Grooming of Espresso
After dosing and before tamping, a barista should groom the dose. Grooming in volves redistributing the upper layers of the coffee bed (or, in the case of the Weiss Distribution Technique, the entire coffee bed), eliminating any extra grounds if the barista deems the dose too large, and then polishing the surface of the coffee bed before tamping.
Several common grooming methods are in use today, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
- The NSEW (North South East West) Method (not to be confused with the tamping method of the same name). The NSEW method is easy to learn and fast enough for use in a busy cafe.
Using your finger or a straight-edged tool, push the mound of grounds toward the far rim of the basket (i.e., “north”) without pushing the grounds over the edge. Then push the mound to the near edge (“south”), then to the right, then to the left. Finally, push any extra grounds over the edge. The surface of the bed should be smooth and level, with no divots or visible inconsistency. Using the NSEW method, it is critical that the amount of “extra” grounds in the basket prior to grooming is consistent every time. The mass of the mound before grooming heavily influences the density of the groomed bed. The end result might always look the same, but a bed that began with a larger mound of grounds before grooming will be denser after grooming.
- Stockfleth’s Move. Stockfleth’s is perhaps the most difficult grooming tech nique to master but works well once you get the hang of it. Begin by slightly overdosing the basket. Hold the portafilter in front of your torso with both elbows facing outward. Put a straightened finger, or the webbing between the thumb and forefinger, gently on the grounds. Pull both elbows inward, causing the portafilter and the leveling hand to rotate in opposite direc tions. The mound of grounds should rotate around the center point of the basket. Repeat the motion several times until all areas are equally filled and compacted. You may polish the surface with a quick NSEW swipe before pushing any residual grounds over the edge.
- The Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT). Invented by John Weiss, the WDT is an ingenious way to compensate for clumps or uneven distribution. To exe cute the WDT, squeeze a funnel into the top of the portafilter basket. (John recommends using a small yogurt container with the bottom cut off.) Fun nel the grinds into the basket until it is slightly overfilled. Stir the grounds well with a slender, pointed object such as a dissecting needle or straightened paper clip. Remove the funnel, groom the dose with a quick NSEW swipe or Stockfleth’s Move, and tamp. Alternatively, the grounds can be dosed into a separate container and stirred before being poured into the portafilter bas ket. This version has the advantage of allowing the portafilter to retain more heat, since the portafilter spends less time detached from the group head.
The WDT offers the two unique benefits of breaking up clumps and redistributing an entire dose after it is already in the basket. The disad vantage of the WDT is that it might be too time consuming for regular use in a busy cafe.
Grooming Shallow Doses
All of the above grooming methods require starting with a mound of grounds large enough to fill the basket to the rim. Doses too small to crest the rim cannot be groomed with a level finger or tool. To groom a smaller dose, a barista has two choices: groom with a rounded tool or switch to a smaller basket.
Shallower doses can be groomed with a rounded, convex tool such as the lid of a grinder’s dosing chamber. One option is to rest the object on the rim of the basket and swipe NSEW before pushing any extra grounds over the edge. Alternatively, swipe the tool until it is at the centerline of the basket, and then rotate the tool one or two revolutions in a fashion similar to Stockfleth’s Move. Residual grounds can then be swiped over the edge with the rounded object.
Using a smaller basket can eliminate the need for a special grooming tool. For instance, a 15-gram dose might be shallow in one double basket but will be level with the rim in a different manufacturer’s double basket. lf you prefer to always groom with a level tool, it is worth having a variety of baskets on hand.