Friday, January 19, 2007

woe is me, the espresso machine broke

Yes, it broke and the culprit is apparently the pressure stat as shown above. I think it's a C.E.M.E, and I suppose I should be happy that it lasted for over two years of being on all the time, 24/7. Why would a person leave the espresso machine on all the time, you might ask. Why in the world would a person post a photo of a pressure stat, you might also ask. I have to go and eat now, but I'll answer some of these burning coffee questions later.

Ok, I'm back. We had waffles from Trader Joe's with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, also two eggs over easy. As usual we ate on the front porch and as usual I was in my bathrobe. Amazing to be able to do that in mid January, especially when it's snowing in Los Angeles. Global warming I think-- there were 100mph gale force winds knocking people down in the streets of London this week. But back to the really important stuff: my espresso machine.

I had to drink my freshly roasted ( I roasted it yesterday) coffee from my french press today. No instant hot water from my Isomac Tea, but at least I got to use my commercial grade grinder. The horror. Can't remember what variety of single origin coffee I'm drinking, because I've got eight varieties of beans ready to roast at all times and I don't always note which one I'm currently drinking. I'm not bragging: I'm confessing. I don't have many vices but being a coffee geek is one of them. Sheryl's eyes glaze over when I start talking about BAR, heat exchangers, PID temperature controllers and the like. And she's right to shy away from this stuff I think but in my defense before she met me, she hated coffee, espresso was out of the question. Now she hits me up for big gulps of my double cappucino every morning. If you do it right, a cappucino tastes like a hot chocolate, and she does love hot chocolate. But now we're in mourning until my magic machine is resurrected. Ok she's not in mourning. I'm taking the opportunity to question my attachment to a hot drink, and the massive and complex machinery it takes to produce it.

Why leave the espresso machine on at all times: so that it's warmed up and ready to go whenever you want a hot drink. How wasteful is that: it's about like running a 100 watt bulb all the time. Some say it's more like 135 watts on average for my particular machine. The truth: it depends on a lot of factors-- is my boiler insulated? No. What is the ambient room temperature? Pretty low at night, this time of year, results in more heat transfer from the machine to the air surrounding it. How hot is the machine set to run? Pretty hot in my case, as of the last few days when I descaled it and found rather easy access to the two little screws which control boiler pressure (equates to temperature) and I forget what they call it, drift? It's the dead zone wherein the heating element turns on, turns off and waits a bit before it goes back on. Has to do with maintaining a constant temperature. I set the temp higher and I tweaked the dead zone pretty tight to where I was getting only about one-tenth bar of variation. Somewhere on the web a guy claims that's about one degree celcius of variation but I haven't confirmed. In the middle of tweaking, the pressure stat freaked and wouldn't turn off the heating element until twiddled one of the screws again, that was a warning sign. For a couple of days I was really really happy with my renewed machine, then it broke. In all likelihood, what I did broke the pressure stat. In my defense (again I'm defending myself?) the pressure stat was old, was already acting up and as it turns out, is a weak point of the "pro-sumer" home espresso machine. You see why my girlfriend wants to run for cover when I start to talk about this stuff? It's insane. It's coffee, it's only coffee. Get a grip, Paul.

So anyway, back to the insanity. Last night I ordered a "yaeger" pressure stat. It costs twice as much as the OEM replacement part, but the ad copy assures that it's amuch more reliable part. Of course it says that. What else would it say? The OEM part was $37.00, I opted for the $65.00 part, but did not buy the top of the line Sirai pressure stat which costs about a hundred bucks and is too big to fit into the machine anyway. A top of the line commercial grade pressure stat. The sad part is that a part of me ( broken part most likely, a part that needs replacing) actually wanted the Sirai. The even sadder part involve an even more broken part of my brain which wants to install a PID controller to the tune of about $200. Where online do I shop for brain tissue? The OEM variety will probably suit me just fine. PS, you might want to know that $65.00 clears out my bank account. It's all I have. No budget for new brain parts. This situation is what you might call a cascade failure, thermal runaway-- I'm too hot for coffee and my circuits got fried. Some time I'll talk about my previous life as an "audiophile." That's another techno-addiction.

Before anybody judges me too harshly, here's my little reminder that coffee done well isn't just good coffee-- it's a quantum leap away from what any (normal) person thinks of as coffee. It's a whole different drink. And yet, is all that expensive equipment really necessary to produce it? Or do guys just fall in love too easily with overly complex and expensive machinery? (Don't knock it, we fall in love with women too, and there may be some common features there).

Some lucky business man had his product featured in the Sentinel a while back: it was a coffee maker. I saw one at a fancy culinary arts store on the Pacific Garden Mall. Sorry I can't think of the name of the product or even the store. It's basically a clear plastic tube with a piston-type plunger and probably a filter in the bottom. It's kind of a low rent espresso machine, maybe a cross between a french press and an espresso machine. Actually, I don't really see the point in it, it being too close to a french press and too far from espresso. HOWEVER: the review he got in the paper was pretty intriguing. The inventor became quite concerned with brew temperature, brew time, and the use of pressure to enhance brewing. These are some of the same considerations for good espresso. His little coffee maker is damn cheap compared to a lot of things which combine hot water and ground coffee, so, more power to him. I probably won't buy it, because I blew all my money on a single pressure stat: enough money to buy two or three coffee makers, enough money to buy a psuedo-espresso machine from Longs Drugs. Enough money to buy something I might actually need or get real enjoyment out of. Enough money to pay for all kinds of good things in the world that have nothing to do with hold-out addictions to food or drink. Coffee insanity. I reserve the right to be a little insane about little things that don't matter much. I think it keeps me sane.

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