Step by step guide to coffee tamping


Making a perfect cup of espresso is neither pure science nor pure art but a happy blend of both. Fortunately, teaching your staff of baristas to master that skill is not complicated and will result in consistently exquisite espresso every time.
Espresso is similar to drip coffee, with two very important differences. Firstly, coffee ground for espresso tends to be very fine. Secondly, while drip coffee is made by flooding a basket full of loosely packed grounds with water that has been heated to near boiling, when making espresso the water is forced through the grounds at pressure equal to eight to ten times the force of gravity.
When the water is forced through the grounds, it will look for the path of least resistance. If your staff members are not properly packing the coffee, this will result in a weak beverage that lacks the distinctive crema that is like icing on a cupcake to perfect espresso.
This is where tamping comes in. Tamping is the practice of filling the portafilter and then applying between 30 and 35 pounds of pressure with a tamper. This can be done by hand by even your smallest barista. The pressure compacts the grounds into a small cake that is called a "puck" for its resemblance to the one used in playing hockey.
There are several steps to perfectly tamping espresso grounds. The less guesswork where the variables are concerned, the more consistent your espresso will be, no matter which of your staff makes it.
Step One: Fill the portafilter with finely ground coffee. It may take some trial, error and taste tests to figure out how much to put in the portafilter, but once you find the perfect amount, make that your standard.
Step Two: Gently wiggle and shake the portafilter to settle the grounds. The fewer spaces and channels in the grounds at every step, the more consistent the espresso you serve will be.
Step Three: Smooth away any stray grounds and level the grounds across the top of the portafilter with the edge of your finger.
Step Four: Hold the portafilter in your non-dominant hand. Hold the handle of the tamper, which looks like a thick, flat disk with a sturdy handle sticking vertically out of its center on top, in your dominant hand. Slowly fit the tamper into the portafilter, making sure that it is as level as possible.
Step Five: Press down on the tamper, applying between 30 and 35 pounds of pressure. One way to get the feel of how much pressure that is would be to practice at home by pressing on your floor scale. After a while, it will become second nature to apply the exact right amount of pressure.
Step Six: Twist the tamper clockwise slightly while still applying pressure. Be careful not to tilt the tamper because that will break the surface of the espresso and cause cracks, or channels. At this point, baristas in the past would remove the tamper and whack it smartly on the side of the portafilter. Do not do that. It will break the surface tension of the puck, again causing channels.
Step Seven: Remove the tamper from the portafilter and wipe away any stray grains of coffee from the rim of the portafilter with your fingertip. Proceed with the rest of the espresso-making process.
One of the keys to the richest and smoothest espresso is to start with the finest, freshest beans and process them in state-of the-art appliances. The coffee enthusiasts at Up4Food suggest you contact the espresso machine experts at Caffe Society to find the perfect grinders, tampers and machines to assure your customers the finest espresso experience from bean to cup.

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