Distribution (was: "Leveling")

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Distribution (was: "Leveling")

Postby Richard Hartnell on Tue Jul 11, 2006 5:50 pm

Out of curiosity, does anyone have any leads on a comparison of various leveling techniques such as (but not limited to)

the Schomer method
the Stockfleth's move
the Intelligensia "tool" method
or others?

Just curious.
Last edited by Richard Hartnell on Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby nick on Tue Jul 11, 2006 7:16 pm

More recently, we've been focusing less and less on leveling and more and more on dosing.

Semi-tangent/analogy:
Someone gave me a good golf tip once: When hitting driver, people tend to focus on distance, when the more critical element is direction. When hitting approach shots (accuracy-shots that land on the green), people tend to focus on direction, when the more critical element is distance. It helped refocus my golf game (which I hardly play anymore :-().

In espresso people tend to focus on, in descending order of importance: tamp-level, leveling, and dosing/distribution. I strongly believe that the opposite is true: dosing is most important. Leveling is next, and tamp is last.

Dosing establishes the foundation. Any building or structure that goes up is totally at the mercy of the integrity of its foundation. It's quite literally the foundation if you think about it.

Leveling accomplishes two things: it establishes the resulting mass of coffee grounds in the basket (by pushing some into the basket and/or by "scraping" off a certain amount from the top), and it finalizes the lateral distribution of coffee.

I think that people spend way too much time and effort on leveling, and over the last few months, I believe more and more that people over-do their leveling to the point of doing more harm than good. Far too many baristas employ leveling techniques that actually exacerbate an uneven extraction by "de-distributing" with flawed or improper leveling. Improper, meaning the concept itself (NSEW, Stockfleths, etc.) may be sound, but poor execution means a poor leveling.

My thought is that you lay a solid, even foundation when dosing. Tapping or "settling" the portafilter (bouncing it on the grinder forks, etc.) is an intermediate step, for those who choose to. Now you get to leveling, and if you have a good foundation, all you want to do is "finish" the coffee bed. That's why I really like the Intelly "tool" method, as you call it. Ultimately, it's the least invasive leveling method.

I've gone to a simple "forward, back, forward" leveling, and I hope to further simplify it. I started with Schomer's "NSEW," did a modified Stockfleths for a while, and have come to the more simple leveling now.

Richard, if you're interested in competition (as it says in your signature), my little bit of thread-relevant advice is this: Occam's Razor is your friend. Cut out unnecessary parts of your technique. You'll shave off many precious seconds off your time, and your espresso quality will probably improve.

Sorry for my brain-dump.
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Postby malachi on Tue Jul 11, 2006 8:35 pm

Leveling is the wrong word.
Distribution is the correct term.

With any technique, all that matters is that you choose one that:
- allows you to finish your dosing with accuracy and consistency and repeatability
- allows you to create as near as possible to a consistent density bed of coffee
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Postby Richard Hartnell on Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:23 pm

malachi wrote:Leveling is the wrong word.
Distribution is the correct term.


Which I knew, and spaced wonderfully. Thanks. ;)

With any technique, all that matters is that you choose one that:
- allows you to finish your dosing with accuracy and consistency and repeatability
- allows you to create as near as possible to a consistent density bed of coffee


Which I am currently discovering through experimentation. From what I gather, quality time with a crotchless PF is the most likely route to evaluating the quality/consistency of my dosing and distribution, no? I still feel like there's something I'm missing.
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Postby Alistair Durie on Tue Jul 11, 2006 11:52 pm

distribution is a fix for coffee that has been dosed unevenly in the basket.

concentrate on the landing.
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Postby nick on Wed Jul 12, 2006 5:25 am

malachi wrote:Leveling is the wrong word.
Distribution is the correct term.

Well, I know what you mean, but then frankly, I don't really like "distribution" either. Distribution (in the literal sense) happens when you dose.
Maybe "redistribution" is more accurate?

(You started it :wink: )
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Postby scottlucey on Wed Jul 12, 2006 8:01 am

re: the intelly tool method. expand on what this is (if it is more than using a straight edge "tool" post distribution to, in a chopping type of way, settle then scrape excess grounds off the top).
if there is more than that, sweet... i wanna hear it.
if it is simply that, i wonder how the intelly name gets stamped onto this method. yes, friendly middlecoast rivalry.
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Postby xristrettox on Wed Jul 12, 2006 9:19 am

nick wrote: dosing is most important. Leveling is next, and tamp is last.


word
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Postby gabelucas on Mon Jul 17, 2006 9:54 pm

I have become the most consistent I have ever been with my dosing. I use a combination for the leveling but io just don't think a tool is necessary when the shot ends up tasting really, really good.
This is a personal opinion, but I want to really be part of the process entirely, organically as well. Adding a tool for that, at the end of all the work just doesn't do it for me.
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Postby Matt Riddle on Tue Jul 18, 2006 6:09 am

expanded explaination of the Intelly tool method:
  • Overfill your portafilter so that you have a mound, fully covering the basket.
  • Chop across the face of the portafilter in a single direction. Most go West to East across the basket. The "Chopping" motion is akin to a fine julienne motion.
  • Chop in the direction perpendicular to the previous motion.
  • Scrape across the basket to fully level the grounds.
  • Tamp.
  • Clean.

A harder chopping motion will replicate an updose.

As far as the name...I'm pretty sure we weren't the first people/company to use a tool for levelling, but we certainly popularized it in Chicago. I think someone on CoffeeGeek deemed it the "Intelligentsia Method" and it stuck.

We started employing this method about 2 1/2-3 years ago. We wanted to find a methodology that would allow any Barista that was on shift to be able to switch with the Barista that was currently pulling shots with minimal change to the grind/delay in drink production. This is paramount with (often times) 5+ Baristas working at the same time.
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Postby nick on Tue Jul 18, 2006 6:22 am

ThaRiddla wrote: I think someone on CoffeeGeek deemed it the "Intelligentsia Method" and it stuck.

Actually, I believe the colloquialism is, "The Chicago Chop."
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Postby aaronblanco on Sat Jul 22, 2006 10:03 am

ThaRiddla wrote:We started employing this method about 2 1/2-3 years ago. We wanted to find a methodology that would allow any Barista that was on shift to be able to switch with the Barista that was currently pulling shots with minimal change to the grind/delay in drink production.


do you think it provides a measurable difference in shot quality/consistency--both inter and intra barista--that can't be trained with just the hand/finger? i think it's a great idea for razor thin consistency margins. seems like you would lose time and create extra steps (see nick's occam's razor post above) to pick up the bottle opener, do your thing with it, put it down, then pick up the tamper, etc.

maybe this is a minor time-adder of no consequence; or it may be one of those minor time-adders that adds up to an extra hour's work or whatever over the course of a day for a slight but not monumental improvement over the taste quality. what have you found, matt?
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Postby Alistair Durie on Sat Jul 22, 2006 1:07 pm

for more thoughts on the levelling tool, check this thread: http://forum.coffeed.com/viewtopic.php?t=631
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Postby Matt Riddle on Sat Jul 22, 2006 3:47 pm

aaronblanco wrote:do you think it provides a measurable difference in shot quality/consistency--both inter and intra barista--that can't be trained with just the hand/finger?
I don't believe it provides a measurable difference in shots quality or taste. I've had amazing shots by our baristas using both methods in our training room at the Roasting Works and at our stores during a busy shift. Some of the best shots I've ever had (including shots of my own) were from Baristas at our stores when I just walked in to get a drink.

If I prepared 5 sets of shots using the chop and the more 'traditional� finger method, I'll bet that anyone would be hard-pressed to name the ones prepared by each method.

We used to use the swift in our stores (when I started with the company). I argued with Doug when we were talking about moving away from the Swift (~3 or so years ago) that it would slow down our production time on the bar. He challenged me to a race. We prepared shots side-by-side: me on a swift and him using a grinder/tamp. 90% of the time, we were finishing at the same time and he's not even a line barista.
aaronblanco wrote:i think it's a great idea for razor thin consistency margins. seems like you would lose time and create extra steps (see nick's occam's razor post above) to pick up the bottle opener, do your thing with it, put it down, then pick up the tamper, etc.
maybe this is a minor time-adder of no consequence; or it may be one of those minor time-adders that adds up to an extra hour's work or whatever over the course of a day for a slight but not monumental improvement over the taste quality.
I don't think it takes any less or more time for the baristas at the stores. It's what they are used to, so they become highly proficient at it. It's true for whatever you do strange analogy:
The methodology I use to save files on my computer probably isn't the most proficient, but it's what I'm used to, so I'm very fast at organizing and finding what I need. When someone else needs to find something on my computer it'll take them a while. Once they figure out my methodology and naming conventions, they find things very quickly.

From the other thread:
nick wrote:If you've got "hidden clumps" that need to be "repaired" in some way, you're already screwed.:

I agree. If your grinder produces a large amount of clumping, then you need to look at either your grinder or your coffee to see what is causing it.
nick wrote:Great question, which I've wondered myself: if you look at the way things are done out there in the barista competition community, a finger is better than a "tool." When I saw Intelly and their "Chicago Chop," I struggled to think of a reason why a finger would be better than what they use... and I came up with nothing. Maybe it somehow looks more hardcore?
True, true could this be the same though process that says that only French Pressing your coffees is more hardcore?
nick wrote:I'd love to see a distribution and leveling done with a tool during competition. There's no rule against it... why the hell not? Frankly, though I understand why they did it, I was a little sad that the Intelly Barista Team forwent their Choppers for the "traditional" finger-method.

I've thought about it. I do believe it's frowned upon, even though it's nowhere in the rules. I mean, I've gotten knocked for 'not having enough coffee in my portafilter� when I know there was a screw depression in the puck on every shot perhaps that's another thread..;)
Alistair Durie wrote:using your finger allows you to feel distribution and adjust your dosage on the fly. i'm not sure the tool would allow as much control over dosage (more chopping?), which would suggest an increase in grind adjustments. .

the barista reads the flow of their shots and adjusts accordingly... leveling is an important variable in controlling distribution and dosage.
Unless you're working the bar blindfolded and have headphones on, touch isn't the only sense you use when leveling. You are using eyes, ears and touch. Saying that a tool inhibits your ability to properly distribute and level is the same as saying that a chef shouldn't use their best/sharpest knife for chopping because it takes them a step away from what they're preparing. It's no more of a 'tool� for preparation than a tamper, grinder, portafilter, water filter, or espresso machine.

Believe me, we looked at these aspects of it when we started using the opener. The bottom line is that it is a technique that produces a great tasting shot of espresso. I don't think it's any more "wacky" than severely updosing/underdosing. If that isn't something that is encouraged by the barista community, then there is something wrong.
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Postby onocoffee on Sat Jul 22, 2006 9:08 pm

I think that equating the bar tool to a chef's knife is quite a bit misleading - except for the chopping action.

One cannot julienne a carrot with a bare finger while one can level and distribute with the same finger.

After reading through this thread, it seems to me that the biggest reason to use the bar tool is this:


ThaRiddla wrote: We wanted to find a methodology that would allow any Barista that was on shift to be able to switch with the Barista that was currently pulling shots with minimal change to the grind/delay in drink production. This is paramount with (often times) 5+ Baristas working at the same time.



Seems to me that the bar tool was an operational step to make front-line production smoother and more consistent from barista to barista.

In many ways, it's the same as training your crew to tamp the same and with the same pressure as everyone else - to reduce production delays and maintain consistency.


.
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Postby Robert Goble on Sat Jul 22, 2006 9:26 pm

Can we get a picture of the "actual" tool? And may I suggest a limited edition run of branded Intelli-tools? We could sell them on coffeed! :)
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Postby jmc on Sun Jul 23, 2006 6:06 am

Image
Pretty much the same thing Jim posted, but in stainless, not sure if this is the exact model...
The Intelligentsia Matt Riddle signature leveling tool and bottle opener.
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Postby Matt Riddle on Sun Jul 23, 2006 6:49 am

onocoffee wrote:I think that equating the bar tool to a chef's knife is quite a bit misleading - except for the chopping action.

One cannot julienne a carrot with a bare finger while one can level and distribute with the same finger.

Perhaps it wasn't the best analogy.
(since I know you're a fan)
Does lighting a fine cigar with a lighter instead of a match make that cigar any less enjoyable or proper or "hardcore"?
onocoffee wrote:Seems to me that the bar tool was an operational step to make front-line production smoother and more consistent from barista to barista.

In many ways, it's the same as training your crew to tamp the same and with the same pressure as everyone else - to reduce production delays and maintain consistency.
What is wrong with consistency?

If you're a customer that has the choice of 2 coffee shops. You can walk into shop one any day of the week and get a great shot from any barista, any time of the day. Shop two has one or two baristas that look like they're doing everything right, but the drinks taste horrible....which one do you go to? For me, it's an easy choice.

Giving our baristas a tool doesn't take away their passion or personality or desire to do the best they can at their job. They also have every opportunity they want to come to the Roasting Works and explore different preparation methodologies. There's no shortage of people at Intelly that are interested in learning and growing (myself included).
onocoffee wrote:In many ways, it's the same as training your crew to tamp the same and with the same pressure as everyone else

I don't see anything wrong with training all staff the same way - it's called a Training Program.
How confusing would it be for a new hire to be taught one way and then come in to work the next day and see each and every employee doing something completely different? I don't see how that would provide consistent products to your customers.
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Postby Jason Haeger on Sun Jul 23, 2006 7:29 pm

ThaRiddla wrote:
onocoffee wrote:I think that equating the bar tool to a chef's knife is quite a bit misleading - except for the chopping action.

One cannot julienne a carrot with a bare finger while one can level and distribute with the same finger.

Perhaps it wasn't the best analogy.
(since I know you're a fan)
Does lighting a fine cigar with a lighter instead of a match make that cigar any less enjoyable or proper or "hardcore"?


Absolutely. A lighter imparts the flavor of the gas into the cigar. A match.. well, once the sulfur tip burns down, all that's burning is wood, which is a bit closer to a burning tobacco leaf in flavor. Much less foreign flavor is imparted to the cigar.
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Postby Matt Riddle on Sun Jul 23, 2006 8:51 pm

Jasonian wrote:Absolutely. A lighter imparts the flavor of the gas into the cigar. A match.. well, once the sulfur tip burns down, all that's burning is wood, which is a bit closer to a burning tobacco leaf in flavor. Much less foreign flavor is imparted to the cigar.
You're thinking of a cigarette lighter that uses isobutane (the stinky stuff). Cigar lighters are designed to not impart those flavors due to using odorless butane or other gas and fatter, wider or even double flames that cover a broader area. Yes, sulferless matches or cedar strips are preferred by some, but lighters are also a favorite of many.
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Postby Jason Haeger on Sun Jul 23, 2006 11:07 pm

ThaRiddla wrote:
Jasonian wrote:Absolutely. A lighter imparts the flavor of the gas into the cigar. A match.. well, once the sulfur tip burns down, all that's burning is wood, which is a bit closer to a burning tobacco leaf in flavor. Much less foreign flavor is imparted to the cigar.
You're thinking of a cigarette lighter that uses isobutane (the stinky stuff). Cigar lighters are designed to not impart those flavors due to using odorless butane or other gas and fatter, wider or even double flames that cover a broader area. Yes, sulferless matches or cedar strips are preferred by some, but lighters are also a favorite of many.

I've seen more than a few fire-starters sold as "cigar lighters" that were of the isobutane variety.

But I do agree.
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Postby barry on Mon Jul 24, 2006 1:45 pm

ThaRiddla wrote:I mean, I've gotten knocked for 'not having enough coffee in my portafilter� when I know there was a screw depression in the puck on every shot perhaps that's another thread.



a screw depression is only a vague indicator of dose. when the brew cycle stops, and the solenoid pops to 'vent', the puck quite literally puffs up, often impacting upon the screen & screw. this is the "swelling" that so many people think occurs during brewing... anyway, if you have 14 grams in the basket, you'll get a screw impression; if you have 18 grams in the basket, you'll get a screw impression.

given the interplay between dose/grind/time/volume/taste, it would be quite possible to have a screw impression and still leave a judge feeling that you ought to have put more coffee into the basket.
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Postby Robert Goble on Mon Jul 24, 2006 2:36 pm

barry wrote:... when the brew cycle stops, and the solenoid pops to 'vent', the puck quite literally puffs up, often impacting upon the screen & screw. this is the "swelling" that so many people think occurs during brewing... anyway, if you have 14 grams in the basket, you'll get a screw impression; if you have 18 grams in the basket, you'll get a screw impression...


I've never heard this before barry. Do you have a source? Is this now generally accepted as being true?
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Postby James Hoffmann on Mon Jul 24, 2006 4:02 pm

I've seen it puff out, quite dramatically too.

I always wondered about people saying a screw impression on a wet puck was a measure of dose - on a dry puck yes, I can see it.

I am sure some expansion takes place during brewing, as some water does chemically bind with the coffee (though I am not sure how much).
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Postby Jaime van Schyndel on Mon Jul 24, 2006 6:56 pm

I was under the impression that true expansion actually happens at the end when pressure releases and not during brewing. Basically what barry wrote.
It should be noted that even on the LM there can be varying dispersion screws. Some that jut out and some that are somewhat flat so I don't know how much an impression really means though I consistently get light impressions on the puck.
IMO, the tool method is a slight updose because of the 'chop' pushing some small amount of grinds down and this could be a reason to see the screw impression... or maybe not.
If you dose using a level method, your tamp should reveal the consistency of the dose by the depth of the tamper in the basket. When the top line of the tamper lines up just a touch under the basket lip, I consider that consistent for my setup.
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