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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!