EK43; Tales from the bar.

We’ve recently employed someone at 3FE who had absolutely no experience making coffee. This pretty much coincided with the introduction of the EK43 grinder to our coffee bar for all of our espresso drinks. Yesterday I remarked that this new staff member was perhaps the only barista on the planet to have learned to make espresso using a pre-dosed EK43 service system. Her only response was “whats the other way of making espresso?”. Touché.

I’ve received a lot (A LOT) of emails from people in the last few weeks asking about how we use the EK, why we use it, whats different about it, why they should get it and a myriad of other questions. The first point I’d like to make is that everyone needs to calm the f*EK down. This is not a flawless, perfect system. It is definitely a progression, but a progression that brings a bit of pain with it too

Lets start with the basics. The EK43 is essentially a bag grinder. I’m not sure if thats the technical term but its what we in Dublin call them. Its designed to grind a lot of coffee fast, probably for roasters, supermarkets in Germany and shops that sell a lot of retail coffee.

I first encountered one at Square Mile Coffee last year when James intimated that I was an idiot for not having one. He’s like that. After speaking with himself and John about the potential for higher extraction yields (that tasted good) my interest was piqued. We were at that time using the rather excellent Uber Grinder for our filter offering but the prospect of a new toy is a very hard thing to resist.

Its also worth noting that every now and then I visit David Walsh (formerly of internet fame) at his Marco lair and we sit down for coffee. Its become a common thing for him to make me filter coffee through an espresso machine and sit there smuggly while I enjoy it. Enjoy it a lot. This pretty much goes against everything I’ve thought about making coffee and it is both exciting and terrible to witness. It just looks wrong.

Following on from this came Mr. Matt Pergers incredible performance at WBC in Melbourne this year. You must promise me that you don’t read this statement incorrectly, as I’m NOT saying he deserved to win. What I’m saying is that it was the best Competition routine I’ve ever seen. They’re two different things, I’m sure you don’t need me to explain why.

Matt, for those of you that don’t know, did his whole routine using one coffee grinder, namely the EK43. He used it not only to pull his espresso shots but also to make filter-style drinks that he called “coffee shots”. This sparked a massive interest in not only the EK43 but also the extract mojo and everything that goes with it. Regardless of whether you think the EK is a good thing or not (which is entirely up to you, remember) I’ve definitely been happy to see a lot more discussion both here in Dublin and on the World Wide web in general. This is a really good thing for coffee and especially for espresso which to me has been dropped by a lot of folks who feel it can go no further.

One of the less sexy reasons we decided to use the EK for espresso was the amount of coffee that we waste at 3FE. This is for a number of reasons;

  • Dialling in before service
  • Dialling in during service
  • Clearing “dry throats” (especially on the less-used grinder)
  • Changing coffees over (we use about 4-7 different coffees on espresso per week, waste occurs with both incoming and outgoing)
  • Re-pulled shots (we throw away a lot of coffees if they’re not right)

When I did costings for coffees at the start we expected to yield somewhere near 50-60 beverages per kg. Once I looked at cups sold vs kgs used over the course of 6 months though it began to approach 40 beverages per kg. This was quite a shift.

Aside from the cost of the coffee itself the more important issue is the amount of hard work and effort it takes to produce this coffee and we then go and throw a sizeable chunk of it away. There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to see people finger-swiping the excess coffee out of the portafilter and into a bin (A BIN!!). All of these many things combined to return home from Australia and place our recently purchased EK43 onto the coffee bar for full coffee service.

I’ve embedded a video below that outlines how we go about pulling espresso but just to clarify, here is the process in more bullet points;

  • We pre-dose a days service as close to 18.3g as possibles (one bean tolerance ) which takes one man-hour
  •  We grind into a stainless steel cup and then into a portafilter using a jam funnel (its a thing)
  • The dose in the pf is weighed in this process. This is a double step but we like to be thorough.
  • Our target yield for the espresso is 35g. This represents a ratio (not a percentage, Ben) of about 1.91
  • Our target extraction has risen above 20% and the TDS has dropped towards 7.5%
  • We have made our own incremental dial for the EK as it comes without one, the best one we have is not in the video
  • We see very little movement of the dial. Pacamara to Bourbon would be 3 tiny notches different. Quiet to busy and back again would see a single notch difference (approx 1mm) and back again.

Below is a video of Juan pulling shots on bar to demonstrate how we do this. Please bare in mind that I stuck a camera in his face and told him to do it right. I know a lot of you will want to time this, its probably a fair reflection of how long it takes but I see him do it faster every day once he’s in full flow

Overall we’ve seen an increase in the quality of the espresso. It is definitely cleaner, sweeter and more aromatic than what we were producing before. We also have less waste, spend little to no time dialing in/redialling and have the ability to have any number of coffees on offer as espresso at any one time.

This brings me to a rather selfish bonus in that we now serve kenyan and washed ethiopian coffee as espresso quite regularly where as before it was something I rarely did. The acidity in the more floral/tealike/delicate coffees we have access to often manifested itself as soapiness and sourness once it hit an espresso machine. To me the EK brings a sweetness and clarity to these coffees but mellows out the sourness as the TDS drops.

Its not all been sweetness and light though, there have definitely been problems. We made bad espresso before intermittently, everyone does. Unfortunately the bad ones from the EK are pretty much awful. They taste dry, roasty, acrid and just nasty. Bad shots from the anfim were drinkable but these are definitely not. What makes it worse is that they are very hard to spot visually which was a real concern. We’ve found however that they’re becoming less frequent to the point that they’re pretty rare now. This may be down to burrs or technique or even coffee fairies. Who knows?

The workflow has been a challenge and its only fair that I lay all the credit on the team at 3FE for pushing this through. Even though it made their jobs very very difficult, they went with it at full tilt. Essentially it was like learning to make coffee all over again for them but they stuck with it and the extra movements are a bit of a workout on a busy day. After 2 days they had it down, the 3rd day there was a bit of a freak out and then after that its been day on day improvement. We have workflow issues at 3FE that we hope to resolve very soon (who doesn’t) but I can assure you that they are fit-out related and not EK-centric.

The pre-dosing is a bit of a pain but not as much as you’d imagine. We’ve been doing this for filter coffee for quite a while now so you get used to it (this is coming from someone who never has to do it by the way). My gut is that specialty coffee will move this way. Excellent kitchens practice excellent portion control and I feel as more and more specialty shops make less and less money there will be a shift towards treating our raw product they way we should treat it and an aversion towards the mass waste of expensive beans.

I’m not going to get away with writing this without touching on the subject of “Coffee shots”. Right now we are not serving them at 3FE, although we are looking into it. We’re also awaiting an EK with “coffee” burrs as we understand this will improve the coffee shots dramatically. I’ve definitely had excellent, tasty, aromatic examples at various different times but I’ve also had intermittently awful ones too. The potential is massive in terms of taste, wastage, consistency and speed but for now we’re not quite sold. I accept a large part of this may be just down to the fact that it looks ugly as hell and seems so so wrong but I’m adamant that it needs more testing/tasting first.

The final point I’d like to make is one that I feel I need to make with every blog post. This system is completely context-based. I’m not saying you should do this, I’m saying 3FE should do. Its the right step for us and we’re happy it works well in our set up. Everyones context is different so please don’t go doing this out of fear/excitement because you may well find its not for you. Just for the sake of it, our particular situation entails;

  • Aurelia T3 Competizione
  • Water at approx 105ppm
  • Using Nuova Simonelli “Competizione” baskets, not VST.
  • 250-400 coffees per day
  • All coffee roasted by Hasbean
  • Access to MoJoToGo
  • An excellent staff of baristas 😉

I spoke to Jeremy at Prufrock who wrote this excellent post the other day about the EK, Ben and Prufrocks plans. What I said to him is what I will say to you too; This is not an end point, this a step in the right direction. Its a positive step for coffee and espresso but in a years time we shall look back on this and cringe, as we always should. Onwards!

11 thoughts on “EK43; Tales from the bar.

  1. Claus says:

    Great and interesting post . THanx
    is NOT using VST baskets a choice taken after you got the EK? or is it just that you prefer others?

  2. colinharmon says:

    We use Nuova Simonelli Competizione baskets as we prefer them. The VST baskets are also very good.

  3. Matt lasek says:

    Fantastic read

    Matt @La Cimbali UK

  4. James says:

    I’d love to see that shot pulled with a naked portafilter 😀 Where can one pick up a jam funnel in Dublin?

  5. […] The pied piper of EK-43 advocacy is Ben Kaminsky (@jaminsky), a noted specialty coffee consultant who has worked with Barismo, Ritual, La Marzocco, and more recently, with Matt Perger and St. Ali in Melbourne. The EK-43 featured prominently in Mr. Perger’s 2013 World Barista Championship routine (recapped here), and Mr. Kaminsky has since hosted a series of paid talks to share his thoughts and findings on the grinder of the moment. In a post published on his personal blog, perennial Irish Barista Champion and 3FE owner Colin Harmon sums up the EK-43 zeitgeist nicely in this post: […]

  6. […] Colin Harmon: https://colinharmon.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/ek43-tales-from-the-bar/ […]

  7. […] morning and I’ve decided to venture into equipment and, having read a lot about the EK43 recently, I thought I would start with grinders. As a small café, I was considering […]

  8. Very nice. We compare with a french Barista team EK43 vs Mazzer Super Jolly in Dripper V60 and espresso (with GS/3). Very very clean and sweet for the EK43 ! Great improvement.
    Just one question : Your scale for the shot is very fast ! Where can you find it ?

  9. […] recently posted this about the EK43 grinder that we put on the bar at 3fe and to be honest you’d be best reading […]

  10. Anonymous says:

    […] Here's another link for reference. Interesting discussion on how they used it in a commercial situation. EK43; Tales from the bar. | Dublin Barista […]

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