How To Tamp Espresso Like A Pro

How To Tamp Espresso Like A Pro

So, you’ve done everything right: bought freshly roasted coffee beans, a quality grinder and grounded the beans to a fine setting. You are getting ready ready to have that rich, creamy delicious brew but you get utterly disappointed at the taste, then your tamping technique is a problem. Or are you trying to make an espresso and you want to know how to make your coffee grounds even out?

Then you need to learn how to tamp espresso. Tamping is the act of properly pressing down grounds on the filter to get an effective extraction. It is not so difficult, these tips will get you tamping like a pro. Let's dig in.


A barista tamping coffee grounds

An espresso tamper is a tool used when making espresso. It is used to pack or tamp coffee grounds in the basket of an espresso machine. Tampers usually come in a lightweight construction made of metal that matches the size of the basket or portafilter you’re using. Tampers come in either flat or convex shapes and will produce shots with different qualities. So, make sure you get a good one because the quality of your coffee depends on how you tamp and the kind of tamper you use. 


Tamping involves you compressing coffee grounds to make it harder for water to rush through the grounds. Learning proper tamping- how coffee grounds are packed into the portafilter is the right key. The pressure of the water pulls oils from the grounds and creates that bold taste and full-bodied coffee you like. Water takes the path of least resistance, so if the coffee grounds are loose and uneven, the water will just move through the gaps. 

This will result in less flavor from the grounds. To avoid weak coffee, you have to push down the grounds in the portafilter, resulting in a compressed puck. It resists the water which brings tension and that tension creates the taste and consistency of the shot. You just have to keep experimenting till you get it right. 

Coffee grounds in a tamper


If you brew with untamped coffee, the water seamlessly goes through the loose pile of ground via the easiest route possibly avoiding any lump. Thus, resulting in an insufficient extraction and with shallow flavors. To get a quality extraction, the extraction process should take 30 seconds with constant pressure, temperature, and volume of water. The best espresso shot needs about 30ml of water at 90 to 96 degrees using 9 bars of pressure

From what you've seen, tamping your coffee will ensure a constant rate of flow of water along with an extraction time that meets the standard of espresso. This happens because tamping creates a resistance in the coffee, ensuring that there is even compactness in a pile. So, the water will need to evenly push its way through the grounds since no region is more accessible than the other. Hence, producing more flavorful espresso shots. Another reason why tamping is important is that it does not allow the coffee grounds to swell as water goes through it, thereby helping you keep the machine’s group head clean. 

To tamp your coffee grounds well, you need the following: 

  • An espresso machine 
  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • A grinder (burr grinder) 
  • A Portafilter 
  • A scale- that’ll help you maintain accuracy. 

To make a single shot of espresso, you need 7-9 grams for a single shot espresso and 14-18 grams for a double. A good tamper Here's a step by step guide on how to tamp 


Measure out the coffee into the portafilter, then use your index finger and run it across the top of the filter, pushing off any extra grounds. It has to be even. Don't apply pressure on it until it is leveled else you will get an uneven extraction and that means you wont get the perfect taste. 


Place your portafilter on a flat surface so it will level. Some portafilters are leveled on a bench top while others will require you to find an edge. Keep your wrist straight and elbow bent. This helps the power to come from your body rather than your wrist. This trick saves you from getting an injury in your wrist and lets you control the process.


Apply light pressure so that a puck shape forms with the ground coffee to achieve a flat surface. Use 15 Lbs for a start. When you have a level bed of coffee grounds, it's time to use your elbow grease and press harder.  When the puck is formed, put more force into it and push down harder to get rid of any spaces between the grounds. It is better to use a twisting motion as you are pushing it down. Then, double-check your puck to make sure that there are no gaps. 


When you are applying final pressure, you can rotate the tamper to leave a smooth finish to the coffee puck. The smooth finish is also called ‘the polish’.


Before you round up, take a cloth and wipe off any excess coffee grounds that must have spilled around the edges of the portafilter. You don't want any grounds running around in your machine. The portafilter ought to go into the machine clean. 

There is an alternative method called NUTATION - rotation around the axis. This method starts with giving an uneven tamp, you can achieve this by rotating and angling the tamper through 360 degrees in the filter basket, before you add light pressure that evens the tamp. 

The aim of this is that the coffee puck will be packed tight in the center and slightly loosed around the edges, resulting in a more even extraction as water is forced outwards. Once you are okay with the quality of the surface, place the group handle in your espresso machine and start making your espresso. 


Did you know that you can easily tamp without a tamper and still get a smooth surface? Let's show you. 

What you'll need 

  • A portafilter 
  • A good espresso machine
  • A quality grinder 
  • Coffee beans An object with a flat surface that fits your portafilter. 

The process of tamping an espresso without a tamper is almost the same as the typical method. You just have to use a pestle, beer bottle, teaspoon, or any flat bottomed objects that fit into your portafilter. This is a great skill to learn if you are camping or brewing with a portable espresso maker. 

  • Measure and fill the portafilter with coffee above its brim. 
  • Then use your index finger to swipe over the top, to remove excess grounds. We know that it might be tempting to just push down the coffee a bit with your hands but don't try it. Bear in mind that the coffee has to be leveled before you put any pressure, else you will get an uneven extraction of oils and your shot will have less flavor. 
  • Position your body and start tamping. Place the portafilter on a flat surface, position your body. 
  • Then use the beer bottle or pestle to apply a little pressure in your portafilter. The purpose here is to make your pestle stand straight at 90 degrees, producing an even level. When your coffee is leveled, apply more pressure and push down the ground to remove any space between them. 
  • Then lift your pestle or bottle slowly in a circular motion to polish the top of the puck. 
  • Double-check and clean the portafilter. So, that's how you tamp! 

How long should an espresso shot take? 

Espresso shots ought to take 30 seconds to brew. If it takes less than that, then your grind size, tamp, and coffee weight isn't up to standard

What happens if I tamp too hard? 

If you tamp your espresso too hard, it will make the coffee puck sturdy and hard. This could lead to the over-extraction of flavors.

How can I stop channeling espresso?

You can stop channeling espresso by using the correct tamping technique and checking your equipment before time. Ensure your basket is dry, the grounds are evenly distributed before you tamp and you are using the right amount of pressure when tamping. This will stop the water from channeling through the portafilter too fast. 

Tamping may seem a bit complicated at first but if you keep doing it, it will get easier. Getting the perfect shot of espresso at home is worth taking your time to learn tamping. Get coffee beans, grind and start tamping for that espresso shot

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