Fundamentally, a coffee tamper pushes the coffee into a portafilter, and believe it or not, there is a huge variety of types of coffee tampers, some precision made, some less so. Some automatic, some manual, dual purpose and so on and on and on.
We were surprised at just how many types of coffee tamper there were, so prepare to be blown away.
What is a coffee Tamper?
First off a coffee tamper is a tool that compresses the coffee in a portafilter before brewing. The aim is to make sure that the coffee is evenly distributed and compacted, so that water can flow evenly through it during brewing, resulting in a better extraction and a tastier coffee.
Coffee tampers come in many different shapes and sizes and are made from a variety of materials including wood, metal, glass and plastic.
Some coffee tampers are very basic, while others are quite complex and have a variety of features designed to make the tamping process easier and more effective.
Why Use a Coffee Tamper?
Tamping coffee is an essential part of the brewing process, and using a coffee tamper helps to ensure that the coffee is evenly distributed and compacted, so that water can flow evenly through it during brewing. This results in a better extraction and a tastier coffee.
The Basic Coffee Tamper
At the very basic level, are the tampers that will come with the entry level espresso machines. They will most often be made of plastic, not perfectly aligned and just a bit useless. Store this one away in the box your espresso machine came in so you can sell as complete when you choose to upgrade (and you will).
These can be picked up on Amazon for around a tenner and will have a 58mm base (other base sizes are available, but 58mm is the standard portafilter size) made of solid stainless steel and have a solid wood or plastic handle. It feels weighty in the hand and with some practice, will allow you to get a nice consistent and level tamp of your coffee grounds.
Looking mostly the same as the entry level tamper, the difference being that these are precision made usually with an extra 5mm to ensure there is no gap around IMS and Precision portafilter baskets. A 58.5mm tamper will usually set you back around £30 and can be bought from Amazon, but it may be worth visiting a specialty barista website to purchase one.
Functionally, these work the same as a regular coffee tamper, with the difference being they have a spring loaded base, which ensures an even tamp, every time. These are often used by baristas in competition, as the consistent tamp is one less thing to worry about when trying to make the perfect espresso. Prices for these start at around £30.
Magnetic tampers are a relatively new innovation and are designed to make the tamping process easier and more effective. The idea is that the tamper sits on the portafilter and is then held in place by a powerful magnet, which ensures that it is always in the correct position. This means that you can tamp with one hand, which can be useful if you are making coffee for multiple people. Prices for these start at around £15.
Lever Coffee Tamper
Lever tampers are another relatively new innovation and are designed to make the tamping process easier and more effective. The idea is that you insert the tamper into the portafilter and then use a lever to apply pressure, which evenly distributes the coffee and ensures a consistent tamp. Prices for these start at around £70.
Automatic Coffee Tamper
As the name suggests, these tampers are designed to tamp the coffee automatically, similar in function to the lever coffee tamper, without having to pull the lever, these are often initiated when a portafilter is placed within the holder and will automatically tamp the grounds to a pre-determined pressure, consistent every time. These are almost purely made for high traffic coffee shops and will be overkill for the home barista looking to make great coffee at home. But they are fun to watch, nonetheless;
Best Coffee Tamper
The best coffee tamper is one that suits your needs, there is no definitive answer, as it often comes down to personal preference. The important thing is to find one that feels good in your hand, is precision made for the correct size for your portafilter and that you are comfortable using.
As a general rule, the more expensive tampers will be better quality and more effective, but this is not always the case, so it is important to do your research before purchasing a tamper.
Meet Me, the webmaster for MakeEspresso.co.uk and the owner of AM Espresso. Passionate about coffee and the web, I ride the third wave of coffee at events, weddings and sometimes at the side of the road. When not busy working, I’m often found fixing up my HY van “Pascal”, being a family man or generally making myself busy.