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Thread: Questions about tamping

  1. #1
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    Question Questions about tamping

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    OK, some newbie questions here about tamping from a rookie CS member.

    I bought a Sylvia a few weeks ago and I love it. Love it. I have a Breville Smart Grinder and the grind wasn't fine enough for the Sylvia, so I ordered the shim kit. While waiting for it to arrive, I made a coffee each day, as a bit of an education I guess into what a coarser grind delivered. To be honest, by the time the shim kit arrived the coffees weren't too bad, but they involved a intermediate tamp after the first dose and a final tamp after the second in a double basket. And the tamps were pretty hard. And the coffee wasn't as strong as I liked.

    The shim kit arrived today, I fitted it and made a coffee. Big difference. Much darker crema and slower extraction with less force applied in the tamping process. I also only used a single tamp after the double dose was in the basket. Coffee tasted more full bodied too, although I'm sure none of this is news to anyone.

    So my questions are:

    1. I hear people refer to named methods of tamping, is there a good rundown somewhere that talks about the different methods?
    2. Given the above, is there a good reference to the science of tamping somewhere, and what each variable contributes (i.e. grind, tamp pressure, etc)
    3. Is it a good or bad practice to tamp midway through dosing the basket? If you tamp midway, should you tamp lighter after the final dose?
    4. Aside from buying a spring loaded tamp, is there an easy way to determine if I'm applying the correct pressure when tamping? Can I just use my kitchen scales? I did try this, but it seems like I really need to lean on that sucker to get 14kg of pressure.
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  2. #2
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    You hit the nail right on the head

    15kg tamp is harder than you think. I found that after i was tamping correctly my grinds didnt have to be as fine , infact my BSG is normally sitting with the arrow under the E for espresso. Although do use a BDB

    Using a scale will do the job, or you can get a tamp/click mat.

    I bought a spring loaded tamp. And tbh i love it. it just makes one less thing to worry about and your always sure that its consistant.

    Regarding "tamp" methods. i think that is a huge debate. Some say tamp once, others say twice. Some say dont tap the side (as it could cause channeling) others dont care.

    in general the consensus is 15kg of even tamp pressure to create a level puck.

  3. #3
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    Get a naked portafilter.

    Experiment with dosing / tamping routines until you get consistent and even pours.

    Fine tune your chosen technique for consistency / repeatability .

    Weight is not that important, a firm level consistent tamp is.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve82 View Post
    Get a naked portafilter.

    Experiment with dosing / tamping routines until you get consistent and even pours.

    Fine tune your chosen technique for consistency / repeatability .

    Weight is not that important, a firm level consistent tamp is.
    I agree... I only use the pressure of my thumb and forefinger but good distribution and a level (low pressure) tamp work well for me in terms of quality of naked PF extractions.

  5. #5
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    +1 weight is really not very important. Tamping is pretty simple - keep it level, push it down firmly (like you're leaning on the bench) and that's it. As long as you do it the same every time it will be fine. I also have a smart grinder and have found after a fair bit of experiment that (assuming your doing doubles) grinding two single doses, WDT with each dose gives excellent shots every time as far as diagnosing by taste and a bottomless pf.

    Best references I know of: Effect of tamping pressure: Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality, Illy & Viani pg 278. A discussion of tecniques: The Professional Barista's Handbook, Scott Rao pg 16-20.

    Pete

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    Thanks guys, all good info. I'll look at the naked portafilter, but we generally do 2 singles in the morning as we're a bit rushed. But it would be a good diagnostic tool, something we could break out on the weekend.

    I'm slowly winding back the grind, as I think it's now too fine. I just did a really light tamp this morning and the pour was fine, but I think the grind could be coarser with a firmer tamp. Which I guess brings me to the question of... is there a difference? Will a coarser grind with a firmer tamp make a different coffee, and if so, how? Common sense would suggest that it would, but I guess I'm interested in the whys...

  7. #7
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    IMO I have found the grind has significant difference in quality of extraction/pressure through the grouphead, and tamp pressure is fine adjustment.

    I use a EM0480 so keep in mind it is notorious for variability in grind unless worked on. I've half-done mine. Also it is doserless so this might be more difficult to do on a doser machine.

    1st improvement came when I stopped polishing under pressure. I was putting in my 15kg (approx) of pressure and turning the tamp while under pressure. Half the time or more I would get uneven pucks. When the light went on I tamped it as normal but then released the pressure and THEN polished. Suddenly very few pucks were uneven.

    2nd improvement was to grind a bit and tap, grind some more and tap, keeping the grounds level as I filled the basket, then tamp as above. Better extraction, better crema and taste.

    3rd improvement - a guy on here named TampIt suggested this. Note my machine is a EM6910 so this might not be applicable to other machines, although given the reasoning behind it, I don't see why it wouldn't help. The process is to fill a little and tamp about 5kg. Fill a bit more and tamp again at 5kg. Fill a bit more and tamp a bit harder, (say 7kg) then top up to just above desired final level and tamp/polish. (again at about 7kg)

    The 'just above desired level' is because if you do this method there is bugger-all compression by the time you get to the last tamp. This method gives me the best coffee so far although the first tamp is a more than 1/4 because the SB double baskets are tapered below the halfway point - the tamper will not go in there.

    4th improvement - got a local guy to use a lathe to convert my spare PF to naked. Strange results apart from better crema and being able to check the shot... coffee before I got some drops past the seal - it happens every so often with the 6910, mainly if I grind too fine or overfill. Haven't had a drop come through since - no idea the logic of why. Also much easier cleaning - run under water, plastic brush of inside and underside and all clean with all holes unblocked.

    5th improvement - VST baskets. I got mine from CS sponsor Mark at Things Coffee (or Pullman - he bought it from Greg) and they have straight sides - the first tamp is just fine with 1/4 dose. My coffee now has a richness of flavour I didn't really know was missing. Cleaning is even easier - VST's are better made so very few holes need the scrub after a pour.

  8. #8
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    Thanks journeyman all good points.

    1. I'll test not polishing under pressure. I hear that it can also weaken the puck, as well as though off the balance of the tamp as you said.
    2. I tried this this morning. It's a bit of a requirement for me, as the grinder seems to deposit the grounds on the edge of the basket, so I need to tap to redistribute them a bit, so they don't mound up and fall over the edge.
    3. TampIt came round and grabbed my old EM6910, which is where I got the idea of progressive tamps when he mentioned the same to me. It made a huge difference when the grind was too coarse.
    4. and 5. Yes, I've seen TampIt's VST baskets, they are impressive.

  9. #9
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    Not trying to annoy or belittle anyone, but I wasted ages mucking about with tapping ( the old days), polishing, measuring forces ... its all a waste of time. Dose, distribution and grind have a much greater effect on the shot than any of these gems. (If you can give me a good reason why you think "polishing" will accomplish something, I will happily go through a kilo of coffee doing blind triangle tests again seeing if I can taste a difference). The other thing I forgot to mention is, don't bother trying to diagnose your shots based on the puck. This is another thing that has been taken way put of context and has been attempted by many to try and diagnose problems. Just work on dose, distribution and grind and keep everything else constant. VST baskets can be another trap .... you are not suddenly going to start pulling God Shots because you've got a VST. Unless you can adjust your shot flavor by grind and dose with a stock basket first, using a VST will probably just make life harder. Have fun.

    Pete

    Pete

  10. #10
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    I agree Pete Pete.
    KISS.
    But polishing feels good.

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    There's a thread on here somewhere that mentions why to polish the surface. It's just a half-twist anyway so not exactly a complexity added. For me it meant no grounds 'stuck' to the tamper when I lift it away. Distribution might be better in a more expensive grinder - if you'd like to donate one I'd be ever so grateful, but my EM0480 delivers into a variety of areas in the basket - tapping is an easier way to distribute it relatively evenly and quickly without forming mounds that collapse and spread grounds everywhere or cause falling gobs of coffee to roll straight out.

    The last 3 I will go by my taste - they are called improvements because, for me, with my machines, each of them provide consistently better coffee in the mouth. So for me, they are now how I make my coffee. TampIt wrote an impressive piece on Sunbeam baskets which explains why VST's are an improvement. Whether they improve the coffee from other machines' baskets I wouldn't have the foggiest, but for my SB there is a taste difference for having them.

    @thundergod... You're still talking about coffee... right?

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    Hi TG - I know, the theater is a comforting thing, hey?

    Journeyman - I'm really not having a go ... just trying to help the OP not getting hung up on things that make very little (if any) difference. Get the basics right first and then experiment with the tweaks if you want.

    Pete

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete39 View Post
    Hi TG - I know, the theater is a comforting thing, hey?

    Journeyman - I'm really not having a go ... just trying to help the OP not getting hung up on things that make very little (if any) difference. Get the basics right first and then experiment with the tweaks if you want.

    Pete
    Can't argue with that... I did preface it with what I see as the difference in effect between getting the grind right and getting the tamp right.

  14. #14
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    Hi Kaisersoze

    Good to catch up the other day.

    Tamping Science, Theory and Practice, Part One
    http://coffeegeek.com/opinions/coffe...ent/10-07-2006
    plus reading all comments very carefully is a good start.

    Probably the only universal message there is that tapping or knocking the p/f creates channeling - very easy to prove.

    Mark Prince seems to have abandoned it due to opening up Pandora's box.

    Here are a few more stray thoughts about why there are so many different approaches.

    My recent experience using a VST / naked combo: a "perfect puck" is when it looks damp for only 2 or 3 seconds after you remove the P/F. It is quite firm, and holds together well. True for a two group LaPav (commercial boiler machine) & a Sunbeam 6910 (oversized thermoblock machine). YMMV.


    OTOH, in pre VST days, Paul Bassett was a big fan of overdosing, and I would be hesitant to dispute whatever his current viewpoint is. His pucks could be used for hockey – much drier and harder than I described above. I used to do them like that until I worked out the VST/ naked combo's responded better to lower dosing and finer grinds.


    There is another (more US / Schomer) school of thought re pucks. That holds the puck should be quite wet so it would tend to “splat” into a container. AFAIAC, that is underdosed, however they are single tamping much harder (origin of 30lbs single tamp method) & (later writings) polishing. It can still give a good+ coffee.

    A recent run in with an appalling medium roast Colombian single origin (SO) would not work with my usual method from my usual roaster. The US method was a lot better for that roast.
    Another encounter, this time with an excellent dark roasted blend (not my preference at all, good light medium SO are): Worked a lot better with overdosing, even with the VST / naked.

    Debatable conclusion: you need to match your tamping to the characteristics of the coffee and the roast.


    Have fun experimenting and enjoy the journey.

    TampIt
    PS: VST recommend a flat tamper, and using their baskets I agree fully. All the curves seem to be trying to correct problems with traditional baskets.
    Dragunov21 likes this.

  15. #15
    Sleep is overrated Thundergod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Journeyman View Post
    @thundergod... You're still talking about coffee... right?
    Made me laugh.

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    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Quote Originally Posted by Pete39 View Post
    Hi TG - I know, the theater is a comforting thing, hey?
    Exactly....



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