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Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

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  • Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

    As per advice from the forum, Ive bought a better grinder than I initially anticipated and gotten the Smart Grinder.

    Im having some issues getting it all dialed in and it seems to revolve around my tamping style.

    Im currently working with a cheapie loaner Sunbeam, an older EM3800.

    Until now Ive mostly been buying pre-ground beans from a coffee guy in Brisbane who runs a roastery/cafe.

    Prior to the BCG800 I would fill the portafilter, tamping hard and evenly until I had a smooth level surface. Provided the portafilter was full and the tamp hard I would get a few seconds of a darker, thicker pull before the massive crema came in - Im assuming from the pressurised portafilter.

    No problems, decent-ish coffee.

    Enter the BCG800.

    Im a designer by trade, but Im a data-centric one. So whether Im optimising a shopping cart or figuring out my new grinder I try to change only one variable at a time. Measure and adjust.

    So Im filling the portafilter to the same volume and tamping the same way as with the pre-ground beans (although the beans themselves are different, thats a variable I cant control).

    - I start with the coarsest espresso grind: bitter water
    - Up a couple of notches: bitter water
    - Up a few more: more like coffee, but still watery and bitter
    - Finest it will go: almost the same as what Im used to with pre-ground beans, but still not as thick as Id like

    My wifes been talking with the aforementioned coffee guy in Brisvegas and he certainly pulls a mean brew, so he should know what hes talking about. The wife says that he recommends knocking the portafilter after dosing and then a polish only - no hard tamping.

    Ive read the threads on here about to knock or not to knock and also on the value of polishing - but I havent come across one yet that has recommended no hard tamping at all.

    Needless to say Im skeptical, but given that I must listen to my wife regardless I give it a try.

    The Sunbeam chokes.

    So I back the BCG800 off a couple of notches and try again - the result is full of fines, the basket is clogged with em.

    After a few more tries Im back to near the coarsest espresso setting before it starts behaving more like the finest setting with hard tamping.

    Im not ashamed to admit I dont understand this at all.

    Why would the Sunbeam behave normally on the BCG800s finest setting with hard tamping, but choke badly with only a light polish and no tamping?

    Ive emailed Breville about getting the shim kit - thought Id try an even finer setting with a hard tamp and see how that goes. (Is there anything I can do to expedite getting one?)

    I also want to try and get some freshly roasted beans. Theres a cafe in town that stocks Veneziano, so thats probably a good start. And I think theres a local roaster that shows up to the farmers market on Sunday.

    But ideally I just want to understand what I can do to improve the process. Long term I want to upgrade to a Presso or even a nicer machine, but for now Im stuck with the Sunbeam until I can convince my wife that the Smart Grinder was a good investment.

  • #2
    Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

    Im not sure if this is going to help you a lot but when I started I was also puzzled by the tamp/no tamp debates.

    Additionally some people say that you need to dose down to 0.1 gram accuracy, while others swear that anything in the ballpark will do.

    So heres what I think is happening.

    Some people (Im guessing those who tamp hard but dont care about dose too much) end up with a level of coffee in their portafilter that when inserted into the group head does not come close to touching the shower head. The shower head is the bit where the water comes out of by the way, I didnt know that either when I started thinking about this.

    The other group of people (those who dont tamp but are fanatical about dosage) let the top of the shower head do the tamping for them. When they insert the portafilter and twist, the turning action also makes the bottom of the basket come closer to the shower hear, compressing the grounds and therefore tamping. In this scenario the amount of grounds is VERY important, the more grounds, the harder the tamp.

    I think that the latter group have the ability to tamp a lot harder, as the twisting/screw action of the portafilter gives them a huge mechanical advantage.

    I think both of these methods work well but a lot of people dont realize they are doing the second one.

    Have a look at the top of the coffee puck after an extraction, do you see the impression of the shower screen there? If so I recommend dosing less until youre 100% sure that the shower screen isnt affecting your results.


    • #3
      Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

      Thanks oldbeamer2, thats an interesting perspective.

      I think I also need to get a Krups 2 Cup replacement basket to replace the pressurised one in the Sunbeam - its only a single, so that probably doesnt help matters either when Im trying to pack it in as tightly as possible.


      • #4
        Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

        Did you just say that you are using a pressurised basket? Say no more!...Toss it out and get a non-pressurised basket (watch out for the Krups versions though - I found that they can have very large perforations in the bottom and a lot of coffee comes through...).
        If you are using pressurised baskets you are not fully controlling the flow of water via the tamp / grind size at all.


        • #5
          Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

          Ive recently been down this road myself. I popped into a local specialty espresso bar and sat down for a few shots at the bar watching the barista carefully. I noticed he filled the basket to a steep mound of powder fine grinds then tamped with hardly any force.. just letting the weight of the tamper level the coffee grinds and a slight 1/2 turn polish. The resulting coffee, as always was sublime!!

          This led to some serious experimentation at home and a whole truck load of wasted beans! No matter what I did, I could not replicate what I had seen done just minutes earlier. It was either choking or gushing. The only way I could get a good extraction was using my usual grind setting and Tamp pressure. :-?

          There is definitely something in this technique, I just cant work it out. Someone please shed some light!!!


          • #6
            Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

            VBM, I dont want to hijack the original thread too much but did you experiment with dosing? if so, to what accuracy?


            • #7
              Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

              I certainly gave it a good range of dose sizes. Not to any specific weights though? I focused more on the grind and weightless tamp and not allowing the grinds to push up on the screen. Perhaps this last variable is the key as you indicated in your earlier post?

              Its one of those things... you really want to try new things, but constantly filling up the knock box with those valuable browns just irks me. :-?

              Perhaps Ill revisit this one again.

              If you have any more pointers please feel free to PM me so we dont hijack this thread any further.


              • #8
                Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                @gojuja Yep, that was already my first task for today. Tracked down a place on the Sunshine Coast that carries the Krups MS-0907163 2 cup non-pressurised filter basket*, so Ill be popping out this afternoon to give it a shot (so to speak).

                @VBM (and everyone else) Im also going to pick up a generic tamper from a local homewares shop. Since the machines on loan Im disinclined to go out and get a Pullman for it. Ill be very interested to see how the dose, grind and tamp are affected by the NP basket.

                The BCG800 also seems to have settled down somewhat. Im back to tamping harder with a grind at about half as fine as it goes in the Espresso bracket and it seems to be spot on for this basket.

                Unfortunately my local café has stopped stocking Veneziano beans in favour of what appears to be a local roastery who I wont mention in case I get smacked with the banhammer. Again. Was a massive step up over what Ive been using - Id used supermarket beans to test out the grinder.

                *I put the full details for the NP filter basket up above in case anyone in the future needs to ask about it. Google has indexed CoffeeSnobs quite thoroughly and Ive found plenty of great information that way - maybe Ill be able to help out a local one day. Feel free to email me if even if its a few years down the track.


                • #9
                  Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                  OK, np basket secured ($13.20 inc GST) and will have a crack first thing tomorrow.

                  @gojuja - as per your intimation, should I go start with a coarser grind, given the holes might be larger?


                  • #10
                    Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                    Tried the new basket this morning.

                    Thrilled with the results. I dont have the terminology to describe it yet, but the flavour was significantly richer and stronger than with the pressurised basket. Even my wife, who drinks milky coffees, commented on it.

                    I didnt even realise until halfway through drinking my espresso that Id had excellent crema first attempt.

                    As gojuja mentioned, the holes in the basket seem a little larger so Im not sure how fine I can get the grind.


                    My pour time is pretty short and the blonding starts very quickly. Overall, for what I can approximate to about a 40ml shot, the pour time is around 15 seconds. Clearly too short.

                    Im still experimenting with the grind, but Im back to tamping hard and Im also trying to find a dose that keeps the grinds off the showerscreen.

                    Anything else anyone can recommend to try to improve things further? Coarser or finer? Should I worry about contact with the showerscreen?


                    • #11
                      Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                      I would probably go finer again if your shot is only 15s, so try and get it to at least 20s. Dont get too caught up on the exact shot time (as long as you are kinda in the ballpark of espresso specs) - if it tastes good be happy!

                      You may get some grounds through into your cup if you go too fine...a bit of a no-no with many CS, but they will sit in the bottom of the coffee - just dont drink them.

                      Not sure about contact with shower screen on your machine - my guess would be that you dont want too much pressure on your showerscreen but hopefully other sunbeam users can provide better insight on this.


                      • #12
                        Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                        Here is the Sunbeam EM3800 instructional video, not sure who the Barista is but he also does the videos for other machines such as the 6910, 5600 etc.  He doses the PF really high and tamps with the scoop/tamp plastic thing so not ideal but I guess hes using the package as its sold. (3:10)



                        • #13
                          Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                          Well then gojuja, I thin its time for a shim kit installation, cause I cant grind fine enough to choke this machine!

                          MrBill, that looked like a very fast pour and a lot of blonding right from the start. Bit hard to tell with the editing tho.

                          My wifes been really happy with the lattes Ive been making her - to the point where shes not opposed to an upgrade in a couple of months - and Im reasonably pleased with my espresso shots. If I can eke out just a bit more out of this machine Ill be happy that Ive done all I can before spending money on an upgrade.


                          • #14
                            Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                            Originally posted by 656C7C6161656B7D0E0 link=1315876463/12#12 date=1316596398
                            MrBill, that looked like a very fast pour and a lot of blonding right from the start. Bit hard to tell with the editing tho.
                            I believe that its because hes using the pressurised filter basket that is included with those machines, Which is why there is insta-blonding and quick-pour time


                            • #15
                              Re: Just got the BCG800, have some grind/tamping questions

                              Holy c**p.

                              Just installed the shim kit. It recommended using a 1mm and a .4mm shim, but after playing with the adjustment dial it was locking up halfway through the espresso range. I want to retain a bit more flexibility so installed two .4s instead.

                              Im now buzzing from the first really strong coffee Ive gotten out of this machine.

                              On the third notch from the end I almost completely choked it, it never got up to a truly smooth flow.

                              So when the ringing in my ears subsides Ill back it off a couple of notches and try again.

                              The interesting thing for me was that until now even with the flow too fast and the grind probably too coarse, Ive been getting nice solid pucks at the end of it.

                              The one just now was very soggy.