Sunday, November 23
It will be at Ida Lee Park in Leesburg, VA. Due to park construction the course has been redesigned and now has even more faster sections, plus some technical stuff that will make you cry the first time through, sigh the second, and smile the third time and thereafter once you figure it out. Ida Lee Park also has a couple playgrounds for the kids, tennis courts, a big ol' pool and a jacuzzi that seats about 50, so you can race, play with the family, pay a couple bucks to get in a post-race soak, *all right there at the race venue.* After that you can head into Leesburg and check out some of the quaint little shops and excellent restaurants.-----------------------------------------------
After a ride a few weeks ago with K, when he was talking about this major, bigtime, fully automatic espresso maker he had recently purchased, I got to thinking: why the hell do I drink lousy espresso all the time? Some places have okay espresso. There's a kid at the Java Shack, and this one girl who works there sometimes, who pull good shots. Murky usually has a good shot. Once in a while the Bean gets it right. But most of the time I'm stuck with this overflowing cup of bitter and weak 'espresso'. They simply run too much water through the beans to make it properly strong, and this also burns the beans and makes the stuff bitter. I can make okay stuff at home but it's more like Turkish Coffee. I have a Krupps steam-powered espresso that works okay, but that's more like Turkish Coffee too - no rich crema. This is something I've been thinking about upgrading for a long time, but haven, t really moved on.
K's talking about how nice it was to have a great shot on tap at will got me thinking more seriously about it. In his case, he had a nice confluence of frequent flier miles and a big sale at Williams Sonoma or somesuch, whereas my Sainted Wife is currently between jobs, and the only place I fly is off my bike in the woods in technical sections. So what's a ghetto-ass espresso lover to do?
First, I started reading up on machines on CoffeeGeek.com. Let me tell you, if you think roadies are bitchy, particular people, you haven't exposed yourself to espresso fanatics. Cripes! The place is like Bikeforum, for really, really wired up and irritable people. (Maybe try some decaf, guys?)
But these coffee ueber-achievers do have some opinions about espresso makers and grinders and such, and a lot of experience with a lot of different machines. Three things became clear to me after a lot of reading. (1) A semi-automatic machine is the best combination of affordability and consistent good espresso; (2) A manual "lever" machine is beautiful, hard to get good at, the purist approach, what I want eventually, and wicked expensive for something that is so hard to use; and, (3) all the good machines are bloody expensive and I should probably go entry level to figure out what the hell I'm doing and whether the hassle is worth it.
So there was only one solution - look for a decent entry-level machine used. E-bay, here we come!
A lot of the really premium "entry" level machines, like the Rancillio Silvia, hold their value really well. So if you buy one new for $500, the sexy thing will re-sell for $400. A bit out of my price range. On the other hand, an unglamorous Starbucks Barista, about which the consensus is "okay basic machine, good starter" used to retail for $400, and can be picked up used in good shape for $75 or $100. It's actually just a re-branded Solis 166, a decent, legit entry-level Eye-talian espresso maker. It has the added benefit of having actual negative bling factor due to its association with teh Eeeevil Empire of bad espresso, Starbucks.
Off I went to e-Bay, (E-bay? Eba-y?) and after a couple auctions, I landed one for about $75. After some initial consternation over the seller's slow shipping (I guess he hadn't been drinking enough coffee or something) it arrived.
I was a little disappointed at first. The knob for the steam wand - to turn steam on and off - broke in shipping. It looks like there are a couple seals that ought to be replaced. I'm looking at $9 for the knob, maybe $10 worth of seals.
But on the other hand, I fired it up, put in 3 level tablespoons of finely ground bean from my favorite coffee shop, tamped the beans down with 30-40 pounds of pressure... and produced a pretty damn good shot of espresso. I was shocked - it wasn't as good as the best shot I ever had at Murky, but it was better than I've ever had at Starbucks or Caribou. It was creamy, full bodied, and about 25% of the shot's height was 'crema' - head like you'd get on a properly poured Guinness.
It was sublime. If this is a bad shot from a mediocre machine, I can't wait to get a bad shot from an okay machine.
Would it be pathetic if I told you I'm hooked and am turning into a pathetic espresso junkie?
It's sad but true.
So the next step is to get a decent grinder. The grind is possibly more critical than the espresso maker, I'm told. It seems blade grinders heat up the beans and burn off the essential oils, and wreck the taste. Cheap burr grinders don't grind small enough. But it's okay, I've got a plan there too. Starbucks sold a fairly inexpensive burr grinder, one that isn't really adjustable enough or fine grinding enough to produce really good espresso. But it's really cheap, a rebranded Solis Maestro, the original version, which is a reasonably solid basic burr grinder. *And* there's a hack to make it work really, really well. Good enough to make great espresso even in a premium machine. That's next on the list.
Eventually, there's a really nice premiumm espresso machine and grinder in my future. But for now, I'm satisfied with my low-rent used machine, and I'll be thrilled to death when I get a decent (also low-rent) grinder to go with it. Sometimes, the image just doesn't matter as much as the performance.
Guilty Pleasure - There's a BettyBetty link to GoFugYourself. It's a really bitchy fashion blog that deconstructs... pretty much everybody. There is some funny stuff though, and if you can stand the feeling that you're turning into Gore Vidal to laugh at it, it's worth a visit. Where else can you find:
A Person with Horrifying Hands
(Do not click on this link)