Tamping

In this lesson:

  • Why Tamp?
  • Choosing a Tamper
  • Holding the Tamper Properly
  • How to Tamp
  • How Much Pressure?
  • Judging Pressure with Bathroom Scales
  • Judging Pressure with Clicking Tampers

Why Tamp?

Tamping is a very important and underrated step required to ensure a perfect espresso extraction. The objective is to create a dense puck of evenly distributed coffee grounds that will resist pitting and channeling from the high pressure water forced through it during brewing.

Choosing a Tamper

Miss Silvia comes with a rudimentary plastic tamper but it is important to invest in a good quality, metal based tamper with a 58mm diameter which will sit snugly inside the Rancilio's basket. Reg Barber, Coffee Lab and Espresso Vivace sell some great tampers. As well you can usually source one locally.

Holding the Tamper

As a home barrista you probably aren't at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome from overuse, but a good ergonomic tamper position is still important and is key in achieving an even pressure.

Step 1:
With the handle facing downwards pinch the tamper handle between your thumb and index finger where the handle meets the base.
Step 2:
Wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle below your index finger.
Step 3:
Rest the top of the handle on the meaty area below your thumb.
Step 4:
While keeping your wrist straight and your elbow bent press down on the coffee in your portafilter.

Video of How to Hold the Tamper Correctly

How to Tamp

To begin, place your portafilter basket of leveled, ground coffee on a counter for support.
Take extra care to place the tamper down as flat as possible over your ground coffee in the basket to preserve all your leveling work.
Press down evenly with twenty to thirty pounds of pressure, focusing more on being even than on pressure.
Twist the tamper as you lift it upwards to prevent the coffee grounds from lifting with the packer.
Gently remove the tamper.
Optional*:Tap the side of the basket gently to release the grounds clinging to its' sides. Do not tap too hard or you will risk breaking the coffee pucks adhesion with the basket. This would create a shortcut for the brewing water, leading to a weak extraction.
Now, using a full thirty pounds of pressure tamp down the coffee again.
Twist the tamper a full two turns with twenty pounds to polish the surface smooth. Properly polishing the coffee puck will ensure that the high pressure water used when brewing won't pit or crack through your grounds.

Video of How to Tamp without Tapping

Video of How to Tamp with Tapping

How much pressure is 30 pounds?

It sounds great to say forty pounds of pressure, but how are you to really know how much pressure you are applying with your tamper. Fortunately there are a couple of ways to judge this.

Picture of tamping on bathroom scales
The cheapest and easiest way to practice or get an approximate idea of your tamping pressure is by using your bathroom scales. Place your scales on the counter with your filled porter filter paced upon them. Now tamp as you normally would and take note of the amount of pressure you are applying. Repeat this process until you are getting consistent results at the twenty and fourty pound marks. This approach is easier to do with non-digital scales.

Calibrated Tampers

Tamper manufacturers have created a second, more convenient, albeit more expensive option for testing your tamping pressure. They now produce tampers that will click when thrity pounds of pressure is applied, letting you know you're at the right level of force. The Espro Tamper and Espresso Parts Northwest's The Clicker Tamp are good examples of these.

Mastering your tamping pressure will take some practice but you will notice the difference in your shots.

When you have mastered your tamping pressure you will be able to adjust your grind fineness to achieve a shot timing of 25 - 30 seconds.
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