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La Marzocco Strada – first thoughts


I know I have been writing about the La Marzocco Strada before, but back then I did not have a lot of experience using the machine.

Not that I have a lot of experience now either, after only playing and working with it for some weeks. To be honest, I haven’t had the time to use the machine as much as I would have liked, but I did get to use it during our 3 year anniversary and I was the only one using it for the whole day, profile-pumping out about 300 espressos from the 3 groups. I have also managed to make some terrible shots on the machine as well as some super delicate and sweet shots. (More about that later.)

IMG_2984

Since this La Marzocco EP3 is a prototype, there are a lot of details that needs to be changed. I am not going to bore you with all that stuff, but I did send a 3 page long document to Paola and Roberto, the engineers at La Marzocco, and I got a great reply from them telling me that they are on the case in most of my comments.

So, what are my thoughts after using the machine in a more realistic environment?

  • Working with pressure profiles, when it comes to taste,  is very difficult. It changes the taste of the espresso so much that you can get anything from syrupy sweet espressos to more elegant and transparent shots. It is also very easy to make really bad tasting shots. I no longer know what I want my espressos to taste like. It is very frustrating! Therefore I think one needs to have a clear vision of what the espresso should taste like before one starts playing with profiles.
  • Playing with the electronic paddle is very easy. The paddle is super responsive and allows you to change the pressure with great accuracy, once you get the hang of it.
  • When experimenting with different pressure profiles, I always record them, meaning I am always programming the pressure profile when I experiment, as it is extremely difficult to make the exact same profile manually from shot to shot. When programming / recording, you are able to reproduce the profile you just made as many times as you want. But does it work when it comes to taste? See next point..
  • When using a pre-programmed profile, one has to be super consistent in dosing in order to get the same results. I struggled a lot more getting consistent results with my blend than I did with the Single Origin coffee. Probably because the blend consists of different coffees and you will always get different beans in the filter from shot to shot. It is definitely more noticeable on the Strada as opposed to the FB80, probably because the coffees respond to pressure profiles differently.
  • A profile programmed for one coffee on a Wednesday does not necessarily work with the same coffee on Saturday. The coffee degasses and this changes the taste a lot. I had to totally change the pressure profile from Wednesday to Saturday even if I was using the same coffee from the same roasted batch.
  • Playing with the Strada is definitely very difficult when it comes to taste. Maybe there should be a default pressure profile that is similar to what you would get on a FB80, pre programmed, so that baristas could always use that as a standard reference to go after? I know the La Marzocco team is working on some standard factory default profiles that will help you get started. Realistically I know that time is expensive and also a thing we do not have enough of in our coffee shop. I spent about 2 hours tasting maybe 40 or 50 shots of coffee on the morning of our 3 year anniversary in order to make some decent profiles for the 2 coffees we were serving from the Strada. Of course with some experience you will get better at developing profiles more easily, but in order to make all my employees understand the machines and the effect of pressure profiling, I think we need to train and taste a lot together. It is going to take a lot of time and effort to become a true Strada player, so this machine is definitely not for the lazy barista or the cheap bar owner.
  • Would I buy a Strada? YES, I can’t wait to get my hands on one! The possibilities are fascinating and when you nail a profile

the taste

is just absolutely fantastic. It has made me become enthusiastic about espresso again. The shots I have made with our Kenyan Mugaga espresso has been by far the best espresso I have ever tasted made on a Kenyan coffee, Ever!! The brew profile that worked for this coffee and actually has worked for some days now, has been like this:

Parameters:

Brew water temperature: 93,5 C +/- o,5 C

Pressure profile:

1-10 seconds: slowly ramp up from 0 to 7 bars

11 – 13 seconds: brew at 8 bars

14 – 20 seconds: brew steadily at 7 bars (slowly raising the paddle as pressure decreases during brewing due to less resistance in the coffee puck)

20 – 25 seconds: Ramp down to 4 bars and then shut off.

(This was an attempt to replicate on a blog post. I might post some videos later)

I haven’t measured the weight of the shot nor the coffee. The espresso is not short but normal, so I am guessing about 25+ ml per shot and the wight of the ground coffee might be abut 18 to 19 grams as Kenyan grounds tends to be quite dense and heavy.

Real time pressure profiling

The flavour profile of this espresso is:

Aroma: Strikingly winy and fruity. Intense!
Acidity: Super balanced and refreshing. Like eating very ripe fruit. Winy like in light red wine.
Mouthfeel: Very delicate. Not heavy but lively and light. The shot is still concentrated in flavour yet texture is somewhat between a french press brew and an espresso.
Flavour: Very intense and winy fruit flavour. Juicy berry aromas. Tropical fruit in the end.
Finish: Sweet and lingering. No harsh bitterness like in a lot of SO Kenyan shots I have had before and that is much more present when pulling this coffee on a FB80.

We will be having a Strada party in our bar tomorrow where some fellow coffee enthusiasts and I will be playing with the machine. The machine is on trial for a couple of more weeks in our bar, before we have to send it back to Italy. Feel free to ask questions in our comments section on this post, and I will be happy to answer. (If I know the answer).

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21 Responses to “La Marzocco Strada – first thoughts”

  1. James Hoffmann Says:

    I really want you to pull me a shot of that Mugaga now!

    You’ve definitely found something I found when it comes to pressure profiling (and my limited experimentation) – it is incredibly easy to make noticeable differences to the coffee through tiny changes, though rarely are these an improvement. I guess I stepped away because there were too many possibilities of which 99% were likely blind alleys.

    I have no doubt that there are benefits to be had and the rough profile of soft up, gentle decline in the latter half of the shot seems to yield improvements/positive atttributes for many coffees.

    Still thinking about what the Mugaga might taste like….

  2. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Hahaha. Maybe I can send you a shot with DHL in a thermos..
    It really tastes like freshly squeezed berry juice mixed with naturally fermented red (nature) wine. Delicious!

  3. Caspar Says:

    ahhh I’ve been trying to find some reviews on pressure variable machines for ages! Is there a general affect to the coffee when you apply more/less pressure? Or is it that the different flavours of a coffee are extracted in different amounts throughout the brew time?

  4. Too much of a good thing? Today’s conventional coffee wisdom says “more is more” | Espresso News and Reviews - TheShot.coffeeratings.com Says:

    [...] posted a rather thorough first-thoughts review of the new La Marzocco Strada on his official blog: Tim Wendelboe » Blog Archive » La Marzocco Strada – first thoughts. Of particular interest are some of his insights about the machine’s sensitivities and [...]

  5. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Caspar. I would say at this early stage that different coffees react very different to the same profile. For example, I developed a profile for the Kenya espresso that did not work at all for my blend. I think there needs to be done extensive research on this before we can say anything to be right or wrong. At least it takes a lot more trial and error and also working a lot more systematical than I have had time to do the last 2 weeks.

    I know La Marzocco is developing some interesting stuff and tools that will be available soon and that will rock the espresso world and push things even further. Unfortunately I have sworn to secrecy on this for now.

  6. Caspar Says:

    Awesome, I’m still getting to grips with temperature as a variable and different dosing and things but I think I’ll have to pay a visit up to the Nordic Barista Cup next month!

  7. Daniel McDonnell Says:

    Instead of blending, just sell single origin espresso.

  8. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Why give in just because it is difficult. Blends taste great too you know.

  9. Peter Dupont Says:

    Your Mugaga shots sounds delicious!

    We’ve got the manual version of the Strada installed monday. I’m on vacation so I havn’t been working with it but of course I have dropped by and tasted some coffees from it. And the Strada definitely seems to be great and challenging tool!

    We have tried pulling some shots on light roasted Finca Vista Hermosa (Guatemala) with coarser than normal grounds and softer pressure profile. In the best of these we get very nuanced fruity notes, great taste balance and rather light body which is a lot lighter than ‘normal’ espresso. I tried this type of shot as skimmed americano which really gives an extremely nuanced and complex cup of coffee.

    What do you think about the relation between density of the beans and the pressure profile? Is your espressoblend (in general) less dense than the mugaga espresso and do you use higher pressure on your best profiles for the espressoblend than the Mugaga profile above?

  10. Steinar Says:

    Great post.
    These are the beginnings of something big!

  11. Klaus Thomsen Says:

    Argh, I tried not to read this blog post, as I want to conduct our own experiments on our Strada before we ‘compared notes’ so to speak. But I couldn’t resist.

    Only had two days on the Strada since I came back from Brazil, but I’m loving it already. Yes, it’s not easy to find a good profile and yes, you might manage to screw up the shots completely, but as you said, it’s gotten me very excited about espresso again.

    I feel very ambiguous about that though, because I don’t like the fact that a *machine* has gotten me excited and not a coffee. I don’t think of myself as a “tech freak” but this machine really gets you back to the craftsmanship of brewing espresso.

    Once we’ve had some more time on the Manual Strada, we’ll write up a blog post. I think we should swap machines at some point too ;-)

    /Klaus

  12. Wolfgang Gaggl Says:

    I saw that LM has an electronic paddle (EP) and manual paddle (MP) version of the Strada in the works. Do you happen to know how (or if) the MP differs from the manual paddle one can get on any other of their models? Maybe it offers real stepless pressure changes like the EP, but then that manual valve must be designed different than the MP options on their other models…
    Just wondering if you have any info on that.
    Thanks for your blog entry, always an interesting read!

    Wolfgang

  13. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Read here for more info about that: http://timwendelboe.no/2010/07/la-marzocco-strada-in-our-shop/

  14. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Peter.
    Good question.
    I haven’t really thought about density in terms of pressure and profiles. I have yet not found any consistent results as to what works on different coffees, as I haven’t tested it enough yet. THe only thing that seems consistent is that a high acidity Kenya tastes better on lower pressure than high pressure.

    I will be testing some more with light roasts today based upon your experience. Sounds like a great idea to me.

  15. Jack Says:

    Hi Tim,

    Pressure profiling is another tool in your arsenal, like grind or dose, etc. It’s a means to the end, not an end in itself. When running recorded profiles on the EP, you’re essentially trading variables – trading reproducing profile curves for dose & tamp.

    Sure, pressure profiling can produce good tasting shots as well as bad. The process may be a bit tedious and mind boggling to understand. But it’s the POTENTIAL to get those stupendous shots that this machine exists and why we’re spending time on it.

    You could start with an idea of how you’d like a coffee to taste. Or, you can play around and see what a coffee has to offer. For your reference, here’s a little poster we made up for Out of the Box: http://lamarzoccousa.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/pressure-profiling-guide-jpeg.jpg

  16. Terence T Says:

    Hi Tim,

    Seems like this whole pressure profiling thing is making things a lot more complicated than they already are. Definitely not a machine for the faint hearted.

    Maybe you could suggest to LM to develop a multi hopper grinder where you load up the different origins of a blend, dial in the blend ratios, set the required dose by weight (because this grinder can calculate ratios automatically and weigh the beans as they are dosed and blended), grind, dose and automatically tamped (and of course the tamp pressure, rate and polish can be profiled as well). There, the Swift II has just been created. You can even tweak the blend profile on the go! Need a bit more body and edge for that cold winter morning? No problem, just push up the ratio on that sumatran. Imagine the possibilities!

  17. John Says:

    Nice write up Tim, I’ve been waiting to hear what a pro that had time on this capability thought of profiling. You pretty much echo what I’ve found, with a very interesting observation of Kenyas, again same here. I get a fair amount of coffee sent to me and always look out for the different Kenyas just for profiling, in fact a couple weeks ago Jeremy from “Four Barrel” asked me if I had any favorites from some he has sent me, and that’s just what I told him.

    For me, I don’t really profile blends, they become mud(with a few exceptions), I mainly use them for SO’s or maybe brighter style blends like some Ritual blends, or 49th Epics I’ve had.
    The other thing I’ve noticed with the gear pump profilers I have(I’ve seen switched to a faster system), is that the initial ramp speed I like for most blends is a bit too slow, even when full on in the beginning as compared to standard rotary pumps. I don’t have LM’s version gear pumps, but you may see similar differences.

    If I had a default profile, (not SO’s)
    No pre infuse(.6mm gicleur installed) most of the extraction @ full pressure, and a slight tailing off somewhere toward the end just to bring up mouthfeel a bit.

    If you want some really interesting differences, throw in heat exchanger falling temperature profiles vs. Standard duel boiler temps

    Jepy

  18. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Maybe you should build a grinder like that ;-)
    I personally work a lot with our espresso blend to taste the way I want it to, so I would hate it if my baristas started playing with it. After all it should reflect what I believe is a good blend. That’s why my name is on the bag.
    I also don’t see why more possibilities should be a bad thing just because it is difficult. I think this machine is the most powerful tool we can get when it comes to making great espressos repeatedly. We just need to learn how to use the different parameters (like taking a drivers license) I am quite sure that in a year or 2 we will endorse this even more.

  19. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    Interesting John. Yes, the ramp up is a bit slow on the gear pump, but I am still quite satisfied with it, even with my blend from time to time. Just need to try it out more.

  20. Keith Loh Says:

    Would a LM swift help to keep the dose and tamp consistent? I’m saying that because for the EP Programming to work it seems you have to keep everything else the same.

  21. Tim Wendelboe Says:

    I think you are better off with a Mazzer Electronic. Means you are more flexible.

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