During a visit to the Berlin Coffee Festival I managed to find time for a lager from Helles with Will Hilliard of Mother’s Milk fame. I’m describing to him the Puq press trials that were going on at Prufrock whilst I’m away. He comments that it’s getting to be like an exploded bean to cup with all this automation scattered around the espresso machine. Then I’m considering some of the experiences I had at some swanky new roasteries in Berlin; the Visit and Bonanza in particular which are seriously kitted out. The Visit with its Hydra and Two Mythos and EKK and four Steam Punk Pillars and soap washed wood and OCDs and Perg Tamps and Milk mate touch screen dosing system, a Loring!, Figgjo Cups not forgetting the Hypster Brewer and a seriously stunning latex floor that looks like a bowling ball (in the very best possible way). All this makes it the most box ticking cafe I can think of (apart from not accepting Card-like pretty much every single other place in Berlin). I put it up there in cafe design with Pablo and Rusty’s in Sydney which is the most complete design concept I have ever seen in a cafe.
The experience in Berlin and my debate with Will makes my mind drift back to the launch of the Black Eagle when Hoffmann said, “Temperature?…It’s done…let’s move on!” then I remember asking him just to stir the pot, why didn’t you put the grinder inside the machine…and he’s totally not going to entertain this line of argument during this event;D and gives me the old ‘that-question-is-outside-the-scope-of-this-conversation’ treatment.
Hold on a second, there must be a counter argument. I recall Kees VDW commenting on the Mod Bar a few years ago. ‘I don’t see the point in putting the machine under the counter’ he said. Imagine having a car where you were just in a chair and the wheel popped up above the ground and the rest of the car was either invisible or under the road, (I’m basically describing a go-kart) and there’s Kees low-riding by in his a pink Cadillac. He actually has such a car, maybe not pink. It’s the stage presence that inspires Kees. Low profile yes, but not nonexistent. Even if only to avoid the question the Modbar guys always get, “can I have a pint?”
Amazing to find a blog post from 2009 on the Slayer website. Nice pic of Gwilym there. Eric Perkunder says of them “Slayer defines a new category of equipment: ultra-traditionals.” Would they use this term now I wonder? Tradition is not a bad word. You know how everyone says Jazz is dead right? As a Jazz pianist I don’t refute this, though I more go along with the famous Frank Zappa’s quote: “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny”. John Coltrane is kind of the one for me that killed it because he pushed the artform so far creatively, that it’s traditions couldn’t temper his sound any longer. From the early seventies, free improvisation left Jazz behind. So whether you love Jazz or not, it is a style that went into artistic decline from the early seventies onwards and to be a purist in this style now is to be something of a revivalist and I don’t think Slayer would be wanting to say they are part of a hands-on coffee revivalist movement.
Matt Perger went to La Marzocco and gave a great talk (my favourite of his) on super automation and this was most obliging of them to be cool about it because LM don’t make those…but they did invent the Swift grinder; an auto-tamping volumetric dosing ceramic burr grinder. Utterly impossible to clean but so clever. That is until the popularity of VSTs baskets put pay to the impeller concept by being so slippery the coffee would swizzle around in circles with the auto tamper, which caused increased incidents of channelling as I understand it so the revival of the concept with the Volcano Swift was put on ice. My understanding of the history of this remarkable invention is that Starbucks wanted exclusivity for the Swift design. LM said no (presumably believing this design would change the world) so SB pulled the Linea from their bars, put in the Thermoplan bean-to-cups and then US La Marzocco was forced to lay a lot of people off, and their two chief engineers went their separate ways to start Slayer and Synesso. The stage presence of these two iconic machine makers was and continues to be mind blowing and The Visit continues this tradition. If there was a grinder inside the espresso machine, at least to any modern aesthetic sense, it would probably look awful and this does matter to me. It would actually need a grinder at each group I’d say so that would drive the cost sky high. Bloomberg tells us the self cleaning Thermoplans are in the region of €17K (mind you this only weighs in at about the same as a 3 group Black Eagle Gravimetric but does does not include a grinder).
So I’m sat next to William FC Hilliard amongst Berlin’s burgeoning coffee scene, and I’m starting to ask myself, should we be shifting these 750g PFs left and right or should we work towards the all in one solution? Well I do like me a wooden spoon when I’m cooking. Maybe the portafilter is just the wooden spoon. But if the future of the ultra-traditionals is bright, I would at least ask that the portafilter should be better made, half the weight, not coated in Teflon or much thicker Teflon (this is not at all a sustainable surface to put on a 130 quid object. Even with loving care and stringent staff training, the Teflon of Prufrock’s PFs in three months on our Black Eagle Perhaps totally solid Teflon could be explored. I asked Kees once about this idea once. He suggested POM plastic instead as the teflon can warp in hot conditions. The tactile feeling of the job and the machine matters. Slayer was the embodiment of this when they started out. They were about how it feels to be a barista and about the barista enjoying the feeling of their machines.
If it’s to be the Puq press at Prufrock then you, either the best or the smartest baristas should be able to work out the answer in what to expect from it and how to analyse its usefulness. All this can easily be measured with the coffee refractometer: Pull shots with the Pergtamp. 58.5mm, then pull shots with the Puq press at let’s say 9kg of pressure. Gwilym has measured his tamp on scales and determined he tamps at 9kg and he’s a long term advocate of a light tamp; something Socratic Coffee more than demonstrated was entirely valid and downright sensible. Which ever one gets higher extraction yield on average is the better piece of equipment. Michael Cameron from Frisky Goat in Brisbane conducted a fairly exhaustive set of tests on his bar which he posted on the Barista Hustle Facebook forum. This really persuaded me we have the right direction here.
I can tell you right now after having got back to London, done some edits on this post and discovered the Puq Press delivers average extraction yields only 0.007% lower than the Perg (I knew the Perg would be better but it’s almost negligibly so), I must report and I know Slayer would be happy to hear this, the feeling of this auto tamp is fantastic. It’s a guilty pleasure.
I asked myself before testing it
A.) Does it cause channelling through the suction effect and so correspondingly reduce extraction? Nope-I did the upside down meringue test every time. Admittedly only 8 tests with the Perg and 8 with the Puq. But it was infallible and I had no outliers.
B.) Does the Portafilter sit perfectly level in the stays? I strongly feel it’s as good as I am judging by eye and taking into account the similarity in average extraction yields across two coffees and two different tamp pressures. It’s not perfect and human error could certainly occur with this but looking at the 0.007% difference, I think it’s ok.
C .) Is it hands free? No but it’s quicker than my existing tamp which I pride myself on being non-fuss.
D.) Is it compatible with other tamper bases. It has a really bug thread so you’d need to ruin your existing base a recut the thread.
E.) Will it last as long as no as a Mazzer Superjolly. (Actually there are space rocks that are less durable than Superjollys) Probably not. But it’s quite reasonably priced. Only about as much as 3 Perg Tamps.
F.) How wide is the base. Does this matter? 58.3 It appears to matter about 0.007%
G.) Does it cause the suction effect. No