There's a new kind of tamper in town and it resembles a hockey puck more than anything else. They're coming to South Africa soon and we chatted to the inventor, Pete Southern, to find out a bit more.
What is your background in coffee?
I went to Australia aged 19, and got a job working in a cafe in Melbourne. I started as a Waiter, but persuaded them to train me as a Barista, and before long I was hooked. I ended up spending months longer than I planned in Melbourne, but I saved up some money and then rode up the east coast on a motorbike. When I came back to the UK, I was really disappointed at the quality of coffee, so I bought a mobile coffee bar at an auction, and started selling coffee on a beautiful old lever machine. Even after landing a decent 'proper job', I still did it as a hobby, because I enjoyed it so much. I only stopped last year, and now Claudio (the trailer) lives with a lovely family up in Scotland.
What inspired this relatively simple but completely revolutionary idea?
After I took Claudio to work a couple of times, I managed to persuade my boss to invest in a commercial machine. I can make reasonable coffee, but my colleagues were complaining that when they made it, it wasn't as good. I realised they weren't tamping straight, but they didn't want to spend lots of time practising, so I set out to make a tamper that once set up, would guarantee a perfect tamp every time. I was lucky to already have an engineering/design background, and working at a company which makes DNA analysis machines meant I had lots of incredible resources available - 3D printers, a high-tech machine shop, and lots of useful contacts all helped.
You can adjust the PUSH tamper for different basket depths and different amounts of coffee. Pretty cool!
How difficult was it to introduce the idea to people in the industry?
If you're asking about Maxwell, yeah, it wasn't easy to be honest. He's a very busy guy, and I imagine he probably has a lot of people with wacky inventions that they want him to use. When I eventually got to show him a prototype on Skype, he was instantly really keen to try it out. I sent him one the next day, he tested it thoroughly, and then told me he would compete with it in Seattle, so I booked a flight. Once Maxwell had used it on the first day of the WBC, it became much easier. People would see me holding a PUSH, and come over to see it, and I'd get introduced to lots of people as 'the guy who made Maxwell's tamper'.
Maxwell Colonna Dashwood placed 5th at the World Barista Championships 2015, everyone was intrigued by his unusual tamper.
What do you think about the move in the industry to make equipment and technology that is more user friendly and takes out some of the skill required of coffee professionals and baristas? Is this in the best interest of drinking better coffee more consistently?
We've all been served both disappointing and fantastic coffee in the same cafe. To me, the most important skill of a Barista is understanding the effects of different variables on coffee, and how to control them, so that when the customer comes back for another cup of that fantastic new coffee you've just got in, it's just as good as the first cup. I don't think it's taking the skill out of it, but instead giving the Barista the control they need. Why should perfectly angling a tamper and pushing with the right amount of force be the difference between an incredible or terrible espresso? It's 2015 - we have so much impressive technology in machines and grinders which give the user total control over so many variables, with little or no margin for error. Dialling-in a coffee, even on the best equipment in the world, is not a simple or easy task, nor is spotting when something is going wrong in the middle of a 400 espresso shift, and knowing exactly what needs adjusting, and by how much. If we continue to create equipment and technology which allow the Barista more control, then coffee will become more consistent, and so we all get to drink more incredible coffee, and less terrible coffee. Who doesn't want that?
PUSH from Clockwork Espresso on Vimeo.
For pre-orders you can visit The Roastery's website to get on the list!