There’s a million ways to pull a bad shot of espresso, but the easiest way is to mess up the tamp. Although it might appear to be a menial task, tamping is essential for an even extraction, i.e. ensuring all of the coffee grounds are saturated with the same amount of water. Any inconsistencies in the bed of coffee grounds and the water will channel, resulting in an unpleasant, astringent espresso.
As a barista educator, I can testify there are few bar skills that take as long to master as tamping. Even veteran baristas tend to tamp at a slight angle, ensuring the full flavor potential of that shot of espresso goes unrealized. Traditional tampers have the further problem of placing a lot of tension on the barista’s wrist. More than one barista I know has needed physical therapy because of repetitive stressed caused by tamping. The UK’s Clockwork Espresso claims to address both of these issues with a revolutionarily simple device they call the PUSH Tamper.
I have to admit, when the PUSH Tamper first came on the market, I was a little concerned. I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my own tamping technique and an important part of my job is teaching others to tamp. If this simple device made everything so easy, what would I be left to contribute? Still, as a long time advocate of batch brew and volumetric espresso machines, if there’s any task I can assign to a tool so I can focus my attention elsewhere, I’ll gladly use it.
The PUSH Tamper is composed of two primary parts: a 58.5 mm. base and an adjustable outer ring. This concentric circle design serves as a guide to ensure an even tamp on all sides while the flat surface allows for a more ergonomic tamping position. The base is adjustable with an included hex key, to allow for the exact desired tamping pressure.
Initially, the first shots that I pulled showed sign of channeling. I assumed this might be from the tamp not going deep enough, and after a quick adjustment I began to get as even a puck saturation as with my most even tamps. As long as the dose of coffee was exact, the PUSH Tamper proved to be an extremely reliable tool for producing a balanced shot of espresso. I also found the PUSH Tamper utilized a more natural hand position, causing less stress on my wrist and shoulder. A coworker who had to switch tamping hands because of stress also found the PUSH Tamper to be easier to use.
Potential Short Comings
Although the PUSH Tamper is capable of pulling a very even shot of espresso, it still requires the barista to have an adequate understanding of espresso. Even a .5 gram fluctuation in the dose will require a minor adjustment to the tamper depth, which means that baristas using the PUSH Tamper must pay very close attention to their dosing (which, of course, we recommend regardless of what tamper you’re using!).
The outer ring, though a useful guide, does not completely ensure an even tamp. Many of the baristas I watched use the PUSH Tamper still approached the portafilter at an angle. Although the tamper was level with the portafilter by the end of the tamp, the bed of coffee experienced different levels of compression. Clearly a certain level of skill and practice is still necessary.
I expect many veteran baristas used to making subtle recipe changes on the fly might be frustrated by the need for a secondary tool to adjust the tamper. In the middle of a rush very few baristas will want to stop to look for their hex key. However, one might argue the time saved not re-pulling channeled shots would more than make up for any time lost adjusting the tamper.
In all the PUSH Tamper is a fantastic tool when utilized by a barista that understands the essentials of espresso preparation. Its ingeniously simple design both aids in even espresso extraction and provides a more comfortable tamping posture for some baristas. We have thoroughly enjoyed using ours on bar and in the lab and we highly recommend it to professional and home baristas alike.