NSEW: Coffee Distribution Method

NSEW: Coffee distribution method

How do you distribute coffee grounds in the portafilter when you don’t have a distribution tool?

There is no denying that coffee distribution tools distribute the grounds more evenly than your fingers. The tools have an adjustable depth which is handy when you don’t want to max out the grounds in the filter.

However, these tools are relatively pricey. With the right technique and a bit of practice, your fingers can do the job.

What is NSEW coffee distribution method?

The NSEW coffee distribution method is where you hold a portafilter that has ground coffee in one hand and sweep the index finger of your other hand flat over the filter from left to right and back, and then from top to bottom and back. This levels the grounds evenly in the portafilter.

How to do the NSEW Distribution Method Correctly

NSEW represents North, South, East, and West as your finger moves in the four compass directions. The NSEW distribution method is simple and feels natural; the idea is to not get too hung up about the direction that you start with.

Personally, I find left to right to be more natural for me. I also prefer using my dominant hand to level the grounds and hold the portafilter in my left hand. Follow what feels more natural to you.

  • Add coffee grounds to a portafilter while moving the filter around to spread the grounds to the sides of the filter basket. Avoid spilling the grounds
  • Hold the portafilter in one hand, preferably your less dominant hand. The portafilter can face any direction but it needs to be stationary
  • Raise the open palm of your free hand a few inches above the portafilter
  • Lower the open palm and rest the index finger straight on the mound of ground coffee
  • Sweep the finger flat over the rim of the filter from left to right and back without moving the filter. Turn the finger 90 degrees and run it from top to bottom and back. The finger levels the mound by pushing the grounds to the sides and you get an even puck that is ready for tamping

The method might feel awkward at first but with practice, you will get the hang of it. Here are other coffee distribution methods.

The Stockfleths Move Variation

This Stockfleths move was an invention by Tim Wendelboe, 2004 World barista champion, in Stockfleths cafe in Oslo, Norway. It is a popular move but it has proven hard to master for most baristas and espresso enthusiasts.

A simpler variation to the Stockfleths move involves putting a straight index finger on the edge of a portafilter and then turning the finger in one direction while, at the same time, turning the filter in the opposite direction. Your finger and the filter move in opposite directions as if they are rotating on the same axis.

The finger sweeps the grounds from one side and spreads them uniformly to make a flatbed. Opening your elbows to the sides will give a nice rotation and make the move easy.

Tapping the Sides of the Portafilter

This involves holding the portafilter with ground coffee in one hand and gently tapping the sides of the filter to spread the grounds. It is a simple method but you can easily spill the grounds if you tap vigorously. Also, you should tap the portafilter before tamping and not after.

Espresso Distribution Tool

A coffee distribution tool is a leveler that you place on the grounds in the portafilter and rotate it to spread the grounds evenly. Premium espresso distribution tools have adjustable depths and can also function as coffee tampers.

When using a coffee distribution tool, first adjust the depth and then sit the tool in the portafilter. Finally, spin the tool for an even bed.

Weiss Coffee Distribution Method (WDT)

This method was developed by John Weiss in 2005 to solve the problem of clumped grounds from entry-level coffee grinders. This method is believed to reduce channeling, improve puck pressure, and the quality of the espresso.

Weiss’ method of distributing coffee involves evenly stirring the grounds by moving a thin pin in small circular motions in the portafilter. For the best results, the pin should not be more than 1mm in thickness. Stirring from the bottom has been found to give better results than just stirring at the top (puck raking).

Sweeping with a Flat Object

This method involves sweeping a flat and straight object such as the edge of a book or a poker card from one side of a portafilter to the other and back. You can also use a straight pen.

NSEW Recap

The NSEW coffee distribution method involves sweeping a straight finger over a portafilter from side to side and back and then from top to bottom and back to spread the grounds evenly. Coffee distribution can be as easy as using a straight object or finger, tapping with your palm, tapping on a table, stirring with a pin, or using a special distribution tool.

The aim is to distribute ground coffee uniformly in the filter basket to minimize the chances of channeling to make tamping easy. Coffee distribution is one of the factors that influence the quality of espresso.


Patrick is first a coffee lover and then a trained barista. His bucket list includes sky diving and sipping on Java in the Himalayas.

Recent Posts