Tamp like a Champ: The Best Espresso Tampers for the Coffee Geek
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 look for in a great tamper nowadays.
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.
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.
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 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. Here’s how you do it properly:
- 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
So, you may have purchased or been gifted a home espresso machine. Now, it’s important to remember that inexpensive machines are often quite excellent and can work well for that first (or seventh) cup of the day.
The same cannot always be said of the dinky plastic tamper that often comes with the budget models.
Here’s the thing, those less expensive and widely marketed home espresso machines are intended for people who have a little knowledge of coffee, which is why it’s always baffled me that they provide such flimsy tampers.
A lightweight tamper is going to require more effort on your part to achieve that even 30 pounds of pressure you need to prepare a perfect shot.
While that’s certainly not an issue for many people, it can be, especially if the individual using the tamper is new at the art of coffee making. It’s usually good to start out with an instrument that has a few essential features:
- Material: Most of these are made of metal, which is heavier and provides a little more help in the pressure department.
- 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.
The 7 Best Espresso Tampers – IMHO
Now, for the section all of you have been waiting to read: The Tampers. Like espresso machines, these come in a broad range of materials and styles and can range from extremely inexpensive to what a Ferrari would cost if it were reincarnated as an espresso tamper. I’ll leave it to you to choose which of those I present is right for you.
1. LuxHaus Calibrated
As far as tampers go, this particular model manages to look both utilitarian and rather lovely at the same time. Crafted from solid stainless steel, the tamping head is both food safe and rustproof. However, while it has a beautiful handle rounded for security and comfort in the hand, most customers seemed excited about the calibrated feature. This is beneficial for home baristas who don’t also work in an artisan coffee shop.
The calibration allows individuals to definitively apply between 29 and 35 psi to each shot of espresso and provides an ideal foundation for the perfect shot. The LuxHaus tamper is an affordably priced crowd pleaser. It’s available in three different sizes.See more reviews
2. Dual-Sided Espresso Tamper from HIC
If you’re not sure which size tamper will do, you might want to investigate this model. It’s dual-sided. One flat end measures 50 millimeters, and the other is slightly larger at 55 millimeters. It’s made from heavy-duty aluminum, which does mean it costs less than some models, but that doesn’t impact its utility or safety. Aluminum is resistant to the corrosive acids present in coffee, which can cause metal-coated or cheaply made tampers to flake over time.
It’s easy to clean and maintain for everyday use. There may be no frills, but there’s also no fuss.See more reviews
3. Blue Snail 51-Millimeter Press
With a steel-clad iron body, this tamper is also a no-nonsense model. While it isn’t calibrated, the substantial weight and flat base provide a perfectly even surface for every shot. Those who purchased this model seem incredibly pleased by both of these particular aspects.
As stated the tamping disc measures 51 millimeters and the press weighs in at an impressive 20.1 ounces (570 grams). Maintenance is also as uncomplicated as this highly affordable press – simply wiping it down with a damp cloth after each use will keep it bright and shiny for years to come.See more reviews
4. Omigogo’s Stainless 51-Millimeter Tamper with Wood Handle
Let it never be said that the tools of consistency and excellence must also be unadorned or boring. This tamper from Omigogo offers a bit from both schools of sensibility.
The tamper head measures 51 millimeters and is crafted from stainless steel. It provides the world a pleasant, no-frills face for consistent shots every time. In the same stroke, the handle is crafted of warm rosewood, rounded and smoothed for a comfortable fit in any hand.See more reviews
5. SMKF Macaroon Hand Coffee Tamper
And now for something completely different! 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 taking the reins of formal matters into hand.
This tosses that out and seeks a new disc form instead. This disc tamper style is intended to allow baristas more control, tamping shots straight-arm style. That permits greater precision and force per square inch, which is a bonus for those who don’t use a calibrated press. This model is affordably priced.See more reviews
6. 58-Millimeter Solid Stainless Steel from Motalius
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
7. Purple Mountain Espresso Tampers
This tamper comes in a range of sizes to suit most standard espresso machines. You may order a 58, 53, 51 or 49-millimeter press circumference. But perhaps what makes this product so pleasing for those who purchased it is its weight.
At a full pound and a half, this stainless steel tamper provides greater consistency and control without the need to exert additional force. Purple Mountain also stands by their guarantee that these tampers are entirely free of harmful coatings or platings, made only from 100 percent food-grade stainless steel that is dishwasher safe.See more reviews