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Host 2011

 

My visit to the 2011 HOST Exhibition held at Fiera Rho in Milan,
Italy was both educational and somewhat disappointing. I have
discussed the sheer scale of the exhibition before, as it
showcases just about every manufacturer of commercial espresso
machines in the world. This time I was a bit better prepared than
usual, having spent a couple of weeks in Europe prior to the
exhibition surveying the general state of espresso.

 

I have written about "The Death of the Italian Barista" before,
http://www.coffeeco.com.au/newsletter/june2010.html . It turns
out that it's not just Italy where this is happening, but most of
Europe. Superautomatic and Pod espresso machines are becoming the
norm rather than the exception in all sorts of venues. Ten years
ago Superautos were mostly found in offices or convenience
stores. 5 years ago they were appearing in McCafes and Starbucks.
Today they are present in ordinary bars, restaurants, hotels and
sandwich shops. "One Button" superautomatic machines and
preground coffee pod machines are rapidly replacing traditional
machine and grinder combinations. By my admittedly rough count,
about one in every two venues offering espresso drinks was using
either a Superauto or a pod machine.

 

It wasn't that much of a surprise, then, to find this balance
reflected at HOST 2011. Every traditional machine manufacturer
had at least one superauto or pod machine in their lineup; most
had several, a complete range for every situation.  By the time
we got to the HOST exhibition, it came as no surprise that almost
all of the "new" offerings from espresso machine manufacturers
were Superauto or pod machines. The quality of the espresso
produced is less than stellar, but people seem to accept it. I
had a brief chat with 2010 World Barista Champ Gwilym Davies
which confirmed my observations that great espresso is no longer
a major Italian goal.

 

The other really interesting thing was the complete lack of new
domestic machine offerings, with the exception of Lelit. It would
appear that the major machine makers have ceded the domestic
machine market to pods, superautos and Chinese manufacturers for
the forseeable future. The Lelit exception was (Finally!) a PID
controlled, brass boiler, standard 58mm group machine, which
should be available soon.

 

One surprising "new" small grinder I saw was offered by Casadio,
which is Cimbali/Faema's "second" brand. It looked very familiar,
and turned out to be a slightly blinged up Sunbeam EM0480
variant, so there must already be a certain amount of commerce
between the Italian companies and Chinese manufacturing
facilities.

 

Apart from the addition of touchscreens to various Superauto
machines there were virtually no major machine innovations.
Individual group temperature control by PID systems (first
proposed by Greg Scace in 2001) is becoming more common. Brew
pressure control (again, first proposed by Greg Scace and Andy
Schecter in 2002, and fully realised by Greg a few years back) is
the next big thing, but given how cheap the computer and sensor
technology to do these things is, these are natural developments.

 

I firmly believe that any further improvements to "conventional"
espresso machines are going to happen in tiny increments rather
than technological leaps. My opinion (and I'm sure many people
will disagree) is that the next revolution in consumer espresso
will come via feedback control of the the grinder and extraction
parameters.

 

The single most common cause of poor quality espresso anywhere in
the world is underextraction, always caused by pushing too much
water through the coffee in too little time. This is in turn
always a result of incorrectly ground and dosed coffee, and is usually
produced by a person who has no understanding of espresso and no
desire to gain such understanding, as long as customers pay up
and don't complain.

 

I can forsee a future machine/grinder combination linked by
computerised feedback loops. The grinder will have automated
adjustment and deliver weighed doses; the machine will be able to
measure volume extracted vs extraction time and adjust the grind
and dose to meet the correct extraction parameters. The
technology to do this exists today, but I haven't seen (yet) the
whole package put together, even as a Superauto machine. I
suppose I'll have to have a long chat with Greg Scace next time I
see him!

 

And the role of the Barista? To optimise the taste by working out
the best combination of temperature, pressure, dose, volume and
extraction time for a particular coffee. Oh, and to do "good
milk", which is a whole subject in itself.

Host on the first day, looking back towards the entrance...and looking onward, just to give an idea of the size of the place.
First stop was the Lelit booth. They had a new 57mm dual boiler machine and the even newer PID 58mm "Silvia killer" on display.A close-up of the new 58mm group and boiler. Unlike the Silvia, if you nuke the element you can replace it without replacing the whole boiler.
Gwilym Davies at work at the Nuova Simonelli stand. He was offering 2 "Pacific North West" fruity, acidy blends and an "Italian" blend which was basically Brazil and Robusta.Me with my old mate, Roberto Canever, the Export Manager of laScala. Even laScala had a couple of pod machines on offer, but thankfully no superautos.
The Specialty Coffee Association of Europe's Barista Room, with 4 Nuova Simonelli Aurelias & grinders lined up.A Royale Giove dual boiler PID E-61 machine with steam and brew temperatures shown on a single display.
Vibiemme had the insides of the dual boiler Domobar on display in a perspex case, sans electronics.It was good to see that "older" technology was still available, as with this Brasilia dual lever machine.
But by and large the show was booth after booth of Superautomatic machines.The absolute latest innovation: Cup Warmer, Touch Screen superauto, milk fridge in a single integrated unit.
Yet another longs aisle full of Superautomatic displays. The proliferation of brands shows how fast this market is growing.I always enjoy the Nuova Ricambi spare parts display, if only for the appreciation of the number of parts traditional machines have in common.
The little Casadio grinder which is actually a Sunbeam EM0480 with bling.Our hotel had an old Victoria Arduino machine on display in the restaurant but alas, espresso was from a Necta superauto.