How Hard Should You Tamp Coffee? A Barista’s Guide

 Last Updated April 28, 2024

I remember when I first started making coffee I was told you needed to use 15 pounds (6kg) of pressure to tamp coffee. Anything else and your coffee would taste terrible! But is this actually true? And how hard should you tamp your coffee? In this post we explore what's the best tamping pressure.

The Short Answer: How Hard Should You Tamp?

Tamping pressure matters up to the point the puck is compressed. This means you can tamp too light, but you can't tamp too hard. All you need to do is press down until your tamp stops moving and you're good to go. There is no "best pressure". You just need to get rid of all air pockets. It's more important to make sure your tamp is level then getting the exact pressure every time.

Tamping pressure to form coffee puck

How hard I tamp my coffee at home - until it compresses!

It's All About The Compression 

The purpose of tamping is to compress the fluffy coffee into a solid puck. It is this puck that creates the resistance against the water pressure to make espresso. 

Coffee can only be compressed to a certain limit. This means, once you cross this threshold there is no point pushing harder - it makes no difference!

At the same time, if you tamp too light you will find that your water rushes through your puck. This channelling is the result of not pressing hard enough. Tamping too light also creates inconsistency as it's super hard to get the same pressure every time.

So you should tamp to a pressure you feel comfortable as long as the espresso puck is compressed, free from air, and flat.

What's more important is:

  • Making sure your tamp is level
  • Consistency; and
  • Ergonomics.
Tamping coffee pressure

My tamping technique. A firm pressure and polish.

How Important Is level Tamping?

So you've learnt that you shouldn't over think how hard you tamp.

What's actually more important is how level your tamp is.

This is a much bigger variable.

The goal of tamping is to create a solid and flat surface. You want to make sure your water flows evenly across the whole surface area of your puck so you have an even extraction.

An even extraction creates better tasting coffee. 

This is because water always flows to the path of least resistance. 

If you have an uneven and angled tamp, the water will rush to one side of your puck, which wets one side of the puck more than the other. This will create channelling and uneven flavor. 

You can test this out yourself.

Next time you go make espresso pull two shots of coffee.

One with a level tamp, and one with a 10- or 20-degree angle. Taste both and then compare the difference.

The flavor difference will be noticeable. The level tamp will taste better.

Level coffee puck after tamping

Level tamp example.

Consistency Of Coffee Tamping

When you're making coffee at home you can take your time to weigh and grind your beans, use a WDT tool to evenly distribute your coffee, and then grab a self leveling tamper to get an even tamp.

At the cafe environment this is a little more difficult due to the volume of orders you need to get through.

You want to make sure you follow the same tamping routine to get similar angles each time, or, even better, grab yourself an robotic coffee tamper to remove this variable from the coffee making process.

It'll be one of the best investments in your work flow that you would have.

Coffee Tamping Technique For Ergonomics

Finally let's talk about ergonomics.

For home baristas this is not an issue as you're not making hundreds of coffees each day.

But for the baristas without a robotic tamper, you want to make sure you have a good technique that doesn't put repetitive strain on your wrist.

No one wants "barista wrist" - aka wrist pain from repetitive strain.

The way you hold your tamper matters to put the least amount of force on your wrist.

I recommend doing the following method:

  1. Grab your tamper handle like a door knob. You want to wrap your four fingers around the handle evenly with your thump resting on the base to support.
  2. Next is resting your portafilter on your bench. If you have a naked portafilter, I recommend using your bar bench to rest your group head flat on it. If you have a spouted portafilter, you want to use the outside basket and wedge it against the corner of the bar bench, rather than pressing down on the spouts (otherwise you'll find grinds in your coffee). 
  3. Now finally hold your arm at a 45-degree angle, and instead of using your arm muscles to tamp the coffee down, use your body weight to press down to reduce strain. Then finish off sith a small twist to polish and you're done!

The above steps will help you get an even tamp every time. 

Tamper in coffee basket

Your tamp should be level and compressed.


And there we have it! I hope you have now learnt how much pressure is needed to get a good tamp (push till compressed) and some tips on how to tamp correctly. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below.

About The Author 

Ivan Bez

Ivan is the founder of Latte Art Guide and a barista with 10 years of experience. He loves coffee and aims to help people improve their coffee making skills.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}