How to Tamp Espresso? A Guide to Proper Tamping for Beginners

You seem to be doing everything right but your machine just won't give you a good shot of espresso? Maybe it's not the machine to blame. Do you tamp your grounds? Are you doing it correctly? Read this post to find out the proper tamping technique for a delicious shot of espresso.

How to Tamp Espresso?

Tamping your coffee is essential for a delicious cup of espresso. It's not as simple as it sounds though. You want to make sure you're using a quality tamper as that's the best way to achieve an even extraction of the espresso. Additionally you have to be very precise with your tamping pressure. The best way to do that is with a pressure calibrated tamper. Get yours now in our store.

Fill the Portafilter with Coffee

Before you get to tamping your espresso you need to fill the portafilter with coffee. You should know that it should not be filled to the brim to get the best taste out of your shot. Additionally you'll want to use finely ground coffee as there's a lot of pressure generated while making espresso and that's the only way to get the rich espresso flavor.

Level the Grounds

Once you've loaded your coffee into the portafilter you should level it. Push the redundant coffee out of the portafilter. Don't be tempted to press down on the coffee with your hand though. This will give you an uneven espresso extraction and you're very likely to leave some oils into the espresso and you don't want that.

Press Down with the Tamper

When you have your coffee leveled it's time to tamp. Take your tamper, put it on the portafilter and press down.To know you're getting exactly that you might want to practice with a scale or get a pressure calibrated tamper. Such a tamper will massively improve your chances of getting a delicious espresso as it always generates the same amount of pressure.

If you're planning to stick to your regular tamper you should know that it's best to press down with your body, not with your arms. To do that take the portafilter close to you and put it on a steady surface. Then lock your elbows at a 90 degree angle and press down.

How to Correctly Hold a Tamper?

Brewing consecutive rounds of espresso can be exhausting if you're tamping holding the tamper incorrectly. To make sure you're doing it right you'll want to hold the tamper as if you were holding a door handle. Wrap your palm around the side and rest your thumb on the base of the tamper. Instinctively you're probably going to rest your palm on top when you tamp but this can create tension in your hand and wrist which might be unhealthy in the long run.

What's the Perfect Tamping Pressure?

When you tamp espresso you want to make sure you're not pressing too hard. This will completely ruin your cup of espresso and you'll have to make another one. The perfect pressure is 20-30 lbs but it can be hard to get it right at first. You'll know you're tamping correctly if after brewing there's a coffee puck shaped in the portafilter and it doesn't immediately fall apart when you take it out. 

The best way to learn how much is 20-30 lbs of pressure is to practice with a scale. Even then you might not get it exactly every time as our muscles may have to put a lot more effort into these 20-30 lbs one day and much less the day after. That's why it's best to get a tamper with a pressure gauge or a pressure calibrated tamper.

What Happens if You Tamp Too Hard?

Tamping your espresso too hard will ruin your shot. If your coffee is tamped too hard in the portafilter the water won't be able to evenly go through it. Instead it will push it aside and only go through the softest spots in the portafilter leading to channeling. This means that there are going to be little canals in your coffee where the water is going to go and over extract your coffee. This will lead to a burnt taste and low amount of caffeine. Not the espresso you want as a start of your day.

Why Is Tamping Espresso Important?

Tamping your espresso is a crucial step when brewing espresso coffee. The name espresso comes from the Italian word for pressed out. This is because an espresso machine makes your coffee by generating a lot of pressure (around 9 bars) by heating up water. It is then pushed through the finely ground coffee in the portafilter of the espresso machine before you get your delicious shot of espresso. 

This high pressure will make the water and steam push the coffee out of their way. This is why you'll want to make sure they're tightly compressed together by tamping your coffee. This way you'll have an evenly extracted shot of delicious espresso.

What Happens if You Don't Tamp Your Grounds?

If you don't tamp your espresso you'll get a poor shot. When you start to make your coffee, the water will push the grounds out of its way and barely extract any coffee. Your shot will be very bland and you're definitely not going to enjoy it. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Tamper?

A tamper is a small device that helps you push down on your coffee grounds before making espresso. Tamping your grounds is crucial to making a delicious shot of espresso. 

Do You Have to Tamp for Other Types of Coffee?

No. Other coffee brewing methods like a Moka pot for example don't need tamping. Only the espresso machines generate a pressure high enough to require you to tamp your grounds before making a shot. If you tamp your Moka pot you'll end up with a bad shot of coffee and if your Moka pot doesn't have a safety valve, even with coffee over your ceiling. 

How Long Does a Shot of Espresso Take?

Once you've ground your coffee, put it in the portafilter and tamped it, and you've heated your water, a shot of espresso should take around 20-30 seconds. This depends on your espresso maker and how much coffee you're making. 

The entire process of making espresso depends on multiple other factors. Among these are whether you're grinding your own coffee or not and how long it takes your espresso machine to heat water. Even if you're grinding your own coffee and your espresso machine isn't the fastest in heating water, a shot of espresso shouldn't take you more than 5-6 minutes.

Why Is Your Espresso Watery?

There are two reasons why your espresso shot might come out watery. One is that you didn't tamp it hard enough and the other is that you tamped it too hard. How you'll know if it's one or the other is that if you're tamping too hard the coffee in the portafilter will be partly dry after you make your espresso shot. If you're not tamping the coffee hard enough the portafilter will be filled with water and there will be coffee grounds floating in it.

How Do You Stop Channeling Espresso?

If you tamp your coffee too hard you'll witness a phenomenon called channeling. This happens when the coffee is too densely compressed in the portafilter and the water can't go through it evenly. The best way to fix this is by tamping your coffee more lightly. This will let your machine make you a delicious shot of espresso as the pressure it builds will be just enough to go through the grounds.

Final Thoughts

Tamping your grounds when you make a shot of espresso is a crucial step. If your grounds are densely packed into the portafilter you'll get an even coffee extraction and a better taste to your brew. You do it by evening out the coffee, putting the portafilter on a steady surface close to you and pushing down with your body not with your hands. The whole tamping process is made significantly easier if you own a pressure calibrated tamper. It'll push down on your grounds with the right force each time. Get yours now.