So we bought our shop, no training or anything (we ain't gots the fundage). I've scoured the internets, learnt myself the "4 M's" of coffee preparation...I have cleaned our Astoria (CMA) 2-group thoroughly and we back flush it hourly, chemical back-flush every night with 2 seasoning pulls per group before we open...Since the machine has no discernible controls over the pressure & temp, the flow rate was our only control with the espresso machine. So the most control we have is over the grind. It took about 20 shots per grinder per head, but we got the right grind(s) for our blend to get a 23-25 second pull 1.5oz pull per 7 gram dose...We have two Mazzer grinders...We are also getting our beans (espresso blend and single origins) from a local source & never buy more than 5lbs at a time. We usually are out of the espresso within 10-12 days. The single origins we buy 2-3 lbs at a time, in 1 lb vacuum bags with the aeration hole. If anything that is blend or origin goes over 14 days, we set it aside for seasoning pulls...When beans get opened from their vacuum bags, those beans go into an air-tight container...

So I feel like I have a handle on making a quality coffee. At the very least, the local competition doesn't hold a candle...I have been making my own coffees & lattes at home way before we bought this joint and got my hands on a real espresso machine...I can bring milk to 165 in a microwave and froth it well enough to pour a heart...from a plastic friggin' cup...So having a real milk steaming apparatus has been fabulous...I still can't make fancy leaves, double hearts & other such yummy latte art goodness, but that looks to be a practiced art and I don't have a lot of practice time...

All that said, young lady walked in today and explained to my baby-momma (BM) that we are making our espresso drinks wrong. Young lady tells BM that she (young lady) works at starbux and that we should steam our milk first, then pull our espresso shot. Per starbux worker, espresso shots begin to bitter immediately and are overly bitter within 10 seconds. I've not come across this information before, and have never experienced this with the drinks I prepare for myself. My thought is, if we steam the milk first, we are going to loose a little bit of pressure for the shot. With that in mind, I pull the shot first and steam the milk after the shot is extracted, adding the milk to the shot...and dreaming of the day I can make pretties in the cup...

So who's correct, starbux lady or rookie coffee shop owner (me) and his loving BM?

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For sure you should steam your milk first. The 30-35 seconds between steaming the milk and finalising pulling the shot allows the milk to settle in the jug- it helps texture to make those pretties you are after. It also allows you a good level of crema to work with for latte art to bring out those rosetta. I understand your concerns but generally in a modern espresso machine you do not need to worry about losing pressure after steaming the milk for the shot. In an Astoria (and most other machines) the water for the shot comes not from the boiler itself, but from what is called a heat exchanger. The HX is like a mini chamber normally made from copper within the boiler. Boiler runs anywhere from 116 centigrade-121 centigrade- mainly for creating steam and/or water for hot tea. The actual pressure to drive the 9bar of water through the portafilter and coffee grnds comes from the procon rotary pump, not steam (boiler)pressure. Even in lever machines where there is no pump for the shot, stability and delivery of the shot comes from factors external (or somewhat external) to the boiler pressure.

For the other comments from the SBux re espresso bitterness, I would not take any notice. I had the fortune to meet the SB country manager here in Indo when we first opened our cafe biz in 03/04. He took one sip of our espresso and exclaimed it was "so bitter it was undrinkable". This was about the time my Italian machine people plus a Indie competition I entered our coffee in were saying exactly the opposite, along with our burgeoning customer base. Sweet in the cup. I am sorry, while I admire the training systems and branding of that company I put very little to no creadence into comments I get from SB employees (or ex employees) regarding coffee when I know we do it all- coffee to the cup- so much better.

Good luck to your and your loving BM. Sounds like you are really getting into it.
Excellent, thanks for the reply Alun. I've not had the pleasure of getting deep into the inner workings of the machine, so your post has been (very) educating. I keep my fingers crossed that none of those inner components are going to fail anytime soon...But if it does, at least it won't be a greasy mess like my usually wrench turning dilemmas.

And now I know that letting the milk settle a bit aids in texture...I usually give it a good bump or two, but never seem to be getting the textures I know I am looking for. Letting the milk rest while pulling the shot makes sense and I will be modifying drink prep techniques accordingly...I only have myself, the BM, and one employee to educate, so the brainwashing won't be too bad ;)...
No worries Tim, what type of Astoria is it?- a Gloria?, Argenta? You can actually open the top and quite easily adjust the pressurestat which controls boiler pressure on these machines. The pressure stat is the black box lefthand back of most machines (as the barista sees it). The older Astoria machines do not have direct temperature controls as you have mentioned. However by playing with the pressure stat you either increase or decrease boiler pressure which also affects the ambience temperature of the boiler water temperature...which also by default affects the water temperature inside the heat exchangers (the group water for coffee). Why this could be useful is playing around this way you can +/- your portafilter water delivery about 1.5 degrees either way- it is rudimentary but you can fine tune your water temperature for the best tasting coffee.
There was a discussion here a while ago about the infamous "10 second rule" that the starbies love to quote... it is BS. Meant to keep their associates from pulling lots of doubles and lining them up to get ready for a rush. If you have any doubts, split a double and enjoy half immediately, the other half a minute later.

Yes, letting the pitcher sit on the counter for 30 seconds will allow the bigger bubbles to float, making them easier to burst with a solid thump or two on the counter. Just make sure you swirl and fold that foam back into the milk once those bubbles are broken. The Astoria steamer is really powerful, and a bit of a challenge to get super-smooth milk with... you can do it though. Just make sure you stop bringing in air well before it gets warm, leaving yourself plenty of time in the whipping&smoothing phase.

Good luck.
engage the shot and start steaming the milk at the same time! Stop the shot at the correct timing and the steaming of milk should follow quickly (depending upon your steaming pressure I suppose).. It's all a bit tricky at first, but once you get into the swing of things, you won't need to let the espresso or the steamed milk sit (which will begin to separate, good if you're doing a capp, not so good for a latte), because they're done at pretty much the same time. good way to practice steaming and pulling at the same time.. use a DROP of dish soap in cold water, and it will act like milk. it's fun.
Tell me more about this soap practice method... My crew needs to practice but can't afford the milk for it beyond a couple pitchers each (which I send to the blender station or the kitchen depending on if it was scorched.
What is the size of pitcher, how much cold water, does the type of dish soap matter?
Any other practice tips?

cultiva guy said:
. good way to practice steaming and pulling at the same time.. use a DROP of dish soap in cold water, and it will act like milk. it's fun.
Thanks for a great tip on the soap-water! I will try that out tomorrow and forever employ it as a training exercise.
ART


cultiva guy said:
engage the shot and start steaming the milk at the same time! Stop the shot at the correct timing and the steaming of milk should follow quickly (depending upon your steaming pressure I suppose).. It's all a bit tricky at first, but once you get into the swing of things, you won't need to let the espresso or the steamed milk sit (which will begin to separate, good if you're doing a capp, not so good for a latte), because they're done at pretty much the same time. good way to practice steaming and pulling at the same time.. use a DROP of dish soap in cold water, and it will act like milk. it's fun.
Rocket said:
DO NOT USE WATER TO PRACTICE> It will explode, kinda. The expanding steam has little place to escape and comes out of the pitcher super fast.

This will happen if you get it close to the boiling point, but as long as you start with cold water and cut off when it gets hot you should be fine.

Agreed with Cultiva guy on the ideal sequence... you can and should get in the habit of doing both simultaneously. This way you can pour fully-integrated microfoamed milk into freshly-pulled espresso, which is best. Plus, once you get a good feel for how your steamer works, you can get a really nice rhythm going.

All I'd meant by the earlier post was that I'd rather have milk waiting on espresso than espresso waiting on milk. As Alun said there is no pressure consideration with most 2-group and larger commercial machines... they were built to pull shots and steam milk all day. So do the sequence that gives you the best drink.

Regarding practicing latte art... once you get your milk and espresso rock-solid, there's nothing that says you can't work on the techniques in the drinks you are making for your customers. The simple patterns take no longer to pour than you'd otherwise take to get your milk into the cup. There are hearts and rosettas under most of my to-go lids... most of the customers never even notice :). HOWEVER, this can be a bit of a distraction, and should be something you save for a time when your espresso and milk are perfect.

Another comment, aside from current discussion. If you are not already doing this, make sure you and your BM are getting out and drinking espressos and drinks made by others, especially any other top-notch shops you can get to. Even if you make solid espresso and drinks, its always good to taste what others are doing, just to see where you are. Many times this will reaffirm the quality that you are currently getting, but it will also occasionally turn your world upside-down. I'm of the opinion that if I don't periodically have my mind blown by someone else's espresso then I'm not getting out enough :).

Good luck.
I agree 100%, especially when you're busy, you should be multitasking espresso and milk. Scott Rao has a great video on the soapy water method (keeps your pitchers clean!) on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxAvYoymUbM It works awesome, although you don't get to taste the finished product.

As for the Sbux issue, would you let someone from burger king tell you how to grill a delicious hamburger? I strongly advise purchasing Rao's book, the professional baristas handbook It has a lot of information on what espresso is, as well as advise for workflow. Read it thoroughly and establish your systems and practices. Once you're confident with what you're doing (which should be sooner rather than later), you can justify your practices to those who criticize them and say, "thanks, but this is why I'm doing it this way" Good luck!

cultiva guy said:
engage the shot and start steaming the milk at the same time! Stop the shot at the correct timing and the steaming of milk should follow quickly (depending upon your steaming pressure I suppose).. It's all a bit tricky at first, but once you get into the swing of things, you won't need to let the espresso or the steamed milk sit (which will begin to separate, good if you're doing a capp, not so good for a latte), because they're done at pretty much the same time. good way to practice steaming and pulling at the same time.. use a DROP of dish soap in cold water, and it will act like milk. it's fun.
Pay really close attention to what Brady said: Get out to some shops that do it right!! This is crucial. This site is a great place for advice, but remember that it will vary from person to person. It is good to listen to each idea and trying it yourself to see what works and waht tastes good. I would also recommend hanging out at your regional barista competition and ask a lot of question of the competitors, companies with competitors, and judges. This community is full of professionals that love to share info. Good luck with everything!! Practice practice practice. Taste taste taste.
Alun: It is an Argenta, this one here, to be exact. I will be peeling the skin back to rebuild one of the steam valves asap, so I will be poking about and changing the pressure soon...

Jesse: That analogy is true on levels we don't even have to discuss. I added that book to my Amazon wishlist and will be watching that video right after I am done posting this...

Brady: I am eager to get out and try some of local shops, but time is tight during our start-up phase, but the BM has hit a couple spots for the baked goodies and our local roaster has given us positive marks. The BM is not a coffee drinker (something changed with her tummy-tum after she kicked the kid out the womb)...She loves the smell, though...And she figured out that her double-layer chocolate on chocolate cake from scratch was wayyyyy under-priced...She's the baker, I am the coffee maker :)...So I go up to the shop every morning, every lunch break, and after work (if I am not pulling a shift) to "test" the coffee, making sure it's up to my standards...

All: Thanks so much for the replies!! All have fantastic information and it is very reassuring for us to know that there is a community out their that does support us, even though our locals are not fully behind us just yet...No worries though, they will be :D... We'll be buying an extra bottle of dish soap this week ;)...
I tried to up the pressure per your instructions Alun. Nothing happens...either way I turn the screw, nothing happens...I turned it to the stop on both sides...Seems like an expensive issue :) ...

I did pour a leaf on purpose the other day...everyone's suggestions on steaming the milk have been bang on!

Alun Evans said:
No worries Tim, what type of Astoria is it?- a Gloria?, Argenta? You can actually open the top and quite easily adjust the pressurestat which controls boiler pressure on these machines. The pressure stat is the black box lefthand back of most machines (as the barista sees it). The older Astoria machines do not have direct temperature controls as you have mentioned. However by playing with the pressure stat you either increase or decrease boiler pressure which also affects the ambience temperature of the boiler water temperature...which also by default affects the water temperature inside the heat exchangers (the group water for coffee). Why this could be useful is playing around this way you can +/- your portafilter water delivery about 1.5 degrees either way- it is rudimentary but you can fine tune your water temperature for the best tasting coffee.

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