For this week, I decided to take advantage of the fact that The Force Tamper, which I have reviewed and blogged about before, have been sent to me with multiple bases and make a video to compare the effects the shape of a tamper base plays in the extraction of an espresso shot. What I’m after is to find out if there is a basis to claims that some bases perform better than others taste and looks wise. I chose the following bases for the test as they are more commonly used/known:
For this test, the following variables are constant:
Temperature is maintained at around 200F by doing a 5 to 6 seconds cooling flush
The basket is the same one used across all 4 shots, a VST 20g basket in a bottomless portafilter
The input is 17g of coffee and the output is around 32g to 34g of liquid.
Distribution evenness was maintained by using the WDT distribution technique (paper clip to distribute/agitate the coffee grounds in the basket) and a Chinese knockoff distribution tool similar to the OCD.
The following are pictures showing the shots 10 seconds from the moment the first drop of liquid appeared from the basket. This will give a basis for comparison that’s pretty consistent.
First shot is using the Curve base:
Second shot using the C-Flat base:Third shouting the Ripple base:
Fourth shot using the Flat base:
Looking at the pictures, I seem to think that the Ripple and Flat bases have performed best. Taste wise, I haven’t noticed any major difference, except that the shot extracted using the Curve base tasted unbalanced and the shot extracted using the Flat base tasted the most balanced. Please note that these tasting notes are based on my palette, others may be able to detect much deeper differences and complicated notes that I may have not tasted. I personally use a flat base as I find it to be the easiest to work with and the most consistent but others have found other base shapes to be best for their coffees, use or machines. You can also watch the video below for the full extractions and feel free to leave me comments with any questions or suggestions you may have.
This weekend was a busy one. On Saturday my wife and family celebrated my 32nd birthday and went above and beyond to get me a cake fit for a coffee addict/lover like myself. My wife tricked me into believing that we will be going to my parents house to celebrate my birthday when they were in fact all coming to my house. The biggest surprise of the night, aside from not knowing that people are coming to my house, was the cake. My wife used one of my instagram latte art pictures and worked with the baker to make me a custom-made cake in the shape of a latte mug with latte art. The cake stole the show and people started taking pictures of the cake instead of myself!
On Sunday, we decided to go walk around New Hope in Pennsylvania and pay Sky Roast Coffee a visit. Sky Roast Coffee is a new coffee place located in the newly constructed New Hope Ferry Market. Ferry market is located on Main Street and it’s home to 13 vendors offering different culinary experiences and a wide variety of food and drinks. The owner, Alan Cohen, is an active member of the Home Barista forum and his journey to obtain and open this place is well documented there and I had intended on visiting his place once he was in business. Alan was on premises and so I introduced myself and congratulated him on the shop. I proceeded to order a medium roast coffee from their batch brew and my wife ordered a chai tea. The place has a bar and stools to sit and the seating is facing the beautiful 3-group Victoria Arduino Athena copper.
Alan was working on tweaking the grind for optimal espresso shot extraction and then offered me a double shot and tasted excellent. It was balanced with plenty of body, very different from the usual, more common acidic and floral notes I get at most other specialty coffee places. I then proceeded to check the collection of whole bean coffees for sale and picked a Brazilian blend that promised a lot of chocolate notes and very little acidity, exactly the way I like it. One thing I liked about the package was the easy open tab on the back of the bag. Opening a sealed bag of coffee usually requires scissors or you can try to open it by hand and risk having your expensive freshly roasted beans fly all over your kitchen!
After I went back, Alan offered me their signature drink, a Maple Syrup Cortado! The drink was delicious, the maple syrup balances out the bitterness in the coffee and adds to the sweetness of the steamed milk that makes up 50% or more of the Cortado.
Aside from the espresso and the espresso-based drinks. Batch brews and pour over coffee are also available and by the looks of the pour over station and the smell of the freshly ground coffee, I expect the coffee to taste delicious.
New Hope and its neighbor, Lambertville in New Jersey already have excellent coffee places such as Rojo’s Roastery and the Lambertville Trading Company but Sky Roast Coffee, with its hands on approach by the owner, the excellent coffee selection, freshly roaster beans and excellent location, takes the already excellent coffee scene in Bucks County to a new high. These are great days for specialty coffee and coffee aficionados in and around Bucks County.
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.
Couple of months ago, Zubing Sun, the owner and inventor of The Force Tamper posted a video on Instagram demoing a tamper base (for The Force Tamper) that can distribute the grounds inside the basket before tamping, needless to say I was intrigued and impressed. Zubing graciously sent me couple of units for review along with a clear glass basket so that I’m able to see in action the distribution done by the new base.
As pictured below, the base has a thin metal bar going across the diameter of the base Zubing sent me one flat and one ripple base. This thin metal bar moves up and down as needed and depending on the amount of coffee in the basket.
The way it works, you sit your The Force Tamper on the basket like you would do for tamping, except instead of pressing down right away you let the weight of the Tamper sink inside the basket and then you rotate the tamper handle few times at either direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). This motion leverages the metal bar that’s built in the base to sweep or distribute the coffee.
Here’s a video showing how it works
Here’s another video showing the distributor tool in action, using a clear basket that was designed to showcase the distribution action.
Before receiving this base, my flow involved using a separate distribution tool (similar to the OCD distribution tool) to distribute the coffee and then tamping the coffee. There are 3 main things I like about this base:
No need for a separate tool. Distribution and tamping can now be done using one tool and that’s The Force Tamper.
No need to adjust the depth of the distribution tool. If you have owned a distribution tool, you know that every time you change dosing or coffee you will need to manually adjust the depth of the blade of the distribution tool to get a flat, even puck with no holes or irregularities. Since the distribution done by the base relies on the weight of the tamper, there are no adjustments needed.
The price. For $29 you get a base for tamping and a distribution tool. This price is unbeatable on the market as the cheapest distribution tool out there cost more than $80. Even the Chinese knockoffs of the OCD distribution tools cost more than $40.
Overall, I’m very happy with the new distribution base for The Force Tamper. It does the job effectively and efficiently while saving you some cash in the process.
Last year my wife and I visited the 2016 New York Coffee Festival and we had a great time. My wife is not as crazy about coffee as myself but she enjoyed the live music, the excellent selection of talented up and coming musicians and the live latte art booth at the festival (yes, a live music indoor set is part of the show!). Last weekend my wife and I decided to repeat the experience and visit the New York Coffee Festival again.
Last year, the festival was held at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, which was not a good idea. The 69th Regiment Armory is an indoor venue with high ceiling but no AC! This issue became the source of many negative reviews and feedback to the festival’s organizers as the place got warm and people were sweating profusely, especially after few espresso shots. This year, the location was different and much better as it was held in the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th street between the 6th and the 7th Avenue. This place was better, cleaner and much cooler (climate wise).
One of the great things about this year’s festival is the fact that more manufacturers and more roasters showed up. More showing at these festivals, especially by equipment manufacturers, is extremely important. Currently, major distributors such as Seattle Coffee Gear and Whole Latte Love are spread out and they carry certain brands of machines, grinders and even cups so for the consumer who’s looking at different brands and would love to be able to compare them side by side (almost) and pull shots on both, a Coffee Festival or show maybe their best bet.
This year, I was excited to see Breville attending the show for the first time. They had their brand new Oracle Touch on display along with the Smart Grinder Pro (excellent grinder for the price point), the BES920XL dual boiler machine and of course their new coffee maker. Their staff (or the staff they hired for the show) was friendly and they let me pull shots, steam milk, and play around with the machine. While at the booth, I met one of my heros in the coffee industry and that is Chris Baca! I have been a big fan of Chris, I listen to his podcast, I follow him on Instagram (@realchrisbaca) and I watch his YouTube videos. Chris was down to earth and was open to taking pictures and really seemed like an even cooler guy in person than online!
On my way out they give us a bag with a microfiber cloth/towel on it to wipe the machine! Neat!
Also, attending the show this year for the first, is Commandante hand grinders from Germany. This was also great to see as the grinder is not sold by retailers I know and the show was one of the few opportunities to be able to touch it and play with it.
It is also important to note that some manufacturers from last year were also attending this year, which is always a good sign. Manufacturers include Bodum and La Marzocco. However, I noticed that some manufacturers were not attending this year, which I thought was a little disappointing as I’d personally love to see as many manufacturers as possible. Espresso Parts, Espresso Supply/Bonavita are among the ones missing this year. Also, it is otable to mention that some of the attendees this year had a weaker showing compared to last year, those include Nuova Simonelli. Nuova Simonelli last year had the Oscar 2 on display and they allowed guests to play with it and pull shots. This year there was none of that and the only Oscar 2 on display wasn’t even plugged!
The show also featured plenty of roasters from New York and elsewhere around the country such as Stumptown, Cafe Grumpy, Apes & Peacocks and others. Overall, the show was exciting and I can’t wait for next year and hopefully see more manufacturers on display!
In my last week’s blog post, I listed 5 things I don’t like about my Nuova Simonelli Musica. In this week’s post, I’m listing 5 things I love about it.
The steam power, wand and tip: if you’re like me and you steam a lot of milk and love latte art then you will appreciate this steam on the Musica. The Musica has a 4 hole steam tip, the same tip used on the Nuova Simonelli machines used in the Barista Championships. You can watch this video here to have an idea for the steaming power. You can also watch some of my posts on Instagram to see examples of latte art.
Temperature consistency: so far my experience has been that before I pull a shot, if I flush the same amount of water after the flash boiling stops (cooling flush), the temperature in the cup is pretty consistent so is the taste (assuming other variables are constant)
Design: beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I personally find the design to be very attractive and a nice combination between modern and retro making it a good fit with other coffee equipment or appliances.
LED strips: you may think that the lighting on the LUX model is a gimmick and unnecessary but I personally find it extremely cool and a nice WOW factor when I have people over at the house.
Tank and drip tray capacity: both are huge compared to the size of the machine. The reservoir holds 3 liter of water while the drip tray holds close to a liter. Both don’t need to be frequently refilled/empties often. Coming from a Silvia, which had a small water reservoir and a tiny, almost nonfunctional, drip tray, the Musica is a relief.
For those of you who don’t know or didn’t read my earlier posts, I’m the owner of a Nuova Simonelli Musica that I purchased off of eBay for 40% of its retail price! The Musica was a flop for Nuova Simonelli simply because it was double the price of its smaller sister the Oscar without double the features. Below I will list 5 things I don’t like about the Musica:
Crazy price: the Nuova Simonelli Musica Lux (with the LED strips) retailed new for $2500 for the tank model while the Oscar retailed for close to $1000 and the Oscar 2 for close to $1300. Keep in mind, these machines are nearly identical except for the price and couple of other changes. I purchased this machine for close to $1000 so depreciation is crazy on these machines.
Missing brew pressure gauge: for $2500, you would think that a brew pressure gauge (feature found on much cheaper machines) is a given but somehow the folks at Nuova Simonelli didn’t think so, so you only get a boiler pressure gauge.
Unnecessary NSF certification: for some reason Nuova Simonelli thought that certifying a machine like the Musica, with its vibratory pump and 2 liter boiler, was a good idea. The certification was intended to make the Musica a viable option for small, low volume commercial application (e.g. galleries, small restaurants, etc.). However, the vibratory pump is ridiculous with its 1 minute on 1 minute off requirement and the heating element is only 1200 watts. The high price (for what the unit offered) and the reliability concerns all played important roles in making this machine a nonviable option for the commercial or even semi commercial environment.
Can’t choose between plumbing and tank after purchase: the Musica must be purchased as either a tank (pour over) model or a plumbable model. You can’t plumb the tank model if you choose to after buying the machine and you can’t use a tank with the plumable model. Again, for the price, the option to switch between tank and plumbing should have been a given.
Pre-infusion time is not adjustable: the Musica has a pre-infusion option, which you can turn on and off using the keypad, but the length of the pre-infusion is already set at 3 seconds and is not adjustable.
In the next post I will talk about the things I like about the Musica and why it’s a good buy in the used market.
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:
Breast and other form of cancers
People with disabilities
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 personalopinions 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.
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
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
While browsing coffee gear and coffee-related posts on Instagram, I stumbled upon a post by Socraticcoffee showing The Force Tamper and indicating that a review of this tamper is on its way. Looking at the tamper, I was intrigued. Every tamper out in the market that promises a leveled tamp has to be manually adjusted to accommodate different doses. What do I mean by that? Basically, self leveling tampers that promise a perfectly leveled tamp and a consistent pressure works by manually setting the travel distance of the tamper base to a set level and this level is controlled by your dose. In other words, if you dose 19gm in the basket and you adjust the travel distance of the tamper to tamp down at let’s say a 30 lb of pressure but then if you decide to dose 21gm or if you change coffees (and the new coffee has different density) or if you use different size baskets then you will have to adjust the travel distance of the tamper or you will be tamping too much (or too hard) before the leveling base reaches the basket for a leveled tamp. Once Socratic confirmed that this tamper provides a perfectly leveled tamp regardless of the dose, I was ecstatic and I reached out to the owner (Zubing Sun) on Instagram (@starmoonxp) and asked for more details.
After some back and forth, The Force Tamper complete with multiple bases and handles, was on its way from China to New Jersey and I couldn’t be more excited.
The Force Tamper comes with the following:
One handle of your choice (see picture below)
One base (see picture below for different choices)
One small pouch/bag in case you would like to transport the tamper (see picture below)
One rubber tamper base to sit your tamper on it (see picture below)
A plastic clear box where everything fits
Once I unboxed my tamper, I wanted to see how the mechanism of this tamper works and to confirm my understanding of its uniqueness and so I disassembled most of the parts but before I show you the parts and components it is important to understand why this tamper is unique. In my mind, the perfect tamper is a tamper that tamps level while applying consistent amount of force or pressure. All tampers on the market that I’m aware of (before the release of The Force Tamper), promise either a leveled tamp (by having a base that sits on top of the tamper), or a consistent pressure, or both as long as your dose is consistent and your coffee is the same. Never existed a tamper that promises a leveled tamp, a consistent pressure regardless of coffee, basket size or dosage (more on that later) without any adjustments!
What makes this tamper unique and what ensures the consistent pressure is the method it employs to apply the force to the coffee. Most tampers on the market that regulate the pressure applied to the coffee in the basket, do so by using some sort of feedback function such as a click or a compression spring that’s designed to provide a preset level of pressure. The Force Tamper unique design is different. Pressing down on the handle of The Force Tamper compresses a spring, then at a point controlled by an internal mechanism, the spring is released pushing or punching a piston down onto the base and then the bases compresses the coffee. This genius of this mechanism is what eliminates the need to adjust the tamper travel distance, like with other tampers, every time you need to adjust your dosage or change coffees.
The pressure or amount of force applied can be adjusted. You can do so by unscrewing the handle from the tamper then you will find what looks like a washer (t’s not) with two dents or bumps (see picture below). Grab a coin, then insert it in the two holes and rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. Clockwise will increase the pressure (or punch) force applied to the coffee and counterclockwise will decrease he pressure (or punch) force applied to the coffee.
I have embedded below a video I made showing how you can easily adjust the pressure.
From the day I saw Socratic’s post on Instagram, I knew that this tamper is a game changer and once I received it and started using it, I was sold. The Force Tamper with its perfect leveling and consistent pressure tamping, practically eliminates tamping as a cause of bad extractions. Also, for cafes with multiple baristas or multiple locations it helps uniformize tamping. Finally, for working baristas, The Force Tamper eliminates elbow and wrist injuries caused by hours of tamping as you only need to hold the portafilter and tamper still while pushing down on the handle.
I have made a video review of the tamper as well. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I received the tamper in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.