Confession: I love my barista tools. I'm a full-fledged gear geek; especially when it comes to tampers. Just like all gear-heads, I need my tools just the way I like ‘em. I was never really satisfied with off-the-shelf tampers, so in my early days I gained a little reputation for bugging manufacturers about tweaking this, and fixing that , or what if we tried this... (it’s fully my dream to have a “signature model” tamper one day - nerd alert I know). I've been using oversized pistons on my tampers since around 2007 or so. My first one was made by Terry Z during his Espressoparts era - it was a 58.6mm old school Lava Tamper with the Ritual logo branded on it. Since then I've had probably no less than 25 tampers of various shapes and sizes to do my dirty work. My latest go-to was a 58.4mm that seemed to have a good mix of enough piston size to cover most of the basket surface area, without creating that pesky vacuum I’d experienced with my really big boys (it’s no fun to get your puck sucked back out of the basket.) Overall I was pretty happy with my 58.4mm piece.
Fast forward to SCAA 2015. I was wandering the trade show floor and stumbled across the Pullman booth, which was being manned by Australian barista boss extraordinaire Adam Metelmann. I’d always seen the Pullman stuff floating around the internet but had never caught a glimpse in person. Being the oversized piston fan that I am, the BigStep caught my eye. I chatted with Adam about it for a bit, held it, wanted it, but was too poor at the time to buy it. Luckily for me through the matrix of friendship, camaraderie, and fast international shipping - one magically landed on my front porch.
So I've been using it for couple of weeks and here are my thoughts:
Fit and finish is solid. This definitely feels like a custom piece. I’m not sure if it is; but everything is dressed well and doesn’t feel/look like it’s a random assembly line job. It's a really beautiful tamper.
The tamper itself is height adjustable with several little insert rings you can stack on the handle. For me it’s not about overall tamper height but the distance between the top of the handle to where your fingers rest on the top of the piston. I used one small ring and was good to go.
The rubber on the piston is great for me. I’m a finger heavy kind of guy so I had much less fatigue after a shift with this tamper vs. my normal all metal pistons. If you use your palm more than your fingers this probably won’t matter as much to you.
The handle on mine is American Walnut, and is one of the first wood handled tampers I’ve had in years. If you like a lighter overall tamper - the wood is good; if you like a bit more weight or even balance - aluminum handle is probably your jam. I admittedly thought it was a bit too light for my liking at first, but after a couple days all of my all metal tampers started to feel heavy. It's all personal preference on this one obviously.
The base is savage! This thing covers pretty much all the surface area in the basket (which I expected it to do). But the standouts are the sharp, non-radius edge and absence of vacuum. I was a bit scared of binding issues and really scared of vacuum issues, but as I plugged along I noticed neither. The sharp edge has quite a different feel than your standard radiused edged tamper...it feels a bit more aggressive and intense where the standard tampers feel a bit softer or plush in comparison (I’m not sure if that even makes any sense). Apparently the absence of vacuum and having this big boy not suck your puck back out at you is a result of the stepped design. I don’t get it, I have no idea how it works, but it does.
// If you want to read more about how a non-radius edge can make your life better, check out Matt Pergers blog on the Pergtamp (also a Pullman piece). //
Below are some tests I ran using a few tampers and a 20 gram VST basket. I didn’t measure extraction or any of that - I was just looking for excess (untamped) grounds, and feel.
58mm is a total wreck; I’m not sure why people make tampers this small anymore. 58.2 - 58.4mm will easily fit in a non VST basket (if you are for some reason using those), so somewhere in there should probably be the standard, but oh well. To my dismay my 58.4 proved to be only marginally better! I was so sad about it that I gave it a second try (so much for consistency and the scientific method) which yielded better results. Try number two seemed to be more representative of what I normally get with this tamper. The BigStep obviously covers the most ground and the sharp edge makes short work of basically every shred of ground coffee in the basket, all while making for a squeaky clean basket...the pictures below basically tell the whole story.
Note: You will not like this tamper if you are one of those smash and grab, sloppy tamping baristas. I see you everywhere and I see what you’re doing. I know it’s busy and you’re in a hurry but you’re really not doing anyone any favors. That being said If you insist on riding dirty, maybe stick with that standard 58mm. Using the BigStep definitely requires precision (i.e. paying attention).
So as you can tell I have a new go-to coffee weapon, and have to retire my 58.4 back into my collection - we had some great times buddy! If anyone out there is in the market for a new tamper, give the BigStep some consideration; you'll probably be amped that you did.