Gaggia Classic notes

I’ve been doing some more maintenance on the Gaggia Classic. When I got it back from NY it was a bit choked what with the mineral deposits from that hard Catskill aqueduct water. So I disassembled it (photos here) but the one tiny port that I somehow didn’t read up on (or take apart and clean) was the 3-way solenoid valve (it requires a large wrench and possibly you’ll need to screw the 3-way solenoid into a piece of wood to get leverage on it, read Steven Heaton’s post here and Christopher Reed’s here).

Similarly, on the OPV valve (which I did disassemble, more info on that at Ruiz’s blog), I potentially over tightened the “over pressure” spring adjustment. So between the two (one likely blockage in the solenoid and too high of ‘over pressure’) I was getting some wonky behavior: occasional air-locks, high pressure into the puck, inability to clean by backflushing Cafiza.

Without a pressure gauge hooked up to a threaded portafilter all my “pressure adjustments” have been blind, however this time I did try and hit the recommended “over pressure flow rate” which is in the neighborhood of 130 ml for 30 seconds (using a blank basket). It does take a few adjustments to get it right, and I imagine if I put an actual gauge on it (which might be possible using a Presta valved bicycle inner tube and an actual bicycle pressure gauge) it’ll need to be adjusted further (10 Bars static, 9 Bars dynamic being the goal). My existing portafilter just has two spouts and is not threaded in the middle and I’d rather not splurge and spend another $50 for a portafilter I’m only going to use once, apparently there are a few floating around as loaners, so if you’re a Gaggia Users’ Group member and have one I’d be happy to pay a deposit and shipping to at least get the machine’s pressure set.

California Plate Tectonics

Day 0: Arrive SFO. C and I drink some beers with E overlooking the city, go pickup M, drop off E, go to bed.

Day 1: Wake up, it’s sunny in West Berkeley, get an espresso at Cafe Trieste, hike 8 miles with M on Sea View and Quarry trails in Tilden Regional Park. Call GTO. Run with GTO and his roommate up Strawberry Canyon trail up to MSRI, sunset over the bay, dusky redwood single track.  Roasted root vegetables.

Day 2: Wake up, sunny again, get an espresso at Trieste, M takes bus to the city. Run with GTO down past Berkeley Marina, past Golden Fields, out to the East Shore State Park with cool sculptures by the water, loop back via Cesar Chavez State Park. Dinner and drinks with E in the Mission. M doesn’t like Pirates, who does? He enjoys the ambiance of Latin American Club.

Day 3: Drive to Sugarloaf Ridge SP in Sonoma and hike for a few hours. Drive to Napa.  Buy a boat, I dare you.  Burgers & a bottle of Malbec at Gott’s Roadside. Ritual espresso from Oxbow Market  & a nice hand pour over Costa Rican single origin for M.

Day 4: Hike up to the Eucalyptus grove over the dirt track on Dwight with R&M.  Swung from the rope swing, hiked up then down from the insane house at the top overlooking Berkeley & the bay.  Colin Farrell is Crocket, living the dream.

Day 5: Pt. Reyes National Park with friends. Nice 10 mile hike down to the cliffs and shore overlooking the lighthouse. Drove to Marshall, drank Lagunitas, ate oysters, watched sunset. Land of milk and honey.

Day 6: Run with GTO on a nice big loop up Dwight up and over back below Sea View in Tilden, down Quarry, and back around. About a two hour run.  G Bombed down trails at the end onto the Berkeley dirt track. Vietnamese dinner with E; last night in SF.

Day 7: Fly to SD. Climb with L&B at a giant new gym.

Day 8: Hike Mt. Baldy via the “Baldy Bowl” (elev. 10,064′), about 8.4 miles roundtrip, about 3,900′ gain most of it in the last mile up the bowl. Crampons and ice piolets recommended and used. Took a bit more than 4 hours car to car.

Day 9: Run along coast south through La Jolla down to Wind & Sea beaches and back, about an hour. Drive to Joshua Tree & camp under a full moon; hear coyotes yipping.

Day 10: Start day climbing by 07:30 at Hemingway Buttress (east face, right) B leads a hard 5.9 to warm up (‘For Whom the Poodle Tolls’) & then ‘Head Over Heals’. I pull the bolt, sadly no heel hook for me.  Go to Lost Horse and climb three pitch ‘Bird on a Wire’. Walked to Jimmy Cliff & climb “The Harder They Fall”, easy 10a, then B solos the ‘Aiguille de Joshua Tree’.

Day 11: It rains in Southern California. Drive to Mammoth.  It’s snowing in Mammoth.

Day 12: Snowshoed big loop around Mammoth Nordic Trails, Inyo Forest welcome center. Deep powder. About 7-8 miles total.

Day 13: Drive to Lee Vining. Deep powder still being plowed, we have one pair of snowshoes &  poles for 4 people. Hike into Power Plant takes an hour. Hike to ice climbing takes another two hours. Ice climb on far right flow, traverse left above & top rope some WI 3 routes on the Chouinard Wall. Hike back. XL pizza in Bishop. Long drive back to SD.

Day 14: Run from Glider Port down Black’s Beach (aka Naked Man Beach), past Torrey Pines, back up through the preserve, down to the beach, back up final cliff staircase up to the Glider Port. Met with K, discussed logistics.

Day 15: Surf in LJ. Get up on small waves with a nice longboard.  The water is cold.  Climbing gym again in the evening.  Flight back east.

Large Cryptographic Hashes with Whirlpool and a myriad of coffee brewing methods

Who doesn’t like a nice long 512-bit message digest to confirm that the file they’re opening is secure? Cryptographic hash functions are one method of verification to insure file integrity between two parties (or as a signature or authentication code). The most commonly used hash verification is MD5 check sum (proven insecure). Apple uses SHA-1 for it’s package update manager (also likely insecure). But if you want to get deep, go with Whirlpool, and I’m not talking about appliances here, I’m talking about 512 bits of hash (the authors, Barreto & Rijmen have a page here). Ironclad and md5deep are two easy to use packages if you’re looking to implement Whirlpool under most *nix and Win 32/64 systems.

In coffee news, here is a nice webpage devoted to a myriad of coffee brewing methods:


Image via USGS National Center for EROS and NASA

Latte Swirl by Flickr member Mr. Pauly D

Latte Swirl image by Flickr member Mr. Pauly D

Mini Slim Mill & Gaggia Classic – Tips & Tricks

The Gaggia Classic I own is an older model (the IEC power plug doesn’t have a ground) that I bought for less than half price used.  And so far so good, it’s been a good appliance.  I find I can make a couple of espressos a day with it and I’m happy.  The problems come when you want to start comparing those espressos with a what a good barista at a good coffee shop can pull.  I don’t think they’ll ever be the same, but there are few things a Gaggia Classic owner can do to eek out better espresso.

1) be patient.  when I get up in the AM I turn it on. Make sure the portafilter basket is clean and purge about 6 ounces of water out of the brew head, making sure the brew head is clean.  Then do something else for 10-15 minutes.  That’s how long it takes to warm up; 20 minutes is probably even better.

2) grinding with the Hario Mini Slim Mill Ceramic is a little futzy as the grind adjustment doesn’t seem to be particularly fine (i.e. the steps are too coarse and the ceramic burrset is small) but still it works.  For $35 or whatever, it gets you much closer to consistent espresso grounds than anything else that costs less than $100 or more.  Yes, a Mazzer would be nice, or even just a Rocky, but I can’t justify it.  So, with each bag of espresso I buy I have to find that sweet spot in the grind where it doesn’t choke the machine.  And it’s true with hand grinding, the more you do it the more of a “feel” you have for what grind you’re getting.  Grinding a double shot takes less than 3 minutes, by hand.

3) temperature surfing the Gaggia means waiting until the right hand “Brew Ready” light clicks back on (you can hear the relay) and wait about 20 seconds.  From doing tests I found this to be near the highest spot in the temperature of the boiler.  Yes, a PID would help or a bigger dual boiler machine would be nice as well.  But as far as the law of diminishing returns here, I’m sticking with what I have, and so temperature surfing the Gaggia it is.

4) So, you’ve waited about 15 minutes or so, you’ve ground your beans to something you know won’t quite choke the little Gaggia and your brew light has just flicked back on, you count down, and now you flip the brew switch and enjoy some espresso.  Hopefully your shot takes around 30 seconds to pull with a good solid 5-7 seconds at the beginning with infusion, the crema should be heady, rising above your 2oz line.  The best shots I’ve gotten from this machine have no sourness.  For whatever reason, the small boiler and little pressure pump of this machine often has sour shots, but when you pull a good one, it’s not sour – it’s smooth.  Good luck.

Hario Slim Mill - Hand GrinderGaggia Classic - Home Espresso Single Boiler

Unboxing & mini review of the Hario Ceramic Slim Coffee Mill

Unboxing the Hario Ceramic Slim Mill I received from Seattle Coffee Gear, more photos of the unboxing are here on my Flickr.

Back (English)


Open Box


And as it turns out it works pretty darn well. It’s mostly plastic with a stainless steel shaft and a small ceramic burr set. My only gripe would be that with the plastic lid/cover off the handle seems to fit a little better on the grinding shaft. I started with a pretty coarse setting and the burrs are significantly sharper than my old PeDe (from the 1940s, I believe).  I should have no problem dialing in various espresso grinds for use with my temperamental Gaggia Classic.  And of course for brewing pour-overs, French presses (w/ a slighter finer grind) and  my macchinetta, it will be swell.

Blow Up

2 scoops ~20g or so

Grindin '

Melita #102 Ceramic

Pre-infusion Pouring

About 2 minutes or so total pour time

A cuppa joe

Ahh, a cup’pa joe. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Temperature surfing the Gaggia Classic & the Hario Mini Mill Slim

Bought some Gimme! Leftist Espresso blend recently when we were visiting friends in NYC dropping off a nuptial related coffee making apparatus type gift. & Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying the Chestnut Hill Coffee Company’s espresso offerings of late & we actually rode bicyclettes all the way up that gosh darn Chestnut Hill to Germantown Ave.  It’s actually quite steep coming up from Forbidden Drive (i.e. sea level) in the Wissahickon Valley to 500 feet, averages about 10% grade or more in the beginning.

At any rate, some coffee related stuff:

1) The nuptial gift was a Capresso MT500 with reusable gold cone filter.  This is a pretty nice coffee making machine.  The advantages over the MT600 glass model, from my research include: 1) a stainless thermal carafe, 2) fully stainless heating element system, & 3) a Portuguese temperament

I’m not actually sure if the  MT500 model vs the Chinese constructed MG600 makes much of a difference, but according to Amazon reviews it does, and there’s over 300 reviews between them so I figure better to go with the older Portuguese made model.

Capresso MT500 Coffee Maker

Capresso MT500 Coffee Maker

I finally ordered my Hario Mini Mill Slim hand grinder.  The nice old Pe De C’ bought me for nuptials has worked well but basically the burrs are not tight enough except for certain blends of espresso, I needed more leeway and precision on the finer burr settings.  I usually don’t make more than a couple of double shots a day so I figure the Mini Mill and its ceramic burr set should be perfect and as a bonus I can travel with it.

Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Grinder

Hario Mini Mill Slim Hand Grinder

I’ve been measuring the shots on the Gaggia Classic with an instant read thermometer.  About 30 seconds after the right hand brew temp light comes back on gives the highest brew temperatures, usually in the 180’s °F.  I need to either PID the machine or buy a new higher temp thermostat if I want 192 °F in my demitasse. Though the PID may get my starting brew temperature more consistent, supposedly the problem with these small single boiler machines is that they don’t have enough volume @n temperature to maintain a full 30″ shot at 201 °F (or @whatever you’re dialing in your espresso). A Swedish fellow from Stockholm managed to build his own heat exchanger / pre-heating coil using aluminum billet, to help the Gaggia maintain the temperature throughout the shot, you can read about it on  I am not sure to what lengths I’ll go for that perfect shot.

DIY Gaggia Classic Heat Exchanger

DIY Gaggia Classic Heat Exchanger

Gaggia Classic PID @ Auberins

Gaggia Classic PID @ Auberins

International Superstars

Twin Gate Mountain -Yangshuo China

Twin Gate Mountain -Yangshuo China

We had a few onlookers for our climb today at the ‘Twin Gate’ crag which was among the fields but much easier to find than yesterday (yesterday we set out to find ‘The Egg’ but a new road had been paved rendering our directions useless, and after getting lost among the mandarin orange orchards and wading across some streams with our bicycles we ended up at ‘Low Mountain,’ an entirely different crag a few kilometers away).

The farmers mostly just glanced up briefly as they walked by, though an elderly woman settled down to watch as she wove flower garlands to sell at a local park and another stopped to sell us dried persimmons.  A lone Chinese tourist came over to ask us “where you from?” When I told him America he got very excited. “NBA!” he exclaimed. “Kobe Bryant! Barack Obama!”. It was nice to finally meet someone who was enthusiastic about the US of A.

On our way back to the main road we passed villagers returning from the park (site of a 1400 year old banyan tree and a major tourist attraction) with small trained monkeys, some wearing bright orange outfits with tall pointy feathered caps – a new source of nightmares for Mark.  Dinner was stuffed eggplant and sautéd bok choy at the local restaurant across the street from our hotel, where Westerners get their dishes sterilized and shrink wrapped. It was delicious, we are going back for the snails which is what everyone else seemed to be eating.

The Mandarin phrase of the day was hot soybean milk (rède dòujiāng in Pinyin) which is my new breakfast staple. Mark is going through coffee withdrawl again as while you can pay extra at the Western style restaurants for “Yunnan coffee,” it’s only marginally better than Nescafe. That being said, there is no shortage of green tea here in China.

Finally, a 3oz insulated espresso shot glass

Like many residents of this city an occasional stop at the “Starbucks Public Restroom Service” happens, but as I was waiting on line I found a set of Bodum 3oz Insulated Shot glasses with ounce increment markings for sale ($10.95).

As far as I can tell these do not exist on the internet and I think they are an older version of the Bodum Assam 2oz shot glass.  The glass I’d been searching for was from a specialty coffee distributor called Rattleware who make a 3oz mini shot pitcher, but these insulated Bodums (with a silicone pressure regulation seal at the bottom, no less) appear perfect for pulling up to 3oz shots and are certainly nicer to drink espresso out of.

Bodum Assam 2oz, the version I have has straight walls and 1 & 2oz interval markings, allowing up to 3oz total volume

Bodum Assam 2oz: the version I bought has parallel straight glass walls and two 1oz interval markings, allowing up to 3oz total volume

Rattleware 3oz Mini PItcher

Rattleware 3oz Mini Shot Pitcher

The French Press revisited

Like anything worth doing the French coffee press (aka the plunger press, press pot or cafetière) is an apparatus that requires a bit practice and forethought to perfect. Below are my current steps (the process) to French press perfection:

1) Fill both an electric tea kettle with filtered water & stove top kettle with non filtered water; add heat.

2) While the kettles boil grind your coffee.  I use a vintage PeDe wooden box hand grinder CC bought me, set to a fine grind, the burrs are snug but not tight, the grind is like coarse sand.

3) With the non-filtered water tea kettle at or near boiling pre-heat the press pot and plunger with hot water.  While you’re at it pre-heat (fill) your vacuum flask and your cup that you’re going to drink your coffee with.  Why?  Because or goal here is to keep the coffee temperature on the level, if everything is brought up to temperature your fluctuation will be minimized.

4) When your electric tea kettle dings give about 30 secs to 1 min off boil for the temperature to fall between 200-190 degrees F (93-88 °C).  Dump the hot water out of the press pot.  Your amount of ground coffee to water ratio is something of a personal preference.  Using a finer grind and longer wait time gives a richer, stronger extraction.  Typically, I use 4 TBSP of ground coffee and fill the pot with about 3 cups (.6 Liters) of water.  I generally find that if I want a completely full press pot I need over 5 level tablespoons.

5) I set my countdown timer for 4 minutes.   I stir the blooming fresh grounds for about 30 seconds before placing the plunger lid on the press pot. Wait.

6) Throw out hot water from your vacuum flash and drinking cup.  Pour hot press pot into your hot vessels, don’t pour out the dredge at the bottom of the press pot, generally the last couple of ounces have too much sludge.

7) Amaze your friends with piping hot coffee.

The French Press

The French Press

Gaggia little Gaggia, the light of my life.

Found a used Gaggia Classic on  Took the train up to Greenwich, paid the the cash to the pusher man in the back of his SUV and took home a “marginally used” single pump/single boiler w/3 way solenoid valve home espresso machine.  The Rancilio Silvia currently goes new for about $600 or more, the Gaggia Classic is usually just under $500.  I paid less than half of that so I feel good about it.  Now the grinding, that’s another story.  My vintage PeDe hand grinder goes pretty fine, but it’s still a bit coarse for the Gaggia.  I had Ellen at Sweet Leaf grind me some Hairbender with their Mazzer profi grinder and it’s perhaps too fine; I’ll try less tamp.  This morning it has tended towards a bit sour extraction though blonding doesn’t seem to be happening as quickly and I’m getting the full 30 seconds if not more, which makes me think it’s too fine.  With the Larry’s espresso I was using and the PeDe I was getting 15 seconds max but it was much sweeter, though likely much less extracted, so it’s a fine line.

So yeah, at this point I have some cleaning to do: back flush the porta filter basket and 3-way valve, and do a full descale of the system.  So far it doesn’t look like it was too heavily used though when I pulled the screen off the group head there was a pretty serious buildup of coffee soot/sludge so I’ll likely need to do a bit of cleaning around the group.

Gaggia Classic Espresso Machine

Gaggia Classic Espresso Machine

I did find a few terrific videos concerning grinding and cleaning I’ll link to here, from Seattle Coffee Gear and their blog here, The Brown Bean:





WWDC no 802.11n in on the 3G S iPhone!? Drat!

So, with the new iPhone 3.x OS you will not be purchasing an 802.11N enabled wireless chipset.  Apparently the new 3G S model does support 4G HSDPA but not 5 GHz 802.11N wireless with the new lower powered Broadcom BCM4325. Apparently the 3G S model is a bit snappier. When is the 802.11n iPod Touch coming out? That’s what I’m waiting for. I saw that Garret had a very small LG phone that’s basically free from Verizon, if I could find that used/new and then go with a Touch remote… we’ll see how it goes…. Windows 7 RC is OK. It works, for what it’s worth.

I like Ubuntu 9.04 with MythTV…. I’m going to go back to that but probably do a dual boot leaving Win7 RC just in case…. Sadly, for Netflix playback due to Silverlight DRM a Windows XP/Vista/7 VM or even an OS X VM is necessary for Netflix streaming…. or buy a Roku box, unfortunately our TV doesn’t have 2 HDMI inputs… I’m surprised no one has been able to reverse engineer the Roku Box’s chipset and put the Silverlight DRM code out there…. Or even just have a “Roku Box VM”…. Why not, right? Seems possible, when you consider how almost all old video console games can now be played and fit on one flash drive.

I brewed with the Yama 5 Cup Vacuum brewer today. Thank you Conor and Leigh, awesome gift BTW; best of luck in your trip West. The coffee is very good, very clean, very smooth. I currently am grinding Gimme’ Coffee’s Picolo Mondo variety. Thank you Japanese vacuum brewing technology and to Chris for the awesome vintage German Peter Dienes grinder which does it job remarkably well for a hand grinder over twice as old as I am.

Yama Brewing

Yama Vaccuum Brewing by Digital Colony

My Vintage PeDe looks similar, all metal on top though

My Vintage PeDe looks similar, all metal on top though


Hackable? Image from blog