How to tamp espresso: Advice from our experts

Crafting the perfect espresso shot is much like a ballroom dance—a series of precise, practiced steps leading to a harmonious finish. Yet, one often overlooked step holds extraordinary power in determining the final quality of your espresso: How to tamp espresso.

Although it can be tempting to freestyle, learning how to tamp espresso properly can make a significant difference in the outcome of your hard work - the final beverage. To that end, our experts are here to demystify the ins and outs, the whys and hows, and offer tips on getting it just right. 

Choosing the right espresso tamper

Let’s explore the ensemble of espresso tampers available:

● Flat-bottom – The most common and traditional style of espresso tamper, the flat-bottom provides an even and consistent tamp across the surface of the coffee grounds in the portafilter basket.

● Convex – Also known as rounded espresso tampers, these have a slight outward (convex) curve along the base. Some baristas believe that this unique shape ensures the outer edges of the coffee grounds are sufficiently compressed to prevent side-channeling, where water seeks an easier path around the coffee and thus weakens the extraction. However, this can cause some uneven density in the basket.

● Puck – Named for its resemblance to a hockey puck, this sleek tamper design boasts a compact handle, offering enhanced stability during the tamping process. Also known as a palm tamper, these styles operate on the principle of promoting an even and controlled press.

● Dual-head – A versatile tool, the dual-head coffee tamper offers the flexibility to swap between two different tamp styles. Whether that’s a combination of a flat-bottom and a convex or simply two different sizes for single versus double shots, a dual-head can be handy for adapting to multiple tamping styles.

● Calibrated – This tool is engineered to deliver a precise amount of pressure—generally around 20-30 pounds of force—with each tamp. This ensures consistency and removes some guesswork from the espresso equation, especially for beginners who may still be getting a feel for manual tamps.

While there is much debate over which type of tamper is best, and there are many more types out there, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and brewing style. Still, the ideal tamper does more than merely guide—it sets the rhythm for a flawless shot of espresso.

Preparing and dosing the espresso grounds

Before you can navigate how to make a latte properly, you’ll need to be prepared. As essential as rehearsals are to any performance, the perfection of an espresso shot hinges on its prelude—the preparation phase. When it comes to how to tamp espresso, mastering this initial step can elevate your shots from routine to remarkable. 

Here are some additional nuances to consider:

● Coffee bean freshness – Espresso is only as good as the beans it's made from, whether you’re using single origin coffee or a blend, high-quality, freshly roasted beans deliver the richest results. Ideally, you want to store your beans in airtight containers away from direct sunlight in a cool dry place to preserve their freshness.

● Grind consistency – The granularity of your ground coffee is an important factor for any coffee brewing method, especially espresso. Too coarse, and water will rush through without proper extraction. Too fine, and you risk a super strong, under-extracted shot. Aim for a consistency slightly finer than table salt, preferably delivered through a burr grinder. Depending on your coffee and specifically the roast level, this will differ as the density of the bean will increase and decrease.

● Measured dosing – While some more advanced models of espresso machines streamline the process by measuring the ideal dosing for each shot, most machines will require manual dosing. In this case, aim for 7 to 10 grams for a single shot, and 18 to 22 grams for a double. To do this, you’ll need a scale of some sort.

These steps are essential for achieving consistent and measured preparation, setting the stage for a show stopping finale.

Leveling and distribution of coffee in the portafilter

To prevent any pre-show jitters in your coffee, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your grounds remain level and ready for the big tamp.

● Keep in mind that clumps of coffee grounds can hinder even extraction. Ensure proper distribution by gently tapping the sides of your portafilter against the countertop, settling the grounds and eliminating any air pockets that may lie beneath the surface. 

● Specialized distribution tools can also assist in ensuring an even bed of coffee before tamping. Consider employing a WDT tool, a small utensil with multiple needles that can break up hidden clumps of coffee grounds to maximize the evenness of your extraction.

After following these steps and with everything in perfect balance, your espresso is primed, poised, and ready to dazzle in the spotlight.

Correct grip and positioning of the tamper

A dancer’s posture is fundamental to ensure the clean execution of each step. Similarly, the grip and positioning of the espresso tamper are pivotal for consistency and finesse in your coffee brewing choreography. 

Before we consider the specific method of how to tamp espresso, here are three steps to achieve the ideal tamper positioning:

1. First, find your grip. Traditionally, this involves holding the tamper handle with your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, almost like a doorknob or flashlight. Such a grip offers excellent control, although wrapping your fingers around the tamper's handle and letting the thumb rest on top can provide more force if necessary.

2. Next, align with the portafilter. Double-check that your tamper aligns properly with the portafilter’s size. 54 and 58mm are common portafilter sizes. Make sure your tamp is correctly sized to fit your portafilter. Ensure the tamper remains level, mirroring the countertop's even plane. You should be perpendicular to the coffee before applying any pressure. This avoids any lopsided density and therefore pressure which could throw off the extraction.

3. Finally, adjust your elbow and wrist positioning. Endeavor to keep your elbow bent and straight above your wrist. Keep your wrist and forearm straight to keep the pressure off of your wrist. Strive for uniform, downward pressure, avoiding any off-center tilts. Try to use as much body weight to make consistency easier from shot to shot.

With repeated practice, this rhythm of tamping will become a natural motion, a well-rehearsed dance routine you’ll be able to slip into with confidence and grace every time.

Applying even pressure: Tamping technique

Now, we come to the espresso tamp itself—and the question of how hard to tamp espresso. 

Here are a few tips for delivering a graceful and effective tamp:

● Aim for consistent pressure – As mentioned, 20-30 pounds of pressure is the recommended amount for ideal espresso extraction. Consider practicing with a scale until you’re able to develop a natural awareness of the necessary pressure. Consistency is more important than any given number. So find a comfortable amount of pressure and stick to it.

● Maintain an even force – The goal is to create an evenly compressed, compact puck of coffee grounds. To that end, concentrate your force directly in the middle, avoiding any bias towards one side which could lead to uneven extraction.

● Finish gently – After the tamp has been delivered, release some of the pressure and give the tamper a gentle twist. This simple action serves the twofold purpose of polishing the bed of grounds and ensuring none sticks to the tamper itself as you raise it out of the portafilter. Also make sure no grinds are on the outer rim of the basket which could then transfer to the machine upon contact.

A good indication of whether you tamped your espresso properly is to examine the resulting “puck” that’s left behind after you’ve pulled the espresso shot. Check the surface to ensure it’s smooth and level, and that it comes out of your portafilter basket as a single, unbroken piece. 

As with any dance, the steps become more intuitive with repetition. With time and dedication, you’ll soon produce perfectly tamped espressos to rival even the most seasoned baristas.

Common tamping mistakes to avoid

Tamping may seem simple at first glance—a firm press on your coffee grounds before brewing. However, as we’ve seen, tamping is very much an art, where the slightest alteration can drastically affect the final flavor profile of your espresso.

To that end, look at a few final tips and common tamping mistakes to avoid:

● Not pressing hard enough – The question of how hard to tamp espresso is tricky, and many newer baristas fear applying too much pressure. This leads to a loosely packed puck and under-extracted espresso. In reality, there’s rarely any harm in applying pressure beyond the recommended 30 pounds—what matters most is even distribution.

● Applying pressure unevenly – Depending on the size and shape of your portafilter and tamper, maintaining an even tamp can be deceptively tricky, resulting in slanted grounds that do not extract properly.

● Overlooking stray grounds – As a final step, it’s always good to check for any grounds that might have made their way along the rim or sides of the portafilter. These minute particles can prevent the espresso machine from sealing properly and delivering the pressure for ideal extraction.

● Over-rotating the tamp – In general, the final twisting motion before raising the tamp should be one quick rotation. Rotating the tamp during the initial press can easily lead to uneven distribution and tilted grounds, especially when using a convex coffee tamper.

Remember that every barista, from greenhorn to guru, has had their share of tamping missteps. By being aware of these common pitfalls, you’ll be well on your way to consistently producing rich, balanced espresso shots extracted to perfection. 

Dive deeper into espresso excellence with Breville

Much like the intricate steps of a dance, mastering the art of espresso tamping requires precision, rhythm, and the perfect partner. 

With our unmatched expertise in coffee craftsmanship, Breville stands ready to be your reliable dance partner in the espresso ballet. 

From precision espresso machines to versatile coffee machine accessories, Breville empowers home baristas with all the tools needed to make cafe-quality espresso right at home.



1. Perfect Daily Grind. Why are distribution and tamping so important for quality espresso?

2. Roasty Coffee. Flat vs Convex Tamper.

3. Coffee Chronicler. What is Tamping, and Why is it Necessary?

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How to tamp espresso: Tips from our experts