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Decent Espresso event in London next Saturday (May 21) 6pm to 8pm

Meet John and Bugs, the founders behind the "Decent Espresso" machine as they come to London.

And taste the real drinks that four everyday owners make themselves at home.
  • Four Decent DE1 owners will be bringing their home setup and take a table each on the ground floor, to make you the drink they have at home. There'll be a variety of experience levels (from I've-had-the-DE1-one-week to experienced veterans) making a few different styles of drinks (espresso to lattes).
  • And, John will be downstairs, in the training space, with his home setup, pulling shots and answering questions. If there's a particular coffee bean you'd like to have him make bring it and he'll try to make to make an ok tasting shot with it.

Both the Decent-Curious, and currently-Decent are invited.

No cost.

Saturday, May 21, 6pm->8pm
At the Prufrock Cafe, London.

If you have any questions or comments, you're welcome to reply to this message and I'll answer.
 

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I've written before about the ecological cost of the pursuit for perfection in consumer goods. It really bothers me that so many companies discard function-but-imperfect goods.

So with Decent, any good that works-but-is-a-bit-ugly is discounted from 30% to 50% and sold on a dedicated page Discount Sale at Decent Espresso linked to on the top of our homepage.

I've long wanted to solve two issues with how we do this:
  • we don't handle well, cases where only a small number of an discounted item remain
  • we should provide precise photos showing you what the defect is.
We're now addressing both those things, by me "getting out of the way" and putting the power over our SALE page in my employee's (Celine is her name) hands.
  • I wrote a kind of CMS (content management software) that allows her to:
  • precisely indicate how many items were available on a precise stock-counting day
  • deduct, in real time, how many items have been sold since that counted day, showing you real stock levels, at that very minute (yes, every page load performs fresh SQL database queries)
  • Celine can upload detailed photos of each item, showing the issues with that batch
  • this is also enabling us to sell a lot of the "miscellany" we have been stocking, but unable to efficiently/transparently sell to you.
  • it also means that there's a lot more items on the SALE page, than there used to be when I (until a few weeks ago) hand-maintained the HTML.

I think of my job description as finding ways to "get the hell out of the way" and I'm happy with this little step.

-john
 

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MANCHESTER DECENT EVENT? (in a few weeks)

I'm flying my Manchester-native coffee expert Paul, to stay with his family in the UK before he joins me at a trade show in Italy, and thought it might interesting to have a Decent event there with him.

Does anyone have suggestions for a Manchester venue? A coffee shop, roaster or coffee training school?

I'd like to repeat what I did in London last week, namely having local Decent owners bring their own machine in make their daily home-drink for others. This event will be open to the Decent-curious as well as the currently-Decent.

What are your thoughts? Happy to talk about it here or via DM.

Here's a video with Paul. He knows more about coffee than I do, and is really solid on the DE1 (he's been with me for a while) and I think you'll enjoy meeting him.

 

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Types of Olive wood handles

Of the 1000 handles we had made from reclaimed, end-of-live Italian olive trees, we've accepted about 600 of them, and the other 400 will be reworked.

And of those 600 sets (one of each size handle) my head-of-factory manager Nicole separated them into four categories that she made up:
  • DENSE : dark to light color variations, these are our favorite
  • DOTS : which are really small knots, also quite pretty
  • BIRTHMARK : a dark splotch of color, but often the rest of the handle is like the DENSE ones
  • NORMAL : even color all around

We have 1200 total handles, much too many to individually photograph, and it's too complicated to have video chats with people to let them pick them.

What to do?

One possibility is selling these as 4 separate grounds. The DENSE and DOTS are the most beautiful, but also the most rare. The NORMAL ones are the most plentiful.

My inclination is to sell the 4 different handles as 4 separate choices, but you don't get to pick exactly the specific one, just the "type". However, I don't want people disappointed and deciding to send the wood back, as that's time consuming and appalling un-ecological.

How would you recommend we "handle" <har har> this?

-john
 

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Prufrock London Decent Espresso Event

In May 2022, Decent Espresso held an event at Prufrock London. Six Decent owners came (five home owners, one cafe), bringing their setups, and making their favorite drink for others. John, in the basement, showed the DE1XXL model. Thanks to Head of Coffee, River, for his help & enthusiasm, and of course, many thanks to the Decent owners who came. As this was less crowded than the California event held a few weeks earlier, the conversations with owners were much deeper and fulfilling.

Here's a very short video of what it was like.
 

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Preparing for Milan

Next Sunday, Bugs and I drive to Milan, Italy, to set up our booth at the World of Coffee trade show. This is the main coffee trade show for Europe. It starts on Thursday, June 23.

In the past, we've had a much smaller 9 meter booth, with an espresso machine literally coming out of a suitcase and a backdrop of cardboard boxes.

This year, we're just a wee bit better, with a 20 meter booth, four proper coffee carts, and two pop up banner stands as a backdrop.

Scott Rao will be making Filter 2.1 shots, and he's arranging for the coffee to be sourced and roasted to his spec. Alan, a coffee roaster/cafe owner from Czech (and who runs our favorite Instagram feed "50% Arabica"), will have a cart and be making espressos demonstrating his beans. Stefan, a DE1 owner from Germany, will have a cart, and will be saying "I am just an enthusiastic owner, I don't work for them" several hundred times per day. Paul will be flying in from Hong Kong, via a family visit in Manchester, assisting everywhere. Bugs will be with her mother, sitting in the back seats, drinking tea and offering biscuits.

I'm lending a DE1XL cart to Doug Weber, who will be lending us his newest EG-1 grinder model and a unibody portafilter. I'll have my Key Grinder, and several Niches too.

If you're coming, and have a favorite bean you'd like to try on a Decent, bring a bag, and we'll make it for you. You can also try several grinders with the same beans, to decide for yourself, how much you want to spend on an espresso grinder.

-john
 

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Our olive wood handles are now in stock, and can be ordered from:

They are fitted with M10 bolts, and work with Decent Espresso Machines, as well as any portafilter that uses M10 bolts.

The M10 bolt is the most common standard, but I've seen M12 bolts on some portafilters too.

Our handles are available in two sizes, which I'd call "normal" and "short". The "group head handle" is the short one, and works on M10 portafilters too.

Based on the feedback I got from a previous posting, we've grouped the various natural styles of the wood into four groups, and we also created a SALE section for those with minor defects. There are sample photos of each grouping, but not a photo of each of the handles. We have 2000 handles in total, too many to photograph individually.

We will accept returns if you're not satisfied with the handle, and we'll refund the price of the handle, but the cost of the postage won't be refunded. This policy is also from the discussion previous, trying to strike a balance between "every wood handle is unique" and a certain level of customer service.

I'm planning on making a webpage dedicate to handles, once the resin handles also arrive, as we'll have quite a selection then. For now, these handles can only be found by searching our catalog.

-john
 

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"I've had worse" coming to Milan

So THAT's what 3.5 meters tall, looks like!

Bugs and I are driving to Italy tomorrow, with 5 carts (three still to finish building)

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to set up our trade show stand at World of Coffee

There will be two of those signs behind us, hopefully with "I've had worse" visible from a distance, over the tops of shorter stands.

We tried this "slogan" pre-COVID, at a trade show in New York City, and it never failed to make people laugh, and ask "what are you guys about?". So I offer to make them an espresso, and tell them that if they like how it tastes, I will explain how it's done. And if they don't like how it tastes, well, no point in wasting their time...

We'll have grinders from Weber and Niche, Scott Rao will be making Filter 2.1 shots and Alan from "50% Arabica" will be making espressos from his own roasts.

-john
 

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What I learned at the World of Coffee trade show

A big reason for Bugs and I to "do" a trade show stand, is to "eat our own dog food".

For World of Coffee, I built 4 coffee carts over 3 days, packed everything up, drove to Italy in a rented van, ran a high intensity mobile cafe with 4 baristas for 3 days, clean up, tear down, drive home, and then assess what went wrong.

Then we work to improve ourselves.

We're now having a big internal company discussion about everything we can change to make this easier for a customer who might try to do the same thing.

The biggest thing that went wrong were the coffee cart wheels. Half of the the brackets we make bent on the drive over. Mostly, this was caused by my having loaded 20kg of water in each cart. With each turn of the van, these water bottles slid from side to side, causing metal fatigue and bending the wheel support.

However, wheeling the carts to the location was also problematic. The wheels are great at home, where there is no dirt, pebbles, broken concrete or uneven pavement. We found that the solid-plastic wheels I had bought, had no tolerance at all for these problems. I looked on in envy at the UPS trolleys at the show, which have huge air-inflated wheels, kept at a low pressure, so that they soak up all these defects in the path.

We're redesigning our wheel brackets to be double-thickness, folded metal, at the weak points, and we're going to do extensive torture testing on this new design. We thought that 3mm thick folded, welded stainless steel would hold up, but it doesn't.

I found that the food-quality-certified silicone tube from our "catering kit" is so short, that it really limits where I can bottom-mount it on the cart. That was annoying, as I really wanted the on/off switch to be at the front, where the barista can easily access it, not shoved in tightly next to the knockbox hole. We're going to quadruple the length of that tube for all customers.

I bought two ramps to help load them carts on the truck. However, all ramps I found have bent perforations to give additional traction (for motorcycle wheels) and these perforations become barriers to the solid-plastic wheels on our cart, making it much hard to push the cart up, as well as constantly redirecting the direction, so it doesn't load straight. Again, low-pressure inflated wheels would fix this problem.

I don't usually make coffee with super-hard kenyans, roasted ultralight, and so I didn't think about the coffee grinders overheating, and seizing, with this beans. We had problems with those beans, and our Niches seized. To be fair to Niche, the problem was made much worse because these are old grinders, before Niche started using the single-bean feeder disk, which fixes this issue. If I'd thought ahead, Martin from Niche (who visited us) would have brought me a pack of those disks (I have them now, he posted them the next day) and that issue would have been resolved.

But... again to be fair, my Weber Key grinder seized 3 times with those same beans. Yes, they really are challenging, but the problem is much compounded by the 8 hours of constant use these grinders got, never resting. Not even cafes have constant demand. To work around the hard-bean problem, I had to "drip feed" beans into a already-on Weber Key grinder, and not pour the beans in and start the grinder (that caused it to seize).

And again, to be fair, the much more powerful motor on our Weber EG-1 had no problems. The Key and Niche are both meant to be home grinders, and they excel at that, but as home equipment, they do have limits.

On the positive side, Rao had commissioned 300 micron sized pore nylon inserts for portafilter baskets, and these were MAGICAL. Without these, my "solidly good shot" rate was maybe 30% with these hard beans and the Allongé recipe, but it climbed to something like almost-always-perfect with the nylon inserts. The 300 micron size comes from a tip by coffee researcher Jonathan Gagné, that the larger particles were mostly responsible for astringency in the cup. However, in my experience, these inserts are much more regular than paper, and just plain stopped channeling. I was able to grind a full 10 clicks finer on my Key, when using them, with much better puck integrity. I got many "wows" from visitors, from the Allongé coffee I made this way.

We had four coffee carts running, and the Decents performed without problems during the three days. I had two kinds of beans: light roasted from https://www.doubleshot.cz/en that Scott Rao had organized, that pulled beautifully and consistently as an Allongé. In the past, I've used the Blooming Espresso on light roasts at shows, and it's not been a good choice, as that shot has to be very, very finely ground, and has a tendency to channel. For me the Allongé, on the Key, with a nylon filter, was easy to pull, and consistently good.

When there were issues with less-than-perfect shot pulls, such as a bit of channeling around the nylon filter, for instance, we could see it on the charts, and then taste it in cup. That was super interesting and helpful, I felt. Coffee is difficult, but it's a bit easier if you see more of what's going on.

Since this was Italy, I also had a medium-roasted bean that I could pull for those who wanted a "chocolatey espresso" from Gramos Coffee SHOP FOR BEANS | Gramos website - this allowed me to make espressos that traditionalists recognized, but which lacked the rancid and burnt oil flavors that they are used to as "normal" for that style of bean. I used the Niche for those shots, which helped me avoid having to dial in two beans on the same grinder, and the Niche does a nice job of giving more body to espresso than the Key does.

At Scott Rao's master class in Florence, Lance Hedrick and Jonathan Gagné joined in, which is a lot of coffee knowledge for such a small audience. I set up a split screen monitor, showing Rao's slides and the Decent pulling shots live, which I thought was very helpful and something I want to do in the future.

Gagné suggested to me that a "low mass" portafilter for the Decent would be useful, as he is researching temperature profiling. A heavy portafilter helps correct for water temperature errors, but as the Decent is 0.3C accurate, we don't need that. A lighter portafilter would help the Decent have faster temperature transitions when using temperature profiling, would speed up heating, and also use less electricity to stay hot while idling. We're working on Gagné's idea now.

-john
 

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Torture testing our new portafilter handles

We're switching to solid vinyl as the material for our portafilter handles. We like the way they feel, look and wear.

However, in torture testing our first batch of 20, we found that we could break the top off. This was because the bolt connecting to the stainless steel head, wasn't that deeply sunk into the vinyl material.

We've remade 20 samples, now with much deeper bolts sunk in, and we've not yet been able to break one.

The solid black vinyl will be the new standard in the future, that comes with our black machines.

So... now onto manufacturing these!

-john
 

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Better split shots

Our current double spouted portafilter (bottom right photo) does not always do a great job of splitting espresso shots that start slowly. The liquid will often preferentially go to one side, until the flow rate pucks up, and then it'll be even. That makes for even amounts of coffee in the two cups.

This has been something I've wanted to improve, and we've spent some engineering time over the years, making 3D drawings of "split spouts" that would solve this. We've made some 3D printed objects as prototypes, but each had issues, and we hadn't focussed enough resources on this topic, to truly solve it.

A few days ago, we saw that our tea portafilter manufacturer makes the crazy looking portafilter on the top left photo.

And another vendor we work with, makes the portafilter in the top right photo, which looks quite similar to ours, except that it can probably accomodate large filter baskets (20g baskets is the most our double portafilter can take), which would be useful.

We just got them in house, and I've asked one of my engineers to do a number of tests on both. We'll do low-flow-rate "shots" into two cups and weigh the results, trying at different flow rates.

The basic solution to this problem seems to be to have a "miniature cup" that temporarily holds the espresso, and is the cup fills, it spills out (hopefully evenly) into the two exits.

Have you got a double spouted portafilter design that you think really works well? I'd like to hear from any interesting ideas here.

-john
 

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Pitcher rinsers for cocktail bar & and small rinser redesign to prevent clogs

I was talking to Gregoire, in Singapore, about our pitcher rinser. He was asking lots of questions, and I asked him what he was using it for. It turns out he wants to create a coffee bar, and also a cocktail bar prep area, and have them match.

And... that's exactly what I've done for myself. Here are two photos of Bugs' cocktail prep area.

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The pitcher rinser we sell is a bit more expensive than most, because I specified all-stainless-steel for all parts. At a recent demo I gave at a London café, I broke their rinser, and it was partially made of plastic (most are) and had to pay to have it repaired.

At any rate, I recently made a cocktail-bar cart for my partner, complete with rinser, glass storage, a knockbox. The knockbox is for banging out ice, mint, fruit slices and other things that get stick in a shaker. There's a "magic bullet" blender under the counter. Four bottles of the most common alcohols she uses (gin, vodka, whisky) are upside down in an automatic shot dispenser.

-john

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Small Rinser Redesign

In other news, at the World of Coffee trade show, I found that my single-dose-bean-weighing was often causing coffee beans to fall into the holes of my pitcher rinser. The beans then float into the drain tube and clog it. Epic failure for a production setting.

So, another "lesson learnt" at the trade show, has us moving to much smaller holes in our pitcher rinser top, to prevent this. We're getting our sample of the new design this week.

 

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Bamboo scaffolding tradition

In many of the videos I’ve made, you can occasionally see bamboo scaffolding outside the windows. For the past few years, the outside of our building in Hong Kong has been undergoing works, and here, they use bamboo even on skyscrapers. They’re taking the bamboo now, from our 30th floor height. We’ll get a view of the mountains again!

There’s a terrific “infographic explainer” article in SCMP about this tradition, and how it’s cheaper, safer (because it flexes) and much more ecological, than contemporary industrial solutions.

Anyway, this post isn’t about coffee, but it is a great reminder that sometimes traditional ways are best, and let’s make sure we don’t lose our historical knowledge.

-john
 

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Decent Suitcase v2 - torture testing

We've started to work on a major revision to the Decent Espresso Machine Suitcase, as part of moving to a new supplier.

We have learned quite a bit over the years, and have a few changes we'd like to make to our suitcase design.

We were happy to find that people who manufacture for Plevo are nearby to us. Plevo is an ultra-high-end suitcase The Infinite checked suitcase | Smart luggage | Plevo

We've visited this manufacturer. We're impressed by the quality of their work, and we want to collaborate with them.

Some things we want to improve in our suitcase design:
  • removable wheels, so that we don't have "air space" in the cardboard box, which can be easily crumpled.
    • Being mounted on corners, wheels unfortunately also transfer shock into the suitcase itself, and thus increase the damage caused by transport companies throwing your DE1 off a truck.
    • The removable wheel design we most like is similar to the Plevo's, with very thick plastic that serves to greatly strengthen the corners, when the wheels are removed.
    • You'll receive the wheels inside the suitcase and clip them into place. You can then remove the wheels again, if you need to ship the suitcase back to us.
    • the space savings from removing the wheels are significant, removing about 2kg of "volumetric weight", which is about USD$40 in shipping cost, per espresso machine.
  • riveted-in corner protectors. We currently add corner protectors in the packing process, but these are usually discarded by the customer on arrival.
  • top-side-open, for easier packing. The zip in the center of our current suitcase is a bit difficult to close, since we transitioned to much denser foam. The problem is that the foam needs to be compressed as the suitcase closes, which isn't easy. This new design solves that.
  • overall improvement in build quality. While I have no complaints with our current supplier, the Plevo suitcase is gorgeous and is a big bump up in quality.
  • Yes, the suitcase will cost us substantially more from this manufacturer, but we have enough profitability that I don't mind spending more, to get something nicer. Plus, we'll be able to much easier control quality and deliveries, by using someone nearby.
  • We're probably 6 months away from moving to a new design, and still in R&D on this. Success is not assured, but I'm hopeful.
  • Note: we won't sell this new suitcase on its own to people, because we ship everything via UPS/Fedex, which means it would cost $300 to ship an empty suitcase to you, which doesn't make financial sense. We'll transition to this new suitcase design, once we run out of the current v1 design, for sending new espresso machines.

ps: If you have a "wishlist" of changes you'd like to see made to our current suitcase design, now would be a great time to voice them. I'm "all ears" !

-john
 

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Low mass portafilter ideas

When I met him in Italy, Jonathan Gagné suggested that a "low mass" portafilter head would be very helpful, as he's currently experimenting with "temperature profiling".

The Decent is able to instantly change the water temperature, by changing the hot/cold mix flow rates, but if that new water encounters a lot of mass that is at the "old temperature", then the water temperature will get dragged back to it. That's one of the reasons why we use teflon water tubes (great insulator) with a very small tube size (2.5mm internal dimension) and also why we're moving off brass for the parts inside our group head.

The portafilter, however, being relatively heavy, and made of stainless steel, definitely has significant mass. That the portafilter basket is mostly isolated from it, connected mostly by a thin wire, definitely helps.

Nonetheless, I think Jonathan is right: reducing the mass would only help making the Decent more "nimble" at changing temperatures.

So far, we've made two designs:
  • a minimal mass one, that removes 36% of the weight, but means that when you put the portafilter on the table to tamp, you'll be placing the basket on the table, not the portafilter. That'll feel a bit different, that's all.
  • a conservative reduction of 19%, which preserves all the same touch points, and just removes metal that is 'unneeded'

it seems that a lot of the remaining mass is on the "bolt mount", which is likely thicker than it needs to be. The connection between the handle/bolt and the main ring, definitely needs to be strong, but I'm not sure all that metal is needed around the bolt.

We'll be experimenting a bit more, and making one-off prototypes with CNC manufacturing, to test our results.

We've thought about making these from other materials, but we're quite worried about longevity. Aluminum would definitely lower the weight massively, but would not look great, and because it's softer, we're concerned the "wings" would rub off with use.

If you've got any other ideas, I'd love to hear them.

-john
 

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Fascinating, since having the Cafelat Robot it's made me wonder if traditional portafilters need a complete rethink, looks like you're on the case!
But the portafilter of the Cafelat Robot has two main drawbacks, in my opinion :
1) you can not see if you are level because of its depht! Then you can not use a tamper like the Decent one which sits level on the perimeter.
2) the handel is much too thin, then not nice to use!
 
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