volfro Senior Member Joined: 19 Sep 2008 Posts: 14 Location: Marietta, GA Expertise: I like coffee
Posted Sun Mar 17, 2013, 1:46pm Subject: Better shots without tamping?
I've recently had an espresso-related breakthrough.
Here's the story:
I bought a refurbished Preciso last year. It grinds fine, with a high degree of consistency. However, my tamping was off: I was using the crappy double-sided tamper from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and it was too small for my portafilter. I'd grind and tamp and grind and tamp, but couldn't consistently get a 25-30 second double out of my Sbux Barista machine (with a hacked-to-be-non-pressurized PF).
So I got a new, weighty, appropriately-sized tamper. Also took the time to clean my boiler, shower screen, &c., to make sure my machine was up to snuff. (It's an old Barista.)
Thereafter, I'd sometimes pull a delicious 30-second shot (with a few being truly memorable); but most shots were crappy, blond, 15-second pulls, even with the grinder set on 5 or so.
I never perceptibly changed my tamp or amount of coffee. I also took the time to 'calibrate' my tamp (as much as one can calibrate such a thing) with a bathroom scale. Since I kept getting those crummy shots, I assumed the grinder was to blame.
BUT THEN. There was a Seattle Coffee Gear video on Youtube wherein Gail said something about Italians hardly tamping at all; they grind the coffee extra fine, and then just basically use the weight of the tamper and a quick spin to pack the coffee down and polish the surface a bit.
So I tried that: dialed the Preciso down to a 4 or so, ground up some local roast, barely tamped, hooked the PF up, and hit the switch.
The Barista promptly choked.
Since then, with some finagling, I'm getting consistent 30-second doubles out of my humble little Barista, all with barely any tamping pressure. My grind is set at 5G; anything finer than that, and the machine chokes.
When I discovered this, I thought that surely I'd be able to obtain similar results if I bump the grind up a click or two and tamp at the normal 30lbs, but no dice. The two or three shots I pulled with a full tamp were short (15 seconds or so), blond, and bitter.
My question, dear readers, is this:
What's up with that?
Whether or not I'm doing it right, I'm quite happy with the quality of shots I've been able to pull since discovering this method. If anybody has any insights as to what I could be doing wrong in my tamp, though, I'd be much obliged. (Also, does anybody have similar experience with a fine grind and light tamp? Are there reasons to use this method over the full tamp? And does anybody know if this is actually how Italians do it?)
qualin Senior Member Joined: 30 Jun 2012 Posts: 464 Location: Calgary, AB Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Izzo Alex Duetto 3 Grinder: Mazzer Mini Elect. Type A Vac Pot: Looking to buy Drip: Manual Roaster: Considering?
Posted Sun Mar 17, 2013, 4:53pm Subject: Re: Better shots without tamping?
You know, after reading your post, I think I know what is happening.
Go out and buy a precision scale. Something like a Digiweigh DWP-1001. Something which can measure up to 1 kilogram, but has a resolution of 0.1 grams. Buying a small "Drug Dealer"-style scale will also work, but you have to pop out the basket from the portafilter, otherwise it is too heavy for the scale.
Tare your portafilter before you do your dose and keep your dosage consistent. A good place to start is 15.0 grams. That gives you the flexibility to downdose to a more conventional Italian-style 14.0 grams or a more new-wave style of updosing to 16.0 grams. (Or more, depending on your machine.) (Some new-wave coffee shops use 19 gram doses. If you want to go that high, make sure that your coffee doesn't touch the screen, otherwise it will fracture and cause channelling.)
When your dose is inconsistent, you will run into this problem. What gave it away for me was when you mentioned you went from fast pulls to choking with a minor grinder setting.
Once you dial in your grinder and you get "Close" to where you want, adjust your dosage to "Fine Tune" the shot time. You never adjust your shot time by tamping pressure.
The purpose of tamping is to evenly distribute the grounds across the portafilter and to create a solid puck so that way you have less of a chance of things like channelling. It shouldn't be used to adjust the speed of your shots. The key trick is to keep your tamping consistent and the same each time.
IMO, when I tamp, I just "Go by feel" for what is right and stick with it. I use a heavy tamp which approximates 30 lbs.. The thing is, you can tamp 150 lbs or you can tamp 30 lbs and you will get the same exact result. It is only when you tamp less than 30 lbs that things start changing.
I've seen expert baristas use a light tamp, just enough to spread out the grounds in the portafilter. That can be viewed as "Good enough". Just keep in mind that all the baristas in the shop will do this because the grinder and the dosage they're using is suitable for use with a light tamp.
Whether or not you decide to use a light or heavy tamp, that's purely up to you. It doesn't really matter as long as just keep your grind and dosage consistent for the type of tamp you are doing and keep your tamping consistent for what is comfortable to you.
I can't believe I didn't mention this! Thanks Emgradguy.
One thing I find when beans are somewhat stale is that they are very inconsistent. I once bought some vacuum packed beans which were about 3 months past roast date. The salesperson assured me that they were just as good as fresh roasted and not to worry about it.
Well, all I can say is that every shot I pulled off those beans was completely inconsistent. Fast pulls, choking pulls and some good pulls. They were kind of frustrating to work with. Even though I froze what I didn't need at the time, the beans went stale in the hopper quickly (After about a week) and were resulting in shots with poor crema, until I took the next batch out of the freezer.
I figured it was a $20 mistake that I wouldn't make again. Try switching suppliers of beans and see if you get the same behavior after you finish off your current batch.. Good luck!
calblacksmith Moderator Joined: 25 Nov 2007 Posts: 5,680 Location: Riverside, Ca, U.S.A. Expertise: I live coffee
Espresso: ECM Veneziano A1 Grinder: Many different commercial Vac Pot: 40s era Silex Drip: Milita, Bunn&Curtis... Roaster: Cast iron pan, gas burner
Posted Mon Mar 18, 2013, 6:17am Subject: Re: Better shots without tamping?
I will say again here, the tamp is the least important part of the process, BE CONSISTENT.
You grind was off and you did not get it right or even close until you changed your thinking.
The reason for the tamp is to provide a consistent bed of coffee to be presented to the flow of water. It is NOT to adjust your shot time, YOUR GRINDER DOES THAT, a $200 tamper can not make up for a poor grinder or a poor grinder adjustment.
Of course, all this is based on fresh beans.
In real life, my name is Wayne P.
Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
As a general rule I agree. But I know professional baristas who adjust the difference between the single and the double shot filter by tamping differently, because they don't want to reset the grinder each time they serve a single espresso or a doppio. This requires, of course, a lot of practice and loads of experience. I certainly can't do it.
*** "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)
Symbols: = New Posts since your last visit = No New Posts since last visit = Newest post
Forum Rules: No profanity, illegal acts or personal attacks will be tolerated in these discussion boards. No commercial posting of any nature will be tolerated; only private sales by private individuals, in the "Buy and Sell" forum. No cross posting allowed - do not post your topic to more than one forum, nor repost a topic to the same forum. Who Can Read The Forum? Anyone can read posts in these discussion boards. Who Can Post New Topics? Any registered CoffeeGeek member can post new topics. Who Can Post Replies? Any registered CoffeeGeek member can post replies. Can Photos be posted? Anyone can post photos in their new topics or replies. Who can change or delete posts? Any CoffeeGeek member can edit their own posts. Only moderators can delete posts. Probationary Period: If you are a new signup for CoffeeGeek, you cannot promote, endorse, criticise or otherwise post an unsolicited endorsement for any company, product or service in your first five postings.