You have just invested in a new espresso machine but it comes with one of those cheap, plastic tampers that feels like it cost about $2 to make, what do you do? Well you chuck it in the bin and invest in a decent one of course. Espresso is hard enough to make as it is so don’t make it even harder for yourself by trying to do it with a cheap tamper!
If you begin to look you will quickly realize that there are almost innumerable tampers available on the market in literally in every shape, color and size. We have summarized what we think are five great options.
What is an Espresso Tamper?
An Espresso Tamper is a simple but essential tool when it comes to espresso making. It is used to evenly compress coffee grinds in the portafilter.
Tamping is really pretty simple, you are aiming to compress the grinds until the tamper stops moving down, and keep it level to promote even extraction.
Why do you need to Tamp?
When you fill your portafilter with coffee there is a lot of air between the grinds, if you pulled a shot without tamping, the water would speed through and you would get a very under-extracted and unpleasant shot. Tamping compresses the grinds to remove all the empty space and produces an undifferentiated front for water trying to pass through. Water will consequently have to force its way through the grinds which allows time to extract flavor and (in theory anyway!) produce that rich shot of espresso you are looking for.
The 2 most important things when it comes to tamping:
When it comes to tamping the most important thing is that your puck needs to be as level as possible. If you tamp unevenly, with one side more compressed than another, the hot water won’t flow through the grinds evenly, put will find the path of least resistance resulting in coffee that is both over and under extracted which will taste bitter and sour… not exactly what you are looking for! To help ensure you get a level puck it is recommended to distribute your grinds in the portafilter before tamping. To do this you can get a distributor or give your portafilter a gentle tap on the bench before tamping. After you tamp you can evaluate how level your tamp is by leaving the espresso tamp in the portafilter and holding it up to see how level the tamp is sitting on the portafilter.
The most important skill a barista can have is to distribute the grounds evenly before tamping.Scott Rao
The second most important aspect of tamping is the pressure you use for the actual tamp. While many people say you should be aiming to tamp with around 30 lb of pressure, the actual pressure used doesn’t matter so much as the consistency with which you do it. Using a consistent amount of pressure when tamping means that when you are dialing in beans the grind size will determine the rate of flow rather than tamping.
Problems that can occur when tamping:
What to look for in a Tamper
When it comes to looking for a tamper the most important thing is to get the right size. After that it all comes down to personal preference! Get one that feels good to hold. The shape doesn’t matter too much and if used correctly it doesn’t make much impact on extraction.
Size of the Tamper
Tampers come in a wide variety of sizes ranging from 48mm to 58mm. The most common size is 58mm which is the commercial size. However, some entry level machines have smaller portafilters which require a smaller tamper. If you are not sure what size to get, just measure the inside diameter of your portafilter basket and get a tamper that is slightly smaller.
Weight of the Tamper
The more a tamper weighs the easier it is to achieve the 30lbs of pressure required when tamping. Ideally, you should opt for a tamper that weighs around 1-2 pounds, preferably made of stainless steel not plastic.
Shape of the base
If you are new to the world of tamping you may not have come across the debate in the coffee world over what shape of tamper works the best. To keep it simple, there are generally two schools of thought: Flat vs Convex. A flat tamper is exactly that… Flat! Whereas a convex tamper has a base that is slightly bulged out. The idea of this is that it helps push coffee towards the edges of the portafilter preventing channelling along the sides. Here at thecoffeefolk we use a flat tamper but a convex tamper works just as well.
Consider what material you would like the handle to be made of. Consider how it will feel when in use. If you have smaller hands you might like a smaller handle and visa versa.
Calibrated or not..?
A calibrated tamper basically has a handle separated from the base, when tamping down the handle and base connect and click when pushed to around 30 pounds of pressure. This is great for beginners who want to make sure they are applying the right amount of pressure. It is also good if you have multiple people using the same machine, helping you achieve a consistent tamp. It takes tamping out of the variables you need to alter when dialing in beans.
Tampers come in all different materials starting with low quality plastic (please avoid!) to stainless steel. It is best to opt for stainless steel which lasts longer and is just better in every imaginable way.
Do you want your tamper personalised with an engraved handle, a carved wooden handle… you want it they got it! There are endless options when it comes to tampers so choose one you will love for life!
Tampers vary in cost from as little as $4 to up to $200 for a custom made one.
Best Espresso Tampers
Espro Calibrated Tamper– Best all round
This tamper is a great all rounder. It comes in a range of sizes as well as both flat or convex shape, so you can find the perfect one for your portafilter. This is an ideal tamper for beginners. It is calibrated to click at 30 pounds of tamping force, ensuring the coffee grinds are pressed down uniformly and consistently. This is a solid tool with a stainless steel base and aluminium handle, weighing in at 1 lb. It will allow you to produce that perfect cup of coffee every time.
Rattleware Round Handle Tamper– The Value Tamp
The Rattleware Tamper comes in as our best value for money. It has a simple, classic design with a stainless steel base and rounded ABS handle. The tamper comes with the option of a small handle (great for people with smaller hands) or a larger handle. It weighs just under 1 lb and is only available as a flat base. This is a quality and durable tamper at a great price.
LuxHaus Tamper -The Beginners Tamp
The LuxHaus tamp is a great option for the beginner. Similar to the Espro, it is a calibrated tamp, helping you achieve a consistent tamp. It comes in at a great price point- ideal for those who aren’t wanting to break the bank with a tamp! This stylish tamp not only looks good on your bench but helps you produce consistently good espresso. It is made with an ergonomic BPA-free plastic handle and flat stainless steel base. It comes in 4 different sizes and is calibrated to apply between 29 and 35 psi to each shot of espresso.
Barista Hustle Tamper– The Hipsters Tamp
Designed by world champion barista Matt Perger, this tamp is marketed as being designed by baristas for baristas. It is a durable, practical tamp designed to last with an easily replaceable base and a zip up case to protect it when not in use. It is made of military grade aluminium with a stainless steel flat base. It features suction technology which eliminates the vacuum created by a traditional base to reduce channeling and provide more stable puck extractions. Weighing only 250g this tamp is designed to reduce the strain from repetitive tamping. With a sleek all black body this tamp is perfect for that hipster barista and will look great next to any machine.
Flat tamp size: 58mm
Purple Mountain– The Classic Tamp
This solid tamper is the heaviest on our list weighing in at 1.5 pounds- it requires less tamping pressure producing more consistent tamps. It has a timeless, classic design and is available in sizes to fit most machines. It is made of solid stainless steel, designed to last, coming with a lifetime guarantee. This is for the person looking for a good quality tamp to last.
We believe any of these tamps are great options to invest in and will help you on your way to producing that perfect cup of coffee every time! Remember to choose one that feels good to hold and is a decent weight. Other than that it really comes down to personal preference!