naimnut Senior Member Joined: 13 Jul 2011 Posts: 68 Location: Seattle area Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: Expobar Brewtus II Grinder: Baratza Vario Drip: Braun Aeromaster
Posted Sun Jun 10, 2012, 11:44am Subject: Technique question - fine grind, light tamp vs. coarser grind 30 lb tamp
I've been meaning to post this question for a while.
I'm clear about the standard guideline of tamping at 30lbs of pressure. However, my son has shown me how to pull great shots with the grind setting on his vario (which is also what I use) set such that, with fresh beans, only a very light tamp is required to get a 30 second shot. I'm dosing about 14 grams into a double basket and, after a wdt to level and distribute I often only do a tamp to level the grounds. As the beans get a little older I might move up to light thumb pressure or eventually pretty strong thumb pressure.
This morning we were discussing this and he said he didn't think it mattered. As long as the shot is flowing right and the flavor is there then a fine grind/light tamp is just as good as a slightly coarser grind/30 lb tamp.
But I'm wondering if the difference in the particle size might lead to a difference in the flavors extracted, such that this current approach is altering the flavors a bit. Maybe there is a reason to alter the grind coarser and go to the 30 lb tamp.
BTW, with my old Rocky grinder or my Cunill I was virtually always using a 30 lb tamp. With the vario, though, this hasn't been necessary.
Posted Sun Jun 10, 2012, 12:58pm Subject: Re: Technique question - fine grind, light tamp vs. coarser grind 30 lb tamp
I have been reading a lot of posts on this and other sites. There are several schools of thought - the common one that I read the most when I was first starting (and that I no longer buy into) is adjust your grind and tamp pressure to get the right shot volume in the right time. Usually recommending sticking with a specific dose based on the basket and shower screen clearance (the coin test was frequently given as a method of finding the right dose for your basket) and then adjusting only the grind to get the pour right.
The (different) idea that has really been working for me has been to choose my grind setting based on the particular coffee and its flavor profile. The idea being that each particular coffee has a grind that brings out the best. Once you find the grind that highlights that coffee's best characteristics, then you adjust dose to get the shot volume (and if you are lucky enough to have pressure profiling, you can use that to control flow as well - which allows you to pull espresso shots with coffee that usually only works well as brew).
I don't think tamp pressure is all that important - I typically do around 30 lbs though .. but as long as I distribute evenly (and have a good grinder) I can do a very light tamp and not notice much difference in my shots. Where .5 gram difference in dose will make a very noticable difference in the shot.
Lately I have been grinding finer and dosing lower and getting some flavors that are more appealing to me ... other coffees and I might grind more coarse and dose higher. I may use a different basket that allows me to dose higher if I find I prefer the flavor with a coarser grind.
If you read some of Jim Schulman's posts - he has written quite a lot about how grind and dose affect the various flavor aspects so you can adjust grind/dose to try to bring out more caramels or to try and bring out more fruited notes etc.
Posted Sun Jun 10, 2012, 1:11pm Subject: Re: Technique question - fine grind, light tamp vs. coarser grind 30 lb tamp
Here is an example of a post from Jim (from another site) that explains the concept:
The correct dose for a basket is the one which uses a grind setting which produces a properly extracted and good tasting shot from your machine. This grind setting is in the same range for all baskets and all espresso machines. The upshot is extremely simple: if the shot is too sour and/or bitter, grind finer and dose less; if it is too sweet and/or milquetoast, grind coarser and dose more.
If you think you ought to use the same dose in the same basket all the time; you will never make consistently good espresso. To make good espresso, you need to stay within the same range of grind settings for all machines and all baskets; and vary the dose to maintain that range. Jim Schulman http://coffeecuppers.com
tracerbullet Senior Member Joined: 13 Feb 2012 Posts: 168 Location: Saint Paul Expertise: I love coffee
Posted Thu Jun 14, 2012, 7:15am Subject: Re: Technique question - fine grind, light tamp vs. coarser grind 30 lb tamp
I have also found, in my experiments, that tamp means very little. Each time I get a new type of bean to try, I get out a notepad and write down the settings I use - weight of beans, grind # on my Rocky, approx tamp pressure, and I also write down about how much coffee I get over how much time until it blonds and I cut it off. Also some notes if it tasted OK. It lets me go back and remember where to start if I get that particular bean again.
Anyhow that said - recording info - I find that it's by far dependent on the grind setting and I might say the tamp only fine tunes that. I wouldn't have thought it before I tried it, but my results say tamp does very little. I typically find 2 or 3 grind settings that work and learned to vary the amount of beans to get my results where I wanted them, and keep tamp consistent at something I'd call "light".
I had a coffee I brought home after visiting family in TX that I could get away without tamping it at all, and got great shots with it.
As suggested, give it a try, you may get different results. I predict you'll find 2 similar but slightly different tastes with your different methods, choose based on what you like best. You may even find that you each prefer something different.
mr_pedro Senior Member Joined: 13 Feb 2012 Posts: 58 Location: Baltimore Expertise: I love coffee
Posted Fri Jun 15, 2012, 2:48am Subject: Re: Technique question - fine grind, light tamp vs. coarser grind 30 lb tamp
The water pressure when brewing presses down on the coffee much harder than you will ever tamp. Tamping therefore is irrelavant within a very large bandwith. So you can do a light or a hard tamp and it makes no difference to the outcome as long as the coffee is level.
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