This is long overdue. I almost never join forums these days, but during my weeks-long intense research phase I kept ending up here, amongst what turns out to be a truly knowledgable, helpful bunch of folks. I did try to sign up a couple of times but some mail issue (now sorted, thanks guys!) scuppered my fiendish plan to, well mostly just say thanks, really, and hello from an Aberdonian coffee-addict!
Oh Coffee! I've drunk a ton of coffee. I mean a metric ton, and that's just in the last fifteen years or so. I had my first taste circa age four, maybe three: I would invade our neighbour's house; an older German woman; when her ghastly teenage boys were off to school. She used a proper peculator and had a beautiful ritual for getting the beans into the cup. Just the smell. Mmmm...
Fast-forward twenty years and I finally get an espresso machine capable of turning Lidl pre-ground espresso into something better than I can get on the high street. I was fairly happy with this system and my old high-pressure Magimix served me well, was easy to temperature-surf (though I had no idea it was called that) and produced shot after shot (after shot!) of quite serviceable coffee, some very good indeed. Sure, I'd tasted better coffee over the years, but nothing /that/ much better than my best home-made shots (Lidl espresso quality control is pants and the tins range from horribly burnt to really quite delicious, though it is cheap). I'd never thought to look deeper into it.
Then it happened. Well, two things happened, right about the same time. First, my old Magimix started packing in beyond my usual repair + maintenance efforts and secondly, I finally experienced the God Shot. The kids, the missus, the restaurant all just blurred away as my mouth became the vehicle for His Word, Gaia, whatever, Wow. So it eventually hit me that there is this whole world of coffee I know nothing about and like Jonathon Livingston Seagull-with-a-habit, I went home, threw the Magimix in the bin and started Googling.
And Googling. I tend to dive into things (see corz.org). I put ad ad online looking for broken cofee machines I could rip apart and examine; got a couple of nice ones, too. Every minute I had spare (and many I didn't) I researched coffee and coffee making, thought about it, spoke about it. I drove everyone nuts, though I've settled down and now at least me friends and family get free coffee machine servicing!
So while I saved up for a 2nd-hand Gaggia Classic (it's shoe-string budget for me, folks!) I made do with an old back-up steam espresso machine for a couple of weeks (crema is possible!), then picked up a Gaggia Cubika (the old one, not the nasty Plus) online for a tenner. This is actually a great wee machine, but requires skill and practice to get decent results. Well, that's just what I was in need of! When you drink as much coffee as I do, it doesn't take long to hone yer techniques.
Of course it comes set to 15 bar. I found a wee SCR motor controller in my kit-bag and that can get the (ULKA) pump down to around 2 bar before stalling. So I'm playing with this for a week or so when Lo! A Gaggia Classic online for forty quid! "needs de-scaling" says the ad, but in fact only needed the brew head de-clogged. Of course I cleaned and de-scaled it anyway. Works great!
It's an older model but came with a set of pressurised baskets. Fortunately the old Cubika regular baskets fit the Classic portafilter perfectly, so I switched the SCR controller over to the Classic pump and set its trimmer's lower limit to 9 bar-ish (10 bar on my portafilter pressure gauge) so I can quickly wind the pressure down to 9 bar for home-ground beans (all the way left) and back up to 15 bar (all the way right) for my Lidl fix in the pressurised basket + crazy widget (damn! I thought I'd lost that down the sink the first time I cracked open the portafilter!).
By the way; I don't know why these SCR motor controllers aren't more commonly used on coffee machines; they are peanuts on ebay (aye, like a pound fifty) and work great on the stock pump. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Of course, there may be something I don't know and an explosion is imminent! But it's been on for a month so far and works beautifully, though I must get around to replacing the nails and gaffer tape with proper connexions!
Maybe when I get the PID in (damn, getting a case for that REX unit is a nightmare) I guess I'll do it all at once. I'd really like an automatic shot-timer in the mix, too, but that's proving to be way more effort/money than it's worth and my magnetic 99p timer works okay, I suppose. Thing is, there will be no room for it once the pressure gauge goes in! I've annoyed a couple of Chinese electronics companies about a shot-timer, but so far no serious takers. We'll see. No way I'm paying ninety quid!
Of course I'm saving up for a better grinder. Currently I have a low-end hand grinder (WOT1, £6.99) which, with the addition of a cordless drill (my backup FatMax - I have two - another story - now tasked solely with grinding duties), can grind a 16g shot in around a minute. The WOT1 can choke the Classic on its finest (stepless) settings and while grind consistency is not perfect, it's been responsible for some wonderful tasting coffee. Who knew there were so many roaster! I see a Mazzer Super Jolly in my future! Maybe a roaster...
So that's it, me and coffee so far. I've still a shit-load to learn, and do, and buy and I'm loving it! Being in this other world of coffee, even here at the start of the journey, is exciting stuff! I love to learn. And I'm hopelessly addicted to coffee (and loving that, too!). So I don't see myself getting bored any time soon. And there's so much to buy! Who doesn't love that!
There's an artistry to making coffee that had previously escaped me and I'm getting a real thrill from fine-tuning my own coffee-making kinetics; tamping pressure (I picked up a set of bathroom scales and test myself every 50 or so shots); pressure profiling with the steam wand (took 100s of shots to really nail and it still needs to vary with the bean), I plan to use an SCR controller for this stuff once I have a front-mounted pressure gauge; temperature surfing this damned Classic boiler; and so on.. Learning to control the variables; precision or intuition, depending. Fascinating sh*t! And a reward with each cup (well mostly!).
A great deal of the "expertise" I've gained in the art of coffee making I got right here at Coffee Forums, lurking and reading all the wonderful info stashed around this place, the collective wisdom of so many actual experts. Thank you. I hope I can be nearly as useful.
Oh! And erm, hello!
ps. Knock-Box mk1. Knocking bars available in "Natural", "Black" and "White" (shown).