What do I do with a tamper?
The point of a tamper is to tamp, of course! Seriously though, tamping just means pushing down evenly on the coffee grounds in a filter basket. By properly using a tamper you can seal the ground coffee in so the pressurized water in your espresso machine is forced through all the grounds, sucking the yummy coffee flavors out into your cup.
When do I tamp?
You tamp right after grinding and before snapping the portafilter handle (with the filter basket filled with coffee) into your espresso machine’s group head. See the espresso machine diagram if you didn’t quite get that, unfortunately there’s no better way to explain.
Do all cafes use tampers?
If you’ve watched a barista at work and didn’t see them use a tamper, don’t assume they forgot! Many cafes use plunger-style tampers (instead of hand held tampers.) Sometimes these are built into coffee grinders, and I’ve seen speed baristas tamp with one of these in the blink of an eye.
But some cafes do not use tampers, believe it or not! These days some cafes go with these newfangled pressurized portafilters in lieu of tamping altogether. This relatively new practice produces weaker espresso, but it’s faster, allowing cafes to churn out more.