Tag-Archive for » Espresso «

This is an older post that I just found from 2003.  Since there, I think Les has moved to Boise ID and hasn’t been as active in wood turning or at least not to create tampers for sale.  Nonetheless, the site is still up here.

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When I got a new espresso machine that used a different sized filter, I realized that a new tamper was in order. The function of a coffee tamper is simply to more evenly distribute the coffee grinds into a filter and pack the espresso into a puck.

Some argue that a tamper must be perfectly sized, of a specific shape, material, and weight, blah blah blah…for the production of a fine espresso. Realistically, any fairly flat object that will fit into the filter basket will work. I’ve used cheap plastic tampers that come with machines, the bottom of cups and bottles, etc. However, I find that using a device created expressly for the job of tamping coffee adds to the enjoyment of preparing my favourite beverage.

There are a lot of tampers out there, and you can even find some tamper reviews on Coffee Geek. The variety span from the formentioned cheap plastic ones to very expensive models made from exotic metals and woods. Of the popular models, I have used (and quite like) the Reg Barber Coffee Tampers made in British Columbia, Canada. Reg will customize your tamper by laser engraving anything you like on the tamper’s 25 mm Delron (plastic) top. These are great tampers and are the de facto standard for professional baristas.

However, because the ritual of making espresso at home is so near and dear to my heart, I wanted something even more special and more customized. Actually, the truth be told, I was only half-heartly looking at tampers. That is until Prabhakar, my buddy in espresso fanaticism, pointed me to Les Albjerg’s Thor Tampers website.

A quick e-mail put me in contact with Les. He is a wood turner in Roseburg, Oregon that is also a big fan of home espresso and home roasting. Les uses both commonly available and more exotic woods to turn out beautiful pieces of art that just happen to be used as coffee tampers.

After a through look around on the website, I told Les that I wanted something nice to look at but also a tamper can be put to hard use daily. I like to tamp my slightly coarser espresso grind hard and tap the grinds from the edge of the filter basket with my tampers.

When I asked about Ironwood (a dark brown African heart wood that sinks in water), Les told me that while extremely hard, the wood is also brittle and doesn’t take well to being banged against portafilters. Les suggested his “Barista Basher” model which is being used daily by professional baristas. What he does with this model is incorporate a small antique silver coin in the top of the tamper to tap the portafilter with. Hmmm…a further opportunity to customize the tamper. Interesting! (muhahahahahaha…diabolical laugh of a mad man!).

Of the woods that he had available, I chose the Ironwood with a contrasting coloured top in Amboyna (Pterocarpus Indicus — an exotic burl wood from the jungles of Southeast Asia). To cap this, I sent Les a french 5 franc coin (pre-Euro) from a memorable trip to Europe that my wife and I took shortly after being married.

The result can be seen in the photos below. Les Arlbjerg is an excellent bloke to deal with and I can recommend him without any reservation for his finely crafted product as well as his excellent customer service. Drop him a note and let him know that I sent you…

This is a gorgeous shot. The barista is used some nice advanced Pavoni techniques here. Note that he:
– Pre-warms the shot glass using the steam wand
– Pulls the handle up just under the area where the water fills BEFORE locking in the portafilter handle in gently
– Pushes down the handle in the pre-infusion until it reaches a bit of resistance but raises it again before doing a full pull.

Also notice how much pressure he has to exert while pulling the shot. This is how it is supposed to be. If you are pulling a shot with no resistance, you’ll need to work on a combination of grinding finer and tamping a bit harder.

This is from Giorgio Milos, the 36-year-old is a professor at Illycaffe Universita del Caffe in Trieste, Italy.

Milos is an Italian barista champion who currently lives in New York and will be spending the rest of this year travelling North America representing Illycaffe.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen is an enormous quantity of coffee being used—way too much. I’m talking about 20 to 25 grams of coffee for a single espresso shot! It is like making a mojito with half a mint leaf, one ice cube, a few grains of sugar, and a gallon of rum. Undrinkable!

Espresso made this way—well, it’s not espresso, but I’ll call it that—turns out overly concentrated, and because of that it cannot delight the drinker with the magnificent aromas of toasted bread, chocolate, red fruit, orange, and jasmine flowers that are all present in a high-quality blend.

The beverages I tasted were almost syrups, full-bodied but with a very sour, almost salty taste. I suspect that beans that were roasted too recently played a part. After roasting, beans need a few days to breathe and mature. These too-young beans are a big problem. Also, I’ve visited too many coffee bars that don’t heat cups before serving, and in the process sacrifice flavor and aroma. Or that serve in wet cups, an espresso sin.

An espresso, a real one, requires seven to eight grams of freshly ground coffee roasted two to three days in advance, or preserved using pressurization. The water can’t be too soft, and must not exceed 200 degrees F to avoid burning, nor be lower than 190 F in order to extract all the best aromatic components.

The grind is also fundamental. A too-fine grind can create burnt coffee and extract unpleasantly bitter and woody flavors. This is why so many people describe espresso’s taste as “bitter.” An overly coarse grind doesn’t permit full extraction of certain key elements. The proper, medium grind permits extraction of one ounce of aromatic black liquid in 25 to 30 seconds, the ideal amount of time.

If all these variables are respected (amount of coffee, temperature, time, and volume), along with the right pressure (around nine atmospheric units or 130 psi), you get an opaque, perfumed liquid containing microscopic oil droplets releasing precious coffee aroma, set fully free on your taste buds.

A silky, persistent foam (“crema”) will appear on top, nut brown with red stripes, protecting the liquid underneath for a few minutes—just enough time to hold that ceramic cup in hand, feel the warmth, move it to the lips, and sense those freed aromas in the mouth, where they will combine to create a unique taste experience.

Otherwise known as espresso. A real espresso.

via A Winning Formula for Traditional Espresso – Food – The Atlantic.

While the ECM Giotto is out of service waiting for a small part, I’ve been using the Pavoni and for a change took out the Bialetti Moka Express.
I have the medium sized one that holds 6 cups and while it isn’t technically espresso, I like the rich full bodied moka that it makes with Lavazza “Qualita Oro” out of a vac pack.
For those that don’t know, Bialetti has been making this stove top coffee maker since 1933.  In Italy, where these are still made (although I’ve seen some steel Bialetti made in China…a shame), it is an iconic fixture in almost every home.
The original model was and is made of aluminum–a material popular at the time as a sign of Italy’s modernity.  They pots are also made by other vendors as well in both aluminum and other materials such as steel, glass, etc.  Being a traditionalist, mine is aluminum.
Some tips:
– Use coffee that is ground a bit coarser than you’d normally use in your espresso machine.
– The instructions say to not tamp, but I do…lightly using the bottom of a plastic baby bottle.  YMMV.
– Italians swear that the more you use the pot, the better the brew.  I’m not sure why they think this, but my guess is that after a while without scrubbing with steel wool etc., that the pots start to oxidize a bit…and over time, this makes the metal more neutral to the coffee being brewed.  So, I only rise the pot out with water and wipe off the residual coffee with a wet cloth.  So far so good.
Try it, you’ll like it.  These coffee makers are relatively cheap and widely available.