What is a Coffee Tamper?
You may have heard the term “coffee tamper” mentioned before, but what exactly is a coffee tamper and what is it used for?
In a nutshell, it’s a tool that is used to pack coffee grounds into the little basket or portafilter of an espresso machine. You can also call it tamping the coffee grounds when you push down on the coffee grounds to compact the espresso puck.
How to Correctly Use a Coffee Tamper
Coffee beans must be ground very finely to create the perfect espresso shot. You create an espresso puck in the portafilter before placing it into the machine for extraction. An espresso machine works by pushing water through the coffee grounds with high pressure. If your coffee beans are ground too coarse, the espresso will taste very weak.
Usually, the best tamping results can be found through using a handheld tamper. Some coffee grinders feature a built-in tamper, but your puck will be better compressed when using a handheld tamper.
Making the Perfect Coffee Puck
Measure out ¼ ounce of coffee grounds for a single shot and ½ ounce of coffee grounds for a double shot. Place the coffee grounds into the portafilter or filter basket. Carefully shake the basket to evenly spread the coffee grounds. You need to ensure that there are no air holes between the coffee grounds.
Before you start pushing down on the puck with your tamper, make sure the coffee grounds are approximately level.
An easy way of evenly distributing the coffee grounds is to gently tap the portafilter against the palm of your other hand while holding onto the group handle.
Using the Coffee Tamper
Once you are satisfied with the coffee grounds being spread out evenly and most air pockets have been removed, you can start using your coffee tamper. Tampers are usually made from either wood or stainless steel.
When you are searching for the perfect tamper, make sure that it will fit snugly into your portafilter. It’s best to only clean your tamper by hand, not in the dishwasher. Simply use a cloth with a little bit of warm water and soap.
To create the perfect espresso puck, use about 40 to 45 pounds of pressure. The easiest way to determine if you’re pressing hard enough, is to take your bathroom scale and press down onto it with your coffee tamper. After a few practice rounds, you should be able to consistently get the right pressure.
Place your tamper firmly into the portafilter and start pushing down with the correct pressure. As you push down, give the tamper a quarter of a twist. Pull it up again while still twisting your wrist. This last twist with the upwards pull will ensure that there’s no coffee grounds stuck to the tamper.
After your first tamp, there might still be coffee grounds stuck to the edges of the portafilter. To dislodge the rogue coffee grounds, use the tamper handle to tap down on the side of the portafilter. This will knock the misplaced coffee grounds to the center of the coffee puck.
Warning: do not tap with the bottom of the tamper. You don’t want any dents in your tamper bottom, you need a flat and uniform surface to create the perfect espresso puck.
Do another lighter tamp to press the misplaced coffee grounds into the puck. Push down with the tamper onto the espresso puck using roughly half the pressure of the first tamp. You don’t want to compress the puck more, just press the loose coffee grounds into the puck. Remember to twist your wrist when removing the tamper so that there aren’t any loose coffee grounds left behind on the tamper.
The Simplistic Finishing Touch
While holding the portafilter with your dominant hand, brush your other hand across the filter-end of the group handle to remove loose coffee grounds that remained on the rim of the portafilter. By doing this, you will save your espresso machine’s gasket in the grouphead.
This step is very important, misplaced coffee grounds that sneak into the wrong areas of your espresso machine can cause big problems. The coffee grounds are rough, making them a harsh abrasive element that can cause damage.
How to Select the Best Coffee Tamper
Most likely your espresso machine included a tamper. But it’s probably plastic and very basic. It’s advisable to rather invest in a high-quality tamper. It seems like such a little thing, but it can make a big difference in the overall espresso making process.
The purpose of a tamper is not only to compress the coffee grounds, but to compress it evenly and to make sure the smooth distribution is consistent. The most basic criteria are that it needs to fit snugly into your portafilter.
You will get different opinions from professional baristas whether a wooden or stainless steel tamper is best. In the end, this is a personal choice. As long as you feel comfortable while holding the tamper, that’s all that really matters. Tampers are all roughly the same size, but you can search for a customized one if you prefer a bigger handle to hold onto.
Besides the tamper fitting into your portafilter, the other most important factor is to feel comfortable while using it. Think of the tamper as an extension of your hand. With the amount of pressure you need to apply to the espresso puck, you don’t want to fumble while holding the tamper.
Consider visiting an espresso machine accessories shop to test out a few types of tampers before you consider buying one. You could even ask the barista at your favorite coffee shop what kind of tamper ¬he or she prefers using. Alternatively, make sure the online brand you select has a good return policy for in case you’re not happy with your first purchase.
Conclusion: What Is A Coffee Tamper?
It’s a small little gadget that packs a mighty punch! There are some coffee gadgets you shouldn’t skimp on and finding a good coffee tamper is one of them. Your espresso shot can go from average to amazing if you master the art of good tamping.
It’s all about the pressure you apply and the little wrist action to compress the coffee grounds without disheveling them again when you remove the tamper.
Which type of tamper do you prefer? Have you noticed a difference when you swapped your generic espresso machine tamper for a higher quality tamper you carefully selected?