How to Tamp Espresso – The Perfect Espresso Tamping

Ristretto Espresso ShotEspresso tamping is one of the most important steps when pulling a shot. If you get the tamping wrong, your espresso is ruined, because the water will pass through the grinds too fast, and the result will be a beverage close to drip coffee. Here are are a few tips to ensure a perfect tamping every time.

How To Tamp Espresso – Techniques, Tips, and Tricks

Ground coffee in portafilter
Photo by Nicholas Lundgaard via Flickr

Tamping Pressure

The pressure for tamping the ground coffee into a filter-basket is 30 pounds of pressure. While some people don’t like to be very strict with this number and prefer to play with the ratio grind size/tamping pressure, the safer approach, that gives you more consistent results is to maintain the same pressure when compacting the coffee into the filter basket.

With the pressure being constant, changing just one variable, the grind size, will allow a more methodical approach. In conclusion, tamp with 30 lbs pressure every time, and if you need adjustments, change only the grind size. It is rather difficult to know how hard to press to get the exact 30 lbs pressure, especially as a beginner.

The technique recommended everywhere is to start tamping on a scale. You can tamp your first shots on a scale, but you can also start pressing on a scale without any coffee, or port-filter, just to get the feeling of what means to press 30 lbs. The classic tamping technique is to press vertically with 30 lbs force, and then do a twist with the tamper. Espresso Gear

Grinding Size for Espresso

The grinding size will need to be adjusted from time to time, when you change the coffee beans, or even for the same bag of beans because of the environmental changes. Here are a couple of factors that will require you to change the grind size :

  •  Coffee type – the beans can be more or less dense and this will affect how water passes through the coffee puck.
  • Humidity can affect your coffee, that’s why you need to store it in airtight containers, if coffee absorbs just a bit humidity, you can still use it, but adjust the grind size.

An even grind is mandatory, and if the grinding machine doesn’t grind evenly, your shot will be under average. With this in mind, aim for getting a great coffee grinder, since this is critical; not an average grinder, not a good one, but a great one. Grinding within the espresso range of your grinder is safe. If the shot is pulled too fast, you need to grind finer. If the shot is pulled too slow, you need to adjust the grind size coarser. These, obviously, provided the tamping is the same.

Weighing the Coffee

Whether you have an automatic doser, or you dose yourself, you have to develop a method to approximate the quantity in the filter-basket.

There are a few ways to do that, choose the one that’s more convenient for you. One way is to measure the beans with the spoon and weigh the measured beans. The beans are then put in the empty grinding machine, what goes in will go out.

This is a rather inaccurate method because sometimes the ground coffee doesn’t completely come out of the machine.

Another way is to weigh the coffee in the filter-basket, with or without the port-filter mounted. Measure the basket before adding the coffee and after adding the coffee. This will show you how much ground coffee by volume, you need to put in the basket.

Measure the first four to five times, until you get the hang of it. A popular measuring style is to grind for a preset time. The easiest way is to measure is by volume. Just fill the basket, and then level it. In most of the cases, you will have exactly 12 to 14 grams for a double if you brew in a double basket.

Rattleware 58-Millimeter Tamper

This is a regular tamper, it doesn’t have the calibration feature, but if you are confident enough in your technique, or you want to improve it, this is a great tamper. In fact, I used one like this for a long time before buying my calibrated tamper. I only used the plastic tamper that comes with the machine for two days.

If you never tried a stainless steel, tamper, you probably don’t know what a difference it makes to use a good one. You will notice the difference in your shot of espresso. The plastic tamper that comes with an espresso machine should not be even sent to customers.

Making an Espresso - Tamp Pressure and Its Effect On Shot Timing

Calibrated Tampers

Espro Calibrated Tamper

If you are an espresso beginner, and still adjusting your tamping technique, you probably saw the “on the scale” tamping technique, that allows you to apply the 30 lb of pressure, not more and not less.

Of course, this is a great technique, but if you are like me when I first started making espresso, and you just can’t pass the scale phase, you find it frustrating, and cumbersome. It’s annoying, it makes you look bad in front of your spouse and friends, and it is just inconvenient.

Fortunately, Espro, a Canadian company, has conceived a tamper that will take away all that frustration. The Espro Calibrated Tamper is a 1 pound balanced tamper, with a built-in force feedback mechanism, to allow you to apply exactly 30 pounds of pressure. The mechanism clicks when it reaches the 30 lbs, announcing you that the tamping it’s done.

OK, I have now a pretty good hand, and 95% of the times I get the perfect tamping, for the perfect espresso. But hey, I bought this tamper for myself, and I never looked back at the other tampers in my espresso arsenal.

Beginner or expert, this tamper will improve your espresso experience for sure. I know this tamper is a bit expensive compared to the market, but using this you will constantly get a thick layer of crema, given the other aspects of brewing are correct. With a semiautomatic espresso machine, tamping is one of the things that can ruin your shot.

I have heard a lot of people saying that they want to use a calibrated tamper until they train themselves to press with exactly 30 pounds, but when they got used to it, they never changed back to a non-calibrated one.

58 mm Espro Calibrated Tamper Convex Base

The Espro calibrated tamper, takes away the guess, and the approximation from your daily tamping, making espresso pulling a precise operation, as it should be. Even the pros are using an Espro tamper.

This particular model of the Espro Tamper is convex, so it presses a bit more in the center. This is very useful for avoiding the edge channeling effect. The tamper will press just slightly harder in the middle, forcing an equal extraction of all grinds in the filter basket.

Like all other Espro tampers, the base is made of stainless steel, with a hard anodized aluminum handle. Espro offers a 1-year warranty for their tampers.

Inside Look: Espro Calibrated Tamper

More Tips and Tricks for Tamping and Measuring

Pulling Espresso in Naked Portafilter
Photo by Yann via Flickr

Here are a few cool tips and tricks to help you avoid inconsistent shots.

  • Do not knock the basket after tamping, the coffee puck will crack, and it will cause channeling.
  • If you need a thicker puck, for a stronger shot, just tap the portafilter on the tamping mat a couple of times. This will compact the coffee and will allow an extra 20% ground coffee in the basket.
  • If you pull small shots from a large basket, leveling technique won’t work, because you use less coffee in the basket. To level the coffee, just tap the basket in the four cardinal directions. Only tap before tamping, never after.
  • Leveling and sweeping excess coffee can be achieved using the “Stockfleths Move”, which alone can dramatically improve the amount of crema. Watch a video with the Stockfleths Move below.
  • As a beginner, you could use a naked portafilter. This is a portafilter without the bottom. While pulling through a bottomless portafilter, all the coffee is seen as it is extracted. Any issue in preparation will be perfectly visible through one of these devices.

Corner Tamping Mat

The corner tamping mat allows tamping on flat, or on the corner, for those who like this technique. It is made odor-free silicone, and it measures 8.25″ width by 5.75 depth, which is compact enough to be fitted in most baristas’ environment but is not tiny.

Unlike other tamping mats, this doesn’t smell at all, and for me, this was the biggest advantage. I used in the past another brand which literally stank. It is great for any portafilters, but the corner design makes it great for use with bottomless port-filters since you need to tamp on the table’s corner with those.

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Dorian Bodnariuc

My name is Dorian and I am a former barista. I consume coffee in any form, as a beverage, in savory recipes and desserts. My favorite caffeinated beverage is the espresso. I love to share my coffee brewing knowledge and my geeky coffee research. This blog is one of the places I write about coffee. More about Dorian... If you want to learn more about this site and how I started it, check our About Me page, where I explain all about it.

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