So long Gregory’s, thanks for all the coffee

There was a sign up on the door of Gregory’s Coffee this morning.
Gregory's Coffee

Signs on doors are almost never good.

Gregory's Coffee is Closed

I called their Park Avenue store to ask what happened. The woman I spoke to sounded sad about it, but would only say the store had closed. The neighborhood is going to miss them. Everyone I told at Noemi’s school drop-off this morning was surprised at the news.

Gregory’s was one of three connected one-story storefronts on the corner of 14th and First Avenue.

14th St storefronts

I’ve never really understood how the bodega next door stays in business — or avoids the Health Department. The Hot Dog place has also never seemed especially permanent (or clean for that matter). But the biggest thing I don’t understand is how there is still a one-story building on a busy corner across the street from Stuyvesant Town. That location is worth a fortune and I won’t be at all surprised if I wake up one morning and find the whole thing being demolished.

Rancilio Sylvia: Two months of great coffee

A comment on my last espresso machine post reminded me that I never really wrote about how the new machine worked out. So here’s that post.

The new machine is fabulous

It took a few days to start getting the hang of consistently good shots, but those first few cups made me realize what great espresso was really all about. My first thoughts were, literally, “Oh my God, what have I been drinking?” This is real espresso. Much as I loved my now deceased Barrista machine, it didn’t make espresso. It made pseudo-espresso, a dopplegänger imitation of what espresso should be. Basically it was just really strong drip coffee.

With the new Rancilio Sylvia, I immediately began tasting many more levels of flavor between beans. I now know what stale beans taste like. With the Barrista I could distinguish and enjoy the differences between high east African, Central American or Sumatran beans, but it turns out those flavors were masked and muddied. The taste difference is sort of like how our TV looked pretty good before seeing what HD could do. Since getting this machine I’ve only use darker, oily roasts, but the next trip to the coffee store I’m going to get several smaller bags of various beans and roasts.

The gateway drug dispensing gateway drug

It only took a few weeks before I bought a grinder (Baratza Solis Maestro Plus). Before, I would have the beans ground when buying coffee (from Porto Rico on St. Marks). Since I burn through a pound of coffee pretty quickly, I wasn’t too concerned about the ground coffee getting stale and as it turned out, the Barrista was masking the increasingly stale taste anyway. But the main reason for the grinder was that different beans and different roasts of different beans requiring slight adjustments to the grind.


Much as I am loving the machine, there are a few areas where it could definitely be improved upon.

Noise. I haven’t opened it up yet to check if anything could be better dampened, but the machine is quite loud enough to make noise a concern.

Cooldown time. After steaming milk, there is a bit of a process to bring down the boiler temperature for espresso. What I do is flip the hot water switch and run the wand into the sink. At the same time I tend to run hot water through the empty portafilter. That makes sure the portafilter is at least somewhat heated, and clears leftover grinds from the inner screen. These steps are loud. Because of these steps, I’m not using the three-hole steaming tip I bought — it’s too much hassle to clear the wand into another container rather than the sink. I’m not sure about initial heatup times since my wife and kids tends to turn the machine on before letting me know it’s time to drag my butt out of bed. By the time I finally stumble into the kitchen, the machine is always ready to go.

A ball joint on the steaming wand would be welcome. I’m not the first person to bring this up, but there’s enough of a hacking community around this machine that I expect someone has already figured it out and will sell a kit eventually.

For some reason, if I don’t use enough coffee, my fancy 58mm tamper will bind the edges of the portafilter basket. I will probably buy some other portafilter baskets in the future. Unfortunately, after reading this, possibly more tampers too (those Pullman tampers are beautiful).

One more thing

While writing this, I stumbled across this super-modded Rancilio controlled by an original Nintendo gamepad. Wow.

More on my next espresso machine

(continued from this previous post)

After more research, I’m switching my preference from the the Gaggia Classic to the Rancilio Silvia.

Finding Sweet Maria’s Rancilio Silvia page did a lot to sway me. They’ve got some very good close up pictures showing the parts, and as of July 2005, they have stopped selling the Gaggia Classic.

“We don’t stock the Classic model anymore, because I feel that the Rancilio Silvia is a better machine in the same price class. I am leaving the description for posterity sake.”

Even more exciting is the discovery that there is a Rancilio Sylvia modding community.

A modding community for an espresso machine.

That takes a minute to sink in. But there are people hot-rodding these machines all over the place: Precision digital thermostats. More digital thermostats, Add-on spare parts. Faster warmup tutorials. Collected tips and mods. Extreme mods from Taiwan.

And then there’s Randy Glass’ opus, Espresso! My Espresso!

The decision is mostly settled in my mind, but I’m going to give it a few more days before buying. I’d wait longer, but I’d like to be familiar with the machine before relatives arrive for Thanksgiving later this month.

Update: I bought the Sylvia, it should be here sometime Thursday.

Two-months later: Two months of great coffee

Buying a new espresso machine

After six or seven years of hard, dedicated service, my espresso machine is finally giving up the ghost. It’s a Starbucks Barista and made gallons of fantastic coffee over the years. I’d buy this exact machine again, but I’m feeling ready to move up to a commercial portafilter instead of the pressurized one this uses.

I make coffee at home because I drink a lot of it and I’d go broke if I had to buy it all. While writing this, I finished my third double-shot espresso of the day. So far. At a conservative average that’s $10 a day in coffee, and most days would be more. Saving $300-400 a month on coffee pretty much justifies any price for an espresso machine. A $500 machine will have absolutely paid for itself in just 6 weeks.

Super Automatic machines don’t interest me much, not just because they’re a fortune, but because they have too many moving parts to maintain and postpone maintenance. Additionally, we occasionally have roaches in our building, and NYC roaches love coffee. Having a reservoir of spent grounds on the counter would be inviting an infestation. Besides, I don’t like the idea of putting off cleanup for days: I make coffee, I clean up, I’m done.

I’m leaning towards a Gaggia Classic, because the reviews are universally excellent, it uses a commercial portafilter, isn’t too big, has a powerful pump and heats up quickly. I have a few reservations and I’ve been trying to find one to look at in person, but I’ve had no luck at stores near me, and I kind of hate shopping anyway. My three main questions:

  • What is the vertical clearance between the portafilter and the drip tray? (ie. will my preferred 3 inch tall cups fit underneath? My guess from pictures is about 2 5/8 inches — WLL lists the clearance as 3.25 inches, see note below)
  • Can the steaming wand be replaced with a bare metal tip?
  • How well sealed are the internals? (roach concern again)

I’m going to call Whole Latte Love when I get a minute and find out the answers. If you are shopping for coffee products, their site together with CoffeeGeek are incredible resources.

Update: I haven’t yet called Whole Latte Love, but I did find that they list cup height in their “Compare-o-matic” page. That lists the Gaggia as having a cup clearance fo 3.25 inches, though I’m not certain that measures the new spouted portafilter, which extends lower.