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.