riviera rebuild: cara speaks

June 15, 2005 – 2:00 am

to the aforelisted points of riviera inquiry, i now have answers, courtesy the self-described ‘santa claus’ of levered espresso machines. let’s begin:

* 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?

**normal lever machine function, he says. only the brand-new pavonis have an automatic pressure release valve that operates during warm-up. on all rivieras, it’s simply necessary to open the steam knob a bit in order to release the excess pressure build-up that would prevent the water/steam from reaching an appropriate brew temperature. humph!

* what’s ideal shot volume?

**depends on your tastes. basically, you only have so much piston pressure to work with. so you adjust the grind and tamp until the espresso is brewing a celestially as possible. you could pull the lever twice (thereby double-extracting your shot) or hold down the lever in order to let more water into the grouphead before applying the brewing pressure. but those options, while creating a more voluminous shot, would have obvious effects on the desirability of the end palatability of said shot. so … if the optimal factors produce one-ounce or smaller shots, so be it. hand-cranked espresso is basically a matter of managing a series of limiting factors — that’s why you hand craft espresso, for the simplicity and satisfaction of mastering an extremely manual process.

* 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.)

**i’ve figured these out. you tamp however hard you need to tamp — much lighter, in the case of a lever machine. the biggest key to pulling shots is the management of said manual factors. it’s less complicated — and harder — than one might think.

* how low does the water have to go before the life of the heating element is endangered?

**until the water in the clear tube is one-quarter inch from the bottom. oops.

* 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.

**repeated experimentation seems to indicate that when the water gets low, the heater pushes the boiler pressure a bit higher before clicking off, though this does not seem to have an effect on the brew temp of the water itself. so i’m not worried about it (except as it might indicate a tank low on water and thus a heating element in need of more cautious protection).

* the added pressure also appears to be clouding the inside of the pressure gauge. is there a fix?

**problem went away by itself.

i understand these matters much better, i find. the straggling addendum concerning inconsistent brew temp is also a constraint of hand-cranked brew. there are some ghetto ways to better ensure an optimal brew climate in the grouphead, but none official or advisably reliable. you chop wood by hand, you’re gonna get splinters. makes the superb shots all the more superlative. consistency, methinks, is becoming my primary aim.

p.s. yes, cara did refer to himself as an espresso santa claus today — the dude’s hours sound nice, but he’s a genial consultant at all hours. a handy brain to pick, that.