creating a
macchina da caffè

Little did I know that a brief chat with Luigi Morello from Faema (I had no idea who he was) back in April of 2014 would end up with Steve, Mike and myself being invited to Gruppo Cimbali in Binasco, Milan, to take part in some R&D for a new machine they had in the pipeline, the Faema E71. Additionally to Luigi's persistence, this was all able to happen because of Caravan Coffee Roaster’s machinery supplier, Mulmar, who for years have had close ties importing both La Marzocco and Faema.

When I think back to my first years in coffee, I remember hours and hours of playing around on La Cimbali M29 Dosatron’s and also the famed and incredibly manual Faema E61. Learning very early how espresso worked on each platform played a huge part in my appreciation for espresso now, and also the work we have been doing in recent months. To go from using, what was then to me, a nondescript brand of machine on the North Shore of Auckland almost 10 years ago, to being in the R&D ward of that same brand, the largest espresso machinery company in the world, is a pretty momentous thing.

Obviously, the entire content of what was discussed cannot be spoken about, which is also kind of cool, but it is safe to say that we were as ruthless as needed, and also appreciative of the designs that were presented to us. Okay, so maybe our ruthlessness was a slightly stronger hand than they expected. After one session, and once we had their attention for some time, regarding design and aesthetic, the head engineer said ‘I don’t know whether to throw myself, or the machine out the window?’ As harsh as that session was, I firmly believe this was a moment of realisation for the engineering team, hearing an outsider’s perspective, and that someone to have such a strong feeling about something they’ve developed. I guess they probably thought, ‘this is why we haven’t outsourced R&D for decades!’

As the next 15 months passed, we awaited the first working prototype to arrive in London. What would they have changed on our request? Was it even going to look the same? Did they even take anything on board at all?

Early 2016 saw the new machine installed on the bar at Caravan King’s Cross. One word; consistency. This machine has been pumped from day 1, with over 75000 coffees having been put through the E71 since it has taken pride of place on our bar in the restaurant. Being a test phase for the machine, we have been able to communicate with Milan regarding potential alterations and functionality moving forward.

Faema E71 on the test bench at the Museo de Macchina.

 

Our barista team has really put the machine through its paces, and it’s been a small challenge for the team too, as they’ve had to add in another part to their methodology.

Pre-infusion. How does it make our coffee taste? What effect does it have on taste? Is it translatable to our coffee service? These questions have all been answered in a short four months.

Scott from Caffeine Magazine sat down with me recently, and wrote specifically about pre-infusion; He wrote “as a test, we used the Faema E71 to brew Caravan’s Market Blend with and without the two-stage pre-infusion. The results were remarkably different. The regular espresso had great intensity and mouthfeel, as you’d expect from a more traditional espresso; the pre-infused coffee, on the other hand, had a lot more balance and sweetness with a cleaner fruity acidity. “When you’re paying more for coffee and want to represent that coffee in a different or more specific way, you can only do it with the kind of machinery we have these days,” says Simon. “We are running our decaf without pre-infusion, for example, just because it suits the coffee better.”

These changes revolved mainly around functionality, ease of use and longevity of parts.

The final leg; May 2016 saw us invited back to Milan for a final look. New additions from the Faema team, and also at suggestions we’d recommended. This was a crucial trip for the team, as final touches needed to be finished with the official release of the machine at the World of Coffee, in Dublin 2016 (which was a huge success by the way).

These changes revolved mainly around functionality, ease of use and longevity of parts. Upgrading the materials used, making it easier to clean and also service.

Whilst we were at the factory, we were invited into a different area within Faema, to aid in some product testing for machinery that is starting to make a small splash in the specialty coffee scene. The dreaded bean-to-cup (BTC)… We spent an hour or two pulling espressos on both a traditional machine, and a new Cimbali BTC. Surprisingly, the extractions from the BTC were of a very high standard, even though the machine required ratios that were somewhat off the beaten track. The brewing chamber is deeper and much narrower than a traditional espresso machine, meaning we were seeing quicker extractions, on a slightly coarser grind setting but still achieving very consistent and flavoursome results.

La Cimbali, Brillante (1952) and La Cimbali 6 gruppo (1960’s) on display at the Museo de Macchina.

 

The other portion of this product test was to assess the quality of automatic milk production by the BTC, and how it stacks up against a human on a traditional espresso machine. I was surprised, when altering the emulsion levels to a lower, smoother application of steam to the milk (and surfing the milk prior to pouring) I was able to pour identical latte art with each. Obviously the machine is not (yet) capable of pouring any art at all, and to be honest, when you completely automate the process, the ‘coffee & milk’ portions look awful.

Very keen on seeing how this all plays out as the market continues to be pushed to involve an element of automation.

This project has been one of those opportunities that were in no way possible for some coffee kids from New Zealand to take part in. For Steve and myself, having the influence that we’ve been able to have over the last year and a half has been a truly awesome experience. One that we hope can continue in some manner for years to come. Forza Italia!


By Simon Lewthwaite