Every artisan uses tools of some sort, but who makes the tools? Sometimes the tools themselves are made by an artisan, and such is the case of this month’s Island Artisan. I want to introduce you to someone who makes a tool that plays a large role in just how good your morning jolt of java may taste.
The tool is a coffee tamper, a tool that most of us probably don’t use at home, unless you have your own espresso machine. But it is a vital tool used by every barista in the world who fills a brew basket, or porta-filter as it’s called in the trade, by hand. After you put the ground coffee in the porta-filter, you need to tamp it down so that it is packed nice and even so the hot water slowly flows through all the grounds at the same rate. A lot of the tampers you see are just made from a simple hunk of cast aluminum, fairly rough in nature, but this is where Reg Barber comes in.
Reg was a laid-off government worker who decided to start another career running a coffee shop. As he was learning how to pull espresso shots in Seattle, he realized that the world needed a better tamper. So he just went ahead and made one for himself.
“One of the coffee machine companies saw my tamper, liked it, and ordered one. And one turned into twenty, and twenty turned into forty, and it just keep going.”
Now Reg has four employees in his Saanichton workshop, which is bursting at the seams. It is jam-packed with all the raw metal and wood materials needed to make the tampers…a few work stations where all the fine finishing is done, a shipping area where Reg showed me the waybills of tampers being sent all over the world, 50 different countries, and the walls are covered with posters and photos of Reg with world barista champions who have used his tampers in competition.
The first time I met Reg was in a coffee shop, of course, and he had a magazine with him, a coffee magazine from Australia…and he was the cover story! He is held in high regard around the world for these tampers, and it’s a career he certainly never thought of when he got laid off over 14 years ago.
So the next time you are in a coffee shop, have a look around the espresso machine and see if they are using a Reg Barber tamper…chances are good they are if they are baristas who care about the coffee they make. You can find out more about Reg and his tampers at his website. He also makes beautiful wooden boxes that baristas knock the spent grounds into from their portafilters.