If you love a strong and rich cup of coffee, a freshly made espresso is always welcome. However, you might be hesitant to make your own espresso at home because it looks so complicated to make! Whenever you order an espresso from your local coffee shop, the barista seems to go through this complicated process of making your drink using complicated-looking tools.
While it is true that making espresso properly does require the right tools and knowing how to do the steps, there is one essential part of the process that you need to be familiar with: tamping.
What is tamping espresso and how does it help make the perfect cup?
What is Tamping Espresso?
Tamping is the process of packing fine grounds into a compact puck to allow for optimum extraction of flavor and aroma. During the extraction process, there are two factors that come into play: pressurized hot water from your espresso machine and the resistance of the grounds.
No genuine cup of espresso will ever be made with undergoing tamping.
Why is Tamping Espresso Necessary?
In order to make espresso correctly, tamping is an essential part of the process for several reasons:
- Tamping your coffee grounds allows the water from the machine to saturate the grounds properly. If you don’t tamp your grounds, the water will not be able to completely saturate into the grounds, causing you to lose flavor. This will result in a weak-flavored drink.
- Packing the coffee grounds tightly ensures that the pressurized water moves through the grounds, not around them. This allows the water to extract as much of the soluble oils as possible to achieve maximum flavor.
- Tamping also prevents the coffee grounds from swelling during the extraction process, ensuring that the water has a longer time in contact with the grounds. It also fulfills the secondary purpose of making it easier to remove the used grounds later.
What Do You Need to Tamp Espresso?
In order to tamp espresso properly, you will need a strong and durable tamper. A tamper is a tool that allows you to easily pack your grounds into a portafilter. With a handle and a wide, flat head, a tamper looks like a stamp.
While you can technically make espresso without a tamper by using any item that can fit into your portafilter, it generally makes a lower quality espresso since you won’t be able to get the right degree of compression with your grounds.
Types of Espresso Tampers
There are four basic tamper styles that you can choose from. Which style you choose will depend on the portafilter that you have as well as your personal preference.
- Dual-Head Tamper – this type of tamper looks like a miniature dumbbell with two flattened ends, with one end being smaller than the other. If you have a machine with multiple portafilters, this is a good choice.
- Handle Tamper – the most common type of tamper, a handle tamper looks like a stamp due to its round knob handle and flat/convex bottom. The knob handle allows you to put more pressure during tamping, and this type of tamper is recommended for professional baristas.
- Weight-calibrated Tamper – a more complicated type of handle tamper, this tamper can put a specific amount of weight on the coffee puck. This is a good choice if you’re using a machine that needs a specific amount of pressure on the grounds.
- Puck Tamper- the simplest type of tamper, this looks like a solid and heavy hockey puck.
How to Choose the Right Espresso Tamper
Whether you’re a home or professional barista, using the right espresso tamper can help you make espressos quickly and easily. What’s more, the right tamper can help reduce the strain on your hand and wrist during the tamping process. This is helpful if you pull a lot of espresso shots!
Here are some key things that you should keep in mind when choosing a tamper:
- Tampers come in different styles, weights, and prices. For casual home baristas, a good quality tamper costs around $10. However, if you’re a professional barista, you might want to invest in a high quality tamper that can cost $30 or more.
- Find the right tamper diameter that finds your portafilter.
- While some espresso machines have a built-in tamper, there’s no guarantee that it is of good quality. For best results, it’s better to purchase a separate tamper.
A Basic Guide to Tamping Your Espresso
While each barista has their own signature style when it comes to tamping espresso, you can learn the basic steps to tamping.
- Level your grounds – after placing your grounds in your portafilter, make sure to even them out. Use a knife or spoon handle and run it across the top of your basket, removing any extra grounds.
- Find an even, stable surface – place your portafilter on a flat surface.
- Begin tamping – apply light pressure on the surface of your grounds using your tamper. The goal is to ensure that the grounds are flat and level. Make sure that your wrist is straight with your elbow bent to a 90⁰ angle. This allows maximum force and pressure without putting too much strain on your wrists.
- Apply more pressure – once you are sure that the grounds that been compacted evenly into your portafilter, press down as hard as you can with your tamper. Use a downward twisting motion each time you press into your portafilter to ensure that the grounds are being compressed as much as possible.
- Check your grounds – before loading the filled portafilter into your espresso machine, make sure that there are cracks or breaks in the puck, and that the grounds have been packed as tightly as possible.
Don’t Ever Skip Tamping!
There are times when you just want a cup of espresso and you don’t really want to go through the hassle of tamping, but as with all good things, a little sweat and effort make the final product better! Now that you know what is tamping espresso and why it’s so important, you’ll surely agree that it’s worth the effort. Know more about espressos.