Hands-On with Flow Control - A Brief Look at What to Expect

by Anthony Licata July 01, 2019 6 min read

The newest thing here at Whole Latte Love is flow control, and it's something you absolutely need to know about. So what is it? In basic terms, flow control allows you to change the flow rate of your water as it passes through the puck of coffee in your portafilter. If you haven't had the chance to try it yourself or if this is the first time you've heard of the concept, you might think okay, no big deal, but trust us. This is important.

By controlling the flow rate during pre-infusion, infusion, and extraction, an incredible depth of experimentation opens up to you. First of all, by using an initial low flow rate to pre-infuse and swell the puck, you can reduce/eliminate channeling. Second, you can fully infuse the coffee prior to extraction, where other machines would start extraction during the infusion process. With some testing and once you find the sweet spot for your new flow profile, the result is an entirely different side of your favorite coffee, and you'll probably love it even more.

It all comes down to how you introduce water to the puck. The difference is difficult to put into words, but it really brings out the nuances hidden in your coffee. Put differently, with flow control, your coffee doesn't taste just one way anymore. Your one coffee is hiding a spectrum of flavor profiles, and flow control is exactly what you need to explore that frontier.

How to Get Flow Control

The easiest way to add the ability to use flow control on your machine is to use our new E61 flow control devices, available for both ECM and Profitec. You can also look at Mina from Dalla Corte, but more on that further down (including taste test results using different flow profiles on the same coffee). These flow control devices will work with any machine that has an E61 grouphead, and installation is easy with just a few steps and tools involved.

Installation of the Flow Control Device

Installing the Flow Control Device is a pretty easy process and only requires a few tools and a total of maybe ten minutes.

  1. First, you’ll want to take an adjustable wrench and remove the top nut above your brew group and take out the teflon gasket. We put electrical tape on ours beforehand to avoid scratching it.
  2. Take the new flow control device’s main body and put the new teflon gasket underneath the top part. Use your hands to screw in the new piece and push it down. Use the wrench and some electrical tape to tighten it. (If water leaks out later, simply tighten the nut again.)
  3. Next, use a 5 mm Allen Wrench to unscrew a small screw close to the grouphead of the machine. Take the small teflon gasket out and put it to the side.
  4. Take your gauge and wrap it in teflon tape. Be sure not to cover the bottom hole of the gauge with tape. Take the small teflon gasket and put it around the gauge’s bottom.
  5. Put the Gauge into the open hole and tighten it by hand. Make sure to turn the gauge by the back and not the front near the glass.
  6. Take the metal neck of the handle, place it into the top nut, and turn it clockwise by hand.
  7. Turn on the machine and turn the handle until you see some water coming out of your grouphead.
  8. Take the metal neck off of the top nut, insert the black handle into the neck, and place the finished product back into the top nut.
  9. Lift the neck a little bit up, and tighten the handle. Put the neck all the way down and you should be able to control the flow.

For a visual guide, Todd and Marc made a video installing the Flow Control Device into a Profitec Pro 700 and how to adjust the flow rate. If you're looking to upgrade but you don't want to fuss with installing the device yourself, consider taking a look at the ECM Synchronika with Flow Control. It's the same amazing machine but with the flow control device pre-installed, making this the second major upgrade its received (with the first being the upgraded PID). It just doesn't stop getting better.

How to Use Flow Control

Using the Flow Control Device is really easy. With the handle installed, you can start your shot and adjust the flow rate by turning the handle back and forth. The gauge included with the Flow Control device doesn’t monitor flow rate, however, it monitors the pressure of the water pressing against the puck. Afterall, flow rate and pressure are related.

The best part of flow control is how we can possibly change the flavor of our coffee with it. If you want to have a long preinfusion to swell the coffee puck and possibly get a bolder flavor, you can. If you want to taper off at the end of a shot to avoid bitterness, you can do that too. For demonstration of what we're talking about, we'll look at Mina.

Testing

To get hands-on with flow profiling, we paid a visit to our Dalla Corte Mina and borrowed our very own Michael Cardinale from our Customer Support center. Michael is one of our coffee experts here at the office. He loves tennis, his favorite band is Circa Survive, and he has a wicked mustache. Before joining our team, he roasted coffee locally. To begin, we took one dark roast coffee, in this case Parisi Artisan Coffee Espresso Parisi, and pulled three 32 g shots using three different flow profiles. We chose Mina for this test because it does an excellent job of visualizing the flow profiling process. Below you'll find the different profiles we programmed into the Dalla Corte Mina App that connects to Mina through a Bluetooth connection.

For our baseline, we used a steady flow throughout. Michael reported a citrus flavor up front, like grapefruit or stone fruit, immediately followed by cocoa and chocolaty notes. The shot finished with a more bitter, lingering aftertaste.

For our next profile, we used a longer 7.5 second pre-infusion, ramping up to a much more aggressive flow rate, into a sudden finish. Michael found this shot to be smooth and balanced through and through, with a non-distinct interplay of flavors and a full body. He felt this would be a shot best for an Americano.

For our third and final profile, we started with a more gradual increase in flow with a more gradual decrease in flow to finish. Michael told us this shot was the brightest of the three, fruity through and through with a very smooth finish and no aftertaste. This was Michael's favorite result by a long shot, perfect for espresso.

Same coffee, different profiles, different results. It's just as simple as adjusting the flow rate, and suddenly your one coffee reveals a number of flavors.

Anthony Licata
Anthony Licata

Anthony is one of the copywriters at Whole Latte Love and is interested in the culture and history behind coffee. His favorite things to do include playing with pug puppies and bothering our web designers to make him images for his blogs.

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