocket scientists, and when the
conversation got around to espresso machines and the various factors
involved in producing quality espresso, ideas started to emerge.

These ideas have led directly to the current "state of the art"
machines with individually PID temperature controlled groups,
variable pressure brewing etc. Machines like the Synesso or Slayer
are really directly descended from the ideas and experiments of
these internet era espresso pioneers. Of course, the machine
manufacturers didn't initially want to do this, it was customer
demand fuelled by internet acquired knowledge that drove them to it.
Now there are a bunch of "amateurs" thinking about grinders, but
again there hasn't been a lot of response from grinder makers ...

This month's special coffee is soon going to be our organic offering
for the next couple of months, while we wait for the new Timor

Organic Honduras Pacamara

Pacamara is a hybrid coffee, bred from the bourbon Pacas varietal
and the typica Maragogype (see the August 2010 newsletter). The
hybrid was originally developed in El Salvador but is now grown in
most Central American countries. It is a beautifully balanced
coffee, with mild acidity and some cherry notes in the front palate,
spice in the mid range and a long, full bodied ending with flavours
of malt and chocolate in the finish.

Until next month