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March 2009 Newsletter

Last month's newsletter seems to have struck a chord with my
readers, I got more feedback than I have seen for ages. Following
on from that, and a subject that came up in the responses, is the
question "How much difference does more expensive equipment
really make?" Before I give an answer I'd like to make clear that
context-of-use is important when you're discussing coffee
machinery. A busy shop pulling hundreds of shots a day needs a
certain level of performance from their machinery. A domestic
user pulling half-a-dozen shots a day simply doesn't have the
same needs.

It's also important to remember that the various internet coffee
discussion forums might have at most 500 regular posters among
the whole lot of them, (out of a world population of 6 billion?!)
most of whom are male hardcore hobbyists with excess cash to
spend. Instead of a sports car and a mistress they set up a home
bar with a shiny espresso machine and a monster grinder. Much
better for family harmony, keeps Dad out of the way of the
serious workings of the household, but he does tend to stay up
all night. And day.

And he gets on the coffee forums and goes on at length about how
HIS is bigger, shinier, has more bells and whistles etc. etc.

Which leads us back to the original question.

The answer is that once your equipment is at a certain basic
level, all the money and gadgetry in the world will at best give
you something less than 10% improvement in the quality of your
shots, and that's only if you're using the finest coffees in the
world and have the best brewing techniques down pat. "Features"
like adjustable brew temperature and pressure are fun for the
first month, and then mostly forgotten.

The lack of bang for the buck is particularly obvious when it
comes to grinders. A Mazzer Robur is roughly $2750.00. A Lelit
PL53 is $275.00. If you're only pulling a few shots a day, you're
simply not going to be able to pick a major difference (and
certainly not a 10x difference) between the output quality of the
two grinders. So why would you have a Robur in your kitchen?
Probably for the same reason gentlemen of a certain age buy
Porsches! There is a "Law of diminishing returns" for coffee
equipment as much as there is for cars, where $60,000 gets you
a pretty good car and $600,000 gets you one only a little bit
better if you exclude bragging rights.

Coffee is the major part of the brewing equation, and the most
often ignored. I'm still amazed at the number of people who are
willing to spend a fortune on equipment, but will then rock on
down to the supermarket to buy any old packet of the most stale
and ancient beans they can find. There is an art to both coffee
blending and coffee choice for espresso, but many of the
commercial blends I taste seem to have been thrown together with
cost as the major consideration.

When I cup coffees I usually have no idea of the price. I simply
rely on taste to decide which coffees to offer, which brings us
round to the monthly special:

PNG Organic Yauka
$40.00/kg

This coffee has a lovely smooth balanced flavour, but it's most
outstanding feature is a rich, buttery mouthfeel.

There may not be an April newsletter (or special) because we'll
be off to the USA for the SCAA conference, this year held in
Atlanta, Georgia. As usual I'll close down machine sales while
we're away, but coffee sales and packaging will continue. Note
that Easter falls in this period, so we'll be shut for the public
holidays anyway. The SCAA conference is pretty important from my
viewpoint as it's the main way I keep up with events in the
coffee world.


Alan