Back to blogging with a first #coffee post, but this time accompanied with another first: a video production!
I primarily do brewed coffee using the Hario V60 and when I’m feeling fancier I whip out the Aeropress or the Woodneck. So this is my first foray out of brewed coffee into the intricate world of espresso, using an entirely manual setup comprising the Wacaco Picopresso and the 1Zpresso JX. As the video demonstrates, it is quite a bit of work to use only your hands (and some boiling water) to brew espresso.
I quickly learnt that this is a lot more difficult than pourover and “dialing in” a shot potentially results in having to waste a fair amount of coffee.
Things that could go wrong include:
- Grind Size
- Grind Consistency
- Grind Distribution
- Tamp Pressure
- Vessel Temperature
- Brew Water Temperature
Some parameters are limited by your equipment. For example, grind size settings and consistency are fixed by your choice of grinder. The JX that I used is not primarily meant for espresso so it doesn’t have super fine granularity between grind settings, but it can grind fine enough for espresso.
Other parameters are based on technique. Distribution can be adjusted by weaving a Weiss Distribution Technique tool aka a bunch of pins in your grounds and using a leveller. Tamp pressure is a matter of experience in varying the push pressure to obtain that optimal puck.
Temperature is slightly easier - just pre-heat the vessel before brewing and let your boiling water cool to an appropriate brew temperature that matches your beans’ roast level. Lower temperatures for darker roasts and higher ones for light roasts.
This exercise also has to be repeated each time you get a new bag of beans and sometimes requires some adjustments within the same bag if you haven’t brewed in a while and your beans have degassed further.
In pourovers, a bad brew typically results in under/over extraction or the introduction of some less desired profiles like astringency. Most of the time, the result is still somewhat drinkable (so that you learn your lesson).
With the Picopresso, if your grind size is too small, the entire device is stuck and you need superhuman strength to engage the pump. So that entire puck is wasted and you get no coffee out of it (just some oils - not the tastiest thing - I tried). On the flip side, if your grind size is too coarse or you mess up the distribution or tamp pressure, you get “channeling”. That means that the water bashes its way through an easy “channel” instead of extracting coffee from the puck and you get diluted brown water (also not the tastiest thing - I tried).
At the end of the day, when I finally dialed it in after wasting half a bag of beans, I got a shot of what resembles espresso but not exactly. The brew time is obviously a lot longer than what you expect from an actual espresso machine - around a minute plus versus 30 seconds. The crema is a lot lesser and it’s pretty difficult to sustain the same level of pump pressure - unless you spend lots of arm days in the gym.
Still, compared to other manual “espresso-like” makers out there, the Picopresso is probably the highest rated as of writing, so I feel it’s a good compromise. One for the pourover operator who fancies the occasional piccolo without spending a bomb on a complex machine that occupies the counter top. I can park this away on my pegboard shelf and forget about it, until I’m in the mood to get another arm workout.