Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tampering with the Tamper

I heart Tamping.

Tamping is the process of securing the coffee in the portafilter basket to ensure a flat surface for water to flow evenly through the coffee grounds. Water will find the easiest path through the coffee. Knocking the side of the portafilter to mid-tamp loosens the grounds in the filter basket. By knocking it, you'll have quality tamp without disturbing the "puck" when jossling it around.

The owner of a café in Denver I used to work for showed me this tamping method. I learned to tamp in four directions: north, west, east, south, with a center push to smooth the top surface. This is the best method because it pushes the coffee into the sides and bottom creating a solidly packed puck.

The LaMarzocco Swift grinder uses volumetric dosing and tamping to provide consistent and reliable service through shift changes and thousands of pounds of coffee. The screw-like tamper uses only 8 lbs of pressure opposed to the 30lbs recommended by hand. The Swift tamps along with the grinding so that it tamps all the way through with even 8lbs. The result is layers of perfectly tamped coffee forming the puck.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Art of Espresso

To attain the best espresso shot - achieving that sweet, viscous, balanced espresso - is only possible with CLEAN equipment, proper grind, tamping (this is a whole chapter) and water temperature. Experience will also make you more comfortable with the machine. When I first tried using the machine, I remember how loud and daunting it was. Once you get used to it, it gets easier, although mastering the details can take years.

Extraction mostly depends on water pressure, water temperature grind, and tamp. Ideally, it should take 18-28 seconds to pour 1.5-2oz. Its appearance should be a cinnamon brown and uniform in color. If it's bubbly and has dark spots, this indicates that the water is too hot. If it only shoots .5oz the grind is too fine. If it could fill a 12oz cup, the grind is too coarse.

The caffeine content of a two ounce espresso is roughly 80mg. An 8oz cup of drip coffee has around 100mg. This figure varies depending on brew method. Espresso consists of three parts. In a cup, it would be the bottom, middle, and top. The base is the bottom and the “heart” of the espresso. It contains soluble particles suspended as viscous liquid. The moving part, called the suspension, settles like a Guinness beer. The top, called crema, is created by the dispersion of gasses, air, and carbon dioxide into liquid at high pressure. The emulsified oils form a foamy texture on the surface.

Espresso blends differ depending which coffee house you visit. At FreshCoffeeNow, I try to keep ours mellow and rich. I've played around with a bunch of different coffees blended in different ways. Now I have a simple blend which I think best suits my taste. Our espresso blend is very full-bodied and syrupy with a smooth bourbon and chocolate flavor.