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Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Barista’s Best Friend: Understanding Espresso Tampers

Most Americans fond of the uber-popular hot beverage known as the espresso know little beyond how delightful it can taste after a good meal. Yet, there exists a whole science of sorts behind what makes an espresso the drink so many of us love – and it all begins with pressure. A fusion of the pressurized water emanating from the espresso machine, and the resistance caused by what is referred to as an ideally "packed cake" of coffee grinds the water must navigate through to successfully brew, is what’s meant by “pressure” in this case…but this "coming together" of factors to create the perfect cup of coffee is often credited to the espresso tamper.

Why Do We “Tamp”?

A skilled barista, taking a light amount of coffee grinds and transforming them into an evenly-dispersed, tightly-compressed “puck” within the portafilter – where the coffee and water make contact when the beverage is brewing – understands that this process of tamping is necessary. Why? To begin with, the espresso needs to be compacted far enough to create significant room between the top of the coffee and the screen the water pours through from the espresso machine. Once wet, the coffee grounds exhibit a natural tendency to swell a bit, causing a sludgy mess if there’s no proper stopgap.

Secondarily, tamping is necessary because water is generally lazy – that is, it doesn’t want to engage in the difficult task of pushing through that coffee to sap out all the sumptuous magic inside. Indeed, water that's under pressure is even lazier in its habits, and if this element is forced through a loose pile of grinds, it inevitably will be drawn to all the channels, crevices and cracks it can zip through, ultimately avoiding all the good benefits we want it to absorb from the coffee. If those grinds are tightly pressed into a level cake-like formation, the water is left with no alternative but to squeeze through it evenly, all kinds of flavors hitching a ride along the way.

The Supply Chain

With espresso being so popular, not only in the U.S. but around the world, it is something of a no-brainer that a multitude of wholesalers exist to serve the tamper market. One such entity is Espresso Parts, which since 1993 has been supplying café owners, baristas and home brewers with a plethora of tampers and tamping products. Premium coffee drinks can only be served if the barista boasts the necessary tools, industry experience and expertise, and aiding in this are products such as the Compressore Espresso Tamper and Compressore Professional Espresso Tamp, both available in a dizzying range of colors and materials including Bocote Wood, anodized blue, Kino Wood, Walnut Wood and more.

The espresso tamper, one of the most important tools of the coffee-making art, should fit a hand like a glove…after all, tamping remains a major step in preparing that perfect espresso. 

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