Is anyone using a unique espresso grind distribution technique?

(joe ) #1

so we’re now beyond the results of the great distribution tool debate. my question is, has anyone been experimenting with their own distribution techniques and finding positive results?

i have recently been logging the tds and extraction of shots pulled to varying times and yields. i noticed a surprising amount of variance in the trending differences, even within one batch of coffee, having measured equal doses within a hundredth of a gram with an ohaus scale, having used consistent-as-possible hand tapping as distribution and having syringe-filtered the samples with vst espresso filters before refracting. the results were consistent enough to be useful to me, but i attribute a fair amount of the variance to uneven extraction. i’m sure some of that variance is in the nature of refracting espresso, but it seems obvious through experimentation, tasting and through reading the works of others that an even extraction is not only important, but is not very easy to achieve. for one thing, we are probably getting both over and under-extracted flavours simultaneously from our less than evenly extracted shots.

it seems an even extraction is likely happening when the espresso first starts to ooze out of the bottom of the basket everywhere simultaneously (for those of you with naked or bottomless portafilters). and this is probably only achieved when there is a perfect coffee density throughout the puck. further, a perfect density is achieved by the loose grinds literally having to be somehow evenly distributed throughout the basket before tamping, because an even tamp alone could still allow pillars of denser areas below it.

there are some distribution methods that smooth out the surface of the grinds, like the ocd tool and stockfleth’s method, but they seem to leave the lower grinds unaffected. as of yet, tapping the sides of the portafilter with the palm of the hand while sort of tilting the basket away from the tapping seems to be the most effective distribution technique that the world is aware of. perhaps hand tapping followed by the use of a surface tool like the ocd is even better, but a relevant matter is that hand tapping is probably not consistent from barista to barista, even within one shop.

our shop is curious about the possibility of a platform that holds the portafilter with the basket level and vibrates with almost imperceivably small, but fast and aggressive motions. this may not be practical in a more high volume shop but we shouldn’t let that stop us from experimenting, learning, and sharing our findings for others to build upon. something like a vibration tool that is successful in producing an even extraction might inspire something that is quicker to use, like a grinder that holds and vibrates the portafilter as it fills the basket.

perhaps an overlooked area of distribution has been how grinders distribute the grinds into the basket. i am currently building a prototype of a tool that fits between our grind chute and the basket, with the intention of distributing the grinds somewhat evenly right as they fall. i am planning on still having to do some hand tapping, but at least i won’t have to start by toppling a center pile. perhaps half of our current distribution time is used just getting the peak of this pile down below the rim of the basket. when an even distribution is the end goal, it is less than ideal to start with a peak in one area. i will be sure to share my prototype findings here.

there is a lot of forward potential in the field of espresso grind distribution, and discussion and sharing of theoretical ideas and findings is the way to get there. so if we have any other ideas, or have discovered something useful aside from the common surface tools, hand tapping, or stockfleth’s technique, let’s discuss it!

(j l) #2

So… shouldn’t admit this in public… But I bought a tuning fork and applied it to portafilter.

I think I need a bigger tuning fork.

(Nathan DeRuvo) #3

I haven’t tried this but you would think at least one grinder manufacture would have tried something like this.

(joe ) #4

a tuning fork is a very interesting idea. it reminds me of something i once saw, about specific frequencies of vibration organizing loose iron filings on a flat surface into specific patterns.

it seems that after the initial strike, the majority of the vibration would be seperated from the basket and only in the fork? perhaps you’ve experimented with this?

also, which note did you choose?

(joe ) #5

i’d be interested if anyone has tried this!

(moominpapa) #6

I’ve been using a flour sifter for some time now, basically acts as a single-serving doser

(joe ) #7

okay i’m very curious about this. in an early prototype i tried a chute to the basket with a screen in it, thinking this would break up the coffee density as it fell. even with a coarser screen of about 3 mm openings, the coffee would not fall through and required about a minute of tapping to get it to pass the screen.

how long does this take?

do you measure your dose before or after sifting?

does it result in crisp or juicy flavours?

the reason i ask the last question is i would be concerned that the sifter is further breaking down the particle sizes when it rubs the perfectly sized grinds against the screen.

thank you!

(moominpapa) #8

This isn’t my video, but you can see it in use at around 1:15

I am but a home barista so am not well qualified to answer all your questions. All I can say is that it leaves a really nice, fluffy and clump free coffee mound that can be palm tapped level really easily.

(j l) #9

Actually will get a couple of seconds of “useful” vibration transmitted to the portafilter once it is touched by tuning fork.

Frequency of tuning fork was 128 C. This was just a pilot to determine feasibility, there was not observable change in grind appearance inside portafilter after test so did not pursue.

Though can use an android app to measure resultant tone from hammering the portafilter, and then find a tuning fork to match frequency so then resonance can be a possibility?

No doubt, this could be made to work(sound application to uniformly distribute grinds), but beyond my available time.

(joe ) #10

cool, thank you for this!

(joe ) #11

distribution by sound and vibration could surely use more investigation…

(Troy) #12

Totally agree. I’ve been thinking about a device to distribute into the basket while grinding. Haven’t progressed to making one yet.

I have seen a 3D printed sifter style device to fit a PF, that looks effective.

It was discussed here previously in this thread.

(David Greco) #13

I don’t think this is really super unique but it’s worked very consistently for me in addition to the tapping technique. I picked it up from La Marzocco Home, but it can be purchased unbranded from the local company here in SLC that makes it.

To be completely honest if you have a good grinder that resists clumping to make it quicker/easier/unnecessary to break up grounds I think that you’d be hard-pressed to even measure a difference between tapping and something fancier, let alone taste it in the cup. As intriguing as the idea is.

I think some things work well enough, though I’d never try to discourage people from experimenting as you might find something that completely changes the game. The idea of sonic distribution sounds super cool, I’d love to know if it made a difference or not. It almost seems like from the top down that could potentially distribute and tamp/pack the puck if you had an apparatus that acoustically sealed the top and bottom of the portafilter… I’m just fairly skeptical with all of the research that has been done into how little of a difference so many variations of technique make, consistency and knowledge of general extraction being the key things. Good luck!

(joe ) #14

thanks david, i have more to say about it when i’m not on my way to work but wanted to say that i am also a salt lake city barista!

(David Greco) #15

Awesome to run into another local on here! I’d love to discuss the ideas more. No doubt WDT and a funnel seem like a worthy extra step and takes little to no extra effort I just wonder how much more you can do and notice a difference. I don’t want to come across as dismissive at all, I strive for perfection as much as the next person, just speaking from my experience so far with things. I somewhat go back on the WDT, when the stars are aligned it seems like it isn’t even needed (every now and then when I’m trying to keep up with volume) I forego the extra step and I just use it as it falls and taps for the most part and it seems like the antistatic/clump on the grinder and alignment of the spout are just as good as breaking it up. Sometimes it seems like messing with things less produce more consistent results, I.E. I love the leveler (but I don’t always feel it’s necessary, just when I feel like my tapping has failed, it happens…it just doesn’t even out), and definitely breaking the habit of “polishing” helped a lot as well, somehow more often than not on the polish I would tilt the puck somehow and it really makes no difference, oh and at least for me the other big thing that made a difference was getting a tamp with a really tight tolerance, I had one slightly smaller than my basket and it led to either center (ironically) or edge channeling depending mostly on the fineess of the grinds it seemed, if it was really fine it would push in and out on the edges causing center channeling and if it was not as fine it would sneak around the outsides. But 100% if I thought I could get consistently better results I’d not only invest extra money but also extra time into it! I liked the ideas of the sifters and wondered if it was something that could be integrated into the doser perhaps? My grinder is doserless so anything that I do is post chute either in a cup or the basket (I typically just use the basket and drop my decent funnel on top to keep stuff from making a mess, pouring back and forth seems a little counter productive to me.) so the idea of a sifter just feels like a bit too much of a burden/process, the sound could be really cool. I think ultimately one of the tricky things is reducing the static in general… Because it will be prone to clumping no matter what you do once it connects again… I wonder if there is anything that could contribute to that as well.

(joe ) #16

we have a wedge tool at our shop, as well as other devices and tampers made by saint anthony. i still prefer the distribution method of hand tapping to the wedge, as i think that it affects the entire coffee bed as opposed to just the surface. the wedge does however do a fine job of levelling the surface in preparation of an even tamp. on that subject, saint anthony also makes a levy tamp that rests on the rim of the basket when depressed so that your tamp is guaranteed level. the depth is adjustable.

(joe ) #17

i did say, in my original post above that i would post an update on the device i was working on that distributes the grounds as they fall into the basket. i was having mild success at first with the first ooze happening almost simultaneously from the bottom of the basket, followed by a noticeably more even extraction than hand tapping alone.

however, the ooze did start around the edges and quickly moved toward the center, with the center seeming to offer slightly more resistance to the water throughout the shot duration.

so i redesigned the tool to let the grounds fall more toward the edges of the basket, forming a nest shape when loose. then i leveled the surface with either the side of my finger, or by hand tapping, or both, before tamping. this produced what seemed like a perfectly even extraction… sometimes.

the problem was that the grounds still seemed to be falling more toward one side of the basket most of the time, producing a higher side to the nest. this allowed water to find a path through what was the low side (before leveling and tamping) more quickly.

i haven’t yet figured out how to get the grounds to fall straight into the device without having some force to one side much of the time.

i still feel that this method has great potential though, especially as something built into the exit chute of a grinder.

(David Greco) #18

Have you used The Levy? I’ve been curious about it, does it require much adjustment/calibration? It seems like a great idea in theory but I haven’t had a chance to try it out.

I use the leveler in addition to the hand tapping, just to prep the surface, though I don’t think it really matters so much to be honest, it feels good to use and see and doesn’t seem to cause any negative effect such as “polishing”.

(joe ) #19

what was the ill affect of polishing? just that you had a better chance of harming the puck than helping it?

yes, we use the levy as well as a couple of other tampers. the thing with the levy is that you adjust the depth in order to adjust the density of the puck. well, this changes depending on your dose, the density of the coffee if you keep your dose constant, and your grind setting. we have two espresso grinders: one for a single origin and the other for either another SO or for a blend. we find it’s best to use two levys, one set for each coffee. this works okay, but as you change your grind setting throughout the day, perhaps you should also adjust your levy depth accordingly in order to keep a somewhat consistent puck density/tamp pressure. yes, the levy is pretty easy to adjust but i wish it had some gauge markings on it so you could return to previous settings or just gauge how far you are adjusting.

(David Greco) #20

Yeah, just the likeliness to harm the puck rather than help it. Even though you’ve packed it in rather densely it isn’t difficult to shift the puck or even lift part of it away or even crack it. I’ve seen all sorts of things happen primarily though for whatever reason my puck is much more level if I don’t. If I do it has a tendency to lean deeper in towards me and channel on that side a little bit.

I figured the levy to be potentially annoying to adjust/dial in but I guess if you’re sticking with the same sized baskets, dose and generally the same roasts in a larger volume it’s probably not bad at all. I could just see potentially wasting more than expected dialing in new beans at home VS going off of feel.