What are coffee distribution tools and do you need one?

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Also known as espresso distribution tools, coffee distribution tools allow you to spread ground coffee evenly inside a portafilter.

These tools can be used by both home baristas and professionals. They promise to improve an espresso-making routine as well as make it more consistent.

Wondering whether you should invest in one of these nifty tools?

In this post, we cover everything you need to know about distributing your coffee and how distribution tools work.

Why do you need to distribute your coffee?

Having an even distribution of coffee will not only improve consistency in terms of an even extraction but will also help you achieve your target extraction time. These are key elements when making a good cup of espresso.

Distribution methods are used to reduce human error when levelling the grounds inside the coffee basket.

A good coffee distribution method will prevent channelling and allow you to have more control when tamping.

Channelling happens when the pressurised water finds the path of least resistance through the coffee puck instead of flowing through the entire bed evenly. Channelling can negatively affect the taste of your brew.

How does a coffee distribution tool work?

Not to be confused with tamping (compacting the coffee into the portafilter using a coffee tamper), these tools distribute the coffee inside the portafilter so that the coffee bed is ready for tamping.

The most popular version, the NCD by Ona Coffee (previously called OCD), features an adjustable depth that reduces areas of high and low compression, making sure that all the grounds are evenly distributed.

It has a stainless steel base that features a number of fins that will distribute the grounds while leaving a smooth surface behind.

Here’s a video of a few distribution tools in action:

How do you use a coffee distribution tool?

Once you have emptied the grounds into your basket, lightly tap your portafilter against a hard surface before placing the coffee distributor on top.

Twist it at least three times using a circular motion in order to evenly distribute your grounds. Remove the distributor.

Your portafilter should have a smooth look. You can now use a tamper to further compress the grounds before using the espresso machine.

How do you set up a coffee distribution tool?

Here are the basic steps for using a NCD-style coffee distributor:

  1. Start by using a grinder to grind your standard coffee brew ratio. Make sure to be consistent on how many grams you are using as the height of the distributor will depend on this step. Place the coffee in the filter basket.
  2. Hold the distributor by the top layer and unlock it by twisting the bottom of the collar counterclockwise. You might need to use an allen key in order to loosen the screw mechanism.
  3. Grip both the top and bottom collars with your hands and twist to adjust to the desired depth. You should always aim to set it above the lowest possible depth, which is usually around 4 to 6 millimetres.
  4. Once you have the desired depth, lock the distributor by twisting the bottom collar clockwise until it has been tightened firmly.
  5. Once it is ready, place it on top of the coffee and with slight pressure spin it at least three times. The puck should look smooth and free from gaps or imperfections.
  6. Make sure to measure again and adjust when brewing coffee with a different ratio.

Other coffee distribution techniques

Other distribution techniques include:

  • Stockfleth method: In this method, you use your fingers to distribute the level surface of the coffee grounds before tamping. Your hand and the portafilter should rotate in opposite directions.
  • NESW: Also known as North East South West, the NESW is one of the easiest methods. It involves using your fingers to push the grounds around starting from back to front and the left to right.
  • Settle: Commonly used by baristas, this method involves tapping the portafilter into your palm to prep for tamping.
  • Vertical collapse: Tapping the portafilter on the bench or a tamping mat so the grounds fall into place.

In the video below, the team at Seven Miles analyses a range of distribution techniques with the aim of finding out which one produces the best espresso.

What are the best coffee distribution tools?

Premium: Nucleus Coffee Distributor by Ona Coffee

Ona is an Australian coffee roaster known for community, innovation and excellence in coffee. The Nucleus Coffee Distributor was designed by former World Barista Champion Sasa Sestic. The NCD distribution tool (previously OCD) has a Swiss patented design and comes in three different colours: black, silver and titanium.

Budget: Tobeape 53mm Coffee Distributor & Tamper

The Tobeape works as a distributor and as a tamper. It is designed to work with 54 mm portafilter baskets and comes with a dual-head and distributor leveller. The anti-rust design and two-in-one tamper make it a great option for the price.

FAQ

Is a coffee distribution tool the same as a leveller?

Yes, they are the same thing. The main job is to distribute the coffee grounds evenly before using a tamper. A tamper, on the other hand, is used to compact the ground beans even further.

How deep should a coffee distributor be set?

A coffee distributor should be set at the lowest or slightly above the distributor’s lowest possible depth, usually 4 to 6 mm. However, the depth will depend on how many grams of coffee you use when brewing. Take into account that the coffee should look slightly compressed and perfectly smooth after using the distributor (depending on the distributor method). It may require some trial and error.

Do you need to tamp after distributing?

Tamping will ensure that the coffee has been evenly compacted before the brewing process starts. There are cases where it is not necessary to tamp, one of them being if your tool is set up for a heavier distribution and can manage to compact the grounds without tamping.