Portaspresso Rossa Air Espresso Review

In mid-September 2012 I emailed Ross Spencer at Portaspresso about a Rossa device. The bloke had the integrity to inform me that in a month or so a new model would be available, one lighter and better. So instead of selling an old one, he said to wait.

Having never used a Rossa device I was in no position to judge what was better or not, but I do own a Rosco Mini-hand grinder and have been very pleased with the quality and craftsmanship.

I’m willing to bet that if you owned a Portaspresso device and your town was engulfed by magma from a volcano, in a thousand years time archeologists would be able to dust off the dirt, and begin happily grinding their favourite espresso blend while musing over their latest report.

Two of the biggest criteria for coffee purchases for me are durability and portability. I want them to last a long time and to go travelling.

Once the new model became available I ordered a Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge).

The set comes well packaged in a small box, capable of worldwide delivery. 

After reading and carrying out the first use cleaning instructions I began preparing the first shot.

Charging the Cylinder:
Luckily for me I’m a road cyclist and have two floor pumps already. The air cylinder adapter has a thread so using the pump with a female thread is easier in my opinion.

The other thing about the screw on type pumps is they make much less hissing noise than the lever squeeze pump heads (when removing from the cylinder thread adaptor). This makes a difference if you are going for an early morning ride or off to work. Either that or pre-charge the air cylinder the night before.

Pumping up above 11bar became immediately disconcerting when I noticed the gauge on the pump only went up to 11bar. But the needle spun passed the maximum without too much effort.

If you need to buy a pump to use the device I would avoid a hand pump and have a look at the Lezyne mini floor drive range. Especially the micro floor drive or the travel floor drive. Lezyne make reliable and durable products that are good for both home and travel.

[Update I have since purchased a Lezyne micro shock pump. It weighs 84g and while taking a little longer, does the job nicely.]

Judging by the Popeye sized forearms of Ross in the youtube videos he probably doesn’t have a problem getting up to 120PSI with a hand pump, but I did have trouble on my little hand pump I take cycling.

Had to muck around a couple of times to get a sense of whether or not the valve was open, or I was pumping into the closed circuit of the pump hose. There’s little chance of breaking the device, so I wasn’t worried.

The valve thread takes a little getting used to and may be a little sticky to begin with. I did think that maybe an armed head like a water tap might be easier to turn than the round head. Jury is out on that front functionally, but the aesthetics would suffer.

[Update: After a week of use I can say the current round head is perfect for the job]

Trick with the cylinder valve is to treat it gently when opening and closing. With pumping, get the pump adaptor on first before opening the valve. Any pressure inside the cylinder will quickly show up on the gauge. You don’t have to open the valve up passed the black o-ring on the valve stem.

Making the coffee:

My first attempt was a disaster because there was no air in the cylinder and the water just flopped through the basket. That was ok I thought, and had about 5 goes pumping the cylinder up and having dummy runs with a wet and used puck.

Most of us will get the device in the mail in the afternoon. For me, I didn’t get anywhere near mastering the technique on the first night. After about 5 or 6 air cylinders’ full (running through a wet puck) I gave up for the night and read the manual and watched the tube video again.

I recommend the video instead of the written manual on the first night as the manual tends to digress and Ross runs through the steps slowly enough on the video that you can follow him. The manual is good for fine-tuning your technique.

All this makes it sound difficult. It isn’t. I’ve had the device for three days now and have started to make good coffee. I imagine it will be about 1 month before I have complete control over the settings. Having said that the coffee on the first morning was a set up from my previous machine.

I ordered the grind transfer adaptor and whilst a nice little addition I am not convinced it’s absolutely necessary.

[Update, the adaptor and I have since become friends. It centres the coffee raised from the base of the basket making it easier for tamping]

Now. About the coffee quality. I’m no expert. Once you have the grind setting dialed in, producing a great shot is easy as. Simple hold the device over the espresso glass and slowly open the valve. The slower you open the valve the more pre-infusion you enable. This is the great thing about the Portaspresso devices: they allow pressure profiling on the fly. There is a great write up on the Portespresso site about pressure profiling.

During the ‘photoshoot’ a friend Lorenz took the photos while I made the shots. I made about 3 shots in fifteen minutes while chatting. Could be done a lot faster.

We could easily taste the differences; some fruity, some caramel, some bitter, some not. At one point our conversation seamlessly shifted to whisky. Making these comparisons, you could say I’m working toward the highest taste of coffee drinking with this device.

I’ve taken to grinding the coffee while the device heats up with boiling water. I also have a blender jug on hand to collect the heat-up water instead of tipping it down the sink.

One of the best aspects of the Rossa PG is that you can control the pressure in two phases. Once in the air cylinder itself and then the second time when you open the valve during infusion. If you put less pressure in the air cylinder there’s less danger of over extraction. Also, if there’s less pressure to begin with there’s less chance of messing it up.

Tamp consistency and the amount of coffee has an impact because this will change the time it takes from starting to open the valve, the valve opening, and then coffee passing through the naked filter head. For my level of experience, at the moment there feels like a delay between opening the valve and coffee coming out. You have to keep slowly winding the valve open.

There is a level of satisfaction with the interactivity of the device. I find myself having to stop wanting to make another shot to see what it will taste like otherwise I’ll be floating on a coffee cloud all day. It’s not like a jumper or an electric coffee machine; you put it on and it does it’s job. There are no buttons or cords or fuses.

There is an old fashioned quality to the Portaspresso range I find very appealing.

A couple of conclusions:

With the purchase, I would welcome some spare o-rings, a spare head seal, and a spare air cylinder pump adaptor. I can see myself losing the adaptor at some stage (especially on the road) and it would be a annoying to have to wait a week or two for a replacement, as it is not after market.

One limitation to the device in both the mini hand grinder and espresso device is that they’re not ultra-lightweight. I’d be very tempted to take the Rossa PG (0.75kg without PG) hiking or cycle touring, but at 1.2kg the mini-hand grinder is a little too heavy.

Perhaps carbon fibre or titanium? Or plastic? One of the previous materials morphing into alloy (like a bike fork drop out) for the threads?

Furthermore, I am not sure the bores need to be as large as they are, since you’re only grinding and extracting one shot at a time. I could be totally off the mark here however.

Having said this, these little dudes are definitely coming along on the next backpacking or camping adventure.

If you could get both the grinder and espresso device down below 1 kg and a combined cost of $500AUD you would have a world beater.

Another touch I would like to see is a molded and padded briefcase for the kit.

The future of lightweight espresso is very bright and Ross Spencer at Portaspresso has a sound portfolio to work from. The Air Espresso PG is an excellent device for any coffee enthusiast because it offers a high level of control over all factors of espresso creation. Thus far, every morning I wake up stoked with my purchase. My bosoms have never swelled so frequently as I stand back to admire the Guinness-like settling of each pour.

If you would like to see some photos, please click here.

Advertisements

Bibbulmun Track

 

The following is an account of experiences on the Bibbulmun track.

Word doc. here Bibbulman Track

 

My father drove me to Balingup on the 21st of November 2003. I left Balingup because I was due to meet some friends in Denmark on the 17th of December. In the car the Traveling Wilburries and John Farnham were on the radio. I was somewhat nervous and excited about the trek, mainly because I was entering the unknown. I’d never been hiking before. I had no idea how my body would cope walking/hiking approximately 20kms a day over 25 days. In particular, I have a dodgy hamstring with a tendency to pop at any moment. The other thing that made me slightly nervous was that I was entering unfamiliar terrain, alone. I didn’t know what to expect. What counteracted this nervousness and excitement was the nature of the primary activity; walking. We all know what walking involves.

Standing outside of the car in Balingup wearing new boots, new clothes and a new pack, I felt like a real amateur. The pack was overloaded with food making it about 19-20kg. I had no idea how much I’d eat on a daily basis and what I could buy at Donnelly River Village three days away. Giving myself 6 hours to walk 18km was a good steady, slow pace for my first day. It was about 35 degrees. There was a massive hill about ¾ the way and constant adjustment of the pack was annoying. But it was a relief to be actually walking the track after thinking about it for a couple of years, setting a date early in the year and finally following it through.

I didn’t really have any notions about getting in touch with nature or self discovery. I convinced myself that any preconceived ideas would probably hinder the experience. Walking into Blackwood Campsite was a small relief. I knew that if I could make it past the first two days without injury, I’d be fine for the remainder. The first hurdle had been jumped. Indulging in a little nap when I arrived at the hut was a 64 year old man named Bill Husky. He’d been walking for some 18 days. He was very healthy in both mind and body. He looked about 50; a strong, handsome man. We were heading in the same direction and therefore shared huts for the next four nights where Bill was ending his trek. When he asked me what I was reading I told him it was Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript and he claimed he tried not to think too deeply about things. With my metaphorical tweezers I discovered that Bill is quite a deep and critical thinker.

At Donnely river village he took to reading every single word of the newspaper. Bill has been married for 40 years. Claimed it was love at first sight at a dance in Kalgoorlie in 1964. The last hut we shared was Tom Road campsite 16 km south of Donnelly River Village. That night proved to be the most populated campsite of my walk. Joining us were three middle aged office workers walking the 963km from Kalamunda to Albany and a couple from Canada walking to Pemberton from Donnelly River. It was a beautiful place and it inspired me to write this poem:

 

Not A Single Presupposition, Except My Ignorance

“The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way.”– Lao Tzu

 

Here you are in your chimerical disposition

creeks shallow and simple to follow.

I hear you’ve bequeathed all arivistic tendencies

for omnipotent bliss and ubiquitous rest

I hear you can dance sage-like upon

snake-scale on a stream through a honky nut.

Yet attempts to broach your most genuine

masqueradefall in a heap of demented parlance.

In this languageI struggle to see your limbs.

Non omnes omnia pussumus:we cannot all do everything.

Supremely patient beside rapids

I observe the clouds in me change

easy metamorphosis, easyour only gauge of time is itself.

Out here one cannot create stress;

we find no conclusion, because there is no system.

 

 

 

By the sixth day I was in the groove of walking. I’d eaten the excess food and worked out with Bill the best way to set up my back pack. 20km a day was beginning to get a little light on as after an hours rest I was full of beans again. I considered doing double huts. Consulting the maps, if I accelerated I could make to Albany then hitchhike back to Denmark to meet my friends Jim, Fe and Emma. I decided however to monitor my body at least until I reached Pemberton 4 days later. Usually I’d wake up at about 6am. I’d tuck into a bowl of muesli while the water was boiling for a cup of black tea. Then I’d pack everything up and hit the road. Feeling fantastic meant I could stop and enjoy the scenery and wildlife at my leisure. Snacks were an apple and a health bar. Regardless of the distance between huts I’d always drink two litres of water. If I got dehydrated I’d drink extra when I reached camp. On a given day 20km takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on how fast you can be bothered going and how many hills you have to climb.

Between Donnelly River and Pemberton it rained in the afternoon for a few hours then stopped in the evening. Fortunately I never got rained on as I always made it to camp before it started. I’d have a cup of tea, some lunch, read and then fall asleep for an hour or so. The rain was great. The feeling of being all warm, dry and cuddly inside the sleeping bag made me feel like a little kid. I’d go to sleep while heavy drops thudded on the tin roof of the three sided hut. I woke surrounded by Karri’s; their proud torsos circled by a sliding puddle of drops. Leaving a brown stain dripping down their flanks. The Canadians and I sat around the fire chatting on those nights. They were lovely people; very calm. They gave me a strip of this blister protection adhesive called moleskin. I didn’t have any blisters yet, but in new boots it was highly probable.

The Canadians wimped out at Karri Valley Resort and took a taxi into Pemberton. I joined them for a few beers on the foreshore in the sun. By now my body had been flushed of toxins so after two beers I was a far bit under the weather. After saying goodbye I stumbled to the hut thrashing through the jungle. That was my first night alone. I was about a week into the walk and for the first time started to feel out of sorts. Often when I go for long walks in the city it’s in an attempt to purge troubling/lingering thoughts out of my head or resolve a long standing problem. Up until that point nature had the effect of quieting my mind and overwhelming any thwarting thoughts. That day however, I felt like I was walking in the city. Furthermore I started to miss some people:

 

 

A Chance Encounter

 

Crouching, feeling nimbler

Flicking boogies in the stream.

Gushes, liquid hitting rock

Sounds like voices;

Speech of friends I miss.

Then there they are

Standing across the water

Flicking boogies in the stream

Watching them float and swirl

My friends smileI cannot help but smile.

 

I reached Pemberton the following day around noon and booked into the backpackers for two nights. Planned a days rest before I started gunning it to Albany. I finished Kierkegaard and was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Bob Hawke’s memoirs in the backpacker’s office. The latter was too heavy to carry so I tried to read all of it on my day off. The second night I shared a room with a dude named Dennis. He’d ridden his push-bike from Sydney to Cairns and then across to Broome. The lazy bastard had taken the bus to Perth from there and was now riding from Perth to Esperance and possibly across the Nullabor to Adelaide. We shared dinner and a few laughs. He gave me a Hunter S. Thompson book. I gave him a new sponge.

The three day walk to Northcliffe was rather uneventful. Again I was in the huts alone. I ran into a stray farm dog out in the middle of the forest. It was terrified and appeared to have been lost for a number of days. I stood waiting for it as it approached me on the track. I had a large stick ready incase it was crazy and wanted to bite me. When it finally discovered I was there it ran away. Nothing I could do. I left Northcliffe on Friday morning and wasn’t to see or talk any humans until I reached Walpole the following Thursday. The next six nights were the most interesting, challenging and rewarding.

First day out of Northcliffe I double-hutted 31km to Lake Maringup. I left Northcliffe motel at approximately5:30am and reached the first hut (Gardner) at 8am. That’s about 7km an hour with a 20kg pack. I was practically running. The prospect of reaching Albany was fresh and alive in my mind. At Gardner I took my boots off to let my feet breathe. I noticed a callous-like blister on my left heel. I applied a small strip of the moleskin gear the Canadians gave me. Covering it up with sports tape I was certain it would do the trick and the callous wouldn’t spread.

While I was doing this I was attacked by a seemingly endless supply of march flies which served to hurry the operation. (Down there, those little bastards don’t land and then bite, they just fly straight into you with their little barbs out, drawing blood.) The small strip of moleskin created a small mound inside the tape. Mounds are not recommended inside boots. Over the next 16km the heel started to hurt more and more. Now, I’m a bit of a dummy when I comes to pain. I ignore pain the hope that it will disappear by its own accord. I reached Lake Maringup certain that by the next morning it would have healed. Stupidly, I didn’t take the bandage off to inspect the damage.

Lake Maringup is a fantastic place. Your can hear ocean waves roll in as you go to sleep.

First step the next day was painful. I should have stopped right there and re-bandaged to remove the moleskin mound. But I thought the pain would subsist after about 5km. It didn’t. I walked 25km that day over 8 hours of absolute agony. I thought that that was what all blisters were like. The only relief from the pain was a two minute adrenaline rush after nearly stepping on a fully grown tiger snake. I had and would have many, many interludes with snakes but this was the first close encounter. I was trudging along with my head down and was half way through a step when I noticed the scaly creature below me. I had to freeze my foot in mid air, jump over it and start running. When I turned around it had reared and flattened its head, before working its way gracefully into the bush. I don’t know what would have happened if bitten. In that encounter the snake and I had this to say:

Interview with a tiger snake:

 

 Good morning tiger snake, how are you?

‘Very pleashhhhed to beshhh sshere.’

What have you been doing so far today?

‘Ive mainhhhly sssssssaat in the ssssssssshunnnnnn.Ennnnnjoyed a delightful fffffrrroggg breakfast.Thisssssss affffteeerrrrnooooonnnI’m lllllookking forward to mmmuch of the ssssssssaaaammmee.’

Are frogs your favourite food?

‘oooohhhhhh yyeeeeeessssssssssssss.’

A lot of my fellow human beings are frightened of your species; do you eat humans?

‘ooohhhhhh nooooo, toooooo sssssssssaaaaallty.’

I must admit tiger snake, I’m a little scared of you myself, could you help me to overcome my fear by giving me a hug?

‘Hissssss, assssss longgg assssss noone seeeeeesssss.’

Excellent.

[Me and the tiger snake hug]

Not that tight tiger snake.

‘Sssssssssooorrryyy.’

Oh this is nice isn’t it, hugging a tiger snake feels wonderful.

‘Sssssss what If I do thisssssssssssss?’

Ouch. You bit me! What did you do that for?

‘Jusssssttt curiousssssssss, you’re not asssssss sssssssalty assssssss the otherssssssssss.’

Can you do you something? I need help here.

‘SSSSSSorrrrry, nothing can be done.’

Looks like I’m a goner. Please, if you see them, say goodbye to my family and friends. Give them a hug for me. No, wait, don’t do that.

‘I’ll do mmmmmmmmmmy bessssssst.’Hang on a second. I’m actually starting to feel better rather than worse. Now there’s a sweet taste in my mouth, like candy.

‘Ohhhhh, ssssssssss. That musssssst be from the toffeeeeeeeeeee I sssssssssstole and mmmmmmmmmmmunched while you’re on the ttttttttttttoilet.’

My you are a slippery one aren’t you?

‘Yesssssssssssssss, I guess I am. Bessssssst be offffffffff now.’

Bye tiger snake.

 

Inexperience combined with a silly stoic attitude made me believe that the worst was over and the next day would be easier. Nevertheless, the following days 19km through heath and swamp proved to be a serious obstacle. Every single step of the last 5 or so kilometres almost brought me to tears. The final kilometre took about an hour.

When I finally reached camp I peeled the tape/bandage off to reveal a throbbing water filled, purple blister the size of two 50 cent coins side by side. The mound of the moleskin caused friction on the skin above it, hence softening and pushing the exposed skin toward my ankle. Lesson: always make sure your bandages are completely flat. I knew immediately I had to take a days rest. It also became clear that Albany was out of the question. Up until this point I’d been focused on how fast I was going, how many kilometres I could do in a day etc. I almost lost sight of the fact that it wasn’t a race. It wouldn’t be entirely true to state that I was totally driven by ego. I felt that I was open to new experiences/knowledge and I didn’t always need to be control. (The serenity and enormity of nature has the power to overawe me and make me feel comfortably insignificant. Combined with the fact that nature has no opinion and harbours no judgment there’s little left for the ego.) But I hadn’t really changed since I left Perth. Where I rested for a day is a massive granite outcrop called Mt Chance. Its summit offers 360 degree views of heath land, inlets to the west and a morsel of ocean beyond the hardened dunes.

I spent 13 or 14 hours on top of that rock. I had a set of binoculars to spy on anything that moved. Black cockatoos being the most active and they’re interested in humans too. I was very much alone. I ran out of books to read. I sang every song I could remember over and over. My mind churned up lost memories. I thought about the positive aspects of my life. What I had to look forward to. I considered the mistakes I had made and how they were or could be resolved. I observed the thoughts that could not be dealt with on my own and constructed a plan of action on my return to civilization. This may seem a little obvious and possible in your house in the city, but when you’re in a foreign environment and lonely, it appears far more immediate and real.

My mind started to get tired of itself and I went a little crazy. I played a little game and distanced my mind from my thoughts a little. I had the theory that there must be some mental apparatus which enables me to view my thoughts and memories in such a way. I considered that since I had recalled and exhausted almost all of my memories that there must be some way of altering that apparatus in order to view my thoughts differently or even recall more memories. It became clear that over the years I had developed merely a few modes of habitual self-awareness. Obviously that mode had altered and changed as I grew older but I’d never really examined the examiner in this clarity before.

Furthermore, contrary to my hitherto speedy ego disposition I was literally forced to relax. A conscious effort to slow my body down was needed. In the sun I fell asleep on top of that mountain. I woke to a ladybug crawling in front of me. Perched on top of the mountain, I watched the sun move down to meet the horizon. I watched the birth of shadows out of hills, trees and shrubs. Slowly the shadows grew longer, larger and taller. I imagined them in five minutes, in ten minutes, trying to predict the shapes they would make; trying to imagine the colors they will make, what animals will be revealed. I tried to remember the shadows from five minutes ago, ten minutes ago, when I first started observing. It was as difficult to remember what had happened as to imagine what will happen. Alone, there was no trans-subjective agreement to support my observations, no language to communicate with nature in order to define a sense of place.

The following day, the 7th of December, was a 21km walk. The ground was too rugged and hot to walk bare foot. Again, every step hurt. The blister preoccupied my thoughts. I could feel it spreading as it pulsated in the boot. The track was littered with spider webs. I was in pain, but I had a new secret weapon; patience. I hobbled along at about two km an hour. I learnt to embrace the blister. I wanted more blisters. I beseeched my whole foot to be covered in blisters so I had to walk slower than an ant. I figured that at least then I’d know something about what it was like to be an ant.

Behind the next campsite (Woolbales) was another granite outcrop which provided excellent views. Barefoot I ran up there missing a tiger snake by about 20cm. I’ve never felt nimbler or freer than I did that afternoon. As planet earth revolved the cliffs moved in front of the sun and it seemed like the ocean was set on fire. Out of joy I cried for all the beautiful and warm friendships I’d shared in my time. I re-learnt how to love myself and found a new sense of happiness. Ironically it was the blister which facilitated all of this.

The next day I encroached on the ocean and smelt the salt and thought about what people had been writing in the hut registers. Someone had mentioned self-discovery. Did I find myself? Well, not really. I concluded that I am simply the amalgamation of observations, thoughts and experiences as this body, connected to this consciousness traverses the land. If I see a kangaroo I become that Kangaroo. If I sip a cup of tea I become that cup of tea. If I swat a fly I become that fly. Wherever there is an absence of trees/forest, there is the presence of flies. At times my pack was covered in them; standing room only. Every time I brushed a bush they’d go mad and buzz around for a while before settling down again. After a few hours you get really annoyed with them landing on your face. You start swearing at them. One time, I reversed into a blackboy/balga tree to try and get rid of the little bastards. After about five minutes of shooing them off of my front they all landed on the green straw-like strands of the blackboy. Looking at them they all looked like they were smiling, like it was some kind of game. Attempting to catch them off guard I ran as fast as I could until I got really puffed. They caught up.

I’d have my revenge though. Not only did the cliffs along the coast offer spectacular views they also brought a welcome and refreshing breeze. When a good gust built up, I’d whip the back of my pack with my hand sending flies everywhere. The wind would wisp them away and it was too strong for the little bastards to fly back to me. They were too small to tell if they were smiling or not. To an outside observer it would have been a pretty funny sight watching this dude on a cliff pulling a finger sign at these tiny little black dots floating in front of an immense blue background.

Walking 20kms a day meant that I was pretty tired by the time I reached camp. The voice inside of me that says that I cannot enjoy life until I’ve worked was satisfied and satiated. All that was left to do was to enjoy the rest of my days. I walked about 200km without shoes on. Only the second half of the last day did I wear boots. But I didn’t care by that stage. The waltz from Walpole to Denmark was sheer pleasure. I shared most of the walk with a lovely lady named Jean, with a totally unobtrusive disposition. She pointed out to me that kookaburra’s only ever laugh in twos. I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be walking the Bibbulman.

James Quinton