Let's talk about tamping...
A coffee tamping technique is often seen as part of the 'art' of making espresso - but how much difference does tamping make and are there any drawbacks to tamping?
Some say, you need to tamp very hard, others say pressure really is not important. According to experts, tamp pressure is not that important, what is important is ensuring that the tamp pressure is consistent each time and that your tamping is flat and as level as possible. This ensures you have the best results.
James Hoffman once said:
"Tamping isn't something you can necessarily do well, adequate tamping is a good as great tamping. It's mostly just an opportunity for something to go wrong or be inconsistent, all the while you're giving yourself a repetitive strain injury (RSI)."
This statement on RSI is also backed up by the 2018 Amtrust Statistics Report, which mentions that Cafés and coffee shops yield the highest lost time by 45% compared to all other restaurant types. The common assumption is this is due to burns or scalds from espresso machines. However, this is not the case. It turns out that the leading cause of the lost time is actually wrist injuries from manual tamping! If you want to learn more scroll to page 8 for the full analysis.
Based on this data what we've learned is that tamping is important, however, tamping pressure is not something to focus on, instead, the important takeaways are that level and consistent tamping should be your primary concern. In addition, tamping with poor technique will greatly accelerate the likelihood that your baristas will develop wrist and shoulder injuries from manually tamping, leading to time away from work or a short barista career. Good technique will help delay these injuries but is that really good enough?
It seems the best solution for tamping is to either have your baristas adopt the qualities of an assembly line robot in order to tamp consistently level and at the same pressure or invest in a robot to manage the task of tamping for them. Fortunately, automatic tampers like the Puqpress and semi-automatic tampers like the Macap CPS Dynamometric have been around for over 10 years, have gotten better performing, and are more affordable.