Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My new obsession: Miss Silvia Rancilio

I get home from Falls Creek to discover that Miss Silvia has arrived.  She is a thing of natural beauty - sleek, smooth, petit, yet bridling with raw power. Questa perfetto di macchine per caffe.

I am compelled to spend the next two hours experimenting with her ... only giving her bottled spring water, priming her boiler, coaxing the steam out of her wand, twisting her group head firmly into the socket for each shot, trying different grinds ...

180 grams of the last of my precious St Ali single estate Brazilian beans later, I have drunk the equivalent of about 6 cups of coffee, and my head is buzzing, but I may have worked out something I'll be happy with in the morning.  A grind factor of 11 (out of 25) on my Sunbeam Cafe Series EMO480 conical burr grinder seems to deliver a reasonable balance between a delicious coffee liquer and enough liquid to qualify as an espresso.

My first two tries on superfine grind ended in disaster. Got an insipid liquid that looked like Turkish coffee without the flavour.  My next two tries with a 5/25 and 10/25 grind but hard-packed resulted in no water at all!

Then I try 10/25 several times without packing it in (I just let the weight of the tamper do its thing, rather than try to squash it in), and things start to happen.  I get a few precious drops around 15 seconds after I start the water, and turn off the water at the 35-45 second mark.  I only get a small thimbleful of precious, rich, dark, creamy liquid (barely a mouthful - not quite even enough to pass as a ristretto).  It doesn't seem right, but when I taste it, the flavour is sublime - an intensely sweet caramel balanced off with tangy, lemony acidity.  This is almost on par with the flavour that I enjoy from a barista-made coffee from my fav Perth coffee shops Tartine or Tiger Tiger!

12/25 yields an espresso quantity in 35 seconds, but the flavour just isn't there.

I'm going to have to let common sense prevail and stop drinking more coffee - I'll try 11/25 tomorrow morning and see how that tastes - hopefully a goldilocks moment.

It is simply amazing that the same coffee beans yield such a huge range of flavours, depending on the fineness of the grind and how much water you run through the coffee.  My faithful Saeco Magic (who is being retired after 8 years of reliable automatic service), on the same beans, yielded a marginally tasty coffee, but nowhere near the subliminity (is that a real word? If not, it should be!) of the Rancilio's liquid ambrosia.  A thermoblock that artifically creates crema simply cannot compare to the real thing.

If you love your coffee, I would certainly recommend taking your relationship to that next step - give in to your inner barista, and get your very own Miss Silvia.  As George Harrison observed, it's going to take a lot of money (for all those wasted beans) and precious time to work out how to get her to deliver the goods, but it'll be well worth the effort!

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