To Tamp Coffee Correctly is an important step in the process. It is most commonly done with espresso machines, but people may also wish to tamp their grounds in manual drip filters, moka pots or when making cold brew.
When in the puck, the grounds need to be as evenly distributed as possible because when hot water is forced through the coffee grounds at high pressure, the water will always flow through the path of least resistance. If you have gaps in the coffee grounds, the water will just escape this way, ignoring the grounds and resulting in a lackluster brew.
So it’s vital to tamp coffee correctly to ensure that the grounds are tamped well for quality coffee with no waste. You will need:
- Ground Espresso – The coffee should be ground to a fine consistency as a benchmark, but you may need to adjust this to fit with your tastes later down the line
- A Coffee Tamper – This is what you use to press down the grounds. Many machines come with a tamper, but this is usually plastic and flimsy. Don’t use this; investing in a quality, heavier model will pay off
- Portafilter – This is the little basket and handle contraption which you place the grounds in, and the water in the espresso machine flows through
- Optional: Weighing Scales and Tamping Mat – The former will give more reliable, consistent results when pressing and dosing, and the latter gives you a good secure surface for the pressing
To ensure the tamping is consistent each and every time, you need a few different factors:
- Even Grind Level – If you grind your beans at home, ensure you purchase a quality coffee grinder so all of the beans receive equal attention and the grinds are the same size. Pre-ground beans will be fine. Read our guide on which grind levels are best for each machine
- Good Quality Equipment – You will need the best coffee portafilter and tamper. The former will hold the coffee grounds perfectly, and the latter is what essentially creates the right amount of pressure and packs them down evenly. Ensure the size of both match
- Practice – It makes perfect, after all. You won’t get it right first time, but slight changes to your technique and the pressure you use could be vital until you can recreate it every time
- Accuracy – Once you have nailed it, doing the same every time is essential. Get the feeling for the process. It could be worth investing in a coffee weighing scale to ensure the same pressure and amount of coffee is in your puck. Weight is more reliable than volume for the end taste anyway.
- Fill the portafilter basket
With your ground coffee up to the brim. A single shot is usually 7 grams. Give it a quick shake to evenly distribute them
- Level off
Using a curled finger, roughly level this off, and remove any excess. This will create the basic flat, packed consistency you need
- Use the tamper mat
Place the portafilter on a tamper mat or in a dedicated stand. A flat, clean surface will do if you don’t have one of these
- Press down
With your tamper, press lightly on to the grounds. Leave the coffee to rest for a few seconds
- Tamp again
Tamp for a second time, but offer a little more pressure. Anywhere between 8lbs and 30lbs of force is usually acceptable, but it is actually best to keep to the lower end usually with a good quality, heavy tamper
- Optional: Finish up
At this point, you can polish the shot. This is where you twist the tamper to create more of an even finish. Some say it isn’t necessary and is just cosmetic, but this could depend on your pressing quality
Dan is a former competition barista and has been honing his knowledge of coffee for over two decades.
He has worked in coffee farms in Peru, as well as roasters in Australia. He now trains new baristas and hosts cupping experiences in Austin.