Pullman, Espro, Reg Barber, Radical Pro, Tobira, La Marzocco, Espresso Parts
Beautiful industrial design that you want in your hand while your pretty tampers sit on the shelf. This one is a worker.
Positive Product Points
-most comfortable tamper that I have yet used -rubber grip gives improved feel -unique look -good quality construction -Australian made (for those that are morally opposed to sweat shops or drawn to Australians) -spacer rings enable you to find a good length, rather than being "take it or leave it" -available in different colours - good for keeping the staff from taking the wrong tamper
Negative Product Points
-I have the raw aluminium handle, which has scratches in it - the anodized handles are less likely to scratch -too many different coloured handles to choose from
I currently have three tampers in my home espresso arsenal; the pullman, the espro and the coffeelab. The espro and the coffeelab currently do the most work.
After using a gagillion tampers over the past three years and actually working in some decent cafes, I have come to realise that the most important aspect of a tamper for the working barista is ergonomics. (In a home environment, your tamper isn't going to cause you discomfort with a few uses a day, so you're less likely to find it problematic). The coffeelab tamper was designed by Steve Bailey, a career barista, and has a few features that are specifically designed to combat this problem. The rubber pads are quite unique. I don't know how much potential pain they prevent, but they certainly don't hurt. The rubber is relatively hard, so it doesn't compromise any aspect of your tamping experience; rather, the slight amount of give in it seems to make it easier to feel exactly how much pressure you are applying. The base piece of rubber also has quite a pronounced upward slope, which gives a lot of options for where you can put your fingers. The next important feature is the spacer rings. There are some people that like short tampers and some that like taller tampers. You will never know which is more comfortable for you until you actually try them both, and few people will have the option to do so, so having an adjustable height tamper just makes sense. But it goes further than that - I asked Steve how many spacer rings he uses and he replied that he changes them throughout the day to move the stress around to different parts of the hand. Again, I don't know how much this helps, but you lose nothing by having the option to change height. Some people would prefer a thicker neck on this tamper. Personally, I think that it fits my hand very well as is. If anything, I would like to see an option to add yet another spacer.
Looks-wise, I have always been a fan of minimalism ... sort of 'form follows function' and the coffeelab tamper delivers in that regard. The tight fit of the rubber pieces into the metal and the logo laser etched into the base ooze quality. The base is stainless steel, but the handle is aluminium. This leads to a weight that I, personally, find very comfortable, but remember that raw aluminium is quite a soft metal. After some heavy cafe useage, my raw aluminium handle has some small scratches. This is why I took off a mark or two for quality. The anodized handles presumably don't have this problem, but I reckon the raw handle looks the best!
One cool little trick that shows the tamper's commercial pedigree is that before starting your shift you can put it under the hot water tap and spritz it a bit, then dry it and the rubber will be cleaned, will soften a tiny bit and the whole thing will warm up a bit. Neat!
Overall, this tamper is (a) the most ergonomic that I have used and (b) the most attractive. Each of the individual features points to a painstaking attention to detail, but, at the same time, weaves together as tightly as the elements of the most well thought out murder mystery.
It has been lovely to see the success of Steve's tampers, particularly how Chris Coffee is now stocking them.
(c) I'm pretty sure that Steve has as good a claim as anyone to the invention of the rubber grip and height spacer features. There are now one or two tampers offering either of these two features; I'm sure that it was a case of independent design.
Someone posted a photo of one of the coffeelab prototypes a while back, which pretty much caused me to erupt into paroxysms of laughter and respond with a pretty dismissive post. Fast forward a year or so and I turned up to work to see one of the tampers on the bench. Turned out that Steve had made a trip from Sydney to Melbourne and had dropped off some sample tampers at various coffee places. I used it a bit and liked it enough that I emailed Steve suggesting that he send it over to the home-barista.com tamper roadshow that was starting, which he did, and ended up sending me one, too!
So I don't actually have any experience buying from Steve, but I don't get the impression that he'd take your money and run ;P
Three Month Followup
I skipped the three month followup, so please skip to the 1 year followup!
One Year Followup
A year after posting this review and I need to disclose that I now have a vaguely commercial interest in it. I pushed for us to stock this tamper at work and we did end up stocking it.
There have also been a few minor changes to the tamper: A barista that I know has very large hands, so I asked the manufacturer if he could make a version of it with an extra spacer ring on it. It turned out that that could be done whilst still allowing the tamper to be used with no spacer rings, so this has now become standard design. The logo on the base has also been removed and the price has dropped a bit. I have increased the cost vs value score as a result.
I have also had a chance to look at all of the colours and I have to say that I'm not a fan of the powder coat finishes, so I'd subtract a few points on aesthetics for those. I would give the raw tamper full marks for aesthetics, but it does scratch more easily than the anodised ones, so that would be balanced out by a point being taken off for quality (the gun metal colour is a happy middle ground). So overall I decided to subtract a mark for aesthetics.
A year on and the handle is still screwing into the base with no problems - I suspect that the friction between the rubber and the bottom spacer helps to hold it all together. That's pretty impressive, given that I keep on unscrewing the handle and base to fiddle with the spacer rings. However, seeing as there are a few (barely perceptible) scratches on the raw aluminium spacer rings I decided not to bump up the quality of product score.
At the end of the day, I come home to five tampers sitting next to my machine and most of the time I'll pick the Coffeelab. That really says it all.