Sunday, October 29, 2006

the vibiemme: fill him up

ok! after unpacking and assembling the vibiemme domobar electronic espresso machine yesterday -- remember we?re calling him caesar for short -- it?s time to fill 'im up with water, prime his vibration pump, and pull some blank shots to see his default temperature.

let?s be honest: after living with my beloved steamy latin, carlos expobar, caesar's a big deal.

carlos was, well, rather like harvey keitel -- masculine, helpful, somewhat vulnerable once you managed to get to know him, endearing but also somewhat mysteriously remote, with boxy shoulders, sexy in his off-beat low-key way, but not a pretty boy, not anything like conventionally handsome.

whereas caesar -- that's like waking up and having george clooney in your kitchen. you feel more glamorous just looking at him. you and your kitchen both have somehow lost 10 years and 10 pounds.

your drawers are suddenly full of la perla everything, and all carpets are red. but how does he work?

i've never had a machine with useful, functional gauges before, so learning to use them to help me pull good shots will be very exciting.

long-time bccy readers don't need to be reminded how important temperature is when pulling great espresso shots. everyone knows by now that coffee has many different taste compounds that occur naturally in it.

and all the different compounds dissolve into the coffee at different amounts at different temperatures. when we pull a shot we want to make sure we have a water temperature that extracts all the good tasting things into the cup, while leaving as much of the not-so-good stuff behind as possible.

let's start with filling caesar up with water. because he?s not plumbed in, i can't just pop a water treatment unit under my sink and call it a day.
i have to be careful what kind of water i pour into him. very hard water will not only make bad coffee, but also gum up his elaborate insides with limescale.

over time, limescale can destroy the machine. since descaling an hx (heat exchanger) machine like caesar isn't so easy at home -- certainly not as easy as mixing up some cleancaf for silvia -- i want from the very beginning to ensure that i try to prevent scale buildup at all, as much as possible.

dr. illy informs us that the best water for good espresso taste is about 3 grains of hardness, with a certain mineral content of about 100 ppm. this means many people can?t just put their tap water into their hx machines.

it's too hard and/or has the wrong mineral balance (for example, too much iron in your water will come into the coffee, and give it a noticeably ghoulish-green quality when you add milk). if you have doubts, use test strips to check your home water out.

altho' i live in nyc, with its famous water, for this first fill i used volvic, a reliable bottled water that is pretty close to the illy requirements. i think supermarkets everywhere sell it.

depending on what region of the country you live in, there might be local bottled waters that will also do; some people i know swear by poland spring, even!

so now i've got my water. let?s fill 'im up.

caesar?s water tank is the back underneath his top warming plate. just use the handles to lift off the warming plate, and there it is:vibiemme water tank(i darkened the photo a bit because otherwise caesar is so beautifully reflective you can barely seem him sometimes in pictures! notice also on the edge, how the slightest fingerprint stands out like a gash; joeglo wipes to the rescue here.)

the tank has a little clear plastic cap that has to be levered off: it doesn?t really have a pull tab. this is where you can break a nail, if you're not careful, so i used the point of my butter knife.

i'd recommend a funnel to help avoid spilling while you fill, if you can get one underneath your cabinets.

his tank holds about 3.5 qts, or 3 liters. honestly, i do wish that the tank could be placed farther forward, and have a larger hole for filling -- this is one thing i loved about carlos expobar, his easily accessible and easy-to-fill water tank.

but it's not unmanageable with a liter bottle of volvic under my own cabinets. now that he's got water, we need to plug him in, fill his boiler and prime his pump.

let's turn to the hilarious italian manual; actually, shaking the manual, caesar comes with 3 sets of instructions. all of which sort of agree, but which also sort of differ as the correct procedure.

let's start with the big manual; it's not as completely useless as usual here, just 90% useless. turning to the domobar super with water tank section, here?s what we learn -- "put the commutator (2) in position 1, the on/off indicator lamp (3) will light and the boiler water inlet will automatically start."

no one new to espresso equipment would have any idea what that meant; i barely do myself. so don't freak out!

if you turn to the back of the big manual, you'll see 4 really bad color pix, one of which shows caesar with his row of buttons on his forehead.

the picture doesn?t label the indicator lamp, and in fact, it can be barely discerned in the grainy photo. but it's the little green light outside the right-hand pump gauge over the hot water wand.

the little light on the inside of the right-hand gauge should be his "help! i'm thirsty!" light. that should come on red when he needs water; caesar has a little weight scale inside that turns this light on if the water tank gets too light (that is, if he's about to run dry.)

never let caesar run dry. he will break. please always give him water when he asks for it, right away!

the "commutator" (isn't that the guy who gives the play-by-play during a soccer match?) is the half-moon shaped knob/lever on the bottom right underneath the hot water wand:vibiemme levetta, half-moon knob, commutator, whateverusually italian machines of this quality have a little lever here, called, duh, a "levetta." so call it a commutator, a levetta, or a half-moon knob, there it is.

notice the knob has 3 settings:

  • 0 for off
  • I for fill
  • II for heat & brew

so we want to turn the half-moon to I and let caesar fill himself up.

the half-moon turns like a dream. and caesar leaps to life with a little click: his small green light comes on, showing that caesar is alive and has voltage.

you hear a medium br-rr-ruurr-ing sound as he draws water from the tank into his boiler. it's not nearly as loud and obnoxious as carlos expobar's autofill noise, which frankly always caused the cat to hit the ceiling.

and that?s saying something since i live in a loft-ish apartment with very high ceilings. my husband also always had, um, a deeply negative reaction; "what the *$%#!"

caesar is much more polite, but still far from quiet. and certainly not silent.

still, by semi-commercial espresso machine standards, i'm calling him acceptable.

now of the 3 manuals, one piece of paper suggests this autofill should continue for 60 seconds. i timed it with my espresso timer, and found this very first time that it lasted for 2 minutes, 10 seconds.

then caesar stopped, meaning he was happy and full of water. great! his little light stayed green because of course all it means is that he?s awake and has power.

so now to heat 'em up and pull some blank shots to see his default temperature. i turned the half-moon to II.

caesar's third lamp lit red. this lamp sits on the left-hand side, over the steam wand, outside the boiler pressure gauge.

this light comes on and off as caesar manipulates his heating element to bring himself up to brewing temperature and keep himself there. as caesar heats you'll also notice his left-hand boiler gauge slowly rising.

it should generally hang out around between .9 and 1.1 bar.

i let caesar heat for 30 minutes as i went about eating chocolate, etc., and he quietly clicked every now and then. after a couple of minutes i carefully moved the steam wand over the drip tray and opened it to let out any air in there; once the steam came out, i closed the knob.

it's crucial to remember that he gets very very hot. don't casually touch the exposed e-61 grouphead or the metal portions of the wands; be careful also of his face.

caesar's amazing, but he's not for those with toddlers. if you're used to a machine like silvia or carlos, which you can touch as they heat, and almost have to to get the portafilter on, be extra wary.

once his boiler light went out, and his boiler gauge read 1 bar, i decided to take his temperature. some people have fancy electronic thermometers, but really, for this basic step all you need's a paper cup and your instant-read thermometer:easy temperature readingi then put on an oven mitt and held the paper cup-n-thermometer-stuck-sideways up tight against the dispersion screen.

i pressed caesar's manual pour button, which the rightmost button on his forehead. his pump gur-ru-rured, and he there he was, working away!

after 10 seconds i pushed the same button again to turn his pump off. there was some water in the cup, as expected.

i waited about 30 seconds so the instant read could give me a good temperature: 200 degrees. notice i didn't flush him, or run any water beforehand.

i then measured the amount of water he?d pumped: exactly 50 ml or about 1.7 oz. the whole time i ran him, caesar's gauge stayed at 1 bar, which i would expect.

i had thought that before doing any test brewing, i would have to open him up and do some adjustment. but actually, these numbers are pretty great.

i think caesar has a good default water debit and temperature out of the box. in short, he's not bad as he is.

since i prefer the italian inei standards for espresso, i might after some test brewing lower his pressure a bit. what i'd be after then is 190-195 degree exit water, for a temperature of 152-157 degrees coffee in the cup.

if i flush him a bit by running about 2-4 oz. water thru him first, i might get that 190ish degrees right away, no adjustment. more on that as i continue. . .

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posted by fortune | 8:56 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 3 comments

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