Making a good shot of coffee is almost an art. Even if you have espresso, pulling out a perfect shot depends on too many variables. Even the small task of tamping the coffee ground can affect the coffee taste; if you press too loose or hard, the coffee taste changes.
This article will show why you should refrain from pressing the espresso tamp too hard. We will guide you on how to press the tamp perfectly and other tricks baristas use to make a perfect shot every time.
Why Tamping the Right Way is Important?
To understand why tamping is important, let’s see what it does.
The technique behind packing a good punch is that it provides the required resistance with its evenly packed coffee grounds. When water comes with pressure, a loose coffee grind will allow it to pass too easily without brewing the coffee perfectly. The water will saturate the gaps without extracting the flavors. So even with the right pressure, it fails to extract the oils from the grounds.
With evenly packed grounds, water is distributed evenly, and it will extract the oils from the coffee grounds extracting the flavor from the coffee.
What Happens if I Press Espresso Tamp Too Hard?
As we said, for a good shot of coffee, you need to pack the coffee grounds tightly with tamp leaving no gaps or loose grains in between. But what if you tamp too hard? If you tamp too hard, the coffee bed provides more resistance to water passing through. As it takes a long time to filter, coffee can taste bitter due to over-brewing.
Tamping too hard will make the coffee bitter due to over-extraction. A perfect tamp will still give a strong shot of coffee, but it is more on the side of sweetness.
Another thing you can do if you are pressing too hard is that you may not press equally from all sides and put more pressure on a side. That can change the density of the coffee ground. That will not give a consistent flow of coffee.
Even pressure is also important. Pressing at an angle allows water to flow much faster from one side with less coffee. This, again, will mean over-extraction from one side and less extraction from the other.
How Hard Should You Tamp the Coffee?
Finding the balance for the espresso tamp is essential, all you need to do is to press it enough to leave no air pockets behind. Tamping too hard puts pressure on your wrists and affects the espresso water pressure.
Tamping too less will make uneven flavor, and coffee is not strong enough as the flavors are not extracted to the maximum.
So for a perfect flavor creating an even and smooth bed of coffee grounds is essential so that water passes through evenly without any gaps.
What we want here is consistency and an even level of flow. Whether you are at home brewing your coffee or are a barista, dealing with hundreds of customers daily, the consistency of your shot matters.
Now that we have seen how crucial espresso tamp is for the right flavor. Let’s see how to tamp the coffee even and flat for the perfect extraction.
Coffee Distribution in Portafilter
If you hold the portafilter even, coffee distribution is not even in the portafilter. Coffee will heap on one side or in the middle, depending on how you hold the portafilter.
If you tamp it right away, the coffee will be dense on the side heaped and again will provide more resistance to water while it will pass through effortlessly from other sides, causing an uneven distribution.
To avoid uneven distribution, we recommend moving the portafilter in a circle to ensure coffee distribution is even on all sides. You can also give it a slight tap once you have filled the portafilter to move the grain in all directions and ensure even distribution.
Choosing the Tamper
The best tamper for even distribution fits in the filter basket perfectly. There should be no gap around the tamper, and tamp surface should be in contact with the coffee ground all at once. Otherwise, it will press in the middle leaving gaps in the edges for water to flow.
How to Tamp?
Now stand near your coffee counter so that your tamping shoulder is closest to the bench. You can hold the tamp using these three methods:
- As a doorknob between your two fingers around the tamper edge.
- Hold the tamp from the edge with three fingers so that when you tamp and circle, you can feel the brim of the portafilter.
- Or hold the tamp with your one or two fingers and thumb on the opposite side and then press.
Keeping the portafilter on counter level, hold the tamp as if you are holding a door knob and press down coffee with your elbow at 90 degrees pressing it one time with some force.
Despite all the fuss you hear around the tamping force, professional baristas reject the tamping force as an important element in tamping. Some recommend 15-20 pounds of force. Some even suggest 30-pound force, but some reject it categorically and assert that tamping pressure does not matter.
You can apply 15 pounds of pressure if you want to be precise, but even level pressure is more important than the tamping force.
Press it down once and twist the tamp to make sure coffee distribution is even and level. That is all that is required for a good tamp.
Pressure is enough to leave no gaps in between and to create an even coffee bed in the portafilter. Now, if you are a professional barista, we recommend using body force and not twisting your wrist so much, or it will eventually cause a wrist issue. Once it is packed nicely, you can insert the portafilter into the espresso.
Coffee making is almost an art. Too many variable counts and a perfect coffee shot require everything to be precise. As for the tamp, both too hard and too soft will affect the taste of coffee. It’s all practice. You have to practice a few times, and then it’s just muscle memory. Your body will learn how much pressure you need and where to position the hand.