PuqPress Automatic Tamper Review

Behind the scenes of the site's upcoming equipment reviews.
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Postby HB » Feb 20, 2017, 8:58 am

With the possible exception of the demitasse, nothing embodies the idea of a barista as the tamper. "What is the best tamper?" is a question frequently posed by new members. Is it the tamper's weight, balance, aesthetics, or piston shape? Some recommendations will point to tampers that have pressure feedback mechanisms or auto-levelers, presumably to gain a better degree of consistency.

The PuqPress takes a different approach by automating the tamping process. Given its price point, the PuqPress is aimed at cafe owners who want more consistency and speed with one less training worry.

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Evaluation model courtesy of Chris Coffee Service

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll switch from manual tamping to automated tamping and report the results. To get a cafe owner's viewpoint, Mike Zhu of New World Cafe has offered to work the PuqPress into his shop's regular routine. Before wrapping up the review, I'll bring the PuqPress to a cars-n-coffee event and record how its use impacts the preparation of back-to-back drinks.
Dan Kehn

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Postby HB » Feb 21, 2017, 7:55 am

Last Friday, I brought the PuqPress to the training center at Counter Culture Coffee. I had not read the owner's manual; I even neglected to bring the handy adjustment tools included with the PuqPress. I know, know: RTFM. :roll:

Prior to shipping, the PuqPress portafilter rest had been adjusted to the clearance of a La Marzocco portafilter, but I suspect it was the older brass ones, not the more recent all stainless steel ones with a small built-in "shelf" for tamping. No matter, a quick stop by Counter Culture's repair shop and we had the rest readjusted correctly. Jesse did a quick demonstration video:



Based on the sound, the PuqPress is tamping twice. Being a curious barista, I bypassed the "portafilter present" sensor and indeed, confirmed that it's a double tamper. Why? It's probably explained in their literature or maybe the owner's manual I never read. I'll bet that it's for better wiping clean of the basket sides on the second pass.

For those who don't like reading owner's manuals, PuqPress provides short and sweet how-to videos under Support. Below is the one showing how to adjust the portafilter support height:

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Postby HB » Feb 23, 2017, 7:51 am

The video series Newbie Introduction to Espresso includes methods of reducing espresso preparation steps to simple mechanics that anyone can master. An easy tamping technique is covered in the grinders video; the trick is removing the portafilter basket retainer clip so you can tamp the basket outside the portafilter, then gently drop it in.

For beginners, this approach has several advantages over tamping the basket in situ: (a) the countertop provides a firm, level surface that will not move when pressure is applied, (b) the portafilter suffers no heat loss if the barista is slow to complete the tamp, and (c) it's easy to verify the levelness of the tamp. I demonstrated the last point in the Newbie video; below I've repeated the same validation for a basket tamped with the PuqPress:



Simply stated, even if it looks like a level tamp, it's better to feel it's a level tamp. If there's the tiniest rise in the basket/tamper gap, it's painfully obvious. In the case of the basket tamped by the PuqPress, it was spot on, i.e., I could not feel any variance in the gap at all.
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Postby HB » Feb 25, 2017, 8:21 pm

Mike from New World Cafe tried out the PuqPress automatic tamper this afternoon:



His baristas pride themselves on the craft of espresso preparation, especially the hands-on nature of dosing/grooming and tamping. Consequently, they were skeptical of the need for the PuqPress, even moreso when I mentioned its price ($855). I pointed out that its target demographic isn't hardcore pros. So, in the spirit of a review leaning towards commercial usage, they agreed to integrate the PuqPress into their regular prep routine for the next week and report back.
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Postby HB » Mar 11, 2017, 4:10 pm

To wrap up the review, below are the comments from Mike, owner of New World Cafe, after a week of using the PuqPress:

Mike Zhu wrote:The unit works as advertised, even on the bottomless portafilters we use. We've never had an issue with anyone's wrist hurting from tamping, but we use correct form and don't over tamp. I think the people that complain about that have some technique issues. Speed is about the same for me tamping or using the unit.

It's a great product, but a hard sell for the price for third wave cafes where tamping correctly is almost a right of passage for baristas. The one nice thing is that it leaves less grounds on the counter. Occasionally, coffee stuck to the tamper, leaving a divot on top of the coffee bed; a Teflon coating might help. It would be more appealing if the price were significantly lower. If US cafes wanted to eliminate inconsistencies, I think they'd go fully auto versus investing in barista aids.

Today I had another cars and coffee event, so I took the PuqPress along. At home pulling a few shots in a row, the PuqPress seemed to streamline my workflow. Would the same impression hold when preparing drinks for a crowd?



One thing I've learned serving drinks at cars and coffee is that seconds add up when you have a line. Because of other events occurring at the same time, the turnout was lighter. However, there was a huge turnout last month:

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There are 12 orders in the queue! Saving 10-15 seconds here and there can mean several less minutes to wait for the last in line. For a barista, getting the drinks out faster requires reducing "dead" time by switching to another task. For example, if you have a grinder with timer, use the seconds it takes to grind to do something else like fill the milk pitcher or flush the group (instead of standing there listening to the grinder).

While I agree with Mike that manual tamping is an integral part of the barista craft, I recognize that it requires extra motion and attention that the PuqPress eliminates. Whether shaving seconds off your routine by smoothing out a few movements are worth the price and counterspace are debatable. But as Mike commented, the PuqPress works as advertised, tamping quickly and consistently with ease.
Dan Kehn

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Postby Charlene » Mar 25, 2017, 2:36 pm

Did you check out the tamper's 'cleaning mode,' Dan?

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Postby HB » Mar 25, 2017, 2:41 pm

Yes. I didn't make a video, but pressing the cleaning button extends the piston outside the body of the main unit for ease of wiping it. Removing a hex screw under the cap allows you to unscrew the piston. Cleaning is straightforward, though honestly, I used medium roast coffees with little oils, so there was very little need for cleaning even after hundreds of uses.
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