What is Coffee Tamping?
In the world of coffee-making, tamping is not a stranger term. Described as the act of compressing grounds into a puck during extraction, this method is vital in creating a perfect cup of joe. If you’re interested in other brewing methods, you might want to check out this V60 Brew Guide, Guide to Coffee Brewing or this Cold Brew Coffee Brew Guide.
As hot water sips through the grounds at high pressure, tamping allows a proper extraction and the water to thoroughly soak up all the flavours in the beans. If you don’t tamp properly, there will be pockets of air and you’ll end up with a bitter coffee — that is because water will be unable to properly extract the flavours that would later saturate your coffee with its rich taste and aromatic fragrance.
Thus, it is imperative that your grounds are tamped well and evenly to achieve a proper extraction.
Factors Affecting Coffee Tamping
While tamping is the broad term that covers this subject, you’ll want to also take into consideration of your ingredients before you start tamping. An essential ingredient is the grounds, whereby its density or regularity would affect tamping.
For grounds that are too coarse or not grounded finely enough, they typically become loosely packed which makes tamping harder, as more force is required to pack down the grounds. On the other hand, if the grounds are too fine, they might be over-packed and allow water to flow too slowly. This would inevitably result in a bitter-tasting coffee.
To minimise these risks and still achieve that perfect cup of joe, be sure to always use grounds that are right in the middle of the spectrum — not coarse and not too fine.
With the right density of grounds in your portafilter, it’s time to pack it. Using a tamper, you’ll want to give your grounds a “stamp”. However, an even and consistent amount of pressure is crucial for this step. If too much force is applied, your grounds will be over-extracted, thus creating a very bitter coffee. But if too little force is applied, it will result in an uneven tamp, causing your coffee to lose flavour as well.
That being said, apply an even-handed amount of force when tamping. With just enough pressure, it is enough to turn your grounds into a solid and well-compressed puck.
With a uniform density of grounds and the right amount of tamping pressure, the last factor to consider will be the level of your tamp. This often refers to distributing your grounds evenly in the portafilter to achieve the best extraction. Or put simply, make sure that your tamping looks neat and flat.
The more level your tamp, the better water is able to flow through consistently throughout the grounds. In a well-levelled tamp, it also reduces uneven extraction as the water pressure is also uniform on all sides of your portafilter.
While maintaining an even tamp, make sure to also run your fingers across the top of your portafilter to remove any excess grounds.
Now that you know the benefits and how-tos of tamping, choosing the right tamper is also an essential step for you to really make a difference in your coffee. Regardless of the size, aesthetic or weight, a tamper would usually have the following features:
- A circular bearing surface for tamping, that also fits exactly to the diameter of your portafilter
- A supporting handle where you can hold and apply pressure with
- A sturdy and heavy but compact design
For the more elaborated types of tamper, let us dive into the different designs you may find in the market.
Firstly, flat tampers, as the name suggests, are a flat and handled type of tamper. They are most commonly used and are a piece of great cafe equipment for beginners as well. While the flat base is often made of stainless steel, you’ll get to choose from varying materials for the handle such as wood, rubber and aluminium.
Next, we have calibrated tampers. By nature of these tampers, you are allowed to calibrate the tamper to apply a designated amount of pressure to your coffee grinds. In other words, with this special built-in mechanism, you can ensure that you’re always applying the same amount of pressure during each brewing session. Calibrated tampers are a good choice if you dislike relying on your “feel” to get the right pressure.
For the third type of tampers, we have dual-head tampers. Unlike a conventional tamper whereby there is a handle and only a base on one side, a dual-head tamper has a handle with two bases, located at each side of the tamper. Additionally, for the more experienced brewers, they may use this function to fit in different sizes for the base. In doing so, they’re able to tamp down grounds into different-sized portafilters efficiently.
Lastly, for a more distinctive type of tamper, there are puck tampers — their name is derived from their appearance looking like hockey pucks. With the base on one side, the handles are fitted above the base and are slightly bigger in surface area which allows you to grip them easily with your finger and tub. Puck tampers can also be referred to as palm tampers.
Besides the type of tamper, you’ll want to also take into consideration of the size, weight and quality. And if aesthetics matter to you, you can explore different materials too.
For size, it is pivotal that you choose the right tamper that is appropriate to your portafilter. In doing so, you are minimising any strains on your hands or improper tamping — remember, bad tamping can lead to bad-tasting coffee!
In terms of weight, tampers can come in different weights, each allowing you to apply different amounts of pressure. If you tend to apply light pressure, opt for a heavier tamper to compensate for the lack of force to create a well-balanced tamping and vice versa. Regardless of your habit of heavier or lighter tamping, find the right weight for your tamper that is best suited for you.
Let’s also not forget about the quality of your tamper, which is equally important. For that perfect cup of joe, we’d recommend you splurge a little on your tampers. That said, opt for higher quality and be ready to spend on this tool. But when choosing a durable tamper, keep in mind that it should not be too heavy, or else, it might cause you strains during tamping.
When it comes to aesthetics, there is always a wide spectrum of materials and colours you can choose from. For instance, materials such as wood, aluminium and stainless steel are the go-to options and are commonly found in most tampers. Beautiful colours are also no exceptions, ranging from light to dark tones — choose the one that can complement your overall aesthetics and brewing station.
Best Coffee Tampers in Singapore
For the average home coffee lover, an expensive automatic tamper may seem like the way to go for convenience and for you to save time. Plus, they ensure you have a perfectly level tamp and consistent pressure at all times. However, nothing quite beats hand-made coffee — with manual tampers that are fitted with the right equipment, you can still achieve a well-balanced cup of joe. Plus, you’re always able to customise how rich or flavourful you’ll want it to be.
For instance, the Cafelat Robot Levelling Tamper is a great piece of cafe equipment that helps you to achieve evenly compressed grounds in a consistent and level manner — resulting in a flat, compressed bed of coffee that is cafe standard.
With a unique leaf pattern, this tamper also prevents a vacuum effect in the coffee grounds. So rest assured that your grounds are all packed in a punch and nothing remains on the steel base.
Proper Coffee Tamping Technique
To tamp like a pro, here are a few quick and easy steps for you:
- After grinding the beans, give your portafilter a quick shake to evenly spread the grounds around
- Gently wipe the top of the portafilter to remove any excess grounds
- Place your portafilter on a tamping stand, mat or any clean flat surface
- Using an adequate amount of pressure, tamp the grounds to pack the perfect puck
- Let the puck rest for a few minutes
- Remove the tamper to reveal that smooth and flawless puck
- Get brewing!
Tips for Consistent Coffee Tamping
- Ensure that your tamper is always clean and dry
- Avoid tapping the portafilter as it may loosen up the coffee grinds and cause cracks in the coffee puck
- Always choose the right tamper size for the perfect tamping fit
- Practice makes perfect — so keep tamping!
The Brew Therapy distributes wholesale cafe supplies like coffee grinders from brands such as Sttoke, Fellow, Timemore and Hario. If you’re just starting out, you might want to check out our best coffee starter set. Shop for your coffee products today!