To tamp or not to tamp...

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
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Heckie

#1: Post by Heckie »

Funny story:
Ran into an espresso technician a while ago that was setting up a commercial espresso machine for a bakery and we got into the discussion about the importance of tamping :D. He said "People who don't tamp have big Ego's!!" Which struck me as being an egotistical statement in itself, but got me thinking.... Should I always tamp all the time every time w/ 30-40lbs of pressure consistently? Is it that vital of a step to achieve a great espresso? With most of the posts I have read here on HB the answer would emphatically be, YES!
So, for the last week, I have not been tamping at all. I have been distributing as normal and leveling off the coffee with the tamper employing the slightest amount of pressure possible to fill up the space in the basket. I have been, after tweeking the grind a bit, been able to make great tasting espresso with great crema. I neglected to take any dosing or pour time measurements. When the espresso tastes great there's really no need for all the geekiness. So I just thought I'd share this with all of you and await to hear your experience with tamping.............

zin1953

#2: Post by zin1953 »

Heckie wrote:Should I always tamp all the time every time w/ 30-40lbs of pressure consistently? Is it that vital of a step to achieve a great espresso? With most of the posts I have read here on HB the answer would emphatically be, YES!
So clearly you haven't seen all the posts on HB where numerous people has said that "Tamping is the least important part" of making great espresso, or words to that effect. Many people who post here regularly do not tamp at all; others do a light tamp; still others tamp at 30 lbs.

Consistency is crucial. Tamping . . . eh, not so much.
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erics
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#3: Post by erics »

Even funnier illustration: :)


Either "you" tamp or the dispersion screen will do it for you. The purpose behind tamping (and distribution beforehand) is to create a reasonably uniform density of coffee for the water to pass through AND to avoid having the dispersion screen to this job. Now your Gaggia Classic is not exactly like the above drawing but the idea is the same.
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Nik

#4: Post by Nik »

I agree with Jason. The last couple of months I have ground finer and tamped much lighter. In fact I suspect it is no more than 5 pounds. I think prep and polish is more important than the tamp. I think there is more depth and clarity in the shots.

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Psyd
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#5: Post by Psyd »

Heckie wrote: "People who don't tamp have big Ego's!!"
Well, I use a tamper to impart some uniformity to the puck, If there are small 'voids' under the smooth Stockflethed surface of the puck, tamping will close those voids. If I didn't close them, the water would use them to tunnel out under the rest of the puck.

Maye those that don't tamp are confident enough in thei9r distribution to believe that tamping is unnecessary for them. I think that there are probably a few here that are that good, and that practised. Some of them, however, have translated this into 'tamping is unnecessary', without adding the caveat, 'for me'.
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HB
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#6: Post by HB »

Interesting story, thanks Brian for bringing it up...
Heckie wrote:Should I always tamp all the time every time w/ 30-40lbs of pressure consistently? Is it that vital of a step to achieve a great espresso? With most of the posts I have read here on HB the answer would emphatically be, YES!
While I think everyone would agree on the value of repeatability of measurements like brew temperature, brew pressure, etc. and applied barista technique, I agree with Jason that tamping itself is far down on my list of important contributors to exceptional espresso. One of the best discussions of this topic was an offshoot of the Lever Espresso Machines Smackdown, ironically sharing the same title as this thread:
To tamp or not to tamp.
Dan Kehn

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Arpi

#7: Post by Arpi »

I think tamping helps with cleaning. If I don't tamp, I get grounds up through the shower head (espresso sneeze?). Some people blow on the basket for that reason also to get rid of the loose grounds.

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Heckie (original poster)

#8: Post by Heckie (original poster) »

Awesome ideas everyone! There are a lot of posts to look through here on HB, I am amazed how some of you seem to have all the posts committed to memory. :roll:
One of the best discussions of this topic was an offshoot of the Lever Espresso Machines Smackdown, ironically sharing the same title as this thread: To tamp or not to tamp.
Thanks Dan. I liked this thread.. but I thought I was being cute stealing a line from Bill :D
The epic Lever Smackdown Thread brings to mind the thought that the quality or effectiveness of the machine, grinder, and coffee is the foundation for making a great tasting espresso. The issue of tamping seems the most disposable out of all the many factors that are at play here. So many barista's (and some tech's with Egos) in the industry seem to be convinced of it's importance, maybe b/c it is one of the only factors the barista can control.
I posted this topic to see how you guys and gals view the effectiveness of tamping and the consensus so far seems to be that tamping can be overemphasized.
My personal belief, for several years now, has been that it is a tool to help make the best espresso I can. I don't and haven't always tamped, the comment from "Ego-techman" caused me to question my own technique, and I am grateful for that b/c I am still learning. And after my little experiment over the last week, I will continue my tinkering as I am sure you all will.

davidr88

#9: Post by davidr88 »

Stop me if I'm talking a load of rubbish here...

Surely a finer grind has water extracting each gain of coffee faster than a coarse grind (much like salt grains dissolve faster than rock salt). Meaning that the coffee if at lets say [19g dose/30g liquid/26 seconds] would be over extracted if ground fine to the point it would not need tamped.

Should a coffee not be tamped firmly then grind/dose/tamp adjusted from there to look for the desired traits? Some coffees are better pulled a bit longer, some a bit shorter but to say tamping is not important and you can do fine without it is quite a bold statement is it not?



I could dose 22 grams, pour the same liquid weight in the same time for two shots, the only difference between the two being grind and tamp (tamp adjusted so both meet a 26 second extraction) but one would taste more under/over extracted than the other.

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Heckie (original poster)

#10: Post by Heckie (original poster) »

Stop me if I'm talking a load of rubbish here...
You Brits are great, I love it! Not rubbish at all>

The 2 factors that are being adjusted to achieve 20% extraction of the soluble solids in the grounds are the grind size and the dose, not so much the amount of tamping. This is assuming as you mentioned, that time and I guess water pressure are constant.
So we grind finer and reduce the dose to achieve the same 20% extraction. If the dose were kept the same but the coffee was ground finer yes it would be over extracted, because I believe the surface area would increase overall. I am not saying the tamp isn't important, just that it's not as important! I think the reasoning is sound, who knows at this point it's late :? !