Reg Barber: The Ultimate Tamping Machine [Revised 9/30]
Positive Product Points
It's not a tamper. It's a work of art. There's something about beautiful, warm African Rosewood in your hand early in the morning that brings a wry smile to your face. It's all about the visual and tactile sensation--something that cold, hard steel just can't elicit. It adds that final, missing dimension to your espresso experience.
Negative Product Points
It costs as much as a cheap espresso machine. It probably won't improve your shots. I actually think the Vivace Ergo does a slightly better job. Does any of this matter? Not one bit--and if you think it does, you just don't get it.
The One that created "Tamper Envy."
For a year now I've been lusting after the Reg Barber line of stainless African Rosewood tampers. I purchased a Vivace "Ergo-Packer" for $40 a number of months ago over the Reg--all because I'm a Schomer disciple. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the "Ergo" I still found myself coveting the stunning good looks of the Reg, but refused to spend another $40+ considering I already had a more-than-satisfactory high-end tamper in the Ergo. Well, I could resist no longer at this price. For $35 I alleviated my "Tamper Envy" and bought the stainless version from 1st Line in New Jersey. Does it work any better? No. In fact I still prefer the results of the Ergo's slight convex bottom--but OHHHH those looks! The Ergo is a mule. A hard-working, utility animal that performs its one task flawlessly--perhaps even better than the "Reg" if at all. The Reg Barber African Rosewood Stainless Steel Tamper (and the 1st Line version), on the other hand, is a champion thoroughbred through and through. Beautiful to look at, supple in the hand, meticulously crafted, substantial in its feel.
Even though I prefer--ever so slightly--the convex surface of the Ergo, I find myself reaching for the Reg time after time; relegating the cold aluminum Ergo to obscurity.
Perhaps most importantly, the Reg has a nylon Rancilio logo insert at the top of the handle. This is nice for one particular reason--tapping the portafilter to loosen stray grounds from the sides before the finish tamp. Using the Ergo, I noticed the accumulation of slight "dings" in both the soft aluminum handle of the Ergo and the sides of the soft chromed brass portafilter. The Reg eliminates both without concern for the matte Rosewood finish on the handle.
I now have both the 1st Line version and the real Reg--both stainless. I must say that I actually like the handle of the 1st Line version better. It's deeper and darker and has a gloss urethane finish. The Reg is lighter with a matte finish. The 1st Line's stainless end is also chromed making it much more reflective. I prefer the Reg's more elegant matte stainless myself. The 1st Line version is noticably heavier than the actual Reg, which surprised me--by about 26 grams. The 1st Line lacks any plastic cap on the handle, so tapping the PF will result in marring the beautiful Rosewood handle. This last point is a flaw that concerns me, and that's why, when side-by-side, I always choose the Reg.
In order of preference--now having a Vivace Ergo 58mm Convex, a Reg Barber 58mm Stainless Flat, and the 1st Line African Rosewood 58mm Stainless--I use the 1) Reg, 2) Ergo, and 3) 1st Line--primarily because I don't want to damage it.
Oh, one last note. There was a question as to whether you could interchange the "piston" (Vivace's term for the business end of the tamper) on the Ergo and use it on the Reg. You can NOT. The "screw" mount on the Ergo is attached to the Piston whereas it's attached to the handle on the Reg. There may be some way of wrestling these off, but not readily. The diameter and thread looks like a close match however, so it may be possible with some effort.
All in all, the Reg is strictly a discretionary purchase and is not obligatory in the pursuit of perfecting your shots. If you have an adequate tamper already the Reg becomes a luxury. That said however, it's not often that a $40 item can make you feel like a million bucks and relieve any covetous or envious feelings you may have. It will not likely improve your espresso, but it WILL improve your espresso experience.
Ordered online Tuesday, arrived Wednesday morning. 1st Line Equipment is, and will continue to be, my 1st Choice.