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Confessions of a Lever Espresso Newbie Introduction

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Almost two and a half years ago, I signed up for this WordPress account because it seemed like it would be a handy thing to have lying around. I just never came up with anything appropriate to do with it – until now.

Several years back I started roasting my own coffee. I don’t remember any longer just how I got drawn into this, but the idea of really fresh coffee combined with learning something new kept me going. Eventually we graduated from the Cuisinart Grind’n’Brew drip coffee maker we had been using to a Gaggia Synchrony Digital, a super-automatic espresso machine that grinds, tamps, and brews single cups of espresso, then discards the used coffee puck, all at the press of a button. Mostly we use it to make caffe crema, or what’s called a ‘long black’ in places. This is basically pulling 6 oz. of water through about 9 grams of finely ground coffee. It’s a little like an espresso shot, but not quite as much ‘essence of coffee’, which makes for a nice morning cup.

There are a few serious coffee websites out there, and as part of the home roasting thing, I had been hanging around on several of them, most notably Coffee Geek and Home-Barista. Mostly, I lurked, picking up stuff from their roasting forums and not reading much in any of the others. Glances into the serious espresso forums showed a level of gear lust that equalled a number of the music sites I frequent, with people frequently developing what is referred to as ‘G.A.S.’ (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and upgrading to ever bigger, more expensive, and (presumably) better setups. There was also a certain amount of disdain expressed for those who were using gear that was somehow perceived as ‘lesser’, like cheap blade coffee grinders, entry level burr grinders (both of which I had), cheap steam-driven espresso machines, and even the super-automatics like the one I owned. There seemed to be a certain level of ‘boys and their toys’ posturing that was a bit of a turn off (although a closer study would eventually reveal that, as with many things on the web, it’s a small handful of folks who behave like that and most are just regular, friendly, helpful types), and I generally skimmed over those forums and stuck to the roasting ones, not wanting to take the time to deal with the s/n ratio.

Recently, though, I started looking through the espresso forums a little more closely and found myself drawn to the ones dealing with manual, lever-pull espresso machines. The posts there seemed a little quirkier, a little less driven by the desire to have to coolest, newest gear, and more towards a overall philosophy of coffee, so to speak, that was about process and preparation as much as outcome, about mindset as much as mechanics.

As a musician and writer, I’m interested in process – how we move from a creative impulse to a finished piece. As someone with an interest in the meditative experience and the influence of ritual on centeredness and mindfulness (to combine Quaker and Zen concepts. I’m nothing if not a intellectual synthesist), I’m endlessly interested in the variety of things humans do to find ‘the zone’. Some of these folks were talking about something almost like a mystic path to knowledge. It is, of course, entirely possible that I was reading more into this than is actually there, but it appealed to me enough that I began the search for a lever machine of my very own.

Next time: Finding Clarabelle

Written by gvdub

March 19, 2009 at 7:13 AM

Posted in Coffee