Why buy a tamper?
To get coffee evenly distributed and firmly packed into your espresso machine’s filter basket, you need a device called a “tamper.”
But before you get too into this shopping experience, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the art of tamping.
There are two types of hand held espresso tampers; the cheap kind and the not-so cheap kind.
Economy tampers are solid metal or plastic, shaped like a thin axle holding apart two solid plates and provide two separate tamping surfaces (often in different sizes.) Most espresso machines come with one of these. And yes, they work alright, but they’re awkward to hold and you don’t get your coffee snob satisfaction of having a carefully-designed instrument blessed by a certified coffee pope.
Expensive tampers typically feature one tamping surface and a fancy handle that’s easy to grip.
Features and considerations
Size: The most important aspect of purchasing a tamper is getting one which fits your filter basket. Measure your filter basket carefully (you have a metric caliper right?) or bring it to a store to find a tamper of the appropriate size. There are several sizes of filter baskets (and corresponding tampers) with diameters ranging from around 49 to 60 millimeters. Aren’t you glad you learned the metric system?
Weight and mass: It’s easier to use a tamper that has some mass to it than a cheapie plastic one. You probably won’t find a tamper that’s too heavy to use, so go for a nice heavy one.
Rounded vs. flat bottom: Some tampers have a convex tamping surface, others are flat. This is a matter of preference, get whatever suits your fancy.
Feel: Yes, the feel of a tamper is something you should consider. If you manage to get a repetitive stress injury just touching one model, try a different one.
Looks: Hey, you want to impress your friends, and I hate to say it but your 1992 Toyota Corolla isn’t much of a looker. That’s why you need a tamper that not only matches your espresso machine, but
Places to buy
One of the few places you can buy a tamper online is from Illy. Their tampers are (of course) very stylish, being Italian and all. If you order online they’ll throw in free shipping if you order enough (currently $75 or more.)