How to Tamp Espresso Without a Tamper: The Complete Guide

tamp espresso without tamper

How to Tamp Espresso Without a Tamper: The Complete Guide

So you’ve finally pulled the trigger on an espresso machine. Congrats! It can be a big investment, but we think it’s totally worth it to make your own espresso at home. Much to your surprise, however, there are additional things you still need to buy! Getting a burr grinder, the right filters, and espresso grade coffee can be expensive. On top of that, you need to get a tamper. Or do you? Is there a way to tamp espresso without a tamper?

Of course there is! There are several items you can readily find around your house that will work great for tamping your espresso. If you want to tamp espresso without a tamper, we recommend using either a shot glass (like the one you would use for espresso), a teaspoon, or a beer bottle. All of these items will work fine for tamping espresso.

But the more obscure an object you use to tamper your espresso, the more technique matters. In this article, we’ll go over how to tamp espresso with each of the commonplace objects you can find around your house. This will ensure that you’re still pulling the best shot of espresso while saving some money on not buying a tamper.

Let’s get started!

Do You Need to Tamp Espresso?

Before we get into all the different ways you can tamp espresso without a tamper, we thought it made sense to answer whether or not you even need to tamp espresso. The short answer is no, you do not – but it will make it taste better. We think it’s important even if you’re making espresso for desserts – such as tiramisu.

When you tamp down espresso you are reducing the amount of air in the filter and concentrating the espresso grinds. This means when you pull a shot, you’ll be packing more espresso grinds into the same shot espresso. This means a stronger, more flavored shot.

Unless you like your espresso weaker than most, tamping down your espresso will ensure you’re making a more robust shot of espresso. So we think it is absolutely necessary!

What to Use if You Don’t Have a Tamper

As we mentioned previously, there are actually a lot of options you can use to tamper espresso if you don’t have an actual tamper. We’ll start with more effective household items and go down to the more desperate options.

How to Tamper with a Shot Glass

We think the most effective household item for tamping espresso if you don’t have a tamper is a shot glass. Why? Because you almost always have one (if you’re drinking espresso) and they are usually the perfect size. Here’s how to tamp down your espresso with a shot glass.

  1. Begin by grinding your espresso or pouring your preground espresso into the filter. Don’t overfill it, but you’ll want the top of the mound to be above the fill line. We like to go several millimeters higher than the top of the filter.
  2. Be sure your shot glass is washed and dried! You don’t want grounds sticking to it.
  3. After pouring your grinds, take the shot glass and press it firmly down on the mound. Try and press at a right angle and so none of the grounds pill our the sides. 
  4. Lift the shot glass off vertically and wipe any excess grinds on the edge of the filter either back into your bag of grounds or into a sink.
  5. You’re ready to pull your shot!

How to Tamper Espresso with the Back of a Teaspoon

The next best way to tamper espresso is with the back of a teaspoon. If you’re into cooking (or the kitchen owner is into cooking) there is almost most definitely a teaspoon around. 

The key to this technique is to tamp the espresso down multiple times to ensure you have a level pile of tamped espresso grounds.

  1. Start by grinding your espresso or pouring your preground espresso into the filter. Don’t overfill it, but you’ll want the top of the mound to be above the fill line. We like to go several millimeters higher than the top of the filter.
  2. Be sure the teaspoon is washed and dried! You don’t want grounds sticking to it, or any random flavors being imparted from a dirty teaspoon.
  3. After pouring your grinds, take the teaspoon and press it firmly down on the mound. Try and press at a right angle and so none of the grounds pill our the sides. You’ll notice that one press won’t get all the grounds tamped. 
  4. Lift the teaspoon off of the grounds and rotate the filter slightly so your teaspoon is directly above untapped grounds. Press down on the untapped grounds and repeat until the mound of grounds has been tamped.
  5. Wipe any excess grounds off the filter and you’re ready to pull your shot of espresso.

How to Tamper Espresso with a Beer Bottle

Another popular way to tamp down your espresso grinds without a tamper is to use a beer bottle. You can use either an empty or full beer bottle, however, if it is a full cold beer you’ll need to be aware of condensation that might make a mess of your grinds. 

We recommend only using room temperature beer bottles or empty beer bottles.

  1. Start by grinding your espresso or pouring your preground espresso into the filter. Don’t overfill it, but you’ll want the top of the mound to be above the fill line. We like to go several millimeters higher than the top of the filter.
  2. Be sure the beer bottle you are using is washed and dried (at least on the outside)! You don’t want grounds sticking to it, or any random flavors being imparted from a dirty teaspoon. This is where using a full cold beer doesn’t work well – the condensation that will form on the outside of the bottle will cause grounds to stick to it.
  3. After pouring your grinds, take your beer bottle and press it firmly down on the mound. Try and press at a right angle and so none of the grounds pill our the sides. Depending on the size of the filter and type of beer bottle you’re using, you should be able to tamp it down with one try.
  4. Wipe any excess grounds off the filter and you’re good to go!

How to Tamp Espresso with a Pill Bottle

Another not as common household item that can work really well (if you pick the right size) is a pill bottle. Pill bottles come in all shapes and sizes so you may need to test out a few before you find one that fits well.

As with the other items on this list, make sure you’ve cleaned and dried the outside. Since you’ll be drinking the espresso that comes out of the filter you want to make sure it’s safe to drink.

  1. Start by grinding your espresso or pouring your preground espresso into the filter. Don’t overfill it, but you’ll want the top of the mound to be above the fill line. We like to go several millimeters higher than the top of the filter.
  2. Be sure the pill bottle you are using is washed and dried – you don’t want grounds sticking to it, or any random flavors/dirt added to your espresso (yuck).
  3. After pouring your grinds, take the pill bottle and press it firmly down on the mound. Try and press at a right angle and so none of the grounds pill our the sides. If you’re using a smaller pill bottle, you may need to tamp the mound down several times to get good coverage. If you found a good-sized pill bottle, you might be able to do it in one go.
  4. Clean any extra grinds off the edge of the filter and you’re ready to pull your shot of espresso.

How to Tamp with a Small-sized Can

The last option we’ve seen some of our friends use is a small-sized tin can. Tomato paste, canned chilis, and sometimes salsa come in sizes that work well with an espresso filter. We recommend removing the label/paper from the sides and washing thoroughly to make sure it’s clean. Don’t forget to dry the can too!

  1. Start by grinding your espresso or pouring your preground espresso into the filter. Don’t overfill it, but you’ll want the top of the mound to be above the fill line. We like to go several millimeters higher than the top of the filter.
  2. Be sure the can you are using is washed and dried – you don’t want grounds sticking to it or anything foreign being added to your grounds.
  3. After pouring your grinds, take the can and press it firmly down on the mound. Try and press at a right angle and so none of the grounds pill our the sides.
  4. Depending on the shape of the can, you might need to tamp down several times to get good coverage.
  5. Lift the can off the grounds and clean off any extra grounds on the sides of the filter.
  6. You’re ready to pull your shot of espresso!

Conclusion

Tamping espresso without a tamper is a great skill to have in your back pocket. Even if you have a legit tamper at home, you never know when you might be on vacation or visiting a friend who is in a pinch. Know what common items can also work is a lifesaver.

We hope you found this article useful and informative. If you have your own methods of tamping espresso without a tamper you would like to share with us, feel free to shoot us a note in the comments below.

Stay caffeinated friends!

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