Yesterday two upgrades to my Flair NEO arrived: the pressure gauge and the bottomless portafilter. I purchased these accessories a day or so after buying my NEO because I had found in my research that the bottomless portafilter was the way to go to make better drinks. Perhaps I should have waited but now the components are here I cannot help but use them.
I have pulled almost a dozen shots now and every single one of them has been sour. The last shot I pulled showed a bit of promise and then I was hit with a sour note that I do not associate with great coffee. My goal, before I upgrade any equipment like my grinder (which I have been considering now that I am making espresso) or try more advanced techniques on the Flair, I want to make a recipe that produces a sweet, balanced cup of espresso.
I noticed that my last shot, which I pulled with the bottomless portafilter and the pressure gauge, was only reaching about five bars of pressure at the peak. I realised three things shortly after pulling this shot:
I should be grinding finer with the bottomless portafilter.
I need to apply more pressure to reach higher bars of pressure on the gauge.
The bottomless portafilter lets me grind finer.
At a setting one lower than I am using at the minute on my Baratza grinder, the spouted portafilter completely choked. With the setting I am using at the moment with my bottomless portafilter, I feel I need to go lower. I will go one setting lower again and see what happens. If I am still getting some sourness, I may go a setting lower. I will keep trying until I find a grind size that seems to work best.
I want a grind that lets me achieve rates of pressure which are consistently in the "espresso" range of the Flair. I am confident I can do that with my Baratza Encore but some experimentation beyond what I have done so far is clearly needed.
My journey playing with the NEO has taught me how complex home espresso can be. I now realise that the YouTube videos using the Flair make espresso seem quite easy but actually perfecting a recipe is harder. I felt the same way when I was brewing with pour-overs. I saw so many people use the V60 effectively and yet I spent over a week dialling in a recipe. I am at the dial in stage with my Flair at the moment. Because espresso is a totally different game in terms of recipes, I expect that I may spend some time dialling in before I get a recipe that I am happy with.
I shall be trying a bean that is roasted a bit darker. It is most likely possible to pull great shots with lighter roasted coffees but I feel that it may be easier to use darker roasted coffees first so I can perhaps pull a shot that is not as acidic quite quickly. As I build confidence, I can experiment with more light-roasted coffees. This change is inspired in large art because I have almost run out of the beans I have been using. I had a bean that was roasted quite dark and I did make a few okay (but still sour) espressos from that coffee.
The Flair NEO has been an amazing lever espresso maker. I love how much control I have over the process and I am definitely learning to appreciate everything that goes into making a good espresso with the Flair. I love the experimentation that comes with making any type of coffee but I admit that I am really looking forward to the moment when I pull a shot of espresso that tastes great.