loader image
January 30, 2017 /
How To Distribute By Tapping

Earlier in the year, I wrote a post detailing distribution and what it should achieve. It all boiled down to evenness, speed, ergonomics, and cleanliness. I’m still a strong advocate for the tapping method—what I believe to be the most effective and practical choice for professional baristas. Today I’m going to show you what distribution by tapping looks like, how I do it, what can go wrong and how to fix it; all immortalised in sassy GIF format.

When distributing, the aim is for a perfectly homogeneous and flat mass of coffee grinds: no air pockets, divots, cracks, slopes or similar nonsense. Now, I said perfect; not ‘pretty good’.

This is not perfection:

This is also not perfection:

This. Is. Perfection.

 

Nothing less is acceptable. If you can’t imagine a tiny Tiger Woods using your grinds as a world-class putting green, you’re not trying hard enough. And no, I don’t care how busy your bar is. This result is perfectly achievable within less than 3 seconds.

For optimum distribution, both the vertical and horizontal distribution of grinds must be considered. Here’s how.

Horizontal

Tapping the basket sideways with the palm of your hand will push the grinds to the edges of the basket and even out their density. It’s a little tricky, but once you master it you’ll never look back. Here’s what will probably go wrong.

Tapping too hard does this:

Tapping too softly does this:

Twisting the handle so the coffee falls in the direction you want does this:

What you really need to do is stop thinking. Stop it. Just try tapping at different speeds and angles. Try things you thought wouldn’t work. At first, you’ll probably be frustrated, but your muscles will soon learn what to do. After some practice the coffee will do precisely as you wish without much effort at all.

Turning your brain off and tapping the portafilter does this:

Soon you’ll be able to make that happen in record time.

Vertical (collapsing)

Vertical taps will collapse the grinds lower into the basket, eliminating any air pockets and increasing density.

This can be performed before or after horizontal tapping. Most choose to do it first if the grinds are sitting high in the basket. This helps reduce the mess when it comes time for horizontal work. Others will do it last if their grinds are too compressed to move fluidly when tapping horizontally. Some grinders produce fluffy fluid grinds, others produce compacted bricks. Vertically collapsing last will help break down the latter.

I don’t have a shred of empirical evidence for which should come first. Sorrs, we’re working on it!

Aim for a consistent number of taps for every handle, and make them count. Drop the handle from the same height or guide it with your free hand. Be deliberate and firm. If you tap during grinding, do it at the same time every time. You know, do whatever you’re doing, all of it, the same way every time. I usually do two solid, precise taps on the forks of the grinder, or on the bench:

It’s kind of impossible to maintain consistency when jiggling or shaking the handle around. Flimsy grinder forks, a rubber tamping mat or a lightweight bench won’t get the job done properly:

Clumps

Stop worrying. Poke one with your finger and it breaks apart instantly. Now think about how hard you’re tamping. Now think about 110 pounds per square inch of water pressure. Is it still a clump after all that?

Fines Migration

Stop worrying. Fines are what makes up the undissolved solid portion of espressos, giving them their signature texture. If you want to avoid fines migration then you probably shouldn’t be pumping water through the grinds, which effectively migrates the vast majority of them through the basket and into your cup.

“Matt, you’re such an idealist. It doesn’t matter that much. Go back to your cave.”

Get a fellow barista to make you two nearly identical espressos. One with slightly imperfect distribution, the other as best they possibly can. Taste them blind. Upon seeing the difference you’ll likely experience a brief ebullition of sorrow as you recall the number of sub-standard espressos you’ve served people.

Evenness and consistency are the most important things to remember, regardless of distribution technique.

Take the time to make that putting green perfect.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this and want to enjoy delicious coffee with the rest of the community – register for our monthly Superlatives coffee subscription. Or if you just want to keep up with everything Barista Hustle – sign up to the Newsletter.

Coaching Calendar

Find a course with a BH Certified Coach

February 2020

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
1
2
3
4
5
6
  • FR: BARISTA ONE
7
8
9
  • AU: Barista One
10
11
12
13
14
  • ZAR: Barista One
15
  • ZAR: Barista One
16
17
  • Malaysia, Emery School of Coffee, Kuala Lumpur, Barista One with Cadence Sim
18
19
20
21
22
  • HP11BH/Hemel: Barista One
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
  • HP11BH/Hemel: Barista One

News & Updates

Sign-up, Take part and keep in touch!

49
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Tap that.

RobAshton
Guest
RobAshton

Superb. Thanks.

I need to up my tapping game.

Nod
Guest
Nod

Fantastic – thanks a lot for the advice. Is there is ever an award for services to the coffee world you will win!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

The versalab’s grinds are suuuuper fluffy and easy to work with. I would tap vertically, then side to side.

Nod
Guest
Nod

This is super helpful thanks. I have a versalab m3 grinder which leaves a very distinctive ‘volcano’ hole in the middle. Do you think you would tap to fill it or use the finger to fill the hole and then tap..

bjeck14
Guest
bjeck14

My $0.02:

Firstly, one cannot claim ‘perfection’ in distribution when we have little idea what a ‘perfect’ distribution is. We need evidence.
Secondly, I’m not sure that I agree with the concept that clumps aren’t a problem. I do agree that they will be dislodged by tamping, but you are starting with an area of greater concentration of coffee relative to the rest of the basket. This area of increased concentration of coffee will remain even post tamping.

Benji Walklet
Guest
Benji Walklet

Sweet, yeah I use a MyPressi but I think this would definitely help with distribution. Thanks!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I’d get a funnel like http://sensorylab.com.au/products/jam-funnel and grind into a dariole mould or similar to transfer. Then you don’t need to take the basket out.

Benji Walklet
Guest
Benji Walklet

Great tutorial, thanks!

Any tips for the few of us who grind directly into the filter basket sans portafilter?

I usually do a few taps on the table to settle, followed by an L shape with my thumb and index using the web between my fingers to distribute the coffee.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Hey mate,

At the very top I wrote:

“Today I’m going to show you what distribution by tapping looks like, how I do it…”

Which pretty much gives me license to say and claim whatever I want. It’s ‘my’ perfection.

Old Mate
Guest
Old Mate

This is easily in the top 5 hustles to date! Very well put together

Daniel Laurence
Guest
Daniel Laurence

Thanks Matt. Valuable lesson! Keep up the awesome work 🙂

ewejintee
Guest
ewejintee

Love to GIFs ! I can watch it all day!

bjeck14
Guest
bjeck14

Yeah fair enough. I guess my point here is that is seems that there are large gaps in our knowledge of espresso distribution. We appear to know much more about particle size distribution than we did, say 5 years ago, thanks in part to a lot of your work. Distribution of these grounds (including the impact of tapping on fines migration and the impact that this may have on extraction) seems to be something that needs more research. I wish I had the time and resources, but I’m hoping someone else does and can provide greater insight into this space.… Read more »

Kelly Sanchez
Guest
Kelly Sanchez

I can see that your method of tapping can achieve a visually flat, even bed. But I am curious about consistency from shot to shot, e.g. consistent results, consistent time taken to tap, consistent mechanic procedure, etc. Do you find that you can serve many shots in a service environment quickly and consistently with this method?

Raymond Payne
Guest
Raymond Payne

Interesting post.
You have assessed clumps and fines migration on a theoretical basis but some evidence would be useful in this situation.
I am eager to attempt the experiment you have proposed regarding blind tasting of espresso’s using different distribution methods.
You make my job as a barista more interesting each article you write. Keep them coming please Matt.

Alan Bruce
Guest
Alan Bruce

I’ve been using (and teaching) this technique since just before your original post and have seen a big leap in consistency of flavour. It’s the bomb!

On a side note, great use of the word ‘ebullition’.

ewejintee
Guest
ewejintee

Love the Gifs! I can watch it all day 😀

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Great!! Thanks Alan.

And I’m glad you appreciated that. 🙂

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Back in the archives I did a test on the consistency of this method as far as mass/volume goes.

In terms of a busy bar setting – it’s the only method I recommend.

Damian Czyżewski
Guest
Damian Czyżewski

You shouldn’t go with 18gr of beans with the 20gr VST baskets. VSTs are generally deeper allowing for more headspace that’s why we’re generally (like Matt) moving to techniques which don’t require us to touch/reach the coffee with fingers or straight levering tools. Try pulling 19-22gr of beans shots with the 20gr basket if it’s too harsh/”strong” grind coarser and increase the volume. REMEMBER the 20gr basket is the WBC standard if you look at what they go for I don’t remember anyone going so low (18-19) with the dose on the world finals.

daniel
Guest
daniel

I find that even if I always use 18 grams of coffee beans on a 20 gram VST, the volume of grinded coffee will vary depending on the type of coffee used. Sometimes I will have a mound to work with, other times the coffee will sit very low on the basket, making distribution more difficult. Should always aim for a mound regardless of weight or should I weigh grinded coffee? or….

Richard Orr
Guest
Richard Orr

Super helpful piece! Seeing the GIFs on the do’s and improper technique registered with me. I was putzing around with bad form at home for too long.

bjeck14
Guest
bjeck14

Yep agreed – there’s a definite need for more evidence in all facets of extraction

DF
Guest
DF

I think it’s only fair to comment that as much as you claim we need evidence of ‘perfect’ distribution, would we not also need evidence that clumping is truly an issue? What if the clumping was occurring not because of a concentration of coffee, but a concentration of static electricity?

Aleksander Smęt
Guest
Aleksander Smęt

I was thinking that horizontal way is not good for coffee in basket because it’s making cracks and lead to channeling

Linh Nguyën
Guest
Linh Nguyën

Been using this method exclusively for the last few days and I think I’m finally getting the hang of it. Definitely faster, and distribute better (arguably) than my previous tap-and-swipe (my finger is very straight). Too bad our coffee bar isn’t busy enough to really make use of my newly-improved speed yet.

Thanks for another eye-opener, Matt.

Alan Bruce
Guest
Alan Bruce

I think that’s more if you do it post-tamping.

daniel
Guest
daniel

Thanks for the reply Damian, does the same apply for the 18gr basket? That is dose around 17 to 20 grms?

Joe
Guest
Joe

I’m so pleased you added this with GIFs to the other information on the site! I’d been wondering how the taps looked and what you ended up with, since you first said we had to tap that PF. I can tell you, I’ve had a lot of mess and fiddling so far but have yet to achieve putting green perfection – I’ll keep trying though.

Grant Conine
Guest
Grant Conine

Coming full circle on this one, I’ve started using the handle of my tamper *pre tamp* to give a couple of solid sideways raps to my portafilter, then vertical taps on the bench, and then tamp firmly (until the coffee “pushes back”) and it seems to do the trick.

Damian Czyżewski
Guest
Damian Czyżewski

I’d go with min. 17,5 gr up to 19 gr judging by my experience (mid-sized cafe we use 18 gr VSTs for over a year). I’d rather go with a bit over 18gr in than a bit under if you have to choose. What we generally use is 18-18,5 gr in (coffee) and pull 37-39 gr out (liquid) depending on the coffee we use and we tweak it a bit depending on our roast freshness.

Aleksander Smęt
Guest
Aleksander Smęt

I’ve noticed that when I’m doing horizontal tapping there is a whole just next to the filter basket. And coffee mass at the bottom of filter basket is going to be one big crack with every single tap

ben
Guest
ben

Matt, is this method applicable to manual grinders?

Please Don’t Polish When You Tamp | RegesCoffeeBreak.co.uk
Guest
Please Don’t Polish When You Tamp | RegesCoffeeBreak.co.uk

[…] matters is how well you distributed and tamped the grinds. Here’s a few previous posts about distribution and […]

AJ Willett
Guest
AJ Willett

I think something that would be helpful to look into is what is the science behind the bottom two thirds of the espresso basket. When we are tamping with our hands, we are in reality only pressing down and compressing the top third of the espresso, leaving the grounds below in the bottom 2/3 essentially untouched. Any info on this would be fun and beneficial to explore.

Abril
Guest
Abril

It’s very helpful! Thanks!

Gary MJ Wong
Guest
Gary MJ Wong

been tapping for last 2 years and sometimes I do tamping without collapsing the grinds. It often gives me longer brew on a volumetric espresso machine, and tastes very different. This article reminds me to look into it again!

Shawn Thacker
Guest
Shawn Thacker

as usual, great and useful information for both professional and novice/home baristas.

How To Distribute By Tapping | RegesCoffeeBreak.co.uk
Guest
How To Distribute By Tapping | RegesCoffeeBreak.co.uk

[…] HOW TO DISTRIBUTE BY TAPPING […]

layne
Guest
layne

hello, matt ,as a fan who likes your articles so much ,i was just wondering if i could translate your articles into chinese thus my chinese friends could read your papers and learn your experiences .

Michael Sammartino
Guest
Michael Sammartino

Very interesting article! However, I’m still not fully convinced about your claim regarding verticle tapping and fines migration. While water may indeed force the fines to the bottom of the portafilter basket, doesn’t compressing the coffee in the portafilter basket before tamping result in a much denser bottom layer than the top which could result in an imbalanced extraction? I’m curious to try experiment with finger tapping rather than NSEW grooming, but I’m still very skeptical about vertical taps. From a few different classes I’ve conducted and attended, I’ve found that the less pre-tamp compression there is, the better the… Read more »

Please Don't Polish When You Tamp - Matt Perger
Guest
Please Don't Polish When You Tamp - Matt Perger

[…] matters is how well you distributed and tamped the grinds. Here’s a few previous posts about distribution and […]

BostonCharles
Guest
BostonCharles

What about nutating tamps and NSEW distribution, any thoughts?

Arnhem Coffee Roastery
Guest
Arnhem Coffee Roastery

Ok, I combined this technique with keeping my beans in the fridge so they are at less than 20 deg C and I am observing an overall improvement in consistency. Its easy with the deep baskets in the Pompeii, i do the horizontal taps first and then 2 solid vertical taps on my marble bench (made easier with the naked PF), I have adjusted my tamping to remove anything other than one ‘press’.

Arnhem Coffee Roastery
Guest
Arnhem Coffee Roastery

Thanks for the blog Matt, only discovered it today and really enjoying it. I use an HG One with an Izzo Pompeii and using the blind tumbler with the HG One certainly helps with distribution – its super easy to see the effect with a naked PF on a commercial lever! – but I have always got an improvement from there with some distribution in the PF.

Will give your technique a try and see if I can pick up any difference in the cup!

tasinho
Guest
tasinho

Hello Matt and thanks for your great job you are doing.I’m trying a different method and i want to ask you if i right.After i fill my basket with coffee, i give it a slight tamp so as to level it(vertically) and after that i hit the portafilter in the side with my tamper(horizontally) and after that step i give it the “final” tamp.Is there any mistakes on this technique i’m using?Thanks in advance.

Emily
Guest
Emily

Hey Matt, I love the sassy GIFs. I’ve been using a little plastic decor container to sit on the grinder forks that is almost millimetre perfect fit for the VST baskets to catch the coffee as it grinds, leaving me two free hands to do an abundance of other things during the 4 and a bit seconds it takes to grind my coffee, adding furthermore to me looking like a ninja-octopus during service… As well as saving time (every second counts when 98% of my sales are mugs and 16oz cappuccinos) and reducing little escapee grinds (messy benches kill me… Read more »

Simon Byun
Guest
Simon Byun

Hi Matt,

Thanks for the great explanation.
While reading the article, one question popped into mind.
Instead of tapping with your palm, why not use the tamper to lightly tap the portafilter?
After doing some research online, there seems to be a consensus that tapping with a portafilter will create small gaps in espresso particles and potentially cause channeling. But wouldn’t tapping with hand also cause similar gaps leading to channeling? I would love to hear your thought on this. The reason I ask is because I feel that I can get more consistent distribution by using the tamper.

Look forward to hearing your insights.

Copyright © 2019 Barista Hustle, All Rights Reserved!

You have Successfully Subscribed!