When we are brewing espresso, there is one thing we are working hard to maintain at all times – making sure that when we extract our coffee, the water is running evenly through the whole coffee puck. If we don’t achieve this – the water channels through part of the puck, causing overextraction to that section of the coffee puck and underextraction to the rest of the coffee. The result in the cup is a confused flavour – both sour and bitter.
Two main steps in the Espresso making process control how evenly the water runs through the puck. The first is one which is often overlooked by baristas – distribution. The second is one most are more familiar with – tamping. Let’s break down these steps to make sure your puck preparation is in top order.
Distribution is the act of making sure the coffee grounds are sitting evenly in the basket, before we go to tamp. Depending on your grinder, this can be easy or hard to orchestrate. Electronic grinders with a funnel help guide the coffee into the middle of the portafilter, and it will naturally disperse pretty evenly as it falls into the basket from here. In this case, gently tapping the side of the portafilter with the palm of your hand after the coffee has dosed will help settle the coffee pile evenly.
If you have a grinder with a dosing chamber, getting even distribution can be a little more tricky. As we’re moving the dosing lever, position your portafilter so that the basket is sitting directly under where the coffee falls out of the dosing chamber. If coffee falls to one side of the basket, reposition your basket so that you can fill the other side with a similar amount of coffee. Also, try and keep the dosing lever moving as the coffee is grinding, so that you’re dosing smaller amounts of coffee at a time. If you allow the coffee to build up in one section of the dosing chamber, all of a sudden a big clump will fall into the portafilter all at once, making it hard to distribute. Once you have the correct dose in your portafilter, use the hand tapping method to settle the coffee evenly once again. If you’ve got more coffee in one side of the basket than the other, you can tilt your portafilter in the opposite direction while you tap, which will help even out the coffee puck.
We want the coffee sitting fairly evenly in the portafilter before we go to tamp. The other thing to be wary of when it comes to distribution is the density of the coffee in the portafilter. Uneven density will cause the water to channel down the less dense side of the puck, again leading to uneven extraction. If you evenly distribute your coffee, it makes it a lot easier to tamp down nice and straight.
Once we have nice even distribution of our coffee, the next step is to tamp the coffee down. For starters – a quality tamper with the right size for your basket will help you to get an even tamp.
When tamping, it is important to position your body in such a way that you are using your whole arm for leverage when placing pressure on the puck. This will avoid putting strain on your wrist, which will hurt very quickly if you tamp with just your hand.
Firstly, sit your tamper on the coffee grounds in the portafilter, and use your thumb and index finger to adjust the tamper in relation to the edge of the basket, to make sure the tamper is level.
After this, move your fingers around the tamper handle, and push down steadily on the coffee. The moment you notice that the coffee isn’t compressing further under normal pressure, you have tamped enough. The most important part of tamping is compacting the coffee bed in a nice, even way, not how hard you compact the coffee. The pressure of the coffee machine will be much more than you can force the coffee down with your tamper!
Tamping and Distribution are crucial to good Espresso extraction.
Master these, and you’ll be well on your way to brewing consistently great Yahava koffee.
If you live near one of our stores – you can book in to our Barista Induction course to get some practical experience on the Espresso Machine. Read more about our locations.