Lately, when I think about some of the fancy-pants new machines hitting the market, I feel completely at a loss. For the first time in a really long time, it seems like- as far
as the coffee industry is concerned- technology might be moving faster
than we are able to process it. I don’t mean to say that we fully
understand all technologies that have been presented to us over the
past couple decades, but if I were to speak honestly, there have been
quite a few times where I have gone off on some crazy tangent about how
it would be so cool if ______ would happen, or if someone would develop
______. I mean, just look at the few posts I have in this blog…
portafilters and portafilter baskets made of glass? Grinders with user
adjustable graphs that manipulate macro and micro particle sizes?
Really? But at the same time, I often look at the (lack of)
technology advances in grinders and think how painfully far we could
still go if we would just apply ourselves, apply our finances and (we
as baristas) apply our voices for change.

The Fuji PXR3 controller

The last decade gave us temperature stability and temperature “profiling” as we thought it was. The introduction of the Fuji PXR3 into temperature PID (proportional, integral, derivative) controlers
was, in my opinion one of the more important advances of the past
decade. All of the things that have come since might not have come at
all if we hadn’t had the temperature stability provided by these
devices. A giant thank you to Greg Scace and Andy Schecter is in
order, I think, as they were both really the “founding faters” on this

Because this could be flying over the heads of quite a few individuals that frequent this blog, I’ll back up a little bit. A PID controler, very simply, works much like a very sensative thermostat.
It is a computer that uses calculus algorithims to respond to
temperature flucuations and variations. They are being used all over
the place now… espresso machines, coffee brewers, hot water towers,
even roasters. I know I have a burning itch to PID my toaster :0)

The temperature stability world is now something I feel we have dialed in nicely. Having worked on painfully UNstable machines for a few years I can promise you that the new temperature stability of, give or take, 0.3-0.5 degrees (sometimes even less) is
certainly a giant sigh of relief. It’s an awesome feeling to leave
behind thoughts such as “Did I run enough water through before the
shot to bring the group up to temperature? Did I run too much water
through? How much water is the correct amount of water anyway?

Slayer debut at SCAA/WBC 2009

Just as some would say we started to get temperature control under our belts the introduction of pressure profiling gets thrown into the mix. For the most general of general statements regarding pressure
profiling… typically you are pulling a shot of espresso at 9 bars of
pressure. With the introduction of pressure profiling it gives you the
opportunity to start at a lower pressure and then slowly build the
pressure over the course of the shot and then slowly lower it again.
Or you can give it full pressure from the start and lower later. Or
you could do a slow build to full pressure then cut off all pressure.
The possibilities are somewhat endless on this front. I can tell you
from personal experience that when I stood in front of a Slayer
at WBC 2009 in Atlanta I felt completely clueless for the first time in
a long time. I knew that adjusting the pressure was giving me
different results in my shots, but I didn’t know why and I didn’t know
which adjustments were leading to which result. Surely if I had spent
more than just the hour or so I did in the booth I’m sure things would
have come together better under the Slayer crew’s guidance and
explanation, but I really felt overwhelmed by possibility. It was an
awesomly horrifying feeling to have everything seem so “beyond” my
ability to comprehend. If that wasn’t enough, last year La Marzocco,
the fearless leaders of the espresso machine industry (and I’ll let
everyone else argue on that point) introduced a machine that really
leaves me scratching my head. Labeled at the same WBC event simply as
“New La Marzocco Technology Inside” was what we now know as the Strada,
a machine that allows us the most play with pressure that we have ever
seen. A paddle on the front of the machine allows the user full
control of all things pressure. On the Slayer a certain pressure
“recipe” is created, for example, 3 bars to start, then build to 9,
then hold until 25 seconds into the shot, before slowly fading back
down to 3 and then totally off. Where the Strada differs is that it
allows you to do, more or less, whatever you want. Sliding the paddle
towards the left builds the pressure higher, to the right relieves the
pump’s pressure. You could, if you wanted, build some crazy pressure
profile for a specific coffee where you introduced 2 bars of pressure,
then built the pressure to 8 bars, then spiked it to 9 for a second
before bringing it back 7, and then spiking it again, then fading to 5,
and then 3 and then off… I’ll let your imagination run from there. The
possibilities with this machine are a little beyond most any barista’s
comprehension right now, as far as I’m concerned. I really don’t think
there is a barista out there who could walk up to one of these machines
and feel totally confident they could tweak the pressure all over the
place and be able to predict what the outcome was going to be (and be
correct) more than 5 out of 10 times. The results from a drastic change
is pressure is something I can detect, but I’m not sure I could
pinpoint the difference between an 8 second ramp of pressure and a 7
second ramp.

So we have this “pressure thing” that we are trying to get our minds wrapped around. We are starting to understand more and more of it everyday, that is for certain. Slayers are popping up in artisan cafes
all over the place with some of the countries best baristas putting the
machine through it’s paces. We are learning the machine and learning
how to best manipulate it to get the best results.

And now the talks surrounding temperature profiling begins. In other words, being able to fluctuate the temperature during a shot up and down the same way we are currently doing with pressure. Gaa! I
haven’t the slightest clue what this is going to do for the espresso
world in the future, but I’m excited to see, that’s for certain. Being
able to sweeten and soften a shot by raising and lowering temperature
during different parts of the extraction is very intriguing to me. If
anyone reading this has a machine that allows this to happen and wants
to do some experimenting please contact me.

Temperature stability? Check.
Pressure adjustment during a shot? Check.
Temperature adjustment during a shot? Check?

Technology is in the fast lane, pulling away from us, and it’s about time.


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Comment by Mike McGinness on February 13, 2010 at 12:51am
Indeed combine variable pressure profiling with variable temperature profiling and the possibilities become mind bogglingly endless. I believe such a machine would need to be able to operated fully manual and with programmed parameters. Should be able to save a just run manual profiled shot. Have multiple selectable at the push of a button user setable sets of parameters for different coffees and/or different types of shots from same coffee etc. for different beverages etc. Only 4 on the Strada? Way not enough!

Some might argue having programmed variables takes away the art. I say BS in the same way having automated profile controls on a roaster takes away the art, it doesn't. Any monkey can twiddle the dials the exact same way time after time for a given roast profile. The art is crafting the profile that's twiddled for the given bean result.
Comment by Bryan Wray on February 12, 2010 at 10:35pm
Oh for sure (regarding the first paragraph). I just think it's interesting and exciting, that's all. Word on the street is that the Strada does allow 4 programmed profiles, or full on manual. I don't know this to be a fact, just that I've read it a few different places.

And as far as the limited pressure control... yeah... meh... Cyncra, First Gen Paddle LMs... They are used more than you might think for preinfusion, at least in a lot of the shops I've visited that are rockin' line pressure pre-infusing machines.

I think temperature profiling will be fascinating, though.
Comment by Marshall Fuss on February 12, 2010 at 1:42pm
We already have wide distribution of paddle machines with limited pressure control (usually line-pump-line). But hardly any baristas make use of them. The line-pressure position is ignored, and the gicleur is relied on for pre-infusion. So, the paddle becomes a fancy on-off switch. In fairness to the baristas, many say they don't detect any improvement in the cup with line pressure, anyway.

So what are the chances of infinitely-variable pressure controls becoming popular? I think slim-to-none, unless the sequence can be memorized by the machine and become automatic. Of course, that will lead to some interesting discussions in the shop about who gets to set the sequence and who gets to override it!

By the way, I'm not anti-pressure profiling. I have a paddle machine at home and use it to its fullest. I'm just reporting what I see in the shops and what the professional baristas tell me.

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