Properly compacting your grounds is an important step in pulling a great shot of espresso. In coffee houses, the espresso machine does this work automatically. At home, you’ll need an espresso tamper.
These handy tools allow you to create the perfect puck of espresso for a tasty result each time. Picking the best espresso tamper is not the easiest task. With many options and styles, it can be challenging to find the best one for you.
In this article, we’ll give you our picks for the best espresso tamper and some helpful information to ensure you purchase the one you need.
What Is an Espresso Tamper
When making a proper shot of espresso, a tamper is a necessary tool. This simple tool packs your coffee grounds into a compact puck in the portafilter.
Properly compacted espresso grounds allow for even extraction of coffee flavors during the brewing process. Tamping isn’t difficult, but an espresso tamper makes this process more consistent.
Why You Need a Tamper
Since the goal of tamping is to create a compact puck of ground for better flavor extraction, having a proper tamper makes all the difference.
In your portafilter, if the grounds are not properly compacted, water flows through spaces between the grounds, passing by the coffee very quickly. This results in a very weak and untasty shot of espresso.
You can use other tools to tamp your espresso grounds, like a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup, but a tamper is better. Espresso tampers fit perfectly inside your portafilter so you can compact all of the grounds, not just the ones in the middle.
Important Tamping Skills
Before you run out and start tamping on your coffee grounds, you need to know the particular skills that go along with tamping. It seems easy, but there is a skill to properly tamping espresso.
For best coffee results, you really need to have an even, level puck. A puck that is spread evenly across the portafilter will allow for an even distribution of water through the ground coffee.
Even water distribution means a more robust extraction of coffee flavors, making for a delicious shot of espresso. An uneven puck equals bitter, weak espresso.
The best thing to do before you tamp your grounds is to level them in the portafilter. There are a few ways to do this. First, you can buy a leveling tool. There are a lot of leveling tools out there.
If you like gadgets this is a great option. However, tools aren’t necessary. Many home baristas simply tap the portafilter gently on the countertop to level the grounds. When your grounds are level, you’re ready to tamp.
Besides being level, you need to use consistent pressure across the portafilter. If you want to be specific, expert coffee brewers say that you should apply 30 pounds of force across the ground in the portafilter.
However, we don’t know how to measure that in our home kitchen. So, in lieu of a particular amount of pressure, we recommend that you just use consistent pressure from start to finish when tamping.
Problems from Improper Tamping
Channeling is the most common problem when your grounds are not properly tamped. As with any other material, water passes through coffee grounds along the path of least resistance. If your espresso grounds are not compacted well, water will wiggle its way along the most convenient path. This is what we call channeling.
When channeling occurs, water moves through only a small portion of the grounds, taking the coffee flavor from very little of your espresso beans. The result is a poorly flavored espresso.
To avoid this, make sure to level your grounds, use consistent pressure when tamping, and don’t bump the portafilter after tamping. This can cause the puck to separate from the portafilter, creating channels down the filter walls.
Suctioning is a situation where your compacted puck pulls out of the portafilter when the tamper is removed. This occurs when your tamper fits too tightly in the portafilter. When suctioning occurs, air pockets are formed around the edges of the puck.
This can lead to water bypassing the grounds altogether, and just running down the sides of the puck. This means weak, yucky espresso. To avoid suctioning, make sure you buy the right size tamper for your portafilter. You can also purchase a tamper with grooved edges.
If you are still unsure, check out this handy video guide that will give you a visual aid on how to best tamp your coffee grounds.
How to Select the Best Espresso Tamper
There is a lot of variability in espresso tampers. They come in a variety of materials, sizes, and weights. While some of these features are actually important to making good espresso, others are a matter of personal preference.
Here are some of the tamper features you need to consider when shopping.
Size is the most important factor that you need to consider when purchasing a tamper. You want to purchase a tamper that fits correctly into your portafilter with enough room to avoid suctioning, but not so much space that you don’t get a complete puck.
There are three general sizes to look for. First, if you’ve got a home-grade espresso machine you’ll want to select a smaller-size tamper.
The frustrating part of home espresso machines is that they don’t come with a consistent size portafilter. You’ll want to measure the size of your portafilter before buying a tamper for your home espresso machine.
Commercial or prosumer quality espresso machines generally use a 58mm tamper. Some machines use VST or IMS baskets. These will require a 58.4mm tamper.
Since you want to use about 30 pounds of pressure to create a good puck, you have two choices, buy a lighter tamper and use more physical force, or buy a heavier tamper and use less physical force.
The best weight we’ve found is a tamper that weighs 1 to 2 pounds. This weight is easy to handle and does a good job of creating a dense, even puck.
There are two tamper shapes that you’ll encounter when shopping. And surprisingly, there is a bit of controversy surrounding the shape of your tamper.
Some baristas prefer a flat tamper, others prefer a convex tamper. Either one works fine. The convex tamper is supposed to move more grounds to the edge of the puck to reduce channeling but most people use the flat tamper.
Some tampers come with a handle, and some tampers, called puck tamper do not have a handle. We like the handle option because it gives us an easy way to remove the tamper after pressing. However, many people swear that the puck tamper is easier to press down and results in a more level puck.
If you chose a tamper with a handle, you may want to look for one that has a rubberized grip for more secure handling. Handles come in all sorts of materials and sizes as well.
You may prefer a wood handle over a stainless steel handle. The number of options is endless.
Calibrated vs Not Calibrated
This sounds pretty fancy, but it’s really just a nice way to know if you’ve applied enough pressure to your grounds. A calibrated tamper has a handle that is separate from the base.
You set the base in your grounds, and then press the handle into the base. The handle will connect to the base when you’ve applied enough pressure. If you are an espresso beginner, this is a great option.
Tampers come in a range of materials. Budget tampers are generally made of plastic. We think these are just a waste of money. Stainless steel is the best. They have plenty of weight, they’re easy to clean, and last much longer than other options.
Many baristas take great pride in their tampers. Tampers come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. You’ll be surprised when you shop to see so many with fancy handles, engraving, or unique wood or plastic handles.
If well cared for, your tamper should last you for years. Don’t be afraid to invest in a unique tamper even if it costs a little more.
Like everything, tampers come in a range of prices. In general, they range from less than $5 to more than $200. You can even have tampers custom-made. If you’re on a budget, don’t just settle for the cheapest tamper out there, we suggest spending just a little more for a quality item that will last you a while.
The 5 Best Espresso Tampers
1. LuxHaus Calibrated Espresso Tamper
If you’re a beginner that is all about making a solid investment, the LuxHaus Calibrated espresso tamper is a great choice. This attractive and functional espresso tamper gives you a perfectly tamped puck every time you use it.
With a stainless steel base and a lightweight BPA-free plastic handle, this tamper is a great-looking tamper for your home coffee bar. The LuxHaus tamper comes in four different sizes, so you can easily select the one that best fits your machine’s portafilter.
The stainless steel base is quite robust and provides a level puck with ease. The calibrated handle easily attaches to the base and provides between 29 and 35 pounds of pressure when compacting your espresso grounds.
This tamper is a great value for the price. With sturdy, quality construction it should provide you with many years of espresso-making joy.
- The base is made from 100% food-grade stainless steel which won’t rust.
- The handle is comfortable and ergonomically designed.
- The four base sizes allow you to pick the proper tamper for your espresso machine.
- Comes with an attractive velvet pouch for storage.
- This tamper is a little more expensive than others.
- The handle option is only black plastic. There’s not a wood handle option.
- LuxHaus only makes a flat base tamper
2. Apexstone Coffee Distributor
The Apexstone Coffee Distributor is a nice, handleless coffee tamper for more experienced espresso brewers.
This tamper is handle-free for compact and easy storage. Tuck this tamper in a drawer or cabinet without worrying about taking up too much space. The fully adjustable tamper allows you to adjust the height and weight of the tamper for the perfectly pressed puck.
Made with a stainless steel base, and textured aluminum alloy for the handle, this tamper will be a long-lasting addition to your coffee bar.
One of our favorite features of this tamper is that it breaks down into a few pieces that are all dishwasher safe. For added convenience, this tamper comes in three sizes to fit a wide range of portafilter and espresso machine brands.
- The screw top allows you to easily adjust the height of the tamper for easy compaction and removal.
- The textured aluminum alloy handle is non-slip and comfortable to hold.
- Three different sizes fit a wide range of espresso machines.
- The no-handle style takes some time to get used to.
- For some reason, this tamper needs to be cleaned really frequently.
- Only has a 1-year warranty
3. Rattleware Round-Handled Tamper
The exceptionally sturdy basic tamper from Rattleware is a great value for the money. This stainless steel tamper is the perfect weight for creating that perfect 30 pounds of pressure with little effort. This 58mm tamper is the perfect size for most home espresso machines.
Constructed of solid stainless steel with a rounded plastic handle, this tamper is easy to hold and feels sturdy in your hand.
Clean-up for this tamper is really simple. Just wipe the tamper down with a damp cloth. If you really feel it needs a good cleaning, this tamper is also dishwasher safe.
The other great selling point of this tamper is the price. You just can’t beat the price of this tamper.
- A sturdy and durable tamper
- Ergonomic handle is comfortable and easy to press
- Clean-up is really simple
- More expensive than other options
- Does not have a wooden handle
- No convex base option
4. IKAPE Espresso Tamper
The IKAPE espresso tamper is one of our favorite tampers. This high-quality, calibrated espresso tamper allows you to know your grounds are perfectly compacted every time. This tamper is made from food-grade stainless steel for long-lasting durability.
The brushed steel handle is ergonomically designed and more attractive than many other calibrated tamper handles. The IKAPE espresso tamper comes in five different sizes making it a great option if you have a uniquely sized portafilter or a smaller-sized espresso machine.
- Rust-proof stainless steel handle
- Handle is durable and ergonomically designed for comfort
- Five size options fit a wider variety of portafilters
- Tamper is calibrated to provide at least 30 pounds of pressure
- Not everyone is a fan of the brushed stainless steel handle
- Higher priced than some other calibrated tampers
5. Matow Dual Head Coffee Leveler
With the Matow dual-head coffee leveler you get a great handle-free tamper that works well, even for beginners. The adjustable depth and weight of this tamper allow you to perfectly compact your coffee grounds for a solid puck and a delicious shot of espresso.
This tiny leveler has an adjustable diameter head so you don’t ever have to worry about suctioning or channeling. The Matow dual head leveler comes in three sizes so you can find the one that fits your espresso machine perfectly.
The compact design fits easily in your kitchen drawers without taking up a ton of space. Cleaning is easy and all parts of this leveler are dishwasher safe.
- The tamper base is made from food-grade stainless steel
- Each tamper comes with two heads for the price of one tamper
- This tamper has a nice weight to it
- Only comes in three sizes
- It’s hard to adjust to the same height every time
- Markings on the tamper would have been nice
Final Thoughts on Best Espresso Tamper
For us, the clear winner when it comes to espresso tampers is the LuxHaus calibrated tamper. This great tamper comes in four sizes that fit most espresso machines.
The calibrated handle allows you to press your grounds with a perfect 30 pounds of press every time you brew. Though it is a bit more expensive than other products, you’ll find that it is durable, long-lasting, and works better than many other calibrated tampers.
If you’re looking for a great espresso tamper the LuxHaus is a great pick. However, if you’re in the market for something different, we hope that our buying guide and other tamper suggestions help guide you to the perfect espresso tamper for your home coffee bar.