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Espresso tampers


phaelon56
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If you own an espresso machine chances are good that you received the ubiquitous plastic tamper with it in the box. They may perhaps have more intrinsic value than the latest AOL disc that came in yesterday's mail but not byt much.

There are widely ranging debates about tamping. Some advocate a light tamp with the built in tamper that is inclued on some on most commercial cafe grinders - this appears to be a relatively common practice in parts of Italy. Others - a larger contingent - mandate a heavy and solid tamp - about 30 to 50 pounds of pressure with a nice polish to yield a firm and smooth surface. Some of the popular lower end pump style machines such as the Saeco or the Starbucks Barista and Athena (which are rebadged Saeco models) have pressurized filters and do not require tamping but I'll exclude them from this discussion.

The theory is that the compacted, smooth and evenly distributed surface regulates the dispersion of the water through the grounds in a slightly slower and more consistent manner.

Did I mention that some folks using semi-commercial units (high end home machines) with the pre-infusing E61 style grouphead actually suggest that no tamping be done? They advocate grinding finer, using a fully dosed portafilter and allowing the shower screen and pre-infusion of the grouphead to do the "tamping".

I just like good espresso - sometimes things get waaaaay too complicated. The little cheap plastic tampers are truly useless. My first tamper was one of the 58mm machined aluminum jobs

It worked well but I never liked the feel of it in my hand - too cold and angular.

A few months back I ordered a really cool hand turned wood tamper from Les at Thor Tampers. He has a few stock models but makes 'em custom too. I just love the way it looks but it's a bit too big for my hands. He has kindly offered to resize it for me and I plan to take him up on it. This one is made from Amboyna burl (as if I know what that is!) and the base is made of lignaeum vitae (very hard wood - that much I do know). The wood tampers are very light in feel and take some getting used to but there's an inherent satisfaction that I get from using a handcrafted product made from natural materials. Some days it's about as close as I get to nature so why not?

Soooo.... do you tamp or not? What's your patented method? I'm constantly trying different techinques just to see what they do (if anything).

If you're a tamper fiend or have played around with a few - what strikes your fancy? The Reg Barber? The Lava Tamper? The bottom of an old Smuckers jar? An old "Vote for Harold Stassen" button glued to a nightstick? Let's hear it!

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I use a 58mm Ergo Packer from Espresso Vivace. I like it quite a bit, and haven't felt the call to get another one (yet :laugh:).

Edited to add method:

I slightly overfill my filterbasket, sweep the excess off with a finger... then I put the tamper on, lean on it fairly hard, take it out, tap the portafilter to dislodge the grains from the sides, tamp again and release with around a 1/4 twist. Sometimes I like to spin the tamper on top of the tamped coffee. It doesn't really add anything, but I like doing it anyway. :wacko:

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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haven't felt the call to get another one (yet ).

Yes.... I was that way too until quite recently. I've now reached the conclusion that collectible Illy cups are out of my price range, not to mention the fact that I don't tend to collect things that just sit on a shelf (with the esception of artwork).

I have a Reg Barber that just came in but am already itching for smoethign else new and different.

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I've got a Reg, too, but I have to confess that I can't tell the difference in effect between that and the little plastic tamper that came with the Silvia. It sure looks nicer, though, and it feels good and heavy, like a real tool rather than a playtoy. But the coffee tastes the same.

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What I like collecting are Italian coffee supplier branded espresso and capuccino cups -- usually 2 of each. I have Miscela d'Oro, etc. Right now, I'd love to get some of those squarish Sedafredo cups and some of the Rancilio cups. But they tend to sell them by the half dozen. I don't suppose there are two other eGulleters who would like matched pairs of Segafredo and Rancilio espresso and capuccino cups?

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I just couldn't get adequate pressure with the plastic tamper to get a good solid tamp that was evenly distributed. It was also too small for my portafilter basket - lots of slop around the edges. Once you get into any half decent tamper I think they're all capable of doing a good job. That said.... I'm easily amused and like to think that I'm actually accomplishing something when I play around with tampers and techniques (pleas don't confuse me with facts - I'm very happy with my opinions :wacko: )

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Hmmmm.... I just got in a dozen Illy cappa bar cups with saucers and have been contemplating getting a dozen of their espresso bar cups with saucer. If you don't already have the Illy stuff, PM me and maybe we can work out a swap.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I finally started using my new Reg Barber flat bottom 58mm and have to admit - as much as I love the visual apeal and the organic nature of the Thor tamper - I'm really liking the way this tamps.

For those wondering abuot the reference to "the Staub tamp" - my understanding is that it involves initially pushing the tamper straight downwards once at all the each major compass point (N, NE, E, SE, S etc). This compacts and levels the grounds prior to the twisting downard pressure and subsequent polish of the standard tamp. I've been doing it and it seem to work pretty well.

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Hey phaelon56, nice info and pics about tampers. I've considered purchasing one of the neat heavy looking metal ones as illustrated (I think Rancilio offer such an item), but continue to use the fairly solid but plastic tamper that came with my Rancilio S26 (single group, plumbed in). This beautiful beast makes espresso as good as you can get in even your favourite Italian bar (mine's Bar Gino in Dorsodoro, Venice). But as with all things, tamping is a fine and delicate art: too little and the coffee comes out too quickly, too hard, and it dribbles out so slowly that it eventually gives a sort of burned flavour. I tend to err on the side of too hard, however, first filling the coffee holder with freshly ground (of course) coffee to just the right level, then levelling off the tamper before pressing down very firmly, leaning up on the counter to give it some weight, then dusting off any coffee around the rim to ensure a perfect seal. This seems to work for me and the result is espresso with that beautiful crema and rich aroma and flavour that is nothing short of heavenly. (The coffee? In a perfect world, it's got to be Illy, of course.) But hell, now you've got me wondering: would my espresso be even better with one of those beautiful objects of desire as illustrated in your post?

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In my opinion, it is very difficult to get consistent, level and predictable pressure while tamping with the little plastic tampers. The pro tampers are all much more ergonomic (assuming you buy one that fits your hand) and are weighted in a manner to allow a solid and even tamp.

Again, in my opinion, it is entirely worth the money to purchase a good tamper. To get the most out of it, however, I would suggest that (once you purchase it) you practice on a scale to figure out what 30 pounds of pressure feels like. The idea is to eliminate that as a variable and end up only having to adjust the grind on your grinder on a day to day basis in order to pull excellent shots.

I'm a huge fan of stainless steel tamper bases. The weight, in my opinion, makes level tamping much easier. I also like flat bottomed tampers, though this is more of a matter of taste and I have to admit I've had lovely espresso tamped with a convex tamper as well.

fanatic...

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  • 6 months later...

That's a beautiful looking tamper, Hiroyuki. At about $80 - $85 US it's a bit on the pricey side. I like the idea of the spherical grip and the polished face although my Reg Barber has a nice feel on the grip and I haven't had any issues with coffee grounds clinging to the face. What I"m not sure I'd like is the balanced aspect regarding weight distribution. I actually really like the fact that my present tamper is bottom heavy. I previously had a machined aluminum tamper that was lighter and more evenly distributed in weight than the Reg Barber and I didn't care for it as much.

tamping is a fine and delicate art: too little and the coffee comes out too quickly, too hard, and it dribbles out so slowly that it eventually gives a sort of burned flavor.

Malachi has already addressed this in his typical concise and articulate fashion but I'll reiterate - try to get your tamp consistent in terms of pressure and technique and don't vary it. The path to consistency and great results in espresso production consists of eliminating variables. If you can get to the point where your techniques and processes are consistent, only the grind setting needs to be changed to achieve the best results. At home I find myself getting there if I'm pulling shots every day. When I'm away on travel or just letting the local cafe pull my shots, it takes a few days of practice to get back to a high level of consistency.

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What I"m not sure I'd like is the balanced aspect regarding weight distribution. I actually really like the fact that my present tamper is bottom heavy.

I'm not sure, but browing through the Japanese version of that website (which is more detailed than the English version) makes me think that carpal tunnel syndrome may be an issue here. You know the frequency of tamping that a professional barista has to experience...

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  • 2 weeks later...
... The idea is to eliminate that as a variable and end up only having to adjust the grind on your grinder on a day to day basis in order to pull excellent shots...

Eliminate all like variables (timing, etc.); get a godshot every once in awhile. Rocky and Silva owner school from Mark's old Coffeegeek site (prior to his new, nice - and slick - incarnation)...

Here's my tamper:

http://www.espressosupply.com/Merchant2/me...duct_Code=02335

May very well be the one you sent off to Siberia but I love it. Silva never got really cooking for me 'till if figured out the tamper (hard tamp; 2 knocks) and, as a confirmed gearhead, I could keep buying such lovely equipment.

But this one's good.

~waves

~waves

"When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature. . . . You see a half-disguised interest in just one thing: food."

Werner Herzog; NPR interview about his documentary "Grizzly Man"...

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Yes - that aluminum tamper is just like the one I was using for awhile. I really liked it and it does just as good a job as the pricier Reg Barber tampers but I love the balance and feel of the Barber tamper much better.

A couple more things.... I've seen mention that the most savvy baristas (of whom there are many) are now advocating against those extra couple taps on the portafilter during and/or after packing. I'm not sure why - will have to look into that.

As for carpal tunnel syndrome - it is a concern. Angled portafilter handles and espresso machines that are installed at proper working height (which is lower than a standard counter top are a good place to start. There's a new machine on the market (was called Trueh but goes by another name now) that has moved to levers for steam actuation rather than knobs as another way to reduce repetitive motion issues. Hand tamping remains a bit of a problem and many people are unwilling to move to the Swift auto grind/dose/tamp system. A better tamp can be achieved by hand if the barista has skills - no question about that. I've been looking at hydraulic lever operated tamping systems and find them appealing but the only one I've located thus far comes only in 53mm or 57mm. Very odd as the standard portafilter size in commercial applications is most often 58mm.

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Well - you've got a thread going on the Seneso, er, 'coffee system' - the current end game on homespun superautomatics...

In fact, 3 years ago or so, in a visit to my Frano Italian buds in Chamonix they proudly displayed their new "Nespresso" espresso machine. Like a virus in the region; they were all buying 'em. Anyhow - the espresso was 'ok' but...

The barista part of pulling a good cuppa joe (espresso, drip, vac - whatever) are the intangibles necessary to art. Coffee is a science (Mark's site is good on this) but take away the many subtle handcrafted permutations leading to a refined shot (I like mine 'seria'; short strong - plenty of creama) - yes, clean up is easier - the coffee much less inspiring. And roasting (no - I don't roast my own but pay for good roasting, a separate art)... I'm sure you know all this.

I've seen mention that the most savvy baristas (of whom there are many) are now advocating against those extra couple taps on the portafilter during and/or after packing.  I'm not sure why - will have to look into that.

The taps, methodology, etc. (very precise, btw) has been trial and error. So *I* tamped and 'no knocked', tamped and 'knocked' and have found (small sample size, agreed) - knocking is a good thing. I like the sound, the accent and pace it adds to the prep.

I've another bud (backcountry skier, too!) who was lulled into Rocky & Silvia ownership. He hates it. Hates all of it. Couldn't pull a reasonable shot, called me over to complain and deride the unit/process/game - just was not into what it took to make Silva sing. It's not for everyone and that's where 'coffee systems' can be, well, 'ok'.

As for carpal tunnel syndrome - it is a concern.

So many things can go wrong cooking. Five hours into pulling ribs I burn myself every other time doing something stupid (beer consumption is a factor). And it's hurricane season. Typing on this keyboard...

For a good shot, I accept the risk (and given the number I pull in a week!)

~waves

"When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature. . . . You see a half-disguised interest in just one thing: food."

Werner Herzog; NPR interview about his documentary "Grizzly Man"...

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I've another bud (backcountry skier, too!) who was lulled into Rocky & Silvia ownership. He hates it. Hates all of it. Couldn't pull a reasonable shot, called me over to complain and deride the unit/process/game - just was not into what it took to make Silva sing. It's not for everyone and that's where 'coffee systems' can be, well, 'ok'.

I'm veering OT here but we can start another thread if it's appropriate (by the way - nice to see you here "waves2ya" - we always appreciate hearing another voice!).

Lots of folks do really, really well with the Silvia/Rocky machine & grinder combo but it does take someone who has the patience to work with it and learn the idiosyncrasies. Having worked with a Gaggia Baby and a Solis Maestro, I bit the bullet and went to an E61 group style machine (Isomac Tea) and a Mazzer Mini grinder (stepless adjustment for grind). Glad I did. It's really so easy to pukll great shots once the grind is dialed in. I do know people, including some here on eGullet (slkinsey to be specific), who consistently pull shots with the Silvia/Rocky that are just as good as what my Isomac/Mazzer combo produces but I'll all for easue fo use.

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A couple more things....  I've seen mention that the most savvy baristas (of whom there are many) are now advocating against those extra couple taps on the portafilter during and/or after packing.  I'm not sure why - will have to look into that.

The water is more likely to go around the edge of the puck if you tap the pf after packing the grinds, it breaks the seal at the outside edge.

Those 57mm hydrolic tampers are what you want for a 58mm pf - the swift also has a slightly smaller tamper than the basket it uses.

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The water is more likely to go around the edge of the puck if you tap the pf after packing the grinds, it breaks the seal at the outside edge.

Those 57mm hydrolic tampers are what you want for a 58mm pf - the swift also has a slightly smaller tamper than the basket it uses.

That raises the question of what to do with the extra grounds that gather around the inside edge of the basket, above the compressed puck of grounds. Some folks gently remove them by tipping the portafilter basket above the knock box after the Swift does and tamps (that's my method). Others prefer to keep a traditional tamper on hand and do a polish. I'm not really keen on that as it creates a slightly uneven surface on the puck.

Others just leave the extra grounds in there and gunk up the grouphead mounitng area with the extra grounds.

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That raises the question of what to do with the extra grounds that gather around the inside edge of the basket, above the compressed puck of grounds. Some folks gently remove them by tipping the portafilter basket above the knock box after the Swift does and tamps (that's my method).  Others prefer to keep a traditional tamper on hand and do a polish. I'm not really keen on that as it creates a slightly uneven surface on the puck.

Others just leave the extra grounds in there and gunk up the grouphead mounitng area with the extra grounds.

The pre-soak will compact whatever grinds are loose in the basket, but I generally just dump them into the knock box.

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The pre-soak will compact whatever grinds are loose in the basket, but I generally just dump them into the knock box.

Yes - absolutely right - except that the scenario I'm currently assessing is in a commercial environment with La Marzocco machines. They are not set up to do pre-infusion although they can be programmed that way. In a very busy environment there's a distinct time savings involved in skipping the pre-infusion.

I'm hoping to try some A/B comparisons both with and without pre-infusion. When I received my La Marzocco trainignback in July, the engineer who trained me advised that in his opinion pre-infusion doesn't really change shot quality in a perceptible way on commercial machines. It may well be different on the E61 style machines that are popular for home use. I've always been under the impression that it does make a difference.

His exact words were "if you know someone whose taste buds are so acute they can consistently pick out shot made with pre-infusion from those made without on a commercial machine.... send 'em my way - there are folks dying to hire people that good to be coffee cuppers."

Edited to add: if I can verify that there's a tangible difference in shot quality I can easily convince the cafe owners to adopt pre-infusion as their standard.

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I'm veering OT here but we can start another thread if it's appropriate (by the way - nice to see you here "waves2ya" - we always appreciate hearing another voice)...

Thanks for the welcome...

Great setup; really, a league up from me. But I used to beat big bikes with my Yamaha SECA 550 in the city, and it was because I understood how drive my engine/redline my bike. It's kinda like that with espresso machines; just because you've thrown a bunch of money at a setup, doesn't mean you'll get a godshot. But yer odds are much better, esp. if you're willing to learn a thing or two...

And, unarguably, a good tamper was critical to my understanding dosing, post puck appearance and appreciating yet another aspect of the art of a great cup of coffee.

Edited by waves2ya (log)

~waves

"When you look at the face of the bear, you see the monumental indifference of nature. . . . You see a half-disguised interest in just one thing: food."

Werner Herzog; NPR interview about his documentary "Grizzly Man"...

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  • 2 weeks later...
A couple more things....  I've seen mention that the most savvy baristas (of whom there are many) are now advocating against those extra couple taps on the portafilter during and/or after packing.  I'm not sure why - will have to look into that.

Tapping dramatically increases the odds of channeling.

If you're going to tap, do so once and do so softly while holding the portafilter up off the counter.

As for carpal tunnel syndrome - it is a concern. Angled portafilter handles and espresso machines that are installed at proper working height  (which is lower than a standard counter top are a good place to start. There's a new machine on the market (was called Trueh but goes by another name now) that has moved to levers for steam actuation rather than knobs as another way to reduce repetitive motion issues.  Hand tamping remains a bit of a problem and many people are unwilling to move to the Swift auto grind/dose/tamp system.  A better tamp can be achieved by hand if the barista has skills - no question about that. I've been looking at hydraulic lever operated tamping systems and find them appealing but the only one I've located thus far comes only in 53mm or 57mm. Very odd as the standard portafilter size in commercial applications is most often 58mm.

If you work out your tamp technique and your counter is the right height, RSI problems really should not be a concern.

I was working on a counter that was too high and developed problems in my shoulder. Counter was modified and shoulder problems went away, but I developed tendonitis in my wrist. With some training, I corrected my grip on the tamper - tendonitis went away. I've had no problems since.

fanatic...

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  • 4 years later...

So... I thought I'd revive this long-dormant thread to post about my experience with tampers. As I posted upthread, I've long used the Ergo-Packer. This is from Espresso Vivace, which is the outfit of well-known espresso figure David Schomer. It's a 58mm curved tamper made of aluminum. One thing that I've liked about it is that the base is quite tall, so you can judge the evenness of the tamp by comparing the lines around the top of the base with the edge of the filter basket. The Ergo-Packer has served me well for many years.

Anyway... Now that I've pimped my Rancilio with a PID and have been using the La Marzocco triple basket with a bottomless portafilter, the old Erg-Packer was starting to look and feel a little nicked up. I also found that there was just a tiny bit of extra room around the outside of the tamper in the LM triple basket. This meant that I really had to do a little tap to get all the grounds into the basket, and had to use a nutating motion to get a firm seal all the way around after tapping. What I wanted was a tamper with a little more bite.

Although I've been skeptical of Reg Barber tampers in the past, I thought I'd check them out since you can order the tamper size down to a tenth of a millimeter, and I've been given to understand that 58.2 mm wits he LM triple basket like a glove. So I decided to take a look. As you can see, Reg Barber offers a number of different base styles. I like a curved base, because I think it makes a good seal around the edge of the puck. Also, the Rancilio Silvia has a rounded screw holding on the dispersion screen, and since one would like to avoid fouling the tamp with the screwhead, it is nice to have the puck a little lower in the middle. Reg Barber offers two curved bases with different degrees of curvature. He also offers what he calls a "C-Flat" tamper. This has a curve around the outside (the more pronounced of the two curves) and is flat in the center. I thought this might be an even better solution, since I could get the strong edge seal of a rounded tamper but a more even puck overall. Then I saw that he was making a cool-looking new design with a rippled base, and I knew I was sold. I had to have the C-Ripple tamper.

Luckily, my wife had pity on me and bought me a stainless steel 58.2 mm C-Ripple tamper with a short handle of solid aluminum with an anodized black finish. Woohoo! It felt really cool out of the base. Much heavier than the Ergo-Packer. I tamped straight down lightly and withdrew the tamper. This is where I'd usually have to tap away some remaining grounds that didn't make it into the puck before going back down for the real pressure tamp. Nope. The extra 0.2 mm bit well enough that there was minimal leftover. I tamped straight down and applied my usual pressure (I am a heavy tamper). A slight polish at the end felt so smooth I had to do it again. Nice. And it left a really cool-looking ripple pattern on the top of the puck. But... would it make a difference?

In a word: yes. One nice thing about using a bottomless portafilter is that you can see exactly how, where and when the coffee extracts. This time, the black "whiskers" of coffee appeared simultaneously in a ring around the outside of the filter basket, and quickly and evenly contracted to the center at which time the coffee went to a nicely brown and gold tiger stripe and proceeded through the rest of the extraction. I had got some nice-looking initial extractions before, but never quite like this one -- and every extraction thereafter has gone just the same way. Of course I may be suffering from bias, but I'd swear that my extractions have been better with the new C-Ripple compared to the Ergo-Packer. Certainly they have been more consistent.

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