riviera rebuild: what i’ve learned — in mere hours, no less!

May 27, 2005 – 1:55 am
five shots in — five heavily gawked shots in — i have inconclusive conclusions:

* the grind must be much coarser for the riviera. seems to be a function of the piston’s punch, as it were. it only pushes so hard.
* the basket is SMALL. maybe a third the size of the isomac’s double basket. thus, the shots are very small — less than an ounce so far. is this reflective of an old italian bent to swilling the straight stuff? or snorting?
* there are no tampers for this thing. even the i-talians don’t make ‘em this small any more. my supplier sent a wooden one for free, but it must be filed down. and it has all the oomph of a kia sportage. so i used the lid to the salad dressing. creamy bacon ranch. just inverted the bottle and tamped away — much lighter than i ever have before. again, this would seem a matter of necessity, along with the grind.
* seems like i’ve heard before that the crema is not as thick — not nearly, in my case. could it be a function of the lesser brewing pressure? the coarser-by-necessity grind? the light tamp?
* like the isomac, it’s best to brew at the top of the boiler cycle. waiting until just before the heater kicks back on results in an uber-sour experience.
* knowing already that timing and lever feel (maybe scant dose size as well?) make this the hardest way to brew espresso, the primary trick appears to be how long you hold the lever at the bottom of the pull before letting up. my very first shot was steeped in water before i realized i wasn’t going to get a dribble until the lever started going up. later shots were way too small and quick because i didn’t hold the lever down enough for ample water to flow into the grouphead from the boiler.

questions for the san-fran oracle of all things riviera:

* with the leaks in the watertank cap and steam knob sealed so amazingly well, the added pressure seems to create “burps” in the boiler’s initial warm-up. in other words, the pressure gauge will zoom to brewing pressure way before the water is actually that hot. a quick pull on the lever lets all the artificial pressure out, and the needle descends to the actual water temp proxy and continues heating. why?
* the added pressure also appears to be clouding the inside of the pressure gauge. is there a fix?
* what’s ideal shot volume?
* what the biggest key to pulling these shots?
* how hard do people tamp/how much do they dose on these things? (the inclusion of said balsawood tamper seems to indicate 30 lbs. of doward pressure is not warranted on this machine.)
* how does one do routine maintenance if neither cleaning chemicals nor vinegar is appropriate for the machine’s passageways?
* how low does the water have to go before the life of the heating element is endangered?
* should the machine automatically heat to a higher pressure when the water is low? in my case, the point at which the heater clicks off seems a direct correlary to the water level. the lower the water, the higher the needle goes before the heater light blinks out.

addendum: mighta founda way to shoot some grainy mpeg4 video on my memory card. but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow (or later today, as the case seems to be). crashing now.