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The home barista guide to tamping.

by Dom Majdandzic 06 Jan 2018

Does my coffee tamper work?

Let's start by being clear that there really isn't a bad tamper. They all can do a great job. As they say, a tradesperson should never blame their tools for shoddy work. It’s how you use the tool that makes the difference. This is mostly true. Sometimes having better quality tools does help. But in this case no matter what tamper you have you can make it work.

A key question when it comes to espresso tampers, is how well does the tamper fit the basket? Unfortunately, the answer for all you keen home baristas, is that most domestic machine tampers do not fit that well.

But wait, you don’t need to go out and spend $200 to get a custom fit or even a commercial tamper, you can make the most of your tamper by observing what’s going on when you tamp and know how to adjust when needed.

What is the point of tamping?

Tamping is essentially a way for us to maximise water contact with our coffee. By doing this we get more extraction out of our coffee, and extraction equals flavour.

Grind size and the amount of coffee in the basket are directly impactful on extraction, and combined with a good tamp you can get the best out of your coffee.

Keep it level

Personally I have experienced and tried many tamping styles and coffee brewing, and I can say that no matter how you brew, tamping your coffee level beats tamping hard every time.

You do not need to tamp hard, just level.

While we’re speaking about pressure, you cannot over-tamp. Tamping simply compresses the coffee and removes the air from between the grinds. Once you get rid of that air and the coffee is level, there is nowhere else for the coffee to go. You simply cannot press it down any further.

Just concentrate on that tamp being level!

The Compass

Here’s a neat trick that can make your ill-fitting factory tamper do a better job. This method is far better than buying a new more expensive tamper, or dosing a larger amount of coffee, or pressing extra hard.

In this method we are going to tamp the coffee 4 times. Yes, four!

  1. Start by grazing the north edge of the inside of the basket with your tamper.
  2. Next graze the south edge of the basket.
  3. Thirdly, we do the same rubbing the east side.
  4. And finally tamp the west quadrant, always tamping flat.

I call it the NSEW tamp. It’s quick, clean and will ensure you press more of the coffee flat that what your current tamper is doing.

And please do not tap the side of the portafilter with your tamp, this is counterproductive and damages the edge of your tamper. I know you’ve seen baristas doing it in cafes, but try to avoid it at all costs.

Let me know how this works for you?

I hope this helps you keep it special. Dom

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