Beginner baristas look at the tamper as an unimportant accessory, the one that comes with the espresso machine is good enough. Maybe the tamper is not as important as the grinder, the roast date, or water quality. However, a great tamper is one of the tools you need if you aim for the perfect espresso shot. If you are content with average espresso shots, maybe this article is not for you, but read it anyway.
Why you need the best tamper you can buy, you ask? When it comes to espresso brewing, every detail count. We have a rather comprehensive piece on “How to Tamp Espresso“, and if you read that you’ll see why we take tamping so serious.
- What is An Espresso Tamper?
- How Much To Spend On A Tamper?
- What Makes a Good Tamper?
- Basic Tamper
- Silmur – The Best Basic Tamper
- What Tamper Shape Do I Need – Flat Or Convex?
- Are Calibrated Tampers Better?
- Espro Calibrated Espresso Tamper
- LuxHaus Calibrated Pressure Espresso Tamper
- Normcore – The Best Spring-loaded Tamper
- Do I Need an Oversized Tamper?
- Automatic Tampers
- Espresso levelers (or distributors) vs. tampers
- The Best Espresso Tamper – The Force Tamper
- Palm Tampers – Are they any Good?
- Palm Tamper and Espresso Distribution Tool
What is An Espresso Tamper?
An espresso tamper is a tool used to tamp, or pack, ground coffee into an espresso machine’s filter basket. The tamper evenly distributes the coffee and compresses it to the correct density, which is important for making a good shot of espresso. Sometimes, perfectionist baristas use levelers, espresso distribution tools, and a tamper to ensure the perfect coffee puck at the extraction time.
As we mentioned before, a tamper is an essential tool for making espresso. Good tampers are made of stainless steel, have a flat base, and fit perfectly in your filter basket. The best results are obtained with tampers that are precisely calibrated to be the same size as the basket.
Tampers come in various shapes and with various features. The tamping base can be flat, or convex. There is some debate whether to which one is the best, and we’ll talk about that in a bit.
Tampers have also various features, and we can distinguish here the calibrated tamper, the automatic tamper, or the simple manual tamper. Some tampers come without a handle, and they serve dual purpose, on one side they are an espresso leveler, and on the other side they are a tamper. This is a great choice for the home baristas who need to have a small coffee station, because they take less space.
The aesthetics can also play a role when choosing a tamper. Some baristas only care about the function, while others like to surround themselves with beautiful objects, and the tamper is a great opportunity to do that.
How Much To Spend On A Tamper?
How much to spend on a tamper? This is a question that you need to answer. But we can help to show you what an expensive tamper can offer.
There are a few things to consider when making your decision. People who spent a good amount of money on a great espresso machine will not mind spending a bit more on a great tamper.
If your budget is tight, and you want to spend as little as possible on a tamper, consider around $15, for an ugly chunk of aluminum that will solve your problem.
Another thing to consider is how often you will be using your tamper. If you are only going to be using it occasionally, then you may not need to spend as much as someone who uses their tamper on a daily basis.
If you are a professional, there are tampers that will help you avoid the strain associated with repetitive tamping. (It’s a thing.) From the Force tamper to an automatic tamping machine you have a few choices.
Finally, it is important to consider your personal preferences. There are many different types of tampers available, so it is important to find one that feels good in your hand and that produces the results that you are looking for.
Ultimately, the decision of how much to spend on a tamper is a combination of the following:
- How experienced are you in making espresso
- What is your budget
- Do you want just a tool, or you want a luxury item
- How often do you use your tamper?
What Makes a Good Tamper?
Let me start by saying this: if you think that the tamper itself will dramatically improve your shots, you are wrong. Any tamper that is the right size for your basket works.
Why the fuss writing an article about them? Well, experienced baristas will figure out how to use even the infamous plastic tamper that comes with the espresso machine. The beginner barista will need all the help he can get, even from a tamper. But there are other reasons people buy expensive tampers, and you will see in this article that it does make sense to spend a bit on a tool that you use daily.
A good espresso tamper will improve the experience of making great espresso. A tamper helps to compress the coffee grounds in the basket, which results in a better extraction and a more flavorful cup of espresso. If you like working with your tamper you have a good time while pulling your shots. It doesn’t feel like a chore.
Okay, I exaggerated a bit. Some tampers can actually help you get a better extraction, and you’ll see in a bit how.
The best espresso tampers have a flat base that is the same size as the basket, and are made of high quality stainless steel. They should also be the right size for your espresso machine. The rule with this, is that the tamper base should be slightly smaller than the diameter of your portafilter basket.
If you don’t have the diameter of the filter-basket from your manufacturer, just measure the inside diameter of the basket and choose a tamper for that size.
A good espresso tamper should also be decently heavy, as this gives the home barista more precision with the tamp.
I personally love a wooden handle, because it looks more elegant, but I know baristas who like them made of steel. This will be an oversized tamper, and some people do prefer them heavier.
This is a very basic tamper, and I personally do not recommend you to buy this for replacing the plastic tamper that came with your espresso machine. There is not much of a difference between the two, except this one costs money. Granted, it’s not too much, but still, why waste the money if you have a tool that does the same thing for free?
I only included this option here for the home barista that runs on a very tight budget and doesn’t have a tamper. And if you looked on the Internet on a guide on “how to tamp espresso without a tamper”, forget everything you read there. Seriously.
Silmur – The Best Basic Tamper
This unibody tamper is made entirely from stainless steel, and qualifies as an oversized tamper with a hefty 1.18lb weight. Milled from a single piece of stainless steel, it has a nice finish, that just entices you to use it. This is just beautiful.
The tamping base is thick, which helps against sideway tamps, and the leveling. You might not need a leveler, if you use this tamper.
This is pure high quality stainless steel. When you buy cheaper models you might get cheaper materials that rust, or the chrome flakes. The Silmur tamper will not.
They come in four sizes, 49mm, 51mm, 53mm, and 58 mm. The ergonomics are just great, you love to use it, the handle fits perfectly in your palm.
I recommend this as a basic tamper, and I recommend you spend a little bit more on this espresso tool that you will use for a long time. You will get stuck with a $15 tamper that you don’t like for years, if you want to go as cheap as possible.
What Tamper Shape Do I Need – Flat Or Convex?
There are two main types of tampers – flat and convex. Flat tampers are the most common type and are typically used with espresso machines. Convex tampers are less common, but some baristas prefer them because they claim it improves the extraction.
What Are Convex Base Tampers?
A convex base tamper is a type of tamper that has a convex, or rounded, bottom. Convex base tampers can be used with either flat or convex baskets, making them versatile tools for the home barista.
Most tampers on the market have a flat base. In theory, a level surface will ensure that water from shower-head is dispersed evenly through the puck.
However, a convex base there will be less chances to get a tilted surface. The convex tamper will leave an indentation in the middle of coffee bed. There is still debated whether the convex tamper is better than the flat base.
Are Calibrated Tampers Better?
What is a Calibrated Tamper?
A calibrated tamper is a tool to compress the espresso puck with a pressure level indicator. Also called dynamometric tampers, they give the beginner home barista an indication on when to stop pressing.
The most common design is with a spring-loaded calibration, that clicks at 30 pounds of pressure. However, some designs signal the barista at 25 pounds.
There is some debate over whether calibrated tampers are better than regular tampers. However, in my opinion, for a beginner these are great tools to help you get a feel of the necessary force.
Advanced baristas will eventually move on from calibrated tampers, but these are amazing tools for training your hand.
The disadvantage with spring-loaded tampers is that they don’t prevent you from tamping harder. The click indicator only lets you know that you reached the pressure, but if you are a newbie, you can still press after the click.
The other disadvantage is that they don’t prevent the sideway tamp. There are other types of tampers that allow you to prevent sideway tamping, and we’ll talk about them in a bit. But be warned, those are really expensive tools. It takes a real espresso geek to justify the expense.
Espro Calibrated Espresso Tamper
The Espro calibrated tamper, takes away the guess, and the approximation from your daily tamping, making espresso pulling a precise operation, as it should be. Even the pros are using an Espro tamper.
This particular model of the Espro Tamper is convex, so it presses a bit more in the center, but Espro has also a flat base model. This convex base, as we explain later in the article is useful for avoiding the edge channeling effect. The tamper will press just slightly harder in the middle, leading to an equal extraction of all grinds in the filter basket.
The base is made of stainless steel, with a hard anodized aluminum handle. Espro offers a 1-year warranty for their tampers.
Because this is dynamometric tamper, it will let you know with a subtle click when you reached 30 pounds of pressure. The click is subtle enough so it doesn’t disturb the grounds, but it will send enough vibration into your handle so you know when to stop.
The Espro comes in five sizes, for 49 mm, 51 mm, 53 mm, 57 mm, and finally 58 mm.
LuxHaus Calibrated Pressure Espresso Tamper
A cheaper calibrated tamper, as an alternative for the Espro, is the LuxHaus Calibrated Tamper. Less luxurious than the Espro, it gets you the same function at a much lower cost.
Do I recommend LuxHaus over Espro? Well, if your budget allows it, I warmly recommend the Espro. You will not regret it.
LuxHaus, although has an almost perfect 5 star average on Amazon, it’s okay only as a tool. Finishing could be better, and calibration is not perfect. You will still have to test it on a bathroom scale for the first 20 or so tamps.
Normcore – The Best Spring-loaded Tamper
At half of the price of Espro, this is a really good calibrated tamper.
The best feature is the resting lip around the tamping base. When you prepare for tamping, you place your tamper on the basket’s edge, and the outer lip prevents the tamper to go all the way in the basket. This design will prevent sideway tamps, which other designs, like the Espro, (and the LuxHaus), will not prevent.
Tampers are built with the tamping base just slightly smaller than the basket. If the tamper is too snug, when you pull it back out it creates suction and cracks the puck. The little space between the tamping plate and the basket, is enough to let you press sideways, and create an uneven puck. The Normcore’s outer lip forces the base to go straight, so no more sideways tamping.
The tamper comes with three interchangeable springs for 15lb, 25lb, and 30lb. They make this in 5 sizes for most basket sizes on the market.
When you look at price, this us the the best possible deal. We said this is the best tamper, and we misled you a little here. There are better tampers than the Normcore, but they cost 4 to 5 times more.
Do I Need an Oversized Tamper?
You don’t absolutely need an oversized tamper. The size of the tamper is not as important as the fit. The tamper should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the basket and have a flat bottom so that it can evenly press the coffee grounds.
Having said that, heavier tampers just feel better when tamping. The extra weight doesn’t benefit in any way the quality of your tamp, but some baristas just love them.
An automatic tamper is mostly found in a coffee shop, though I have a friend who has one for domestic use.
The two biggest advantages of the automatic tamper are the productivity, and avoiding wrist injuries. There is also the tamping consistency, which is good if the baristas are rookies. Prima Coffee sells these, if you are a coffee shop owner. Or you are like my friend…
Espresso levelers (or distributors) vs. tampers
Espresso levelers, or distributors, are devices that help ensure an evenly distributed puck of coffee grounds in the espresso basket. A tamper is then used to compress the grounds and extract the espresso shot. Home baristas often debate the merits of using a leveler vs. just tamping the coffee by hand.
Levelers can help create a more uniform puck, which can result in a more evenly extracted espresso shot. We have an article about leveling and distribution tools.
The distribution tools are complimentary to tampers, and they are used to prepare the puck for tamping. I know people who use a wedge distribution tool only and no tamper, but I personally don’t like the idea. The wedge distribution tool works great at creating a uniform puck surface, but it’s not a good tamper.
The Best Espresso Tamper – The Force Tamper
I left the best tamper at the end for two reasons. Firstly it is the most expensive on the bunch. I personally wouldn’t spend the money on it, but if you have the budget, it is the best tamper on the market.
Secondly, I presented you a variety of other tampers, which had their own shortcomings, and the Force Tamper fixes all of those issues.
The Force Tamper is the winner of the Red Dot Award for outstanding Product Design, so you know that my excitement about it is not exaggerated. The Force Tamper is made of stainless steel, with a nice finishing touch – a wooden handle.
The automatic levelling and configurable exerted pressure are exactly what the prefect tamper needs. Some of the tampers have the leveling, some have the pressure, but not both of them.
The leveling plate works perfectly and it helps you avoid sideways tamping. When you use a wedge distribution tool and a calibrated tamper, (such as the Espro), there is also a chance to tamp sideways, after leveling the puck. With The Force Tamper you literally cannot tamp sideways.
A great alternative to the Force Tamper is the Decent Espresso Tamper, which is comparable in features and price. The Decent Leveling Tamper is a 15 pounds spring loaded tamper, whereas the Decent tamper has an adjustable pressure.
Palm Tampers – Are they any Good?
Are palm tampers good? I have been asked this a lot, and the simple answer is yes they are good. But they are not perfect.
The biggest advantage of palm tampers is the perfect tamping pressure every time… as long as you don’t change the dose and the coffee beans.
Palm tampers can offer perfect consistency, if you keep all variables the same. They work by adjusting the height of the tamp/puck, rather than the tamp pressure. The level plate will stop your tamp going too deep, and it will tell you if you need to press harder.
The problem is that if you increase your dose just a tiny bit, the grounds puck will be compressed tighter. Also, coffee beans have different densities, and when you tamp different coffee beans they can compress more or less, depending on the variety, origin, and roast.
Any time you change beans, or dose, you will have to adjust the depth of your palm tamper.
The other problem with palm tampers is that they do not prevent sideway tamping. There is the idea that they help with the puck level. They do a little bit, but if you don’t press uniformly, you can still press sideways. Now, by forcing the tamper to go all the way down, we can somewhat correct the puck level on the surface, but in the puck we will have different compression levels. When we press uniformly all the way through, like with the Force Tamper, the puck has the same density.
OK, this was the technical bit for the perfectionist barista, who wants to pull the perfect espresso shot. For the rest of us, who need a great double shot without too much pretentions, the palm tamper is absolutely amazing.
Palm Tamper and Espresso Distribution Tool
This tamper has two sides, one side is a tamper and the other one is a wedge distribution tool. The depth adjustment is obtained by screwing in and out the tamping head, or the distribution head.
The black collars are also threaded. When tightened together, the stainless steel distributor and tamper are locked and they don’t move. Once you adjusted the distributor and the tamper, tighten collars to lock.
They come in five sizes, from 39 to 58mm for various portafilters. The unit is made from stainless steel and it is built with quality.