metallic accessories, enshrined

September 21, 2006 – 12:13 am

yes. yes, i do. i carry a slightly tapered ridgeless double portafilter basket everywhere i go. shades, car keys, ridgeless. right front pocket. my thigh bears its imprint.

there are problems with this arrangement, of course. the occasional glances of alarm at what appears to be a “chaw of terbacky” in the dress pants. not to mention the aforementioned pocket seepage. some coworkers are convinced, i’m sure, that i have control problems in certain fantastically awkward positions.

but the essential truth is that the ridgeless has become one of those fundamental tools — like spiking glue for that quintissential barista hairpile — particularly since i’m prone to pulling shots at any number of joints on a given day. air-roasted single origin at home in the morning, experimental blendage and beanage at the cypriot’s studio over lunch, and, depending upon the nightlife, brews in other people’s kitchens. it’s a daily tour of prosumer e61s, and if there’s one thing i end up hankering for, it’s the ridgeless.

until today. when my favorite joke-butt collated all the monstrous hints, gathered his infinite riches, and dropped 75 big ones on an espressocraft tamper as a gift. it’s a price tag i had regularly mocked, mind you, until he bought one for himself several weeks ago. i remember seeing a poll in barista mag about indispensable tools and marveling that so many people swore by the espressocraft. i mean, it’s hunk of lead. and you push it.

the term used to describe our yelps of glee as we watched shot after shot emerge crystalline and perfectly distributed probably shouldn’t be repeated here. middle-school readers, you know. but i quickly became profoundly hornswoggled that tamper engineering could produce such a superior shot result. if you asked me, point-blank, how many times i swore in amazement by tom cruise’s baby, i would have to say honestly: about 12.

to be clear, i’m not a gadget guy. swore off the endless pursuit of 17-hole steam wand tips and temperature-controlled drip trays some time ago, in the belief that i had what i needed … and that what i needed to was to communicate better with my equipment. the cypriot doesn’t believe that i can smell how many grams are in a portafilter basket. but i can. this an example of what hoffmann means when he says “home baristas are … the best in the world.” i’ve seen some home junkies steam milk in their mouths with a sort of swift, huffing gargle.

skillz aside, there comes a point when even the purist discovers certain basic tools that synthesize all quantities of research and angst and design and feedback and become the simplest, most devastatingly effective things that do the thing that you do. the index finger, for example. and now, my personal pantheon of no-brainer espresso accessories — the extension of my ‘id,’ if you will — has expanded to two. seriously, let’s use some hyperbole. espressocraft tampers have got to be one of the most breathtakingly simple feats of engineering excellence in our craft for some time. the design beauty and practical perfection — the fusion of form and function — so easily blows away other tampers i can’t really believe my own blathering effusion. really, it makes me ill. and it’s still just a hunk of lead.

you don’t come here to read what you already know, of course. you come here to read me say it hokier! thus: it would appear to this marveler that what espressocraft does is flout an assumption, generally held amongst tamper designers, that you want to relay the pressure of the barista down a uniform cylinder, then distribute that weight outward, in a downward slope, so that it is flatly and evenly applied to the surface of the coffee bed. instead, our marvel does the opposite — collecting the barista’s pressure into a narrow center through a severely tapered handle. a slight dip in the top of the tamper base allows the fingers to slip in — not out — further centralizing the pressure, which is tranferred to the middle of a curved tamper surface, pushing through the center of the espresso bed first and splaying the pressure outward as it moves down. middle-and-out, instead of flat and uniform.

clearly, i don’t know what i’m talking about. but it’s been theorized that curved tampers do better because they create a puck surface that more closely mirrors the shape of the shower screen, thus improving even extraction. i would go a step further, positing that what you want is splayed pressure, applied in minute stages, not simultaneously applied flat pressure. using this sucker, you get a feeling that it’s slicing cleanly through a formerly thick and stubborn bed of coffee. you double check, to be sure you’ve dosed enough. then you spit on your old model, scuff it on the driveway and give it to your grandfather who still uses paperweights.

ah, well. it’s now my birthday. and i just rang it in slobbering verbosely over a hunk of lead. that’s the cypriot for you: buying my gratitude with his ample lucre! that’ll earn you at least a day without a published poke, sarkis. thank you.