Can you tamp coffee too hard, and does it even matter? Tamping has always been one of the processes in coffee brewing most people don’t get. However, some ask if it is even necessary or does it even makes a difference at all. We’ll get to the bottom of this coffee mystery.
Tamping pressure is very important as applying too little pressure will not fully extract your coffee grounds, resulting in a sour, unsweet, and overall, weak coffee. Conversely, when one tamps too hard, it results in over-extraction of coffee.
So how much tamping is too much? Well, if you want to learn more about the art of tamping, you will need to read on.
Can You Tamp Coffee Too Hard?
Most of the time, tamping is associated with the concentration of the resulting coffee after brewing it. However, the problem associated with tamping is when one does not tamp the coffee grounds with enough pressure, not the other way around.
However, it is better to be safe than to be sorry. That is why we recommend either using a calibrated tamper or applying within 20-30 pounds of pressure for tamping. For the steps on how to tamp, we will discuss that later.
Does Tamping Pressure Matter?
Although tamping too much may not have much of an impact, tamping too little does have a significant effect on your brewed coffee. To understand, let us discuss the art of tamping and why it matters in the first place.
Tamping is the action of using pressure using a tamper on your portafilter to concentrate coffee grounds together. As to why we need to concentrate the coffee grounds, the reason is that we need to make sure water does not flow through the coffee grounds too fast.
When water is delayed through the portafilter, it will react with the coffee grounds, which extracts more coffee, and thus, more flavor. Moreover, not tamping enough also results in coffee that’s sour.
Most baristas worship acidity in coffee, but that doesn’t mean that we want sour coffee. Although acidity is related to sour coffee in many ways, sourness is something blunt, off-putting, and honestly, discouraging.
Not enough pressure during tamping also results in coffee not being as sweet as it needs to be (who dislikes the subtle sweetness of coffee?), and it may taste diluted and less of coffee but more of slightly bitter water.
Good tamping results in rich, bold, and flavorful coffee, pulling out all the oils from the coffee grounds and all its flavor.
However, tamping correctly is a process of its own, as not correctly tamping results in water going through the path of least resistance, meaning that it will result in bad coffee. Below, we will discuss the proper process of tamping.
Tamping Right, How To Tamp The Correct Way
Even though there are many ways to tamp coffee grounds incorrectly, there can only be so many methods of tamping coffee grounds correctly.
In this section of the article, we will discuss the correct way to tamp the coffee. It is not the only way to correctly tamp coffee grounds, but it is one way to tamp coffee grounds correctly.
1. Even out your grounds
The first thing you should do is measure the amount of coffee you’ll use and put it inside the portafilter. Afterward, here comes the crucial part– you will need to run down your index finger on the top of the portafilter to even the grounds out.
It is imperative, and I cannot stress this enough, VERY IMPORTANT to even out your grounds. A small-scale study conducted by the Coffee Science and Education Center has revealed that leveling your coffee before you tamp it is imperative.
They tested using three types of tampers: a leveled one, one that’s off by 10 degrees, and another one-off by 20 degrees. Without surprise, the leveled one provided a 95 percent consistency to the cup of coffee it has created.
Unfortunately, the other two scored poorly in comparison, having the 10 degrees off one only having 75 percent consistency and the 20-degree one even scoring more inferior at 50 percent consistency.
So next time you tamp your coffee, don’t skimp out on leveling your grounds. That process is fundamental!
2. Level Your Tamper
You may think that only the coffee grounds are to be leveled. However, it is also essential to put your coffee tamper onto a leveled surface. Putting it onto an inclined plane may result in leveling out your grounds not being significant at all and, in the end, ruin the overall result.
3. Form the Puck: Apply Light Pressure (For Now)
Now we really are in the tamping part. The first thing you need to make sure of is to form a puck on your coffee grounds. To do this, you must apply about 15 pounds of pressure to form a significant puck.
You may ask why we need to do this process first instead of applying heavy pressure from the get-go. Well, this is to make sure everything is leveled and ready to go. To make sure everything is leveled, check the tamper if it is parallel to the portafilter.
4. Apply Heavy Pressure
Once you have already established a puck on the coffee grounds, you need to apply heavier pressure at 20 to 30 pounds. To apply consistent amounts of pressure every time, it might be better to use a calibrated tamper set to apply pressure at around 25 to 30 pounds.
Now, this process is done for the coffee grounds to stay as compact as possible. After tamping, twist (without applying pressure downwards) the tamper in a process called polishing to clean off the portafilter and have beautifully tamped coffee grounds afterward.
Tamping Too Much: When It Is Significant
Most baristas make mistakes by tamping too little, but there is also something called “too much tamping.” In this section of the article, let us discuss the effects of tamping too much.
One significant downside of tamping too much is hurting or applying too much pressure to your wrist! Yes, coffee may be one thing, but your health comes first, too.
When you tamp twenty to thirty times a day, it can really take a toll on your wrists– especially when you do this daily for many years.
Another thing associated with over tamping is the over-extraction of coffee. How does over tamping affect the taste? It has been shown that tamping too much results in coffee that tastes too bitter and too dry.
Coffee may be a beverage, but it can taste dry too. Moreover, despite coffee being the bitter bean, having too much bitterness is terrible, especially for consumers. Another key trait of overstamped, over-extracted coffee is that the coffee will taste hollow and empty, nothing more than a bitter beverage.
Tamping Three Frequently Asked Questions About Tamping Coffee
Is polishing after tamping necessary?
Although it gives a more aesthetic feel to your tamped coffee, most baristas agree that polishing is not necessary or required.
How many bars of pressure should I apply for an espresso?
It is common knowledge among baristas that espressos should never apply less than 7 bars of pressure for espressos. However, you can apply at most 15 bars of pressure for an espresso. More than 15 bars and can result in over-extraction and have a taste of burnt coffee.
What is a calibrated tamper?
A calibrated tamper is fabulous as it can let you apply consistent amounts of pressure on your cup of coffee. However, it is not necessary and is not a requirement to create great coffee.