HB Roadshow - Espresso Tamper Reviews

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Postby HB » Jul 15, 2006, 9:18 pm

The thread Your favorite tamper, if you could choose only one reminded me how difficult it is to choose a tamper based on online photos or recommendations. The comfort is very dependent on an individual's hand geometry and preferences. Simply put, there's no substitute for the hands on experience. This inspired the...
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Home-Barista.com and espressoparts.com have joined to assemble a kit of beautiful tampers:


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    Cafe Kultur TORR, Bumper, EPNW Clicker, Coffeelab Design


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    EPNW EP5, EspressoCraft, EPNW Lava Import, La Forza

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    Pullman, Reg Barber Radical Pro, Reg Barber HB logo'd, Thor

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    EPNW Compressore, EPNW Lava, EPNW Pro

(click image to enlarge)

Tamper Stats:

Cafe Kultur TORR Classic

Bumper

EPNW Clicker
    handle: black rubber
    handle width: 1 3/4"
    base: stainless steel, satin-brush finish
    overall weight: 1lb 2 3/4oz
    overall height: 4 3/8"
    website: http://www.espressoparts.com

Coffeelab Design
    handle: anodized and powder coated aluminum with rubbger grip
    handle width: 1 1/2"
    base: stainless steel, satin-brush finish
    overall weight: 13 3/8oz
    overall height: 3 5/8"
    website: http://www.coffeelabdesign.com

EPNW Compressore
    handle: powder coated aluminum
    handle width: 1 7/8"
    base: stainless steel
    overall weight: 1lb 1 3/4oz
    overall height: 3 9/16"
    website: http://www.espressoparts.com

EPNW EP5
    handle: polished Bulbinga wood
    handle width: 1 3/4"
    base: stainless steel
    overall weight: 13 oz
    overall height: 3 3/16"
    website: http://www.espressoparts.com

EspressoCraft

EPNW Lava Import
    handle: machine milled aluminum
    handle width: 1 3/4"
    base: stainless steel
    overall weight: 3 1/4"
    overall height: 9 oz
    website: http://www.espressoparts.com

La Forza

EPNW Lava Deluxe
    handle: machine milled aluminum
    handle width: 1 3/4"
    base: stainless steel
    overall weight: 14 1/2oz
    overall height: 3 1/4"
    website: http://www.espressoparts.com

Pullman
    handle: oiled, resin impregnated hardwood
    handle width: 2"
    base: stainless steel with TrueTamp guide rings
    overall weight: 15 oz
    overall height: 3 5/8"
    website: http://www.coffeetamper.com.au

Reg Barber Radical Pro

Reg Barger HB logo'd

Thor
    handle: polished wood
    handle width: 2"
    base: polished wood - Lignum Vitae or Blackwood
    overall weight: 12 3/4oz
    overall height: 3 11/16"
    website: http://www.thortamper.com

EPNW Pro
    handle: machined milled aluminum
    handle width: 1 1/2"
    base: stainless steel
    overall weight: 1lb 3 1/4oz
    overall height: 3 3/8"
    website: http://www.espressoparts.com
Dan Kehn

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Postby Psyd » Jul 16, 2006, 6:37 pm

Jul 13, '06
Three things motivated my choices for which tampers I'd review. Unique opportunity, direct comparison, and leaving something nice for others. It occurred to me that with fifteen tampers and about as many participants at this point (if not more by the time this gets to you) that some will get reviewed twice, but manners dictates that the first one at the party doesn't take all the prime hors d'oeuvres off the plate at first passing.

Thor Tamper

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Jul 14, '06
I chose the Thor because... well, ya dance with the one that brought ya. I suggested that this one be included because I was intrigued by the 'unorthodox' manufacturing process, and they just looked gorgeous. And the fact that they aren't going to be carried in too many stores, and as a bit of a 'boutique' item, I won't have the opportunity to play with one too often outside the 'Roadshow'. The one that got packaged with the Roadshow is rather plain compared to the wonderful woods displayed on the website, but my guess is that the functionality is going to be the same. It's still a pretty piece. My imagination runs wild with the thoughts that I could have the handles on my Astoria's water and steam spigots, the PF handles, and the knock-box surround made of the same wood as my tamper. Ah, what the heck, it's only money, right?

If you like a big handle to grab onto, and a bit of a wider surface to push down on, this one is for you. I've had a bit of hand surgery here and there (motorcycle injuries and lawnmower incident, don't ask), and the larger diameter feels good to me. The weight is nice, and comparable to, or a bit lighter than, most anything else in the box, and it is balanced more toward the center than most others. Everything else seems to be heavier toward the business end (the piston) and this seems a bit higher up. Not quite the center, but generously higher. I am under the impression that Les is using something to add weight to the tamper, and the placement seems correct for me, if he is.

The tamp is really, uhm, what's the word I'm looking for? Secure? No... Comfortable? Not quite... Confident! The tamper seems to slip into the basket like it's a horse stepping back into its stall after a ride. Something just right about it. That's with the LM double baskets that came with my Silvia years ago, and I kept to use with the Astoria. I'll be trying it with a couple of the baskets that came with the kit, too.

Clicker Tamp

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Jul 15, '06
I also chose the Clicker, because I wanted to compare it directly to the Espro that I own. The height is a bit of an off-putting experience for a coupla seconds, but nothing that I couldn't get used to right away. The Espro felt a little more compact and comfortable in my hand, and feels a bit more like an instrument than a tool, whereas the Clicker has a definite tool-like quality to it. Admittedly, this could be because it has the exact same feel and sound as the punch-down tool I used to connect audio cables and phone cables to patch panels. I took out my old punch-down tool and I'm now considering making my own tamper from it. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, it's a matter of preference.

On the plus side, the Clicker has the feel of repeatability. Once it has reached it's 30 pounds, there is a clearly audible click sound, and an unmistakable mechanical feel that says, clearly, "We're there!" The Espro is a bit more subtle in its response, and quieter. If you weren't to tell someone that you were using an indicator type tamp with the Espro, they'd have to be watching pretty darn close to tell. With the Clicker, you'd have to leave the room to hide it. I also think that the method used to apply the thirty-pounds is a bit less helpful in training to move on to a 'manual' tamp. There is a point at which the spring-loaded internal mating piece between the upper portion (the handle) and the lower portion (the piston) is released, making the clicking sound, and the handle 'falls' a short distance. More of an impact than a tamp at that point. The result is a nicely compact puck, though, and the finish is beautiful. With some of the other tampers I have used, there is a feeling that the polishing turns are smoothing out the final tool marks on a piece, but the EPNW pistons feel absolutely done when you finish the tamp. Those final spins feel more like something turning on bearings than something doing the work of a polisher. Its the same regardless of which handle they are on, too.

I know it sounds like I didn't like the Clicker. That is not the case. I liked it just fine, and it would be an excellent tool for PBTC who aren't going to be around for long enough to warrant spending time training them to a 'T', like holiday help; or for the significant others of Home Baristi who want to make the dream coffee, but don't want to invest the time that we have.

I'm still in the process of picking the third tamper, and I think I'll take a page from Cannonfodder (who's never steered me wrong in the past) and remove the two that I've already used, along with the ones that I've relegated as the 'creme that shall not be bogarted' and just sit and grok what's left. The one that speaks to me goes to work!

Bumper Tamp

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Jul 16, '06
Well, the Bumper flashed by all the Zen meditation I had planned, and the technician in me was overcome with the simple lines, and the rubber grip. And the cool tamp-rest. I discovered early that, for me at least, that cool tamp-rest is just something for me to keep track of. I didn't use it much, and it ended up being the place where I stored the other piston. I discovered that I don't particularly care for the design of the handle, either. While I do love the rubberized grip, (it is comfortable, and confident, no slipping and turns well) my previously mentioned hand surgeries as a child have left me with a preference for a larger and/or more bulbous handle. I thought that my own similarly shaped aluminum tamp was not my favorite because it was a cheap lil thing with a dinged and slightly too small piston. Turns out that I don't much care for that shape. It isn't a large drawback for me, just that I don't have 100% use of all the muscles in the hand and fingers, and larger is easier for me. I use a Belgian grip or an oversized rubberized grip when fencing, and 'Senior' and arthritic grips on my golf clubs, so it would follow that I'd need a larger handle on my tamper.

I discovered another thing that was only tangentially related to the Bumper. I don't particularly care for the tampers with convex pistons. It could be that both the machines that I get to use have flat dispersion screens (or nearly flat), but the curve on this one led to under-dosing. If I dosed normally, the center was fine and the edges would get disturbed when I locked the PF in, and if I dosed to keep the edges lower, the shots would run fast and the puck would, of course, be wet. Not to mention that the crema was light and weak and the espresso was lemony. Oddly, this was the only change any tamper showed in the cup. I had the same result with the Clicker's round base, too, but it was not nearly as pronounced. I could have adjusted grind to make all this work, but I decided that the fewer variables involved, the easier it would be for me to track differences and discrepancies. Maybe the 'American Curve' (?) is the one that I'll be most fond of. But that's another review... Pucks tamped with the flat piston were on a par with any other tamper I used, and the finishing polish was as good as it gets. I again enjoyed that 'riding on bearings' feeling when polishing. The weight was a bit forward on the piston, as the handle is fairly light and the pistons are both pretty big, but not uncomfortably so.

All in all, I was impressed with the Bumper, and fairly drooled at the possibility of having a larger, bulb shaped handle from the same materials. Who knows, maybe I'd find the lil tamper home a permanent place in my kitchen if I owned one. It might be that a few days with this accessory isn't enough to appreciate its value.

Roadshow Baskets

As an aside, I tried some of the baskets that were included with the 'Roadshow' (I was a bit surprised to see them when I opened it) and have decided that it's time for me to order a handful of new baskets for both machines. The triple wasn't used, as I don't have a bottomless (although it only touched three mil before it seated, so I could make a mint making deep triple baskets... ne'ermind...) and the LM double wasn't used as that's what I am using in the Astoria. That left LM ridgeless double basket, and another ridged double basket. The LM ridgeless is my new favorite, as I am fond of removing the basket and cleaning it after every session.

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The other basket was a mystery. I dunno where it came from or why it has the ridge bead rolled into the inside of the basket, but it surprised me with the Clicker. The EPNW base fit in alright, but there is just enough room for one properly ground small piece of ground coffee between the edge of the piston and the outside of the basket on either side. Once you get the piston in, any grounds that aren't under the piston end up between the piston and the basket wall, and almost make a complete seal. Visions of unwarranted purchases danced in my head for a brief moment of caffeinated panic, which was overcome when the piston came out without hand-tools.

There were only four other pistons that would fit in there to do the job, and they were, from best-fit to just-barely; the TORR, the EspressoCraft, the La Forza, and just squeakin' in, the Coffeelab Design.

I still have a couple of days, and will put the three that I've chosen to play with in rotation, and add anything that pops its head up. Please post any questions you'd like me to answer, comments, or criticisms. Keep in mind that the dyslexia and highly caffeinated nature of the research that I'm doing will both contribute to the sprinkling of typos throughout the text!
Chris
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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Postby HB » Jul 17, 2006, 11:08 pm

Thanks Chris for a great opening review, I look forward to your concluding remarks.

In other news, Terry got back from his trip in Italy this week. You can read about it in the expressoparts.com blog (yes, with an "x"). Upon his return, he realized how much time and effort Dave put towards the Roadshow. Needless to say, he showered him with praise on a job well done. Thanks Dave for all your hard work!

After the atttaboys died down, Terry and I discussed some refinements to the Roadshow schedule:
  1. Terry's taken some heat from his pro colleagues for letting the kit "escape" from the West coast. It was a nice try on my part, but I agreed a return trip to regions closer to EPNW's home turf is appropriate. Stay tuned for guest pro reviews coming soon.
  2. The time at each stop will be reduced to an overlap of one weekend and continue in time to make the next participant's location by the following Friday. For most locales, this means shipping out on Tuesday or Wednesday for a Friday delivery.
  3. Enrollment into the Roadshow is suspended until we work through at least half of the current rollcall.
Once the sponsor-requested stops are behind us, I'll work up a "who's next" list. My apologies for the confusion.
Dan Kehn

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Postby Worldman » Jul 18, 2006, 12:18 pm

Woo hoo! Does this mean the "show is on the road"? GREAT!

Psyd,
Great reviews and VERY well written. You have set the bar high.

Len

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Postby Psyd » Jul 18, 2006, 11:11 pm

Jul 17th
OK, so I had a birthday to clean up after, and prepare the grill for even more barbecue, and I wasn't at my house, so there was only one thing to do. Pack up road 'spro kit and take one tamper with me. I'd pretty much done what I had to do with the three that I was going to review, so I decided that I'd experiment with different curvatures while I had them to play with. Choosing a tamper that allowed me to swap different curves on the same handle, I was off. The road kit (mine, as opposed to the 'Roadshow') consists of a Silvia and Rocky, and most everything necessary to fill the needs of a specialty coffee junkie. The request I got for Turkish aside, I just started taking orders. I got a chance to pull shots with each of the different curvatures (flat, Euro-curve, and 'American curve', if memory serves) and just came to the conclusion that I had intuited earlier; curved pistons are for curved dispersion screens, flat pistons are for me. YMMV.

Jul 18th
I was still away from home, but still had the road kit and a volunteer from the 'Roadshow', so I had a couple more chances to test my 'flat tamp' theory. Yup, I still liked it. Just enough espresso to fuel the clean-up of two days of barbecue and revelry, pack up a grill (I'll fetch Miss Silvia and her beau later) and head for home.

Having been 'testing' all week, I was low on beans, and since I really don't have the inclination to roast here at home, I had to stop and pick up more 'Rocket Roaster's Classic'. My Favorite barista told me that they'd just spent the day tuning the machine for the new coffee (they'd recently switched from Vivace) and he suggested that they'd perfected brew temp and pressure. It was really hard to turn down the offer of 'a perfect doppio', but in light of my research, every double-shot I get needs to be under one of the new tampers. "No thanks, I have to drive".

I've pulled a few shots today, and will pull more tomorrow, changing up the tampers with every opportunity, working on the ranking.
Espresso Sniper

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Postby Psyd » Jul 23, 2006, 5:59 pm

So Wednesday I heard the news, the Home-Barista.com Tamper Roadshow is on to its next stop. I pulled a coupla doubles, and one last parting shot before I handed (yes, handed!) the package off to Mike, the next recipient. I got to enjoy another unique aspect of this circus that most of you will not have an opportunity to relish. I got to see the look in the eyes of a coffee-gear junkie as the lid fell back and revealed the plethora of serious 'spro weaponry, a veritable arsenal of tamp. I've seen less joy on the face of a kid finding a pony 'neath the tree on Christmas morning.


Top Three Picks*

*I chose my three based on something other than, "What three tampers would I like to have, and eliminate the rest of the field?" As I pointed out in the beginning, so the ranking and conclusions here won't mean quite as much as if I had. Although, I must admit, there was a bit of all that happening in the background. These are the three that I was most interested in learning more about, and not necessarily the three top choices were I allowed to simply reach in the bag and take what I wanted. If I were to reach in blind, however, and pick one at random to be mine for ever-and-ever-amen, I wouldn't be disappointed with any of these.

Thor Tamper
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I'd suggest this tamp for anyone who wishes to class up the joint, and has a hearth, or exposed beams in their place. Or natural rock, or a log cabin, or original art hanging on the wall, or wrought... well, they just look nice and feel great. I'm a bit concerned about how long the base (piston?!?) will last, but I'm enough of a woodworker to be able to re-finish it myself every year if need be. I keep wondering about the possibility of a sale price on the thing after the tour, to justify yet another coffee related purchase.

Clicker Tamp
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Great tamper, got me over my fear of taller tampers, and produced great results. As much as I like to tell myself that I'm really good at finding that thirty pound limit that I'm looking for, I find that my Espro (and this Clicker) produce far more reliable shots from Miss Silvia than any of the other tampers I use. While I am sure that there'll be quite a few purists that'll maintain that these are 'training wheels', I've come to love mine. We will all spend mountains of money to get a machine that requires less thinking, watching, doing, flushing, timing, and surfing, but this simple device that insures the same tamp every time (consistency, isn't that what we're looking for?) and reduces yet another variable in the quest get our noses turned up at it. Not me, I'll proudly use mine, and if I'd known about the clicker at the time, I'd have been hard-pressed to have made a choice. If I'd had the opportunity to use both in advance, I'd have taken the taller one, the Clicker.

Bumper Tamper
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There are so many criteria involved, that I would have to build a giant spreadsheet and rate each of the tampers on each criterion and do some sort of root/mean/square algorithm to give them a score that meant anything empirically. As a critic, I fail, because I'd really be happy to give any one of these a spot on my shelf.

That said, this one doesn't fit my hand, so I'd have a hard time rating it high, personally. For those that like that type of tamp, i.e., the flat palm tamper folk, I'd say go for it. It is built well and is far more comfortable and rugged than the aluminium tamper I have of a similar style, and I used that one as a basis of comparison. The base confused me for a bit, and I really didn't think that I'd use it. Today, I found myself thinking that I'd like to have something to tap the PF on lightly (as I'm afraid of tapping the handle of the Espro, and don't like tapping with the pistons) and something to tamp on instead of the counter top (thanks, Dan...). Presently, the top of the doser is the home for tamps at Silvia's house, and at my home the space between the two Mazzers is the home for tampers. I bought the greatest little rotating rubber stamp holder for my tampers, only to discover that the handles are generally too large too use the thing without major changes. Then I realized that I missed the Bumper and its lil rest! I cannot wait till they make one with a different handle! I wonder if they'll sell the bases separately. It'd open up a a huge market of people who want the tamp-rest but either prefer another style of tamper or already have a tamper that they don't want to give up.

All of the pistons that I used on all of the tampers that I reviewed were, at their very worst, really, really good. They all fit nice and tamped well, and made me realize that the tampers that I own are, at their best, merely adequate. Actually, they aren't bad at all, but the suffer from the comparison. Of course, I preferred the flat pistons to all others. I'm not sure if that's because I haven't practiced with a curved piston, or because they are designed for a different type of machine, or because they just aren't as good. Truthfully, I think that they are a bit like handles; they'll do the job no matter what you have, and mostly it comes down to personal preferences.
Espresso Sniper

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Postby Psyd » Jul 26, 2006, 4:12 pm

Just got another e-mail from Paul Pratt (designer and manufacturer of the Bumper Tamper), and he says that he has quite a bit more product in the works, like pitchers, shot glasses, and the possibility of the tamper rest that comes with the Bumper being available on it's own. Keep an eye out, and there may be a 'handicapped' version of the Bumper out soon!
Espresso Sniper

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Postby cannonfodder » Jul 26, 2006, 9:04 pm

Nice job.
Dave Stephens

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Postby Barefoot » Aug 02, 2006, 1:54 pm

Hey there guys, kyle here from the barefoot crew! It was totally a blast getting to play around with all these tampers, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

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

-Kyle

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Postby GonzoGourmand » Aug 02, 2006, 6:46 pm

Awesome experience for barista's, customers (home baristas), and roasters (who are looking for a new tamper for their home machine).

Extremely educational. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed using all of the tampers. My favorite hands down was the Thor, but I am very biased as I own a beautiful Thor camphor burl tamper. While my tamper is far more beautiful than the relatively plain maple? tamper in the Roadshow, I was still drawn to it and coveted it very much.

If I could only pick one tamper to own from that set, the Thor would be it. If I had to choose a production piece, it'd be a tough pick. I think I would go with the rather unusually designed CoffeeLab Design tamper, known to Barefoot as the "alien looking" tamper. Fits my hand great, uniquely adjustable height meaning it can be used by many different people, and I really dug the feel of the body. Very ergonomic, but very strange especially after becoming used to my Thor's thick body. The balance in all directions suited me. It seemed very comfortable to me. If I had to recommend one tamper for a shop, or for a home with multiple baristas or one barista who doesn't have access to trying multiple tampers out, I'd choose this one due to it's adjustable height. That is really cool and is a great way to prevent and reduce injuries while improving barista control and thus the quality of the taste of the espresso. Kudos to the designers for incorporating so many different new features. Looks pretty nice and different in my opinion and feels and works great. I didn't realize how much I liked it until it was gone, and it's very rare where I look at a non-Thor tamper without an air of snooty disdain for the "common tamper". I have a new appreciation for metal, plastic, and rubber tampers as I see the potential for innovation and perfection in a mass produced tamper. It is now on the "must have list" after I get just two more Thor tampers

Other surprises for me included the Bumper, which I though I'd hate due to the very simple shape and design, but to my surprise it was fairly comfortable and just worked really well due to the weighting and general design. If I had to pick a tamper for traveling for training or for festivals or for other rough conditions I think I would pick this one because it seems so durable and resistant to scratching, wear, and tear. The tamper rest is also new, different, and ultra cool (gotta get at least one)

La Forza also felt great in my hands. I had low expectations because it was so prettily painted but I sure did like it.

The Reg Barber Radical Pro was way, way, way too tall for me but a former Barefoot Barista, a tall lady with long fingers, loved it a whole lot.

Fantastic experience. I'd recommend all of them depending on one's hands and preference. The best and only way to know which one of these is meant for you is to find the Tamper Roadshow nearest you.

Sincerely,

Paul O'Day
Barefoot Coffee Roasters

(PostScript) While this is my first post, I just want to thank Home-Barista.com for helping spark my interest in espresso and for providing a critical portion of my never ending education on espresso and coffee, as I have been reading this awesome forum for over a year and a half now. Thanks a ton!

 
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