Coffee & Coffee Gear Misconceptions: 02 – Expensive Tamper = Better Extraction

One of the myths and misconceptions out there is that you need an expensive tamper to pull good espresso shots. This couldn’t be further from the truth. An espresso tamper serves one main purpose, which is tamping or compacting the coffee tightly together as to ensure proper and even flow of water throughout the puck. Now, the most important feature of a tamper to ensure a quality tamp, is the base size. Water is lazy and it will always take the path of least resistant. A smaller diameter tamper, will only tamp part of the coffee but not all of it. This will cause the coffee that was tamped to be overextracted while the ring of coffee that was not tamped (due to the smaller diameter tamper base) to be underextracted. The mix of underextraction and overextraction will cause the flavor to be off. For under $30 you can find a perfect size tamper, depending on the size of your basket, that will last you a lifetime and will do the job perfectly (assuming you have the proper tamping technique down).

Many people believe that tamper weight is very important and they seek heavier tampers made out of stainless, metal, etc. but I personally disagree with that. As explained earlier, the size of the tamper is the most important feature of a tamper, weight is merely a preference as some people prefer a certain heft in their hand while tamping. Having said that, there is a case to be made for lighter tampers but that’s a different conversation for another day.

Having said that, many people will spend $200 on tampers, which is perfectly fine, but keep in mind that many of those tampers serve and do the same job the $30 tamper does. The main difference is that the $200 tamper most likely has a handle made out of fancy wood or exquisite materials with unmistakable craftsmanship (and other cosmetic attributes) while the $30 tamper is made out of metal or other plain more modest materials. The $200 tamper is most likely beautiful to look at but that’s about it. There is one exception to this however, some tampers that do cost $150 or more actually do a lot more than simply ensure a full tamp of the coffee puck. Tampers such as The Force Tamper, Bravo Tamper, Espro Calibrated Tamper etc. also ensure a perfectly leveled tamp as they sit on top of the basket ensuring that when the tamper base comes in contact with the coffee, it is fully leveled, this ensures that the water is (by sliding to the lower side of the puck) not going to prefer one side over the other. A sloping, uneven tamp can be seen from a bottomless portafilter if the coffee stream/cone is off center and can also be seen if using a double spout portafilter and coffee is coming out of one side of the spout more than the other. The Force Tamper will even go a step further than most tampers by applying the same tamping force, regardless of dose. This convenient feature is nice to have if you change dosage or coffees as you won’t need to adjust the travel distance of the tamper to ensure proper pressure.

To summarize, an expensive tamper won’t do a better job than a cheaper one if both tampers are appropriately sized for the coffee basket. The only time a more expensive tamper will do a better job if it can ensure a leveled tamp (by sitting on top of the coffee basket) and/or if it can ensure a consistent tamping pressure/force, shot after shot.

Can the Acaia Lunar be Used for Manual Coffee Brewing?

When Acaia released the Lunar, they advertised it as the only scale you will ever need to pull espresso shots. The company, as you would expect, highlighted all its features such as water resistance as pros for espresso enthusiasts but one aspect of it really stood out to most people and it wasn’t a feature, the app or the water resistance capabilities instead it was the price! The Lunar retails for $220. Yes, that’s correct, $220 for a scale that’s designed for the sole purpose of pulling espresso shots consistently and tracking those shots via an app.

Because of this price, consumers started wondering if the Lunar, despite its small size, can double as a scale for manual coffee brewing methods such as V60 and Chemex. Thinking that way is a normal and rational human behavior as people try to maximize utility or benefits for every dollar spent. Now, Acaia also sells the Pearl scale, which is a scale dedicated to manual coffee brewing, but this scale is also not cheap at $150. In other words, you will need close to $400 if you would like to have a dedicated coffee scale for manual brewing and an espresso scale for pulling espresso shots and have both scales from Acaia.

The good news is that the Lunar can definitely be used for coffee brewing, as long as you are using the included mat that goes on top of the scale. Watch the video below and see how for $220, you can get yourself an excellent espresso scale that can also double down as a manual coffee scale.

How Involved Should Your Business Be in Politics?

The short answer? Not at all! Here’s my logic on this. Currently, the nation is extremely divided and what that means is that if you, as a business, take the left’s position on a social or political issue, you risk alienating the right and if you take the right’s position on a social or political issue, you risk alienating the left.

As a business, especially if you have investors, your job is to make money. Sure, it is important for your business to stand up for something and have a social cause(s) attached to it but there are plenty of neutral social issues (instead of political positions) and ways your business can get involved without alienating anyone. Some examples include:

  • Veterans issues
  • Autism
  • Breast and other form of cancers
  • People with disabilities
  • Homeless assistance
  • Obesity and health choices
  • Children education improvement
  • Healthier lunch options for schools
  • Community building and cleaning

These are all issues that the left and right can get behind and won’t risk alienating people on either side. If you, the owner of the business, feel one way or the other on some hot button social or political issues such as immigration or refugees you may want to consider keeping your opinion out of the business. You may use your personal social media accounts or other personal platforms to publish your personal opinions while making sure that your customers understand that those opinions are yours and yours only and do not reflect the views of XYZ Coffee Company.

I understand that if you have a physical location/coffee business it may be tempting to attach your business to the political opinion of your business’s geographical location. An example can be a coffee business located in San Francisco, California, where it is predominantly liberal, taking a liberal position on illegal immigration. The issue with doing this is that you may be limiting your business if you are selling coffee and coffee products online or if you have plans to expand your business beyond your current location. A customer located in a predominantly conservative city/state such as Texas, who loves your freshly roasted coffee, may end up taking their money elsewhere.

The backlash Starbucks received after their decision to hire refugees is a great example as to why businesses shouldn’t dive into politics. This article from Fortune.com talks about the boycott Donald Trump’s supporters have initiated and financial impact on Starbucks as a result.

Staying politically neutral is best for your business.

The Importance of Consistency in Coffee Catering and How to Achieve it

Very few things are more frustrating than ordering a drink or a meal and you love it but then when you go back to the same place and order the same drink or meal, it comes out different. Consistency is much more obvious for brick and mortar coffee shops but unlike serving coffee from a fixed place where the same people may stop by every day for their daily dose of caffeine (the frequency of order from the same customer is not as spaced out as with a catering customer), coffee catering is mobile and you may end up serving different people every day so why does consistency matter? It matters because with coffee catering you may still serve repeat clients. Think about a situation where you were hired by a company to serve a group of 50 employees who are out in a resort or a hotel for their annual conference or new products launch. In this case, you will be serving the same customers every day and so consistency will matter. A client (company) who will hire you once and receive a mixed feedback will probably not be a repeat client. 

This brings us to an important question, how can you achieve consistency in the coffee catering business (some of these concepts apply to brick and mortar as well)? I have narrowed the answer down to two main factors: 1) People and 2) Equipments and Supplies. In the table below, I summarized qualities required in every category to achieve consistency.

How to Achieve a Consistent Cup
People Equipment and Supplies
Training to all baristas so no matter who’s working, the result is still the same.  Weight-based grinders or seprate scale to weigh grounded coffee
Passion about the craft. This will make it easier for the barista to do what’s right. Weigh shots the shots (don’t eyeball or go with volume)
Patience to learn, grow and be able to repeat the inputs to achieve the same output (consistency) Espresso machines with brew temperature control (PID)
Use the same coffee from proven roasters who have a good tracking record in being as consistent as possible with their roast profile    

 

Coffee & Coffee Gear Misconceptions: 01 – More Money = Better Coffee

I have decided to start a series of articles and videos (on my YouTube channel) to address some of the misconceptions out there related to coffee and coffee gear. These articles and videos are not intended for the professional barista or the advanced home Barista who may have already upgraded their home coffee equipments to a semi-professional or semi-commercial equipments. Instead, the articles and videos are intended to provide basic understanding and things to keep in mind when buying coffee gear or when looking to improve coffee and espresso shots.

The first misconception I’d like to address is that some people believe that spending more money on equipments and upgrading their Coffee gear will automatically result in better coffee (take their coffee game to the next level). The reason I’d like to address this first is because from my experience and from my time roaming and reading the coffee forums, home baristas and especially the new comers to the coffee world, tend to constantly upgrade their equipment in pursuing the God shot or the best coffee possible. This pursuit is problematic for many reasons and can be a money pit for home baristas for the following reason: the law of diminishing returns. 

You see, the law of diminishing returns, which refers to a point at which the level of profits/returns or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested, applies here. To illustrate this point I will be focusing on coffee grinders as an example, as it is one of the most discussed and upgraded piece of coffee equipment. I will also be making a set of assumptions in regards to each of the grinders’ performances as it relates to taste, based on online user feedback and coffee forums discussions. To start, I have chosen the following grinders and rounded up their prices (for ease of calculations).

  • Hario Manual coffee grinder (Hario Ceramic) = $50
  • Breville Smart Grinder Pro = $200 (4X the price of the Hario Ceramic)
  • Baratza Sette 270 = $400 (2X the price of the Smart Grinder Pro)
  • Mazzer Super Jolly Electronic Doserless = $1200 (3X the price of the Sette)
Grinder Price Utility/Benefits (scale of 1 to 100)
Hario Ceramic $50.00 5
Breville Smart Grinder Pro $200.00 25
Baratza Sette 270 $400.00 75
Mazzer Super Jolly Electronic $1,200.00 80

Looking at the table, you can visualize the point of diminishing returns in this case, which is going from the Baratza Sette to the Super Jolly. In this move, you would be spending $800 more just so you can gain 5 additional points or units of benefits! Definitely not a good value. On the other hand, the best move value wise seems to be going from the Hario Ceramic manual grinder to the Breville Smart Grinder pro as an additional $150 multiplied your points or units of benefits by 5 times!
Please keep in mind that the table above does not take into consideration things like durability, looks & design preference by the user, etc. This table is to simply illustrate the point that spending more money may lead to a better coffee but only up to a certain point, after which any incremental increase in coffee quality will require a disproportionate (much higher) dollar investment.