You've probably heard this term getting thrown around as you begin shopping for your first home espresso machine. Perhaps you're in the market for something more advanced and looking to better your barista skills? Read on to see if a flow control device is something you might need in you arsenal of tools.
What is a Flow Control Device?
A flow control device is a tool that allows the user to control the flow rate of water during espresso extraction.
Traditionally, espresso machines deliver water to the coffee grounds at a consistent flow rate and pressure throughout the brewing process. This can result in an extraction that is either too fast or too slow, depending on the coffee being used, which can lead to a suboptimal flavor profile. With a flow control device, the user can manually adjust the flow rate and pressure at different stages of the brewing process, allowing them to customize the extraction to the specific coffee being used. This can result in a more even extraction, a fuller flavor profile, and a better-tasting espresso.
Some coffee beans may require a slower flow rate to extract the maximum flavor, while others may require a higher pressure to achieve a full-bodied taste. With a flow control device, the user can adjust these variables and experiment until they find the perfect balance for their preferred taste. This is particular advantageous for individuals who like to try a wide variety of roasts, it allows the user to experience different flavor profiles to find out which one suits them the best.
Practically speaking, this is all done via a paddle on the top of the group head that moves on a spindle which in turn opens & closes an aperture. The aperture is what controls the flow of water to the espresso puck.
How to Prevent Channeling
What does channeling mean exactly?
Channeling is what happens when water finds a path of least resistance through the coffee grounds, resulting in an uneven extraction. This can happen if the coffee grounds are not distributed evenly in the portafilter, if the tamp is uneven or if the water is flowing too quickly through the coffee bed. By controlling the flow rate and pressure, the user can ensure that the water is evenly distributed throughout the coffee bed and that it is flowing at a rate that will provide an even extraction.
Our Favorite Espresso Machines for Flow Control Profiling
Whether you’re looking for a machine that has this functionality built-in or as an upgrade to an existing one, below are some of our favorite espresso machines that can incorporate this advanced technique.
Lelit Bianca. One of the big draws of the Lelit Bianca is that it comes stock with a manual brew paddle already, so you can get right to experimenting with the control of water immediately. It offers a sleek, wooden design for the paddle along with a pressure gauge front-and-center to assist in the process.
Quick Mill Sorella. Designed for the younger generation of baristas in mind, the Quick Mill Sorella comes with all the normal bells & whistles of a top-end Italian espresso machine, with the added feature set of connectivity through wifi and remote access functionality. It of course offers the ability to upgrade and install a Flow Control Device if you wanted to step it up a notch.
Is a Flow Control Device Necessary?
No. It’s not absolutely essential in pulling a good shot of espresso.
Do you want to make a great espresso shot? Well, then you might want to consider purchasing a Flow Control Device for your machine or spend up on one that offers manual profiling. It can also be pretty fun getting to experiment with different recipes and trying to achieve that next level of the barista skillset.
It’s easier than ever to get café-quality drinks made right in your kitchen, and if you’re the type who likes to get the most bang for their buck and strive for the best-tasting espresso drinks, consider the upgrade for sure.