for the troops

May 31, 2007 – 10:59 pm



the smooth ‘n groovy parts


the not-as-smooth-but-no-less-groovy parts

this blog never said it was a beauty pageant. what it did say is that the memorial day gaggle was a mash of machines, tubing and burrs. also, swim trunks. also, a ne’er-before-experienced highlands sumatra, designed to assault our virgin tongues through each of four dramatically disparate machines and grinders, at the hands of four amateur baristi with dramatically divergent practical philosophies.

it was exhilerating, in that there was so much there to be teased out via paddle-wheel pump or lever or PID device.
it was demoralizing, in that it might as well have been a yemen, a guat, a yirg and a kopi luwak emanating from these groupheads, so wildy across the spectrum did the taste and mouthfeel and aroma present themselves. if there is an essence to a coffee (and there almost certainly is), then who had found it?

my handles of choice: the riviera lever, newly dusted off and toted to this event because sarkis already had an isomac almost identical to my own. the cypriot’s tay-AH, it must be said, it a bit hotter in the boiler and more stable in the pump pressure. the blogbrother brought his catering vetrano from chicago, tricked out with an external flojet pump, monster portable intake and outtake jugs, massive prosumer boiler, rotary internal pump, commercial steam wand and enough tangled, jiggly tubing to present an industrial portion of safety hazard. nate the finger had just installed his PID temp controller, dragged it from northern indiana, and was prone to shouting, without warning and almost every 15 minutes on the dot, “oh my! at what temperature doth mine silvia idle upon now, i wonder? AH HA! it’s STILL TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY TWO POINT ONE OH NINE DEGREES AT THE BOILER, which means an EXACT TWO HUNDRED SHARP AT THE GROUP HEAD!!!!” the boil-brained hugger mugger

there was toscano. there was home-roasted panama of morning-glory-on-acid stellar brightness. and, of course, there was plenty of the new bling. but most importantly, there was the sumatra, pulled from the machine that each barista knew best until there was a shot he found, well … good. yummy. optimal. the results:

* the isomac at roughly 200 fahrenheit. pulled ristretto. 17-gram dose. carob. thick, pungent, barely liquid pureed carob pod, stripped from the plant and dried in a suitcase. we knew this because the cypriot somehow managed to procure from the bowels of his closet an actual carob bean that he had stripped from a plant and brought home in a suitcase … for comparion’s sake. (barista: quick-n-dirty. artistically inclined. unafraid of crutches.)

* the riviera at the hottest she’d go (top of the boiler cycle, i’m guessing barely 196 to 198). short, old-skool lever shots, which is to say ristretto. smooth, low-crema, lever-like buttery body. bitter chocolate, cherries, cardamom. (barista: finicky. bloviating. prone to minute and arcane adjustments.)

* the vetrano, again pulled ristretto. updose, close to 20 grams. temp unstudied. completely different body — thin but resilient. transparent. wintergreen. (barista: attentive. schooled on a single blend. repetitive.)

* the silvia, at, uh, what temp was that? nate? can you dial in your temp? what does it say? oh, right. 200 sharp at the grouphead. 18-gram dose. ristretto. thicker body than the vetrano for sure. pungent thyme and rosemary. someone added a dash of milk and it became … crabapple candy. (barista: thoughtful. newbie. uber-taste-based.)

* the riviera, again, it being the most finicky of the lot. faster pull, close to a full ounce of volume for the little lady. minty apple. durable dark chcocolate aftertase.


a highly subjective and meaningless exercise? why, yes! also the best rabbit hole this blog can imagine for memorial day meandering. frankly, it left a lot to think about, a lot to practice. and now that it’s over, we might just cup that sumatra. you know, to see what’s really there.