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There is a lot of information on how to tamp espresso before pulling a shot, so it's a little hard to make sense of it all. What I currently do certainly works, but perhaps there's something better out there.

What is the best technique for getting a good, consistent tamp? Also, it'd be great to know how to diagnose common tamping issue.

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"Best" is whatever works for you. At Coffee Fest a few years ago, there was a vendor with a tamper that had a mechanism that "let go" after you got to a preset pressure, so you'd get perfectly uniform tamping. I don't recall the brand name, though. –  Ward Aug 13 '12 at 18:35
    
@ward- like a torque wrench for tampers! –  Sobachatina Aug 13 '12 at 19:12
    
@Sobachatina that's exactly what it is! Check out here. –  JoeFish Aug 14 '12 at 19:41
    
@Ward Which just goes to show that we go to absurd lengths in search of miniscule improvements in flavour. –  Chris Cudmore Aug 14 '12 at 20:00
    
@JoeFish - Why pay more for a mechanical solution to a problem that can be solved by a suitably weighted tamper? Gravity is more consistent than some spring loaded mechanism which will eventually break. –  Mark Booth Oct 1 '12 at 11:47

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The most important part of technique for a good, consistent tamp is to uses a good tamp. Many espresso machines, especially cheap counter-top ones for home use, come with a plastic or lightweight metal tamp. You really want one that's nice and heavy, as it helps you get good, even pressure.

Beyond that, the best recommendation I have is simply to practice. Tamp down onto a flat surface where you have room to lift your elbow and forearm so that you're pressing directly down onto the tamp and espresso grounds.

The biggest problem I see in terms of tamping issues is pressure that isn't evenly applied. The top of the tamped espresso grounds should be a smooth, level surface. If it isn't, keep practicing until you can press down evenly.

The other main problem is not enough pressure. If you don't tamp the grounds hard enough, the water will find the path of least resistance and won't penetrate the grounds evenly. Most people say to aim for 20-30 lbs. of pressure when tamping; pick a number somewhere in that range and practice on a kitchen scale or bathroom scale until you know what that kind of pressure feels like. Consistency is more important than the actual number here - as long as you're somewhere in that 20-30 lb. range, you should be good.

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Any thoughts on staying consistent across different beans? I've been finding that each time I try a new roast, it takes me a while to get back to the great shot. –  Felix Aug 20 '12 at 18:18
    
@Felix Hmm... The only thing I can think of is that the flavor of the beans changes the more time that elapses after roasting; usually, though, they get more bitter as the beans get older and are exposed to more air. Espresso is most often done with dark roasts or extra dark/french/espresso roasts, though some people use medium roast beans. But I don't know why you would have a lot of variation within the same batch of beans. Different roasts will produce different flavors, but the same batch shouldn't have much flavor variation due to your technique. –  Laura Aug 20 '12 at 19:16
    
Sorry, I was thinking more across different batches (eg. one week I'll have Ritual coffee, another week will be beans from Klatch, another from a local roaster, etc...) –  Felix Aug 20 '12 at 20:14
    
@Felix I don't think I have a good answer for you then. You won't be able to get espresso shots that taste the same by using different beans. Each batch is unique :) If you nail down the mechanical part (tamping technique) and keep your machinery clean (clean water, regularly clean espresso machine to remove oils and mineral buildup, clean your grinder, etc.), you should be able to get great shots from any good batch of coffee. :) –  Laura Aug 20 '12 at 20:57

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