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Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for best espresso tampers

Serious espresso drinkers know that the right techniques and equipment are the secret to making delicious espresso at home. Even if you have a top-of-the-line espresso machine, you may not be making the best coffee you can if you don’t use a quality espresso tamper to prepare your grounds.

An espresso tamper is a handheld tool for packing coffee grounds into an espresso machine’s filter basket. It consists of a handle that you hold and a base that actually compacts the grounds down. This ensures an even thickness and density, so the extraction process is as consistent as possible. It also helps slow brewing to maximize flavor and crema.

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When tamping coffee grounds, it’s usually best to use 30 to 45 pounds of pressure. To know what that much pressure feels like, place the tamper on a bathroom scale and press down on it until you reach the proper range.

Key considerations

Flat vs. convex tampers

Espresso tampers are available in two types: flat or convex.

A flat espresso tamper has a flat base that comes into full contact with the coffee grounds. It creates a completely even, uniform surface for the compressed grounds.

A convex espresso tamper has a slight incline from the center to its sides. When used to tamp the grounds, it creates a convex shape.

Some espresso aficionados prefer a convex tamper because the incline drives the coffee grounds to the outside of the filter basket, which helps prevent channeling. Channeling occurs when water forces its way through the sides of the grounds during extraction, which can weaken the espresso’s flavor.

However, other espresso lovers believe you can get similar results with a flat tamper as long as you use the right technique. They prefer the flat base because you can achieve a more flush tamp that helps extract the oils and flavors from the grounds more evenly.

In the end, both types of espresso tampers are effective, so it’s mainly a matter of personal preference.

Size

An espresso tamper’s size is crucial because it has to fit your machine’s filter basket. Tamper size is measured in millimeters and usually ranges from 49 to 60 mm. Measure your espresso machine’s filter basket or consult its user manual to determine the size that you need.

Features

Weight

An espresso tamper’s weight is an important feature to consider because a heavier tamper means you don’t have to use as much force when you compress the grounds. If a tamper is too heavy, though, it can be difficult to handle. The best weight for an espresso tamper is usually between 10 and 25 ounces.

Material

The material an espresso tamper is made of usually determines how durable it is. Plastic tampers are inexpensive, but they can snap or crack easily and aren’t as easy to clean because plastic can absorb odors and stains. Metal tampers are a better option. Aluminum can be a solid, affordable choice, but many espresso drinkers prefer a stainless steel tamper because it’s durable, rust-resistant, and easy to clean.

Calibration

Some espresso tampers are calibrated, which means that they have a resistant spring between the base and handle. The benefit of a calibrated tamper is that you use the same amount of force every time you press down on the tamper’s handle, so you can achieve extremely consistent results with your espresso. A calibrated tamper is more expensive than a traditional tamper, though, and you can still tamp down your grounds effectively with a normal tamper, so it’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

Dual-head

If you use multiple portafilters or filter baskets in your home espresso machine, you may prefer a dual-head tamper. It resembles a dumbbell because both ends of the tamper have a base that can be used to compress the coffee grounds. In most cases, the bases are different sizes, so you can use them with different-size portafilters or filter baskets.

Handle

An espresso tamper’s handle is an important feature because it must be durable enough to hold up to repeated use. You can find tampers with handles made of plastic, metal, and wood. Metal and wood tend to be the most durable tamper-handle options.

Espresso tamper prices

Espresso tampers vary in price based on their material, size, and special features. Most tampers cost between $6 and $100.

Plastic and aluminum espresso tampers are usually the most affordable. They can range from $6 to $30, depending on their size.

Stainless steel tampers are a mid-range price option. They typically cost between $10 and $75, depending on their size.

The most expensive espresso tampers are calibrated models. They typically range from $22 to $100, depending on their size.

Tips

  • Keep the tamper even. Make sure that the tamper sits level against the coffee grounds when you press down, or the extraction may be uneven. You may need to run a clean finger across the grounds to push off any extra that might create an uneven surface.
  • Use proper form. Avoid a repetitive strain injury by keeping your wrist straight and your elbow at a 90-degree angle when you use an espresso tamper. The strength should come from your shoulder and triceps, not from your wrist.
  • Employ a two-step tamping process. When you first press on the tamper, use light pressure to compress the grounds into a puck-like shape. After the puck is formed, apply a bit more pressure to push out any remaining space between the grounds.
  • Rotate your tamper for a smooth finish. If you want the grounds to have a completely smooth finish on top, rotate the tamper as you apply the final pressure. This smooth finish is known as the polish. Be sure to wipe away any grounds that may have gotten on the outside of the portafilter during the tamping process, so the filter is clean on the outside when you insert it in your espresso machine.
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If you don’t tamp your grounds, the water will have gaps to flow through during the extraction process, so your espresso won’t be as flavorful.

FAQ

Q. Why is tamping important when preparing espresso?
A.
Tamping the grounds before you put them in your espresso machine removes the space between them where they sit in the filter basket. That means the water has to force its way through the grounds, which helps slow the extraction process, so all of the flavor and aroma are pulled from the grounds for the best-tasting espresso shot.
 

Q. Are a coffee tamper and an espresso tamper the same thing?
A.
The two terms are used interchangeably because espresso is a type of coffee drink. You wouldn’t tamp down grounds if you’re making a standard cup of coffee, though, so tampers are used exclusively in the preparation of espresso and espresso-based drinks.
 

Q. When should I use an espresso tamper?
A.
For the best-tasting espresso, use your tamper right after you grind the beans. Fill the filter basket with coffee while the portafilter is still outside the machine and carefully press down on the grounds with the tamper until they’re properly compressed.


Q. What’s the best way to clean an espresso tamper?
A.
If your tamper includes cleaning instructions, always follow them carefully because the proper method can vary from tamper to tamper. In general, you should never put a tamper in the dishwasher. Wash it by hand with mild soap, warm water, and a soft cloth.


Q. What type of espresso tamper is best if I’m new to making espresso?
A.
If you’re just learning to make espresso, a calibrated tamper can be a good option. It delivers the same amount of force every time you tamp your grounds, so you’re guaranteed consistent results. All of your espresso shots will taste equally delicious.

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