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Topic: Tamping vs. Grind (17 msgs / 494 lines)
1) From: DJ Garcia
Hi Y'All,
First of all, thanks to everyone for everyhing (how's that for
saturation bombing?). This list is a great resource (and stimulating fun
:-). Now to the subject matter at hand ...
Do any of you have any comments or perspectives on tamping force vs.
grind fineness? I'm not necessarily looking for quantitative data. I'm
more looking for which way do you like best: finer grind with less
tamping force, or coarser grind with more tamping force, in order to
achieve your desired volume / draw time. How do you arrive at your
"settings"?
I've been trying various things, like wiggle and rotation in addition to
downward force, but haven't gotten any real feel for what does what yet,
or if it really matters at all as lond as you get your volume and draw
time.
I realize there may be many possible combinations, one possibly just as
good as the other, just somehow different. If anybody has any opinions
or comments that they would like to share, they would be greatly
appreciated.
Thanks either way!
DJ
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2) From: DJ Garcia
Woops! I just got the digest and there's a whole bunch on tamping -
probably no need for my thread. Nothing like being a day behind - the
perils of the handy digest :-)
Thanks!
DJ
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3) From: James Gundlach
On Friday, September 13, 2002, at 07:08 PM, DJ Garcia wrote:
<Snip>
If you grind fine enough for Turkish, the espresso is over extracted in 
the 20 to 23 seconds it takes to pull the shot.
I try to keep it fine enough so that about a 20 pound tamp will hit the 
time slot.  The reason?  It seems to work.  How I got there is based on 
knowing how over and under extracted coffee tastes.  It is easy to make 
the over and unders to learn what to taste for.  The combination of 
time, tamp, and grind that works for you will probably be in this 
neighborhood.  Get to your own place through experimentation.  Even if 
you have the same bean, grinder, and espresso machine that someone else 
has, yours will probably be a little different.
Jim Gundlach
roasting over pecan wood fires
in La Place, Alabama
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4) From: Ed Needham
Find a tamping force you are comfortable with and adjust the grind to give
you the correct pour.
Ed Needhamhttp://www.homeroaster.comed
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5) From: DJ Garcia
Jim,
Many thanks for your experience. You're absolutely right - every
situation is different in some way. I do find that when starting a
relatively new journey, some direction from the more experienced has
always help me find my own sweet spot after trying theirs. Often it's
not very far - other times it's halfway 'round the world :-).
Any ideas on how to get a handle on the pressure being applied?
Cheers!
DJ 
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6) From: Irene and Lubos Palounek
DJ asked: "Any ideas on how to get a handle on the pressure being applied?"
DJ, put your bathroom scales or large kitchen scales on the counter. You may
put some board on the scale and watch the scale while tamping. It is
important to put the pressure straight down, not tilted to a side. You are
trying to create as uniform resistance for the water that is pushed through
the coffee under quite large pressure.
To complicate things a bit more, here is some additional information.
During the World Barista Champion 2002 competition, the first six places
were won by baristas from Denmark, Norway, India, Italy, New Zealand, and
USA. The sixth place winner, Zoka baristas Dismas Smith, also won the First
Place in the (USA) National Barista Championship, which was held during the
Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 14th Annual Conference and
Exhibition in Anaheim, California on May 4-6.
Dismas Smith was using a tamper with convex, not flat bottom.  Some people
claim that convex bottom leads to better cup of coffee. I read somewhere a
scientific explanation by a hydraulic engineer. As I know very little about
hydraulics, I do not remember any details.
I do not know what tampers were the winners of the first five places using.
If you want more information on tampers, search the net via www.google.com
or other search engine.
Let me repeat: I strongly believe that you should change the grind and keep
all the other things, such as the pressure and amount of coffee constant.
BTW, I weight the coffee before grinding.
Cheers, Lubos
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7) From: EskWIRED
Let me repeat: I strongly believe that you should change the grind and keep
all the other things, such as the pressure and amount of coffee constant.
-------
Do you keep the exact chemical composition of the coffee constant? How about
ambient temperature, atmospheric pressure and relative humidity?  Internal
friction within the pump?  Voltage coming from the wall socket?  How about
the exact chemical composition of your water?
My tongue-in-cheek point is that it is impossible to keep all other
variables constant.  You have control over some variables, but not others.
Why not take control wherever possible, rather than relinquishing it
everywhere?
I am far from an expert WRT espresso (a rank amateur would be a more apt
description) but I am an experienced cook. I try to be sensitive to each and
every variable, and to change those I can in response to those I can't.  I
don't understand why one would not use every possible variable to one's
advantage, to counteract those one has no control over.
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8) From: Jeffrey A. Bertoia
EskWIRED wrote:
<Snip>
The issue with tamping is the hydralic channeling that can occur when it 
is not correct.
The whole purpose of tamping is to provide a uniform density in the puck 
that will not
allow the water to channel through it.  This is important to insure that 
all the grounds
are equally extracted.
jeff
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9) From: Irene and Lubos Palounek
"I try to be sensitive to each and every variable, and to change those I can
in response to those I can't.  I don't understand why one would not use
every possible variable to one's advantage, to counteract those one has no
control over."
You are right, EskWIRED. I suggest that you change the grind to compensate.
But I do not think you should change those other variables you know you have
right.  Let's say you, as an experienced cook, made a perfect soufflé. Will
you, next time, use not perfectly clean bowl and try oily beaters to affect
the egg foam, use "less fresh" eggs to give you more volume, use eggs
directly from the refrigerator rather than room temperature to allow for
longer beating time, leave in a trace of egg yolk, use stainless steel bowl
rather than a copper bowl to get a less stable foam, add the sugar early to
reduce the volume and prolong the beating time, over beat the eggs so the
soufflé will not expand in the oven so much...
Dan wrote, "the final production of music and espresso is a work of art, not
of science.  Without science, we would not understand and our art would be
defective or deficient, but once the science is incorporated, the actual act
of brewing or playing is not scientific, but, if you will, a spiritual act
of artistry."
"Making good espresso is like playing a violin concerto.  You need to know
some of the science, it gives you the ability to alter things that you
suspect could be wrong, it allows you to analyze where defects may lurk to
sabotage your cup...or second movement."
I fully agree. If you know that one set of the factors works well, you
should not change them just for the sake of changing them and risk
sabotaging the cup ... or second movement ... or the soufflé.
Let me repeat: I strongly believe that, when making espresso or
espresso-like drinks, and need to compensate for something, you should
change the grind and keep all the other factors, such as the pressure and
amount of coffee, as constant as reasonably possible. Concentrate on the
art, do not complicate your "science".
Francesco Illy calls espresso a 'romantic, remarkably aromatic, and complex
liquid. It is at once a solution of sugars, caffeine, acids, and proteins; a
suspension of tiny particles of coffee beans and minute bubbles of gas; an
emulsion of oils and colloids -- all concentrated into a small volume and
covered with a light, brown-colored foam known as "crema." '
Cheers, Lubos
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10) From: EskWIRED
<Snip>
In short, I would not use any inferior techniques on purpose.  But by the
same token, every egg is different, my kitchen has different temperatures on
different days, bowls are of different dimensions and construction when you
are cooking in somebody else's kitchen, etc. So I would not use a stopwatch
to determine when to stop beating them.  Instead, I would be sensitive to
what they look like, what they feel like, and what they smell like.  Maybe I
have to use tap water instead of the delicious spring water I usually use?
So maybe I'd use a little more egg and a little less water?  Maybe my butter
is especially good, having come from unpasteurized milk that I was lucky
enough to get from a farmer?  So maybe I'd adjust the sugar accordingly?
Tell me this:  Would you use the same tamp for just roasted, dark, oily,
sticky gooey Sumatran beans and light roasted, 10 day old, crumbly dry
Kenyans?  How could that possibly produce optimum results, given the vast
difference in texture?
Why would you give up control over any variable?
And why would you ever assume that you cannot improve your technique?  I
constantly try new stuff, and if it doesn't work, I try to figure out why.
If it does work, I try to figure out why.  And if I need to adjust other
stuff on the fly, I do it.
The worst cooks I know slavishly follow recipes, like zombies.  If they do
everything just right, they produce mediocre food.  The best cooks I know
are always tasting the food, and thinking, and trying new stuff.  And they
leave the recipe books on the shelf.
<Snip>
Changing only one variable, in response to a multitude of possibilities,
strikes me as the antithesis of art.  Failing to continue experimentation,
and assuming that you have perfected anything, strikes me as the antithesis
of science.
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11) From: Gary Zimmerman
EskWIRED wrote:
<Snip>
Well, I also do see your point there.  Especially when the variables are 
related to each other, as they are in espresso.  You can't "perfect" one 
variable, because changing one affects what the "perfect point" is for the 
others - I guess that is where the artistry comes in.
Too bad you can't taste espresso during the different stages of brewing as 
you go along, and adjust accordingly like you can do with other types of 
cooking.
-- garyZ
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12) From: dewardh
Jim:
<Snip>
the 20 to 23 seconds it takes to pull the shot.
I try to keep it fine enough so that about a 20 pound tamp will hit the
time slot.  The reason?  It seems to work.
Agreed, and it's about where I ended up too.  I started "fine", thinking that 
would give "better" extraction . . . what I got was too bitter.  I settled 
somewhere around 15-20 pound (ergo tamper) and about 30 seconds . . .
Deward
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13) From: Irene and Lubos Palounek
"...I try to keep it fine enough so that about a 20 pound tamp will hit the
time slot.  The reason?  It seems to work."
That is, I believe, an excellent approach. I think that a 20 pound tamp is
good; I would not go lower.  I think that here the important think is
CONSISTENCY of the tamp from shot to shot.
I also fully agree with Gary. I, too, think that " ...it's more a case of
"one at a time". It's not that you can't control several variables, but to
do the experimental work, you need to just vary and perfect one at a time.
It's impossible to figure out what  you did right or wrong when several
things are changing simultaneously."
" ...especially when the variables are related to each other, as they are in
espresso.  You can't "perfect" one variable, because changing one affects
what the "perfect point" is for the others - I guess that is where the
artistry comes in."
How right you are, Gary.
"Too bad you can't taste espresso during the different stages of brewing as
you go along, and adjust accordingly like you can do with other types of
cooking."
"Tell me this:  Would you use the same tamp for just roasted, dark, oily,
sticky gooey Sumatran beans and light roasted, 10 day old, crumbly dry
Kenyans?  How could that possibly produce optimum results, given the vast
difference in texture?"
Well, EskWIRED, I would probably not use the ten day old Kenyans in an
espresso machine. And I would not roast the Sumatran to become oily, sticky,
and gooey, as that destroys the oils inside the beans and the taste. But let
say I would use both. I believe that I could and should compensate for the
difference in texture by changing the grind. Definitely not by lowering the
tamping force, as that would let the water find the path of least resistance
and  just partially extract the coffee. Not by omitting the polishing, for
the same reason.  Not by overfilling the basket so that the coffee has no
space to expand and the crema and taste suffers. Not by moving the espresso
machine into direct sunlight. Not by using different water. Not by changing
the elapsed time of the shot -- definitely not by pulling the shot longer
than 30 seconds and extracting even the bitter components in the cup.
Perhaps I will some time actually try it, although I will not wait ten days
for the Kenya to get stale and I will not over-roast the Sumatra. I hope
that I could compensate for the differences by changing the grind and
keeping the other factors the same, what I believe is the "optimal" level.
As Gary said,  " ...it's not that you can't control several variables, but
to do the experimental work, you need to just vary and perfect one at a
time."
Now I will go to make a good cup of coffee using our "regular" blend. And
after that, I will examine our head and basket...
Cheers, Lubos
P.S.
I recently wrote that "most people agree that the ideal gap (between the top
of the tamped coffee and the screen) is about 1/8 of an inch or about 3mm,
just below the screw that is protruding
from the screen."  I think that is the reason why some tampers have lines to
show the distance and most baskets have a "tamping line".
I just measured the basket used in our Miss Téa (which does not have a
protruding screw, as many other machines have.) The diameter above the
tamping line is 58.5mm. Thus a 58mm tamper should leave about 0.25mm on each
side -- if I measured correctly. That is much smaller gaps than my present
"typical Italian design" aluminum tamper creates.  The basket tamping line
is about 9mm below the surface. I cannot get my caliper under the group
head, but it seems that the center of the screen is about 5.0mm to 5.5mm
above the edge of the group. That's just a guess -- I was using marks on an
index card. I also noticed that the screen in the group is perhaps slightly
convex, and the inside of the basket in the handle is slightly concave. I
can see that clearly when I remove the basket from the handle and put it
against a steel ruler. The outside bottom of the basket is clearly convex,
perhaps by 1 mm or little more between the center and edge.
That might explain why the Mr. Dismas Smith, who won the First Place in the
(USA) National Barista Championship,  was using (in the International
competition) a tamper with convex, not flat bottom. That may be a good
excuse -- I think I will I get better "forty dollars" tamper -- with a
convex bottom.
Tom and Maria -- do you plan to offer such a tamper soon?  Perhaps the 58mm
Stainless Steel Hand Tamp which features a slight convex packing surface and
is available from espressoparts.com as Item Number: 3006SS -- I would rather
buy it from Sweet Maria's.
Similarly to Mike McGinness I've also come to realize, as  I only have a
marginally acceptable grinder for espresso purposes, the Solis Maestro...
This list is so interesting to read -- thanks to you all -- but it is also
becoming too expensive to follow  :-)
---
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14) From: EskWIRED
<Snip>
Well, yes, but only if you fail to tamp it sufficiently.
I just can't quite understand why you don't take the hydraulic
characteristics of the coffee into account when you tamp.  It seems like you
are tying one hand behind your back.  I like to control as many variables as
possible, in whatever I do, rather than being a slave to any preconceived
absolute.  Coffee varies greatly, and as a result, I can't see ever keeping
anything the same.
Likely, however, you make better espresso than I do.
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15) From: Irene and Lubos Palounek
"The puck from my Solis 90 usually has water standing on top if I remove the
PF immediately after the pull. Is this normal?" asked Jack.
I think it is.  When I tried to remove the PF immediately after the pull
from our Miss Téa, I made a mess -- there was too much pressure left above
the puck.  So now I either wait half a minute or longer, or release the
pressure by moving the lever down. Which, I understand, some people always
do to stop the coffee flow after the 28 or so second pull.
How do the "super automatic" machines stop the pull?  Does the flow stop
immediately, or does it sort of keep dripping a bit?
Cheers, Lubos
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16) From: Scott Jensen
Mine seems to stop immediately.  You can hear the pressure release when it
is finished, so it must have some kind of a valve that releases the pressure
into the drip tray, as it slowly fills up with water and I never spill any
in there.
Scott

17) From: DJ Garcia
Jeff, Jack, Lubos, 
Thanks for the comments on The Puck. Because I spend some time steaming
my milk right after the draw (I drink cappucinos pretty much every time)
then wiping / rinsing stuff clean, my puck is pretty much dry when I
remove it, with an inner ring about 20% in from the outside, which I
take to be from the the head. If I over-stuffed the portafilter then I
also get an impression in the middle.
I'll be setting myself up to monitor tamp pressure as well as weighing
my pre-grind dose (I only dump in the grinder enough for each
double-shot espresso), which I'll standardize at 16 grams for the time
being. I'm wating for a scale to get here.
Cheers,
DJ
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