Is leveling off the coffee necessary?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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Marshall

#1: Post by Marshall »

Do rules exist just so they can be broken? Maybe.

I'm just back from the 2009 Western Regional Barista Championship Finals. The spacious competition floor and plentiful seating allowed me a closer look than usual at barista technique. What surprised me was how one competitor after another (but not all), filled the basket, left a mound in the middle and then tamped without leveling off the mound. Most rapped the portafilter on the dosing fork once or twice to settle the grounds, but few leveled the coffee off.

The competitors were using doserless electronic Mazzer Majors with 83 mm burrs. Details here: http://www.espressoparts.com/product/MA ... Burrs.html.

I asked some of them about this, and they said that the Major ground so evenly and the funnel distributed so well that leveling was completely unnecessary, even with a very visible mound. Nick Griffith, the winner, was one of the non-levelers.

Of course nothing is ever really settled in these matters. The employer of one of the competing teams assured me this was nonsense and that all of his baristas in the competition were leveling their doses.

I'll try a few level-free shots at home to see what happens.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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roastaroma

#2: Post by roastaroma »

Marshall wrote:What surprised me was how one competitor after another (but not all), filled the basket, left a mound in the middle and then tamped without leveling off the mound.
Ciao Marshall,

Isn't that the same as updosing? I only just started doing that myself (tamping the mound) with my PV Lusso, and it seems to be working fine. If I can do without the Stockfleth Maneuver, neato. Someday I hope to dispense with the WDT as well! (That probably means a new grinder.)

Happy Brewing,
Wayne
"Non è la macchina, è la mano."
LMWDP #223

ccfore

#3: Post by ccfore »

Marshall wrote:
What surprised me was how one competitor after another (but not all), filled the basket, left a mound in the middle and then tamped without leveling off the mound. Most rapped the portafilter on the dosing fork once or twice to settle the grounds, but few leveled the coffee off.

I was watching the live stream of the WRBCF and noticed this and commented via the forum that leveling is obviously overrated. I was kind of surprised to see just a knock down then tamp also. The coffee, grinder and tamp also play a part in this so its hard to tell for sure. Veeeery interesting.
Todd / LMWDP #109

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Marshall

#4: Post by Marshall »

roastaroma wrote:Isn't that the same as updosing?
No. They were certainly updosing. But updosing doesn't preclude leveling.

As a follow-up, I will not be giving up leveling. The Cimbali doser simply doesn't leave a gentle, centered mound like the giant Mazzer's funnel.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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ChadTheNomad

#5: Post by ChadTheNomad »

That's interesting to learn. I always give the PF a few hits against the fork while dosing. It's a habit that helps distribute what my Mazzer invariably ends up throwing against the side of the basket, even if I do spin the PF while dosing.

As a thought, perhaps those with dosers can introduce a more concentrated funnel at the exit of the doser to help concentrate the grinds a little more. I dose very slowly, and that does help, but it still still has a bias to the left side of the PF. I can no doubt create conditions that make it necessary to distribute, but a little care in the dosing with a good grinder (i.e. not too many clumps) can help make most of the effort moot, imo.

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cannonfodder
Team HB

#6: Post by cannonfodder »

Interesting. I would think the center weighted dose would compact more where the coffee is mounded regardless of the grinder. That denser center would lead to over extracted perimeters with an under extracted center, a sour/bitter in one cup shot. I do a very minimal distribution with my Max, but I do level off the mound if I have on. I try to perimeter dose around the basket so I don't have a mound in the center of the basket. Then I just thump the portafilter on the tamp stand to level and give it a light tamp. I don't have access to a big doserless Mazzer so I cannot try it.
Dave Stephens

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shadowfax

#7: Post by shadowfax »

Marshall, I've noticed the same phenomenon of hands-free distribution. I know James Hoffman has talked about it, but I think I took notice when I saw my friends at Cuvée Coffee do this on their Super Jollies and K30s. It certainly works for them. And while Dan can thwack the crap out of the Super Jolly and hold the portafilter at a slight angle and get a perfectly centered mound that looks just like the ones out of the Mazzer Electronics, the K30 mounds are rarely so pretty--often fairly clumped-looking, in fact. But Clancy tamps them down, locks into the LM, and pulls. Always really nice results--even flow, and just wonderfully bodied shots.

I tried this with the Robur on my Vetrano some time ago with almost indistinguishable results from my carefully leveled shots. The Elektra T1 is a total $#%@& about it--really horrible results if you don't distribute the mound out to the sides: terrible channeling and sink shots below.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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malachi

#8: Post by malachi »

Marshall wrote: The competitors were using doserless electronic Mazzer Majors with 83 mm burrs. Details here: http://www.espressoparts.com/product/MA ... Burrs.html.
I thought the grinders were K30s (the WBC model).
"Taste is the only morality." -- John Ruskin

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Marshall

#9: Post by Marshall »

shadowfax wrote:... but I think I took notice when I saw my friends at Cuvée Coffee do this on their Super Jollies and K30s. It certainly works for them. And while Dan can thwack the crap out of the Super Jolly and hold the portafilter at a slight angle and get a perfectly centered mound that looks just like the ones out of the Mazzer Electronics, the K30 mounds are rarely so pretty--often fairly clumped-looking, in fact.
There was a K30 at the "fourth machine," where shots were pulled for the audience. One of the shop owners manning it complained about clumping (they prefer a super-fine grind for their coffees). I told him about the WDT and offered to run out and buy some yogurt. He politely declined.
Marshall
Los Angeles

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Marshall

#10: Post by Marshall »

malachi wrote:I thought the grinders were K30s (the WBC model).
No. The WBC machines are optional for the national and regional competitions. They had a K30 at the "fourth machine" and Mazzers for the competitors. But NS supplied three WBC-approved Aurelias for the competition.
Marshall
Los Angeles