How important is tamping? - Page 2

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks for making espresso.

Relative to other contributors to exceptional espresso, how important is tamping?

Not at all important
Somewhat important
Very important
Total votes: 147

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#11: Post by HB »

Thanks Ian for raising the question, I've converted this thread to a poll to gather collective opinion.

One factor that may influence your results is the choice of a single basket. While I pull almost exclusively doubles, I suspect the taper of a single basket for your espresso machine may favor 'self healing' of fissures as the puck expands, similar to how some espresso machines with narrow, deep baskets are more channel resistant and thus less likely to go awry if your attention to tamping wanders.

That said, I think many commentators greatly overstate the importance of tamping. If it's level and the pressure is consistent, I say "good enough". I believe that even distribution, proper dosing and the resultant headspace, to name only a few possible contributors to exceptional espresso, are far, far more important.
Dan Kehn

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#12: Post by roastaroma »

I gave the issue a good deal of thought after observing how casually the baristas in Italy tamp, when they bother to do it at all. (They actually use those plastic tampers mounted onto some grinders.) The way it looks to me, there's more than one way to achieve a given water flow rate through ground coffee for good extraction.

1) Volume (dose) of ground coffee is one variable we all control to some degree, visually or by weight.
2) Grind: Italians tend to grind finer, and while this can reduce the flow rate sufficiently, the puck that naturally forms without tamping might behave more unpredictably under the pressure & turbulence of electric pumps. Perhaps the light-tamp & no-tamp methods are more successful with levers, if I have interpreted the anecdotes correctly.
3) Compaction (tamping): Controlling this third variable complicates matters. Not only must we be consistent with our first 2 variables, we now have to be meticulous puck architects, making sure the edges are sealed all around, that we don't leave or cause fissures that would undermine our "coffee castle" when the wave hits, that we ensure a level, uniform distribution, etc.
4) Pump pressure: Mercifully, this is usually left to the manufacturer, except in the case of manual levers and those machines with adjustable pumps.

I prefer to tamp firmly, for ristretto shots -- this way I can also fit a larger dose into the basket than I would otherwise. It seems that regardless of the barista fu involved, the shot will inevitably go blonde, and all I hope for is to delay the onset long enough for a decent cup. But I don't measure the success of a given shot in seconds elapsed before blonding. In the end, it's all about the taste.
"Non è la macchina, è la mano."
LMWDP #223


#13: Post by MachoSilvia »

I find that single shot baskets can be very successful without tamps, I think because of the tapered side walls the pressurized water actually forces the coffee against the side of the basket a little, and providing the puck adhesion to the basket which i find a double basket cant do because of the more vertical side walls... try this same experiment with a double basket on the same pump machine and i suspect that maybe even a light tamp will be necessary for espresso. I might give it a go and take some photos for you guys..
"Join Me, i will teach you the dark side of the force"

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#14: Post by TimEggers »

Ian can you try this with a double and maybe a triple and post your results? I'd love to see the difference.
Tim Eggers
LMWDP #202

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#15: Post by cannonfodder »

I have mentioned in other threads that tamping is a relatively unique American process. In Europe most baristas don't tamp or they use the pseudo-tamper on the grinder. I have had good shots using either technique but I have also noticed that some machines favor one over the other with no real rhyme or reason. I would surmise is had to do with the overall grouphead and water flow design. When you don't tamp, you have to adjust your grind, not doing so will usually yield a fast under extracted shot.

I still tamp but do so very lightly. I still think the puck benefits from a light tamp to ensure an even density. I have 6 tampers, all different, but they are as much art as function. I just enjoy a precision made product. I have also taken to turning my own handles to fit them perfectly to my hands.

A tamp will not fix a bad distribution or grind, but a bad tamp can ruin an otherwise good distribution/grind.
Dave Stephens


#16: Post by Nickk1066 »

If I was to go on visual the second shot seems to have more complexity which would make me think it's going to taste better.

The puck also differ - there seems to be a definite colour difference between the two too.

Taste? The most important point - unknown.
Barista - applied pre-emptive hydro-thermodynamicist.

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cafeIKE (original poster)
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#17: Post by cafeIKE (original poster) »

TimEggers wrote:Ian can you try this with a double and maybe a triple and post your results?
It would be more interesting if others found they could duplicate with doubles and triples as I rarely use a double anymore and have never used my triple.
Nickk1066 wrote:The puck also differ - there seems to be a definite colour difference between the two.
The color difference is due to hand held camera, flash distance from subject and reflection. The pucks are much darker than they appear in the photos. Note that wooden desktop and the reflection in the PF are not the same color either.

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#18: Post by Psyd »

cafeIKE wrote:Sound :
mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium (as air)

Just trying to stop rampant stupidity.
But I am certain that twirling, polishing, tapping is folderal.
Beat me to the 'sound' definition. More importantly,if I tamp and there is no one with strong opinions around, am I still wrong?!?
Certainty is the map that folly follows. Tamping is handy for a number of reasons. It keeps the puck below the level of the dispersion screen when locking in, it solves quite a few problems of channeling and fissures for quite a few folk, and allows for up-dosing that would otherwise be a mess.
Tapping is still up in the air, but most folk feel that it'll do more harm than good, but I might still lightly thump a basket to settle things before tamping.
(Hmmm... seems I sent too soon, some of my post didn't quite make it...)
Polishing, as some have pointed out, does, indeed, have many purposes, and is remarkably useful to some.

Quite a lot of these things have to do with ritual. The repeatability and consistency is encouraged by a system of 'dance steps'. Go to your favorite coffee shop and have your favorite barista pull you a string of doppios, and watch the steps that they take. They'll be the exact same every time, with as little variation as they can muster. Video tape it, and find music that matches the first one, and it'll probably sync with the rest, as well.
Suggesting that your way is the best way is only potentially correct if you add the caveat 'for you'. Suggesting that anyone else's way, that works, is somehow 'wrong' or 'less than optimal' is some serious self-agrandization.
These folk are doing things that work, and work really well, for them.
To put it simply, tamping is as important to you as the results that it supplies. Personally, the 'no tamp' or 'doser-attached up-tamp' has resulted in sinkers every time for me, so I use my fancy hammers.
This, in no way, indicates that I should be telling you that you're no tamp technique is wrong, or that you should change.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

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cafeIKE (original poster)
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#19: Post by cafeIKE (original poster) »

"Using Crap Coffee - Tip-Tapping, Pretty-Polishing - eXpreXXo SUX"
NOTHING can make up for bad coffee

No question that tamping is useful, but it's the LEAST important contributor to exceptional espresso.
The effort wasted 'perfecting' a tamp pays greater dividends invested elsewhere.
Once the coffee's in the basket, it's pretty much all over but the crying.


#20: Post by trix »

I believe that tamping is important. All aspects: the water, coffee, grind, dose, and tamp,...all need to be orchestrated to pull a good shot on my machine. Mine isn't very forgiving. (Temperature also plays a part.)
Maybe you are grinding a bit too fine so that a 20kg tamp would choke the machine.

I just tried several shots...varying the tamp...or lack thereof...the no tamp was a messy clean up....

Question....why not tamp?

If you read here:
The professional section gives instructions for making espresso: it includes tamping.
LMWDP #166 trix