Tamp Like a Champ: How to Tamp Espresso

How you tamp your espresso can have a huge impact on the flavour of the coffee. If you did everything else right but your espresso is tasting sour or running poorly, your tamp could be the culprit.

Tamping espresso

When you’re leading a team of baristas, it can be common for everyone to have different ways of tamping. There are lots of wrong ways to tamp espresso, and baristas can carry these bad habits for years. 

Poor tamping is not just an issue of flavour–it’s also a health and safety issue. Tamping can cause repetitive strain injuries over time, a condition more commonly known as “barista wrist” in the industry.

Luckily, it’s easy to learn how to tamp espresso properly and fix any mistakes. We’ll walk you through all the dos and don’ts of tamping espresso. But first, we’ll take a look at why we tamp coffee in the first place.

espresso tamper

What happens if you don’t tamp coffee?

Tamping coffee is when you apply downward pressure on coffee using a tamper. 

If you try to brew a portafilter with loose grounds, the water will move through the coffee instead of brewing it. As a result, you’ll get a watery, under extracted, sour espresso. Coffee that hasn’t been tamped has a lot of pockets of air, and the water finds an easy way to exit. 

Tamping removes these air pockets from the coffee. This helps the water move more evenly throughout the whole puck. All it takes is one loose spot on the puck for the water to find this weak spot and rush through it. This is known as “channeling.”

What are some examples of poor tamping?

Here are some common ways that tamping goes wrong. 

If you tamp at an angle and the puck isn’t parallel to the portfiler, the water will go to the lowest point. Water is always looking for the path of least resistance. Instead of brewing the whole puck, it will only brew the low part. To make sure your tamper is parallel to the portafilter, use the ring inside the portafilter basket as a guide.  

Holding the tamper incorrectly can have an impact on the flavour. Avoid holding the tamper like an ink stamp with your hand gripping the handle only. This can cause coffee grounds to jump out of the basket and cause an uneven tamp. Instead, wrap your fingers around the base of the tamp while applying downward pressure.

Tamping a mountain of coffee grounds won’t result in a level coffee bed. You’ll get a flat surface with bevelled edges–a perfect weak spot for the hot water. After grinding your beans into the portafilter, give the portafilter a good tap on the side. This helps the process along by settling the bed of coffee.

After tamping your espresso, there will usually be some loose grounds floating on the sides of the puck. The barista’s common instinct is to knock the portafilter to get the loose grounds in the middle so they can tamp again. But knocking the side of the portafilter can crack the puck, causing channeling, and it also damages your equipment.

Instead of knocking, place your tamper on top of the puck again, and spin the tamp with no pressure. This will make those loose grounds on the side co-operate. 

Barista tamping espresso

How to tamp espresso the right way: Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to tamp espresso properly.

  1. Grind your coffee into your portafilter. Once ground, tap it against the side of your hand (or on the tamping mat) to help level out the coffee bed.
  2. Place your portafilter on the tamp mat. Turn your body so that your dominant hand side is parallel with the bar counter. Place the tamper evenly on the bed of coffee so it’s parallel to the ring in the portafilter basket. Push straight down firmly until you meet resistance. (If your portafilter has a splitter, make sure the splitter is off the tamp mat. This prevents the splitter from breaking off.)
  3. If there are any loose coffee grounds, place the tamper back on. Without applying any pressure, spin the tamper to settle the loose grounds. 
  4. Brew your espresso. Easy!

Espresso tamping

How hard should I tamp?

In the coffee industry, it’s agreed upon that 20-30 lbs of pressure goes into a proper tamp. You don’t need to tamp incredibly hard to achieve this. Tamp until you feel the coffee stop. 

It can be easy to get tired at the end of the day and tamp lighter as the day goes on. Be aware of this, and try to keep a consistent tamping strength throughout the whole day.

Tamping safety

The trick to avoiding strain on your wrist is keeping it straight while you tamp and engaging your shoulder and your arm. Lifting your elbow at a 90 degree angle makes it easy to keep your wrist straight, and makes the power come from your arm.

Which is the best espresso tamper?

The most important thing when looking for a tamper is finding one that fits your portafilters. The tamp should spread to the very edges of the basket, ensuring a smooth, uniform tamp. If the tamper is too big, it simply won’t fit; if the tamper is too small, you’ll create air pockets around the edges and cause channeling. 

For newbie baristas who don’t know how hard to press, click tampers are a great option. They make an audible clicking noise once 30 lbs of pressure have been pushed into the coffee puck. 

naked portafilter

How do I know if I’m tamping correctly?

You can tell a lot about how well (or poorly) your coffee is running just by looking at your spent coffee pucks. If you see any air pockets or obvious signs of the coffee spilling over the edge of the basket, your tamp could be the issue.

If you’re still not sure, try to look at the bigger picture. Brew a shot of espresso, dilute it with some water, and taste it. If the coffee tastes unpleasant and has an edge, try again. If it tastes acceptable, or even good, you’re on the right track!

Tamp champ

Tamping isn’t complicated; it’s actually remarkably easy. But unfortunately, there are a lot of bad habits out there that seem to be contagious. Baristas learn by watching other baristas, picking up on their habits without knowing whether they’re right or wrong. But it’s not their fault–if they don’t receive the proper training, how can they be expected to do a good job?

As a cafe manager or owner, it’s up to you to set standards and catch any bad habits before they get out of hand. By teaching correct tamping, you improve your coffee, retain your customer base, and keep your team safe.

Looking for more tips to improve your espresso game? Check out our previous blog post about degassing coffee for better tasting espresso. And, if you need more support, book a consultation with us, and drop us a line at






How to Pull a Perfect Shot of Espresso

There’s nothing worse than going to a renowned coffee shop only to receive an espresso drink that’s bitter and undrinkable. Poorly made espresso-based drinks are more common than you might think. Even the best beans, espresso machine, and grinder can’t guarantee a good shot of espresso.

Slayer Espresso

A big challenge for cafe managers and owners is getting their large team of baristas to make good-tasting espresso. A lot of newbie baristas don’t know what to look for when dialing in espresso and lack the confidence to calibrate it.  This is why we offer complimentary ongoing training and consultation for our wholesales clients.

By putting certain practises in place, you can show your whole team how to pull a perfect shot of espresso. First, we’ll show you how to lead an espresso tasting session with a team of baristas. Then, we’ll show you how to ensure the espresso is always running well.

The building blocks of good espresso

It may sound obvious, but you need to start with great coffee and great equipment to make great espresso. Make sure you have all of these in place first before you troubleshoot your espresso.

Make sure to source roasted beans from a high-quality, specialty coffee roaster. They should have an emphasis on ethical sourcing, meticulous roasting, and freshness.

A high-quality espresso machine with enough pressure and stamina is crucial for great espresso. We recommend the Slayer espresso machine, which was produced by the fine folks here at Fratello!

A good espresso grinder allows you to micro-adjust the grind setting. It should have a timed doser to provide consistency. We recommend Mahlkonig espresso grinders. 

If you have all of that already, let’s get into it!

coffee grinder

Leading an espresso tasting with your team

It’s always a good idea to do an espresso tasting session with your team. This allows you to answer any questions and try different espresso shots side-by-side for comparison. When guiding your team through a tasting, here are some common things to look for.

While not all coffees have a sweet profile, you should aim for a sweet shot. Sweetness is detected on the tip of the tongue. Unlike an unpleasant sour flavour, you’re looking for a sweetness akin to fruit or sugar.

A good shot of espresso should never taste unpleasantly bitter or sour. You can assess this more broadly when you try the espresso by asking yourself, “Is this pleasant?” “Is this acceptable to serve?”

Bitter and sour notes can be part of the inherent flavour profile of the coffee, like rich cocoa and lemon. Don’t get confused by desirable flavour attributes. 

Get your team familiar with the flavour wheel. It’s not cheating to fill your head with all the possibilities of what coffee can taste like. It helps your team by giving them a vocabulary to describe coffee.

TIP: It’s easier for newbie baristas to taste coffee that’s cooled down and/or diluted with a bit of water.

cappuccino

Creating an espresso calibration system

After you’ve done your initial group tasting session with your team, it’s time to create a calibration system.

The best way to calibrate espresso is by tasting it and adjusting it as needed. However, most newbie baristas won’t have the skills or the confidence to do this. This method also takes more time, and when you’re trying to move a lineup, it isn’t practical. A calibration system is easy-to-follow, keeps your coffee tasting great at all times, and doesn’t disrupt your flow.

Not all coffee is the same, but as a general rule of thumb, there’s a certain espresso recipe to follow. When it comes to brewing parameters for espresso, you want to start with a dry weight of 18 grams, a wet weight of 36 grams (ie. actual brewed espresso), and a brew time of 28-30 seconds. If you brew your espresso and it doesn’t fit within these confines, you can tweak the dose and the grind setting of the coffee.

perfect espresso

How to pull a perfect shot of espresso, step-by-step:

  1. Pop the basket out of the portafilter, and zero it out on a digital scale. Grind your beans from your timed espresso grinder, and weigh it. If it weighs below 18 grams, increase your dose by a few milliseconds. If it weighs above 18 grams, decrease your dose. Don’t worry if you’re off by 0.5 grams.
  2. Once you have the right weight, evenly tamp your espresso with 30 lbs of pressure.
  3. Have a timer ready to countdown from 30 seconds. Grab a clean shot glass or mini metal pitcher, place it on the scale, and zero it out.
  4. Place the scale and the glass under the group head, and begin brewing your espresso. Immediately start your 30-second timer. 
  5. At the 30-second mark, stop the shot and read the wet weight on the scale. If the wet weight isn’t 36 grams, make some changes and start over. If the wet weight is below 36 grams, make your grind coarser. If it’s above 36 grams, make your grind finer.

Make sure to post the espresso parameters (ie. dry weight, wet weight, brew time) where staff can see it. Have your team calibrate the espresso several times a day: once first thing in the morning, at mid-morning, and in the afternoon. For accountability, you can set up a checklist on a marker board, and have staff initial their calibrations.

Other factors affecting espresso flavour

Getting the right dose and weight is important when making good espresso, but it’s not the only thing to be aware of. Other things greatly affect the flavour of espresso. Here are some common factors:

Make sure your team is tamping properly. An uneven tamp or a cracked puck can result in uneven extraction, and thus, a sour, undrinkable espresso. Check out this video to make sure your team isn’t committing any tamping faux-pas!

 

The temperature and humidity in your cafe can instantly change how your espresso pours. If the weather suddenly changes from rainy and cold to sunny and warm, recalibrate your espresso.

A dirty espresso machine can make your coffee taste off if you’re doing everything else right. Make sure your team is cleaning the espresso machine and portafilters every night with Cafiza. Additionally, make sure your team is wiping the portafilter baskets with a dry rag between espressos. Have them purge the group heads between pours, too.

Fratello Coffee

Give it your best shot

Espresso can be intimidating for new baristas who lack skills and confidence. You can’t expect them to know everything right off the bat. The more effort you put into standards and procedures, the more likely it is that your team will get on board.

It doesn’t take long to gain a reputation as a no-fail, sure-shot espresso bar. Before long, your customers will notice, and they’ll be lining up for more. So do a little planning, schedule that espresso tasting with your team, and knock it out of the park!

We know that espresso can be a complicated beast. With decades of experience in the specialty coffee world, we have all the tools to make your cafe a success. Book a consultation call with us by emailing us at . We’re here to help!





Nicaraguan Finca Limoncillo tasting at Analog Cafe!

Join us Thursday August 25th between 4pm-6pm as we kick off our Thursday coffee tastings at Analog Cafe at the Calgary Farmers Market!

This weekend we are tasting our fresh crop arrival Nicaraguan Finca Limoncillo Java coffee brewed three different ways: Single Origin Espresso, Cold Brew and on our Hario V60 Pour Over bar! Each method lends its own character to the coffee and brings forward a variety of flavors in the cup.

This will be a casual tasting and we will prepare samples of each method as people come to Analog. Please don't be shy and ask questions! We look forward to starting to offer regular tasting and classes at Analog Cafe each Thursday. Look forward to seeing you there!

Read more about Russ Prefontaine's trip to Nicaragua and the farm we are working with directly to bring this coffee to you.

Nicaraguan Java Natural coffee card Fratello Analog cafe

Holiday gift ideas for the coffee lover!

Happy Holidays from Fratello Coffee Roasters! We love enjoying great coffee all year round here at Fratello, and hope you do to.  At Christmas time why not pay special attention to the coffee lover on your list (that is usually most people on the list) and treat them to some great gift ideas from Fratello.

Here is our list for you. Lots of great coffee, some popular and really neat by-the-cup brew methods and tools for the home or professional Barista are all great options! Any questions call or email us and we would love to help.

(more…)

National Canadian Barista Competition

On October 14th, Fratello's Joel May will be competiting again in the National Canadian Barista Competition.   Last year Joel finished 3rd overall in Canada, so this year we are all cheering for him to become #1.

This is a very challenging competition that takes a lot of work and constant practice.  Joel will be competing with barista's from around Canada who have each earned the chance to compete for the chance to go to London England next year with hopes of becoming the World's top barista.

Over the past few months barista's have been competing across Canada in Regional Competitions and only the top 3 from each region are guaranteed a spot in the Nationals.   Shaw TV did a feature on the Prarie Regional's held at Fratello Coffee early September.  Please watch this video which helps explain what the competition is about.

Fratello Coffee tests the new Slayer Espresso Machine!

Slayer Espresso Machine @ Fratello - teaser from Chris Prefontaine on Vimeo.