The importance of tamping
Tamping is all about achieving an even extraction.
Correct tamping ensures an even flow of water through the coffee and even extractions are extremely important when you are looking to extract the best flavour from your coffee.
There are two big factors that make tamping good or bad: levelness and pressure. The more level you tamp the more even the water is forced through the coffee. Uneven tamping results in more pressure on one side causing uneven extractions. There is a big debate on how much pressure to use for tamping, some people will measure it on a scale and express the pressure in pounds. What we can all agree on is that an even consistent pressure is very important. There has to be enough pressure though to ensure that the puck of coffee is completely compressed and solid.
How can we make our tamping easier for our coffee shop?
The more you learn about tamping the more you might get scared about it as espresso coffee is very sensitive. In a commercial environment such as a coffee shop or restaurant your main focus should be on serving the customer. The more time you spend on tamping the less time you have to serve your customers.
There are now automatic tampers that take the guesswork away. Automatic tampers should ensure that you have a perfectly level tamp and a consistent pressure. There are various automatic tampers, some better than others. Look for one that makes your life as easy as possible.
La Spaziale have designed an automatic tamper which is designed so it will always be level and gives the same pressure each time. The edge of the tamper rests on the top of the group handle and therefore creates a perfect level tamp.
There are tampers which are connected to grinders. Some are okay and some are rather badly designed. Just keep in mind that you are looking for a tamper that gives you level tamping and a consistent pressure. And do yourself a favour and throw away the plastic tamp that you get delivered with espresso machines.
Is an automatic tamper not taking away all the skill of the barista?
Yes, they do.
Being a fantastic barista is not just about tamping though. It is about so much more and most importantly about serving the customers the drink they want and doing this the best way possible. If an automatic tamper is making the life of the barista easier then this is great and it allows the barista to focus on the customer.
In places where you have over 10 baristas working and maybe some part time staff it is even more important. In an ideal world every staff member is extremely passionate about brewing espresso and takes great care in tamping. But let's face it, there are many places where people want to serve absolutely delicious coffees yet they need to achieve a consistency with the least amount of hassle and automatic tampers can really help to achieve this.
Are automatic tampers for everybody? No, definitely not. But they are perfect for many coffee outlets.
What is your experience when teaching people with tampers?
We teach people to tamp manually and to tamp with an automatic tamper. The first thing we notice is the consistency. An automatic tamper makes it very easy to start pulling shots straight away. We use grind on demand grinders that give consistent doses and espresso machines that have pre-set volumes. Throw in an automatic tamper and it makes life a lot easier and faster.
It simply means that people can start pulling shots almost straight away and this is very useful. We then later talk more about tamping in detail.
What else can you tell us about tamping?
Be careful with tapping the group handle with a tamper to loosen up coffee grinds that are stuck to the sides. This tapping can cause cracks inside the puck and result in channeling.
Ensure you have the correct tamper size. Most machines will need a 57mm diameter tamper, others might need a 58mm or 53mm tamper. It is very important you have a perfect fit.
Start with a dry and clean basket.
The better you tamp, the less bonding you will get.