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You shouldn’t overlook the basics when it comes to espresso. The tampers that come with budget machines are often flimsy and less than ideal.
Many newbies think that a coffee tamper is incidental; a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.
And while it’s true that you should probably pay closer attention to your grinder, roast date of your beans and water hardness, a tamper is no joking matter when the aim is to brew the best possible espresso.
With coffee and especially espresso, the devil really is in the details. This means that it’s uber-important to get the basics right.
Read on, if you want to know what to search for in a great tamper these days.
|Tamper||Key Features||Compatibility||Material & Design|
|Normcore Calibrated Tamper||Precision tamper, auto-level, 3 calibrated springs,||Available in almost all sizes, including the most common 58, 53.5 and 51 mm.||Stainless steel, aluminum|
|Matow Dual Head Coffee Leveler||Leveler/distributor, push tamper, auto-level function||Fits 54 mm Breville espresso machines, available in 58mm version||Stainless steel, aluminum|
|The Force Tamper||Impact force mechanism, spring-controlled||Fits most 58mm coffee machine portafilters||Stainless steel, aluminum|
|Apexstone Leveler Tool||Leveler/spinny tool, can be used before tamping or as a replacement||Available in 58mm and 53mm versions||Stainless steel, aluminum|
|Barista Hustle Lightweight Tamper||Lightweight, replaceable base, precision basket diameter, reduced suction design||Fits most 58mm coffee machine portafilters||Aluminum, stainless steel|
|MHW-3BOMBER Tamper with Wood Handle||58.35mm base, ergonomic wooden handle, anti-slip silicone bottom||Fits most 58mm coffee machine portafilters||Stainless steel, wood|
|Motalius 58mm Espresso Tamper||Solid stainless steel construction, rust-resistant||Fits most 58mm coffee machine portafilters||Stainless steel|
This tamper combines 3 cool features into one single 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 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.
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 popular machines such as Flair and Breville.See more reviews
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.
Another standout product is this wooden tamper, which surprisingly 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 wooden handle and an anti-slip silicone bottom, which offers a pleasant sensation when tamping with a lot of pressure. This is an elegant and functional solution. 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.See more reviews
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.
This 53 mm version fits standard Breville espresso machines, but you can get a bigger 58 mm version for professional machines.See more reviews
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.See more reviews
And now for something totally unique!
Most tampers follow a similar form, whether they’re calibrated or not. You have the base and the handle attached via a stem. In the past, most variations tended to be from the material front rather than changing the approach altogether.
This has changed in recent years, where so-called levelers have become all the rage among the barista elite.
Instead of pressing the coffee grounds down, this espresso tool spins around on top of the portafilter and gradually massages all the grounds into place.
Some baristas use this tool before tamping, while others swear that a perfectly adjusted leveler can replace tamping entirely.
You can get versions that are way more expensive than this one from Apexstone, but they do the same, so why overpay? This version is available in both 58 mm and 53 mm versions.See more reviews
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. The stylish all-black design is ideal for any barista, adding a touch of elegance to any espresso machine setup.
Beautiful enough to serve as a paperweight, but its design is all business, according to many of the rave reviews this press receives. Turned out of a solid piece of stainless steel, it may be slightly more costly. However, it’s also rust-resistant and easily maintained, with a pleasing weight. The tamping base is also a bit larger, so it’s essential to measure the diameter of your portafilter before trying it out.See more reviews
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.
An improperly prepared puck, on the other hand, offers a lot of options for that water to pass around the coffee easily, and your shot will not be properly extracted.
Tamp like a champ.
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 just 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:
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: