25 September 2007

New Espresso Machine Update

Originally uploaded by Christopher Bailey
So things have been continuing to improve in terms of my shots out of the new espresso machine. I've been getting more consistent and higher overall level of shots these days. A few things I'm finding important (some of this is obvious, well documented, etc., some slightly different, etc.)...

  • The grind is super important. I haven't been making hardcore truly micro adjustments yet (I haven't sat down and pulled zillions of shots in a row to experiment at that level yet), but I am making smaller adjustments and dialing things each day, etc.

  • The freshness of the beans makes a huge difference! This may seem obvious, but I'm finding that I now won't even bother with anything that isn't dated, and current

  • The roast of the beans is critical as well. Anything "over roasted" (extra dark and oily), is just pointless for me. I've yet to pull a good cup with one of those, and I have no interest in them it seems, since they seem to lose the caramel and subtle flavors, and enhance the roast/smoky flavor. As I've known, but now proved further, I too am in the "Northern Italian" camp for bean choice.

  • I've had great success using a grounds distribution technique I saw at Wandering Goat: I use the side of the palm of my hand to distribute the grounds, and mostly just back and forth, but ensuring that I get a really even distribution, and proper amount of grinds.

  • Better on my tamp pressure, and more consistent. Don't tamp the crap out of it, do indeed stick to the ~30lbs force, which is not as much as it seems.

Right now I'm awaiting arrival of my bottomless/crotchless portafilter, as well as a custom handmade tamper from Thor Tampers.

The best shot I've made to date is from Zoka Paladino beans, later in their life (probably about 10 days I think). Great taste, and then brilliant aftertaste, with the effect on your tongue the same as a wine with heavy tannins (sort of drys it out), and superb chocolate flavors coming out. This is pretty cool because usually Zoka is more on the smoky side for me, so this was a real transition. The shot in this picture used Vivace Dolce.

24 September 2007

Installing Ruby MySQL Gem with MacPorts MySQL

Blogging this more for my own record, but maybe others will find it useful... Tonight I was having a hard time getting the MySQL Ruby Gem installed on a new MacBook Pro. I have installed Ruby, Rails, RubyGems, MySQL, etc. via MacPorts (or via the Ruby that was installed via MacPorts). Anyway, this is the command that finally got it to work:

sudo gem install mysql -- --with-mysql-include=/opt/local/include/mysql5 --with-mysql-lib=/opt/local/lib/mysql5 --with-mysql-config=/opt/local/lib/mysql5/bin/mysql_config

Update: as I mention in my comment below (updating here in case folks don't read the comments), when doing this on Leopard/MacOS X 10.5, I needed to change it to:

sudo env ARCHFLAGS="-arch i386" gem install mysql -- --with-mysql-include=/opt/local/include/mysql5 --with-mysql-lib=/opt/local/lib/mysql5 --with-mysql-config=/opt/local/lib/mysql5/bin/mysql_config

12 September 2007

My New Espresso Setup

My new espresso setup
Originally uploaded by Christopher Bailey
Today I finally got to getting the new espresso machine all setup, in its final (for now?) resting place, and started to pull some shots. So far, average, but I'm just starting to learn to dial in the grinder, tamping, shot duration; and I'm not using a coffee I've liked that much (but it was free with the purchase, and I figured I might as well start out with something I didn't mind wasting a lot of shots of :) Anyway, all the pictures are here:


Initial impressions... First, I was pissed for a short while, because the machine didn't work out of the box! It didn't heat up properly. I called tech support, and they pointed me to instructions on how to reset the Hi Limit on the temperature. Did that to no avail. Then, as I simply looked around the insides of the machine, I saw a friggin wire was not connected! It was just off the terminal (used those nice plastic enclosed flat connectors), so it was real obvious where it went. Plugged that in, and voila, everything good now. Phew. Bad start though.

Getting past that, holy shite... The first thing you notice is the weight! Super heavy: 61 pounds! The other thing that simply rocks is the sheer amount of metal, the entire thing is stainless steel, or brushed steel (the internals of the drip tray are brushed metal, seems like everything else is stainless). It is incredibly beautiful at the same time as being totally kick ass industrial.

Next, nice big steam wand, dedicated hot water wand (very convenient for warming cups), burly lever action, heavy portafilter with E61 grouphead, and simple to use (mechanically - putting aside the art and science of pulling a perfect shot). On to the actual espresso...

So, first I ran a bunch of pre-ground Illy through that I had from buying the an Illy cup collection (No Water, No Coffee). That simply gave me a feel for pulling a shot, but the results sucked (minimal, crappy crema). After a half dozen of those, I fired up the new Macap MC4 doserless grinder. I filled it up with Malabar Gold, as that came for free with the machine, and while this may seem odd to some, it was a roast I hadn't liked much in the past. I figured I might as well waste a bunch of something I didn't care much for, while I started tuning the grinder, etc. Instantly I was at least getting crema, and better shot times (I was pulling doubles for all these, so approx 25 seconds).

After a couple, I started futzing with the grind setting, dialing it finer, to slow the shots down a bit, and thicken things up. I'm still playing, but I can at least pull something I find reasonable to drink. I will by no means claim to be pulling stellar shots at this point. It's at least thicker flavor and such than my super-auto, but it's definitely not honey yet.

I haven't even touched steaming yet, and probably won't for some time

Finally, I'm reading David Schomer's book (from what I understand, THE reference). I'm not too far in yet, but so far it's an easy, and seemingly good read, and I assume I'll learn a ton.

All in all, the journey has started. Interestingly, I recently found out that the "Best Coffee School" is right here in Eugene. That's the actual name of the place, and apparently people from all over the world come to get schooled here. They offer courses that range from basics, up to the longest course which trains you to run your own cafe and on the last/graduation day, the class runs their cafe.

06 September 2007

First Day of Being an Indi

Yesterday was my first day of being an "Indi", as in an independent contractor/web worker/having my own company, etc.  I'm working on some contracts, started the process on forming an LLC, etc.  I decided to use MyCorporation.com for the LLC formation, to lessen the amount I need to do.  They called me this morning to say everything was in order, and they're submitting my forms, etc.  I also bought the .com and .net domain names for the new company (name forthcoming, once I ensure the LLC goes through).  

I now need to get the logo worked on, bank account, and AMEX card, finish evaluating hosting providers and so on.  I plan to be building a few web apps of my own, with hopes that I can grow that into what makes my living, but will also be working part time for a company to start off (and have a guaranteed source of income).  I'm loving this already...

03 September 2007

Early September Sunsets

Originally uploaded by Christopher Bailey
We very frequently get amazing sunsets here at our house in Eugene. Tonight's was another great one, and while I decided late to get my camera out, still got a few decent images.

Here's the collection of five that I got tonight.

New Espresso Machine and Grinder

I'm finally stepping up to very serious espresso machine (and likely selling my super-auto).  I just purchased an Expobar Brewtus II machine.  My understanding is that this is the creme de la creme of machines, unless you can shell out over $4000 for a La Marzocco GS/3, which is the ultimate home machine (and would actually kick the ass of many of the machines used in cafes and so on).  

For a grinder, I finally decided on a Macap MC4C83R Doserless.  The big learning point was about going doserless, which is the way to go for a home machine, because you don't pull shots constantly, and thus extra grounds would get left in a doser, going stale quickly.  I looked at various grinders and discussed a lot with cafe folks I trusted, friends who'd researched it, a few key blogs, CoffeeGeek, Chris Coffee (or specifically Chris, from Chris Coffee), etc.  The doserless Rocky is the usual starting point, but various reasons led me away.  First, the finish/appearance.  Sure, that's not the most important point, but when you have a beautiful chrome machine, you don't want a black, plastic grinder sitting next to it.  Second, it's burrs won't last as long, and aren't as good as those of a Macap or Mazzer.  How about a Mazzer Mini?  Well, they have a doser, and the doserless one, the Mini E, or Mini Electric costs $700 - so you are basically paying more than $200 MORE to go doserless (when in fact, you'd think you'd go less for not having a doser (although it does have extra electronics I guess).  The Macaps rival the Mazzers in grind quality, so no hesitation there.

I also picked up a Bumper tamper, knock box, and tamper stand, and some cleaning supplies, etc.  All this stuff should arrive this week, so I'm pretty excited.  

01 September 2007

Eugene Restaurant Review: Marché

I had been told that Eugene had a lot of great restaurants. We've been here for a few months now, and I hadn't really felt that Eugene had lived up to that, in fact, I'd been fairly disappointed so far. Tonight changed that in a big way. My wife, parents, and I had dinner at Marché.  

Dinner was superb!  All of us thoroughly enjoyed it.  The atmosphere was great - clean, crisp, yet warm, and relatively casual.  We had reservations and were seated promptly at a nice corner table.  Our waitress was great, and was helpful with the wine choices.  She knew the wines on their list quite well, as well as knew California vs. Oregon characteristic differences and other points that helped.  

We started off with some great cocktails, and placed our order:
  • My mom: Heirloom tomato and goat cheese salad, side of chard to split with my dad, and the fresh, Chinook salmon.
  • My dad: Heirloom tomato and goat cheese salad, and the pork chops.
  • My wife: Trio of bruschetta for appetizer, and then she went for the heirloom tomato salad, side of onion rings, and side of beans with bleu cheese, for her entrée.
  • Myself: Breaded/fried oysters, and the duck.
First off, the heirloom tomato salad was absolutely outstanding, all of us couldn't stop raving.  The tomatoes were perfect, the goat cheese was outstanding, and at the proper temperature, and the light dressing was killer (so good we asked how they made it, and plan to try to reproduce it at home :)  I ate a chunk of my wife's salad, and again, just stellar.
The fried oysters were ok, and are something sort of unusual for me anyway.  I think slightly lacking in flavor, but honestly, with all the other awesome food we had, it was fine, and we ate them all.

As for the entree's, all of them were excellent.  My mom loved her salmon, and I tried the pork which was very good - very juicy and tender, so often restaurants dry out pork, but not at all in this case.  Also, the grilled peaches that went with it were a really great match, and a nice change from the the more typical apples.  

The duck I had was hands down the best duck I've had in as long as I can recall.  I don't order duck all that often, but had it recently in the Bay area, and it was pretty average on that occasion.  The duck came sliced, rare, with a extremely tasty crust around the edges, and in the most wonderful sauce!  Everyone was going nuts for the sauce, and in fact, we had them bring a little extra bowl for dipping the onion rings, as we found that a great combo :)  The sauce was the perfect amount too - by no means swimming in it, but also, enough to coat some of the potatoes and chard.

Speaking of chard, yes, we had a lot, given two of our entrees came with it, and we had two sides.  It was so darn good though that we ate nearly all of it, and took the remainder home.  Perfectly cooked, great seasoning, oh, just so good.  I wish I had more room, as I'd have finished it off.

Finally, we managed to save enough room to have some dessert.  My dad and I split the cheese plate, and my wife had the creme brulee.  First, thank you Marché for not putting berries in the creme brulee!  Very good.  The cheese plate had a small serving of the same goat cheese used on the heirloom tomato salad, and a Camembert I particularly liked.  Given the intent for this to be a dessert for one person, it was a good portion, but since we split it, I'd probably have liked to have one more cheese (not that our stomachs needed it!).  We also had some espresso.

The food was so good, I almost forgot we had wine.  Aside from a glass of malbec we sent back (and indeed, the waitress had told us it wasn't the best), the cab was good.  We had wound up going with just wine by the glass, as honestly, their wine prices are quite high - even by California standards.  They had a fair number of good wines, but with cocktails, and the prices of the wine, we just decided to skip it.  I guess that would be about my only knock.  Aside from that, outstanding.  Definitely the best meal I've had in Eugene, and Marché gets my vote as the best restaurant in town (that I've been to so far anyway). I would highly recommend it.

Update: I also posted this review here on Yelp. I'm finding Yelp more useful for restaurant reviews than say Eugene Weekly's food thing.