Choosing the right espresso tamper for your coffee machine and style

Choosing the right espresso tamper is important. It is part of the daily routine of preparing your espresso and there different sizes and styles to choose from.

What is a tamper to begin with?

The Italian espresso tradition dictates that for a perfect espresso you need:

  • A good blend (la miscela)
  • A good machine (la macchina)
  • A good grinder (il macinino)
  • Good maintenance (la manutenzione)
  • A good technique (la mano)

This is the 5M-s rule at the heart of Italian espresso tradition. The tamper comes into play in the last part of the rule. A good tamper helps achieve consistent shots. You have control in how the coffee grounds are pressed. There is nothing that is more symbolic of the espresso preparation ritual than the hand tamping process. Many espresso grinders include a coffee tamping device in the doser. The included tamper gives little control to achieve good, constant tamping. You have to press the portafilter against the tamper, instead of the other way around. Because of this, most professional baristas and coffee lovers at home opt for dedicated tamper instead.

What size espresso tamper do you need

Espresso tampers come in different sizes. The most common size is 58-58.5mm. This is also the largest size. Other smaller sizes start at 49mm and are usually suitable for smaller home espresso machines. First thing you want to do before getting a tamper is find out what size do you need. That's easy to do and takes a minute. You will need a measuring tape or caliper.

  1. Measure the internal diameter of the coffee filter.
  2. If your measuring tape measures in inches, multiply the reading by 25.4 to get the result in mm. For example, a reading of 2.25 inches means the measurement is 57.15mm.
  3. Get the appropriate tamper for your measurement. In the example above the choice would a 58mm tamper.

Quality and tamper materials

olive tamper side 1

Not all tampers are created equal. It is important to get a high quality tamper. Each tamper is made of two parts: the base and the handle. Most tampers made in Italy will have a high end, food safe, stainless steel base. In some novelty cases the base is teflon coated. The handle comes in different styles and materials. An all time favorite material is wood with different varieties available. Checkout the natural wood tamper and the olive tree wood handle from the Cobaso shop.

Adjustable pressure espresso tampers

adjustable constant pressure tamper side 1

Many tampers have special features that add value to your purchase. The most common special tamper is the adjustable pressure tamper. Adjustable pressure tampers offer the ability to regulate the pressure or force applied during tamping. Once set, the tamper will keep applying the same force each time you prepare an espresso. These are also known dynamometric tampers. You pay a higher price and get more consistency in retun.

Coffee distributors

distributor leveler

The new kid in the line up of espresso tampers, the coffee leveler and distributor is a heavier style tamper with the base designed in such way as to evenly distribute grounds on the portafilter. This is very important as it makes possible a more uniform extraction, with more solubles on the cup. They come at a premium price, but most will find the small investment a worth addition to their espresso station.

Tampers with cleaning bristles (radial brush)

coffee with bristles

If there is one tamper that we really like, is the espresso tamper with cleaning bristles. It works just like the normal tamper, but because it is equipped with cleaning bristles, it leaves the portafilter edges squeaking clean. Why should you care about that? Clean portafilter edges make sure group gaskets live longer and less coffee gets stuck around the group head. Excessive coffee around the group head goes stale and taints your precious espresso shots.