malachi wrote:On a related note... it seems like a lot of the things people do in coffee that seem odd are attempts to work around barista weaknesses rather than work on them.
I was mulling over Chris' comment that prompted this thread, and remembered my suggestion from an later discussion in Dosing to heap, distribute and pack = too much coffee
HB wrote:Try to avoid settling the grounds excessively during dosing and work on distribution. If all this NSEW / Stockfleth's move mumbo-jumbo is making your head swim, try the Chicago Chop (named by the crew at Intelligentsia Coffee): Dose as usual, remembering to rotate the portafilter as you dose (i.e., no "towering pyramid" allowed). Take a straight edge / back of a knife and gently "chop chop chop" across the grinds, simultaneously settling them and making a first pass at equalizing the distribution. Then simply pass the straight edge back and forth a few times to push the grounds towards areas needing filling, followed by a final sweep across to remove the excess. This should produce a nicely level, even density puck with the correct depth. Tamp and go.
Ah yes, the Chicago Chop. Before you deride the moniker, recall that Intelligentsia's crew took four of the top six positions
at the 2006 Great Lakes Regional Barista Competition. I'm always experimenting with different techniques, especially with ones that (a) are easy to explain, and (b) give a leg up to new home baristas. I tried it for a couple weeks and found the Chicago Chop was consistent and easy.
Meta-comment: Matt Riddle and the rest at Intelligentsia are clearly top-notch baristas. I wonder if they employ this distribution "crutch move" at their cafes, or if it's reserved for their less experienced baristas?
Along the same lines, the last couple weeks I also tried the "distribution needle stir" (sorry, I don't know of an official name). It worked best when I dosed to about 3/4 full (no tapping to settle the grounds at this point) and then gently stirred with a pointy implement in small circles (about half the portafilter in diameter and edging along the basket's perimeter).
Tracing circles in search of better distribution
The stirring action fluffed up the grinds to above the basket's top; I then simply cut a level edge across using said pointy implement. The finish was to tap down the grinds as I would normally do midway while dosing, which allowed about another 1/4 dose of grinds. Then I would finish with a light Stockfleth's move (rotational compression).
While it's hard to describe the motion, the needle stir appears to compensate for uneven dosing. Several of the extractions approached the exquisite evenness that Abe demonstrated in the Versalab M3 grinder review (shown below). The drawback is the dose amounts aren't as consistent as traditional dosing techniques. Although it was an interesting distraction, my focus these days is increasing efficiency, so in the end I returned to my usual routine (rotate three times while dosing one-half to three-quarters, tap tap, finish dosing, Stockfleth's move).
From Day 7 of the Versalab M3 Grinder - it just doesn't get better than this