I recently heard from a Schomer seminar that you physically can only tamp coffee so compact and that it is more consistent to always tamp hard and change grind accordingly. Thoughts on this method vs. light tamp or other espresso prep theories. 

Espresso conversation commence!

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Disclaimer: I haven't tested this very rigorously!

Theory: Tamping pressure makes close to no difference in the final shot.

As long as it doesn't channel, you can pull pretty okay shots WITHOUT TAMPING AT ALL, often within a few seconds of my 30lbsish tamp (same water volume, using AV machines).  After I did that experiment a few times, I really stopped worrying about tamp pressure beyond making sure it's a level surface.

When I was first trained (6ish years ago), tamp strength was given a HUGE emphasis...but no-one was using scales to check the dose or shot, so it was all a crapshoot. I now use a clickmat or bathroom scale when training baristas, just to avoid the extremes of Butterfly-tamping vs. Elephant-tamping...but I don't emphasize the pressure aspect.  People tend to focus on really crushing it, as opposed to the much more important bits (keeping it level, consistent dosing, distributing, immediate extraction, etc.).

But I wouldn't be surprised to see there's a little more to it.

Commence conversation of headspace issues, initial wetting/flowrate, and puck expansion!

So at that point then, grind and dosing is what is most important. The question in my mind is why has tamping always been made big topic if it doesn't really matter?

Obviously new theories and the progression of our understanding of coffee is always developing so new things are going to come to light. So when training in your opinion Jacob what would you say is important to emphasize? In and out weight? Grind consistency? Distribution?

The harder you tamp, the more wear and tear on your wrist, joints, etc. Given the problem that repetitive-motion injury is among many experienced baristas, this should not be ignored.

There is no benefit that I'm aware of to tamping more than 30 lbs or so. Training staff members to tamp consistently around 30 lb absolutely doable.

Compared with a 30ish lb tamped shot, I've found the no-tamp shot was less enjoyable.

Train everyone to tamp at a moderate force that your entire staff can achieve, be that 20 lb, 30 lb, whatever.

When finally at the point of pulling a shot, it's really an exersize in balck magic, as much as people try to make the whole thing scientific.  The only thing that matters is what ends up in the cup and your and your customer's opinions of it.  This might be one of the only things in life where the ends justify the means.  Tamp/no tamp, stir stick distribution/no distribution, knock/no knock, etc, etc, etc...

 

Let your taste buds be your guide and pull the best shot possible with the means you have available.

 

Personally I dose by sight, distribute by knocking the side of the portafilter, and tamp once to produce a level surface, about "hand tight" as it were, clear the loose grinds from the rim of the basket and then pull the shot.  My theory is that the more I mess with the coffee once it goes into the basket the more I will screw it up.  But I am also decidedly non scientific.  I actually like the "inconsistencies" I get when pulling shots because they show off different aspects of the coffee, which I find to be more interesting than knowing how to pull one type of shot over and over.  Coffee is so multifaceted it seems like a waste to only allow one flavor profile to come off the machine.  If you're using good coffee all the shot's you pull will be "Good", or at least 90%, no matter what you do.  They might all be a bit different but they will all be good and show a different dimension to the coffee that you're using.  And if they are going into a latte then your customer won't know the difference anyway.  I think all this handwringing around "consistency" is silly.  But that is just me.  Other opinions may vary.

When training, I focus on:

  • Dosing correctly & consistently.
  • Avoiding channeling, whatever that's from--wet basket, off-level tamp, bad distribution.
  • How to really dial in a grinder (keeping the dose-in, shot-out sizes the same, and then adjusting grind to control time/extraction).
  • Cleaning cleaning cleaning.

I get what you're saying, Mike, vis a vis "liking" inconsistency...but, from the perspective of trying to get lots of baristas with varying levels of passion to make good drinks, consistency is absolutely my watch-word.  I've had countless bad shots from "good" beans--doesn't matter how good the coffee is if it's badly extracted.

Aaron Jordan said:

So at that point then, grind and dosing is what is most important. The question in my mind is why has tamping always been made big topic if it doesn't really matter?

Obviously new theories and the progression of our understanding of coffee is always developing so new things are going to come to light. So when training in your opinion Jacob what would you say is important to emphasize? In and out weight? Grind consistency? Distribution?

Jacob - I get what you're saying as well.  I've been in the coffee industry for 20 years and I'm pretty confident with my abilities on an espresso machine, although I'm a tech and not so much a barista, and I know what I'm looking for when I'm pulling a shot.  Not everyone has that level of experience or understanding and when training new people I totally get why you need some standards to teach to and techniques to set in stone.  I've seen the other side of it many times, however, where highly trained and competent baristas pulled shot after shot of what I thought were perfectly good shots, not perfect shots, but shots that were just fine, and deemed them "garbage" and tossed them down the drain.  And I've seen the same type of folk do some single cup brewing and deem a beautiful cup of coffee "garbage" because it had the tiniest tinge of bitterness on the aftertaste, a cup I would have been happy to get a refil of, and then when they made their miniscule grind adjustment and rebrewed they all nodded their head and smiled and said that this cup was "Good" when in fact it was 90% the same as the last cup, which was "garbage".  Sometimes I think we can get so caught up in the science and technique of brewing that we forget to enjoy the coffee.  Good coffee is fairly forgiving, once you know what you're doing, and a cup does not have to be "perfect" to be enjoyed.  Coffee is a simple pleasure and we shouldn't let our expertise get in the way of that fact.

Jacob Casella said:

When training, I focus on:

  • Dosing correctly & consistently.
  • Avoiding channeling, whatever that's from--wet basket, off-level tamp, bad distribution.
  • How to really dial in a grinder (keeping the dose-in, shot-out sizes the same, and then adjusting grind to control time/extraction).
  • Cleaning cleaning cleaning.

I get what you're saying, Mike, vis a vis "liking" inconsistency...but, from the perspective of trying to get lots of baristas with varying levels of passion to make good drinks, consistency is absolutely my watch-word.  I've had countless bad shots from "good" beans--doesn't matter how good the coffee is if it's badly extracted.

Aaron Jordan said:

So at that point then, grind and dosing is what is most important. The question in my mind is why has tamping always been made big topic if it doesn't really matter?

Obviously new theories and the progression of our understanding of coffee is always developing so new things are going to come to light. So when training in your opinion Jacob what would you say is important to emphasize? In and out weight? Grind consistency? Distribution?

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