When I first received my Reg Barber tamper a year ago, the quality of my shots immediately nosedived.
Yes, you heard right. The famous Reg was ruining my shots. Channelling, early blonding, wildly uneven pucks, etc, etc. I was used to using the undersized el-cheapo plastic tamper included with most new espresso machines. Using a "real" tamper for the first time was a startling disappointment. I would have to learn how to tamp all over again.
And I did.
As a tamping neophyte, I diligently studied the Dave Schomer tamping video and saw the tap, taps he did. For a while, I used that technique and results were a bit better but definitely not earth shattering.
One morning though, lurching around in a foggy 6:00 AM stupor, I did the tap, tap thing. With portafilter in hand and wiping down the showerscreen with the other, I did not notice that I tilted the portafilter over a bit too much and plop - out came the puck - disintegrating unceremoniously onto the countertop.
Yes, you guessed it, I forgot to do the final polishing tamp.
So why the tap, tap? Why bash up that lovely African rosewood that Reg, Himself has painstakenly turned? Why break that seal between the basket and the coffee that you had worked so hard to attain? Ahh you say...to dislodge the grains of coffee that might be stuck to the inside of the filter basket...
As all espresso enthusiasts surely know, loose grounds are truly evil incarnate and must be stamped out at all costs. Soon, I was bashing 360 degrees around the portafilter, bashing the lip of filter basket and still, there was some stubborn coffee grounds stuck to the inside. That rosewood was taking a beating.
There had to be a better way...or at least a different way of tamping.
The following is a variation of a SCAA technique inspired by Carl Staub. I have changed it slightly and there are undoubtedly many other different variations.
Here's what I do for "tapless" tamping:
1. do a leveling tamp first rocking the base of the tamper North South then East West followed by NW SE and NE SW - a absolutely level tamp is critical says Carl. A centering tamp may be required if you like to grind coarsely.
2. apply the appropriate tamping pressure while [gently] scraping the sides of the filter - NSEW and other compass points in between.
3. "round the clock" polishing twists to get a razor sharp edge on the edge of the puck( where it meets the side of the basket) I use a bit lighter pressure here.
4. check level - you might be able to still make an adjustment if necessary.
5. lock and load.
For this technique to work, your tamper should have a millimeter or two( or more) side clearance in the basket.
For Staub purists, the technique is even simpler: NSEW plus short arc polishing twists and you're done!
So, if conventional tamping techniques aren't working for you, try the tapless tamping technique instead