Did you know that most Baristas are tamping espresso incorrectly? Did you also know that this is something that can be controlled? In this article, we'll cover why correct tamping of espresso makes all the difference, and how to avoid getting an incorrect tamp.
Many espresso machine owners (both commercial espresso machines & home espresso machines) are unaware that a good tamp is about 30-35 lbs of pressure. While to those in the know, this may seem like obvious information most people have not been educated.
So what exactly IS tamping? When you make an espresso shot, you are forcing hot water through the coffee directly (as opposed to drip preparations, where a filter is used). Before any coffee is actually brewed, the finely ground espresso beans must be compressed. Instead of using a filter like drip coffee brewers, the espresso coffee itself acts as it's own filter. The coffee is compressed, or "tamped" using a device called a tamper.
Traditionally and most commonly, these tampers are a simple tool used by hand that fits perfectly into the group handle. There are many varieties of this device, usually made of plastic, metal, or wood (or combinations of the three).
As you can imagine, we as human beings don't have a pressure gauge built-in to our brains, so we must rely on a gut-feeling based on experience to determine if the coffee is tamped at the right pressure. There are many drawbacks to this, as it requires additional training, and also can be hazardous to one's wrists over time (leading to things like Carpal Tunnel syndrome).
But more importantly, proper tamping habits play a HUGE part in the overall quality of the espresso shot. If the tamp is too light, (meaning it falls under the 30-35 lbs pressure range), the coffee will not be extracted properly and will directly affect the flavor & consistency. If the tamp is too hard, you get an opposite effect. For one your shots will pour out much more slowly, and the crema can appear more white than golden brown.
So how do we avoid improper tamping? And, how can we ensure that each shot of espresso produced, is consistent with the rest? The cheapest way is to simply learn through experience. However, most cafes and restaurants do not want to train their employees on tamping espresso, because this is a time consuming process as the only real way to learn is through experience. The alternative (and best) way is to invest in an automatic tamping device.
The good news is, there are a few on the market. But what automatic tamper should you choose? If you are running a commercial business, you want something that is both easy to use and durable. There are a few 'clicker' hand tampers available, but the materials used are questionable in regards to longevity and durability. Another product called "Autotamp" is the best solution (www.autotamp.com).
While not resembling a traditional hand tamper, the Autotamp's stainless steel & chrome construction simply will not wear out. Also, they provide options for group-handle sizes (in case the standard tamper size doesn't fit inside). Check out www.autotamp.com for more information, as well as videos showing exactly how the product works.