How to use a Coffee Tamper
7 Best Espresso Tampers
What is a Coffee Tamper?
A coffee tamper, perhaps more appropriately referred to as an espresso tamper, is a small device with a handle and a flat, cylindrical base that is used to compress coffee grinds into a tightly packed puck. Packing coffee into a puck is an essential part of espresso making process.
If you’ve ever been to a coffee shop, you’ve probably seen a tamper in action, whether you realized it or not!
Why Use a Coffee Tamper?
Using a coffee tamper is essential when preparing an espresso shot. The practice of compressing the coffee grinds removes any small pockets of air that may be present within the coffee puck.
Failure to remove these pockets of air can lead to what is know as Channeling.
Channeling involves the formation of a channel in which water flows. When the high pressure used for pulling an espresso shot is applied, the hot water is forced through the coffee puck.
As the water is forced through the coffee puck, the water will flow through the path of least resistance. An area with a pocket of air will be less tightly packed, and thus the water will preferentially flow through this channel.
This is an issue because it prevents uniform extraction and proper flavor development from occurring.
When a coffee puck is evenly distributed, and void of all air pockets, water will pass evenly through the entire coffee puck, leading to balanced extraction, and a better tasting shot.
What is a Calibrated Coffee Tamper?
Some tampers have a built in mechanism to allow you to easily apply the standard 30lb of pressure each and every time. These tampers are considered to be “calibrated”. They typically are designed with the handle and base physically separated. When sufficient force is being applied to the handle (30lbs worth) the handle will click down into the base.
This is an easy way to ensure that you are applying the right amount of pressure in a consistent manner from shot to shot. Although definitely not essential, calibrated tampers are very useful for beginners that haven’t perfected their technique yet. That is not to say that professionals don’t use calibrated tampers, most pros are sticklers for precision!
How to Use a Coffee Tamper
We'll assume that you've added your coffee grinds to your portafilter and pick up from there!
1. Remove Excess Coffee.
Ensure that the coffee grinds are evenly spread out and are not overflowing from your portafilter.
Not like this...
2. Apply Light Pressure.
Don’t go for broke right off the bat. Start by applying light pressure to get everything in place.
3. Apply 30lb of Pressure.
With your thumb pointing straight down toward the floor and your elbow parallel to the portafilter, apply 30lb of pressure. Try to keep your wrist straight!
How do you know what 30 pounds of pressure is? Well, you can push down on a household scale until it reads 30 pounds to get a general idea. Or, you can use a calibrated tamper.
Truth be told, it’s more important to be consistent with the amount of pressure you’re applying than it is to be at exactly 30lbs.
If your espresso shot ends up weak & sour, you probably didn’t apply enough pressure.
If the grinds are not packed tightly enough, the water passes through too easily, leading to a shot that is UNDER-extraction.
If your shot is bitter & harsh, you probably applied TOO much pressure.
If you pack the grinds too tightly, the water has a difficult time passing through and the shot ends up OVER-extracted.
4. Rotate & Polish
Although perhaps not entirely necessary, we feel that applying a soft rotating motion as you remove the tamper from the portafilter can go a long way. This serves to smooth out the top and give it an aesthetically pleasing and professional look.
Quickly inspect your portafilter. Wipe away any loose grinds that are not part of your coffee puck.
5. Let your espresso machine do it's thing!
Carefully place your nice, clean portafilter and puck into your espresso machine.
Your espresso machine will take care of the rest…
If your espresso shot isn’t everything you hoped for, don’t give up! It takes some practice to perfect the tamping process.
Choosing the Best Coffee Tamper
There are a few things that you should consider when determining what the best coffee tamper for your purposes is.
Make sure to figure out the right size before purchasing. Physically measuring your portafilter is the best way to be sure!
58mm is the usual standard, but several other sizes are available.
If you’re looking to make AeroPress espresso, you'll want to get the biggest tamper you can find, (58mm).
As a general trend, the heavier, the better. A heavier coffee tamper will require you to exert less force. Heavier tampers are also typically more durable than lighter tampers, and will last longer.
Beginners and professionals alike can benefit from a calibrated espresso tamper, no question. But is is essential? Not really. It’s a nice feature to have, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have it.
Flat Vs Convex
Coffee tampers are typically of the flat or convex variety. Flat tampers are… flat. Convex tampers are rounded so that the middle is the lowest point, and the edges are up slightly higher.
This is primarily a preference thing, so don’t spend too much time agonizing over which is best for you.
Some people feel that convex tampers are superior because they tend to leave the edges of your coffee puck raised, decreasing the chances of channeling occurring down the sides of your portafilter.
Some coffee tampers also have a rippled base, which is thought to promote uniform extraction.
7 Best Coffee Tampers
With these things in mind, have a look at our 7 best coffee tampers, there's bound to be something here that is just right for you.
LuxHaus Calibrated Espresso Tamper
If we absolutely had to pick just one of these tampers, it would be the LuxHaus Calibrated Espresso Tamper. You're getting a high quality, calibrated tamper for a great price.
If your preferences tend toward a convex base as opposed to a flat base, Espro is the one for you!
Do you have any tamping tips or tricks to share? Let us know!
Have a coffee question? We may have the answer. Ask away!
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