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I recently got a new espresso machine, a Gaggia Classic, and I sometimes hear statements like the following:

  • "Always use the same kind of coffee for this machine!"
  • "If you've found one that tastes good, stick with this!"

Is there any truth behind these statements?

More concretely:

  • Are there any mechanical issues that stem from using different kinds of espresso in the same machine over the course of many years of usage?
  • Or is it only a matter of taste?
  • Is a machine somehow "branded" with a kind of coffee after some time of use? (Bad comparison: Like string instruments that sound better if they are played long enough, some are actually treated with sound)
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1  
If you always use the same kind of coffee, how will you figure out which one is the best for your new machine? I think this expression is a poor attempt to reduce the complexity of the subject at hand. –  Sebastian Jun 14 '11 at 12:48
    
What kind of machine is it? Manual? Semi-auto? Super-auto? –  ESultanik Jun 14 '11 at 13:21
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@ESultanik I updated my question. –  slhck Jun 14 '11 at 13:55
    
@Sebastian You are absolutely right. But imagine I'd be at the point where I say, "okay, this Espresso tastes very good". Should I now stick with it? –  slhck Jun 14 '11 at 14:05
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I've never heard of this claim before. The only thing I could think of was that a super-auto (i.e., the machines that automatically "do everything" at the push of a button, including grinding the beans) might be sensitive to different kinds of beans, which is why I asked for the type of machine. I have a similar machine to your Gaggia Classic and I've never had a problem varying the types of coffee I use. –  ESultanik Jun 14 '11 at 14:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are a lot of good detailed answers on this page already, but I guess I could add my own $0.02 to the conversation and maybe a different angle to the answer..

I have been home roasting and brewing for about 2 years now and I think the #1 thing I've learned about pulling espresso shots is that it is all about consistency.

In order to effect consistency you have to control your variables, and the more variables you get control of, the better chance you have of maintaining consistency.

Over the past two years I have continuously refined my process by modifying the entire chain of coffee production, whether it meant ordering a new piece of hardware or changing how I did something.

For instance, I installed a PID on my Racilio Silvia in order to control brew temperature, I bought a naked portafilter to get better feedback on the quality of my shots, and bought a pressure gauge to make sure I was getting proper brew pressure at the group head, the list goes on and on.

So when I saw your question about "always using the same coffee" I interpreted it as just another one of those variables that you can get control of and that will effect the quality of the shots you pull.

In the beginning I stuck with the same coffee and roast to try to minimize the number of variables I was working with. Once I was more familiar with how each variable effected my shot and how I could manipulate them to get what I wanted, I began to experiment.

So I guess for me keeping the coffee the same boils down to removing some noise from the system to make it easier to manage...

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I think this really is the answer; if you're experimenting to try to get the best possible shot then you want to control your variables, and the blend/grind is just another variable to control. –  Aaronut Jun 15 '11 at 18:21
    
I liked that answer a lot. I'm also going through the process of (at least now) trying to get everything consistent so that later on I can modify some variables. Thanks for the insight. –  slhck Jun 15 '11 at 20:01
    
Thanks.. It really is just worth pulling shots every day for months without making huge changes until you understand the nuances of the equipment you are working with, then you can make small changes and note how it effects the experience you are looking for. I'm at a pretty good place now where I can make farther reaching changes with some confidence, but I still overstep at times and have to pull back to a known good set of variables and start over, the important thing is to enjoy the process and not to give up –  C.Trauma Jun 15 '11 at 20:32

Are there any mechanical issues that stem from using different kinds of espresso in the same machine over the course of many years of usage?

No, the quality of the grind will be much more important to the machine than the type of beans. And even then, not so important at all. Coffee is coffee with regard to this piece of machinery.

Or is it only a matter of taste?

Is a machine somehow "branded" with a kind of coffee after some time of use?

No. I suppose in theory over time one could begin to see some form of flavour buildup on their machine however there shouldn't be porous materials to absorb oils and if you keep it clean that should make little to no difference.

My guess is it's either a matter of taste or laziness on the part of the people who said those things. There is no logical nor apparent reason for any of it to be true.

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3  
I agree with everything in your answer, except "coffee is coffee". –  Neil Fein Jun 15 '11 at 2:56
    
@Neil -- I agree entirely, the question has been edited. –  zellio Jun 15 '11 at 14:43

There is no technical reason for sticking to one kind of coffee only. In contrast, you should really try different brands (the fresher the better) to find out what you like best.

However, there's a small truth behind the statements for the portafilter type of coffee machines. It's not related to the machine itself but to the user, because usually it takes some time to adjust the grinder properly for one sort of coffee. Especially unexperienced users of portafilters need more time to get the perfect cup out of beans, so switching the beans to often is not a good idea at the beginning.

Many of the small roasting facilites offer test packages with 250g of beans. These are definitely too small for a beginner. Try to find the optimal dosage and grind with at least 1000g before you try a different bean/roast.

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  • Are there any mechanical issues that stem from using different kinds of espresso in the same machine over the course of many years of usage?
  • Or is it only a matter of taste?

The answer is no. There are no mechanical issues, ever, that stems from using different kinds of coffee bean on the same machine over many years. The only thing that touches the coffee ground is the portafilter (and the water source above the portafilter, and the cup for the matter). The portafilter should be cleaned regularly. If anything build up there it would be rancid coffee oil which are NOT tasty I suppose.

See above. For beginners of coffee making, take the following advice:

  1. the fresher the coffee, the better (that is, short time from harvest to roast, short time from roast to ground, and short time from ground to pulling the espresso.
  2. Fill the portafilter well first, then tamp it well. No amount of tamping will save an uneven powder filling of a portafilter.
  3. Clean your machine well. Nothing will save you from rancid oil.
  4. Use high quality water. Poor quality water will make coffee taste worse. Invest in a filter or use distilled water.

If you are really into it, you can consider using a bottomless filter to troubleshoot coffee making similar to a debugger to a programmer...

Good luck!

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Thanks for the insight! I'm actually very satisfied with my coffee so far, I've read a fair amount on the subject before even turning on the machine. Why would a bottomless filter help? –  slhck Jun 14 '11 at 20:21
    
A bottomless filter would show if there is problem with the filling/tamping of the portafilter. See ineedcoffee.com/07/naked-portafilter & coffeeparts.com/domestic-parts/machines/gaggia-classic.html (for the actual part) –  bubu Jun 14 '11 at 20:26

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