Test Drive is a series dedicated to fiddling with the newest gadgets to hit the coffee market. Today we look at the Espresso Machine Test Basket.
BY JOSH TAVES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Marketing and design be damned, I can always go for a good old-fashioned, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps gadget that works well and is produced by someone whose excitement for the product is clearly on display. The Espresso Machine Test Basket is one such gizmo that I recently had the opportunity to play around with that fit that bill to a T.
The Test Basket is, very simply, a modified blind portafilter basket that has been fitted with a flow restrictor and water filter and has some great practical uses for getting the most out of your espresso machine.
The hydraulic principles the Test Basket uses are straightforward. By creating a restriction of a known size that is smaller than any other found inside the espresso machine, you gain the ability to calculate the pressure of the machine by knowing exactly how much water will flow through the hole size in a given amount of time. With the restriction the Test Basket provides, all that is left is to do some math to figure out the pressure being produced.
Ben Forknall (the inventor of the Test Basket) has done just that. He has even put the info into an easy-to-read chart so all you need to do is insert the test basket, run the grouphead for one minute, and weigh the water that has come out. Find the water weight on the chart and voila! Because the water flow is fixed and the time is fixed, you will have a fairly accurate read out of your espresso machine’s pressure.
Understandable and easy, this device has some great practical uses for modern coffee service technicians and anyone self-maintaining their espresso machine, first of which is the Test Basket’s expressed purpose of calibrating the pressure of your espresso machine. A dirty secret of the espresso machine industry is that the pressure gauge that comes installed on your fancy new machine is probably not that accurate.
“I’m not surprised when I find espresso machine gauges that are up to a full bar out of calibration,” says Marty Roe of Service Call Coffee Services in Kansas City. The beauty of the test basket is that for a fraction of the cost of a fancy Scace 2 Thermometer, you can fine-tune the actual pressure in your machine without worrying about the consistency or accuracy of your factory pressure gauge.
“This device would also be really nice for dialing in volumetrics without having to waste coffee,” says Marty. The Test Basket flow restrictor mimics a similar amount of restriction provided by a portafilter basket full of coffee, which means that the Test Basket can help you nail your Auto Volumetric or Super Automatic programming quickly and with measured accuracy.
All in all, I have enjoyed playing with the Test Basket and am glad to have one in my maintenance kit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Taves is the director of quality control and business development for Novo Coffee in Denver. He’s been working in the coffee industry since 2006 and enjoys taking advantage of all the great adventures Colorado has to offer. He is also the inventor of the Rattleware Cupping Brewer and a 2017 USBC finalist, so he knows his way around lots of different coffee gadgets.