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Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sat Oct 7, 2006, 1:00am
Subject: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One
by Mark Prince

In the first of a three part series looking at the art and science of tamping for espresso, Mark Prince examines developments in the field half a decade ago.
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iZappa
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 6:58am
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Great article which really made me think about the tamping. Looking forward to the next sections.

I have three questions for the following parts:
  • 1. Could you explain the Staub technique more visual? Maybe with some of you excelent photos.
  • 2. What about the "C-curve tamper"? I have one myself. Looks like the US/Austrlian version just flat in the center and convex on the sides (resembles a C).
  • 3. Will the different tampers have different effect in different baskets? Baskets have different shapes as we all know some are curved in the bottom and some are flat, how should this affect the choice of tamper?

Keep up the good work. Looking forward to part two and hearing more about the "no-knocking-technique".

Best regards from Norway!
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 7:05am
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Great article, great photos.  Love the tampers standing in the illy cups.

Yep, this sure is going to be a great article series.  Important.

At the beginning of the year, when we first got our Synesso in, our shots weren't that great.  I grabbed the bottomless portafilter and after an hour or so of trying different techniques, I finally found a technique that gave nothing but picture-perfect extractions.  To this day, using that technique on the Synesso I have only had one pinhole squirt.

What worked for me was getting rid of all of the arcana and thinking about what could possibly fracture the puck.  I can't remember if we'd stopped knocking on the side by then, but by the end of the day there was certainly no way that I would do that.  I seem to remember that the tacy had already come to that conclusion.  The next thing to go was multiple tamps at the highest pressure that I wanted to use.  I figure that once the puck has formed, the last thing that you want to do is to fracture it.  After that, polishing with any pressure got the axe.  To dislodge the loose stuff, I'll either flip the portafilter upside down or do a polish using just the weight of the tamper, being as gentle as possible.

Now from reading all of that, I guess that you'd say "what about the stuff on the side."  I guess that I have been lucky enough that my tampers fit my baskets pretty well, but on the occasions that I have stuff on the sides to deal with, I'll do the staub-type-thing to get the sides clear.  But I'll only do it very lightly, not fully compressing the puck.  The hard tamp is always done last.

All of that was a very long explanation of a technique that I call "tamp once."

Another interesting question is whether techniques should be the same on different machines.  For example, Jim has pointed out that he finds e61s to be prone to edge channelling, whereas he finds silvias to channel from the centre.

Certainly, there's a lot to be explored on this topic.  I look forward to some shots pulled with a bottomless pf, Mark!  Although naked shots are not my ... err ... cup of tea, pinhole channelling is probably the one remotely objective thing that you can take into account when assessing tamping techniques.

Cheers,

Luca

 
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RapidCoffee
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 8:52am
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

MarkPrince Said:

Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One

Posted October 7, 2006 link

Great article, looking forward to the next two installments.

Minor bug report: Terroir link is broke. (now fixed)
________
John
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 2:49pm
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

iZappa Said:

Could you explain the Staub technique more visual? Maybe with some of you excelent photos.
What about the "C-curve tamper"? I have one myself. Looks like the US/Austrlian version just flat in the center and convex on the sides (resembles a C).
Will the different tampers have different effect in different baskets? Baskets have different shapes as we all know some are curved in the bottom and some are flat, how should this affect the choice of tamper?

Posted October 8, 2006 link

Hiyas.

A video for techniques is coming in article three, maybe article two if I can wing it in time. All three articles are written, but Article three is waiting for some outside help and feedback, as well as the completion of a project.

I'll try explaining the staub method a bit better. The idea is, use the tamper itself to dislodge the loose coffee from the side walls, and create a firmer pack at the edges of the basket. In practice with a 1-2mm smaller tamper, I've found my own issues with this because more often than not, it results in an uneven pack, which has all sorts of problems in extraction (and cannot be fixed, even if you force a leveling of the top of the pack after you've made it cantered).

With a 58mm in a 58mm basket, or perhaps a 57.6mm tamper in a 58mm basket, it is dooable, but requires a soft touch. Basically, what you do is properly distribute and level your loose coffee as best you can - some compaction happens with your hand as you massage and even out the ground coffee. Swipe the top to give a level starting surface, then using the classic tamping technique of a straight arm bent at the elbow only, press down progressively with a 30, 40 or more lb tamping pressure. Twist too, to further compact the top bed.

Then remove the tamper, and insert again furthest away from the handle - let's call this north. We're only applying about 10lbs of pressure here. Lift to clear the filter basket, and apply again pressing up against the side of the basket closest to the portafilter handle - south, we'll call that. Lift, clear the filter, then press down wedged up against the left side (where the left bayonet roughly is). Repeat for the right side. All this time, extra care is taken to keep your tamper level and even in the basket - canter to one side, and you've lost it. Takes a fair amount of practice to get this down.

Do a final polish tamp, maybe 10, 15lbs, in the middle again, and spin to seal the surface (and also to verify your bed of compacted coffee is still level, all 360 degrees around).

In article 2, I talk more about euro vs. american vs. flat curves, and a lot of exploration of the naked portafilter and what it was able to teach me, right from the very first moment I photographed it (little known fact: my photographs were the first ever public photographs of a naked portafilter in action - and on that first day, I was able to show channeling! - they'll be part of article two).

Article two should answer some of your other questions. In article three, I delve a bit into baskets, dispersion screens, etc etc, but not much - more of a challenge being thrown out to inventors, tinkerers, existing manufacturers, etc etc.

Thanks for the feedback! This series has been a long time coming - I'm really happy I was finally able to get my lazy ass rolling and publishing it. And more is coming this week - an amazing article on crema from a new contributor to CoffeeGeek.

Mark

 
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MarkPrince
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 2:58pm
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Hey Luca...

Article two covers a lot of the stuff you talked about, and more - the focus is (of course natch!) on the naked portafilter and it's something that I've been writing and re-writing ever since I first saw the chopped PF in action at Elysian Room way back when - interesting days that - the BGA board had a tease article describing the naked and what it was showing, without visuals. Lots of wink wink nudge nudge - and I think it was hoped that all would be revealed at an upcoming trade show or competition (I think it was either CoffeeFest or NWRBC 2004?).  I was in Alistair's shop the very day later, and he was all excited but also perturbed - he read the article and swore up and down that he had been talking to his staff about the very same idea several weeks before... then poof - he magically produces a chopped PF - wallah - have a look! Got it chopped that morning.

So we set up the shots, and by a stroke of luck, I had my dSLR and a decent macro lens with me, and I snapped away (gotta love those huge aperture lenses for low light situations). Saw all sorts of of wonderous things - the organic stalactite, the wide range of brown streaks, the almost sensual aspect of the pour... and I saw channeling. Very vividly, and I was able to capture it on (digital) film. Posted them that very day to CG forums and I think to Coffeed (Not sure if I had a flickr account then) - the first ever publicly posted pics of a naked pour. A minor revolution started (and hence the look out JonR thread lol).

THAT was the day I started writing what would eventually morph into article 2. Shows you how lazy I am ;) But over the summer, I took that article and other things I wrote on tamping, and started new - and came up with some 9,500 words - and an idea. All of it is coming together, and I hope people enjoy the articles as they roll out.

BTW Luca - fire off an email to me at coffeekid at gmail dot com (coffeegeek's mail server is just feked this weekend) - got something to send you.

Cheers

Mark

 
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ThatCoffeeGuy
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Posted Sun Oct 8, 2006, 9:01pm
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Wow, I learned a lot from this little intro/history article.  First of all, I had always thought, "I wonder how much of this coffee is actually packed at the bottom?"  Now I know.  Also, I didn't know that the Swift worked like that, tamping all the way through, that is pretty cool.  A great article, and it has me very curious and ready to experiment.  I am a PF knocker, so tomorrow at work I am going to see what difference I can notice (no naked yet, so it will be a little harder) with the no-knock.  I am really really looking forward to the next parts.  I was getting all intrigued and then... ended.  I hadn't scrolled down in a while and I didn't know I was at the end, and then I scrolled, and saw the "rate this article" and pulled a "nooo!" inside my head.  Can't wait to see what's coming.

A little side note here.  I have developed something that I really like when tamping, I've started calling it "Top Spin Tamp" (just for kicks I guess).  Basically I dose/distribute......etc, then I tamp once, knock (we will see if that part gets droped here), flip the tamper (for kicks and show, but it does a good job of flinging excess coffee grounds off the tamper and helping to keep things clean/no old grounds on tamper) place the tamper on top, no pressure, just set it down, and spin the tamper like you would if it were a top (essentially, it's like trying to snap your fingers with a tamper in the way) flinging that extra little bit that was on the side out of the portafilter.  Yeah it makes a mess, but seriously, you were going to make a mess anyway, you know you were.  It works great and it's pretty dang fast (great for the morning rush).  I think that this coupled with the no-knock, could be my new favorite move!

Again, really looking forward to the next few articles, don't make me wait too long Mark!

-Bry

 
Bryan Wray

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RolloM
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 4:17am
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Hi,

Slightly offtopic: I just read your interesting article and have a beginner's question... There is a plastic tamper with a detachable second (finer) dispersion screen delivered with my francisfrancis x3 which is thought to stay in the portafilter during brewing. Some do recommend using it, some suggest to get a better tamper and not to use the additional dispersion screen. What would you say? Why do they supply an additional dispersion screen?

Regards, R.
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 7:22am
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

I had thought about this idea of the bottom 1/3 of the coffee not really being tamped in the past, but never really thouht too much into it.

For me, it came while doing a mental comparison between pipe smoking and espresso preparation.

The two are remarkably similar, as are the appreciations there-of.  (blend of tobaccos can have very subtle flavors to them.. and each blend will taste different.. just like espresso.  The rate of the burn is very much reliant on the volume and tamp of the tobacco.. just like the rate of flow is very similar to the volume, grind, and tamp of the coffee.)

When loading a pipe, the bottom 1/3 of the pipe should be packed very very loosely.  The second 1/3 should be with slightly more pressure, and the final 1/3 being the most pressure.. really, just fairly firm.  Nothing like 30lbs, or even 8lbs.. but still, the idea is the same.

If this is what happens for tobacco in a pipe, why wouldn't this hold true for coffee in a portafilter?  Wouldn't things change drastically if the pressure variance was non-existent?  It looks like La Marzocco had already thought of all this when they encountered it first-hand with the Swift.  

I guess I can ease my curiosity about it, but it does bring up the behavior of coffee during extraction.

I once blogged about the immense pressure of the water on top of the puck, and someone left a comment stating that in a sealed environment, pressure is forced in all directions.  My experience with different doses, grind settings, etc.. and the resulting puck still leave me disagreeing.

I think I disagree even more now realizing that if that were the case, the entire puck would simply break apart under extraction, and channeling would not be an issue.. it would be the entire pull.  

I'm looking forward to part 2.

 
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Jules_Gobeil
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 7:50am
Subject: Re: Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One by Mark Prince
 

Very interesting article Mark - I am eager to read parts 2 and 3.

In my mind, it is a good thing that there is less compression at the bottom of the basket.  When the hot water hits the puck, the coffee on top of the basket has room to expand, 2mm in theory.  The coffee at the bottom also needs room to expand and the lesser compression allows for this.  This is probably why we get homogeneous pucks after extraction.

I don't have much expertise but I do something when tamping that I have not read about elsewere.  I dose and distribute the normal way.  Then I put the tamper on the basket (a heavy SS RegBarber), hold it with 2 fingers at the top of the handle without any downward pressure and slowly rotate it 1 turn, just like if a dot at the top center of the handle was rotated around a dime.  I then knock it lightly and tamp to 30 pounds.  I suspect that this rotating action has a compacting effect on the sides of the basket.  I don't have a bottomless PF but I seem to get even extraction.  Makes sense ?

 
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