Just like with milk, you want a specific amount of coffee. In this case, I am shooting for 19.0 +/- 0.1 grams. This is 1 gram less than the capacity of the VST basket. After much trial and error, I decided I liked to work with this much coffee. The VST baskets are generally rated for +/- 1 gram of their indicated capacity, but every espresso machine is different. You might load up 20 grams of coffee and find out that it is too much and the coffee gets pressed against the brew head’s shower screen. That’s no bueno.
The Vario grinder has time presets for how long it should grind. Based on the fineness setting, you adjust the time setting to get roughly where you want to go with coffee quantity. This requires constant tweaking as coffee beans tend to change over time as they age, and from bag to bag.
I had a little too much coffee in the portafilter, so I spooned some out to get rid of it. You’ll notice in an earlier photo that I keep an OXO compost bin on the counter, which then gets dumped outside in my compost pile. The environment matters, you know. That’s where coffee comes from.
I also have a secret tool. It’s a Harbor Freight pick. I use it to get the shower screen off the espresso machine when it’s cleaning time, and also to stir the grounds in the portafilter before I swirl them.
Swirling the grounds is basically just shaking the portafilter assembly with the jam funnel in a circle. This helps level out the bed of coffee so that it’s flat before you tamp it. Once swirled, pull out the jam funnel. Tap the portafilter if the grounds need any more leveling, and then tamp.
This is one of the pieces of coffee craft that unfortunately is hard to get consistent. I can’t work up the stones to buy the automatic tamping machine, which applies a consistent and level tamping force every time. You’ll read a lot of nonsense around the internet about tamping force. I really like Matt Perger from Barista Hustle’s opinions on many things.
With regards to tamping, you can either try to apply the same amount of force every time (~20-30lbs), or you can operate near extremes and press as hard as you can. As Matt says, at the extreme end there’s not much variance. The coffee can only be compressed so much before it really doesn’t do anything more even with extra applied force.
While I like his advice, I don't follow it. So I probably have quite random tamping force. But, my drinks taste good (to me), so I guess I'm doing just fine.