Tamping: a small act, but one that can affect espresso extraction, work flow, and even barista health. Training staff to all achieve the same tamp, while avoiding injury, isn’t easy – it might even be impossible.
Enter the Puqpress: an adjustable, electronic tamping device. It removes the human variable, and the resulting human effort, from the process. And in doing so, it promises repeatable, reliable results every time.
But does it live up to that promise? Let’s find out.
Tamping: What’s The Big Deal?
In the coffee world, tamping has always been considered important – but our thoughts on how to achieve the perfect tamp have varied.
When I first became interested in speciality coffee, many years ago, I tried to absorb all the wisdom on espresso preparation that I could find. Unfortunately, back then, most of this was of the “folk variety”, with little empirical basis.
One thing I particularly remember was the obsession with tamping pressure. I was advised to practise with some weighing scales until I could consistently tamp with exactly x pounds of pressure (I forget the seemingly arbitrary figure now).
The New Goal: Consistency
Fast forward a decade or so. You might still see this advice cropping up in home barista forums, but generally we know better. Various studies have shown that the amount of pressure, once beyond a certain point, is fairly irrelevant. What actually matters is consistency.
And this is where the problem lies. Take a busy coffee shop with multiple baristas. You don’t want to be re-dialling inthe espresso each time you change the staff member using the machine. However, that is effectively what you need to do if you have baristas who tamp differently.
Of course, you can train staff members to replicate each other’s tamping style and pressure, but there’s always going to be a little inconsistency. And inconsistency can lead to bad coffee and lost business.
Tamping and RSI
A second, perhaps more hidden, issue with tamping is the possibility of repetitive strain injury for baristas. After making the transition from amateur to professional barista, I certainly adjusted my tamping style significantly. RSI from tamping isn’t something you notice in a home environment. However, multiply the number of coffees you make every day by, say, a hundred, and you’ll start to feel nagging aches and pains in your wrist and forearm.
Tamping: this repeated action can lead to strains and injury.
Testing The Puqpress
The Puqpress says it’s the solution to these tamping issues – but is it? It’s time to find out.
In order to thoroughly test this device, I used it over a period of several months with my own espresso setup (La Marzocco FB80 and a Malkhonig EK43). I also lent it to the world-famous Colonna and Smalls coffee shop in Bath, wanting to know how it would function in a high-volume, extremely quality-orientated environment.
What follows is a combination of thoughts and opinions that I gathered from all users, as well as my own.
Out of the box it’s a relatively small device – around the same size as an average home grinder. It looks clean and modern, and it doesn’t seem out of place next to typical specialty coffee shop equipment.
Of course, it requires mains power. This isn’t something that you’d think would be an issue, but many coffee shops (my own included) are designed around a number of outlets that match the equipment originally specified. This can leave few, if any, extra sockets available.
Once located in a suitable position between the grinders and the espresso machine, it’s fairly unobtrusive. And, of course, it frees up some space where the tamping matt would have been.
A Puqpress in the workspace. Credit: Jonathan Prestidge
Setting Up & Getting a Level Tamp
It quickly became clear that adjustment is crucial. Failure to properly set up the Puqpress can result in a tamp that’s not level, leading to uneven extraction. Fortunately, the machine ships with easy-to-follow instructions. Use the supplied Allan key to set the height of the prongs: you want the portafilter to be a tight fit and parallel to the tamping mechanism.
Once you’ve taken care of that, the remaining instructions are blissfully straightforward. There’s an on/off switch, plus and minus buttons to control pressure, and a cleaning mode button. The latter moves the tamper disk into a position in which it can be cleaned with a brush. Cleaning the tamper cavity is a slightly more involved job, as it requires removing the top cover. However, even this only takes a few minutes.
The tamper disk itself is a snug fit with the 58mm baskets of both my FB80 and Colonna and Smalls’ Sanremo Opera. La Spaziale users, among others, would, need to specify the 53mm tamper disk. (It’s worth noting that if you owned both types of machine, the Puqpress wouldn’t be interchangeable without swapping disks. In reality, however, I can’t see this being a likely scenario.)
The Puqpress In Use
The Puqpress automatically senses when a portafilter is in the correct position for tamping. This means that, once set up, it’s quick and easy to us. Insert the portafilter, and you’ll hear a brief mechanical sound. Withdraw it to find a perfectly flat and evenly distributed puck.
Is it quicker than a manual tamp? It really depends on the barista. I’ve always taken perhaps a little too much time with my tamping, so it felt quick to me. However, other, quicker baristas found that it offered less of a speed advantage.
I tried the Puqpress on a range of pressure settings, from 10 kg to the maximum of 30 kg. Some studies have found that, above around 10 kg of force, increased tamping pressure makes no difference to extraction yield or time – given a constant dose, grind, and brew ratio, of course.
I, on the other hand, found that below 15 kg, the brew time needed to reach a given weight was significantly shorter than at higher pressures. Once beyond 15 kg, however, extra pressure had little meaningful effect on extraction time or yield.
Yet one thing I did find, once I settled on consistently using a pressure of 20 kg, is that I experienced fewer shots that extracted unevenly. My FB80 has a relatively harsh ramp up to full pressure. Occasionally, it will produce a shot that extracts in visibly uneven way when viewed via a naked portafilter. This isn’t a frequent occurrence, but was certainly lessened by using the Puqpress.
Something that was also notable by its absence was that slight feeling of pain in my tendons and wrist that usually comes after a busy day on the machine.
Tamping practice makes perfect – but tools can create consistency across baristas.
The Puqpress: Yay or Nay?
Would I use one in my coffee house? I think the answer is a yes. This isn’t necessarily because I believe that it tamps that much better than a human can. However, it leads to greater consistency when used by multiple baristas and removes the potential for long-term injuries. For me, it was also significantly quicker than tamping manually – which, on busy days, was a massive boon.
The only real downside is cost. While not astronomical, it’s certainly enough to make many coffee shop owners think carefully. Coffee shops need to consider how quickly, if service can be sped up and profits increased, this investment could be paid back.
Written by J. Prestidge, Director of Repack Espresso.