I've been a barista for about four years now, but I just started taking my job seriously and made coffee a hobby a little over a year ago, so I am still relatively new to a lot of this. In my situation I don't really have people to answer a lot of questions I have. Instead of posting on here for every little question I have here is a compiled list of a few things I haven't been able to find the answers to. Any knowledge on these topics would be great!

-Curved tampers? Everything I've learned about tamping makes the idea of a curved tamper pretty ridiculous yet you can find them everywhere. What's the purpose behind these?

-Roasting. I know very little about it and can't find anywhere to really learn in depth anything about it. Are there any good websites or books where I could learn in more detail the roasting process?

-Leveling/distrubuting evenly the grounds before tamping. I understand the concept of channeling, and I have always practiced this but it seems to me that, well, say you have a pile of grounds in the portafilter, as you tamp them down, wouldn't they be distributed evenly on their own as they are pressed down? With 30+lbs of pressure into one small area, the grounds will go to any open spots as they are compressed, won't they?

-(off topic) Tea. I've done a little searching and can't find many good tea resources online. I am going to try to find some resources in my city, but I haven't had to time to talk to many people yet and look around for tea shops and whatnot.

-Certifications. It seems most legitimate shops/roasting companies are doing Direct Trade. I've heard from people that 'Fair Trade' and 'Organic' don't mean a whole lot, but I've also heard the opposite. Where can I learn more about this?

Thanks for any help!

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4 years and you didn't take it seriously until now?

Tampers... they are made curved because people will buy them. Some like alot of curve, some like a smaller amount and I simply like them flat. Why oversimplify something like this? The bottom of the basket is flat, most shower screens are relatively flat, so why not have a flat tamper to ensure the puck is an even thickness... Ask 100 people and you will get alot of varying opinions... none right or wrong, just to each his own...

Roasting... if possible check out a local roaster to really get a feel for what is done. Ask them if you can watch what they do for a few hours. If you show interest I'm sure they won't mind...

Leveling/Distributing... Once you dose, the distribution process is to help fill any voids, breakup any clumps that might be present because if tamped this can lead to some areas of the puck being harder for the water to go through. Try doing this both ways at work. First dose and instantly tamp, then pull a shot. Next shot, dose, distribute the grounds as even/level as you can while being sure to break up any clumps that might be present, then give it a nice firm tamp as level as you can and see if it makes a difference. The main thing is to find a process that works for YOU and do it consistently. I don't do 30 lb tamps either. I grind a bit finer and tamp only with my thumb and index finger, which gives around 15 lbs. and that works great for me.

For tea on a commercial level we sell Numi. We simply run hot water over the bag then cap the cup and let it steep accordingly to what type of tea it is...

I know nothing about certification... Later!

Haha yeah. Spent a long time at a coffee shop out in the suburbs where no one cared about coffee at all! Then I moved to Minneapolis a little over a year ago and started learning a ton! So I guess it's been more like 2.5yrs uninterested, and 1.5 serious. haha.



Thanks for all the advice! I will experiment and do some tasting with tamping...and I will maybe find somewhere that's roasting and see if I could hang out.


Shadow said:
4 years and you didn't take it seriously until now?

Tampers... they are made curved because.......
Ahhh... welcome to the rabbit hole.

Much of this stuff has been covered pretty extensively on here recently. Just read through recent discussions. Other great resources include the Coffeed and HomeBarista web communities. Roasting stuff is there, for basics you can hit SweetMarias.com and head to their coffee library.

Leveling grounds before tamping - with some machines this is critical to prevent channeling. With traditional grinders it is key to making sure your dose is consistent. That said, I've seen repeated beautiful (looking and tasting) shots pulled with NO LEVELING when a Robur E dosing grinder and an FB80 were used. Blew my mind.

The other stuff is around. Dig a bit, using the search function here and in other communities.
You can check out two leaves and a bud, they have a large organic selections, and the teas are good!! You gotta seek out different tea stores in your town, You will be surprise of the huge selections they have, and try to see if you can find authentic japanese green teas, or suprising blossoms, and of course..jasmine too (These are goodd!!) . And yeah, regarding on organic/fair-trade... I think because the public is still not quite sure of the benefits of Organic/Fair-Trade. Most people just want good coffee, and I think right now...the organic and fair trade is not a big deal to some people because there's not really alot of good information about them.. Anyhow, you can find some helpful information here http://www.organicconsumers.org/
Some theorise that curved tampers are preferable based on the shape of the dispersion screen. I find the idea that a curve would work well to push grounds to a more even distribution when tamping a mound rather than an even dispersion interesting. I normally use a Reg barber c-flat, the idea being that the curve seals the edges, the shape is more closely matched to that of a single basket and, unlike a lot of baristi, i do regurlarly pull single shots (in theory, my shop has two tampers on bar, a flat and a c-flat. I used to use the flat for doubles and the c-flat for singles. i think my shots are better with the c-flat on both, though the fact that the flat base has gotten banged up may be a factor).

I don't level or (re)distribute as a general rule. I work with a ginder (Anfim Super Caimano) that does quite nicely into neat, fluffy piles in the filter basket... additionally this is a stepped grinder, so adjustments in dose as well as grind are needed to adjust low rates... I can't get the dose and flowrate i want as easily, quickly and consistently by overfilling and leveling as i can by running a very precise timer to grind and being carefully to get that coffee into the portafilter.
As I know it, the theory on the curve is that it focuses the pressure more towards the middle in order to help prevent side channeling. I know that personally I prefer a slight curve to my tamper and I find that I get the most even extraction rates with these tampers. Find a couple friends that all use different piston shapes and see which gives you the best results.

My response to roasting would be the same as those already listed: talk to a roaster and observe or, if nothing else, glue yourself to SweetMarias.com for a while and read everything, then start roasting yourself. I know that I personally learned the most when I started roasting myself (on a very small scale) and developing my palate through my different failures and successes at home.

I don't believe in leveling and distributing, but it totally depends on the grinder. If your grinder has a doser you shouldn't have any clumps. If you pay attention to the speed of your grinder for... 10 uses maybe?... you should be able to figure out when to turn it off in order to prevent waste. People that consistently push .5g-1g of coffee into the knock box drive me insane. If you can consistently over dose, why not train yourself to consistently dose correctly... Gah!

Tea... if it comes in a bag, generally you can assume it's not very good. Some companies put their very good teas into bags, but you should seek out loose leaf tea, or at least a company that mainly offers loose leaf but may also offer to put their tea into bags for you. For example, not to be an ass Shadow, but I can get Numi tea at the gas station. I think it tastes awful. There is absolutely no freshness to it at all. This is of course just my opinion, and there are certainly people that have disagreed with my tea choices for years (and still continue to). I used to sell Numi tea on a wholesale level for a company I am no longer with (thankfully), and it was amazing how long it would sit on a shelf in the central warehouse, before coming to our warehouse to sit on our shelf, before going to the cafe to sit on their shelf. Keep it loose leaf and keep it rotating quickly. Decent sources for quality tea that I have dealt with personally are Rishi and SpecialTeas, but there are tons of them if you start poking around.

I'm not going to take on the Certification bit... I'll get too opinionated, and I really don't have enough information to back the strong opinions I already carry. Do this much for yourself, though. See how much some companies are paying their farmers for coffee, then see how much Fair Trade is paying for coffee. See how much of an advantage Organic gives a farmer, but also how many hoops they have to jump through to get that certification. After those things, draw your own opinion; I'm pretty sure I'm giving glimpses of what mine is already. :)

HTH
-bry
Yeah... we stopped roasting beans months ago... just wasn't crucial anymore and WAAY better than 'white espresso'. :0) We are considering not even putting coffee in the cups, just serving paper cups with water in them and seeing if the customers notice. I have suspicion that a couple of them actually won't, lol.

No, but seriously, I totally agree. I remember watching a video on Youtube of a home barista go through like 10 minutes of prep to pull a shot. I was laughing uncontrollably the whole time because this person was seriously under the impression that putting the PF on a vibrating plate was necessary. My God man, give me a break...

I'm not trying to imply that leveling and distributing are the same as putting the PF on a vibrator plate at all, but there are some things that just really aren't necessary. You shouldn't need to level if you can figure out how to dose evenly across the basket. Spin the PF while dosing, or move it in a circle... whatever... Save those precious seconds of time, they add up. I stopped leveling when I realized that I was purposely over dosing in order to "have enough coffee to level." As soon as a fellow barista pointed out how absurd that was and told me to do some side by sides I realized how much time and coffee(!) I had been wasting.

Hold your own experiments, develop your own techniques that prove themselves to you... then open your mind to anything else that someone throws at you that seems to have merit.

This whole conversation is taking me back to when I stopped knocking the PF, haha...

-bry

Ricky Sutton said:
How recently have you had a shot that wasn't leveled, distributed, or... tamped?

There's a very strange curve in learning this (or any i assume) craft. You start out knowing nothing, you learn to do lots of stuff, then you eliminate everything that isn't crucial. Simplification of the process. I still teach employees in my cafe to tamp, as it produces a shot dynamic enough to suit any application. But i always incorporate un-tamped shots into my training just to show people how very little espresso really requires.

Pretty soon, i probably won't even be grinding beans!



Brady said:
Ahhh... welcome to the rabbit hole.

Much of this stuff has been covered pretty extensively on here recently. Just read through recent discussions. Other great resources include the Coffeed and HomeBarista web communities. Roasting stuff is there, for basics you can hit SweetMarias.com and head to their coffee library.

Leveling grounds before tamping - with some machines this is critical to prevent channeling. With traditional grinders it is key to making sure your dose is consistent. That said, I've seen repeated beautiful (looking and tasting) shots pulled with NO LEVELING when a Robur E dosing grinder and an FB80 were used. Blew my mind.

The other stuff is around. Dig a bit, using the search function here and in other communities.
Yeah Bryan glad you mentioned knocking the portafilter... I still see seasoned guys do this, so I guess some old habits never die. I simply don't see the point, but will say that the guys I see doing it use a wooden handled tamper, so that is better than dinging the portafilter with a metallic end of one. Personally I run the tip of a finger around the upper rim of the basket to remove any loose grounds then thump the portafilter with a finger while holding upside down or even lightly blow on them to dislodge. I DON'T think these loose grounds change the shot in any way, just become a pain in the butt when sticking to the sides of the screen and diffusion plate, requiring more cleaning more often...

For dosing I'd recommend using a digital gram scale until you get an idea of what your desired dose looks like after being dosed as well as after being tamped. Alot of baskets have the ridge in them which is a good indicator of where the top of the puck should be after tamping is complete. Too low of a dose and you usually end up with a soupy puck and underextracted shot and too much and you'll be hitting the screen...

When dosing I like to run the grinder just long enough to give me a slight mound in the basket that is slightly higher than the rim of it. I then rock the portafilter slightly side to side on the spouts to settle any grounds then give a light tamp. Then wipe off any loose grounds from the rim and ears of the portafilter, then give one firm tamp with thumb and index finger and a slight twist. I don't see the need to be all high tech with polishing techniques, but do think a slight twist at the end smoothes out any stray grounds and gives a nice flat surface... maybe just old habit too. Like I said before, find something that works for YOU and do it consistently... there is no certain way to do this or that, just too many variables on different equipment for any of us to say to do this or that, just experiment and you will find the way. Also, take what you do seriously as it will radiate to those around you, especially your customers, but at the same time keep it fun too. Otherwise it becomes just coffee and just a job. Later!
Tamper shape... read this:
I'm trying to read it, but see nothing... Later!

Brady said:
Tamper shape... read this:
i was in the same boat as you just few years ago, and this website was a huge resource for me. If you dig in and follow discussions, you'll learn so much! Pay attention to names and ads mentioned on this site, because some of them end up being great educational resources, too.
Funny, we're also from the same town. Coffee folks are the most fun to do business with, especially because everyone in the industry knows each other in this town. Talk to your shop owner/manager and see if they can point you in the right direction as far as people to talk to, (roasters, suppliers, etc.) and they might even introduce you to them. Good shops to visit are Kopplin's in St Paul on Hamline, and The Black Sheep in South Saint Paul (they also have a good selection of loose tea). Make Sure to grill the baristi. Otherwise, find great tea in the Hmong markets in East St Paul and Somali markets in Minneapolis.
good luck
Keep being curious and you'll end up being a great barista!
grrrr.... that's what I get for being in a hurry.

try THIS:
clicky

Brady said:
Tamper shape... read this:

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