If you have an espresso machine at home, you've probably done it before, or else you've probably seen it in the hospitality industry: during the preparation of an espresso, 'tamping' of the ground coffee takes place somewhere during the process.
Tamping coffee is about tamping or pressing down the ground coffee in your portafilter. I can imagine that you are actually wondering why this tamping is part of preparing a good espresso from an espresso machine and what the correct way of tamping is.
What is tamping?
First of all, it might be useful to go into the question of what exactly tamping is, so that no confusion can arise about this. Tamping, pressing or tamping your coffee is done with a special tamper. This is often made of metal, relatively heavy and has the shape of a mini dumbell.
The bottom is about the size of the diameter of your portafilter, in the middle it is narrow and at the top there is another flat piece that you rest your hand on to apply force while tamping.
Why do you have to tamp coffee?
One of the most important things to understand is why you need to tamp or tamp your coffee. There is a good chance that if this blog has piqued your interest, you have an espresso machine at home. For fun, try not to tamp and see what happens.
There is a good chance that you will not get your portafilter turned properly in your espresso machine anyway, but there is also a good chance that the water will gush through the coffee. And what happens when the water gushes through the coffee? Right, it doesn't have time to extract the nice flavors of the fresh coffee, making it a very watery cup. In other words: under-extraction takes place.
"Tamping well creates enough counter pressure to make a balanced espresso."
It is therefore very important when preparing the perfect espresso that you tamp well after grinding, in order to create sufficient counter pressure within the portafilter. This way there is enough time for the coffee particles to partially dissolve in the hot water and a balanced espresso can be created from your espresso machine.
You also ensure that no 'channeling' can occur by pressing or tamping your coffee as straight as possible. Then the water flow chooses the path of least resistance and passes very easily through a small part of the ground coffee, instead of evenly through the whole bed of ground coffee. As a result, you will not get the correct extraction.
Of course the tamping must be done in the right way, because this part too; pressing your coffee can easily fail. But have no fear, it really isn't rocket science . You can definitely learn how to tamp your coffee!
Please note: for the very best results, I recommend that you always buy freshly roasted coffee beans from a specialty coffee roaster.
How do you tamp coffee?
What's the best way to tamp your coffee? I do have some tips for that. It is of course important that you also manage the other steps of preparing the perfect espresso well, but in this blog we will dive a little deeper into the aspects that affect the perfect tamping of your coffee.
Evenly distribute the coffee
First of all, it is important during tamping that you can distribute the coffee evenly in the container of your portafilter. You can do this in several ways:
- Before tamping your coffee, you can tap your portafilter a few times on a hard surface (or on a tamper mat), so that the ground coffee settles properly in your portafilter.
- Before tamping your coffee, you can evenly distribute the ground coffee that has just come out of the coffee grinder with your finger over the container, so that there is no mountain of coffee, but an almost equal level of ground coffee.
- You can use a tool such as an OCD divider that distributes the ground coffee in your filter basket in a more precise way. This is not a replacement for a coffee tamper, but you use it to press your coffee with a tamper. Another super handy tool is the Puqpress , this tool also distributes the coffee evenly. The Puqpress also immediately tamps your ground coffee perfectly, so all in one.
Press straight on the tamper
Pressing your coffee 'straight' is also very important to prevent channeling. If the surface of the ground coffee is skewed, water runs more easily down one side of the coffee and you get under-extraction.
"Pushing straight is very important to avoid channeling."
If the coffee in your portafilter is evenly distributed, it is important that you 'put' the tamper on the ground coffee (without pressing) and prepare it for tamping. It is important that the tamper is right on the ground coffee. You can check this manually by placing your fingers on the edge of your portafilter and the edge of the tamper surface and turning the tamper around to see if the tamper is 'equally deep' on the coffee everywhere. If this is indeed the case, you have a go and you can start pressing.
An OCD or a Puqpress can also provide you with this; if you use these tools you can prevent that the ground coffee is not tamped straight.
Use just enough force
It is therefore also very important that you use exactly enough force when pressing your coffee. Not too much power and not too little power. If you have an espresso machine at home, I advise you to experiment with it so that you understand exactly what is happening. If you don't put enough force, the water gushes through and if you put too much force, it's difficult for the water to get through and you get over-extraction.
But what exactly is enough power when tamping your coffee? Once the ground coffee has come out of your coffee grinder and you are preparing it for use in your espresso machine, you want to press with a force of about 20 kg. 20kg? Do you have to use a scale? No, in my opinion that is certainly not necessary, but I have heard from several customers that they have done this to test whether their feeling is correct. And it usually does.
When you press coffee, I advise you to press firmly, without throwing your full body weight into battle. So don't do it too violently. Are you in doubt? Turn your portafilter upside down after pressing and check if your coffee doesn't fall out ;-). If not, then it is perfectly tamped. After that, you don't have to think about it too much. There are also tampers that click when you've reached the right level of force; a so-called click tamper.
What is the best tamper?
What is the best tamper is of course also very personal. For example, various factors play a role in your final choice, such as the size of the tamper that must match the diameter of your portafilter (the most common sizes are those of 53 and 58 mm), perhaps the shape / size of your own hand and whether or not you use an additional tool such as the OCD or a Puqpress. In the case of the latter tool, you will of course no longer need a separate tamper.
You also have the subdivision into tampers with a flat bottom and a convex side. A tamper with a flat bottom is called a flat tamper and with these tampers it is slightly more difficult to press the coffee straight. A tamper with a convex bottom is called a convex base tamper and the convex at the bottom ensures that coffee is more easily distributed evenly and straight over the filter basket.
I can't say one is better than the other; my personal preference is for a convex base tamper for convenience. In any case, the baristas clearly disagree if you delve into this topic. In my opinion, the very best tamper does not exist, only the very best tamper for you!
In this blog I took you into the world of tamping coffee, pressing coffee with a tamper or tamping coffee. During the preparation of the perfect espresso, it has become clear that proper pressing is of great importance for the correct extraction of your espresso.
While tamping you should focus on:
- the correct distribution of the ground coffee in the filter basket
- pressing the coffee straight into the filter basket
- using just enough force during the actual tamping of the coffee.
All these processes can be done manually or supported with various tools that can support perfect tamping, such as an OCD, a Puqpress or a click tamper. But once you get the hang of it, reproducing it isn't that complicated, you just feel in your finger how to tamp your coffee perfectly.