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October 2008 Newsletter

The most common fault I see with machines returned for repair is
burnt out or non-functioning heating elements. In some cases the
elements just stop working, through age or internal faults, but
in the majority of cases they are burnt out by being left on for
too long at too high a temperature or not fully covered by water.

When this is pointed out to the owners of the machines there is a
general chorus of "Oh no, that's impossible, we always do x, y
and z to make sure it can't happen, etc. etc." As my service tech
points out, you don't have to be Gil Grissom from CSI to see that
the evidence directly contradicts these statements. Below are photos
 showing precisely what we see when we open up the boilers and
extract the elements.

We crack the boiler, and what do we see? This lovely violet overcooked element, staring back at me! Makes it pretty obvious that this element has been left on at high temperature for a long time, see the earlier newsletter

Here we have an element from a boiler that wasn't refilled after steaming. The machine was left on, or next time the machine was turned on it wasn't refilled, and damage resulted.

You don't have to be a detective genius to work out what has happened in most of the cases we see. My technician generally just leaves the element on top of his bill, so I can't argue!

In future we'll be sending the old elements back with the
repaired machines to forestall any arguments about what's gone
wrong. In all too many cases it will be human error. To not quite
quote another famous detective, it's "Elementary, my dear

The second most common complaint about espresso machines is "I'm
not getting Crema." Fortunately I can deal with most of these
over the phone or by email, as there are only a few reasons why
this can happen.

The first and most common reason is an incorrect grind, which is
easy to fix. The second most common reason is stale coffee ("but
the use-by date is April 2011 so it must be fresh!") which is
again easy to fix. And third there is the "5 years old and never
been cleaned" syndrome, which requires considerable amounts of
elbow grease to fix.

One thing that is absolutely certain, though, is that if the
grind is right, the machine is reasonable and the coffee is
anywhere near good quality and fresh, you'll get a decent crema.
To prove this I recently ran an experiment with a single batch of
Espresso Cioccolato, pre-ground and shots pulled over 6 days. By
the last day the taste was going off and the crema was thinner,
but I was still getting better crema than on many commercial

Day 1, ready to go. Coffee had been ground the evening before.

Not bad at all.

Day 2 and still rocking.

Day 3 and starting to thin.

Day 4 (the papers were late) and getting a bit thin and pale.

Day 5 and still going, but the taste is getting a bit rancid.

I certainly wouldn't advocate using pre-ground for espresso in
the long term, but you can certainly get acceptable results in
the short term. Of course, the $5000.00 Ditting grinder I used
may have had a little bit to do with it as well. The important
point for me is that regardless of the brewing process involved,
the coffee and the grind are the two biggest factors which
control the quality of the resultant brew.

This month's special is the sparkling, new crop

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

It has the expected floral aroma and a deeper toned citrus mid
palate than usual, with hints of tangerine and orange peel in the

Finally, you will notice some upward price movements
(particularly in machines) in the next couple of months.
Increased metals prices and shipping costs have delivered some
big hits to the landed costs of equipment from Italy. As long as
the Aussie dollar was stable vs. the Euro we could absorb some of
this, but the recent 10% or more drop in the $A has been a
knockout punch.

Green coffee is less affected, except in the case of Cuba. This
year's hurricane season in the Caribbean means that when I finish
my current contract there will be no more for at least a year,
perhaps longer, and the price has risen accordingly. I'm
currently hunting substitutes without much luck.