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During visits to your local coffee shop, you may have noticed baristas using strange tools to prepare their espresso puck before locking the portafilter into the machine.
One of the stranger-looking gizmos you may find to be particularly perplexing contains many fine needles. This device is known as a Weiss Distribution Tool, or WDT for short.
If you haven’t plucked up the courage to ask the barista what this tool does for fear of being frowned upon. I’ve got your back.
In this article, I will tell you everything there is to know about the Weiss distribution method, and I will explain in simple terms the benefits of this strange-looking device and why it could also be a valuable addition to your own home coffee-making routine.
✔ Quick Answer
If you want to know more, I suggest you stick around.
What is Weiss Distribution?
The Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT) was invented by coffee enthusiast John Weiss, who first explained the basic concept and its benefits on the Home-Barista coffee forum back in December 2005.
Back in the early 2000s, coffee professionals were obsessed with uniform distribution, but John Weiss discovered that distributing ground coffee was just one part of the problem when making espresso.
He determined that coffee ground clumps were also partly to blame for poor extraction.
The technique introduced by John slowly gained traction within the coffee community as a quick and easy way to break down clumps of coffee.
But it wasn’t until recently that using WDT became adopted by the masses, mainly due to renowned coffee names such as Matt Perger, Scott Rao, and Jonathan Gagne, who brought this technique to the forefront.
If you’ve ever tried to pull a shot of espresso, you know that to achieve top-notch shots, it is essential to grind the coffee very finely.
This is due to the fact that espresso extraction occurs within a brief time frame and utilizes high-pressure water, resulting in a smaller opportunity to draw out the desired flavors and aromas compared to filter brewing techniques.
The problem is that the extremely fine grind size needed for espresso can occasionally cause clumping. This tends to happen as the coffee is dispensed from your grinder (although newer premium grinders don’t suffer from this problem).
If your espresso grounds clump together, the extraction will be uneven, which leads to channeling. This is where the Weiss Distribution Technique comes in and saves the day
The tool for this method is made of one or several fine acupuncture needles, which are used to stir the coffee grounds in the portafilter.
When used in a circular fashion, the clumps disperse and break up in ground coffee, leaving you with a soft bed of coffee ready to be tamped.
Is The Weiss Distribution Technique Necessary?
The quick answer is no. The WDT tool is not necessary. But with the number of coffee enthusiasts claiming the effectiveness of the Weiss Distribution Technique, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the WDT helps you to achieve an even espresso extraction.
So many people can’t be wrong, can they?
But I must point out that the WDT isn’t a magic tool (although it does produce amazing results) that’s going to transform your espresso shots instantly.
The process of preparing and pulling a shot of espresso still needs input and skill from you.
But adding the Weiss Distribution Technique to your routine will definitely help with breaking up any clumps of coffee caused by your grinder that are present in the portafilter basket.
Using the tool helps to distribute the coffee grounds in a more uniform manner, which you would otherwise struggle to do without some sort of tool.
A toothpick could work, but it’s not going to give you the same results; I know because I tried.
So that begs the question, do you still need to tamp if you use the WDT to evenly distribute your coffee grounds?
Should You Use The WDT Before Tamping Coffee?
Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, the Weiss distribution method only helps with puck prep giving you an even distribution of the coffee.
By following up and using a tamper, you’re using force to compact the finely ground coffee inside of your portafilter basket.
But if you try to tamp unevenly distributed coffee in the portafilter, you will struggle to create an even puck. It’s almost impossible. Go ahead and try.
Once all of the clumps have been removed, you then use your tamp to compress your coffee puck as you normally would with your espresso preparation.
Trust me, It makes a huge difference.
Coffee Distributor Tool vs. WDT
You may be wondering whether you need to use a coffee distribution tool and/or a WDT tool for an even distribution of the coffee. Are there any benefits to using both tools?
It depends on the amount of time you have.
A coffee distribution tool that doubles as a tamper is becoming commonplace in specialty coffee shops.
But in real-world environments, you typically won’t see a barista behind a busy coffee bar taking the additional time to use the Weiss distribution tool, along with a coffee distributor and a tamp.
There just isn’t enough time.
However, for a home barista where time isn’t really a concern, using a WDT to break up any clumps of coffee, then following up with a few twists of a coffee distributor, and then finally finishing with a firm tamp is going to increase your chances of pulling the perfect espresso.
What Is Puck Raking?
There are actually two methods you can carry out using the Weiss Distribution Technique (WDT).
Puck Raking involves using the WDT tool to distribute only the grounds located on the portafilter’s surface.
Another method is called “deep WDT”, which is when you use the tool to distribute all the grounds, reaching the portafilter’s bottom.
In most coffee shops, a different distribution tool is commonly used in place of WDT, called a coffee leveling distribution tool.
This approach evens out the coffee puck, resulting in a more consistent tamp.
Still, a leveling distribution tool does not penetrate deep down to the bottom of the portafilter and only really evens out the coffee on the edge and top of the portafilter.
So I would say that a WDT is still a better route to take, and then possibly follow up with leveling distribution and a tamp.
Different Types Of WDT Tools
The original Weiss Distribution Technique tool, invented by Weiss himself, was comprised of a single dissecting needle.
However, since its creation, the tool has gone through a myriad of changes and improvements, and although the thin dissecting needles still prove to be one of the better designs, others have come onto the scene that improve on the original concept.
Today it’s not uncommon to see a combination of 3 or 9 needles on newer WDT tools.
Of course, many companies in the world of espresso have also jumped on the trend and have produced WDT tools of varying degrees of sophistication to improve your espresso.
For example, the Normcore adjustable needle distribution tool takes it to a new level by integrating spinning into the design to evenly distribute the coffee and break up any clumps.
It’s pretty neat and does a good job.
My Experience With Weiss Distribution Technique
I recently started using the Weiss Distribution Technique as part of my standard puck preparation.
Yes, it does take a bit of additional time, but with my espresso grinders, I always have an issue with clumps of coffee lurking in my portafilter basket.
Before, I used to stir the grounds using a toothpick which worked pretty well. However, since using the WDT, I’m able to eliminate the errors caused by my clump-prone grinders.
But honestly, today, with the advances in domestic home espresso grinders, many now do a great job out of the box creating fluffy, clump-free grinds; so a WDT might not be of much benefit to you.
Take the Eureka Mignon Specialita or the Baratza Sette as an example. Both of these use a funnel to help aid in good distribution, only minor work is needed on the bed of coffee, such as a quick tap and tamp, and you’re good to go.
If you make a lot of espresso at home and you don’t own the best coffee grinder in the world, I recommend having at least one WDT tool.
They’re affordable and will definitely help elevate your espresso making; and as any real espresso geek knows, any tool that can help improve espresso is worth its weight in gold.
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