I attended two pro Barista events, an in-house competition with JJ Bean House of Coffee, and at the Northwest Barista Jam during this tamper shootout test, and got a lot of data and comments on the tampers. 10 Baristi rated the supplied tampers, but only seven rated them all, which you will see at the bottom of this page.
The structure for this section is a bit different - instead of focusing on individuals and their comments, I will list each tamper and show comments I wrote down or recorded. When I interviewed the Baristi, I remained neutral in my own commentary, for fear of influencing or polluting their commentary.
I've also decided to omit the names of the Baristi from individual comments and from the ranking at the bottom, but some of the quoted participants include Dismas Smith (North American Barista Champ), Stephen Vick (2nd Place, PNW Barista Champ), Bronwen Serna (PNW Barista Champ), Chris Davidson (one of the most underated Baristi in the world), Jon Lewis (JJ Bean Champ Barista, 3rd place in NW Barista Jam Championships), and others.
"Awesome! But needs more weight."
"This is the perfect tamper. Where do I get one?"
"I like the fit and the feel of this tamper. The very shallow convex base seems to be the best of both worlds - it is rounded, but barely. I made two shots with this in the (La Marzocco) ridged baskets, and it fits absolutely perfectly and the shots were well extracted. This is my choice"
"Needs more weight, but this is a great design. It looks good too, but I have a concern it will not stand up to commercial use."
"I made espresso with this tamper and those other three (Deluxe Lava, Reg Barber, Gourmet Espresso Tamper), and I would give this a close second to the Reg Barber. I prefer a flat bottom tamper, but this one isn't bad. Is it strong enough for commercial use?"
"This tamper works so well in our machine (La Marzocco FB70, 4 group model, using Swift baskets). Our stock tamper makes my hand cramp after a day of use but I think this one would be perfect. I'd like to see it with little more weight."
Mark's thoughts: The Presso was a hit with all the Baristi I showed it to, but the most common comment was it could be a bit more heavy, and some Baristi wondered at the durability. I can comment a bit on that - It has been used to build about 200 shots now by me and others, and the photos you see on these pages are from that well used tamper. I think it will stand up to a fair amount of abuse, but I do agree that more weight would put this one heads and shoulders above the other tampers. A few of the Baristi noticed what I noticed about this tamper - the top of the piston where your thumb and fingers rest is so flat, it almost seems convex - it gives you a very confident grip.
Reg Barber Steel Tamper
"This is what we use in our coffee house so this is totally natural to me. This is the one I'd buy for home if I had an espresso machine there."
"The RegB is my top pick because it is well designed and stands up to a lot of abuse. I pull perfect shots with this tamper all the time."
"We use the Reg in our shop, but after trying the Deluxe Lava Tamper, I don't know how much I like this one any longer. The Deluxe one fits my hand better and feels better as a tamper. The Reg looks better though."
"The handle is beautiful."
"You can't go wrong with the Reg Barber. This tamper is designed for professional Baristas and we have been using them in our cafe for two years now. I like some of the other tampers but I know I can create a great espresso with this one, without even testing yours."
"I find this tamper to be bottom heavy and I like more balance in a tamper. The Pro Tamper works for me better because it is very heavy but more balanced. I like the feel of the Reg Barber, and (when using it to build some shots) it was good but I noticed the bottom weight when I tried to knock the portafilter, It threw my repetition off."
Mark's thoughts: It's obvious from my polling of the Pro Baristi that the Reg Barber is the defacto "pro" tamper in the commercial environment. Most of the Baristi recognized the tamper instantly, and many felt very comfortable with it. I did find it interesting that once they got to try some of the other tampers, they got excited and almost forgot about the Reg for a while. Still, there's something to be said by all the Baristi who were familiar with it, and more importantly, comfortable using it all day long.
Gourmet Espresso Tamper
"There's no way I could use that in our cafe"
"I tried (to build shots with this) four times and it was unusable each time. It was uncomfortable to use. It doesn't fit the baskets. It pits the puck causing fractures and additional pitting. The shots ran quick and watery with this tamper. My staff would revolt if I made them use this"
"It looked interesting until I tried using it. It is uncomfortable and does not fit the portafilter. The shots looked overextracted."
"Is this a joke?"
Mark's thoughts: I could post more, but it's pretty much all the same. One common complaint from the Baristi was that this tamper was uncomfortable to use, and they believed that in a work environment it would lead to possible injuries (repetitive stress, burnt hands from hot portafilters, etc). This was by far the most unpopular tamper in the roundup. Criticism was universal on two aspects: the fake diamond (which pits the puck) and the shape and size. Several Baristi were intrigued by the possibilities of concave (dome) puck creation, but could not achieve what they considered "drinkable" shots with the tamper. One Baristi said they would like to give it another test once it gets a more usable (holdable) handle, is a standard 58mm, and the diamond is removed.
Elektra Plastic Tamper
"Well, it's plastic. How long would that last in our shop?"
"I will say this - it fits the portafilter basket well. I have no confidence in this tamper though in any kind of commercial use. It would break in a day."
"Do I have to test this one?"
Mark's thoughts: again, I could quote more, but it is all the same. I could only convince four Baristi to actually use this tamper, and I would say that two of them garnered a bit more respect for it after building some decent shots. One Baristi noted that the plastic bottom isn't conducive to doing a nice polished puck, and I would agree. The only thing positive about this tamper is that it scored higher than the Gourmet Tamper.
Deluxe Lava Tamper
"This is one spicy looking tamper. It feels great in my hand too. I want this for our restaurant!"
"The handle shape on this tamper is perfect for my hand (small hands). I built two shots with this and I want to do more. Can I take this with me?"
"We've been using this tamper since we got it at the (NASCORE) show, and everyone on the staff loves it. They get beat up, but they are still going strong. I like the color choices and the weight is perfect"
"I would place this a close second to the Reg Barber. If I had a chance to use it more, who knows. The bottom is quite rounded, isn't it? (ed note: built shots then came back and commented more): Wow, this feels really good when making espresso. If our Reg Barber wears out, I might get one."
"You gotta hand it to Terry - he's tamper crazy (ed note: Terry Ziniewicz is the guy who owns Espresso Parts North West and he is the driving force for all the new tampers coming out from that company). This one is his best yet."
"The only thing I don't like about his tamper is the colour (green tested) - I like something a bit more sedate. Otherwise, it's a winner."
Mark's thoughts: The Deluxe Lava tamper is easily the "wildest" looking pro tamper in the lineup (the Gourmet is probably wilder looking, but not pro calibre), and almost every Barista polled placed it in the top 3 or 4 choices. Almost everyone liked the weight, and I would say everyone liked the handle shape. I did hear a few complaints about the slop of the top of the piston, how it was too steep - some felt their thumbs and fingers slid off too easily. And with very few exceptions, everyone liked the look of this tamper.
African Rosewood Tamper
"This is a Reg Barber knockoff." (more than one Baristi said this, so I have to print it)
"It's like a Reg Barber, but I do like the polish given to the wood. You said it was about $12 cheaper, so that's a plus. I would use this in our cafes, no problem."
"I know (the other Baristi) said it was just like a Reg, but I would disagree. It feels different in my hand. I like the chrome (looking at it) but it could be finished better. The espresso I just made with it was great. It was like a natural extension of my hand."
"The only thing this has going for it is that it is $10 cheaper than the Reg Barber."
"I like the chrome finish and the polish on the handle. It looks great!"
Mark's thoughts: By far the most common comment was "it's not a Reg Barber?". Some Baristi were upset at what they called an obvious knockoff, and rated it lower because of this. A few liked it better than the Reg, calling it an improvement because of the polished finish to the handle and the chrome piston. Like the Reg Barber and the Deluxe Lava Tamp, some complained that the top portion of the piston was too angled for long term use in a high volume cafe. Once I told the price to the Baristi, some of them warmed up to it. There was a common feeling that $42 was a lot to pay for a tamper, but $30 wasn't.
La Marzocco Tamper
"Wow, that is one huge tamper!"
"I love this leveling action it has with the (La Marzocco) filter baskets. Those shots I made were perfect."
"This is a great start to a "perfect" tamper, but it needs some work."
"One problem I have with this tamper is that you have to be perfect on how much grounds (sic) you put into the filter. If you don't put enough, this doesn't tamp enough. If you put too much, it doesn't sit on the filter ridge. Too much guesswork."
"Very uncomfortable in my hand."
"This is a great idea. A leveling tamper! And you say sized to have the perfect amount of coffee in the portafilter? That's cool!"
"I tried four shot (builds), but only one had the right amount of ground coffee. That shot was a God shot. The others were wasted. Not good for a commercial cafe."
Mark's thoughts: The general complaint about this tamper was that it was too large and the handle edge too sharp for high volume use in a cafe. Only two of the Baristi correctly guessed that the handle portion was for using on the La Marzocco single baskets. Everyone seemed to like the idea of a "leveling" tamper, but they also agreed that you would have to be very skilled with your eye to know how much ground coffee you added to the filter basket when using this. One Barista noted that if you have that skill, you should also have the skill of doing a level tamp with a traditional tamper.
"Wow! Does this feel solid!"
"(The Pro Tamper) is near the top of my like list. The weight is great and it feels secure when I use it. Those (shots of espresso) I just did were good and I like how the top of the tamper (referring to top of piston) is level with the ridge when you have the right amount of grinds in the basket."
"This tamper's is cool. Not only is it solid and good for espresso, but it can double as a weapon in case our restaurant is robbed!"
"The handle is too long on this model, but otherwise I like it. It has a very solid feel to it. The espresso shots (just made using this tamper) were good pulls"
"I like it, it is very solid and looks like a serious tool. I can twirl this tamper."
Mark's thoughts: I considered not including this tamper in the lineup because Espresso Parts has refined it somewhat, but after seeing the new version at the Barista Jam, I left it in this roundup because it is still similar to the new model. Generally, everyone liked the weight and heft of the tamper, but a couple of Baristi didn't like the long handle. One change that was made to the newer version of this tamper is that the piston is a bit taller than the one I used for this test (which in turn shortens the length of the handle, making it more comfortable to use).
|The Pros Rate the Tampers|
|Reg Barber Steel||2||1||1||1||2||3||1||1||2||3||1.70|
|Deluxe Lava Tamp||3||2||2||4||n/a||5||4||5||3||1||3.20|
Notes: The lower the score and average, the better the tamper according to our polled Baristi.
Because a couple of the Baristi did not provide numbers for all tampers, the mathematical results and averages are very slightly off (but still relevant and valid for the purposes of this poll). In some cases, the averages are based on 9 entries or 8 entries, in other cases, on 10 entries. In addition, where the Baristi only scored seven tampers, the best score is 1 and the worst is 7th place; where all eight were judged, the worst score is 8th place.
Next up is my conclusions.