EK43 Burr Alignment – Experience with the Titus Tool and the Perger Method

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As the burrs on our EK grinder started to break in with use, it became apparent that their alignment was pretty far off. EK espressos were flowing too quickly and extraction was far less than optimal; under-extraction was exacerbated by updosing to stretch contact time. We had tried the Perger technique (dry erase marker on the flat portion of the burr, aluminum shims, attempting to align both the fixed and the moving burrs sequentially) without as much success as hoped. So, on the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a Titus EK alignment kit, which has helped immensely – our EK shots are ground well off the “zero” point, have slowed down substantially and extraction is now running at about 22%. And they are tasting great.

Some quick tips from my experience (and a caveat, I’m far from an expert here! I’m just hoping to help you save a bit of time when you go for it!):

  • I have the V1 kit, without the thumbscrew in the mounting bracket (the additional thumbscrew helps adjust both mounting bracket height and ease of removal). With the v1 kit, you need a rubber mallet to basically hammer the mounting bracket onto the shaft.  Be sure not to hammer it all the way down as it’ll be realllly hard to remove!
  • The real trick to using the Titus kit is getting the deflection gauge probe in the right position, at the edge of the flat portion of the burr, just brushing the top surface of the ridges.
  • If you zero the gauge properly at the top of one of the ridges, you’ll quickly find the high point on the burrs as your carefully rotate it 360.
  • The technique that worked for me was marking the high point, then bringing two other points, around 120 degrees apart, to the same level via the shims (you might need different thickness shims in these spots to get to the high point).  Ie, basically building a tripod so that the burr is brought to the highest level of distortion in the frame.  The Titus kit comes with shims in 0.01mm increments, which takes a lot of the guess work out of the levelling process.
  • Matt Perger’s Barista Hustle video on EK alignment is a must-see before attempting to align the EK burrs, even with the Titus kit!  He points out so many crucial aspects of alignment, such as ensuring you are shimming the outer rim of the burrs (the only part that makes contact with frame.)
  • You also need to review the Barista Hustle video because the Titus tool only helps with the fixed burr (I’m sure there is some super clever person out there who has figured out how to mount it onto the rotating burr…I’m clueless).  So once you’ve levelled the fixed burr, you need to use the Perger dry erase marker technique to find the high points on the rotating outer burr.  Again, I used the tripod shim technique (ie shims in two places around what I thought to be the high point) and that seemed to work well.

Best of luck – and if you can finish this project in less than two hours, my proverbial hat is off to you!

– Aaron

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Municipal Grants for Cafe Construction

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Sadly the cliche “twice as long and twice as expensive as planned” seems pretty apt for most cafe build outs – unless you do most of the work literally by yourself, or you are an insanely tough, thick-skinned and detailed project manager.  Even then, to be frank, you’ll be badly sucker-punched from time to time, and it will still end up costing a fortune.

I’m lucky enough to have a cafe in a wealthy city that actively supports small, local businesses and that actually sets aside money to do so.  I suspect that many other cities have similar programs, and it might simply be a question of the scale of the check that they are capable of writing.  So hopefully some of the programs from which I benefitted might also have analogs in the areas in which you operate or plan to.  In any case, you’ll spend a lot of time with your local planning/zoning and development offices and they can point you in the right direction to find out about these programs – but the thing is, you’ll probably have to ask, and knowing what types of programs are out there helps.

I received two very generous grants from the City of Cambridge: a Storefront Improvement Program grant, and an ADA grant.  The SIP (or facade improvement) grant, paid almost 50% of the cost of my exterior renovation project.  The original facade of my building was pretty bad; the right half was a mismatched brick wall, and the entrance was in the center of the storefront.  The left half of the storefront was great, all glass, nice brick and detailing.

The sole customer entrance in the middle of the property was a huge issue for me because I felt it would create serious problems with customer flow.  The most efficient customer flow path for my shaped space (rectangular-ish) was entry on one side, a straight walk forward to the POS, and then a circular path to the food/beverage pick-up plane, condiments bar, trash and then the exit; to achieve this, I’d need to move the front door to the far side of my building.  I also wanted a space filled with natural light, so I wanted to replace the mismatched brick half of the front of the building with glass, and add back in original details to keep the entirety of the facade consistent.  If it sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it was – and hopefully you can appreciate the magnitude of the check the City wrote to support this project.  There were of course conditions, but these were terms with which I was more than happy to comply (for instance a properly graded entry with a handicapped access door.  An automatic door has been a blessing all-around, everyone loves it including staff carrying plates to customers seated outside, parents with strollers etc.  These doors are not only the right thing to do, they are just plain fantastic.)

In addition, the City of Cambridge has grants available for ADA work.  I had to install two ADA compliant bathrooms, but it was more efficient for me to deploy the grant to build an ADA compliant all-access bar (if I may be permitted, the bar is stunning.)  Somewhat amazingly, Cambridge helped guide me to the realization that the grant would go much further when used for the bar, as opposed to bathrooms (the usual approach).

One final word on these types of grants: municipalities have set budgets for business development projects, and when the funds are gone, they are gone for the entire year.  So accessing these grants is competitive, and possibly a race if they are first-come-first-serve.  So perhaps I’m shooting myself in the foot by discussing these programs (should I ever want to do this again some day!)  But the way I see it, every small storefront business is someone’s dream – but also a huge risk requiring ridiculous amounts of capital, planning, sweat and pig-headedness to actualize.  The odds are somewhat against us all of us, and every little bit helps, often enormously.

-Aaron

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DIY Graduated Pitchers/Tumblers/Shakers

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The graduated frothing pitchers out there are great and a big step forward in reducing milk waste.  But sometimes you just want to pour with a lucky pitcher, want an etched tumbler (for iced lattes etc), or just want an excuse to do a fun little project.  So in an effort to assuage the baristas while still keeping an eye on milk waste, I tried a couple of methods of etching lines on the interior some stainless steel vessels.

  • Dremel and various bits (cutting, grinding etc.)  I think in theory this could work extremely well if you properly clamp the Dremel in place, and ideally the pitcher too.  In practice, this was well beyond my weak Dremel skills and I ended up with a lot of messy scratches and a poorly defined score line.
  • Etching with electricity.  Eureka!

I can’t claim any credit for the this idea, there are plenty of great videos on the internet showing how it is done.  But I can say I tried it, it works, it is super cheap (you probably have almost everything you need in your shop already), and it’s quite satisfying.  Here’s the quick version of what worked for me (try at your own risk…this is an educational post only!):

Materials:

  • Four alligator clips
  • Wire
  • 9v battery
  • a bit of salt water
  • a bunch of Q-tips
  • a flashlight
  • electrician’s tape
  • an exacto knife/box cutter
  • and of course the metal vessels you wish to etch.

Steps:

  1. Clean and dry the interior of the vessel.  Mark the line you’d like to etch with a Sharpie.
  2. Cut a thin bar into the electrician’s tape with a precise cutting instrument (I used blue tape, but in hindsight electrician’s tape would have been better, probably would have helped create crisper borders). Stick the cut-out tape in place over the Sharpie mark.  In practice, this is the most difficult part of the whole project given that you need to try to get it level pretty deep inside the pitcher.  Sticking the tape to the end of a straight edge (aligning it such that the center of the cut-out is at the corner edge of the straight edge), then running the straight edge down the middle of the spout, helped to get the tape as level as possible.  A flashlight also helps when trying to position the cut-out over the sharpie mark.
  3. After you’ve attached alligator clips to both ends of two wires, attach one clip to the positive end of the 9v battery.  The other end gets clipped to the pitcher.
  4. Soak the end of a Q-tip in a bit of saltwater (to better conduct the electricity) and clip the Q-tip (closer to the tip works better) with one alligator clip on the second wire.  The clip needs to be biting down on wet cotton.  The other end of the wire gets clipped to the negative end of the battery.
  5. Hold the Q-tip by the shaft and “paint” the cut-out, going back and forth.  You’ll probably need to do this for about 5 minutes if you are using a 9v battery, and will probably need to replace your Q-tip (swapping ends as they blacken) several times in order to get a good etch.  You’ll see a bit of very tiny bubbling, maybe a wisp of vapor, and hear a slight hum.

The etch marks aren’t quite laser crisp, but they are visible and work!

-Aaron

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