Splashing out

2015-10-24 · 594 words

The last year has been an exciting one for me as I discovered speciality coffee. After starting off with a variety of ground coffee, I quickly discovered the benefit of freshly grinding beans. Before too long I’d purchased a Gaggia Classic to make espresso. This then led to a new grinder to produce good espresso without having to spend ages using a hand grinder.

Throughout 2015 my quest for exceptional espresso continued. I kept drinking Pact coffee, but also tried a variety of other roasters. I visited a local roaster, the London Coffee Festival and a number of coffee shops wherever I went. The absolute highlight, however, was the purchase of the Londinium I espresso machine.

After having the Gaggia Classic for a while, I realised that espresso was something I truly enjoyed, and I thought it was really only a matter of time before I bought another machine. Whilst you can produce good coffee from the Classic, the results do vary a lot. So I imagined I’d get something a bit more substantial, and an E61 design to improve temperature stability. But then I saw the Londinium I.

The L1 is a lever machine. Rather than having an electric pump to supply water under pressure to the coffee, a lever is pulled down that raises a piston, compresses a spring and draws hot water from the boiler into a space above the coffee. Releasing the lever causes the spring to act on the piston and this pushes the water through the coffee.

The lever design is a very old design, but highly rated by many as producing excellent coffee. It also provides an amount of theatre, since the lever slowly raises up as the coffee is made. And it’s quieter too – electric pumps can be quite noisy.

After seeing the L1 and learning it was made in England, I was sure I wanted one. It was expensive though, and I couldn’t just buy it without thinking. I originally thought I could save up for it over six months or even a year, but I couldn’t wait that long. So in the end, I found a way to pay for it and spent a day at home waiting for it to be delivered.

Often when I buy things, the most enjoyment comes from the waiting, and there can be an anticlimax when they actually arrive. Fortunately in this case I was far from deflated.

The machine is substantial – it weighs over 30 kg and dominates my kitchen with its mirror polished stainless steel and chrome. When I’m at home it sits there quietly waiting, ready for action. Every few minutes the boiler clicks on to keep the temperature right. The group head – the part of the machine that the lever sits on – has water circulating inside it and hot to the touch. The lever handle, hot water and steam toggles are finished in Wenge hardwood. Even the diffused LED lights emit a pleasing glow in the room. I love this machine.

Coffee making has been transformed from something that required intricate precision and a good deal of luck to something that is almost assured. Clearly, accurate weighing of coffee and good technique is required, but I can just walk up to the machine and make a drink that will taste good as a minimum. Keeping the grinder dialled in correctly turns good to great. Buying fantastic quality coffee can even turn that greatness into something sublime: since buying this machine I’ve had coffee that tastes like strawberry milkshake. It’s fantastic.