Coffee tampers are a critical part in the process of achieving a great cup of coffee. Getting the best coffee tamper within your budget will significantly change the flavour of your coffee and compressing your coffee grinds with a good tamper makes all the difference.
Tamping coffee is the action of compressing ground coffee inside a portafilter as the final stage in preparation prior to inserting your portafilter into your coffee machine, ready to pull a delicious double espresso to be enjoyed as it is or converted into your favourite milk-based drink such as cappuccino or latte.
In order to keep prices down, most home espresso machines come with a flimsy plastic tamper that simply doesn’t do the job it’s supposed to.
They deliver a poor tamp that leaves air in between the coffee grounds and causes the coffee to flow too quickly through the coffee grounds and into your cup leaving a sour or salty taste.
You get left wondering why your coffee doesn’t taste as good as you thought but this can easily be addressed by using a good tamper correctly.
This guide will help you to understand why bad espresso can happen even if you have a good espresso machine and how a good tamper can help.
There is no need to spend a lot of money, some of the best tampers are surprisingly cheap and make a big difference in the quality of your coffee.
These are the best coffee tampers in the UK:
This is my personal favourite and the tamper I have been using to tamp my own coffee over the last few years. I use a Sage Barista Express coffee machine and this tamper fits perfectly into the basket.
The 53mm diameter fits all Sage coffee machines and lots of other brands as well. This is a popular size for a lot of portafilter baskets. The one that comes with Sage machines is ok but this is miles better.
The best thing about it is that it takes all of the guesswork completely out of the equation. Once you have coffee nicely spread out in the basket place the tamper on top and press down firmly.
This tamper has been calibrated to deliver 30 pounds of pressure every single time. When you press down you quickly feel the resistance on the spring and you know when you can’t press down anymore.
The whole thing takes less than 1 second but you get that same consistency every time which is crucial to making a great espresso-based drink.
At 372g it feels really nice and weighty in your hands and mine looks the same today as it did when I got it a few years ago. I’m pretty sure that it will outlast the coffee machine by some distance.
Magnificent value for money.
Delonghi makes great coffee machines but for some reason they provide a horrible plastic tamper with a lot of them. This Delonghi branded coffee tamper fits all Delonghi espresso machines and many other portafilters that have a 50mm or 51mm basket.
In complete contrast to the featherweight one that comes with the machine this is a really stylish well made tamper with a real wood handle and a stainless steel base.
It weighs a substantial 281g making it easy to press down and get a really firm bed of coffee grounds ready to deliver a great shot of espresso.
This tamper has a very striking modern design with a wooden handle and a matt stainless steel base. It weighs 100g which is lighter than some of the others in this list but is still much heavier than the ones that come with espresso machines.
In order to get a good tamp you need to have something that feels substantial in your hand that you can grip well and you can press down hard without being fearful that it will break. This tamper fulfils all of that criteria.
It’s solid and sturdy, feels good to hold and it looks great as well. Amongst other brands and espresso machines, this will fit filter baskets for Sage coffee machines.
This is a full size calibrated tamper the same size as they use on espresso machines in the high street coffee shops. It’s calibrated so that you get the same amount of pressure on your tamp every time you push down.
It’s extremely well built with a thick plastic handle and a solid stainless steel base. It weighs 500g which gives you a reassuring feeling when you pop it into the filter basket.
This tamper will not let you down and will last for many years.
This a great value alternative to any cheap and nasty plastic tamper you get with your coffee machine. Its 100% stainless steel and has an excellent look and feel to it. The 51mm base is compatible with a large range of espresso machines. Always check the size of your filter basket before ordering.
It weighs 558g which is nice and weighty ensuring less effort will be required to give a nice firm push on the coffee grounds to get a great compressed bed of coffee.
When you balance quality and value this is exceptional.
How does tamping help channelling?
It’s super important to tamp correctly because if the ground coffee has any gaps in it or air pockets then you will experience the dreaded channelling.
Creating a double espresso is a pretty violent process inside of your coffee machine.
A huge amount of pressure is applied to force water through the bed of ground coffee that you have created and inserted into your machine before it finds its way into your cup.
If you don’t have a flat bed of coffee that has been compressed correctly then water will always find the path of least resistance and it will find its way down the side of your coffee puck if it possibly can.
That’s what channelling is, when water “channels” down the side of the bed of coffee and you don’t get an even extraction. It’s the kind of thing that makes you ask why you can’t quite get your coffee to taste like it does in Starbucks or Costa.
Using a good coffee tamper helps to ensure your coffee is packed down without any air gaps and that leads to the water distributing evenly through the coffee and into your cup.
It’s so important to avoid channelling that the coffee shops use an mechanical automated tamping machine that costs hundreds of pounds so that is does it the same way every time.
Buying one of those for home use is not realistic but spending a small amount on a decent tamper for home use will make a difference over the horrible plastic or lightweight ones they give you with the coffee machine.
If you want to avoid a watery, flavourless diluted coffee then using a decent tamper will avoid channelling and help to deliver a top quality cup of coffee.
How does tamping help over extraction?
Coffee extraction is the process that takes place to remove or “extract” the soluble parts of the ground coffee that go into the portafilter.
When you are finished pulling your espresso shot you end up with a used puck of coffee grounds that you have to discard or recycle.
That’s because only approximately 30% of the coffee that you put in is actually soluble and ends up in your cup. The other 70% cannot be broken down by water and has to be thrown away.
If you are wondering why instant coffee seems to completely dissolve in your cup that’s because instant coffee is second-hand coffee. Its already been made in advance and then frozen so you end up with the 30% that has already been extracted from coffee grounds months ago.
If you want to know more about how coffee dissolves then this article explains more:
Because only 30% of the ground coffee ends up being dissolved into your cup it’s important to get the maximum benefit from the 30% of the coffee that does dissolve.
If you put too much coffee into your filter basket or you tamp too hard and compress your coffee so much that the water can’t get through then you will end up with the water spending too much time mixing with the coffee grounds and this is called over extraction because you need the water to flow through without spending too much time steeping in the coffee.
If you find the coffee dripping through slowly and it takes more than 40 seconds to deliver a double espresso then it’s going to taste bitter and will require a lot of sugar to make it taste half decent.
Using a good tamper goes a long way to avoiding over extraction.
How does tamping help under extraction?
When you hit the start button on your espresso machine you should be aiming for a double espresso to be delivered in 25 seconds.
If the coffee comes pouring out and you are getting a double espresso in 5-10 seconds then you are getting a heavily under extracted coffee that won’t taste very good. Tamping properly can address this problem.
If your coffee tastes salty or sour then this is caused by under extraction because the coffee did not spend enough time mixing with the water as it passed through the coffee grounds.
If you have a really poor plastic tamper you won’t be able to compress your coffee correctly and this will result in the espresso being delivered too quickly and under extracted.
A good quality heavy tamper allows you to get the pressure you need for an even firm tamp.
Here is a good video that explains coffee extraction. It’s a bit geeky but it helps to understand the importance of getting it just right:
How hard should you tamp coffee?
It’s not about how hard but how consistent you are at doing the same thing every time.
If you start with 20g of coffee in your filter basket you should be aiming for 40g of coffee in your cup in about 25 seconds.
Freshly coffee ground to the correct level of fineness is super important but can be ruined by an inconsistent tamp.
It gets bandied about that 30 pounds of pressure is ideal but you don’t have to be exact. Just press firmly and try and do the same thing every time. Consistency is the key when it comes to making espresso.
If you are not confident of being able to deliver the same amount of pressure each time you tamp then consider one of the calibrated coffee tampers listed above.
You push down and it’s on a spring that stops when you push down a few centimetres making sure you apply the same pressure every time.
They cost a few pounds more but it’s worth it for the consistency they deliver.
Once you have chosen a good tamper it’s important to learn how to use it properly.
Here is an article that explains the important things to keep an eye out for to help achieve a good tamp:
Here is a video that shows how you can consistently achieve a great tamp that delivers great coffee: