Blog | K Bean's Blog | Italian Espresso Machines & More
Here's a place for me, Paul, to share my coffee learnings and stories. If you are a fan of coffee beans and coffee gear including beautiful Italian coffee machines, shiny coffee grinders, cool accessories and weird manual brewers, then I'm sure that you'll enjoy my Blog
Coffee Beans for Italian Espresso Machines
When buying an Italian espresso machine don’t forget about the beans. Beans are at the heart of every coffee, so here’s a brief K Bean guide to coffee beans for Italian coffee machines.
There are two coffee species used in coffee bean production – Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. Coffee Robusta is easy to grow at low altitudes and easy to harvest. This makes it the most common choice for instant coffees and cheap supermarket whole beans. Coffee Arabica is the “good stuff” and most coffee beans labelled "specialty" are 100% Coffee Arabica.
Coffee Arabica specialty beans are generally hand-picked, organic, and farmed on family or village lots. They are sold via co-ops, and farmers get rewarded with high prices for high quality. This means that specialty beans are not just the right beans for your coffee machine. They are also the ethical choice.
Just like with grapes there are a number of Coffee Arabica varietals. With grapes the varietals include Shiraz, Merlot and Pinot Noir. With Coffee Arabica the varietals include Bourbon, Typica and Caturra. The varietal has a significant effect on the beverage. Now you know about the varietals it’s time to go out and try them all. Go for it :)
Coffee Arabica beans tend to have traits typical of their origin (region). This is because there are common factors in regions such as coffee bean varietals, processing methods and growing altitudes. There are always exceptions but here’s a rough guide to the 3 key origins:
Central & South American – Clean, sweet, simple, thin
African – Fruity, spicy, complex
Asian – Spicy, earthy, thick
The processing method has a significant effect upon the beans. The two main categories for processing are wet processed and natural / dry processed. Other categories include honey processed and wet hulled. Wet processed coffees tend to be brighter, cleaner and thinner. Dry processed coffees tend to be spicier, earthier, fruiter and thicker.
Coffee Growing Altitude
Altitude is another factor effecting your beans. As a rule of thumb, beans get sweeter, fruitier and more acidic as altitude increase. Does higher mean better? Well, that really depends on you and your taste buds.
Single Origin Coffee v Coffee Blends
For coffee purists (yes, that includes me) single origin is the way to go. Exploring single origins is an everyday adventure. However, if you are just looking for a great coffee to drink every day then blends generally have the edge. This is because in blends the beans are combined to “optimise” results in the cup. Here’s an example. A roaster could take a high altitude, wet processed, South American bean that produces a clean, sweet cup and add 20% of a high altitude, dry processed African bean to add a wack of fruitiness. Yum!
Roasting profiles are a mix of science and art and it takes a skilled roaster to really squeeze the very best out of a bean. When it comes to an espresso from an Italian coffee machine you can expect the following:
Light roast - High acidity, sweet, simple, thin
Medium roast – Medium acidity, fruity sweetness, complex
Dark roast – Low acidity, bitter sweet, simple, thick
I hope you enjoyed my brief summary and I hope this changes the way you that you understand and value quality beans. Also, I hope you will always treat your Italian coffee machine to the very best beans you can find. And good luck on your quest for the perfect coffee bean. It’s a futile quest. You will never find “perfect” but the quest is something that makes the home barista hobby so gripping.
I have roasted my own coffee beans for many years now and get a great amount of joy from the roasting process. I highly recommend that you find yourself a local roaster. It's not difficult. There are plenty of great roasters around.
The Science and the Art of Espresso
Choosing an Italian espresso machine is just one step along the home barista journey. To me (Paul) this hobby is not really about the espresso machine and other gadgets. What hooks me to the home barista hobby is the quest to control an uncontrollable process and the surprises and ah-ha moments that you get along the way.
Let's start with the process. With a great espresso workflow we can minimise variables in the espresso extraction process when we drive a manual Italian espresso machine. By minimising variables such as grind dose weight, grind dose distribution, tamping pressure and espresso brew temperature we leave just one variable that we can change to control the process. Of course, that one variable that we change is the grind particle size. The espresso workflow is methodical and step-by-step and can be seen as a very scientific approach.
Next comes the art. I think of the art as the understanding of espresso and also the understanding of coffee beans. It's partly about knowledge that you can be taught, but mostly it's about the intangible "feel" that you get for the nuances of espresso after many years of practice. The art is what makes home espresso so engaging.
Because of the art, espressos (and other coffees made with espresso machines) are always different. They are never the same. Even a competition barista will get some variations from day to day and even from espresso shot to espresso shot. Is this a problem? Absolutely not. The challenge of the pursuit is gripping, and the daily variations and occasional god shot just keep the interest flowing. Think of it this way. Imagine that the espresso process was as simple as following steps and get exactly the same result and exactly the same coffee every day. What a bore that would be. If espresso was like that it would just be a drink, and not a hobby.
So, pursue perfection but know that you will never get there. Enjoy the home barista journey and don't forget to smell the coffee beans along the way.
Commercial Steam Pressure at Home
Wow - what a great time to be a home barista if you enjoy steaming milk. Until recently the typical typical steam pressure for Italian espresso machines was around 1.2 Bar and to get full commercial steam pressure of around 2 Bar you needed to spend over $5k.
2 Bar is monstrous steam pressure for home steaming so I highly recommend the Profitec Pro 700 with its valves which allow you to control steam pressure on-the-run. For tips on steaming with 2 Bar of steam pressure please take a look at my Milk Workflow.
Italian Espresso Machines - The Business Case
Italian espresso machines come with a high upfront cost but the payback period is blisteringly FAST!!!
Over the years I have had many customers visit after crunching the numbers to see how quickly they will be able to pay off their Italian espresso machine with coffee shop savings. They typically find that the payback period is less than a year and this has really helped many to justify the investment to themselves, and often to their partners as well.
…so this gave me the idea to prepare a spreadsheet myself and blog the results. The results are just amazing.
For a family replacing just 4 coffees per day at Melbourne coffee shop prices, a $3,000 investment (Italian espresso machine, grinder and accessories) has a pay back period of 7 months ...and when you extend the calculations to 10 years you get a saving near $50,000. Over 10 years you will save the environment from 14,500 cups as well = bonus :)
If you would like a copy of my home barista spreadsheet let me know. I am more than happy to send you a copy so that you can plug in your own numbers.
Coffee Beans - Freshness and Storage
Coffee beans for Italian coffee machines need to be fresh. This doesn’t mean keeping them in bags. Fresh means fresh. Remember, coffee is a fruit and just like with any fruit, fresh is best. However, after roasting all beans need a short period for degassing. Here is a guide to when coffee beans are generally at their best after roasting:
Light roast - 3 - 40 days
Medium roast - 5 - 30 days
Dark roast - 7 - 20 days
It's experience and the palate that tells the whole story but here's the theory to back up the results in the cup. Just as with any fruit exposed to oxygen there's quick degradation through oxidation. When beans are freshly roasted a nice amount of coffee oils are trapped inside the internal structure of the beans. As the beans age the internal structures breaks down and oils are released. These oils make their way to the bean surface and at the surface they oxidise to form a number of rancid compounds.
The oils get released slowly for light roast beans, but then quicker and quicker as beans are roasted darker. Have you been to a coffee shop and seen shiny oily beans in the hopper? If the oil is on dark roast beans that's OK, but if the oil is on light roast beans that's a really bad sign.
As mentioned above, oxygen is the enemy. A bag with a one way gas valve can help keep beans a little longer as after roasting beans they off-gas and these off-gases push the damaging oxygen out of the bag.
Here's something that's a surprise to many. Once you open that bag with the one way gas valve there is no point at all in re-sealing it. It's a very common misconception that re-sealing beans will protect them but this isn't the case as when you re-seal the bag there is none of the original off-gassing to push out oxygen. This means that the beans are now sitting in a bag that's full of oxygen.
My advice is to keep bags sealed until you need the beans, then to tip the lot into your hopper. The beans will last just as long this way with the bonus of looking good in the hopper.
My Own Italian Espresso Machine Journey
Paul here. Like most of us, I started off with instant. Then in 2005 a coffee machine called the Phillips Senseo came along. This machine was similar to a modern day pod coffee machine but used coffee bags instead of pods. At the time, and after years of instant, the Senseo was great.
Next step was a big one - I decided to spend up big (cough) and grabbed a thermoblock Sunbeam coffee machine and a Sunbeam grinder. Again, at the time it was great. Another step forwards.
Next after months of research I jumped forward again. This time it was to a single boiler Italian espresso machine - a Rancilio Slivia. I also upgraded to a commercial grinder. A huge step forward yet again but before long the poor thermal stability and temperature surfing was driving me mad, so I opened up the machine and installed a custom PID boiler temperature controller.
Things were progressing and it was now the lure of a manual Italian espresso machine with an e61 that won me over. I grabbed one of the original ECM Giotto coffee machines. Damn!!! Now this was getting good. Before this changes were steps. The move from the single boiler coffee machine to the e61 heat exchanger was just AMAZING!
From that point onward I was absolutely hooked by the coffee hobby. I designed and built my own coffee roaster, I created manual brewing gear from bits and bobs, including some very cool cold drip towers. I also played with dozens of off-the-shelf manual brewing toys including the V60 pourover, the Chemex, the Aeropress, cold drip towers, cold steep brewers, siphons and many more.
When it came to Italian coffee machines and grinders I was cycling through them at an alarming rate. I basically upgraded my machine and/or grinder almost annually. I guess I would call this is my coffee gear freak stage. There were no giant leaps here in terms of in the coffee quality in the cup, but I just loved the tech and the experience of driving the very best Italian coffee machines and grinders.
...and then K Bean was born and trying out new gear became part of my "job." Happy days :)
To learn about my journey from coffee hobbyist to coffee machine retailer please take a look at my K Bean Journey Blog.
K Bean on The Block
K Bean on The Block - WOW!!!
It started with a text from a guy called “Hans" saying that he wanted an Italian coffee machine for The Block. And not just any Italian coffee machine. He really wanted a Profitec Pro 500 because of it’s clean lines. After a quick chat with Hans I knew it wasn't some prank and I was ready to join the challenge.
I had sold my last Profitec Pro 500 coffee machine just a few days earlier. I had more units due the next week but that was too late for Hans and Courtney. After a few calls I tracked down a unit but it was on the other side of Melbourne, so I set out for on a 3 hour round trip. I really was part of The Block's challenge.
When I arrived at The Block it was madness. It was the final day of the 12 week season and the place was just buzzing - a hive of activity with tradies, contestants and TV people just everywhere. They miked me up and then I went about meeting Hans and the team, then walked the gear in and set it all up in a very dusty, almost complete kitchen.
An amazing day and a very proud day for me. What a cool thing it is to create a hobby business, see it grow, and to get a little gig on a top rating show like The Block - just amazing. A huge thanks to Hans and Courtney for giving me a very cool TV experience.
And congrats to Hans and Courtney for winning Challenge Week with an amazing kitchen. I like to think that their excellent Italian coffee machine choice may have helped to get them over the line. Below are some screen shots from the Challenge Apartment, The Block 2018, Gatwick Hotel. St Kilda.
Holiday Coffee Machines
Paul here again ...so what do I do when I go on holiday? Do I lug my 25kg Italian espresso machine and 10kg grinder along? No way!
I use the simplest, cheapest and probably one of the world's oldest brewing methods - The very humble but very capable manual brew pourover. The result is light, sweet fruity coffee with ease.
I take the manual brewer everywhere. Hotels, camping and even hiking.
Here's one of my hiking holiday happy pics from a hike along the Great Ocean Road.
And here’s another holiday coffee pic, at Wilson’s Prom
Cold Drip Coffee
Before I was selling Italian coffee machines K Bean was a little cooler (yes, pun intended). Cold drip coffee was one of the first products that K Bean stocked so I owe cold brew a few words of support.
I remember the first time that I tried cold drip coffee - WOW - a slurp of ripened fruit, milk chocolate and thick honey. It really surprised me at the time. Cold processed coffee is so very different to hot coffee that has been cooled.
After a little reading I learned that the chemistry of cold extraction is completely different to that of hot extraction. The most obvious difference is the low acidity of a cold brew due to the absence of tongue-tingling Quinic Acid.
I still use my cold drip tower. I drip slowly overnight at around 1 drip per second. In the morning I pack the cold concentrate in a flask. Then I take it just about anywhere and everywhere including to work, and on days on the town.
You really must try it one day.
About K Bean - From Hobby to Business
It's Paul here. I'm a family man and with a passion for travel, hiking and all things coffee. After many years of obsession with coffee and coffee machines I decided to have a little fun with a hobby business. ...and K Bean was born. Here's a little run down of the K Bean Journey.
Let's start off with the K. The “K” comes from the Ethiopian goat herder, Kaldi, who, as legend has it, discovered the eye opening nature of coffee when he observed the spirited behaviour of his bean-eating goats. Wow, my first "brand." How exciting! I quickly slapped together a very simple K Bean logo.
I advertised on Facebook and letterbox dropped to offer manual brewing kits with in-home training for Beaumaris locals. My goal was to show people how to make great coffee at home and have a little fun along the way. People were soon asking for my home-roasted beans so I set up an old-school “drop box” honesty system. In the pictures below you can see me looking happy (and yes, slightly over-branded) and your can see my first employees heading off to work. We were having a ball.
I built a website and started offering a larger range of equipment including manual brewing systems, cold drip towers, Italian coffee machines, grinders and accessories. The picture below shows my boy at work, labelling coffee bags. On the RHS is one of his school projects. Not a bad piece of work for a 7 year old.
I was soon selling a decent number of Italian coffee machines, grinders and accessories to Melbourne locals and also, shipping coffee gear all over the country. It wasn’t all plain sailing. I met fierce resistance from a small number of established players and many battles were fought. The war to get established is another story for another page.
As the business grew I stepped back to look at my strengths. Anyone can ship boxes around the country so what is different about K Bean? Of course customer service is a strength, but every retailer claims to offer great service so what makes K Bean stand out from the crowd? The key was that the business was run by a genuine home barista hobbyist (ie, me) who really believes in the cause. The next step was to leverage this strength by focusing the business onto manual coffee machines, grinders and accessories for like minded home espresso enthusiasts.
Another strength was my own home barista journey. My own journey put me in a great position to fill a website with quality content including easy-to-follow guides, workflows and tips. It was soon time for a new website and a new logo.
People often ask me how K Bean has taken off and I tell them that it's because coffee is still my hobby. This means that this isn't "work" for in the normal sense so I'm happy to just live it. K Bean is still "fun and games" for me but it's also now a serious Pty. Ltd. Company …and it’s my pride and joy.
I’m enjoying myself and it's all thanks to you ...so thanks to past and present customers as well as a preemptive thanks to future customers. Many of you are interstate, but Melbourne coffee machine buyers have been able to visit me for training. It's the people I meet that give me the biggest boost.
Thank you for trusting me and my Buying Guides to help you with choosing the very best Italian coffee machines, grinders and espresso accessories for your home.
Enjoy your toys :)