Proper Tamping Will Help You Pull A Perfect Espresso Shot

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The feeling you get when you finally purchase your own espresso maker is total excitement. Maybe your decision to buy one stemmed from wanting to save a few bucks by not buying flat whites every day, or perhaps you have the hankering to dive headfirst into coffee culture. Either way, you are now on your way to perfecting your favorite caffeinated beverages. Often though, novice home baristas find themselves disappointed with the results and wondering how and why their hot shot of joe tastes so different from the one the café around the corner makes.

A number of unintentional brewing mistakes could have occurred, but one underestimated element of espresso making is tamping the grounds. According to Serious Eats, tamping is basically the step baristas take after they've added espresso grinds to the filter basket of the machine; they press down on the grounds with a flat-bottomed tool. This step is crucial in making an espresso that is strong and full of flavor. Tamping incorrectly can lead to a shot that lacks body and flavor. Once you get the method down, the quality of your espresso and resulting drinks will rise substantially, but it's going to be more than giving your grounds a little push.

Under pressure

Perfect Daily Grind explains espresso requires pressure, and lots of it — about nine bars or 130 p.s.i. To make a proper shot, you need to ensure that the pressure is maximized. An espresso maker naturally uses pressurized water to get the job done, but that's only half of the battle. The water should spend as much time as possible in those fine coffee grounds to extract the most flavor, so the key is to press those grounds down hard to make the water work to escape into your cup. When it's done right, you'll get full flavor every time.

First, make sure that when you add the ground espresso into the filter basket, it is flat and even. Next, press the tamper on top to compact the grind as much as possible. Experts say 30 pounds of pressure should be applied, but unless you have a weight-calibrated tamp, that's hard to determine. Serious Eats instead suggests holding your elbow at a 90-degree angle and using your whole arm, up to your shoulder, to apply pressure on the tamp. There are a number of tamp styles on the market, and you'll want to find one that is comfortable for you to avoid strain or injury, particularly if you'll be using your machine regularly. 

After you've done it a few times, you should be on your way to the best espresso you've ever had, and have plenty to talk about in your new circle of coffee culture friends.