Newbies Starter Guide

Know how

Okay. You got your machine, or you are considering to get one.

The picture above of espresso flowing out like a nose bleed is what you want to get, and you thought it requires some fascinating skills to achieve.
Not really.

Important

It is important to understand your coffee.  Buy beans that suit your palette.
Do not overcomplicate yourself and always let your taste buds be the judge.

Recommended Accessories

You will need a grinder and an espresso machine of course.

Below are other items that you should consider:

1. A 58mm tamper (Only applies for the machines sold at Fine Coffee Company)
2. A 350ml or 500ml milk pitcher for making milk recipes, sharp sprouts are easier for latte art
3. A thermometer for frothing milk
4. A timer
5. Espresso measuring cup

Others items that are optional but selling very well:
1. A knock box, the Bezzera drawers are highly recommended.
2. Bottomless portafilter if you need to study the flow pattern
3. 14g or 20g basket if you want to pack less or more powder

If you had purchased a machine from us, we should have given you some cleaning agents to start off.

Let’s begin

To help you guys, we gathered some of the better videos we found online. Methods that we think are practical, efficient and explain clearly.

If you want to ignore all the long talks and just want to watch a video?

You can refer to this video from Bezzera:

Below are more details that can help new owners.

1. Use the right water.

VERY IMPORTANT:
Before you use ANY espresso machine, be it automatic or a manual machine. You should always ensure that you are using soft water that is free of calcium and magnesium, else it’s like cancer in the machine sticking and spreading to everywhere. You will need to attach a water softener or have the water softened in advance before the water is fed to the machine. Not all types of water filters could soften water, check with your filter supplier to be sure.

To learn more about why and how to do water softening: Click here

You will have to replace your softener occasionally to make sure that they remain effective. Hard water can cause serious damages to any espresso machines and can lead to all sorts of failure. The process of descaling can also cause irreversible damages to the machine as well. As such, it is better to prevent scale formation from happening in the first place.

2. Read the instructions and keep yourself safe.

Be careful of hot surfaces and steam.
Make sure all hoses that are connected to your water tank are not tangled or pinched. If there are any return hoses, they must be inside the tank.

<Important>
For spring lever machine like the Bezzera Strega, always keep your head away from the direction where the lever will spring up. Be extra careful during the first use, especially when the grind setting for your grinder isn’t set right.

If nothing is holding back water in the portafilter, or it doesn’t hold enough resistance, it will spring back strongly! So set your grinder to grind much finer before using.

3. Leave your espresso machine’s pressure settings alone

We always heard from users that they wish to tune their pressure or adjust some settings because they heard from somewhere that it work better that way.

Different manufacturers and different models have different designs of hydrodynamics for their boiler. Their heat exchangers and configurations should have different algorithms or calculations to how it will thermally stabilise.

We will suggest sticking to default settings and work on calibrating the grinder to get the optimal result. If your coffee don’t taste like what you want no matter how you tune, the problem is in the coffee you choose. Change it!

4. Purchase the right cups

If you get the wrong sizes, the proportions will be wrong.

For espresso cup size, avoid getting above 80ml capacity.
For standard lattes or cappuccinos, avoid getting above 180ml.

Coffee is not a notably hot drink; a freshly made latte’s temperature is only at around 60 degrees and can reach room temperature in minutes. Warm thick cups can help to last the heat a little longer though.


5. Use the right beans

Get beans that are fresh enough and properly packed that can protect the beans from oxidation, humidity and light.

Always keep your bag of beans away from heat.

Whether you  store the coffee in the hopper or not, it is better to dump the first few grammes of coffee every day. As those are left behind from the last use and had oxidised.

Also know the general profile of beans.

Roast level:
Darker roasts – More bitter, less acidic, more CO2 which leads to thicker body and crema.
Ligher roasts – Less bitter, more acidic, less CO2 which leads to thinner body and crema.
As you can see, they are totally inversed!

Amount of coffee used:
Darker roasts – You can use lesser beans of 14-15 grammes to produce 2 espressos at a go.
Ligher roasts –  Since the body is thinner, you may need to use more coffee, 16-22 grammes to achieve a thicker crema.

Take note of this interesting fact that robustas are good stabilisers which gives you a nice persistent body with very thick crema.  The caveat is poor quality robustas are often bitter and can release more astringents during extraction.

Bottomline is, if you hate acidic coffee, avoid light roast! If you are a cremahead, go for dark roasts and robustas. If you are looking for unique flowery and fruity notes, then go for light roasts.


6. Set your grinder

If your extraction don’t look right, and if it’s not due to the coffee used. It’s more to do with your grind setting. It doesn’t need a lot of pressure to produce crema, so that’s not the cause in most cases.

The first time a user set his grinder is always the hardest and you will have to set the resistance from the coffee to be just right. Too little resistance and the coffee flows out quickly with very thin viscosity. Too much resistance, and the espresso comes out in drips or not at all.

How to set the grinders?

Refer to the following videos:

It is also important to understand the relation between grind level and weight.

The finer is the grind setting; the lighter is the dose.

Illustrated from this video:

The video shows that the user tuned it much finer at 0:40 , the dose has a lighter weight.

It is not practical and necessary to achieve weight accuracy as the condition of the beans constantly change from oxidation. The user must actively tune accordingly, the easiest way is to increase resistance by adding more coffee than tuning the grind setting, as the coffee get stale.

For Quamar or similar grinders, you can also refer to this.

7. Tamping

The part most people think is complex, which is not.

The most important thing about tamping is not the weight you push onto your coffee. Is about how you keep the coffee flattened evenly.
If it is uneven, coffee will channel out from the thinner side first, leaving the thicker side unused.

If your basket is of the right size, you should not need to do any distribution techniques to push in the excess powder.

A video on distribution:

Videos on tamping:

P.S:
1. A convex tamper typically makes it easier for new users on a double basket.
2. If the puck is wet and muddy, there’s nothing wrong with the extraction or what you were doing. This normally happen for very fine grind setting and with very little dose amount. As excess water that remains in the brewing chamber can’t absorb into the used coffee puck.

8. Frothing milk

If you fail in latte art, it’s alright.
Latte art is wholly for decoration purpose and won’t improve the taste.

If it’s done incorrectly, it may cause baristas to be inconsistent in the foam proportion that directly affects the taste.

Pour from high, will pour the liquid milk out. Bring your spout closer and out goes the foam.

Videos about frothing milk

Videos on some basics to latte art.

Common mistakes for frothing

For a cappuccino, you will use less milk, half of what you use for a latte. During the frothing , you will have to stretch the milk to at least double its original size. A cappuccino should be a very foamy drink. The end result should be totally frothy, not much milk in liquid form left.

9. Taste your coffee

The most important step.

One of the biggest mistakes in learning how to make a good espresso is we judge too much on how it looks.
This is no surprise as the brain absorbs 85% of what the eyes see as a message. As a result, there’s seemingly a huge assumption by many that espresso has to be as thick and dense as possible. This is often not true, and it might create an espresso that is too overwhelming for our tastebuds to accept.

This visual representation can also be deceived by using coffee that had not degassed enough, this can create a seemingly thicker layer of crema. Coffee made in this way will not have a well-developed profile of aromatic notes until the ageing process is complete.

To taste the fruit of your effort, we will suggest that you first smell your espresso. Give it a swirl and break the crema, the smell should be different as the crema breaks, as the aromatic notes trapped under the cream release. Then taste it, and see if it matches the fragrance and suitable to your palate. The bitterness will slowly dissipate and might leave an aftertaste of sweetness.

As everyone’s taste sensitivity is different and deteriorates as one age. The expectation for a good espresso might differ between different drinkers.
A classic espresso should be balanced in bitterness and sourness, round with a complex spectrum of aromatic notes. Almost like wine.

You should also always try the coffee in your favorite recipe. If you are a latte drinker, there’s really not much purpose in trying it in its espresso form as they taste really different.

10. Tuning

If the coffee doesn’t taste right, you can adjust the grinder to transform the taste a little.
By adjusting the grind size, the amount of dose will change the flow rate of the extraction.
If it’s too bitter, consider making the grind size coarser to increase the flow rate a little, and end the extraction earlier. Vice versa if it’s too sour.

You can also adjust the duration of the shot a little to adjust the intensity, particularly for lattes.

11. Cleaning

Daily cleaning like backflushing and cleaning the milk wands should not take you more than a minute.

Daily 

For E61 or BZ grouphead:

Backflushing with water using the blind filter

For Bezzera Strega:

Pull the lever down to flush the screen.
The lever will flick back with force upon releasing it back, so hold the lever and return the position with care.

For small usage:
Once after the last cup
For commercial usage:
Once after the morning peak and once after the last cup

Occasionally

For E61 or BZ grouphead:

Backflushing with grouphead detergent

For small usage: 
BZ Grouphead: Preferably 1-2 times a month
E61 Grouphead: Prefereably 2-4 times a month
For commercial usage:
BZ Grouphead: Preferably once every 50 extractions or at least once a week
E61 Grouphead: Preferably once every 100 extractions or at least once every 3 days

Other cleaning

For espresso machine

Shower screen and gasket
Pull down or unscrew the shower screen and gasket to clean it, do it while the machine is cold. You may need to replace the grouphead gasket every 1 to 2 years. You can also replace the screen if you think it’s necessary.

The links provided are for Bezzera machines, for Expobar and most other brands, use these: Expobar E61 screen, Expobar E61 gasket, Generic E61 gasket 

Steam wand
You are supposed to purge the wand before using and after using. Wipe off any milk on the wand immediately. You can also use a produce like the Pulymilk to clean the wand more thoroughly.

Flush your boiler regularly

One of the things that we recommend users to do regularly is to empty the boiler and renew the tank with fresh filtered water. If you use the steam wand a lot, then you might want to do it more often.

For small usage: 
Preferably once every 2 to 4 months
For commercial usage:
Preferably at least once a month.

This will renew the water in the boiler so mineral won’t be as concentrated and limescale made of calcium sulfates won’t form easily.

To flush your steam boiler, simply heat up your machine till it builds enough pressure. Switch off the machine then purge all the water using the water wand. Then refill the boiler with a fresh tank of clean softened water.

Here’s a good video from whole latte love on how to drain a heat exchanger machine.

If your machine is using a vibration pump, one thing you got to take note of is you should do it slowly while topping up the boiler, so the pump won’t overwork. We will suggest letting the pump work for one minute and rest for another minute before going for another minute of work.

If you had not flushed your boiler for a long time, don’t be alarm that the water is a little brownish.

For coffee grinder

Use a grinder cleaner like Pulycaff Pulygrind, it’s not a critical step but recommended to do it once a month

For Bezzera BB005 Grinder, you can remove the nozzle by removing a screw. Which allows you to vacuum the nozzle occassionally.

Refer to the cleaning videos by Pulycaff in the products page in our website for more information.

Important!

Many users kill their pump by overcleaning their machine.
Vibration pumps have a duty cycle of 2 minutes of work, need to rest for 1 minute. Some users like to hold for too long and clean too much, that can over-exert the pump and kill it.

The above steps are mainly for cleaning the grouphead, wand and the grinder. For the machine’s internal, the most important step for maintenance is to still use a water softener.

Overall

From the number of people who came to the experimental room, and feedbacks from new users.

Most people have no issues with the espresso extraction part, except setting up the grinder for the first time.
No problem with frothing milk, except for doing latte art.
Of course, if you still have problems, you are welcome to visit our experimental room, a free academy for our users and baristas.
We teach everything except latte art.

Disclaimer: Do note that this guide may not be comprehensive enough to cover all models and all issues, specifically the spring levers and single boilers.
Users are to take the guide as a brief introduction and should still adhere to the advice listed in the user instructions.

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