In keeping with my lifelong philosophy that you need to experience things to understand them, I broke down and bought a "leveling and distribution" tool last week. This one was only $27 on Amazon
, and I had a powerful urge to see if it made a difference.
I adjusted it for depth until it just left a nice flat surface, tamped as usual, and pulled away. I wasn't having a problem with channeling or spatter anyway, so I can't honestly say it made any difference in the cup or on the counter. But that beautiful, level surface does make me feel good every time I look at it - and maybe it'll reduce or eliminate the spurters I get a few times a year. So I use it regularly (for now, anyway...)
I'd shucked 3 dozen oysters Saturday night and we filled up before we ate them all - so I put the uneaten ones in a container & made fried oyster po' boys Sunday. We scarfed 'em down along with turkey breast sandwiches and a bottle of wine for dinner, and we were feeling great when it was time for coffee. I did my usual thing, spun the groomer, flushed, and pulled............and I realized just as I lifted the lever that I forgot to tamp. And it didn't matter at all!
I'm using Malabar Gold right now, ground much finer than I grind most beans both because that's the roaster's recommendation and because I run line pressure preinfusion while I'm steaming. I get beads of espresso around the circumference of the basket and it's ready to drip at about 30 seconds, which is how long it takes me to foam & texturize and to clean the wand. So I preinfuse until my hands are free, then lift the lever all the way to pull the shot.
Since that epiphany, I've pulled about 10 shots with no tamp and with varying pressures. It makes absolutely no difference at all whether or not I tamp. Eye opening!!