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If you’ve got one of the best espresso machines you can find out there, a quality grinder, the best espresso beans, and still your coffee taste bad then your tamping technique is the mole.
You may have seen a commercial for a tamper, and you’re thinking, “This is my bailout.” It may be not. In this article, we will show you how to tamp espresso without a tamper and pull a toothsome shot of espresso. Let’s dig in.
An espresso tamper is a tool used when brewing espresso to compress, pack or “tamp” espresso grounds in the basket of an espresso machine. Good tampers usually come in a lightweight construction made of metal and will match the size of the basket and porta-filter you are tamping. Tampers are cheap and come in either flat or convex shapes and will produce shots with different qualities.
Although tampers are cheap, they are a little bit overrated. Don’t get me wrong; tamping is necessary for a quality shot of espresso but not an expensive tamper. The quality of your coffee depends more on how you tamp than what tamper you use. Correctly, a beer bottle, pestle, or a teaspoon can make toothsome cups of espressos like any cheap or expensive tamper you can get in the market.
Espresso tamping involves compressing espresso coffee grounds to make it harder for water to rush through the grounds. During the espresso brewing process, pressurized water goes through the finely ground coffee in the portafilter for extraction.
For untamped coffee, the water typically becomes a coward. It seamlessly goes through the loose pile of ground via the easiest routes, possibly avoiding any lump or difficult region. Thus, resulting in an inefficient extraction of oils and shots with shallow flavors.
For a quality extraction of coffee grounds for espresso, the extraction process should take 30 seconds with constant pressure, temperature, and volume of water. Precisely, for the best espresso shot, 30ml (1 fluid ounce) of water at 198 degrees Fahrenheit should go through 7 grams of coffee at 9 bars of pressure in 30 seconds.
So, you see that along with the quality of your grind and the brew’s timing, the flow of water through the espresso is essential to the quality of your espresso. Tamping your coffee will ensure a constant rate of flow of water along with an extraction time very close to the standard for your espresso.
That’s because tamping creates a resistance in the coffee, ensuring that there is even compactness in a pile. So, the water will need to evenly push its way through the whole ground since no region is more accessible than the other. That, in turn, denotes that the water will spend more time running through the ground to break through it. Hence, producing more flavourful espresso shots.
Tamping is also crucial in allowing your espresso maker to deliver an amount of pressure up to 9 bars. The reason is that your machine’s pump, although giving 9 bars tamping pressure, will not be able to hold that pressure level because the coffee ground lacks resistance. Tamping the grounds will provide it with some internal strength to hold up to 9 bars of pressure without allowing the water to break through quickly.
Another reason why espresso tamping is important is that it does not allow the coffee to swell as water goes through it. Ultimately, helping you keep the machine’s group head clean.
What you will need
The process of tamping an espresso with no tamper is not different from the typical method. Only that you will have to use a beer bottle, pestle, teaspoon, or any convex or flat-bottomed object that will fit into your portafilter.
If you are camping and brewing espresso with a portable espresso maker, tamping without a tamper is a great skill to have. Before showing you how to tamp your coffee, you need to know what a quality tamp is.
Here’s how to tamp your espresso without a tamper.
First, measure and fill your portafilter with coffee above its brim. Then use your index finger to swipe over the top and remove excess grounds. You may be tempted to push down the coffee a bit with your hands, but don’t try it. Keep in mind that your coffee has to be level and even before you put any pressure. Else, you will get an uneven extraction of oils, and a shot will have less flavor.
Place your portafilter on a flat surface so that you can apply even pressure on it. If your portafilter has a flat surface, place it on a table. Else, use the edge of your table to make it level.
Positioning your body rightly for tamping makes the power come from your body rather than your wrist. It will also save you from straining your wrist and allows you to control the pressure. Keep your wrist straight and make sure your elbow bends about a 90-degree angle.
Use your beer bottle or pestle to apply a little pressure on the coffee in your portafilter. You can go as high as 15 bars but no further. The real deal here is to make your pestle stand straight at 90 degrees, producing an even level on the ground.
Once your coffee is leveled, apply more force and push down the ground to remove any space between them. Correctly, use two times the pressure you did before, 30 bars. Then, lift your bottle or pestle slowly in a circular motion to polish the top of the puck and remove it.
Double-check the puck to see if there are loose spots. There shouldn’t be if you followed the steps correctly. Finally, wipe off grounds on the edge of the portafilter. That will save you the stress of cleaning your machine and protect the portafilter gasket as well.
To properly tamp your espresso, you will need to apply pressure twice. The first amount of pressure of 15 bars will provide an even and level puck for further 30 bars of finishing pressure.
Espresso shots should take about 30 seconds to brew. If it goes lesser than that, your tamp, grind size, and coffee weight is not up to standard.
Over-tamping your espresso will make the puck sturdy and hard. That, in turn, will lead to over-extraction of flavors and oil and might strain your wrist.
Most tampers come with pressure calibration. However, since you are using a beer bottle, you should use your bathroom scale to measure your tamp pressure.