HB Roadshow - Espresso Tamper Reviews - Page 2

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
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#11: Post by mogogear »


Maybe I have missed this suggestion / answer, but for the upcoming tamper-testers could we / I guess you( sorry) have a handy matrix or chart to keep tabs on who has tested and what tampers they reviewed? Maybe near the Where's Waldo map. It could also include marks for their favorite ( which might not be the tamper they review. X- axis members- y axis marks for reviews and a asterisk for fave (???) This could keep a lot of accidental pile ups on the same tampers.
greg moore

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#12: Post by Kelpburger »

Barefoot wrote:My favorite of the tampers was La Forza. A few others on staff noted it was too top-heavy for their tastes, but I have longer fingers than most, and I found it to actually be to my advantage. I found it to have a great feel, like it was molded for my hand, and it simply polished like a dream. I can't say I've ever seen a hand painted, tamper, either.

I mainly use a Reg Barber tamper here at the shop, and the HB one was great too, just like the one I use... However I liked La Forza better. :x (I totally need to snag me one.)

Have a caffeinated day! :D


I must say I really enjoyed your first HB post. :wink:

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#13: Post by HB (original poster) »

mogogear wrote:This could keep a lot of accidental pile ups on the same tampers.
Don't worry, this is covered in the participants' instructions ("If an earlier participant writes up one of the tampers you wanted to write about, you must choose two others that have not been reviewed."). The baristas from Barefoot were Terry's invitees and thus had more latitude. Once we get a more reviews completed, I'll work on organizing results, updating the map, etc. We're still working through some logistics issues offline.
Dan Kehn

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#14: Post by mogogear »

Cool Cool Daddy-O :wink:
greg moore

LMWDP #067

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HB (original poster)

#15: Post by HB (original poster) »

While I'm not officially on the list of participants slated to review the Roadshow kit tampers, I would like to offer a few comments on my favorites among them. The thread What do you look for in a good tamper? proposes evaluation criteria:
  • Ergonomics, including appropriateness for various hand sizes
  • Availability of different piston sizes and contours
  • Durability / quality of materials and construction
  • Weight and balance
  • Good choice for those who like to tap the portafilter with the tamper
  • Appearance
  • Unique features (e.g., training tampers, tamp level lines)
  • Cost
One could argue that a $15 tamper isn't that much different from a $75 tamper if you only consider its business end - the piston. But I'm swayed by my appreciation of well-designed products and give heavy weight to the tamper's ergonomics. Like a pair of shoes, what feels great to me may not feel as great to you. It's difficult to offer advice to a prospective shopper on what tamper handle will best suit their preference, but the smooth rounded taper of the TORR Classic by Cafe Kultur is appealing both visually and ergonomically:

TORR Classic by Cafe Kultur

The tamper is about one-quarter inch taller than the standard Reg Barber tamper. Although I have small hands, the feel is exceptional, thanks to the smaller knob and slender shaft. It's natural to grasp the tamper like one would grasp a doorknob; the ball nestles nicely in the crease of the palm. When tamping, I keep my wrist straight - again gripping the handle like a doorknob - and elbow at a ninety degree angle, upper arm parallel with the countertop. The downward pressure comes from the weight of my shoulder, not the arm's muscles. The TORR's handle shape encourages this technique; those with large hands may prefer a tamper with a wider or flatter end. I brought the TORR to our Friday get-together and everyone loved the shape, balance, and weight. The only negative comment, except the price, was how the flat-top piston meets the handle at a right angle rather than a slope found on most of the other Roadshow tampers. I agree it's a distinction that may not appeal to all baristas, but it works for me. The flat-top piston is conducive to feeling if the tamp is canted; score lines along the piston's sides like the Pullman would be welcome, although it would compromise the seamless appearance.

The gorgeous woods and exacting craftsmanship of these tampers set them apart from all the others in the Roadshow. Different categories of woods are available separated into price categories; the above is "violet" in class 3 and sells for 69 euro plus shipping from Luneberg, Germany. Below is a swatch of the available woods:

1: Acacia, 2: Bubinga, Palisander, Sonokeling, 3: Violet, Maserbirch, 4: African Blackwood

The exotic woods of the TORR tampers are hard, but if you wish to use it in a commercial environment, the Nero model with solid aluminum handle would be better. I had first heard about TORR a couple years back and admired the website photos. There's currently no US reseller, but luckily Teme mentioned last year that he would be visiting the US and offered to mail one to me during his stay:

TORR Classic in Palisander

The photo above doesn't do it justice; if you're shopping for a gift for a special barista who appreciates fine products, the TORR will not disappoint. The tightly defined wood grain and smoothly polished finish mates nicely with the piston. Notice how the handle joins the piston:

"Soft curve" piston

The piston's raised center has a beveled edge and aligns precisely with the wood handle. You can feel the seam between wood and steel, but barely. It isn't visible from the photos, but the upper portion of the piston is very slightly concave, that is, it raises from the center to the perimeter. The angle is so small that it's imperceptible by sight, but you can feel it. The angle of the piston's sides shown above is different than the first one I acquired last year. At first I thought it was a nod to appearance, but there is a practical benefit: It reduces the amount of coffee grounds that are compressed against the sides when there's a teeny bit of clearance, so they fall off more cleanly (it would be unthinkable to tap the end of a TORR tamper, so I invert the portafilter to dislodge errant grinds before locking in).

As shown above, the piston's face is convex. I don't have instruments to check, but I believe the curvature is slightly more than Reg Barber's American style convex pistons and quite a bit less than his Euro style. Cafe Kultur offers a flat and chamfered piston too (i.e., flat with raised edges). I voted "convex" in the poll Which is better? Tampers with flat or convex bottoms? (*) It's my opinion that a convex piston enhances edge sealing and reduces channeling for some espresso machines, though not all. For example, the extractions of the Elektra A3 was markedly improved using a convex tamper. It's worth trying both styles and deciding if you have a preference.

(*) As an interesting side-note, even David Schomer switched sides from flat-only to slightly convex between his tamping technique articles.
Dan Kehn

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#16: Post by cafeIKE »

These comments were written with out reading any of the prior posts to avoid prejudicial information from influencing my experience, so if this is redundant, my apologies. I probably bent the rules a bit, but hey, that's what rules are for. :wink:

It's important to note that these remarks apply ONLY to MY equipment and are as much a comment on my technique as the tamper performance. One cannot discount muscle memory as a large contributing factor in evaluating something as personal as a tamper. For example, I drive 60 miles to have a bowling ball drilled because the same fellow has drilled for me for over 25 years and the ball always fits like a glove. Others can drill with the same numbers, but it just doesn't feel exactly right. To unlearn my old tamper and learn a new tamper, never mind 15, in a few days takes a younger dog than I.

I chose to divide the trials into three parts :
Phase 0 - Just heft all the tampers to see if one called my name. None did.

Phase 1 - Randomly try all the various tampers with a standard grind, dose and tamp [SGDT]. In this phase, I was more interested in the feel of the tamper in the hand than pulling great shots.

Phase 2 - Adjust grind, dose and tamp for tampers I found comfortable in Phase 1 until I could pull consistent shots or gave up trying.

In preparation :
- As I home roast, purchase sufficient commercial roast to remove that variable.
- Clean grinder, Macap M4 doserless, to remove old coffee.
- Clean group, screen and backflush Vibiemme Domobar Super to begin with a clean machine and basket.
- In the interest of time, use a bottomless PF.

My hand size is "medium" and my current tamper is "Stainless Steel Flat with Rosewood Handle, 57.05mm, 370g" The tampers that most closely approximates its shape and feel are the Reg HB and the Bumper.

I use Synesso ridgeless double with about 16g and a 20+ish pound tamp. I grind per shot and as the M4 is doserless, grind into the PF with a yogurt cup funnel and Weiss DT to distribute. I use a stainless spatula to level the grinds in a WENS motion. Depending on the coffee, I may vertically tap the PF once or twice to increase the dose. My tamper is about 1mm small, so I SE/NW gently prior to full pressure tamp in the center. I press on the piston, with almost no pressure at all on the handle. Finish with a light lift off twist to polish. I include this information because if your technique is markedly different, you'll know to read these comments with a large dose of skepticism.

Phase 1 :
At random I selected a tamper and tried it. Whether or not it is a learned response from prior tamper use, I don't know, but a tamper that has the weight concentrated on the piston felt most comfortable. Try as I might, I could not get comfortable with the Thor or the Lava Import. The Thor is too fat for my hand and does not have a definite bearing surface for the thumb and forefinger. The Lava felt too light in the hand and didn't naturally 'orient' itself. None of the rest stood out, but I definitely found I had a preference for a sloped piston top ala Reg HB, Radical Pro, Compressore, Coffee Lab, La Forza and Bumper. Something I found was that I got more channeling using my SGDT with the tampers with the most convex shape, Radical Pro and Lava Import.

While completing Phase 1, I examined the pistons and found 'significant' variation in diameter, shape and bottom edge 'hardness'. When half a turn on the M4 makes a difference in the shot, .6mm MUST be 'significant!' The diameters vary from 57.7 to 58.3 mm and convexity from 0 to 3.1mm.

Tamper Case Layout
[Number at lower left is Diameter, lower right is convexity.]
Another variable is the 'hardness' of the radius of the piston 'corner'. Some are gently rounded and some are almost square. Most sides are vertical but some slope inward slightly.

There are an almost endless number of permutations with the various diameters, flatness, edge hardness and handle shape. As none of the tampers stood out as making a marked improvement in shot quality, I decided that for Phase 2 I would limit the testing to the three that felt most comfortable and had the same diameter and also include two others that varied slightly. The Bumper, Reg HB and Radical Pro are all 58.1mm. The Pullman is probably the 'ideal' diameter for the Synesso basket. As the Pullman and Bumper are both flat, Pullman was number 4. I also included the Clicker as I've always been curious if a mechanical tamp would make for a more consistent shot. It's only 0.2mm smaller than the Reg HB and is similarly convex so could perform similarly to the Reg HB at the trip pressure.

Phase 2:
I started by dialing in the SGDT with my normal tamper.
Once I'd pulled 3 consistent tasty shots in row of ~50mL in ~25s with a trial tamper, I felt confident I could proceed on to the next. If I failed on 4 attempts in a row to make any progress, I would move on regardless. I figured that would give me enough shots per tamper to get in the ball park without burning through all the beans on a complete mismatch, either to my hand or the machine.

Radical Pro:
As I'd failed to make a decent shot with this tamper in Phase 1, I started with this. Yikes! Three of the first four shots covered the front of the machine in coffee. Thinking something possibly amiss with the GDT, I tried my normal tamper and pulled 3 decent shots in a row. Try as I might with this tamper, no combination of GDT gave a great shot. I found the handle comfortable, but I think the narrowness and height didn't mate well with my muscle memory. If I concentrated on orienting the tamper, I got better results.

Reg HB:
This and the Bumper have the closest physical feel to my standard tamper. First shot was a bit thin, so 1 rap of he PF prior to tamp. Bullseye. 3 in a row.

I was quite interested in this tamper as it maybe the ideal size for the Synesso basket. First shot channelled badly, puck was sloppy. -1 turn on the grinder and 3 taps on the knock box was the ticket. About 18g. The handle fit the hand nicely, but the ridge at the piston / handle junction is annoying. If the contour at the base of the handle was curved and the top of the piston sloped, this could have been number one. I definitely liked the engraved lines around the piston. They give an immediate indication of tamp depth and symmetry. Number 2.

Prior to Phase 2, I measured the tamp of this with a scale that holds the maximum pressure applied. I found trip yield is consistenly 30.5 ± 0.5 pounds. I found I could apply ~28± pounds and not trip the tamper. A bit more than my normal tamp, but very consistent. I'd like the trip to be more muted. It's a very sharp snap. My wife came from the other end of the house when I was measuring and asked "What's all that clicking?" The long and the short of it is +2 turns on the grinder plus 4 taps on the knock box using the tamper to just before trip. I gave up trying using the trip as I never got a good shot. This is more than likely due to the 50% increase in tamp pressure over my normal pressure. The handle feels fine, but the extra height over a fixed tamper is a bit off putting, as is the travel. For the first few tamps in Phase 1, I found myself stopping well below the trip point as the travel length was fooling me into thinking I'd gone through the bottom of the basket.

This tamper could also be considered ideal for the Synesso basket. It's almost identical to the Pullman except 0.2mm smaller in diameter. The edge is about a .3mm chamfer on both. Perhaps I was over caffeinated, but I never found the optimum with this tamper. I expected it to be identical to the Pullman, but it was +3 turns on the grinder relative to the Pullman. As a reality check I went back to the SGDT with my standard tamper and pulled 3 in a row, so I obviously had not yet found the sweet spot for this tamper with my gear. It could be the sharpish corner on the handle gives me the false impression of correct pressure vis a vis the more contoured handle of the Reg HB and Pullman. Another variable is the grinder was quite warm by this time, but it did not appreciably affect 3 shots with my standard setup. Number 3.

Bottom Line:
My complete unfamiliarity with convex tampers, which probably require a complete rethink on GDT, prevented me getting a good shot with the Radical Pro. Perhaps the profile is poor match to the VBM. Other than that, I'm certain a few days use of any of the tampers which feel comfortable in the hand would yield a consistent pull. I'm confident that if I'd started with any one of them, I'd be perfectly happy. I do like the feel of the snug basket fit of the Pullman, so perhaps I'll wrap a layer or two of duct tape around my tamper. Recommendations on best color tape for espresso greatly appreciated. :lol:

Reg HB. A classic. Feels good, looks good and I definitely prefer the feel of wood to rubber, plastic or metal. As comfortable as a pair old slippers.


#17: Post by gregpullman »

Just a point of clarification; Pullman tampers are supplied to whatever size is best for the customer's baskets. 58.3mm is just the size provided for the Roadshow.

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#18: Post by luca »

Nice, comprenhensive writeup. Doing that much testing is quite a feat!
cafeIKE wrote:My complete unfamiliarity with convex tampers, which probably require a complete rethink on GDT, prevented me getting a good shot with the Radical Pro.
I'm guessing that the answer to the following question will be "because I'd made so much *&^&^% espresso already." Keeping that in mind, why not just unscrew the La Forza flat base or the RB HB base and try that out on the radical pro? Or did you just plain not like it? (That's OK! In fact, it's the whole point of the roadshow!)



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#19: Post by cafeIKE »

luca wrote:I'm guessing that the answer to the following question will be "because I'd made so much *&^&^% espresso already." Keeping that in mind, why not just unscrew the La Forza flat base or the RB HB base and try that out on the radical pro? Or did you just plain not like it? (That's OK! In fact, it's the whole point of the roadshow!)
I calculated in Phase 0 that doing a Mix'n'Match on the handles and pistons would yield somewhere around 8000 combinations. I was all for it, but my wife balked at having a semi-trailer parked out front to store the java. :evil:

Seriously, I did pull a few shots with hybrid tampers in Phase 1. I did swap the Reg HB and Rad Pro pistons and handles. Same result, so I'm sure I don't know how to use a very convex tamper. I didn't write up it because it's not one of the tampers in the kit. :wink:


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#20: Post by cannonfodder »

The box has arrived! I wish I had head warning about it being on its way. Luckily I have a half pound of coffee I roasted Friday, a quarter pound in the Cimbali and a pound that just arrived from Classico Coffee Roasting. That should get me started but I will probably need to roast another pound tomorrow.

It appears that everything arrived as it should be. I got a call from Terry to confirm that I did receive it. I was standing in front of the bar fondling them when he called. I am actually somewhat surprised at the nicks and marks on the collection. Some scratches on the pistons and handles, a couple of larger dents in the wood handles from obvious tamper handle tapping on the portafilter. They are showing signs of use but are by no means beat up.

My initial touch and feel session quickly pointed out which handle shape I favor. The shorter bulbous handles fit my hand geometry best. I use to be a weight lifter so I have pretty short stout fingers and hand. I use to impress kids by crushing two walnuts in one fist.

The TORR is close. I like the piston but the handle is about a quarter inch too long. My fingers float uneasy above the piston and the base of the handle is a tad too thin.

The La Forza handle shape is almost perfect. The handle bulb is a little large but relatively minor. The handle base is the right size. My fingers don't grope for a landing location and the length is just a fraction too long. If the bulb was a bit smaller, I could grip down just a hair more. The wife also likes this one.

EP Compressore, the handle bulb is comfortable but a hair too short. My fingers are squished uncomfortably against the piston top. A quarter inch longer and it would be in the zone.

Espressocraft, my hand is in heaven. The fit is perfect. The bulb is just the right size, the handle base is just the right size, the piston to handle curvature fits my fingers perfectly. I just wish it had a convex base. This handle with this handle to piston geometry with the Torr shaped piston would be perfect in my book.

These are my first impressions and knee jerk reactions. I have pulled shots with the TORR and Espressocraft but only one each. Many more shots and more use of the full kit are in order. I am keeping away from the HB Reg tamper because I have one as well as the Lava tamp again because I have one. One interesting fact, my HB logo Reg has a much smaller HB logo on top. I got one of the first ones released so I am assuming the change was made after the initial production run.
Dave Stephens