As a barista, having the right tools can greatly enhance your coffee-making experience and the quality of your drinks. While some tools may be more commonly used, there are a few slightly obscure barista tools that are worth their weight in gold that help us understand more about espresso than ever. Here are just some of these tools.
Basic Barista Tools that help make better espresso
Improving your day to day espresso doesn’t have to cost a whole lot, these following tools will help with your consistency, making up in an area where perhaps your espresso machine or grinder may be lacking.
The WDT Tool
The WDT tool is a simple but effective tool that can help improve the consistency of your espresso extractions. It works by evenly distributing the coffee grounds in the portafilter basket before tamping, which helps prevent channelling and ensures a more even extraction.
This tool is especially useful if your grinder is guilty of putting out clumps, as it can help break them up and distribute the coffee much more evenly.
You'll find a lot of the best Reddit Espresso stations have a fancy WDT tool somewhere around their coffee station, and we can't really argue with it, if your grinder puts out clumps, this little barista tool is perfect for making nice and fluffy grounds ready to be tamped.
There are plenty of really fancy tools available, or you can just do what I do at home and put a few needles into a wine/champagne cork and you have a DIY WDT tool!
The Tamping Mat
Sometimes overlooked for the home barista station, a tamper mat is a soft, rubber mat that provides a stable surface for tamping your espresso. It can help protect your countertop and prevents your tamper from slipping while you're tamping. If you have a spouted portafilter as opposed to a bottomless portafilter, these can be tricky to find a level surface to tamp on.
However, some tamping mats provide a little lip to hang your portafilter over which makes thing a lot easier as you now have a flat surface and a good grip to allow you to apply a decent amount of pressure.
A Knock Box
Ok, ok. Maybe a knock box won't actually improve your espresso, but it will improve your impact on the environment. Instead of mixing it with your other household waste, the humble knock-box will allow you to keep your used and pasteurised coffee grounds safe to be used for a variety of uses, such as fertilizer, a cleaning medium or fridge freshener instead of using another bottle filled with chemicals.
It does hold some learning benefit as you can then assess your coffee puck to see if it has saturated evenly, remained intact and avoided any channelling.
Intermediate Barista Tools for Learning More about Espresso
If you're really starting to get into home espresso, or have just started working in a coffee shop and you are looking to take your espresso knowledge to the next level, here are a couple tools that you may find useful in your day to day espresso;
Coffee Grind Size Chart
This chart is a ruler-like tool that typically has a series of lines that represent different grind sizes, from coarse to fine. This tool can be helpful for determining the correct grind size for your brewing method and ensuring that you're achieving the optimal extraction. It also helps you maintain consistency and understand whether your grinder is giving you a consistent output.
The best home grinders for coffee are ones where they can provide a consistent grind size, and if your grinder usually can produce a consistent grind, this ruler might help you troubleshoot issues with your grinder without immediately taking it apart.
We’ve explained the benefit of a barista diary for taking your understanding of espresso to the next level, so its no surprise it makes it onto our list of amazing Barista Tools. Keep track of beans, grind size, ambient temperature and tasting notes so you can start to determine patterns. You can track;
- Dose size
- Extraction time
- Total yield
- Taste notes
- a score out of 10
And much more... I like a good Moleskin notepad for mine, but you can use literally anything.
Advanced Barista Tools for Coffee Scientists
The following are tools that I find fascinating that some baristas and coffee enthusiasts regularly bring out to test the quality and make subtle improvements to their coffee. I don’t think every barista and espresso enthusiast is going to need these tools. But just knowing they are out there and their application is something that should inspire.
Advanced Barista Tools For Coffee Scientists
The following are tools that I find fascinating that some baristas and coffee enthusiasts regularly bring out to test the quality and make subtle improvements to their coffee. I don’t think every barista and espresso enthusiast is going to need these tools. But if you have an interest in modding your espresso machine or really understanding the science behind espresso, then these are some of the tools and their applications that facilitate that;
A thermocouple (also known as a PID) is a temperature sensor that can be used to measure the temperature of water as it passes through the espresso machine. This can be helpful for ensuring that the water temperature is consistent and within the optimal range for extraction. Some espresso machines even have built-in thermocouples, but if your machine doesn't, you can purchase a portable thermocouple that can be easily inserted into the group head.
The modding community loves to add these to older machines like the Gaggia classic to give a much more accurate brew temperature.
A pH meter is a tool that measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. In coffee making, pH can affect the taste and quality of the final product. Some baristas use pH meters to test the pH of their water, as water with a pH that is too high or too low can affect the flavour of the coffee.
Additionally, some coffee enthusiasts use pH metres to measure the pH of their coffee, as acidity can be an important factor in the flavour profile of the coffee and understanding the acidity of a coffee solution can help understand what yourself or a customer may find more palatable.
Refractometer with TDS metre: A refractometer with a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter is an advanced tool that can help baristas to dial in their espresso shots more precisely. This tool combines the functions of a refractometer and a TDS meter to provide accurate readings of both extraction yield and total dissolved solids in the coffee.
You can find TDS meters on Amazon for quite cheap, they won’t go into detail of what is actually in the water, but they can give a general idea of water hardness and should indicate whether or not you should be using a water filter for making coffee. This can help baristas to adjust their brewing parameters more precisely and achieve the desired flavour profile.
Basic ones can be picked up pretty cheap but some baristas go even further with their analysis;
Such as Michael Cooper at the Quantitative Cafe that takes data provided by these tools and and presents them in a new and enlightening way. Take a read of his blog to view some of his experiments.
In the end, the approach you take to making espresso is up to you and what you feel most comfortable with. Some people enjoy taking a scientific approach, experimenting with different variables to achieve the perfect shot, while others prefer a more aesthetic and taste-led approach, relying on their senses and experience to guide them. Ultimately, the most important thing is that you find a method that feels right for you and allows you to produce espresso that you enjoy. So whether you choose to use the barista tools suggested or not, remember that the goal is to make coffee that you love, and to enjoy the process, and there's no one "right" way to do it.