In recent years there’s been much ado about pressure profiling in the craft of espresso.
Pioneered most notably by the Slayer Espresso machine company in the professional sphere, the Vesuvius Espresso Machine on the home front, and lately the Decent espresso machine somewhere in between, the ability to precisely designate and adjust the pressure of water delivered to the bed of ground coffee during extraction is considered the linchpin to unlocking sweetness and balance particularly in challengingly light-roasted, acid- and fruit-forward espressos.
Yet for all the investment in high-tech solutions, devotees of electrode-free manual lever espresso machines have long contended that their analog, human-powered method of choice has always provided this capability, without any contribution from hifalutin’ computers.
While that’s true in principle, the reality has also been that without some way of monitoring and quantifying the fluctuations of pressure with some degree of precision, fully manual espresso machines have never been ideal in the repeatability department, which is really what the digitized machines bring to the table.
Only skilled users with exacting muscle memory and dependable grinding and tamping regimens could reasonably expect to hit a specific mark shot after shot, although that precision has just gotten a lot more attainable for the legions of lever-heads dedicated to popular Olympia and Pavoni-made machines, thanks to the ever-inventive Hungarian squad of roasters and tinkerers at Kávékalmár.
Kávékalmár has developed a manometer add-on that displays the real-time pressure at the coffee bed inside Olympia Cremina or Pavoni manual lever machine group heads. “The idea came accidentally,” said roaster/designer and friend of Daily Coffee News Gábor Laczkó.
We’ve previously enjoyed the fruits of Laczkó’s curiosity and craft in the form of the intensely coffee-geeky video projects Sprout, Roasted and Pencilery. Of course there’s also a video demonstration of the manometer modification here. Development on this latest feat started a bit over a year ago, as Laczkó was taking temperature readings from the group of his old Cremina machine, just for the sake of research.
He published the information in threads at the online coffee forum Home-Barista.com, catching the eye of the Olympia Express manufacturer in Switzerland which then contacted him and requested he take readings from their newest machines as well.
“We had to drill through the piston rod to get there, and that was really challenging,” said Laczkó. “As we drilled through the rod in the whole length, came the idea: We could theoretically measure the pressure of the pull also that way.”
One year later, the company has developed kits that are now for sale at their website for $300 USD, including a custom-made piston, rod and pressure gauge assembly currently for Olympia Cremina machines, with the Pavoni edition up for pre-order. The gauge in both kits is an original La Marzocco Strada manometer, either in stock condition or in aesthetically modified form, stripped-down and steampunk’d with the company’s “Naked” logo emblazoned. The latter, while perhaps less precise, still features three marks indicating 6, 9, and 12 bars of pressure at the group.
The necessary pins, fittings, lube and a handy piston-insertion tool are also included for easy installation and maintenance. Beyond this, the clever and enterprising aficionados at Kávékalmár will soon launch a line of wooden handle sets in exotic woods at first for the vintage, much-adored Caravel machine — “The most beautiful open boiler lever machines from the fifties,” by Laczkó’s estimation — followed by handles for the Olympia Cremina and Pavoni as well.
“For the coming year we have plenty of ideas. Some will need extensive testing, also,” said Laczkó. We have a feeling he’ll enjoy that last part.