Coffee making can be supremely easy – grab a jar of your favourite instant mix, boil the kettle and there you go. You have a quick, easy, horrible cup of Joe. Or you can take a little time, do it right, and open up a whole new world of taste.
The only trouble is, doing it right can require a little specialist knowledge and equipment. Just a little, mind, but still. You need it.
One of these little nuggets of wisdom, and one of these pieces of innocuous kit, comes in the form of coffee tamping. You may well need to tamp your coffee if you’re using an at-home espresso machine (quite likely) or a Moka pot (less likely, but still a good idea).
Tamping can sometimes be overcomplicated – usually by connoisseurs or professionals trying to look clever. This is silly. It’s a simple, straightforward procedure, for which you need a simple, straight forward toy – a coffee tamper, the subject of our round up below and some ground coffee.
If you’ve invested in an espresso machine, it’s likely that you already have a tamper. They should (but sometimes don’t) come with one included. However, they are often cheap plastic afterthoughts. If you’re going to the trouble of spending a lot on a good machine, go the extra mile (spend another ten or twenty quid) for a proper tamper.
A proper tamper will do what the cheap one won’t. They are both designed to flatten and compress the coffee, of course, and each will do this. However, a good one will give you a smooth, even consistency. It will also be a nicer experience, working with well-designed stainless steel rather than flimsy plastic or resin.
Tamping is pretty straightforward. Forget flattening the coffee’s surface or cramming the grinds into the puck (the tamped coffee) – this doesn’t matter all that much. The only goal with tamping is to avoid small pockets of air in the basket.
When espresso machines run the hot water through improperly tamped grounds, you may notice a difference. If the coffee has been unevenly tamped, it will have regions that are less dense than others. This results in something called channelling.
Water always looks for the path of least resistance. It will go the easiest way. This is why rivers wind rather than running straight – they have developed running through less resistant ground, rather than simply shooting for the sea. A puck that’s not been evenly tamped will offer lots of different paths for the water to run through. This means the shot won’t be properly extracted. A properly tamped puck, on the other hand, will offer the water an undifferentiated front – all of the coffee grounds will be extracted, evenly, giving you a smoother, stronger brew.
You do want to be careful when you tamp, however. As above – you’re not simply trying to pack as many grounds into the puck as possible. You can overdo it. You need a little pressure, just enough to push air out of the basket, and then you are done.
To tamp properly, simply:
- Hold the tamper like you’d hold a torch, with your thumb pointing straight downwards.
- Push down lightly, with your elbow directly above the portafilter. Keep your wrist straight and push in a consistent, controlled manner.
- This push should look and feel like you’re using a screwdriver.
How To Choose The Right Tamper
The main thing to consider is whether the size of the coffee tamper will fit into the basket or portafilter of your machine. 58 mm is the most popular size, being something of an industry standard, but there is room for variation here. Some machines will use a slightly different size: this could be 51 mm, 53 mm or 57 mm.
This is particularly relevant if you’re buying a branded tamper from a well-known company. For instance, if you buy from De’Longhi, you will need to bear in mind that their priority is obviously to make tampers and accessories that fit their own machines. If your machine isn’t De’Longhi, check that everything matches up (or consider buying De’Longhi across the board!)
The bottom surface of the tamper also matters. Tampers will generally come with either a flat or convex bottom. You will obviously have to choose between the two. Traditionalists may opt for the flat bottom – the majority of tampers are flat, as it makes for a perfectly level result. I quite like them myself. However, convex styles give nice, flatter bases from side to side. They guide more grounds towards the edge of the portafilter, offering less resistance channeling. If you prefer weaker or more subtle flavours, try convex (I personally prefer bolder, stronger espressos, so go for flat).
Most coffee tampers feature a stainless-steel base. It’s an easy material to care for and use regularly – it’s easy to clean, is the most hygienic by far, and generally results in a good weight for pressing. They compare very favourably to the plastic tampers that come with most machines, which break quickly and easily, are hard to fully clean, and are so lightweight that they barely give any pressing power. Realistically, most good-quality tampers you look at should have stainless-steel bottoms.
Handles also need some consideration. Lengths can vary. In general, if you’re got a larger hand, you want a longer handle. If you’ve got small hands, a smaller tamper will suit you perfectly. Then there is the material, which will usually be either metal, wood or plastic. The one you should go with will be the one that you find the most comfortable to use. Though there isn’t too much difference in how they feel, metal or solid wood will often be heavier, meaning that you will get a heavier press for less effort – and they will usually look nicer and have better green credentials than plastic.
Finally, there’s price. Realistically, there isn’t any need to break the bank. You should be able to get a good quality coffee tamper with change from a twenty. Of course, there will always be more expensive options, and they are fine to consider, but just know that this is not an item worth investing a month’s mortgage payments in.
Top Five Coffee Tampers
We’ve gathered together five of the best coffee tampers available on the market right now. They all bring something special to the table, all balance quality and price very well, and all give a good cup of coffee.
De’Longhi Stainless Steel Tamper
As mentioned above, it’s always a good idea to try to match products and make sure you get a good fit. As in our example, De’Longhi accessories naturally go well with De’Longhi machines. As they are one of the largest manufacturers of coffee makers going, this is a bit point in this models favour.
They are a fine brand, known for the quality of their products, and this tamper lives up to their reputation. It has a nice weight and balance to it, without feeling overly heavy or dense. The handle is comfortable, too. This adds up to a nice user experience, with a small amount of manageable pressure giving you the tamp you want.
The handle is a nice-looking wood that adds to this feeling of balance. It’s also detachable from the bottom, making it very easy to clean. Just be careful to tighten it fully afterwards as looseness can be a bit of an issue.back to menu ↑
Vicloon Stainless Steel Espresso Tamper
The Vicloon tamper is another 51mm offering. It comes in pretty heavy, at a full 580g of reassuring stainless-steel. It’s also dual ended, meaning two different sizes (51 and 58mm), though the 58mm side seems to be something of an afterthought in design. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that you have a tamper to fit most bucket sizes.
The best thing about the Vicloon tamper is that it comes with a durable silicone tamper mat, giving you everything you need to make your espresso like an absolute pro. This provides good storage and will stop you from slipping or making a mess as you tamp.
Though perhaps a little heavy for some, you cannot argue with the Vicloon tamper’s utility to economy ratio, as it’s one of the more affordable options on our list (especially given the extra mat you get!)back to menu ↑
Omgogo Stainless Steel Coffee Tamper
You get a 58mm bottom crafted from stainless steel that looks gorgeous. The handle is made from a very warm rosewood that has been smoothed and rounded to fit perfectly in your hand and work easily on the eye. Leave it out on your kitchen sideboard as an ornament when not in use for a bit of flair.
You also get an incredibly consistent degree of utility from it. Every shot of espresso you brew using it will be to the same high quality.back to menu ↑
LeXpress Coffee Tamper
As with many things in life that work very well, the LeXpress Coffee Tamper has a very simple, quite elegant design. It has a good weight and feel to it – it’s incredibly balanced, so it doesn’t feel heavy even – and gives a great tamp for surprisingly little effort.
However, there do seem to be discrepancies with sizing. It’s double ended, so will give two different dimensions. This is good – it gives you options and ensures that you can find a fit for your machine more easily. However, some models don’t seem to work well on machines that they should, whilst other works on others very well. This makes me suspect that the design is solid whilst the execution and manufacture are a little lacking.
This aside, the LeXpress Coffee Tamper is a simple, elegant tamper that is truly lovely to work with.back to menu ↑
Motta Stainless Steel Tamper
The Motta tamper is a 58mm mix of stainless steel and wood. It comes in at just shy of 350g but is still easy to use for beginners. For a heavy-ish model, the Motta tamper also presses very well – it doesn’t take too much effort at all to tamp the grounds well, of course, but is also very easy to manipulate.
The brown, wooden handle is very attractive, whilst making the tamper sturdy and fairly comfortable to use. Though it is hand wash only, this handle unscrews from the bottom, making it actually very easy to care for.
The round, 58mm stamp plate has the benefit of being pretty universal, so will fit with most coffee makers.
Overall, the Motta tamper oozes charm and a definite feel of quality and class. It’s one of the pricier options on this list, so it should do, but if you want a little luxury, go for it.
So, having read up on all of our options, which one takes your fancy? If you’re after a utilitarian, smart tamper that looks lovely, go for the DeLonghi. If value for money and extras is your cup of… well, coffee, the Vicloon tamper with silicone mat may be the one for you.
If you like weightiness and heft, this may also be for you. Then again, if what you’re after is elegance and a feeling of niceness, the Motta stainless steel tamper costs a little bit more but looks and feels lovely.