In mid 2002 Greg Pullman discovered his shiny new coffee machine's built-in tamper was far too small.
Learning that no retro-fit was available, he made one himself, and as an afterthought dropped a quick email to the supplier advising he'd machined up a perfectly-sized stainless steel retrofit.
The supplier promptly told some of his past customers and a few orders rolled in. On December 13th 2002, the first of what became known as the "Vanilla" tamper was shipped to its first customer. There were expectations that sales of this product could go as high as 40!
10 years later, more than 8000 individually numbered tampers have gone out worldwide as 'Pullman' tampers and demand is continuing to grow! Pullman Tampers come in a range of styles, colours and options, and can be manufactured to suit any coffee machine!
There's the option of purchasing replacement filter baskets for your machine with the tamper so they can get the perfect size before it leaves, or you can send your basket in for measurement and custom sizing.
A lot has changed since 2002. The two original Pullman Tampers (the 'Vanilla' and its brother the 'Deluxe') have been put out to pasture, having been replaced by the Barista (2008) and the Nexus (2011). But some things haven't changed.
Like, how come a product that almost never needs replacing has seen such strong demand? "I think a lot comes back to the age-old formula of quality and service, because I believe in treating others the way I like to be treated."
"I don't sell a product unless I'm happy with it myself, and so long as I'm fussier than my customers they'll always be happy with the product."
"I've experienced poor customer service many times, so I ensure our customers are given realistic expectations and kept in the loop if anything goes awry. We ensure the quality is top-notch and provide a range of options so customers can get exactly the solution they want."
So what makes a good tamper? "That's a good question". "One of the key criteria with making good coffee is repeatability, so as far as a tamper goes, the two most important factors are that it's a good fit in the filter basket, and that it allows the barista to tamp evenly and consistently".
"We already do custom sizing so point one was covered; but when developing the Barista tamper I was surprised to discover how many subtle details can make a big difference on the second point".
Development on the Barista tamper commenced in mid 2006 and it didn't reach market for another two years, but in that time a lot was learnt about what makes a good tamper.
"Where the original Deluxe tamper was designed for my own needs and for ease of manufacture, the Barista tamper was built from the ground up as a new project where its design and performance were the key performance indicators, not how much it cost to make and if I could ever afford to sell it!"
"I literally started with a lump of play-doh for the initial shape and used its basic measurements to create a few ugly-looking tampers." These prototypes were then distributed to baristas at one of the top national espresso bars along with feedback forms.
Greg talked to the baristas and read their feedback on the different prototypes, then used this to create a new set of prototypes and the process restarted, adding and removing first slabs, then pieces, and finally shavings of material until the shape was perfected.
The prototypes eventually travelled east where feedback was gained from active baristas. "I was surprised by some of what I read - like that, contrary to accepted wisdom, baristas didn't actually want to be lugging a pound of tamper around all day. But I was more surprised by what appeared between the lines - while no-one explicitly said this, it was obvious that most people actually wanted a balanced tamper!"
Up until then, tampers were either light and soft solid aluminum, overly heavy solid stainless steel, or the common combination of a stainless steel base joined to a aluminium or wooden handle, resulting in a bottom-heavy medium weight unit.
So putting everything together the tamper had to be extremely comfortable over many hours of use, be able to cater for a range of hand sizes, be balanced, extremely strong yet fairly light and come in a wide range of colors.
It was hard work creating a tamper to meet that specification but the Barista ended up ticking all the boxes. The base remained stainless steel but was hollowed out to make it lighter.
The space was filled with a rubber insert with just enough give to add comfort without sacrificing control.
Removable spacers were added between the base and handle to provide a range of handle heights. And finally the handle materials were chosen to ensure as balanced a tamper as possible.
The tamper received critical acclaim and many of the lessons learnt went into the design of the Nexus tamper. Between the two products, the world's got plenty to choose from!
In an age of cheaper and cheaper imports, it's a breath of fresh air to learn Pullman Tampers are completely, 100% made in Australia - design, manufacture, assembly, checking and dispatch are all done locally using top-quality local components and local labour.
"I've never been happy with the workmanship I've seen from Asian tamper manufacturers". "The price is exceptionally cheap, but quality and performance are more important to us than fighting to be the cheapest".
"Apart from keeping the profits at home, local manufacture means I can maintain a close relationship with all our suppliers and any problems can be resolved with a quick trip across town".
Greg says the creativity's not exhausted yet and there are some new ideas he's working on. If it's anything like what's already been, they'll be worth waiting for!