superbarista

blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

refurbished La San Marco makes nectar of the gods

It's 5:00 PM and I'm supposed to be leaving the office. Or I should at least be working on distributing these new carrier health insurance applications to our employees. But is that interesting in the least? NOOO... it's not. However, writing about an experience I had with a recently reconditioned (by Dennis, our Espresso Wizard) La San Marco espresso machine, at Banjoe's Cafe in the Continental Concourse of the Cleveland Hopkins Airport is interesting. So I'm doing that instead. I just got back from a follow up visit from Banjoe's, which is why this machine is on my mind. They opened today!!! Hooray for them!

Last week, I visited Banjoe's, before they opened, so that I could do a sort of pre-opening inspection for them. The espresso machine was recently installed and the place was in its pre-opening state of disaster, typical of every restaurant in the week before it opens. My objective was to adjust the grind on their espresso machine and to give Dave and Ben some final tips on how to use the machine. They had already completed some extensive training at the Phoenix Coffee Roastery and also at our Superior Avenue Cafe, so they were already familiar with the basics of espresso preparation. I was just there to impart the finishing touches.

This was my first time working with a La San Marco machine. I noticed that the portafilters were exceptionally deep. I noticed that the portafilters had three ears rather than two, and nicely slanted handles. I noticed that the steam pressure in the steam wand was controlled by a lever rather than a knob. The dosing lever on the grinder was smooth and springy-feeling. All of these features combined to give me a solid, confident feeling about this machine. Usually when I use a new machine, I feel awkward until I make friends with it, but I was comfortable with this machine immediately. The grind at first was a bit too coarse, and the shots brewed in about 17 seconds. But they still tasted acceptable. I adjusted the grind one click finer, and the shot time changed to about 21 seconds. The shot tasted good. One more click of adjustment, and the shot time only increased to about 23 seconds (I was shooting for 25). But the taste of the shot continued to improve. The final few shots I brewed were some of the best I had tasted in a while. Gotta love Phoenix's dark espresso.

The miraculous thing about this is that it is unheard of for a machine to make acceptable shots when the grinder is two clicks out of adjustment. WTF??? On this La San Marco, I would say that the espresso flavor profile improved by about 10% by having the grind and tamp adjusted correctly. On other espresso machines, in other installations, having the grind adjusted incorrectly (which is unfortunately common) results in shots losing at 50-75% of their flavor quality. I can get really excited about a TRADITIONAL espresso machine that produces a good shot of espresso even when the operator is not on top of their game. Maybe this is why Starbucks used La San Marco traditional machines for so many years? Now they have switched to fully automatic machines, which of course are even more consistent, but I am still wedded to the idea of having traditional machines in our stores. Someone has to uphold the art and craft of espresso-dom. Clearly, Starbucks isn't interested in that job anymore.

So you just might see some La San Marco machines at the Phoenix stores. Julie? Ya with me? I think I can get some used ones for us that we can refurbish...

3 Comments:

Blogger danielle.trussoni said...

I love that you have traditional machines in your stores. There is something great about the variation in espresso shots. It also gives the barista the center stage: a great barista will give you a great shot of espresso. I have to say, I think Starbucks (or at least the one here, in Providence) has really bad espresso. It tastes watery. I have to blame the automatic machines. OR could it be their blend?

9:53 AM, May 10, 2006  
Blogger 3801 Stone Way Gang said...

Yeah, cheers from a fellow San Marco lover!

7:34 PM, July 14, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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2:40 AM, March 26, 2009  

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