- An espresso tamper fits snugly in your espresso machine's portafilter and evenly distributes grounds to ensure a balanced shot.
- We tested eight tampers to find the best one you can buy, taking into account price, effectiveness, longevity, and more.
- The Espro Calibrated Tamper is the best option for most people, thanks to its easy-to-grip handle and spring-loaded design, which takes the guesswork out of applying the right amount of pressure.
- Check out our other coffee and espresso guides.
An espresso tamper is a tool used to pack, or "tamp," grounds into the basket of an espresso machine, and it's essential to prepping a well-balanced shot.
When it comes to choosing the perfect tamper, the most important criteria is that it fits snugly in your espresso machine's portafilter (measured in millimeters). If you get the wrong size, it either won't fit at all, or you're going to end up with an uneven tamp, which means you'll get, at best, a mediocre shot of espresso.
"The thing the tamp really does," as former Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) World Barista Judge and home-barista.com founder Dan Kehn explained, "is help with the pre-infusion or pre-wetting." The real goal is to evenly distribute the grounds so that the puck of coffee soaks evenly. This prevents what's called channeling, or the uneven flow of water through your grounds, which can undermine the balance of your shot by over-extracting on either side of the channel and under-extracting elsewhere.
A tamper's weight is also crucial to its effectiveness. The flimsy plastic thing that may have been included with your machine? It's not going to balance as well as a nicely weighted — ideally one-to-two-pound — hunk of stainless steel. Aside from fit and weight, picking a tamper comes down to feel (how does it fit in your palm?) and aesthetics.
Below, we've found the best tampers for most people, considering budget (you can spend hundreds if you want to, but we don't believe it's necessary), ease of use (and adjustability where applicable), and shape, all informed by dozens of hours of testing.
Here are the best espresso tampers in 2021
- Best overall: Espro Calibrated
- Best two-in-one tamper and leveler: Matow Dual Head Coffee Leveler
- Best budget: LuxHaus
Updated on 1/12/21. We rewrote this guide after testing several new tampers alongside our previous picks and speaking with experts. The Decent Tamper, which was our former top pick, was out of stock and unavailable to ship at the time of this update, but we're looking forward to retesting it and will report back with our findings. James Stout contributed to an earlier version of this article.
The best overall
Espro's Calibrated Tamper is hefty at 16.2 ounces, spring-loaded to 30 pounds of pressure so you know exactly when you've tamped correctly, and has the most comfortable handle out of all the tampers we tried.
Pros: Hefty, textured aluminum handle is easy to grip, available in several sizes
Cons: Not adjustable, base is not interchangeable
Gauging how much pressure you're applying with your tamper can be difficult, even for veteran baristas. While the standard is 30 pounds, the amount of effort it takes to administer that weight varies from person to person, and getting a feel for exactly how much shoulder to put into tamping takes time.
Calibrated, spring-loaded tampers like the Espro, however, take the guesswork out of the process. You know you've hit the ideal amount of pressure when the spring is fully compressed, and it's nearly impossible to go unnecessarily further. This is important because over-tamping can lead to over-extraction, since water requires more time to soak through the puck and absorbs more of the grounds' soluble flavors.
While testing the Espro, we noted even pours right off the bat before even trying with a leveler (another tool for evenly distributing espresso grounds, which you can read more about here). The base of the Espro is a perfect cylinder, which means a quick glance is all you need to tell if your grounds are compressed lopsidedly (ridged designs can make this more difficult to discern).
Although there are plenty of calibrated tampers on the market, Espro's has our favorite handle out of all the options we tried. It's made of anodized aluminum, which is chemically stable and heat resistant, so you can feel fairly confident it's not going to dent. We also like that the handle is textured, which helps with grip — keep in mind that this is a one-pound hunk of metal, and you really don't want to drop it.
The Espro Calibrated Tamper is available in four sizes (53mm, 57mm, 58mm, and 58.35mm), and comes with a one-year warranty.
The best 2-in-1 leveler and tamper
A tamper and a leveler in one, Matow's Dual Head Coffee Leveler is nicely weighted (17.3 ounces) and adjustable on both sides to accommodate a spectrum of portafilter basket depths.
Pros: Easy to use, easy to adjust, compact (for a two-in-one device)
Cons: Only comes in three sizes, we wish it had visible measurements so you could change between depth calibrations without having to guess
As we mentioned earlier, a tamper's weight is crucial to its effectiveness, and at 17.3 ounces the Matow was the heaviest option we tested. That's thanks in part to its two-in-one tamper and leveler design. A leveler, or distributor, is the tool you use to level out espresso grounds before tamping in order to get a more consistent extraction. Most levelers, including Matow's, feature a set of fins accentuated by deep grooves for flat and even redistribution. Some people prefer to use a leveler sans tamper, or vice versa, to achieve the perfect pour. If you're unsure of your preference, you can read a bit more about the pros and cons of levelers versus tampers here.
In testing the device, we had to spend a little bit of time calibrating its adjustable depths to the stock portafilter baskets from the Gaggia Classic Pro espresso machine we were using. As long as you don't change baskets too often, this isn't much of a nuisance, but it's a downside to consider. We're hoping Matow will engrave a simple scale into future versions of the Dual Head Coffee Leveler.
Once we got everything dialed, extraction was flawless, and the grippy surface on the outer ring made tamping especially comfortable. Knowing that you can use either or both sides of this single tool to achieve your ideal shot of espresso is everything, and the price can't be beat. The major downside is that Matow is a relatively no-name brand in the espresso world and there's no sign of a warranty or even a brand website beyond this Facebook page. Granted, Amazon usually has your back, and we've used and tweaked it enough to know it's not going to fall apart easily.
The best budget tamper
The Luxhaus Tamper offers significant weight and a well-balanced handle at less than half the price of most of its competitors.
Pros: Good balance between the handle and base, lifetime satisfaction guarantee, comes in most portafilter sizes
Cons: The brand doesn't offer interchangeable bases or handles
The Luxhaus is about as bare-bones as espresso tampers get without skimping on quality metal or meticulous construction, as evidenced by its perfectly-balanced handle and base. The handle's conical shape accommodates a range of hand sizes and grips, and at just shy of 14 ounces (pros we spoke to say that somewhere around one pound is ideal), this tamper is hefty enough to get the job done with or without a leveler. For comparison, our top pick is just two ounces heavier than this model.
The Luxhaus was comfortable and effortless to use, and the 58mm model we tried fit snugly inside the 58mm portafilter basket of our Gaggia Classic Pro espresso machine (the top pick in our espresso machine guide).
Simply put, there are no design shortcuts that make it inferior to many of the $100+ models we tried. Dip below the Luxhaus's price point, however, and you'll start to find unbalanced handles that don't offer enough stability, and cheap plastic components that bring a tamper's weight down and make it more unwieldy.
If you want a streamlined, non-mechanical tamper that's dependable and properly weighted for under $30, Luxhaus is the way to go.
This model also comes with a lifetime warranty and a felt bag for storage.
What else we tested and recommend
Asso Ergo, $89.50-106.57: With its series of interchangeable bases, Asso's Ergo Tamper is the most versatile tool for tamping and leveling we've found yet, and we love it. Hefty, interchangeable convex and lined (patterned) bases make this the tamper for experimenting, but it's not for everyone, and certainly not at this price point. We wish the brand offered a leveler attachment for tamper handles, though, and keep in mind that extra bases are sold separately.
Decent Tamper, $119: In a past iteration of this guide, the Decent Tamper was our favorite. The novel coronavirus pandemic has complicated shipping and we weren't able to get one in time for this round of testing. While we look forward to retesting it, the price leaves us reticent. Decent Espresso is a vanguard of the coffee industry, though, and championed by coffee author, barista trainer, and all-around espresso guru Scott Rao. We'll continue to keep an eye on Decent and update this guide with our findings when we arrive at them.
LuxHaus Calibrated Tamper, $39: If you want a calibrated tamper on a budget, Luxhaus offers a highly competitive option. We preferred the handle, weight, and squared-off the design of the Espro Calibrated Tamper above, but Luxhaus works every bit as well; we just recommend using a leveler with this one because it fit a little loosely (in our 58mm portafilter baskets) and left room for more uneven tamping than usual.
Rattleware Tamper, $39.99: This is another great option with a larger handle than our top pick, and it's especially convenient for those with large hands. The only reason we didn't recommend it this go around (it was a favorite of ours in past guides) is that it's not widely available at present, and there aren't enough available sizes for it to work for most people. If you find this tamper in the right size, we wholeheartedly recommend purchasing it.
Our testing methodology
Before we began testing tampers, we stocked up on several pounds of Ugandan dark roast from Atlas Coffee Company, measuring our grounds using a Kruve Sifter to make sure we were within the realm of espresso (250-500 micrometers, or somewhere between white flour and table salt in size). Throughout testing, we used Gaggia's Classic Pro espresso machine, which is our top pick for most people and most budgets.
For each tamper, we pulled four shots: two with a leveler, or a distribution tool to even out the grounds, and two without.
This was the most telling testing phase. Once you've gotten a handle on espresso making, how your shot pours tells you almost all you need to know. Whether you're using a spouted or a bottomless (or "naked") portafilter, you want a slow, constant drizzle with enough foam, or crema, to give it a golden hue. This signifies an even extraction.
If the flow is too slow, it's an indication that the grounds are compacted. Conversely, if espresso is cascading and/or spurting out of the bottom of your portafilter, your grounds are probably not tamped enough, or too coarse to start.
Tasting is always going to be highly subjective at best. We noted where shots seemed under- or over-extracted, and when we pulled a shot that wasn't up to par, we checked to make sure that the issue was related to the tamper we were using, and not the result of improperly-sized grounds or a portafilter in need of cleaning.
Analyzing the puck
Apart from tasting and watching a shot pour, looking at the puck afterward is the next best way to dissect the quality of an espresso shot It's a bit like making a tea-leaf prophecy in reverse. If it's rock-hard, there's a good chance that the grounds were too fine. If it's soft, your grounds might be too coarse or you might have tamped too finely. If it's cracked, or partially dry, the tamp was almost certainly uneven.
During testing, we oftentimes looked at the puck to essentially confirm what we already knew from previous steps. Between watching the shot pour, tasting the shot, and analyzing the puck, we were able to form a clear picture of what happened, and specifically what went wrong and what went right.
How to use a tamper
A good grinder and fresh grounds are the initial keys to success. After dialing your burr grinder and getting your grounds the right size and consistency, measure out whatever your portafilter basket's recommended capacity is (7-9 grams is about standard for a single-shot basket; somewhere between 14 and 20 grams will usually fill a double basket). Note that if your grounds touch the screen of the group head (the part of the espresso machine where the water comes out) when you lock in your portafilter, your basket is overfilled.
Next is where a leveler (another tool for evenly distributing espresso grounds) makes tamping immeasurably easier. If your leveler isn't calibrated, adjust it so that it reaches the top of your grounds when they're sitting in your portafilter basket. Again, this depth will vary from basket to basket, which is why an adjustable leveler is best. Give the leveler a few good spins and check to make sure the grounds are neatly leveled. If there's a wave in the grounds from the fins or ridges of your leveler, it's probably set too deep. Conversely, if the leveler doesn't fully reach the grounds, you'll want to extend it some.
Note: If you don't have a leveler like the Matow one we recommend above, it's worth adding one to your kit. You can still make espresso without a leveler, of course, but the process won't be as foolproof.
Next, you simply place your tamper in the basket atop the grounds and push down until it clicks (assuming it's calibrated). To tidy things up, some baristas recommend "polishing" the puck by briefly spinning your tamper with about five pounds of pressure. Once you're done tamping, look at the grounds in the basket to make sure they're level. If your puck is slanted, water is going to find the path of least resistance and channel its way through rather than evenly extract.
Now brush or dust off the edge of the basket and the portafilter, because you want to avoid getting coffee grounds in the group head of your espresso machine, attach it to the group head, and pull your shot. Provided your grind size is right and your grounds are consistent, you should get a slow but steady trickle into your demitasse. There's no exact standard, but a single shot should be ready in roughly 20 to 30 seconds, and a double somewhere between 35 and 45 seconds.
If you want to see how your infusion and extraction are working, try removing your puck right after the machine completes the pre-infusion (or pre-wetting). If you see dry spots, that's where water didn't penetrate. If you see cracks, that's where water channeled. Wipe your basket and portafilter clean.
Espresso levelers (or distributors) vs. tampers
A tamper is a flat (or in some cases convex or lined) piece of metal used to press coffee grounds into a compact puck within your portafilter basket. A leveler is a tool that sweeps across the surface of loosely piled grounds in order to distribute them evenly throughout the portafilter basket. You can use a leveler without a tamper — and a lot of contemporary baristas do — but a tamper provides an extra bit of insurance against channeling.
While 30 pounds is often cited as the amount of pressure needed to properly tamp, former Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) World Barista Judge and home-barista.com founder Dan Kehn along with the folks at both Javapress and Whole Latte Love maintain that 10 pounds will do the trick. Kehn regaled us with a tale of a fellow espresso aficionado who found that whether they tamped with 6 pounds, 60 pounds, or 660 pounds of pressure, variation in compaction was negligible. There were still small air pockets, and the grounds didn't compress much further with each increase in pressure. Leveling your coffee grounds inherently tamps them, but you shouldn't use force with a leveler the way you would with a tamper.
Basically, tamping an espresso shot without a leveler is a bit like hanging a picture frame without a level: it might look straight, but there's hardly a chance that it actually is. Once the grounds are perfectly leveled, they'll remain even within the portafilter. Tamping them afterward just reduces the margin of error.
Glossary of espresso terms
Burr grinder: A mill designed to crush coffee beans between two abrasive surfaces set a particular distance apart (determined by the user)
Calibrated tamper: A tamper with a spring to gauge and determine the amount of pressure a barista puts on grounds to pack the portafilter basket
Choke: What a less powerful espresso machine does when it is unable to force water through grounds (usually due to grounds being too fine for the machine)
Convex tamper: A tamper with an outwardly curved surface or face, meant to assist in even extraction
Double: A double espresso; two shots, or somewhere between about 14 and 20 grams from a double portafilter basket
Grind size: The average or standard particle size of ground coffee beans
Grounds: Coffee beans that have been reduced (by way of a blade or burr) to a particular size for brewing
Leveler: A tool for evenly distributing a dose of grounds within a portafilter basket
Lined tamper: A tamper whose face is lined with rings to create an even pattern of ridges and valleys in the top of a puck
Over-extract: To pull too many of the soluble flavors from coffee (ends up extra viscous and bitter)
Portafilter: A holder for baskets and espresso grounds that attaches to the group or group head of an espresso machine
Portafilter basket: A stainless steel basket that holds espresso grounds and fits into the portafilter
Puck: A tamped, or compressed, pile of grounds in (or from) a portafilter
Single shot: One small portafilter basket-worth of coffee (about seven to nine grams)
Tamp: To pack and concentrate
Under-extract: To pull too few of the soluble flavors from coffee (ends up watery and bland)
See more great coffee buying guides
The best espresso machines
The best French Presses
The best stovetop espresso makers
The best coffee grinders
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