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March 2005 Newsletter

The Internet has become so firmly fixed in our daily lives that
it's difficult to imagine how we coped in the days when all the
information we needed had to be laboriously compiled, instead of
being just a few mouse clicks away. The growth has changed the
way we shop as well. Internet research before we spend the money
has become the order of the day.

Once upon a time I could expect to receive a dozen emails a day
querying machines or coffees, but recently this number has
swelled to a couple of HUNDRED queries a day, which is making
dealing with the volume somewhat difficult. Much of the
information requested is already available, on both my and others
websites, so if my answers seem a bit terse (often only a
reference to a web address) I trust my correspondents will
understand.

Of more concern is my worry that with the high volume of messages
I do receive and the built in spam and virus blockers I employ,
some people's messages are getting lost in the crowd. All I can
suggest is that if you're sending me an email, make sure your
return address is valid, include a proper subject line and don't
write it all in uppercase.

One popular topic in the mail I do receive is "I'm thinking of
buying a new machine but I read on the internet that I need
1) PID (whatever that is) control
2) the bottom sawed off my portafilter
3) a grinder that costs more than the machine
4) hours of practice with bathroom scales to achieve a perfect
30lb tamp
5) to start roasting my own coffee etc. etc.?"

In one way, this is encouraging, because it shows me that the
potential buyer has been reading www.coffeegeek.com and
alt.coffee. However, they are being overwhelmed by information,
much of it only really appropriate to high end hobbyists. Take
PID temperature control, for instance. PID stands for
"Proportional, Integral, Derivative" and in practice is a small
electronic controller  attached to a thermocouple which allows
tight control of espresso machine brewing temperature.

This is a GOOD THING in the hands of an expert barista, but for a
new starter in espresso, any effect it might have is usually lost
due to variations in other critical parameters such as grind,
dose and tamp. It can take many months of practice and tasting to
get to the point where you can even detect the effect in the cup.

The "right" tamp is itself dependant on dose and grind, and the
"30lb" figure is something that, while passed on as gospel, has
no real justification. Home roasting can be fun, but not everyone
has the time or interest to do it. As long as you buy fresh
coffee from a reliable supplier you'll be OK. I could go on, but
the point I'm trying to make is that sometimes too much or too
"high end" information is as bad as not enough. As a rule of
thumb, if it sounds too exotic, high end or geeky, it probably
is, and you can ignore it.

My advice for people contemplating "getting into" espresso is
always to buy a decent machine and grinder and practice,
practice, practice until you get consistent results. When you're
consistent, then you can think about what you need to do to get
even better results. Without a good grounding in the basics,
spending time and money on gadgetry won't help you pull a better
shot. And if you get the basics right, you mightn't need to spend
the money.

This month's special is an old favourite. Full creamy body and
spicy taste with hints of cardamom, cinnamon and cocoa, this is a
low acid coffee that makes a superb single origin espresso.

SULAWESI TORAJA
$36.00/kg

We still have about 5kg of the Nicaraguan Los Nogales Estate
left, so it will also be available for the next week.

A reminder to all customers that with the Labour Day Long weekend
and Easter, the last 3 weeks of March are only 4 day weeks, so
some delays in shipping (especially with machines) may occur.


Alan