espresso being tamped
review

Tamp like a Champ: The Best Espresso Tampers for the Coffee Geek

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.

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Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

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.

Top pick: Best value
53mm Coffee Distributor &...
This is a modern tamper. It combines a leveler and a push tamp in the same unit. It's a different way of doing things, but many home baristas as well as professionals have become fans of the new approach to tamping in recent years.

This is the 53 mm model, but there's also a 58 mm version.

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.

Tamp like a champ.

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:

58 mm tamper or smaller?

An important attribute to look for is that your tamper fits your portafilter—too small and you won’t get a good, even tamp. Too large and the tamper won’t accomplish anything at all much.

  • Most “pro-sumer” machines (aka the more expensive ones) come with the traditional 58 mm portafilter.
  • Be careful because, you can also encounter baskets that are 58,5 mm, which benefit from a slightly bigger 58,4 mm tamper.
  • Some brands like Lelit and Ascaso also have portafilter that work 57 mm baskets.
  • Smaller sizes like 53 mm and 51 mm are also VERY common, especially, with cheaper models from companies such as Breville and Delonghi.

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 some factors to keep in mind:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

The 7 Best Espresso Tampers – IMHO

1: MATOW Dual Head Coffee Leveler

53mm Coffee Distributor &...

This tool combines to new tamping ideas into a single unit that will make your espresso workflow a lot more consistent.

First, you have the adjustable leveler/distribution tool will help you create the even surface. Next, you have the push tamper, where you just press quickly down with your palm to make sure that the grounds are fully compressed.

This two motions are a lot easier to get right than traditional tamping, so for that reason it has become a very popular during the last couple of years.

This version is 53 mm, which means it fits the typical Breville espresso makers. There’s also a bigger 58 mm version for professional machines.

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2: Normcore Calibrated

Espresso Coffee Tamper 58.3mm...

This tamper has got a lot of things going for it. Actually, it has 3 cool features rolled into one.

It’s a precision tamper, meaning it’s a few milimeters bigger, than a regular 58 mm tamper. This way it will compress the puck all the way to the edges, which in theory should minimise side-channeling.

It also has an auto-level disc and comes with 3 different calibrated springs, so you can get an even tamp with the correct amount of pressure every time.

I have this tamper at home. It’s very well-crafted and a steal for the money.

It also comes with a cool carry-case and a two additional springs with a different calibrated pressure.

Normcore has several sizes, so make sure to get the right one for your portafilter!

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3: Apexstone Coffee Distributor/Leveler Too 58mm

Apexstone 58mm Coffee...

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 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 tamping is not needed when using a perfectly calibrated leveler.

You can versions that are way more expensive than this one from Apexstone, but they basically do the same, so why overpay? This version is available in both 58 mm and 53 mm versions.

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4: Dual-Sided Espresso Tamper from HIC

HIC Dual-Sided Espresso...

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.

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5: Blue Snail 51-Millimeter Press

BlueSnail Stainless Steel...

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.

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6: Omigogo’s Stainless 51-Millimeter Tamper with Wood Handle

Omgogo Stainless Steel Coffee...

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.

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7: 58-Millimeter Solid Stainless Steel from Motalius

Motalius 58mm Espresso Tamper...

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.

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Image by @Nick Webb