If you wish to consistently make great espresso, you will need to have an excellent tamp. This visual tutorial will serve as an initial guide to get you started. Follow the steps below and practice. With practice, your espresso shots will get better and better. Excellent form and consistency is your goal. Let’s get started.
You will need ground espresso, a tamper, and a portafilter. Many espresso machines ship with a plastic tamper. Don’t use those. Get a decently weighted tamper. Once you find the correct size of the tamper, you’ll need to decide if you want a flat or convex bottom. If you need help deciding, check out the Resources section at the end of the tutorial.
In our example, we use an espresso tamping stand. This is optional. You can also use any clean flat surface.
#1 Confirm the Portafilter Basket is Clean and Dry
You will be rinsing and wiping clean the portafilter between shots. Over time you’ll want to do a more extensive cleaning by soaking the basket and portafilter in a dedicated cleaner such as Puro Caff.
#2 Add Ground Espresso to the Portafilter Basket
Espresso can be ground directly into the portafilter or poured in from another container. A single shot is usually around 7 grams, double around 14 grams, and a triple around 21 grams. There are baskets for each size. Double baskets are the most common. These weights are a starting point. You can experiment with “up dosing”, which could mean adding a few more grams into the basket.
A very good (and often expensive) coffee grinder fine enough for espresso will go a long way to produce quality and consistency in your espresso shots. Three grinders that excel at espresso are the Baratza Virtuoso, Rancilio Rocky, and the Mazzer Mini.
When adding the coffee to the basket, the goal is to create an even bed of grounds. In the photo below you can see that the espresso mounds up above the base. This is done so we have enough coffee when the grounds are evened out and tamped down.
#3 Even the Ground Espresso With Your Finger
Draw your finger across the top of the portafilter to even out the shot prior to tamping.
If any grounds are on the rim, brush them aside.
#4 Tamp the Shot
The goal with the tamp is to place even extraction with about 30 pounds of pressure. You can use a bathroom scale to measure how much weight you are putting into a tamp. It is more important that you develop a consistent pressure in your tamp than it is to always hit 30 pounds of pressure. Your arm should be straight so the tamper makes contact with the coffee bed evenly.
#5 (optional) Polish the Shot
At this point, you can spin the tamper. This is called polishing and is an optional step. Some say it helps with evening out the tamp and others say it is cosmetic and not necessary. There are even specialized “smart” polishers now being sold on eBay that some believe do a better job of evening out the shot.
That is it. You now have an evenly tamped portafilter, which is ready for brewing.
Now that you’ve successfully tamped a shot of espresso, the goal will be to do it consistently. With practice, you will be able to repeat these steps better and better over time. Use the same tamp technique so when you are working with a new coffee, it is one less variable to think about.
There is one more topic, which was not covered and that is weighing. Once you’ve mastered your tamp, you can start experimenting with more precise dosing. By placing the portafilter on a kitchen scale and zeroing it out before dosing, you can get the exact number of grams. Dosing by weight instead of volume can give you more repeatable results when making espresso.
Smart Coffee Push Tamper (eBay)
Espresso Coffee Tampers: Flat vs. Convex – 2-minute video by Whole Latte Love explaining the difference between flat and convex tamper bottoms.
ChefSteps Espresso Class – An excellent class that goes into great detail on espresso. Highly recommended.
To updose or not? – Article discussing if adding more coffee to the basket is a good idea.