Author: Mike & Shirley Wong
“But I thought I knew everything.”
-Mariah Carey (from “We Belong Together”)
Ever since I bought an espresso machine months ago, I’ve been using an inexpensive aluminum tamper ($6) that I bought off Amazon. What was Shirley’s reaction to seeing that cheap, lightweight tamper on the counter on a daily basis? Well, she often threatened to throw it out the window, feeling it was one of the ugliest things she had ever seen. And don’t even get her started on what she thinks of other coffee accessories cluttering up the kitchen, like my knock box.
Reg Barber creates high quality espresso coffee tampers that are sold worldwide, on his website or through retailers. Some say his tampers are among the best in the world and I’m proud to say this guy makes them right here in B.C. in a city called Saanichton.
Selecting a customized tamper feels luxurious. For coffee aficionados, they are pure eye candy. You just select a handle and a base, and screw them together. Choices for handles include African rosewood, maple, wenge and coloured aluminum. For bases, select from stainless steel, aluminum, brass and copper. Just remember to check his website or ask your retailer for recommendations on which base is appropriate for your purposes.
Espressotec did not have all of those choices that were available on Reg Barber’s website, but I was happy to finally settle on:
- Reg Barber Tall Rosewood Tamper Handle with Black Inlay ($33.95), and
- Reg Barber Stainless Steel Tamper Base – 58mm Flat ($37.95)
Here are some of my favourite things about this combo:
1. Looks nice on the counter and feels great in my hand.
I love how the handle has an attractive wood grain, subtle graduated colour and high gloss finish. The black inlay with Reg Barber’s initials is also unique.
And if I ever tire of this design, I can buy other handles and bases from Reg Barber which are easily interchangeable. He can also custom make a tamper to your specifications (ie. even make company logos).
2. The weight of the base helps make tamping instinctual.
With my cheap tamper, it was so lightweight that I had trouble judging how hard I should push down on the ground coffee in the portafilter.
With the Reg Barber tamper, the heaviness helps make the tamping process feel instinctual. I feel the weight and let it pull down to meet the surface of the ground coffee. Now I only need to apply the smallest pressure to tamp coffee and twist.
World barista champion James Hoffman had great advice in that he said you should hold your tamper like a flashlight. I like to think of holding my tamper like a doorknob, as it has a similar shape.
3. The 58mm base fits perfectly into my portafilter.
When making coffee, the smallest details make a big difference. My cheap tamper was slightly smaller than the 58mm circumference of my portafilter. This meant I always had a little lip of coffee grounds after tamping; so I never had an even coffee bed in my portafilter.
I noticed that the new tamper’s perfect fit in my portafilter properly reduces channeling. Channeling is when water does not pass evenly through ground coffee. Ground coffee is full of air. So tamping eliminates air pockets so water can evenly extract ground coffee. If you don’t tamp evenly, your espresso can taste unpleasant.
I was surprised to notice a big improvement in the taste of my coffee since changing tampers – it’s definitely not as sour or bitter.
For these reasons, I highly recommend trying out a Reg Barber tamper. Let me know if you notice a difference in your coffee!
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