Tamping seems like such a simple concept. But then why are there so many different tampers? Palm tamper, calibrated tamper, original tamper – no wonder you’re confused!
Does one type of tamper reign supreme? Or do different situations call for different devices? Read this palm tamper vs regular tamper showdown to find out.
Palm tampers, also sometimes called puck tampers due to their appearance, have a simple look that belies their clever design. They are calibrated to tamp to a certain depth, which you can set to match your dose using an adjustment mechanism.
- Perfectly consistent
- Guarantees a level tamp
- Ergonomically healthy for the wrist
- Inconvenient if you regularly change your dose
- No way of knowing the pressure
Regular tampers come in two forms, original and calibrated (1). An original tamper is a heavy metal disk topped with a handle, whereas a calibrated tamper looks similar but has a spring mechanism for setting a specific pressure. Regular tampers can have flat or convex bases.
- Original-style tampers are inexpensive
- Calibrated tampers improve consistency
- Huge selection of sizes and designs
- Calibration won’t stop you from over-tamping
- It doesn’t guarantee a level tamp
With those basics covered, let’s get to the head-to-head showdown. We’ll compare the two styles of espresso tampers across three crucial categories.
Tamping consistency is so vital that it’s one of our top espresso tips for beginners. There is no debate that the original style of the tamper is the least consistent. It relies solely on practice and muscle memory to reproduce results. But between palm and calibrated tampers, the winner is less clear.
Palm tamper is set to tamp to a specific depth each time rather than a certain pressure. So as long as your dose is consistent, your tamp is consistent, and it also guarantees a level tamp.
Calibrated tamper is set to tamp a specific pressure to maintain consistency even when the dose changes. However, it is still possible to tamp with a higher pressure if you keep pushing past the spring’s set point, so it does take some practice. And most designs don’t guarantee your tamp will be level.
Winner: The palm tamper takes this round because it’s impossible to over-tamp and it ensures a level puck.
Ergonomics may not be as important for the average coffee drinker using an espresso machine at home. Yet, for a commercial barista tamping hundreds of espressos a day, injury due to poor ergonomics is a real possibility (2). With a palm tamper, you push straight down using your palm. With a regular tamper, you grip a handle and push down.
Winner: The palm tamper is a clear winner because it keeps your wrist in a more natural position. However, you’re unlikely to notice the difference unless you make a lot of espresso.
Value for Money
Original tampers are the cheapest option, and if you’re a practiced barista confident in your skills, they provide excellent value for money.
Calibrated tampers were once a luxury item available from only a few brands, but lucky for espresso lovers, that is no longer the case. They’re now widely available in different sizes and prices. The fanciest run to $200, but mid-level brands like Normcore make fantastic options for under $50.
Palm tampers are still a relatively novel product, so only a few brands offer them. So far, they’ve mostly been premium brands, and that means they’re relatively pricey at the moment, though that is likely to change.
Winner: The calibrated tamper comes out on top, with the best combination of consistency and low price.
Choosing the right tamper comes down to your budget, how you make your espresso, and how often.
Use a palm tamper if…
- You’re a barista preparing the same espresso all day long
- You never change your dose
- You are prone to wrist injuries
Use a regular tamper if…
- You are looking to save money
- You change your dose frequently
What is channeling?
Channeling occurs when the coffee puck is uneven, so the pressurized water finds the easiest path through. You end up with a very fast, poorly extracted, and weak-tasting espresso.
What is a pressurized portafilter?
A pressurized portafilter forces the espresso through a small opening under high pressure. Even with poorly ground coffee, it yields an impressive-looking crema, but lacks full flavor. Choosing a pressurized or non-pressurized portafilter comes down to the quality of your grinder.
What is the correct pressure for tamping?
The correct pressure for tamping has long been considered 30 pounds, but recently it has been shown that a level tamp and even grounds distribution is more important. A good rule of thumb is to tamp hard enough that the puck won’t fall out of the portafilter if inverted (3).
- Johnson, M. (2019, 16 May). Tamp That! Retrieved from https://www.coffeemagazine.co.za/blog/9/5637/tamp-that
- Cadwalader, Z. (2019, January 23). Barista Wrist Leads All Restaurant-Related Injuries in Time Lost. Retrieved from https://sprudge.com/barista-wrist-leads-all-restaurant-related-injuries-in-time-lost-139783.html
- Chicoteau, D. (2017, October 3). Tamping Technique Demystified. Retrieved from https://www.sevenmiles.com.au/editorial/tamping-technique-demystified/