Love em' or hate em', distribution tools are here to stay…
It’s rare to walk into any specialty coffee shop these days and not see a distribution tool of some kind sitting on the bar. Nearly every company that produces coffee tools has come out with their own version. They vary in shape, size, and material, but all accomplish the same task.
I know there are some purists who have grown accustomed to using their hand to flatten or distribute the grounds in their portafilter. They are resisting the distribution tool takeover, but to quote the Borg from Star Trek, “resistance is futile”. I know some feel as though it separates them from another portion of the process, and it’s a skill that shouldn’t just disappear. Yet, there are a few reasons why I am an avid supporter of the tool.
It eliminates one of the many possibilities of human error in the espresso preparation process. I don’t care if you’ve hand distributed every shot for the last decade, each of those swipes vary in ways that could effect your shot. Your hand motions are like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same. A distribution tool set to a specific depth, and spun the same number of times will always be so much more consistent.
It minimizes wasted grounds. At home, or in the café, grounds that aren’t in the portafilter are money down the drain. Using a distribution tool cleanly flattens and grooms your espresso bed with little to no mess. The only issue I have is static causing small amounts of grounds to stick grooming portion of the tool. Otherwise, this tool keeps your coffee in the portafilter, the espresso in your cup, and your hard earned money from being wasted.
It is far more sanitary than using your fingers. Now at home, no one is going to pop in and shame you for touching your grounds, and put a “B” rating on your kitchen window. Yet, for someone like me who keeps a very clean home, espresso grinds on my hands tend to get on my portafilter handle, my milk pitchers, my jeans, and my cat. I’d rather not deal with it.
The biggest con to the distribution tool program is the cost. The original tool on the block is the Ona Coffee Distributor, otherwise known as the OCD. I have the 2.0 version, which costs $150. The other tools like the Saint Anthony Industries Wedge, the Pullman Chisel, and the Artpresso Design solo all vary in cost from $140-$200. They all vary a bit in terms of design aesthetic and functionality, but picking one up is something I'd highly recommend. They really will help smooth out your bar flow, save grounds, and make you more consistent shot to shot.