Bespoke Coffee Machines
by Ben Haymes
Photography by Lisa Haymes
Growing up in an extended family of book-dealers, and with a structural engineer father, it’s little surprise that Ben Haymes’ early life was consumed with pulling things apart, repairing and restoring old machinery, electronics, and furniture. The hunt was always on for the most ‘precious’ thing – the older, the rarer, the more bizarre and weirder something was, the more it would claim prize position in the household.
This unusual childhood indoctrination has remained with Ben and his siblings, now all in their 40s, with the siren’s call of that next ‘precious’ thing still haunting them. It can strike during idle chatter at a dinner party, when driving along a suburban street, or while casually searching the web … Something on the periphery of life’s current task that sets their pulses racing, hunting the next treasure.
Growing up in the ‘Little Italys’ of Sydney’s Leichhardt and Darlinghurst, the Haymes clan are also dedicated coffee drinkers. When Ben’s brother Sam (having followed family tradition and become a book dealer)opened a bookshop on the North Coast, priority was given to sourcing a good espresso machine, even before the first box of books had been opened.
It was while researching machines for his brother’s bookshop that Ben came across something truly bizarre and weird – an incredible machine for sale in Far North Queensland, made of brass, copper and timber. It had apparently been salvaged from a disused sugar mill and was strapped to a pallet. The seller’s only other merchandise was tractor parts and machinery … It looked completely hand built. It looked like it weighed a ton …
Of course neither brother could resist it. It was purchased and shipped south.
The machine required some restoration, and they set about getting it working – pumps, regulators, pressure testing, balancing and electrics. Finally Sam installed the machine is his bookshop in Kingscliff and began offering customers coffee.
The machine attracted a lot of attention. And the same incoherent questions – what, how, and why?
Sam fell in love with the machine and began to concentrate on offering coffee. In a small section of the shop he set up a café where the machine made excellent coffee, however there was the issue of volume. With only two group heads and an unusual pump and boiler configuration the extraction process was time consuming. The machine just couldn’t pump out coffee like a modern commercial set up.
As the holiday season approached Ben and Sam appreciated that another machine was necessary as a back up for the enormous volume of coffee that was shortly to be sold. Ben began the hunt for a reliable machine that could quickly be modified to stand alongside the “Gen I” machine.
He bought a Cimbali M28 espresso machine and began stripping it down for reconditioning. The machine had seen a hard life and it ended up taking 12 weeks to thoroughly clean it and replace the worn parts. In the process, certain things just didn’t make sense to Ben … The electronics were too complicated, too much could potentially go wrong. And there was so much unnecessary dressing.
One thing that was definitely going was the dosage control – Ben is not a fan. Most modern machines have them as they allow for consistent extraction, making the machine easy to use, but they’re not for purists. The dosage control was replaced with a simple on/off switch. Simple, but requiring the replacement of a rather complicated circuit board … The machine now features a straightforward control for the water and pressure levels within the boiler.
With internals revived and simplified, Ben began to redesign the exterior of the machine. He wanted to create something similarly evocative to the “Gen I”. machine, yet at the same time completely unique.
Having stripped the machine to its skeleton it made sense to leave the copper pipes that surround the group heads exposed, giving the machine the look of old espresso machines. A lucky discovery was that the group heads were chrome-plated brass – Ben simply had the chrome removed and the brass polished. This gave the machine instant character, and Ben decided to complement it with copper sheeting and copper pipe on the front of the machine. When it came to encasing the back of the machine Ben’s source of inspiration was the traditional wine barrel and its combination of wood and copper, and further scavenging expeditions unearthed the large pressure gauge and old voltmeter that now jut out of the barrelled back.
The result – a very impressive bespoke coffee machine capable of delivering a brew to satisfy the fussiest coffee connoisseur. And a passionate builder of bespoke espresso machines.
Since completing the ‘Gen II’ machine Ben has continued to build his quirky espresso machines, from small benchtop models to commercial sized machines. It seems there’s place in the huge coffee market for a new and unique coffee experience. Something unusual, individual and handcrafted.
Not to mention a collectable artifact in its own right.