How To Perfect Your Tamping?
A Helpful Guide
My “Sage Barista Express” was waiting in the kitchen ready for use and preheated. My caffeine level has already reached critically low levels, and I decide to treat myself to an espresso. As always, I grind the beans, spread the coffee in the sieve with my little finger, and knock the portafilter twice gently. Then I press the espresso with the tamper. Finally, I turn the tamper clockwise, one full turn. My friend, sitting at the kitchen table, watches me amused: “You don’t have such rituals when brushing your teeth! But that is absolutely essential for a perfect espresso, right?“
The slight irony is hard to miss. Sure, how every barista has his own way, to press the espresso, so I too. And I, also, am convinced that my technique is almost perfect – although there are about as many “safe” tips for tamping as beans in a kilo pack of espresso beans.
But the fact is: a wrong “tamp” can turn a potentially first-class espresso into a disaster. And now I’m trying to teach my friend the finer details of tamping correctly, and the importance thereof.
First, I praise the beauty of the tamper. I like the soft shape of the handle, which nestles in hand like a flattering stone. The coffee powder is reflected in the stainless steel surface. Then I start to explain to my friend that with espresso, everything depends on the water being pressed through the espresso with high pressure. Yeah, Yeah.. I’ve explained this many times. “And this pressure should be the same everywhere so that the coffee is extracted evenly!” I insist. She knows too.
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You also don’t like poorly extracted espresso. “So I have to make sure that first the coffee powder is distributed as evenly as possible in the sieve and then pressed on as evenly as possible. I need the tamper for that!“
I proudly hold the device up as if I had invented the wheel: “Should I show you again?” My girlfriend seems to be a little less enthusiastic about the tamper, but she nods with a grin.
So I start the procedure all over again. First, I ground espresso beans into the portafilter. I can now guesstimate quite well when I ground about 7.5 grams. It shouldn’t be much more. Otherwise, the “puck,” that is, the pressed coffee, will tear open in the sieve when the sieve holder is clamped. Then I brush the espresso powder a little smooth with my little finger bent so that it is distributed as evenly as possible in the sieve.
I lightly tap the portafilter twice on the work surface, convinced that the powder will compress a little and that it will be pressed on more evenly afterward. Now it gets serious: First, I put the tamper on the ground coffee and check whether it is sitting on top. Then I turn it slightly and without pressure: the espresso is well distributed. With little force, I push the tamper straight down.
Then I knock on the side of the portafilter with my tamper, because I want to send the coffee grounds on edge to the middle. Again I put the tamper straight on; this time, I press harder. It is said to be 15 kg contact pressure.
In the beginning, I always put a kitchen scale under it for inspection, but I’m definitely not going to get it out now. Finally, I want to mimic the “perfect barista.” And now I feel it too.
In the end I turn the tamper through 360 degrees with half pressure. “That smooth-ens the surface again,” I explain. “Now, nothing can go wrong!” After a short empty cover, I clamp the portafilter, get an espresso and proudly put it down for my friend. She grins and takes the last blow: “But in Italy, no barista makes such a fuss!
At least I’ve never seen anyone want to crush their espresso there. They clap the portafilter briefly against a black metal stamp that is attached to the mill, done. And the coffee tastes good!” I growl.
I have already observed that in exactly the same way. “I have no idea why it works for some down there. They have more experience. Maybe that only works south of the Alps. If I did that, my espresso would be ready for the drain.” She winks at me. Drink the espresso. And looks satisfied.
In any case, one thing is certain: every hobby barista needs a reasonable tamper. But which one exactly? After all, there are tamper options like there is sand by the sea. It has to be heavy enough, it has to fit well in hand, and most importantly, it has to fit perfectly into the hand. Assume that the sieve has a diameter of 58 mm.
Then the tamper should not be less than 57.5 mm in diameter. Otherwise, the ground coffee is pressed on differently – and the water makes its way easily. The consequence would be over-extraction. A ritual of its own sets in after a while, and you too will surely swear by your own, proven technique.
Try it by tapping, wiping, and twisting off. The technique of increasing the tamper print on the edges after pressing is often helpful.
At least you should first distribute the ground coffee as evenly as possible in the sieve, then press down gently, use the tamper to knock the remnants from the edge into the middle gently and then firmly tamp. Be sure to put the tamper straight on. In order to achieve the same results, the contact pressure should always be the same if possible. As I said, in the beginning, a body scale can be useful for checking.
Press until the scale shows 15 kg. In the end, wipe off the coffee residues on the sieve rim. If your coffee does not run through in 25 seconds, change the amount of coffee and the degree of grinding on your grinder rather than the contact pressure. After a little practice, the tamp ritual only lasts a few seconds and takes place without much thought. After all, with all the gimmicks, you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that ultimately it’s all about a cup of espresso. If only for the perfect one.