JasonBrandtLewis Senior Member Joined: 9 Dec 2005 Posts: 6,256 Location: Berkeley, CA Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: Elektra T1 - La Valentina -... Grinder: Mahlkönig K30 Vario -... Vac Pot: Yama 5-cup Drip: CCD, Chemex Roaster: No, no, not another...
Posted Sun Mar 3, 2013, 8:40am Subject: Re: Best Tamper for the VST?
Kelvin, I have at least three -- probably four -- tampers. All are from Cafelat, or its predecessor Bumper. All cost more than $19.99. Why? Because a) I like other Cafelat/Bumper products, and b) I like the way they feel in my hand. All have a convex bottom except the newest one (flat) that I use with my VST baskets.
FWIW, I only have two VST baskets, and I use them for straight SO espresso shots -- don't ask me why -- whereas I use my "regular" ridgeless baskets for (primarily) milk drinks.
But JonR is absolutely right: tamping is the least important part of the process . . .
Posted Sun Mar 3, 2013, 9:43am Subject: Re: Best Tamper for the VST?
I'm currently using a 'standard' 58mm tamper, and there is a fairly obvious gap between its edge and the wall of my VST basket. This means that a straight tamp leaves a wall of untamped coffee running up the side of the filter basket, and means that the edges of the puck are not as tightly packed as the centre.
The small ridge of untamped grounds on top of a puck has no effect on the extraction. Tamping once, straight down in the middle, will force the puck grounds down and outwards as the coffee is compacted, so you can get a good edge seal even if the tamper is a bit undersized.
Here's an experiment: Try preparing two baskets with exactly the same distribution of grounds in the basket. Then tamp one with your current style and one with a single tamp motion straight down in the middle, no tap no twist no NESW no polish...just one press straight down.
Then see if you can see or taste any difference in the shot. (Note: it would be prefereable to have someone else actually pull the two shots from already-prepped baskets so you would not know which was which when tasting).
Initially I had a tough time getting a clean shot from the VSTs - until I did away with all the superfluous tricks and relied only on a nice, simple leveling of the basket and a plain straight down tamp. (If this sounds familiar, read Jon's suggested test prep above.)
While we know that the brew water does not proceed straight down in perfectly columnar lockstep from the top of the puck to the bottom - it apparently meanders a little and the path is far from straight - the VST baskets are designed to behave according to the simplest possible linear model, working best with plano-parallel top and bottom puck surfaces and the most consistent density throughout, as if water arrives at the top surface and oozes straight down through the cake, extracting as it goes.
The only way to achieve this is to simplify-simplify-simplify, no NESW, no nutating tamps, no bangs or knocks. Just envision the water coming straight down from the shower screen and proceeding like a zillion collinear vectors through the coffee and out the bottom. For the greatest evenness, you want to handle that coffee coming from the grinder to the absolute minimum degree possible, since most handling decreases consistency instead of improving it.
With this brewing model in mind, the tamper requirement is clear: dead-flat, edge-to-edge.
Regarding the tamper piston diameter and the precise fitting to the basket's edges, a perfect wall-to-wall fit is theoretically ideal for the same reasons, and the improved circularity from VST makes tightly fitting custom tampers usable (most other baskets have a slightly oval shape, so a perfectly circular, perfectly sized tamper piston would actually jam in practice). And sure enough, careful extraction measurements seem to confirm a statistically significant improvement when perfectly fitting tampers are used. But "statistically significant" and "meaningful" - with respect to the taste in the cup - are altogether different. (My neighbor can prove that his car really DOES - with 99.9% confidence - get at least .001 miles-per-gallon better than mine, but who cares.)
So yes, I think that careful people with well-calibrated test designs and equipment can prove that a 58.4mm tamper extracts a tiny bit more total dissolved solids, but as Jon suggests, not enough - or consistently enough - to reliably or conclusively taste.
All this said, I DO use a tighter-fitting tamper myself - but to be honest, it was more a question of "why not" than any expectations about obvious or even subtle taste differences. Mostly, I like the way they clean any clinging coffee off the basket sides when tamping.
TonyVan Senior Member Joined: 24 May 2010 Posts: 273 Location: Pacific Northwest Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: GS/3, La Pavoni Grinder: Macap M7K, Rocky Drip: Kone
Posted Mon Mar 4, 2013, 9:46pm Subject: Re: Best Tamper for the VST?
The ripple-bottomed tamper leaves a series of concentric circular ridges in the top of the puck. I've heard that the ripple's proposition is to counteract inconsistencies in the puck or dispersion, and therefore encourage a better and more even flow. If true, this appears to be altogether contrary to VST's fundamental tenet of optimal extraction requiring the most even and consistent basket preparation possible.
That said, I remember that Jared Rennie uses these ripple tampers almost as a trademark item at Noble Coffee Roasting, his beautiful cafe in Ashland Oregon. If you're driving I-5 near the Oregon/California line, consider Noble a required stop for any Coffee Geek; it's that good.
slybarman Senior Member Joined: 3 Nov 2011 Posts: 366 Location: usa Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: La Nuova Era Cuadra Grinder: Baratza Vario
Posted Sat Mar 9, 2013, 4:36am Subject: Re: Best Tamper for the VST?
I received the new tamper base (58.35mm) from Hai Pham. It arrived very quickly and was of very good quality. I got to try it this morning. It does make getting a nice even tamp in the VST basket easier than it was with my prior base. I only had to tamp once versus having to do NSEW with the old one. I would say it was a worthwhile upgrade.
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