[Homeroast] Portafilter in or out?

Sandy Andina sandraandina at me.com
Tue Sep 27 14:42:40 CDT 2016


I’ve been advised both ways: keep the PF in to keep it hot, store it outside to avoid gasket wear (and then lock it in and run a water shot or two to warm it up). But I’m not a pro, and have a prosumer machine. I lock mine in when I fire up the machine and take it off when I shut down. (Lately, I’ve been trying to avoid running up my electric bill, as I no longer pull shots all day). And since my machine is too big & heavy for me to service myself other than backflush cleaning (unlike my old Silvia, it’s a HX machine that should really be professionally descaled if at all), so I have it picked up and serviced annually. If I were curious, I’d have asked in a non-judgmental way why the shop-owner’s PFs were not locked in. 

But I draw the line at two truly amateurish practices: grinding and even pulling shots in advance.  At a coffeehouse where I used to sing (name, town & state omitted to protect the clueless), I stopped in the morning after the gig for a pick-me-up before heading home to Chicago. I ordered a cappuccino and was aghast to see a row of shot glasses with already-pulled (and crema-less) shots lined up on the shelf above the machine. I requested that my drink be prepared with a freshly-pulled shot, and the owner seemed like I was asking her to use a machine set aside just for me. I also didn’t hear the grinder whir, and looked across the counter only to discover that not only wasn’t she holding the portafilter beneath the doser, she was scooping ground coffee out of a jar into it and not even tamping. I asked why she was grinding beans and pulling shots so far in advance, and she replied, “Efficiency. Saves time.” I scanned the room—at 9 am, my singing partner & I were the only customers. (This, at the only espresso bar in town). She anticipated my un-asked question, and continued, “Everyone wants their cappuccino from the machine at the gas station, because they say it’s quicker, cheaper and tastes sweeter….and my daughter is usually behind the counter and doesn’t know how to do all that fancy stuff.” (Said daughter was 14). She grudgingly made my drink from scratch (plunging the steam wand all the way into the milk pitcher—containing 2%, which was all they stocked—creating bubble-bath froth). It was horrible, though I didn’t grimace.  Not surprisingly, it went out of business less than two months later (citing shakedowns by BMI as the reason). 

When I was young, naive and living in Seattle’s U. District in the early-to-mid ‘70s, I used to frequent the only place in the entire city to get espresso (as opposed to flip-drip stuff in Italian-oid restaurants), Last Exit On Brooklyn. I’d order flavored coffee drinks capped with whipped cream. And I recall (with horror now) that the baristas would scoop ground coffee from a big bowl, covered with Saran Wrap, on the counter. Hard to believe that Seattle, much less a university neighborhood, used to be an “espresso desert.” (This was back when it had the only two Starbucks stores in the country, which sold only coffees, teas, chocolate, spices and home coffee-making supplies—mostly Chemex & Melitta and blade grinders).
> On Sep 27, 2016, at 9:21 AM, John Nanci <john at chocolatealchemy.com> wrote:
> 
> That's slightly different then :)
> 
> But I still wouldn't have gone down that road.  I've never found a shop that will change anything.  I'll talk shop but never make suggestions unless I'm asked outright without leading questions.
> 
> John
> 
> 
> On 9/27/2016 7:14 AM, Larry Dorman wrote:
>> I didn't just jump in and say "Hey man, your coffee kind of sucks and you
>> should really do 'x'."  :)  I spent some time with pleasantries and listing
>> multiple things I really liked about the shop.  At first he thought I was
>> an artist getting ready to ask if I could put something up.  Maybe I caught
>> him at a bad time, but he basically prompted me to get to the point when I
>> lead into asking if I could provide some feedback on the coffee.  I do like
>> the idea of asking about the portafilters as a soft way to have that
>> particular conversation.
>> 
>> I have a nice home setup, so I have no need to go to this shop.  However,
>> my wife and I go there sometimes just to get out of our house to change the
>> environment and talk.  If I'm going to be there taking up their space then
>> I want to be a paying customer and I want to enjoy my drink.  :)  There's
>> also something about supporting the local coffee shop that is appealing to
>> me.
>> 
>> Thanks for the feedback!
>> 
>> On Tue, Sep 27, 2016 at 8:52 AM, John Nanci <john at chocolatealchemy.com>
>> wrote:
>> 
>>> I guess I would have been offended too.
>>> 
>>> I would call both of you wrong.
>>> 
>>> I personally think you should have asked if he minded input and/or if he
>>> would explain why he didn't keep the PF in.
>>> 
>>> I think it is bunk not to keep the PF in for the reasons you mention.
>>> 
>>> I would simply not order coffee there.
>>> 
>>> Where I live, I have two places I will order coffee of any sort 1) because
>>> they do it as I expect 2) because it is good (listed in no particular order
>>> of importance).
>>> 
>>> John
>>> 
>>> 
>>> 
>>> On 9/27/2016 6:36 AM, Larry Dorman wrote:
>>> 
>>>> So...  there is a local coffee shop (Garland, TX) that has a decent
>>>> location and aesthetic, but they are lacking in one critical area which is
>>>> the quality of their coffee.  I actually dumped half of an americano from
>>>> this shop once because it just wasn't enjoyable.  I like good coffee, but
>>>> I
>>>> do have some tolerance so for me to dump something is a statement.
>>>> 
>>>> Anyway, I'd love to help this shop get better.  When I was in there this
>>>> weekend I noticed that they keep their portafilters laying on a tray on
>>>> the
>>>> counter instead of in the group when not in use.  It happened that the
>>>> owner was in so I mentioned to him that he should keep them in the group
>>>> to
>>>> keep them hot and that it would improve the coffee.
>>>> 
>>>> I clearly offended the owner.  :(  His first response was to let me know
>>>> that he has four other award winning coffee shops.  His second response
>>>> was
>>>> to state that the manufacturer of the machine (La Spaziale.  I don't know
>>>> the model, but it's a small two-group machine.) recommends against keeping
>>>> the portafilters in the groups when not actively in-use.  His final
>>>> response was that it didn't matter because he trains his folks to run a
>>>> small amount water from the group through them before use.
>>>> 
>>>> This doesn't ring true with what I've learned and what seems logical to
>>>> me,
>>>> but I do want to learn if I'm out in left field.  I can't come up with any
>>>> harm in keeping the portafilters in the group.  I suppose if they're
>>>> locked
>>>> in tight then they *could* cause premature gasket wear.  However, if I
>>>> were
>>>> running a shop I'd have a plan for regular replacement regardless.
>>>> 
>>>> Otherwise, it seems to me that running a small amount of water through the
>>>> PF will only partially heat it... there is a lot of metal there and the
>>>> water is only going to heat the immediate area.  The commercial machine
>>>> should be able to handle running some water through the group, but that's
>>>> still kind of like doing a cooling shot which isn't recommended for a
>>>> dual-boiler machine.
>>>> 
>>>> So... was I wrong (from a technical aspect) to suggest to the owner that
>>>> he
>>>> keep the portafilters in the groups between uses?
>>>> 
>>>> The owner's contention was that he's just had some difficulty getting his
>>>> staff fully trained due to timing and turnover.  In fairness, I did get
>>>> another americano on this visit and it was fine.
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Peace & Song, 
Sandy Andina
www.sandyandina.com









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