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Thread: Levelling and tamping techniques - are they overrated?

  1. #1
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    Levelling and tamping techniques - are they overrated?

    Gene Cafe Coffee Roaster $850 - Free Beans Free Freight
    I'd like to share some experimenting I've done over the last few weeks. I used to dose and collapse twice then chop and level with a straight edge for doubles and Scott Callaghans #27 or #28 dosing tool for singles. I got good shots which tasted pretty good. I've also tried all the levelling and tamping techniques I've seen on You tube, from USA sites, including, Schyndel, Staub, Chicago chops, Stockleth, WDT, nutation, etc etc and you know what I do now? Dose and tamp. That's all. I use the grind on demand feature of my grinder to get a dose that will just fit under my shower screen, shake the group handle as it fills with the odd tap against the prongs and then tamp with no levelling at all. The results are just as good and often better than previous attempts, that sometimes used some of those crazy techniques I've seen on the web. I guess the old KISS practice comes into play here. Do others do the same? Is levelling overrated? Do you need to fill the voids? Do you really need to break clumps by stirring the grind (WDT)? Doesn't the tamper break the clumps? Most cafes generally just dose and tamp and I've often had great coffees when they've done just that.

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    Senior Member chokkidog's Avatar
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    Good on you barri for fessing up!

    I've been doing exactly that for a couple of years now.

    No channeling, no problems. :-D

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    I have been using your first method of dosing, tapping, and sweeping with a curved leveling tool, for quite some time (I even do the same at my work's cafe). Lately i have been trying to eyeball it and just use my finger as the sweep to finish off before tamping. The only reason i do this is so i get a consistent amount of grind in the basket so i'm sure its just the grind size affecting my pours. CBF using a toothpick or yogurt container to be honest

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    I kinda wonder how much of the more elaborate techniques were bred from people trying to get the most out of lower quality equipment than what you'd typically find in a cafe. I mean if you get a shot most places in Italy, a lot of them only seem to tamp as a bit of an after thought (but I must admit, I wasn't too impressed with most of the espresso I had in Italy).

    Personally, at home, I've found that with a decent grinder and fresh beans that most dosing/tamping techniques aren't really necessary. At the moment I grind straight into the pf, giving it a few little shakes as it goes, till its got a bit of a peak above the edge of the basket, level it off back and forth once with the back of a knife, tamp straight down and one twist. I still try be as consistent as I can by sight and feel (and I generally am), but if the shot doesn't come out as well as I would have liked I actually enjoy rethinking back to what mustn't have been right and what to adjust for the next time, while I enjoy my drink .

    I get my new second hand mini vivaldi ii this week so will have some fun working out what I need to do pull consistent shots on that

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    Just to continue with the KISS practice check out this video.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OkrMqClISQ
    His set up looks like he's about to perform surgery. I have tried WDT but it now seems like overkill to me

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    I'm part if the kiss group.
    Using a Rocky with Doser and 15 or 18g VST baskets.
    Two whacks on Doser drops about 10g in. One tap of the PF on the bench to make room for more.
    Another whack or four depending how much is left in the Doser.
    Sweep off with my finger and one push/twist action to tamp.

    Simple.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robbks View Post
    I'm part if the kiss group.
    Using a Rocky with Doser and 15 or 18g VST baskets.
    Two whacks on Doser drops about 10g in. One tap of the PF on the bench to make room for more.
    Another whack or four depending how much is left in the Doser.
    Sweep off with my finger and one push/twist action to tamp.

    Simple.
    ...and that's all it really takes to get the job done

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    Senior Member javabeen's Avatar
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    If you play around with your doses and dose lower, you will find leveling is not possible. I just dose, a gentle little shake to 'distribute' the grounds, then tamp. Pours look great from the naked pf, and more importantly taste as they should, delicious :-)

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    With a G.O.D grinder I now just grind into the pf while tapping the side. Slightly under-dose a double basket or over-dose a triple (by eye). Tamp & twist

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    Using VST baskets, I find that levelling (NSEW with my finger) is necessary to get an even extraction and avoid chanelling.

    I dose, tap once so that it falls down to a level where I won't knock much/any of the coffee out with my finger, then do the quick sweep with my finger and tamp.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dragunov21 View Post
    Using VST baskets, I find that levelling (NSEW with my finger) is necessary to get an even extraction and avoid chanelling.

    I dose, tap once so that it falls down to a level where I won't knock much/any of the coffee out with my finger, then do the quick sweep with my finger and tamp.
    Drago, I mainly use a single VST basket and I no longer level but still produce good shots. I assume you're talking about a double 15gm or 18gm basket.

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    Senior Member Dragunov21's Avatar
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    Yes, both 18 and 15g.

    I suspect it's much easier with the 7g (or whatever the single is) because it tapers and as a result it's less critical to get a perfectly even distribution at the basket base.

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    Have you tried a shot without levelling. I also use the VST 15gm basket but not as much as the 7gm and I can get good shots without levelling as long as I shake and tap the basket while dosing. I am now finding that provided you have the right dose and an even distribution then you don't need to level.

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    Well looks like I have a long way to go.

    I grind into the porta filter and collapse it by tapping on the mat.

    I then distribute with a blunt syringe needle that I stuck on some black bamboo (it looks really cool).

    I then tamp with a bit of nutation of course.

    Then I use the razor for the Breville.

    Then I polish it with the tamper.

    Then I do the shot, and it takes less time than to have written this.

    Never get the old stuck puck this way.

    The funny thing is I picked up all this stuff from here.

    I get good coffee from it so am happy, but it is really quite interesting to hear all these stories.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ravenscroft View Post

    Then I use the razor for the Breville.
    You have a shave while pulling a shot???
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    Quote Originally Posted by barri View Post
    You have a shave while pulling a shot???
    Nah, the Breville 920 has testosterone in abundance so therefore comes with its own razor. It needs a shave every shot, that is what I call ballsy.

    RC

    It is a dose level tool sort of thing,
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    KISS is my motto.
    Grind straight into the basket collapse grind again then tamp.
    Works well very time. no stuck or wet pucks.
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  18. #18
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    Couldn't agree more, but for it to work so easily the operator needs to have understanding of the other variables in the equation. If the operator doesn't understand the relationships between grind / dose / tamp and their effect on flow and character in the cup, and the overriding effect of the volumetric dose over all, then it isn't so easy for shall we say, beginners (or for that matter, people that get hung up on details and wont let it all just "flow").

    Harever, in terms of the title of the discussion without any peripheral discussion, agree with you 100%.
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    I can understand that some new to coffee, can get hung up on all the hype dosing a tamping etc.
    But as they get a better understand of the beans, grinder and machine they have and knowing what to look for then all should be able to KISS.
    I have yet to see a good barista weigh out his grinds. They just know how much with experience.
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    Agreed, simple is best, and understanding the beans, grind and dose relationship (and a palete that has a good understanding of coffee flavours) is essential. However, it does depend on what gear you have, especially grinder. I started with a sunbeam EMwhatever, then smart grinder, then Hg-one. Have used a Robur E a few times and have to say, a kid could do it, just so simple. Similarly with the HG-One, adjustments are rare and often predictable. But the other two grinders (especially the first one) were finicky, but I could get good results with careful attention and a nod to the espresso gods. But I'm glad I had them - would have loved to be able to go straight to some decent gear, but would rather have something than nothing.

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    OK continuing my experimenting or should I say discovering by accident that clearing the screen is not as mission critical as I thought. I accidentally dosed more than I usually do and the group handle didn't lock in as easily as it has but the pour and shot was still good. So ha ha I said lets push this further so I made another 4 shots all with different clearances (provided I could lock in the group handle to its normal position) and found that only one of the four shots was poor. That was when the clearance was at its largest. Wet puck and obviously underdosed. Sometimes I also locked in the handle and then removed it to see if the puck was disturbed. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn't. Maybe the height and shape of the shower screen gives more forgiving results on my VBM Jnr. I don't know but continuing the KISS theme and I can now judge what dose I need so that the handle will lock in (not too tight) and produce a good shot and not be to hung up on the results of the coin test

    bar I'm addicted to experimenting" ri

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    I'm glad you posted this Barri.

    I always overdosed in my Breville BES860 as it gave me the best shot, i believe it was because of the relatively small basket size. It had a nice dry puck every time and a clear indent from the shower screen.

    However since getting my Izzo Vivi the first thing i did was work out my ideal dose height, and had read through the forums about the 5c test. I did that, and have been dosing accordingly for the last week and a half. My coffee tastes great, but i am having a little trouble with flow consistency from day to day (sometimes from shot to shot) despite having very close amounts of coffee in the basket each time. I always end up with a wetish puck that i have to let drain out for a few mins before attempting to knock it out, with barely any indent from the shower screen.

    You have made me rethink and i am going to try and dose a little higher and see if it affects the taste either positively or negatively. I'm using a 20g Espresso Parts triple basket so i might see what weight i'm hitting while i'm at it.

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    So barri, when you say you made four shots at different doses and the lowest dose was "poor", what does "poor" mean? Also, did you adjust your grind to suit the new dose in each case, or just leave the grind constant?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete39 View Post
    So barri, when you say you made four shots at different doses and the lowest dose was "poor", what does "poor" mean? Also, did you adjust your grind to suit the new dose in each case, or just leave the grind constant?
    Blonded too quick, too fast without the rich flavour of the other pours. Also kept the grind the same. BTW there was only a small change in dose each time. Just to clarify, I went 2 shots higher and 2 shots lower than my normal dose which just clears the screen. Three of the four were acceptable by taste but this is based on my overly mature taste buds. The best 2 were my normal dose where the screen isn't touched and the one higher where the screen is just touched after locking in the group handle. The one above that was still nice. It just taught me that a dose that is touching the screen, on my equipment, can still produce a good shot despite what the coffee community says. I'd like others do the same test and see what they come up with.
    Last edited by barri; 24th July 2014 at 01:46 PM.

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    Thanks barri. I think you would find it interesting to repeat your experiment, but this time adjust the grind to suit the new dose.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete39 View Post
    Thanks barri. I think you would find it interesting to repeat your experiment, but this time adjust the grind to suit the new dose.
    I'd love to do that Pete but I'm running out of beans. What do you think would happen? I'm guessing that all shots would be OK further indicating that minor changes in clearance, including a slight touch, combined with an appropriate grind have only a "small" effect on the shot.

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    I just made 2 flat whites and dosed slightly higher than usual. Puck was dry and came out easy, coffee poured like honey, one of my best shots so far. Taste was good but a little weaker than I'm used to as I usually have a smaller cup if making 2 at once, as I like them strong. I can't yet say if it was improved or not, will try tomorrow morning as a double ristretto like I normally have.

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    Speaking from experience (and I can because I did stand behind a coffee machine for 7 years), it is a great world of discovery for anyone and I think that with dosing and tamping techniques, you tend to end up finding what suits your tastes, style and abilities. Even after bench pressing (literally, haha!) a tamper for as long as I have, I don't think I would have ever pressed as hard as I once first read you had to. As a woman, I just don't think I was physically capable of doing so! So, I developed what worked for me and tasted good in the cup. I like the KISS principle, it makes for a workplace that keeps flowing well and moving great tasting coffees quickly with consistency. That was what my aim as a barista was.

    Hmm...maybe I should have marketed the "Scoota Tamp"...
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoota_gal View Post
    Hmm...maybe I should have marketed the "Scoota Tamp"...
    Too right Scoots...

    Mal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fard View Post
    I have yet to see a good barista weigh out his grinds. They just know how much with experience.
    For what it's worth, at Pilgrim which is a successful cafe in Hobart owned and run by Will Priestly (former barista/latte art champ), they started weighing each grind a few months ago. I work across the road, so have been getting takeaways there a few times a week for a while. Can't say I've noticed a change for better or worse personally

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    Senior Member chokkidog's Avatar
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    And they aren't alone..... they use scales where my daughter works, too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by barri View Post
    I'd love to do that Pete but I'm running out of beans. What do you think would happen? I'm guessing that all shots would be OK further indicating that minor changes in clearance, including a slight touch, combined with an appropriate grind have only a "small" effect on the shot.
    Know the feeling (re running out of beans) - takes a lot to do these experiments hey?? (My taste buds get tired too.) Yes, I think you would find that the lower dose shots could be made ok, but there would be sweet spot for you where the dose/grind balance is just right for your tastes.

    To answer your request, FWIW, on my E61 machine, I find some clearance makes things more repeatable, or forgiving. Once things hit the screen I get uneven pours no matter how careful I am. But I never dose that high anymore. Lots of clearance seems to have no ill-effects.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete39 View Post
    To answer your request, FWIW, on my E61 machine, I find some clearance makes things more repeatable, or forgiving. Once things hit the screen I get uneven pours no matter how careful I am. But I never dose that high anymore. Lots of clearance seems to have no ill-effects.
    ?? Strange , on my E61 Isomac, I find as soon as I dose 1-2gms below touching the screen (20 gms target) , I start to get channeling , fast pours, etc .
    Touching the screen tightens the shot.
    maybe I should play with the grind more, or just use a smaller basket ( singles are a total failure!) if I want less.
    however, since I am mostly pulling for 2 cups, the 20gm dose is working well for those.

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    I've been experimenting with under-dosing my 18g VST recently (down to 15g) and obviously there's going to be less in the PF and have more clearance to the screen.
    but the key is grinding finer, while keeping my tamp the same.
    The finer grind provides more flow restriction the puck swells to the same size as the full 18g shot as I still get the same shower screen imprint in the top of the puck.

    So you can't just under-dose without changing something else.

    Quote Originally Posted by blend52 View Post
    I find as soon as I dose 1-2gms below touching the screen (20 gms target) , I start to get channeling , fast pours, etc .
    Touching the screen tightens the shot.
    Simple, a notch or two finer on the grind
    the old 5c test. it should only press halfway into the puck, as such, not touching the screen

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    I am not sure what you both are saying regarding grinds touching the screen.
    My grinds don't touch but on pre-infusion they swell enough to just leave a slight imprint of the screen in the top.
    This gives me the best results for both double and single baskets.
    I must not get out that much, as I have yet to see a good coffee shop weigh their grinds. I would think that if you were doing this for a job for a living you would be experienced enough to gauge the amount of grinds you have in your basket. Also in a busy shop this must surely slow down the process.

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    The baristas at St Ali in Melbourne weigh their dose, and they are certainly good baristas. I've watched them and it doesn't seem to cost much in time -- they get it right first time most shots, so maybe the 3-4 seconds extra per shot.

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    I hope all these guys weighting their shots are ensuring that the PF is 100% dry.
    a few drops of water and a few grounds about the place is going to give you an extra gram...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robbks View Post
    I've been experimenting with under-dosing my 18g VST recently (down to 15g) and obviously there's going to be less in the PF and have more clearance to the screen.

    Simple, a notch or two finer on the grind
    the old 5c test. it should only press halfway into the puck, as such, not touching the screen
    conflicting statements those !
    how can you down dose and have ""more clearance to the screen".. Yet still press the old 5c coin half way into the puck ?

  39. #39
    Senior Member Barry O'Speedwagon's Avatar
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    Pretty simple (at a logical level anyway)......prior to down-dosing the 5c piece might have been buried in the puck.

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    A "busy" coffee shop won't have time to weigh doses, and whilst some bars are now using GOD grinders with preset dosing, any good experienced barista knows that baskets are designed to dose the correct weight/volume when used correctly with a conventional, manual, doser.
    Grind to overfill,..settle the dose , refill,...scrape level,..tamp.
    When the grind is set correct, and the process is consistent, the dose will be correct and consistent.
    Unfortunately this doesn't lend itself to home application as it needs a surplus of grinds to be swept back into the doser .
    that only works if you are making coffee continuously ( unless you are happy to waste a lot of grinds).
    So, home dosing needs a completely different approach, GOD grinders, and dose weighing generally are the way.
    i prefer weighing beans and single dosing into the grinder.

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    Quote Originally Posted by blend52 View Post
    conflicting statements those !
    how can you down dose and have ""more clearance to the screen".. Yet still press the old 5c coin half way into the puck ?
    Quote Originally Posted by Barry O'Speedwagon View Post
    Pretty simple (at a logical level anyway)......prior to down-dosing the 5c piece might have been buried in the puck.
    Not really, each statement is in a different context.

    #1, With a full 18g Dose on it's correct grind, I have the "standard" 1/2 of a 5c piece clearance.
    BUT. experimentally I have down-dosed the 18g basket, which actually doesn't allow the 5c coin to touch the screen at all.
    But using a finer grind with the lower dose still restricts the flow and the swollen puck ends up the same size and produced good results.
    I have never had the channeling issues with either method and both provide a different drink.

    #2 You're having channeling problems with a "properly" (subjective) filled basket.
    So you're needing to fill the basket so high to squash the puck against the screen to provide enough pressure to keep it in one piece.
    But, by you going a little finer on the grind, you too can get the "correct" fill on the basket to maintain that clearance.

    Hope that clears it up.

    I don't like squashing the puck into the shower-screen, dry.
    you'll end up pushing dry grinds into the screen, which will swell when they hit the brew water and get stuck.
    This can then lead to the screen being blocked in one area, forcing more pressure out of other spots and causing worse channeling.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fard View Post
    My grinds don't touch but on pre-infusion they swell enough to just leave a slight imprint of the screen in the top.
    How do you know they swell with pre-infusion? The clear porta-filter videos I've seen shows no swelling.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Robbks View Post

    #2 You're having channeling problems with a "properly" (subjective) filled basket.
    So you're needing to fill the basket so high to squash the puck against the screen to provide enough pressure to keep it in one piece.
    But, by you going a little finer on the grind, you too can get the "correct" fill on the basket to maintain that clearance.
    .
    No, im not squashing the puck against the screen, .
    I mentioned touching the screen because i can see the screen pattern on the spent puck, but not before .
    "Channeled" pucks never show that screen pattern, and come out much wetter.
    A 22gm dose definitely contacts the screen (dry) and will noticeably tighten the shot..sometimes even a near choke, which is why i have not pursued finer grinds before.

    But i will certainly experiment with finer grind/lower dose, though i believe this basket is intended for a 20-21gm dose anyway !

    Question:-
    Is there a standard dimension for group heads, The height from the shower screen surface to the working face of the group seal ?
    I know it is wildly different on some other types of groups (lever groups ?) and also know that there are different thicknesses of group seal available ( 6-10mm ?) .
    Since the top of the basket sits against the seal, it occurs to me that the space between the top of the puck and the shower screen can vary quite a lot for the same basket , with the same dose, used on different machines.
    Anybody know how this is allowed for when a basket is being "designed" for a specific weight dose ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pete39 View Post
    How do you know they swell with pre-infusion? The clear porta-filter videos I've seen shows no swelling.
    Pete 39 it may not be in pre-infusion but it does stand to reason if you add water then the grounds do seem to get larger. I have put the PF in to the group head and taken it out without starting the brew process and it doesn't touch the screen. I will run the per-infusion tonight and then stop the machine and pull the PF out and have a look.

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    @blend52
    Ahh, ok, no worries.

    I noticed my under-dosed shots were much more "fruity" better crema, but also a little more aerated when poured,
    I had to pour what would be seen as 40ml singles, but then settles back down after 5-10 seconds.

    you would "think" that anything designed to be the standard 58mm "E61" or compatible would follow a standard size.
    i.e my DB Lelit is not an E61 machine, but does take a number of the standard portafilters with no issues (I have a Rancillio bottomless PF in it and have tested an NS aswell as a Wega unit.)

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    Behmor Brazen - $249 - Free Freight
    Its not the PF fit that indictates the problem,..its the relative height of the shower screen to the group seal face.



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