What Happens if You Tamp Espresso Too Hard

That perfect, golden shot of espresso you get in a specialty coffee shop takes effort. Many baristas spend months (even years) learning how to craft consistently good shots of espresso.

There’s a lot to learn. From grind consistency to temperature, there are many aspects in which an espresso can go horribly wrong without practice.

Tamping is another important part of the process. A good tamp ensures evenly extracted espresso, which is vital to the flavor.

And tamping, as you may know, is all about applying the right pressure. So what happens if you tamp espresso too hard?

In this article, we’ll be exploring the topic of tamping a bit further. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • What happens when you tamp espresso too hard
  • How to properly tamp
  • Common tamping mistakes

What Happens if You Tamp Espresso Too Hard?

To explain what happens when espresso is tamped too hard, let’s look at why you tamp it in the first place.

When you tamp espresso, you’re packing it into the portafilter. The more evenly the espresso is packed, the easier it is for the water to come into contact with every single particle of coffee. That leads to a more balanced and bolder flavor.

When you tamp too lightly, the particles aren’t packed together. The water sprays through the grounds, making something weak and unpleasant-tasting.

On the flipside, tamping too hard leads to the opposite happening. Water struggles to get through the puck, and because it spends more time seeping through, your espresso becomes over-extracted.

What does over-extraction do to taste? It turns an otherwise good shot into something that’s overwhelmingly bitter, even for seasoned espresso lovers.

Not to mention the wrist strain involved! If you continuously tamp too hard, you’re likely to cause sore wrists from the excess pressure.

Baristas should be well-versed in these principles when operating commercial espresso machines.

How to Properly Tamp Espresso

Now that you understand what happens when espresso is tamped too hard, it’s time to discuss how to tamp it correctly. Whether you’re a home barista or you work in a business, tamping takes a little practice.

Start by packing your portafilter and leveling the grounds off. Once that’s complete, you’re ready to tamp the espresso.

Use good posture and make sure you’re comfortable. Hold the portafilter in one hand, resting the basket on a flat surface, and hold the tamper in the other hand.

Once you’re ready, press the flat part of the tamper on top of the grounds. It should fit snugly inside the basket without being a tight fit.

Now you apply pressure. Generally, it’s best to apply around 20-30 pounds of pressure onto the grounds.

If you’re not sure what this feels like, many experts recommend pressing down with your hand on a scale. This will give you an idea of what 30 pounds of pressure is like, and you can begin to develop muscle memory for it.

After tamping, take a look at the grounds. There should be no large holes, and the surface should be flat. Clear any remaining grounds from the rim of the basket, and you’re ready to brew.

Common Tamping Mistakes

Tamping might sound simple at first, but it really does take practice. There are a few mistakes that many beginning baristas make when they tamp the first few times.

Pressing too hard or too soft is one of the first mistakes. The pressure applied during tamping is so important, and going either too hard or soft will impact the quality of your drink.

Tamping unevenly is another frequent error. When this happens, you’ll notice that the grounds in your portafilter are at a slant in the basket rather than being a level surface.

Some baristas get around this by using a tamping mat or stand. Others practice holding the tamper perfectly perpendicular to the counter or table that they’re tamping on.

Wrap Up

As with many other things, getting your tamp perfect requires practice and patience. If you’re willing and able to put in the practice, however, you’ll be rewarded with a rich, luxurious espresso experience unlike anything you’ve had before.

Tony Barlow

Tony Barlow

Majesty Coffee Technical Sales Expert - Meet the Team

Tony Barlow, with over a decade of experience in the coffee industry, is the go-to technical sales expert at Majesty Coffee. He's passionate about helping businesses find the right espresso equipment for their needs.