Either way, you're in the right place.
In this short guide, we'll break down...
- What an espresso tamper is.
- Why it's important and what it's used for.
- The various different types of tampers on the market.
- Flat vs convex tampers.
- Considerations you should make before buying.
What is An Espresso Tamper?
An espresso tamper is a plunger-looking device that's used to lightly pack or "tamp" for short the coffee grounds into the espresso machine's portafilter. They two main parts are the handle and the base. The base being the portion that comes in contact with the espresso grinds during the tamping process.
Why is Tamping Your Espresso Important?
The process of making espresso in it's most simple form is water running through ground coffee beans.
If the water runs through the grounds too quickly from the grounds being loosely tamped, it won't extract any espresso or the final shot will come out watered down.
On the other hand, if the espresso grounds are packed too tightly, water flow is impeded resulting in a bitter shot from a long extraction time. Even worse, the water may not even make it through the grinds.
Getting an uneven tamp can cause problems as well. It will cause the water to move quicker to one side than the other resulting in an uneven extraction of your ground beans. It can also result in channeling.
The tamper is main tool that the barista has at their disposal to make sure that the grounds are packed correctly. Along with grind coarseness, the tamp is the other major variable in the equation of making a consistent and delicious espresso shot.
Many high end commercial espresso machines can reduce these variables with technology such as soft infusion.
Different Types of Espresso Tampers
- Domed or Conex Tampers: In a convex tamper, the bottom of the base is slightly rounded and comes to an extremely dull point in the center. When you perform your tamp, it leaves a slight "border" around the edge of the portafilter basket. You'll notice that when these tampers are placed on a flat surface, the perimeter of the base is slightly elevated.
- Calibrated Tamper: A calibrated tamper is designed to apply 30 pounds (the ideal pressure) to the coffee grinds. It's got a built-in mechanism that allows the user to do this without fail by not having to rely on how much pressure they "feel" like they're applying.
- Flat Tamper: A flat and handled tamper is the most typical tamper you'll see. It's got the base and the handle that can be finished with different colors of rubber, wood aluminum, etc.
- Dual-Head Tamper: A dual head tamper is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than having a handle and a single base. There's a base on each side and a handle in the middle. The bases can also sometimes be different sizes.
- Puck Tamper: A puck tamper gets its name because it looks like a hockey puck. It's got a much smaller handle which the barista can grip with their pointer-finger and thumb or with a majority of their hand. Some users find that the low profile provides added stability.
- Palm Tamper: Essentially the same as the puck tamper but has a slightly different aesthetic (doesn't look like a hockey puck).
Flat vs Convex Tampers
As mentioned previously, a flat tamper is the style you'll usually see (with a flat base) while the convex tampers come to a point in the middle of the base. Which style is better than another remains a highly debated subject. According to the linked poll, a 48% majority of users preferred the convex style. This was mainly because they felt they had a lower tendency to create an uneven tamp and thus have less channeling.
At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference and what's easier for you to get an even tamp. Granted, using a convex tamper will never result in a tamp that's truly "even" because the sides will be pushed up.
Other Considerations When Buying an Espresso Tamper
- Size of Base: Most importantly, you need to make sure that your tamper is the appropriate size for your basket. The easiest place to find this would be looking up the model of your machine and finding out the size of the portafilter basket that came with your machine. You're also likely to find it in the user manual. The standard measuring units are millimeters.
- Weight: Because tampers come in all different weights, you'll have to find one that feels best for you. If you've got one already, try placing it on a scale. From there, you can evaluate whether you'd prefer one that's heavier or lighter.
- Aesthetics: From wood, to stainless steel, to aluminum and gold - tampers are made with all sorts of different materials and colors. It's one of the opportunities you have to accessorize your espresso station.
- How it Feels: You want the tamper to feel ergonomic and nice in your hand, don't you? The biggest variations in feel will come with the different tamper styles: puck, dual headed and one with a handle.
Where to Buy Espresso Tampers
Now that you understand the basics of espresso tampers, you're probably wondering where you can get one.
Well, if you don't have a machine already, know that there should be one included in whichever model you buy.