To tamp or not to tamp

A haven dedicated to manual espresso machine aficionados.
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peacecup

#1: Post by peacecup »

This is a follow-on discussion from the Lever Smackdown thread, where the amount of tamp pressure used for lever machines has been discussed.
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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peacecup

#2: Post by peacecup »

In the Smackdown thread timo wrote:
I'd say rather that with domestic lever machines in general and especially the lower brew pressure domestic spring lever, using freshly roasted (though degassed) beans and a good micro-adjustable or stepless grinder, you are more likely to get consistently good extractions with a very light tamp or no tamp at all. One should not be amazed by this. That you are amazed shows how very effective the tampanista propaganda has been.
He actually should have written:

"In my opinion...you are more likely to get consistently good extractions with a very light tamp or no tamp at all."

Because, this is his opinion. I've been getting good extractions with the Ponte Vecchio for two years, across a broad degree of grind/dose/tamp parameters.

I will admit to once having read that a 30# tamp is standard, and that I followed this advice early in my espresso days, as I'm sure many have. A good extraction can be had on the Ponte Vecchio if one does a handstand tamp, provided the grind is suitably coarse. And, with a suitably coarse grind and the proper dose, one can take multiple pulls on the Ponte Vecchio and get good extractions WITHOUT DISTURBING THE PUCK. This is a FACT (although, of course, the "good extraction" part is subjective.).

I will NOT say that using a hard tamp and a suitably coarse grind/proper dose that one is "MORE LIKELY to get consistently good extractions", because I could provide no evidence for this. But neither has timo provided any to support his claim to the reverse.

I hope to have time to prepare some illustrations of this in the future, but these competing ideas can be "modled" using physical principles (that I am only vaguely familiar with).

1. GRIND FINENESS: Consider that if one does not to tamp, the grind will need to be suitably fine to produce the pressure necessary for an ~30 sec extraction (we will leave dose out of this for the moment, but of course this is also very important). The finely ground coffee will be extracted over a 30-sec period, and water will carry away X amount of solids from each grain of coffee. The relatively small grain size will lead to a greater proportion of those solids being extracted than they will from a larger grain over the same period of time. Conversly, because of smaller interstitial (between-grain) spaces, less water eill be flowing by any particular grain than it would if the grain size were larger. This could lead to relatively LESS solid being extracted from a given grain. Until someone has given this a lot more thought than I currently have time for, timo cannot make the claim that one is "MORE LIKELY to get consistently good extractions" with a finer grind.

2. FLAVOR PROFILES: Added to the fluid dynamic question just briefly introduced above, is the question of flavor profile of extraction as a grain of coffee is exposed to water. Which flavors come out first, and which last? Do all bean types follow the same pattern? Does roast degree inlfuence this? How about bean freshness? . Timo cannot make the claim that one is "MORE LIKELY to get consistently good extractions" with a finer grind unitl he presents some evidence re: flavor profiles during extraction.

3. DOSE: Added to the two above is the question of dose, because it will influece them both. A greater dose increases pressure - one therefore needs to decrease grind fineness appropriately to compensate. Water flowing through a thicker puck will behave differently than it will though a thinner puck - and the flavors will be extracted differently. This will also need to be addressed.

Lastly, as every scientist is woefully aware of, there are the INTERACTIONS between factors in any experiment, such as the three above terms (and probably a suite of others). Simply put, this means that the effect of GRIND FINENESS will not be the same at Dose 1 as it is a Dose 2 (or Flavor 1 vs. Flavor 2), etc. etc. etc.

I've been giving a lot of thought to these ideas the past several years. This is why I am RIGHTLY amazed that one can get such great results from a spring lever ACROSS such a range of variables.

I hope others will put forward some ideas that might, in the long-term, be testable to some degree. For now I'll just shut up and drink the coffee.

PC
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

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mogogear

#3: Post by mogogear »

Not to dodge your focus entirely here - but I have just today re-read the Lever smackdown, the spin-off thread "Multi pull" thread and now this post. Width of experience is what I see, and validation of that experience.

Wow- The convergence, tangency and dogma fluttering around the threads lately! Things I agree with- things not. Some presented with great care and persuasion and some just more raw but all genuine in belief. Some of the members here have a scientific approach and some instinctual.

Having owned and used a "almost commercial" lever like the Conti to most of the home levers available( spring and manual) as well as a couple of HX machines - some rotary and some vibe pumped- there is a lots of differences to appreciate. I have done so. All of them are not perfect comparisons to each other but we all can't have all the machines so we can all have the common "espresso experience". My experiences have not "tightened" or hardened my routine- it has broadened and softened my approach to espresso. My shots have become an expression of my "experience" and that changes as I operate different machines. Steve R would perhaps relate that all Porches are not driven the same way on the same road course by even the same person. Even the same make and model have subtle differences, much less different models and years with different equipment generations by different drivers.

It is in these threads I love to see the variety of opinions and approaches. All is valid / nothing is valid. It is so informative to just read a stated opinion that I may hold and see it promoted and then pulled apart for validation or repudiation. I have double pulled before, but not now. I may return to the practice one day- and why I do not know yet. Thats OK for me. I will let my mouth tell me what is next.

I have heavy tamped and then nutated and then softened- no-tamped and now I am moderate and a stronger tamp. Machine ground for a long time and now rotate to hand milled as I please. So I celebrate this discordance. I love to always read yet another way to interact with the beans I have. IMHO-This total HB group is the most dynamic and accessible coffee on the web today- thanks for giving me so much to read and reflect on.

We are a passionate group- thanks for developing such a great magnet for our commonalities! You know- I am sorry for this ramble... It just struck me as I read way too many posts today.... shutting up to go sit back in the corner.
greg moore

Leverwright
LMWDP #067

grong

#4: Post by grong »

I think that even distribution is a big factor. I use Mr. Brown's Distribution technique. I heap the grounds into the basket, cover with another basket, then one swift upward fling of the grounds and they settle nicely. There is a nice sloping at the edges of the coffee grounds, which helps when tamping, as few grounds are lodged between tamper and basket wall.

For me, the best shots occur on the Lusso with a relatively fine grind, distribution, and a light tamp. I adjust the grind so that the espresso flows somewhat freely, in the 6 second per pull range. Usually, this makes for a lighter, sweeter cup, than if the grind were finer to slow down the extraction.

I enjoy the two-pull doubles, and the one-pull singles. The singles are usually sweeter and lighter, and the double pulls have a darker taste profile. I choose to suit my mood or just for variety.

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timo888

#5: Post by timo888 »

What I am trying to do, peacecup, is to dispel the notion that a very light tamp is not ready for clinical trials in humans, so to speak. A light tamp is not the risky (or unheard of) thing that many seem to think it is. That is what I meant when I said you shouldn't be amazed that good espresso can come of it.

Not that good or even excellent espresso cannot come from a heavy tamp: my assertion was not that one approach produces better coffee than another. I said that you are more likely to get consistently good results with a light tamp or no tamp at all when using a domestic lever.

The reasoning behind this is quite basic and doesn't require analysis of all the other important variables you discuss: it is easier to be consistent when you're NOT DOING something than when you ARE DOING something. The lightest kiss of a tamp or no tamp at all is simply easier to reproduce than is a 30-pound tamp.

Regards
Timo

grong

#6: Post by grong »

Oh, yes. If I did not tamp, I could not fit enough coffee into my single basket to suit my taste. So, it's a light tamp for me. Pucks come out in one piece. Temperature is dictated by boiler pressure topping out at .9 or .95 bar.

For me, it is not an engineer's project, a race with the clock and machine, nor am I pushing the machine to it's physical limits. I love my Lusso because I consistently get espresso that I enjoy making and drinking.

luc

#7: Post by luc »

Ok here comes the newbie question of the day... sorry to muck up your thread with it. :oops:

Trying to understand all the fine details of making a good espresso I've been reading this thread even though I don't have a lever type machine. I've got a super(?) automatic - the Gaggia Syncrony Digital (hahha... just the name is enough to let me know that I'm in the wrong thread here.. :shock: ) So my question is...

Since my machine is an automatic... there is no tamping to be done? :?:
The machine does it and I have no control over whether it's tamped or not? :?:

cheers,
Luc

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peacecup

#8: Post by peacecup »

As a matter of fact I pulled a more-coarsely ground shot this PM that was bitter.

Although I like to discuss the theoretical aspects, I am generally a "if it tastes good drink it" guy. I consider almost all of my espresso experiences god shots.

My intention in starting this thread is to explore whether a finer grind/light tamp actually DOES "usually" make better espresso. I've read somewhere that tamping in Italy is typically lighter than it is in the US. Perhaps that's why, as timo notes, most machines come with tampers that North Americans consider useless. Most Ponte Vecchio users appear to prefer a lighter tamp - can anyone weigh in on WHAT FLAVORS (or other characteristics, i.e. crema, etc) seem to be accentuated by this. Timo, since you have repeatedly recommended the lighter tamp, HOW, SPECIFICALLY, does it improve your espresso?

In theory, a two finely-ground particles should extract better than one larger particle, that is, they might extract all the way through, whereas only the surface layer of the large one might be extracted. Will the taste be improved if all of the bean is extracted, or is it better is only part is extracted? Does bitterness hide at the end, or does it come at the beginning?

In relation to taking multiple pulls, I'm not sure whether a hard or soft tamp works better. And, re: repeatability, if one just "tamps as hard as one can" every time, this seems easily repeatable.
LMWDP #049
Hand-ground, hand-pulled: "hands down.."

grong

#9: Post by grong »

If I can get what I think are excellent results by tamping light, that is what I am prone to do, because it makes the whole espresso experience that much more enjoyable for me, and the espresso is yummy. If one grinds relatively coarse and tamps as hard as one can, it might be a case of working harder than one needs to. Over time, this can lead to sore wrists, elbows, shoulders, and other body parts. How hard will you be able to tamp when you are 100?

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timo888

#10: Post by timo888 »

peacecup wrote: ...My intention in starting this thread is to explore whether a finer grind/light tamp actually DOES "usually" make better espresso. I've read somewhere that tamping in Italy is typically lighter than it is in the US. Perhaps that's why, as timo notes, most machines come with tampers that North Americans consider useless. Most Ponte Vecchio users appear to prefer a lighter tamp - can anyone weigh in on WHAT FLAVORS (or other characteristics, i.e. crema, etc) seem to be accentuated by this. Timo, since you have repeatedly recommended the lighter tamp, HOW, SPECIFICALLY, does it improve your espresso?
Cannonfodder once quoted an adage that went something like this: the amateur practices until he gets it right, but the professional practices until he cannot get it wrong. A light kiss of a tamp, not a heavy smooch but a mere brush of the lips, has improved my espresso-making in that sense.
peacecup wrote: In theory, a two finely-ground particles should extract better than one larger particle, that is, they might extract all the way through, whereas only the surface layer of the large one might be extracted. Will the taste be improved if all of the bean is extracted, or is it better is only part is extracted? Does bitterness hide at the end, or does it come at the beginning?
Bitterness, in my experience, is caused primarily by the brew water temperature being too hot, not primarily by the fineness of the grind, though the overextraction due to temperature can be made worse by a very fine grind. A coarser grind might just rescue such an overextraction from the sink.
peacecup wrote:And, re: repeatability, if one just "tamps as hard as one can" every time, this seems easily repeatable.
If there are two paths to repeatability, Grasshopper, one requiring effort and the other effortless, why not be like water itself, and take the path of lesser resistance? 8)

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Regards
Timo