Coffee Engineering: How Far Our Engineers Go For An Out Of This World Espresso
In the bustling world of coffee, precision engineering is the hidden hero behind your perfect cup of hot java. From the intricacy of grinder burrs creating molecular consistency to the piping and circuitry of your espresso machine making sure each drop of water that touches your precious coffee is the perfect temperature, every minute detail of your coffee workflow symphony was at one point in time a concept for engineering better espresso.
Whether you're a coffee connoisseur, an engineering enthusiast, or in our case here at Accu, both; the marriage of technology and taste in crafting an extraordinary engineered coffee experience is an art that many attempt (including us) and few have mastered.
To get right to the good bits, we've signposted our journey through the intricate process of coffee engineering, where we explore the intricate process of coffee engineering, where we explore:
Part 1: Custom-roasting beans in collaboration with local roaster Bean Brothers; engineering better espresso to be aligned with what real engineers truly desire for an original brew.
Part 2: Leveraging precision components from Accu to grind coffee beans to the ideal consistency, allowing for even finer grinds.
Part 3: Delving into puck preparation, featuring the ingenious espresso distribution tool with planetary gears for an incredibly even extraction.
Part 4: Brewing on our unique espresso machine, assembled by our Innovation Engineering Manager from various parts from other espresso machines.
Part 5: Concluding with a reflection on the dedication and innovation of our in-house engineers in their relentless pursuit of the perfect espresso.
So grab a brew and join us as we demystify the mechanics of extracting an out-of-this-world espresso, where science meets satisfaction, and passion meets precision. You'll discover that the secret to a sublime espresso doesn't just lie in the bean but in the beauty of the engineering that brings it to life.
Engineering Coffee Around Our Community
The very first step to engineering better espresso starts with the bean.
Huddersfield used to be a commercial hub for textiles and factories, although now, it’s home to many independent coffee roasters situated within the converted mill spaces.
One such roastery is Bean Brothers, established by two brothers with a love of specialty coffee. Since they already graciously supply us with copious amounts of freshly roasted coffee and supporting local is a big part of our culture here at Accu, we took this as an opportunity to collaborate, bringing our idea of creating the best coffee for engineers to life.
But what is engineered coffee? Or more specifically, what type of coffee do engineers want to drink? Well, that’s where we put the question out to both our engineering customers and local engineering firms and the results are truly amazing.
Without this survey uncovering how engineers fuel their day, we couldn’t back up our data-driven approach to truly create the best coffee beans for engineers.
Armed with our survey results and the desire for a medium to medium dark roast with hints of Chocolate & Hazelnut, we tasked Bean Brothers to carefully curate a coffee profile that engineers will love.
After copious amounts of cupping at Bean Brothers HQ, testing and feedback, we believe we’ve managed to create a definitive coffee roast specifically for engineers that they’ll love.
Coffee Is Part Of Our Daily Grind
So, we’ve got the perfect beans, now we need to simply grind them up and mix them with water right? As expected, it’s nowhere near that simple when it comes to the pursuit of the quintessential engineers’ brew, but that’s where the fun begins. Getting the perfect consistency of your grind, depending on how you want to brew your coffee, is a deep yet fascinating rabbit hole.
In short, too coarse and the coffee doesn’t get enough contact time meaning it’s under-extracted, too fine and water struggles to find its way through leading to a coffee that’s over-extracted. In the case of espresso, finer still and the pressure can build up to a point that the water bores a hole right through your coffee, creating what the espresso community calls ‘channelling’. This results in a mixture of localised over and under-extraction.
If this is all new to you, finding the sweet spot between under and over-extraction is heavily tied to dialling in your ideal grind size. You can even tell by taste if your coffee grind size needs attention. If you get a sour taste at the very start of your sip, chances are it’s under-extracted. On the other hand, if you get a harsh bitterness towards the back of your mouth later in a sip it’s probably over-extracted.
How does this all tie back to our team at Accu and our hunt for the perfect engineered espresso though? Well, the grinder chosen for this project is a Sage Smart Grinder Pro. With a decent range of grind settings on the coarser side, the Sage Smart Grinder Pro espresso settings left us needing finer still, even after tweaking all the internal and external adjustments at our disposal.
Thankfully, since we have a team of engineers at our disposal, Accu precision shims were an instant go-to. Using our 22mm x 32mm x 0.2mm thick metric shims, we managed to stack five underneath the internal burr to essentially move the grinder burrs closer together.
After some trial and error, we settled on using four 0.2mm shims, adding a total 0.8mm in height. The results were twofold; we managed to hit the “zero point” of the burrs, meaning they couldn’t possibly get any closer without grinding together, and the grind output was amazingly fine in comparison meaning we had plenty of headroom for movement should we need. Thanks to these shims, we were now in the perfect position to start prepping our coffee.
Utilising Espresso Distribution Tools For Even Extraction
As a forward-thinking engineering company, we love 3D printing and rapid prototyping. So much so that we have a bank of printers to use internally for R&D. In terms of the context of this article, and pushing the outcome of our coffee grounds to the absolute limit, one such project is the Umikot spinning WDT tool.
Inspired by the movement of planetary gears, this espresso distribution tool harnesses the theory of the “Weiss Distribution Technique”. In short, with trimmed needles mounted vertically to the gears, it mixes up our grounds to remove any clumps - almost like a spirograph whisk. The end goal here is to achieve homogeneous particle distribution which helps produce an even coffee extraction and prevents the channelling effect which we touched upon earlier.
The engineering, research and development that has resulted in the creation of this tool is so in-depth that it even has simulations of the path each needle will take over the span of 10 rotations, showing that it provides almost 100% coverage of the entire bed of grinds.
In our experience, we’ve found this to be the best WDT tool we’ve tried as it provides reproducible results each time when compared with other espresso distribution tools which all have a manual freehand approach.
Have a 3D printer and want to print your own? You’ll be happy to know that the tool is free to download and the only things you’ll need to source are the acupuncture needles and 5 x M3 x 12mm countersunk screws. Make sure to pair them with our Grounds For Innovation blend to really see what it can do!
It’s Alive! Our Frankenstein Espresso Machine
So, from beans to brewing, we’re now at the final step. To say the espresso machine our engineering team uses is unique would be an understatement.
Serving as the flint that sparked our imagination for this entire project was Patrick Faulkner, our Innovation Engineering Manager. Channelling his inner Tony Stark, he set out to create his very own espresso machine, using parts from his motorbike, aftermarket overpressure valves, PID controllers, custom machined adapters and the interface from a De’Longhi Scultura to provide a familiar user experience.
While we won’t get too technical here, from start to finish, each component that passes water through to its final delicious destination has been thought about. Here’s a quick rundown:
Boiler & Reservoir
These have been upgraded to be housed within an aluminium motorbike oil catch can (brand new) for more thermal stability.
This clever addition has been added to regulate the temperature, flow, pressure and speed of the hot water delivery system. Something that adds a more programmable layer on top of the engineered components for more consistency.
It’s widely accepted that 9 bars of pressure is the optimal level for brewing espresso, so this spring-loaded valve will purge pressure once that limit is reached. Previously this sat at around 15 bars.
Upgraded to include a pressure gauge so there is a clear visual cue for hitting the 9-bar sweet spot.
Whilst this isn’t a performance-based modification, it does allow for shot diagnosis and provides a much easier way to visualise how the water is flowing through the coffee grounds. It also provides that amazing Instagram-looking espresso shot that we can’t help but love.
So, how does it taste? Well, it’s hard to have an unbiased opinion here, but in comparison to instant, or even coffee pod machines, so much better! While our new coffee roast blend for engineers may take some of the credit, that shouldn’t discount the effort imparted to get to this point. From our tweaks to the grind size to our custom 3D printed spinning WDT tool for improved distribution, all the way to engineering our own coffee machine - every step so far has proved worthwhile in pursuing our perfect coffee for engineers.
The Pursuit Of The Perfect Coffee - Is It Worth It?
If this journey through the world of engineered coffee has shown us anything, it's the unparalleled dedication and innovation that our in-house engineers bring to the table - or in this case, their coffee mugs.
From a pure taste perspective, it’s subjective, but our engineers believe they’ve hit greatness, and the superiority of our engineered coffee beans showcases the difference that precision, thoroughness and care can make.
Crafting the perfect espresso is as much an art form as it is a science, requiring an unerring focus on detail and a willingness to experiment.
Just as a systems engineer expertly calibrates each component for seamless functionality, our in-house engineers have meticulously optimised grind size, pressure settings and temperature controls to unlock the full potential of each coffee particle in a perfectly engineered espresso.
So then, as we sit back to enjoy the first of many brews, it’s a good time to reflect on our journey towards crafting the perfect engineered espresso. This project has been one of relentless pursuit, marked by continuous learning, rigorous testing and unyielding passion.
As we continue to push the boundaries of what's possible in both engineering and coffee brewing, this project serves as a testament to our core ethos. We’re here for the engineers, innovators and trailblazers – those who are driving change, even when that means making sure you’ve got the right coffee to help you achieve your best.
Don’t take our word for it though, you can order your very own Grounds For Innovation and let us know if it helped kickstart your day!
Q: What is a WDT tool?
A: A WDT, or Weiss Distribution Technique tool is a specialized instrument used in the preparation of espresso coffee. It features needles or prongs designed to agitate and evenly distribute ground coffee within the portafilter basket. The aim is to eliminate clumps and promote uniform water flow through the coffee grounds during extraction, thereby improving the overall quality of the espresso shot.
Q: Is there a certain technique for how to use a WDT tool?
A: Yes, the technique for using a WDT tool involves placing it over the filter basket filled with freshly ground coffee. You then gently agitate the coffee grounds using a circular or zig-zag motion, taking care to cover the entire surface area. This action breaks up clumps and creates a uniform coffee bed, making it easier for water to pass through evenly during extraction. Some espresso distribution tools, especially those with planetary gears like the one we’ve used in this article, are designed to provide optimal agitation with minimal user effort.
Q: What is the best WDT tool?
A: Determining the best WDT tool can vary based on personal preferences, but factors like build quality, ease of use, and effectiveness in creating an even coffee ground distribution are key. When it comes to espresso equipment engineering, models with planetary gears, such as the Umikot spinning WDT tool, have been lauded for their ability to provide almost 100% coverage of the coffee bed, offering repeatable and consistent results.
Q: What are grinder burrs?
A: Grinder burrs are the components in a coffee grinder that actually break down the coffee beans into smaller particles. They are usually made of hardened steel or ceramic and come in different shapes like flat, conical, or hybrid designs. The precision and consistency of the grind are heavily influenced by the quality of the grinder burrs, making them a crucial element in coffee preparation.
Q: What is the best type of coffee for engineers?
A: The best type of coffee for engineers is subjective and dependent on individual taste profiles. However, in a data-driven approach, our survey indicated a preference for a medium to medium-dark roast with flavour notes of Chocolate & Hazelnut. In line with this, a custom roast curated to these specifications, like the one we developed with Bean Brothers, is ideal for engineers who appreciate both the science and the art of coffee making.