Anyone have experience using the VST baskets on a La Marzocco MP machine?

I recently got the VST 18 and 22g baskets in and have been working with them a little. I also just recently installed a La Marzocco GB5 2 group Paddle. The only experience I have with pre-infusion was on a Synesso Hydra a couple years ago. I have a couple questions and welcome any other advice or comments related to the subjects.


With the VST baskets, I am pulling Hairbender at about a 20g dose. In the 18g baskets, it leaves very little (if any) room to the screen. With the 22g baskets, there is a lot of room to the screen. Is it possible to have too much room? What kind of experience does anyone have using the VST baskets? I notice right away that the quality seems to have a wider range for a good to great shot. But, I have yet to pull a shot that has made me entirely confident in the switch. Any thoughts?


With the Paddle and pre-infusion, it seems like I can let it run for 20 seconds before the first drops come out. Is there a desired pre-infusion time on these machines? With the Synesso, It seems like within 5-7 seconds or so the first few drops would come and we would activate the pump. The espresso we pulled was incredible. Any advice for pre-infusing on these?


Also, we are using Hairbender 5-10 days out. We are pulling, generally, 1.5oz shots +- .25 oz. I love finding opportunities to learn and grow as a barista and trainer and welcome any constructive comments you may have! Thanks in advance!!!



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Little experience using VST baskets (played a bit yesterday) and been a while since I played with the MP, but that sure sounds like a long, long, long time for first drops. I think you are smart to preinfuse the same as you did on the Synesso for a starting point. Definitely try to get beading a little more quickly.


Headspace is a variable to be messed with. Different coffees will expand differently, and this is relevant. That said, seems like 20g is too much in the 18g basket.


What is your incoming line pressure, by the way?

Incoming line pressure is 3 bars, should have mentioned that. I have read about 20-30 second pre-infusion times and that just sounds crazy. I should run a few and time them for reference.


I have heard of a lot of people getting frustrated with the VST baskets and going back before dialing them in properly. I have also heard enough people that finally do make the proper adjustments and can't imagine going back. I do want to make sure I am pulling better shots with the VST's before serving them, but I definitely want to dial them in before making any decisions.


Also, since we are using E model Mazzers, we haven't been grooming prior to tamping in the old baskets. From what I read, with the VST baskets you want to have a flat surface before tamping since the holes are closer to the edge. I have been settling after ever-so-slightly shaking the portafilter to level the grinds before tamping.


Thanks Brady!

Out of curiosity, how do they taste? And how do you think the headspace compares to your stock (or previous) baskets? Is the puck surface noticeably higher? Or did you get the machine with VST baskets?

I had the chance to talk to Vince Fedele at SCAA and have been using VST/Strada baskets for a while now, so I think some other insight is necessary before addressing the outcome. A quick note, if you have a scale that works in .1 gram increments I highly highly highly recommend using it in conjuction with these baskets. It makes diagnosing adjustments and recording/analyzing results incredibly easy. Volume just varies too much depending on how far off roast you are.


VST baskets are recommended for a 1 gram variance around the dose they are graded for, and I have not experienced good results going out of that range. That means you should be dosing 17-19 grams in the 18g baskets, 21-23 in the 22g basket.


They also, because of uniform hole size, have a very limited grind variance. Where this is on your grinder depends on a number of factors.


So having said all that, the VST baskets are designed to be used in a very specific way: brewing coffee at ratios of 66, 50 and 33%. These ratios are calculate by dividing the amount of coffee you use(say, 18g) by the weight of the shot you produce(say, 27g for a 66%, or 36g for a 50%).


I recommend playing around with the different ratios, seeing what you like best with hairbender, writing down as much data as you can on shots you like and don't like and see what you can implement from the experimentation into your training.


One last thing: because the VSTs have a constant resistance on the bottom of the basket, and, by correlation, want to have a consistent flow rate through the basket, make very careful not to center dose the basket as is necessary on a lot of other manufacturer/OEM baskets. You will get a slower flow through the middle of the puck and faster flow/channeling on the outside of the puck. It can take some time to get used to filling the basket differently, and coffee will taste poor until you do, but once you are able to execute even distribution from the grinder, it will make a world of difference.

Fine Tuning my system with the VST filters and new Grinders.

Consistency of draw times between double espresso shots using the following set up for the LaMarzocco GS3 Paddle machine has improved my espressos and cappuccinos. Above all the taste of the espresso has improved beyond any espressos in the past.

The following is my present setup for a consistently good double espresso for a cappuccino. This consistency is now verified using draw time with the weight system and volume system. I set up using the weight system and record the volume and when making cappuccinos daily speed up the process using volume associated with the previously cups that have been weighed and timed.  About once a week I weigh and record the draw time for a double espresso and added milk for a cappuccino.

  1. Late model GS3 Paddle machine.
  2. Bar pressure set using the following system:
    A. Buy a second back-flush blind basket. 
    B. Purchase from McMaster-Carr two drill bits size - Wire  gauge 79, 3/4” Oal, 0.1” drill depth, 118 Degree Point. One will work if you don’t break it. About $5.00 for two.
    C. Drill one hole in the middle of the blind basket.
    D. With new hole drilled blind basket and a clean group head (so it won’t stop up with grounds), set 9 bars on the machine bar pressure gauge. This will give you a perfect 9 bars to work from. This system came from LM USA and it works for a start but is an absolute in my setup. 
    E. I use Chris Coffee Black Pearl Espresso roast coffee. Tried six or seven other coffees and alway come back to Black Pearl. Also when I set the machine and grinder for a coffee I don’t want to start over and waste a bunch of coffee in setting up and re-setting up.
  3. I replaced my 2 stock portafilter baskets, with a 15 Gram and 18 Gram VST Precision filter baskets which have more uniform hole size distributions and total open area tuned for the dose. (see “Advances in the State of the “Art - and Science - of Espresso” in the April/May 2011 issue of Barista Magazine). VST ( is the developer of the new filter baskets and also developed the Strata Baskets for La Marzocco. This is a significant improvement and has rendered the following;
    A. More uniform shot to shot consistency.
    B. More clarity, less sediment.
    C. Easier to obtain consistently sweet shots - even if the shot is pulled longer or shorter than “normal.”

I then replaced my three shot naked portafilter with a VST 22 gram basket 
which is used for dialing in when changing coffee or updating.

  1. A quality grinder is crucial to any espresso. Too many pro-sumer grade grinders do not produce a commercial grade of grind, and even some commercial grinders do not consistently do a good job (see James Hoffmann’s blog on the Robur for example). In the kitchen we have a Mahlkonig K30 Vario and a new Compak K10 Fresh. In use I find the K10 Fresh gives less clumping and a more uniform grind with less dust fines. It also maintains its adjustment from cold to warm. Using Black Pearl, the K10 Fresh grinds a 16.5 gram basket of coffee in 3.5 seconds and the weight of the ground coffee from the chute is very close grind to grind with practically no coffee left inside the chute. My thoughts are the conical grinding disk and slower speed causes less heat and dust. In our home we serve friends and neighbors 5 to 6 coffee drinks a day beyond what we make for ourselves but under commercial use the difference between the two machines may be different. 
  2. We make our milk type drinks by heating and foaming the whole milk first to 150 degree F. and let it settle out while drawing all the cups of double shots that is needed for the company. I then measure out, in volume, the milk to each cup of espresso and sugar or Splenda if requested. I do not make cappuccinos by drawing art in the coffee with the milk and foam. There are two reasons for this. I want a weighted amount of milk in a cappuccino and knowing how much volume of milk will be close to the desired weight, just use volume as a shortcut. Second, drawing pictures with a combination of milk and foam, the drink will NOT be the same cup to cup, for you have no idea how much foam to milk is being poured and it rarely leaves enough foam for a good tasting cappuccino. When I was in Italy the foam was paramount and until all the competition was developed by the commercial companies, most espressos were Monks Head with lots of foam and a little brown ring around the edge. The drinker had the option of stirring in the foam if he wanted more caramelized sugar taste from the milk and foam. When you are served a work of art you have no option for adjusting the milk to foam ratio by stirring in or leaving extra foam in the bottom of the cup when finished. I sometimes use a spoon to finish the leftover coffee flavored foam in the bottom of the cup. 

Now! Draw time. With this setup, the draw time consistency between double shot espressos has dropped from up to 10 seconds, which in most cases were throw aways, to the present times for a double shot which has been surprising. It has dropped to a zero difference in a few shots up to 3 seconds. Most of the time it is only 1 to 3 seconds difference from one double espresso to the next. This is the best I have every experienced and I am on my fifth commercial machine, sixth commercial grinder and Barista School at MMSI, now Sips, in Brandon Florida. 

The two items, in my opinion, that have contributed most to improve the consistency of draw times between double shots are the VST baskets and the K10 Fresh grinder. This system works for me, it may not for someone else.

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