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Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
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Discussions > Espresso > Q and A > Tamping:...  
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JoeFoundry
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Posted Fri Dec 21, 2012, 8:50pm
Subject: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

Hey Everyone,

Been frequenting these forums as a casual observer for a good while now, but I am working on a design project and could use some sage advice from the community.

Tamping is one variable of many involved in espresso extraction and certainly does not determine the quality of a shot alone, but with that said it remains one of the most manual steps in specialty coffee shops (for good reason, as it keeps shot pulling a craft rather than a commodity).

My questions below comes from a debate I had with a barista I really respect at Octane Coffee in Atlanta, GA. We were discussing the implications of how level you tamp versus how forceful you tamp. After some discussion we came to the simplified view that levelness reduces channeling and forcefulness impacts extraction time (harder tamp = potentially longer extraction time and vice-versa).

Assuming a single tamp process, what are your thoughts on the impacts of levelness vs forcefulness? Which variable do you find more important? What steps do you take or what equipment do you use to practice/control/monitor your tamp levelness/forcefulness?

Thanks and email me anytime if you want to discuss in much greater detail. Always looking to talk coffee/espresso.
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randychar813
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Posted Fri Dec 21, 2012, 9:12pm
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

I also agree with your assessment on levelness vs force.  I set my grind and tamp using the espro as a training aid until fineness + espro pressure and 2 twist polish yields 2oz coffee in 28 seconds.  I use my fingertips as a guide to ensure tamper is level.  I have been using an ergo, espro, cafelat, and the latest is the Prima adjustable, which BTW I really like.  Periodically, 2 days a week, I go back to the espro just to keep me honest.
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JoeFoundry
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Posted Fri Dec 21, 2012, 10:36pm
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

Interesting Randy,

So you use the Espro to spot check, and other boutique tampers that match your style. When you say you use your fingertips to ensure levelness, how so? Do you let your fingertips slide down to the bottom face of the tamper and you "feel" for where your pointer and thumb come into contact ever so slightly with the grinds? Interesting, hadn't thought about that approach.

The polish debate is always interesting to me, how did you arrive at incorporating a polish step into your tamp process? How did you arrive at two twists as opposed to one?

You seem to know your tampers (whats new, whats innovative, etc). How do you like the the Prima Adjustable? Felt the pricing was reasonable or did you come to own one through other cheaper avenues? Where do you look for new equipment, how do you determine what to buy and what to pass on?

Appreciate the insight, thanks for the response and happy tamping over the holidays!
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NobbyR
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Posted Sat Dec 22, 2012, 3:13am
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

An even distribution of your dose is important for getting an even extraction, therefore the puck ought to be level after tamping. Otherwise you'd have areas of different density, and the water would follow the path of least resistance resulting in channeling.

IMHO the influence of forcefulness on extraction time has been overrated, the fineness of grounds being more important. Still, a highly skilled professional barista with a lot of experience may be able to compensate the otherwise required change in grinder setting between the single and double shot basket by tamping differently. But in the end there's a physical limit to how hard you can compress the grounds, because once all the coffee granules are compressed so firmly that they cannot move any closer without using a hydraulic compactor there's little sense in tamping any harder. No matter if this state is reached at 20 or 30 lb, for example. Especially for a home barista it's more important to be consistent. Polishing the surface of the puck is just for looks.

So basically it's not levelness versus forcefulness as two opposites, but rather tamping level and with consistant force.

 
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Posted Sat Dec 22, 2012, 10:20am
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

If you find that a specific tamping force, particularly one that is very high or very low, is necessary then you are likely compensating for some other factor (*1) that needs to be addressed. it has been shown that a tamping "force" from around 15 to 55 pounds will yield results which are generally the same. It is no coincidence that 35 pounds was, for years, the stated "correct" tamping force being the average of those two forces. Tamping force is one of the most over-rated factors (if not THE most overrated) in espresso preparation. Dose and distribution are BY FAR more critical.


*1 - Those factors may include a grinder that lacks adjustability increments that are too coarse (like Rocky), one that creates too much dust, stale coffee, over or under pressure brew force, incorrect tamper diameter, incorrect dose, etc.

 
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JoeFoundry
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Posted Sat Dec 22, 2012, 11:59am
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

Great feedback all around.

So what steps do you take (or did you take when first learning) to ensure levelness? I am interested in accelerating through the learning curve by designing equipment that helps the novices and top enthusiast perfect their craft through recording and tracking their performance at each step in the extraction process. We're starting with the tamper and want to know more about how you learned.

Thanks!
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grumpybarista
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Posted Sat Dec 22, 2012, 1:35pm
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

Typically I put a twist on the tamper, holding my thumb and 2nd and 3rd fingers along the edge of the tamper so it rides the edge of the filter basket as it twists. This will tell me if it's level or not. My process is to press down, then twist with reduced pressure to check the level, then maybe spin or rotate the tamper with virtually no pressure about a half turn or so. This "polish" is not for any scientific reason, but I do believe that if there were any adhesion of grounds to the bottom of the tamper - sometimes you can pull the tamper away and find some grounds pull away as well, presumably by the vacuum you create when pulling it off the tightly packed puck - then the added twist prevents any grounds from sticking to it. The pressure applied when tamping, though, as frcn mentioned, is somewhat arbitrary as long as you're consistent with the rest of the process. I have heard of some baristas/cafes that use a minimal pressure, like 10 lbs, to tamp their pucks. I, in fact, ran a semi-scientific study about a year ago, which I discussed somewhere on CG, and it showed me that any pressure between 20 and 50 lbs (according to my memory) turned out about the same extraction, all other things being equal. There we subtle differences but basically it told me that tamp pressure was not nearly as critical to the final product as any other factor. Good luck.
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JoeFoundry
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Posted Sat Dec 22, 2012, 3:11pm
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

Thanks grumpy, consensus seems to be force is a minor variable that can be compensated for by other controlling factors.

How did you come to your current tamping process? Learn it from peers, reading, trial and error, etc?

I came to my tamping process (single tamp, no polish, no spin, no tap out loose grinds, 25lbs of force as level as I can) by trying out all sorts of techniques, getting mixed/inconsistent results and then read Scott Rao's book and figured that the simplest process would be the easiest to control for and instead focused on other aspects of pulling good shots (grind, machine prep, grooming, etc)

How about you guys? How did you come to your current tamp process?
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thedotben
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Posted Sat Dec 22, 2012, 3:20pm
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

JoeFoundry Said:

Great feedback all around.

So what steps do you take (or did you take when first learning) to ensure levelness? I am interested in accelerating through the learning curve by designing equipment that helps the novices and top enthusiast perfect their craft through recording and tracking their performance at each step in the extraction process. We're starting with the tamper and want to know more about how you learned.

Thanks!

Posted December 22, 2012 link

Here are the two things that I believe contribute to ensuring a level tamp with consistent pressure: FORM, and REPETITION.

Proper form really helps with a level and even tamp. The way that I train is to stand 90 degrees to the surface you are tamping on. Your forearm should be straight up vertical, with a 90 degree angle at your elbow, then your bicep will be horizontal.

Why this helps is twofold: The force you are using is straight downward, and you are using your whole arm/shoulder to apply the force, instead of just your wrist.

I place the tamp matt on a bathroom scale so my trainees can see how much force they are using, find what is comfortable, and work to be consistent in doing it.

And then do it over and over and over and over again until it becomes second nature.
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NobbyR
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Posted Sun Dec 23, 2012, 3:20am
Subject: Re: Tamping: Levelness vs Forcefulness
 

The easiest way to ensure levelness is to use a cylindrical funnel and a tamper with a high rim that fits exactly into that funnel (like this one, for example), so you're forced to tamp exactly vertical.

 
***
"This drink of the Satan is so delicious that it would be a shame to leave it to the infidels." (Pope Clement VIII on coffee, when he was urged to ban the beverage)
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