The art of the espresso and why we tamp

The art of the espresso and why we tamp

Since the early 19th century when Angelo Moriondo introduced the  Espresso machine to his Italian patriots coffee connoisseurs have been mastering the perfect espresso. Over the years, coffee culture has even been elevated to an art and infused with a passion comparable to that found amongst the most vigilant wine enthusiasts. Any coffee purist will tell you it’s not just a drink, it’s an experience. 

 A recent exploration into the history of espresso conducted by Smithsonian Mag explains that good espresso is dependent on  good chemistry.  

“It’s all about precision and consistency and finding the perfect balance between grind, temperature, and pressure. Espresso happens at the molecular level. This is why technology has been such an important part of the historical development of espresso and a key to the ongoing search for the perfect shot” 

 So if the finest espresso is attained through the mastery of that chemistry, the  perfection of that pressure, and the technology associated with it, is it possible that the secret to a great espresso lies in the tamp


Wondering how hard to tamp?  The delicate chemistry of the flavor in your espresso is formulated in this preliminary step. Using the weight of the tamper, the coffee ground is strategically packed into the portafilter. It must not be packed too tight or too loose, which can result in water seeping through cracks, not allowing the fullest absorption of the delicate ground. The best tamping pressure  is an ideal 30-35 lbs., however arriving at this subtle application of weight can become a compartmentalized art in and of itself. The negotiation of espresso lies in the collaboration of subtleties: the baristas well- trained eye,  a firm press, a gentle flick of the wrist, all guided by a talented hand that understands the wisdom of feeling its way through the delicate process.  The better you are at manipulating these subtle preliminary elements the more likely you are to arrive at the ‘the god shot‘. 


According to Italian coffee maker Illy you can arrive at the god shot using this exact formula: 

“A jet of hot water at 88°-93°C (190°-200°F) passes under a pressure of nine or more atmospheres through a seven-gram (.25 oz) cake-like layer of ground and tamped coffee. Done right, the result is a concentrate of not more than 30 ml (one oz) of pure sensorial pleasure”.  

  For our sake the most important thing to note is the perfectly measured .25 oz cake layer of ground and tamped coffee.  Most standard espresso machines come with a tamper ill-equipped to deliver the kind of precision needed to fulfill the temperamental equation of the god shot. When it comes to this kind of mastery the quality of the tools becomes an increasingly important component. The weight and contour, the feel of the tamper in the palm, will directly affect the sensitivity of your approach and consequently the style of your tamp. Find a tamp that is ergonomically designed to support your wrist, matched with a weight that’s perfectly balanced, and a luxurious feel that allows you to finesse your way to the ‘god shot.’ 


As any artist will tell you once a craft has been mastered, a unique elevation begins to takes place. A personal sensibility will arrive, a style, a unique expression that surges through the skill and it is then that the artist is born.  The same is true of espresso. The Baristas eye, having watched  perhaps 1,000’s of drips, begins to develop an innate wisdom. He can “tamper” with the precision of the equation and effect it with his own personal expression of style, elevating his shot to an art form. What’s your espresso style? Share your coffee culture in the comments below.