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The Chicago Chop

November 02, 2011

One distribution technique that I never posted about when I was doing a series on distributions should be included even though it is not one with which I have much experience.  I do not have much experience with it for a couple reasons which I will detail after describing it.  The technique is called the Chicago chop.  You do it in the following way, you dose into the portafilter basket filling it over the rim.  You now take a knife or other straight implement and strike it in a bunch of parallel strikes running north south, for example.  You then turn the knife perpendicular to the original orientation and strike it across east west in a bunch of lines.  This creates a grid.  After that you simply swipe the coffee off of the top running the straight edge of the knife or spatula across in one direction most of the way, back the other way and then perpendicular in both directions.  To updose you smack the edge down harder as you go across.  Down dosing is harder to achieve and probably just requires a different basket.


The technique was invented by Intelligentsia so that when they had numerous bariastas working at the same time they could use this to ensure that the shots came out about the same.  You could imagine that with different techniques a grinder might need to be dialed in quite differently, so you need to make sure that if the grinder is run by the shop and not the individual barista that a uniform result can be created.  


I have not played with it much bercause it strikes me as more or less just a slightly more refined version of straight edge leveling off.  On the other hand Intelli is probably the best training ground for baristas in the country if not the world with last year’s world champ and always an amazing showing at the US barista championships.  Why then would I not take their distribution technique as close to gospel?  Because it gives up too much control combined with the fact that the Intelligentsia baristas do not actually use it when they are competing.  In other words, it is a good technique especially in a busy shop, but not the one they turn to when they want to make their very best drinks.  Given that I think it deserves to be included, but it landed in my to post later pile.  It just took much longer and later than I expected in that series.


Finally I’ll conclude with the following comments by barista champion Matt Riddle at Intelli so you can have instructions straight from the source…


http://coffeed.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=628&hilit=chicago+chop


expanded explaination of the Intelly tool method:

•    Overfill your portafilter so that you have a mound, fully covering the basket.

•    Chop across the face of the portafilter in a single direction. Most go West to East across the basket. The "Chopping" motion is akin to a fine julienne motion.

•    Chop in the direction perpendicular to the previous motion.

•    Scrape across the basket to fully level the grounds.

•    Tamp.

•    Clean.


A harder chopping motion will replicate an updose. …


We started employing this method about 2 1/2-3 years ago. We wanted to find a methodology that would allow any Barista that was on shift to be able to switch with the Barista that was currently pulling shots with minimal change to the grind/delay in drink production. This is paramount with (often times) 5+ Baristas working at the same time.”




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