What Is A Coffee Tamper?

In this article, we'll answer the question, what is a coffee tamper? Learn how coffee tamper create the best shot of espresso, just like a professional barista.

Barista presses ground coffee using tamper - What Is A Coffee Tamper
Coffee tamper enables you to make a dense puck of finely ground coffee

Many coffee lovers relish a good shot of espresso; however, most leave the making of anything beyond a traditional cup of coffee to the professional barista in their favorite coffee shop.

Making a good espresso requires a certain set of steps, and one of them is tamping. If you’re ready to up your coffee-making game and learn more about tamping, making espresso and becoming a home barista, let’s get started.

What Purpose Does a Coffee Tamper Serve?

If you’re getting ready to pull your first cup of espresso, you may find yourself staring at an item that looks like something a postal worker would use to imprint a postmark on a letter. It has a nicely curved handle and a large round flat metal disc with a flat base on one end.

This interesting-looking tool is a coffee tamper. Most good tampers are made of metal, especially stainless steel; however, they can be made of other high-quality materials as well.

Coffee tamper in a cup with coffee beans
A coffee tamper has a curved handle and a large round flat metal disc with a flat base on one end

A coffee tamper enables you to make a dense puck of finely ground coffee so that the coffee’s flavors can be extracted to create the perfect cup of espresso. The density of the coffee puck is vitally important to creating the ideal espresso. Without it, you get coffee-flavored water instead of the intensely flavored beverage you know and love as espresso.

Espresso Tamper and Portafilter Work Together to Create a Puck

To get the full-flavored burst of coffee you expect from a shot of espresso, the coffee beans must be finely ground and then compressed with an espresso tamper prior to use in an espresso machine.

This is accomplished by packing or tamping the loose coffee grounds into a compressed puck. The puck is created in the portafilter using a coffee tamper to tamp or compress the grounds.

Tamping Coffee Grounds with an Espresso Tamper

At first glance, tamping coffee grounds may appear easy; however, it requires a lot of practice and a bit of finesse to consistently get an even, compact coffee puck to create the best espresso shot. Fortunately, with each shot you pull, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to perfect your tamping skills.

Be sure to pay attention to how each shot tastes as you practice your espresso-making skills. Then you’ll know when you’ve perfected the process of brewing espresso, making it easy to repeat again and again.

How to Use a Coffee Tamper

holding a coffee tamper
Coffee tamper evenly presses your coffee grounds

To create the best coffee espresso shot you've ever tasted, you need to give the coffee grounds a nice even press before running them through your coffee maker. You can’t accomplish the right tamping pressure with standard kitchenware, such as a spoon or a spatula. You need to use a tamper to create what is known as a coffee puck.

A puck that has an even density and distribution will produce an even extraction as it forces the water which takes the path of least resistance. Tamping an espresso shot is accomplished by:

  • Tamping the coffee grounds, utilizing the correct body position. Keep your wrist straight and your elbow bent at 90°. The correct body position is critical. It gives more power to your tamping force since it’s coming from your shoulders instead of your wrist, helping to compact the coffee grounds in such a way so as to prevent an uneven extraction.
  • Measuring out the exact quantity of proper grind size coffee according to the recipe’s instructions.
  • Leveling the grounds in the filter basket before you begin to tamp.
  • Using the correct sized tamper, push down with consistent, firm, and even pressure. You don’t want the tamper to be cocked in any way, or you may create an uneven puck leading to uneven extraction.

Watch this video to learn how to correctly use a tamper and get some great tamping tips as well.

Final Word on What Is A Coffee Tamper

If you attempt to brew a cup of espresso without the use of a tamper, you’ll fail. Why? Because if the puck is not compressed, the water will quickly pass through the coffee grounds without any resistance.

The grounds must be tamped sufficiently to provide resistance to the water as it passes through the espresso maker. This process will transform you into a home barista, creating espresso just like you buy in a coffee shop. A quality tamper makes it all possible.

Please note … a tamper isn’t difficult to use; however, it does require a bit of finesse. With time and practice, however, you’ll soon be creating espresso shots just like your favorite coffee shop barista.

FAQs About What Is A Coffee Tamper

What is the Purpose of Tamping Coffee?

Tamping coffee is important. If the coffee is not tamped, you create a weak espresso shot because the hot water easily and quickly passes through the grounds rather than having to be pressed through a compressed coffee puck.

A firmly compressed puck of coffee grounds provides resistance to the water as it passes through the grounds in your coffee machine, increasing the time it takes for the water to pass through, creating espresso rather than coffee-flavored water.

Both the puck and the pressurized water provided by the espresso machine are essential in the creation of high-quality espresso.

What is the size of a coffee tamper?

The perfect tamper should be slightly smaller — at least .75mm is recommended — than the inner diameter of the portafilter basket. You don’t want the tamper to bind as you tamp the grounds into it.

Most espresso machines come with a tamper that is the correct size for use with its portafilter basket. Common tamper sizes — always measured in millimeters — range between 48-58 mm.

If you find yourself needing to order a new tamper for your espresso maker, be sure to check the user manual to ensure you order a quality tamper that is the correct size.

How hard should you tamp coffee?

Tamping packs the coffee grounds, compressing air from between them. When tamping the grounds, eventually you won’t be able to press them any firmer. No matter how hard you continue to put force on them, the tamper won't move any further.

There is no max tamping pressure … even Hercules could not overdo it; however, once the tamper no longer moves, the job is done. Many professional baristas say you should tamp to a certain amount of pressure.

If that makes you feel more certain that you’ve applied the correct pounds of pressure, a quick Google search shows a varying amount of pounds of pressure, up to 30 pounds.

Not sure how much pressure that is correct? Put the portafilter basket on a bathroom scale and compress the grounds with the tamper until it shows the correct amount of pressure in pounds on the scale.

Author

  • Cindy Murdoch has been a freelance writer since 2010. She loves to do research and learn new things about lots of interesting topics. One thing, however, is non-negotiable. She cannot start her day without a good cuppa caffeine.