I’ve just bought a “rubber” tamper mat from The Espresso Shop. There is just one tiny snag – it’s not rubber, it’s some sort of bituminous compound.
I’ve worked with bitumen in the past – I was an estimator for a roofing company – and I have no doubt about what I have here. Bitumen is toxic and carcinogenic; not very, but you sure as hell don’t want it around food or drink, if only because of the stink. Which is a big problem, as it contaminates anything it touches, and the more porous the surface, the worse the contamination. It’s already ruined one side of a wooden chopping board, on which I left it for a few hours, and even my portafilter picked up the smell but, being metal, it scrubbed off.
I thought, initially, that it might be some surface contamination from the manufacturing process, so I dumped it in a sink full of hot, soapy, water for a while, then scrubbed it. It made not the slightest difference. I’ve also left it out of its packaging for a few days, to see if the smell dissipates – it doesn’t, and I now have a cupboard that smells like a tar boiler.
I have a home-made rubber tamping mat that smells of absolutely nothing, nor, come to that, do rubber the tyres on my mobility scooter – aside from a hint of dog crap – and this mat, given its intended use, should not smell of anything either. It should be completely neutral.
This piece of toxic crap is marketed by Compact Designs in Tasmania, but – the worrying bit, given how good they are at poisoning their own citizens – it’s made in China.
I complained to The Espresso Shop, suggesting they check it out for themselves, and I had in mind passing the thing on to the Environmental Health people, or Trading Standards, whichever is appropriate, but it’s impossible to email Trading Standards these days, and the Wirral Environmental Health website is unutterably crap and no help at all.
The Espresso Shop have, in fact, emailed me to say that they are going to source an alternative product (the offer of a refund might have been appropriate, too), but the mats (which come in two sizes – god knows how badly the large one must stink), are still on sale – the last items on this page. That simply is NOT good enough. They really should not be on the market at all.
It’s worth pointing out that I have held off publishing this post as I assumed, from their email, that they would be removed from sale; the fact that they have not is worrying. And it’s a mystery, to me, unless the product has just changed for the worse, why every one sold has not been returned – mine, at least, is totally unusable except, possibly, for fumigation purposes.
I strongly suggest that you avoid this product like the plague.
Update – I have noticed that these mats are quite widely available (why the hell people would put up with something that stinks like La Brea on a bad day, I really have no idea, but clearly they do). However, they have a raised logo in one corner – bottom right or top left, depending on the orientation – a circle with a line across it, which will aid with online identification. Shopping in person, open the pack before parting with your money – the smell is a giveaway.