How to Perfect Your Tamp

How to Perfect Your Tamp

Whether you are a seasoned barista, a beginner setting up your very first espresso machine, or somewhere in between, you have likely had “channeling” when pulling a shot of espresso. This is most obvious when using a bottomless (or naked) portafilter, and is characterized by little jet streams that spray every which way. Channeling is frustrating and affects flavor by resulting in a very sour and/or bitter shot (not to mention the mess it leaves). Channeling is described by Daniel Harrington in the Espresso Coffee Guide as “…the undesirable effect of the espresso machine’s hot, pressurized water passing too rapidly through some parts of the puck – the roasted, ground coffee in the portafilter – while not passing sufficiently through other parts of the puck. When this occurs the shot will be under-extracted, and the stream coming out of the portafilter will show blond streaks.” 

With that in mind, the question is how can channeling be avoided? We will go through the fundamentals of distribution and tamping and include a few tips and tricks, starting with the video below. 

1. Distribute the coffee grounds

Coffee Distribution Tapping  

By tamping nice and flat, we can make sure the whole puck is evenly extracted. We historically taught the Stockfleth method of coffee distribution. While it has been found to be very effective, it is also more difficult to master. As such, we have switched in our classes to the "tap technique". Don't quote us on the name, but that's what we call it. Give a few light taps on the side of the portafilter to ensure that there is an even bed of coffee throughout the portafilter. Once even, a quick tap on your tamping mat and you are ready to go. 

Even better, use a distribution tool like the Wedge from Saint Anthony. By giving this a couple of spins, you can ensure that the grounds are spread super evenly before tamping.

2. Create a compressed, level puck

Coffee Distribution Tamping

Tamping establishes a coffee bed that’s uniform and free of cracks and fissures. If you tamp well, the coffee bed puts up uniform resistance to the significant force of pressurized brewing water for an even extraction.

Hold your portafilter firm and level on the tamp mat or stand (it’s important that the portafilter basket is flat, and that you are not tamping at an angle). Grasp your tamper as if you are shaking hands with a doorknob, and apply light, even, and equal force to the coffee bed. Use the sides of your thumb and forefinger to gauge if the tamper is level with the basket’s rim. The amount of pressure is not nearly as important as your consistency and ability to keep the tamp perfectly level. Our friends at Barista Hustle conducted an interesting experiment to measure the difference between a comfortable tamp and a very heavy tamp and there was only a 3% difference. And as you saw in the video above, we pulled 5 shots with different tamps at forces ranging from 40lbs to 5lbs and the shots all pulled about the same and our yield and shot time are all very close together. So remember - no need to be overly forceful – comfortable and firm are best.

You can also use tools like the Saint Anthony Industries Levy, which we love here at Clive. The collar makes sure your tamp is level every time. Check out all our tampers if you're in the market, including our own wood tampers made right here in Portland. 

Some baristas then polish the tamp by lightly spinning the tamper – a matter of style, not a necessity. Wipe away any grinds that have fallen on the ears of the portafilter and basket rim.

Give it a whirl and if you have questions give our team a call!


  • @Julie Knutson
    Step 2 in the written blog post above does describe how to tamp traditionally!

    August with Clive Coffee on

  • Was a little disappointing that you didn’t demonstrate how to level with a tamper rather just rely on another expensive gadget.

    Julie Knutson on

  • “Our friends at Barista Hustle conducted an interesting experiment to measure the difference between a comfortable tamp and a very heavy tamp and there was only a 3% difference.”

    Link please?

    3.3% is given here as being the fraction of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) variance explained by tamping pressure, which is different statement from there being a 3% difference between the results of comfortable tamp and a very heavy tamp. In fact, the analysis concludes that there no statistically significant difference.


    Mike on

  • No sorry I meant could you not just use the Wedge from Saint Anthony to level and tamp? Or a tool like this

    And avoid getting a dedicated tamper?


    David Engstrom on

  • @David Engstrom: Great question. This only applies if one hasn’t made the very good decision of getting Saint Anthony Industries tools ;)

    Charles with Clive Coffee on

  • Why can you not just use the the St Anthonys as leveler and tamper?

    David Engstrom on

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