Why is tamping Espresso important? How to tamp like a PRO?

Tamping the Coffee grounds in the portafilter is an art. You should master that art if you want the best from your shot of Espresso.

If you own the best espresso machine and have bought the best coffee beans for Espresso, your grind setting is also perfect. But all the things are in vain if you don’t know how to tamp properly.

If you don’t tamp properly, the water will make its way through the spaces where lesser coffee grounds are present, leaving the other coffee grounds completely or partially untouched. This will result in an inconsistent shot of Espresso, which will taste watery or bitter.

Many questions might come into your mind, like how hard you should press the tamper? Or does the level of coffee grounds on the portafilter really matter? We will answer these questions and teach you how to tamp like a PRO!

What is tamping, and why it’s important?

Tamping is the method to properly level the surface of coffee grounds on the portafilter so that all the coffee grounds get extracted completely and evenly.

Tamping is essential because it lets you brew Espresso more evenly and consistently, making your Espresso taste overwhelming. 

What happens if you don’t tamp Espresso? What is Espresso Channeling?

Espresso is a method of brewing coffee by passing pressurized water over the bed of coffee grounds. In espresso machines, water is pressurized up to 9 bars.

And the pressurized water likes to flow through the place where it will face the least resistance. If you don’t tamp the grounds properly, they will not get packed together compactly, and the water will pass through the place where there are least coffee grounds, leaving all other coffee grounds unextracted. 

This is called Espresso channeling. When channeling occurs, some grounds will get over-extracted while others remain under-extracted. This will make your shot both bitter and sour at the same time, and the taste will be very uneven, just like the surface of the coffee grounds you left in the portafilter.

So how do you know Espresso channeling is going on?

Just visualize the drops coming out of your portafilter. If you see that the drops are coming faster from one side than the other, it’s a clear indication of Espresso channeling.

Or inspect the puck after brewing the shot; here, if you find the signs of water channels than that’ bad, you have to tamp appropriately in that case.

If your tamping is perfect, the hot water will not have any other choice than to pass through each and every ground extracting the delicious flavors and oils of Espresso, which will make your shot perfect.

Portable espresso makers can help you to brew a shot of espresso anywhere anytime. We have prepared a list of the best portable Espresso makers. You will surely like it.

How to tamp properly? A step-by-step Guide

So now you know the importance of tamping, and you understand how bad it will be if you don’t tamp properly. 

Now you might be wondering what points you must keep in mind to achieve perfection in tamping. Simply follow these five steps, and you will become a pro in tamping.

1. Fill the portafilter with grounds and level them 

The first step is to fill the portafilter with the coffee grounds straight from your grinder. 

Revolve your portafilter in a circle while filling to distribute the coffee grounds evenly in the portafilter.

If you don’t revolve it, a pile of coffee grounds will build up at the center, and there will be fewer coffee grounds at the sides. Even the surface looks flat after tamping, the grounds will be denser at the center than the sides of the basket, and this will result in channeling as most of the water will pass through the sides because of empty spaces.

Fill the portafilter with grounds

The surface of coffee grounds should be even before tamping. You can use a distribution tool if you want to achieve perfection. The distribution tool will distribute the grounds super evenly in the basket before you tamp.

Crema Coffee Products | 53.3mm Coffee Distributor/Leveler & Hand Tamper

Available in different sizes to fit the portafilter your Espresso machine

Very elegant design

Simple and easy to use. Allows you to achieve a completely level surface

View On Amazon

Or you can simply level them with your fingers if you don’t want to invest in a distribution tool. The distribution tool doesn’t make that much difference. Don’t buy it if you are not a perfectionist like me.

2. Place it on some flat surface

Now place the portafilter filled with coffee grounds on the shelf of your kitchen, or place it anywhere the main thing is surface should be flat.

Don’t tamp the grounds while holding the portafilter in your hands, as it will make the surface uneven.

place portafilter on level surface

3. Hold the tamper like a pro and make an angle

Now hold the tamper in your hands just like you hold mike, with your thumb and index finger at the edges of the portafilter.

Make sure that your biceps is parallel to the handle of the portafilter. And your arm should be perpendicular to the portafilter 

how to tamp espresso

4. Apply force

Now apply some force to distribute the grounds evenly, and the empty spaces among them fill up.

You might have heard somewhere that 20 lb of force is necessary or 30 lb of force is necessary. But this is completely a myth! The amount of force doesn’t make any difference as long as you are applying just enough force to fill in the empty air pocket among the coffee grounds.

Now you might be wondering if the tamping force doesn’t make any difference, then what is the purpose of tamping at all? 

tamping force

The purpose of tamping is to fill in the gaps and empty air spaces, and this purpose can be easily fulfilled by applying just a tiny amount of force. Moreover, measuring 20 lbs or 30 lbs of force while tamping with your hands is also unrealistic as you can’t apply the same amount of pressure each and every time.

So just keep in mind that tamping pressure does not matter.

5. Inspect the puck and clean the edges of the portafilter

Before putting the portafilter into the espresso machine, make sure that the puck is even and flat. Sometimes our angle gets titled, and the puck becomes uneven. In that case, discard the puck and repeat the process.

Also, clean the portafilter’s edges as you don’t want to lose coffee grounds in your machine. If you leave them on the portafilter, they will go into the machine and make the cleaning of your machine difficult or may damage it.

The importance of tampers

There are different types of Espresso tampers available in the market. 

The two main types of tampers are convex and flat. Convex, as the name suggests, has a slightly rounded surface. The main reason behind this somewhat spherical surface is to avoid side channeling from the sides of the basket.

The flat tampers have a completely flat surface, making the puck even and flat. I personally like flat tampers more than convex tampers.

Another tip for choosing a perfect tamper is to always select the tamper with a thick base as it allows you to tamp deeper.

LuxHaus 51mm Espresso Tamper | My favourite Tamper

Available in different sizes to fit the portafilter your Espresso machine

Made with BPA free material

Completely flat base

Delivers the best taste experience

View On Amazon

How to tamp Espresso without tamper?

Ideally, it would be best if you had a tamper to tamp your Espresso correctly. But what if it’s lost or you don’t want to buy one.

Well, in that case, you can tamp the puck with any flat surface round object present in your home. It can be an empty beer bottle, a shot glass, the back of a teaspoon, a pill bottle, or a small-sized can.

When tamping without a tamper, the first three steps mentioned above remains the same. And while applying force, you should be very careful as it can ruin the surface of your puck.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the size of the object you are using should exactly match your portafilter’s size. If the size of the object you are using is smaller, it will make the surface uneven and distorted, and if it’s larger, surely it will not fit into the filter, and you can not use it for tamping.

Final thoughts

This is not the only method to tamp Espresso. You might have heard of different tamping methods from Baristas or coffee experts. Some might recommend tamping at different angles, and some might recommend applying a large amount of force.

I have tested and applied different methods for tamping to brew espresso shots, and I have figured out the best way to tamp Espresso, which I have shared with you. I hope you will like that method too.

And always remember that the best brewing time for Espresso is 25 to 30 seconds; if your shot is taking less time than that, then this might be an indication of espresso channeling. You have to change your tamping technique in that case.

FAQs

What Is The Ideal Tamping Pressure?

There is no ideal pressure to tamp Espresso. You might have heard somewhere that applying 20-30 lbs of force is necessary to tamp Espresso. But that’s completely a Myth!
The purpose of applying pressure is to fill the empty air pockets present among the coffee grounds. And you just have to apply the amount of force that can easily fill these air pockets. 

Does Level Tamping Really Matter?

Yeah, you should make sure that the surface of your tamp is perfectly leveled, as it has a considerable effect on the taste and consistency of your shot.
If you tamp at some angle, the water will make its way through the side where there are fewer coffee grounds and espresso channeling occurs.