The Ultimate Espresso Tamper Guide: The Holy Grail of Espresso?

When it comes to the most important espresso accessory, some baristas talk about the tamper as if it were the holy grail. For me, it’s not that simple. Still, why do we need to “tamp” at all, and what’s the best espresso tamper for your portafilter?

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

Our review process | Our team

You know what they say about the forest and the trees. I’ve been reviewing espresso machines for years, and always hold the espresso tamper up to the camera. I complain, I praise – but until now, I’ve never explained why you might want the best espresso tamper.

Maybe it’s because tamping coffee grounds for a home espresso machine has become second nature to me. It could also be that, for a while, I mainly reviewed super-automatic machines, for which you don’t need a coffee tamper.

However, with the portafilter’s rise in popularity — among manufacturers and consumers alike – I feel like it’s time to write the ultimate guide to tampers and tamping, especially since it’s such an inexpensive device. After all, you can grab one on Amazon for less than $20.

For good measure I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the best espresso tampers out there. We’ll also address the question of whether using the right tamper is really as important as baristas and bloggers always make it out to be.

Best Espresso Tamper at a Glance

1Product List Image
Best Overall

The Force Tamper

Innovative design

Adjustable pressure

Auto-leveler

2Product List Image

Lightweight

Affordable

Ideal for newbies

3Product List Image

Rugged and dependable

Ergonomic handle

Great value

4Product List Image

Precisely calibrated

Nice and heavy

Several Sizes

5Product List Image

Distributor and tamper

Compact design

Fully adjustable

6Product List Image

Stylish appearance

Great value

Includes three interchangeable springs

7Product List Image

Super solid

Reasonable price

Good weight distribution

What Is an Espresso Tamper?

First things first: let’s start by clarifying the terminology. A tamper is something that tamps. That fits because the tamper tamps down the coffee grounds in the portafilter – much like gravel compacted for road construction.

However, we don’t want to tamper. On the contrary, we want to prepare coffee for the perfect espresso.

No matter what we call it, a (manual) espresso tamper usually has the following features:

  • A round bearing surface that fits exactly to the respective diameter of the filter basket.

  • A handle at right angles to the support surface, upon which you can apply pressure with your hand.

  • A simultaneously handy, compact and heavy design.

Solis Barista Perfetta Plus Espressomaschine Tamper

The last point causes the most problems and disqualifies the “barista kit” often included with espresso machines. Still, if the last point holds true, you practically always have a useful tool in your hand.

That’s why I find the romantic odes that some reviewers write to the espresso tamper to be a bit much. In my opinion, it is not the most important tool for espresso preparation. That honor goes to good coffee beans!

There is also no such thing as the ultimate tamper, which should be carried around and presented like a rare gemstone. Having worked with countless tampers, tamping stations and “pressure tools,” I can report that you can get used to anything. Well, except insufficient pressure, of course.

Why Do I Need to Tamp Espresso?

One of the secrets to good espresso extraction is pressure. Thus, you can only create espresso when water passing through the brew group is under the appropriate pressure.

Here’s the gist: the combination of “active pressure” and “resistance” is integral. The active pressure is built up by the machine itself, which gives momentum to the water via its pump. However, this alone isn’t enough for espresso power.

Gastroback Design Espresso Piccolo Espressomaschine Espressobezug

To achieve this, we need enough resistance to slow the water so that it passes through the coffee grounds under controlled pressure, extracting espresso at around 9 bar.

The ground coffee creates this resistance, but only if it has been compressed into a firm puck. In this way, we create a barrier through which the water can pass – but only as we desire.

Again, for this to work properly, it’s not just the contact pressure that plays a role. With the grind size we determine how tightly to compress the coffee grounds.

In addition, with the amount of coffee – or dose – we determine how large or deep our barrier becomes and, therefore, how much time it takes for the water to work its way through.

So, with the puck size, we’re not only creating part of the pressure but also controlling the flow rate and extraction time.

Taking all of this into account, it’s pretty clear that tamping is one of the crucial steps in espresso preparation. Still, it’s no more or less important than dialing in your grinder or calibrating your machine.

If you overdo it with the tamping or have miscalculated in other areas, either nothing will happen in the machine (or in the cup), or the portafilter will blow up in your face. That’s when you’ll know the resistance was too much!

How to Choose the Best Espresso Tamper

When you’re shopping for the best espresso tamper you’ll be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by all the options.

Obviously, your budget will play a large part in your decision. Plus, if looks are important to you, narrowing your options down will be easier. Still, there are quite a few things to consider as you’re searching for the best espresso tamper for your needs. 

Type of Tamper

For the most part, espresso tampers fall into one of two categories:

  1. Manual tamper

  2. Calibrated tamper

There are also assisted tamping functions on some home espresso machines, but I’ll talk about those a little later.

The first category is not only the most widespread but also the most popular – among machine suppliers, beginners and professionals. You’ll have to learn the correct technique but will end up having the most control over the result.

In addition, manual tampers are comparatively inexpensive. In fact, you really don’t have to spend more than about $20 to get something effective.

Tampers from the second category are available as manual versions that are visually indistinguishable from traditional tampers, and “tamping stations,” which often resemble a one-armed bandit.

Both examples work with springs and resistors that automatically ensure you generate the optimal pressure of 30 pounds when pressing down. We’ll see if that’s decisive later.

Materials

DeLonghi EC 680 Tamper Groesse

Even if you have no idea what 30 pounds of contact pressure feels like, it’s obvious that the best espresso tamper should be heavy. That way, you don’t have to strain yourself unnecessarily.

Without a doubt, stainless steel is the best material for an espresso tamper. The circular contact surface, in particular, should consist of a heavy piece of stainless steel. This also creates a nice, smooth surface for tamping.

The handles of successful entry-level models are usually also made of stainless steel. Many folks prefer a fine wooden handle, which makes it easier to fulfill the second basic condition: the handle should also be smooth and comfortable in your hand and not leave pressure marks after each tamp. 

In addition, the correct handle ensures safety during tamping and helps you to build up sufficient pressure. Personally, I prefer smooth, polished wood but have nothing against any stainless steel version.

Design

Tampers without handles have become quite ubiquitous these days. They look like a buzzer button on a game show, which is probably why the Mahlgut company named its handleless model the “Tamper Buzzer.” Again, there’s a lot of trending here for a tool that costs around $150.

The handleless design is supposed to feel better in the hand while helping to prevent common “tamping injuries.” Well, OK. Maybe.

However, if your tamping frequency causes calluses on your hand, you’re either a barista in training mode or should rethink your coffee consumption. I have nothing against these models, but I’m not going to sing their praises, either.

Size

Baratza Sette 270 W Kaffeemuehle Uebersicht Muehle

You need to look carefully before buying. The diameter of the tamper must match the diameter of the portafilter basket you’ll use with it.

The standard basket size is 58 millimeters. However, entry-level machines like the DeLonghi Dedica come with portafilter baskets that are only 51 millimeters in diameter. With most Breville espresso machines, you’re dealing with a 54 millimeter basket.

When I talk about 58-millimeter tampers for 58-millimeter baskets, that’s just a semi-normalized approximation, which, in turn, makes for an uncompacted ring of loose coffee grounds at the edge of the portafilter basket.

The solution is an oversized tamper, competition tamper or according to the premium Pullman brand, a BigStep tamper.

These special tools from brands such as Motta have a diameter of 58.4 millimeters or 58.55 millimeters and fit a lot more snugly in the portafilter basket.

This is a perfectly reasonable idea. It’s just that Pullman charges a yawn-inducing $130 and up for its competition models. Do I have to keep talking, or can we just turn a blind eye to a few loose coffee grounds around the edge? I think we can!

Flat vs Convex Surface

I included this espresso tamper shape section for the sake of completeness, but I see no reason to hype it. Some tampers have a slightly outwardly curved, lenticular contact surface – hence, the “convex” moniker.

With this kind of tamper, you create a small depression in the coffee grounds, or the contact pressure is directed more outward during tamping. This makes the grounds more stable at the edge of the portafilter basket and should prevent channeling around the sides.

Personally, I always use a flat tamper, but I’m sure a convex tamper will please some of you!

The 7 Best Espresso Tampers

The Force Tamper

The Force Tamper Main

PROS

  • Innovative design
  • Adjustable pressure
  • Sleek and stylish
  • Automatic leveling

CONS

  • Very expensive

Listen, I know I’ve been making fun of expensive espresso tampers, but if you’re serious about espresso and have the necessary budget, The Force Tamper is worth considering.

This awesome tamper doesn’t just look great – it also features an innovative spring mechanism with adjustable pressure. Unlike other calibrated tampers, this one “punches down” the ground coffee into a puck, providing a serious level of consistency. What’s more, This espresso tamper has a built-in leveling function and comes with both a flat and a rippled tamping base.

Now for the bad news: The Force Tamper will set you back an eye-watering $209.00 on Amazon.

LuxHaus Calibrated Espresso Tamper

LuxHaus Calibrated Tamper Main

PROS

  • Very affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Great for beginners
  • Looks awesome

CONS

  • Flat base only

Costing just $37.10, the LuxHaus Calibrated Espresso Tamper represents seriously good value for money. Especially when you consider the fact that this is a calibrated tamper that’ll take the guesswork out of your puck preparation.

Featuring high-quality stainless steel construction with a comfortable plastic handle, the LuxHaus tamper delivers a consistent amount of pressure with each tamp. Plus, it’s available in several different sizes, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding the right tamper for your filter basket.

Rattleware Round-Handled Tamper

Rattleware Round Handled Tamper Main

PROS

  • Inexpensive tamper
  • Comfortable handle
  • Rugged construction
  • Good weight distribution

CONS

  • No convex base available

If your idea of the best espresso tamper involves a no-frills device that’ll get the job done, look no further than the Rattleware Round-Handled Tamper.

For just $39.95, this tamper might be the best option for experienced home baristas who are confident in their tamping technique.

I really like the round-handled design, which offers supreme comfort as you’re tamping. Plus, the Rattleware tamper is available with a large or small handle. Featuring a solid stainless steel base, this no-frills tamper will serve you well and last for a really long time.

Espro Calibrated Espresso Tamper

Espro Calibrated Espresso Tamper Main

PROS

  • Ergonomic handle
  • Precisely calibrated
  • Great value
  • Flat or convex base

CONS

  • On the pricier side

If you’re looking for a calibrated tamper, the Espro Calibrated Espresso Tamper is one of the most popular options around.

Of course, the downside is that you’ll pay a not insubstantial $99.95 for the Espro. However, I know that a lot of people swear by this thing and wouldn’t tamp with anything else.

Thanks to its high-quality design and solid construction, the Espro tamper is a joy to use. Plus, each tamper is precision-calibrated at the factory, guaranteeing that it’ll deliver 30 pounds of pressure each time.

To be honest, I can really see the appeal of using a tamper like this, as it’ll simply remove the tamping pressure variable completely as you’re making espresso.

Matow Dual Head Coffee Leveler

Matow Dual Head Coffee Leveler Main

PROS

  • Easy to use
  • Leveler and tamper
  • Compact design
  • Fully adjustable

CONS

  • Takes time to figure out depth adjustment

The Matow Dual Head Coffee Leveler is the only handleless model to feature on my best espresso tamper list.

I have to say that I’m intrigued by this thing and I’ve heard that it performs really well. Here’s the skinny: there’s a leveler on one side that uses fins to distribute the coffee grounds in your filter basket. On the other side you’ve got a push tamper with an auto-level function.

How cool is that! Seriously, I can see why push tampers like this are becoming so popular, especially given how well the Matow Dual Head works. Available for $35.99, the Dual Head Coffee Leveler won’t break the bank, so it’s definitely worth checking out. Who knows – maybe it’ll change your life!

Normcore Spring-Loaded Tamper

Normcore Spring Loaded Tamper Main

PROS

  • Looks great
  • Includes interchangeable springs
  • Built-in leveling plate
  • Various sizes available

CONS

  • Design might not appeal to everyone

Available in a ton of different sizes, the Normcore Spring-Loaded Tamper is anything but ordinary.

As you might imagine, this is the tool of choice for many professional baristas. I mean look at the thing – it’s pretty darn sleek!

Looks aside, the Normcore tamper actually has a lot going for it. For starters, this spring-loaded tamper doesn’t require fiddly adjustments to get consistent results. Plus, you can choose from three interchangeable springs, each calibrated to provide a different amount of pressure every time.

That’s not all, though – the Normcore Spring-Loaded Tamper also features an auto-level disc, so you can be sure to keep channeling to a minimum. I have to say, I really want one of these things, and it’ll only cost me $43.99!

Rhino Coffee Gear Tamper

Rhino Coffee Gear Tamper Main

PROS

  • No-frills desig
  • Quite affordable
  • Good weight distribution

CONS

  • No-frills design

When you close your eyes and think of an espresso tamper, I’d almost guarantee your mental image will be something like the Rhino Coffee Gear Tamper.

There’s no fancy-pants wooden handle or inlaid jewels to talk about here. The Rhino Coffee Gear tamper is simply a comfortable, durable metal device that’s been made to compress ground coffee into a puck.

Costing $39.95, this tamper isn’t exactly cheap. However, you really do get what you pay for, including a burly stainless steel base and an ergonomic aluminum handle.

How to Tamp Correctly

As with many areas of the coffee world, there are several schools of thought when it comes to tamping. Some make the biggest fuss about the tamping itself. Others claim that prior leveling is even more important.

I’m in the third category: you don’t have to be overly precise, but you should learn each step and execute it as cleanly as possible. Two things are important to me:

  • Double tamping is not better tamping.

  • Only begin tamping after you’ve correctly distributed the ground coffee in the portafilter.

Tamping is a one-time deal. If you find that the puck isn’t compacted correctly or seems crooked, you should tap out the coffee grounds and start over. Seriously.

However, before you even think about tamping, you need to prepare the coffee grounds. This is called leveling. There is an increasing number of leveling and distribution tools out there – often costing a lot more than the tamper itself.

Of course, that’s not to say smart leveling doesn’t make sense. For an excellent espresso, every granule in the coffee puck needs to come into equal contact with the water. Otherwise, we could save on dosing and adjusting the grind.

If the freshly ground coffee beans tumble out of the grinder into the portafilter, a mound will form in the center of the basket. Should we tamp it down as is, there would be a higher proportion of coffee in the center of the basket than at the rim.

This creates gaps in the barrier through which the water flows more easily – because water always finds the path of least resistance. We call this phenomenon channeling, and it always ensures incorrect extraction.

How to Prepare the Portafilter

Espress Tamping Mat In Action

By leveling, we break down the cone and distribute the coffee grounds evenly in the filter basket. You can do this in several ways:

  • Gently tap the portafilter straight down on a tamping mat

  • Gently tap the side of the portafilter

  • Gently run your finger over the coffee mound

Or use a WDT tool for all I care.

Even though professionals will probably keel over: decide on one method, two or all three – I’m not that strict about it.

I’m going for the double-tap/finger-swipe combo. Heck, I even distribute the grounds using a paperclip sometimes. When you feel the coffee mound has evenly distributed and the coffee grounds are level everywhere in the portafilter basket, you can start tamping.

The Pressure Guide: How Firmly Should I Tamp Down?

Espresso newbies: you have to assume that you won’t get the following steps perfect right away. As I said before, if you make a mistake, you should start over. Once you’ve got the hang of it, though, tamping usually takes no more than a few seconds.

  1. Place the portafilter with the leveled coffee grounds horizontally on a tamping mat or similar surface. The best position is when your portafilter arm’s elbow is at about a 90-degree angle. (Note: the mat prevents damage to the work surface and prevents the portafilter from slipping.)

  2. Place the espresso tamper vertically on the portafilter from above. You must be particularly precise here. This is because the tamping process depends on the correct angle. (Keyword: channeling!)

  3. Grip the tamper’s handle vertically from above. The upper end of the handle presses into the palm of your hand, and your fingers enclose the handle so that you have a good grip. Again, your wrist should be straight and your elbow should form a 90-degree angle.

  4. Press the coffee tamper vertically from above, exerting 20-30 pounds of pressure. Use your upper body to do this. Keep in mind that 30 pounds of contact pressure is quite a lot, so don’t be too timid. The movement should be determined and fluid.

  5. Take some pressure out of your hand and turn the tamper in the portafilter slightly around its own vertical axis. This is a second leveling, so to speak, which helps remove any residual unevenness.

  6. Remove the tamper and brush off any remaining coffee.

Although it sounds incredibly complicated here, in the end, it just boils down to always paying attention to right angles and tamping like you mean it. That’s all it really is.

The 30-Pound Rule: How Accurate Do I Have to Be?

Rancilio Silvia Tampern Landscape

Using 30 pounds of contact pressure when tamping seems to be equally as sacred as having the requisite 9 bars of pressure for espresso extraction.

I subscribe to the notion that you should at least have some idea of how it feels to exert 30 pounds of pressure. A scale will help you with that. Still, I see no reason to rely on calibrated tampers with torque.

While contact pressure is important, a few more grams here or a couple of fewer pounds there won’t make your espresso so bad that you can’t drink it.

In fact, I would argue that most of us don’t even notice the difference between a “25-pound espresso” and a “30-pound espresso.”

Only when applying less than 20 pounds of pressure does the situation become critical. You’ll see that right away, though – with a loose coffee puck, watery espresso or a flow rate that’s too fast.

Espresso Machines With Automated Tamping

As promised, I figured it’d be a good idea to briefly mention espresso machines with integrated tamping stations. While these aren’t exactly commonplace, I’ve reviewed a few of them and have been impressed by how well they work.

While some snobby baristas might dismiss the idea of assisted tamping, I’m all for it. Sure, I haven’t found the perfect machine with assisted tamping just yet, but Breville has come close with both the Breville Barista Touch Impress and the Breville Oracle Touch.

I’ve also been impressed by a few DeLonghi espresso machines, including the La Specialista and La Specialista Maestro. Both models have effective assisted tamping functions, although they don’t hold your hand like Breville machines do.

Final Thoughts: Don’t Put Too Much Pressure on Yourself!

Probably the only reason I’ve never discussed the best espresso tamper question in detail before is that I don’t feel like discussing a subject that isn’t really exciting in and of itself. However, if there’s one thing the community can do it’s discuss trivial matters with quasi-religious fervor.

Espresso Glas Fokus

That’s why I’m sure to get into trouble if I say that you can achieve equally good results with a $20 as with a $200 tamper. While you’re at it, if you have a suitable glass in the house, you could even use that as a tamper tool!

The main thing is that you understand why we tamp and what it means for your espresso.

It’s also important that with any espresso machine – regardless of its price point – you factor in the cost of a decent coffee grinder, use the appropriate coffee beans and establish a careful preparation regimen that will end up producing excellent espresso.

Aside from that, it almost doesn’t matter which espresso tamper you use to achieve your goal. If you manage to do it with a plastic thing, I’ll be surprised, but I won’t hold it against you. Why should I?

The coffee tamper is a means to an end – not a reason to write love poetry or start online wars!

Do you have a favorite tamper? Or maybe you’re a new-school barista who only levels. Either way, I’d love to hear your opinions. The comments section is all yours!

Best Espresso Tamper FAQ

Seeing as tamping is such an important part of espresso preparation, it’s definitely worth investing in the best espresso tamper you can afford.

According to most experts, you should aim to consistently tamp using 30 pounds of pressure.

When you’re looking for the best espresso tamper you should take budget, size and comfort into account. From there, you can start looking at calibrated tampers, traditional tampers and everything in between.

The best espresso tamper is the one that makes you feel comfortable and helps you produce the best espresso you can.

Your coffee expert
Team Image
Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

4 Kommentare
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Table of Contents