A tamper is one of those crucial espresso accessories to have. However, my personal stance here in 2024 is a bit more relaxed and utilitarian than it used to be.
Today, I believe that a good tamper must live up to these three things:
- It’s consistent to use
- It fits the basket in your portafilter (so not solely dependent on the product at hand)
- It gives you the “barista tingles.” Yes, espresso should also be a bit fun.
I have tried countless tampers as a home espresso geek, and here’s a list of my favorites, ranked with my favorite at the top.
|Normcore Calibrated Tamper V4
|Auto-leveling and multiple calibrated springs.
|MHW-3Bomber Calibrated Tamper
|Audible click at 30 pounds of pressure.
|MHW-3Bomber Tamper Knight Series
|Ergonomic handle and anti-slip bottom.
|MATOW Dual Head Coffee Leveler
|Combines leveler and push tamper.
|The Force Tamper
|Impact force mechanism for consistent pressure.
|Barista Hustle Lightweight Tamper
|Lightweight design with a replaceable base.
Normcore Calibrated Tamper
This tamper combines 3 cool features into one single barista tool.
As a precision tamper, it’s slightly larger than the standard 58 mm size. This design ensures the coffee puck is compressed evenly to the edges, potentially reducing side-channeling.
The tamper is also equipped with an auto-level disc and includes 3 calibrated springs (15lb/25lb/30lb) , so you can achieve a consistent tamp with just the right pressure every time.
The most important feature in this tamper is that it automatically makes your tamping level. This is surprisingly hard to achieve with regular tampers.
The V4 tamper comes with some cool upgrades from the V3 version, like an improved central shaft design.
I personally use this tamper at home and can vouch for its superb craftsmanship and excellent value for money. I might be testing new models, but I always return to this option as a it just strikes the right balance of ease of use and convenience.
It also comes with a surprisingly “premium” carry case and two extra springs, each calibrated to a different pressure.
Remember that Normcore offers various sizes, so make sure to choose the one that fits your portafilter perfectly. Besides the classic 58 mm portafilter size, they have correct diameters for many other popular machines that use smaller portafilters such as Flair, Breville etc. Almost everybody will be able to find the correct diameter for their machine.
⚙️ Convenience: 5️⃣/5️⃣
📏 Size Options: 5️⃣/5️⃣
☕ Barista Tingles: 4️⃣.5️⃣/5️⃣
💵 Value for Money: 4️⃣/5️⃣
🏆 Total Score: 1️⃣8️⃣.5️⃣
MHW-3BOMBER with Three Spring Loaded Calibrated Espresso Tamper
MHW-3Bomber might have a slightly bizarre name and branding. While one might dismiss them as just another wannabe in the saturated coffee market, some of their products are actually really cool and innovative. I’m a big fan of their puck screens, for instance.
But they also make some innovative tampers, particularly this unique calibrated tamper featuring an auto-level, similar to others mentioned in this article. What sets this model apart is the audible “click” indicating when you’ve applied 30 pounds of pressure.
However, does this feature significantly impact your daily coffee routine? In my experience, not particularly. My tests showed that this tamper was marginally less consistent than the Normcore model, displaying a slightly higher propensity for channelling. Given the complexities of espresso brewing, numerous factors could contribute to this. Yet, I remain skeptical about the practicality of the sound feedback; it seems more of a novelty than a necessity.
Nonetheless, there are aspects of this tamper I genuinely appreciate. The material feels premium and comfortable in the hand, and the tamper itself has a satisfying weight. Unique to this model is a ripple-based design, setting it apart from other tampers discussed. While its functional impact is uncertain, it certainly adds a touch of elegance.
Overall, the MHW-3Bomber is an ambitious and enjoyable tool, offering considerable value. Available in 58, 53, and 51 mm sizes, it’s accessible to a wide range of users, making it a versatile choice for coffee lovers.
⚙️ Convenience: 4️⃣.5️⃣/5️⃣
📏 Size Options: 4️⃣.5️⃣/5️⃣
☕ Barista Tingles: 5️⃣/5️⃣
💵 Value for Money: 4️⃣/5️⃣
🏆 Total Score: 1️⃣8️⃣
MHW-3Bomber Tamper Knight series
Here’s yet another tamper from the bomber-brand with the unwieldy name. This tamper offers excellent value for money and a well-executed design inspired by the much more expensive Pullman Big Step model.
The tamper has a 58.35mm base, making it ideal for most 58mm coffee machine portafilters. It will also work just fine for slightly larger precision baskets from VST.
The tamper features an ergonomic handle available in different materials (wood is very nice) and an anti-slip silicone bottom, which offers a pleasant sensation when tamping with a lot of pressure. It just feels good and safe in the hand.
If you’re in search of a tamper with a traditional feel that is satisfying to operate, then this option is a great pick within its price range. However, it’s only available in one size, so people not using a 58 mm portafilter is out of luck here.⚙️ Convenience: 3️⃣
📏 Size Options: 2️⃣
☕️ Barista Tingles: 5️⃣
💵 Value for Money: 5️⃣
🏆 Total Score: 1️⃣5️⃣
MATOW Dual Head Coffee Leveler
This gadget blends two innovative tamping concepts into one, making your espresso-making process more consistent.
First, the adjustable leveler/distributor helps create a flat surface. Then, the push tamper lets you quickly press down with your palm to compress the grounds fully. The push tamp has an auto-level function, so you don’t risk creating an uneven surface.
These two steps are more straightforward to master than old-school tamping, which is why these push tampers are becoming increasingly popular.
Some prominent coffee people are not fans of spinning levelers, but I see them as useful tools that can help you with consistency, so having a built-in one is nice.
This 53 mm version fits standard Breville espresso machines, but you can get a bigger 58 mm version for professional machines. I wish there were more choices size-wise, but let’s face it with a 53 and 58 mm version the whole market is almost covered.⚙️ Convenience: 4️⃣
📏 Size Options: 3️⃣
☕️ Barista Tingles: 4️⃣
💵 Value for Money: 4️⃣
🏆 Total Score: 1️⃣5️⃣
The Force Tamper
The Force Tamper might be overkill for most home baristas due to its overwhelming price tag. But it might be worth it if you’re a pro or just really into this hobby.
This gadget features a so-called “impact force mechanism” that differentiates it from both traditional tampers and calibrated spring tampers such as those from Normcore.
This innovative system utilizes a spring to create a sudden, controlled impact force for compressing coffee, ensuring consistent results with each use.
As you press down on the tamper handle, the spring compresses, storing potential energy. When the desired pressure is reached, the internal mechanism releases the spring’s energy, converting it into kinetic energy. This sudden release of energy drives a piston downward onto the base, compressing the coffee with a consistent and precise force.
This impact force mechanism provides uniform tamping pressure but also helps reduce the strain on the user’s hand and wrist compared to manual static force methods.
The Force Tamper’s inventive approach to espresso tamping delivers both consistency and ease of use.⚙️ Convenience: 5️⃣
📏 Size Options: 4️⃣
☕️ Barista Tingles: 4️⃣
💵 Value for Money: 1️⃣
🏆 Total Score: 1️⃣4️⃣
Barista Hustle Lightweight Tamper
The Barista Hustle signature tamper, created by World Barista Championship runner-up Matt Perger, is designed explicitly for hardworking baristas, pulling shot after shot.
This lightweight and balanced tamper is quite revolutionary since it goes against the trend of super-heavy tampers dominating the market in recent years. You don’t need a heavy tamper; you just need the proper tamping technique.
It has a replaceable base, which is handy if you accidentally drop the tamper and get a dent in that crucial tamping surface that must be smooth.
Made from black lightweight aluminum and featuring a stainless steel flat base. It’s slim, smooth, and non-slippery even when wet.
The tamper is designed to work seamlessly with precision baskets from brands such as VST, IMS, and Pullman, thanks to its 58.4 mm tamping surface.
It also utilizes a design to reduce suction at the sides since this can lead to channeling. Weighing only 0.5lb, this tamper minimizes strain from repeated tamping.
While I appreciate the thought that has gone into this tamper, the issue with weight and repeated movements is probably only a concern for pro-baristas pulling 100s shots during a workday. If you’re a home barista just satisfying your own caffeine cravings at home, I don’t think injuries associated with tamping should be a significant concern.⚙️ Convenience: 3️⃣
📏 Size Options: 3️⃣
☕️ Barista Tingles: 4️⃣.5️⃣
💵 Value for Money: 3️⃣
🏆 Total Score: 1️⃣4️⃣
coffee bros Prima coffee
The purpose of tamping
The goal of tamping is simple: It’s all about avoiding small pockets of air in the basket.
When your espresso machine delivers its piping hot deluge into a portafilter of improperly tamped grounds, you’re asking for trouble. And a less than delicious shot.
An uneven and sloppily tamped filter will have less dense regions. What many non-professional baristas don’t realize is that this creates a phenomenon known as channeling.
As the water is released into the filter, it will find the path of least resistance, because that’s what water does.
A properly tamped puck, which is what we call the compressed coffee in the portafilter, will present an undifferentiated front to the water, and your shot will have better chances of reaching espresso perfection.
On the other hand, an improperly prepared puck offers many options for that water to pass around the coffee easily, and your shot will not be properly extracted.
Don’t overdo it!
Some people get too carried away when it comes to tamping. The truth is that it’s a necessary step; however, you don’t get any ‘bonus’ points for tamping extra hard. You need enough pressure to push out the air of the basket. Once that’s achieved, your job is over.
It’s far better being consistent and tamping the same way every time, instead of seeing it as some kind of biceps powerlifting exercise.
Don’t worry if a few clumps of coffee are stuck on the inside of the basket. If you try to knock them loose and tamp again you’ll risk creating air pockets at the edge of the puck.
It actually happens fairly often that people get injuries from having bad technique or pushing too hard. This is the way you do it appropriately:
- Hold the tamper like you’d hold a flashlight with the thumb pointing towards the floor
- When you push down, you want to have your elbow directly above the portafilter – now the motion look like more like using a screwdriver
- Keep the wrist straight and push in a controlled motion
Attributes of a Great Coffee Tamper
The tampers that come with many espresso machines are at best questionable. If you’re only going to be using a pressurized basket, then that might not be a problem. But if you want to make legit espresso, then you need a better tamper for more precision and repeatability. Here are a few variables to remember:
- Material: Most of these are made of metal, which is heavier and provides a bit more help in the pressure department. However, for professional baristas, a lighter tamper might be better.
- Shape: tampers purchased separately come in two flavors—flat and convex. The flat is, naturally, precisely that. Convex refers to a tamping surface that is slightly bulged out. This can help prevent channeling by pushing the grounds somewhat up at the edges of the filter. However, it’s not essential.
- Is the tamper calibrated? Some are, and some are not. What this term entails is that there is a slight gap between the handle and head of a tamper. The appropriate amount of pressure closes the gap. This is super-helpful for new baristas because it indicates precisely the right touch with the portafilter and tamper.
- Leveler/distributor: A new category of tamping tools has gained a lot popularity in recent years. Some people use the so-called leveler before tamping, while others think that it’s not necessary to tamp when using this tool.
- Push? In recent years, push tampers where you press with your palm have started to become popular. Instead of gripping a handle and pressing down, some people find it more easy to simply push down on an even surface.