Introduction: How to Pack an Espresso Shot

About: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a degree in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mar…

Taking the time to properly pack an espresso shot is an important (and super simple) part of making a good espresso drink. I was lucky enough to have Joe Speicher and Mark Wickens from the online coffee culture publication Ground to Grounds stop by and show me the ropes.

What you'll need:

  • an espresso machine
  • a porta-filter
  • an espresso tamper
  • coffee grinder
  • freshly roasted espresso beans*

*Learn how to choose coffee beans here.

Step 1: Filling the Basket

Refer to your grinder's manual for its espresso grind setting. You may find that you need to adjust this up or down as you get more familiar with what you look for in a good shot and the type of beans you're using, as the size of the grounds affects the quality of the shot.

As you fill (or dose) the basket of the porta-filter (the metal insert with the holes in it that gets filled with grounds), try to evenly distribute the grounds inside.

Fill it until a small mountain peak has formed.

If you don't have a grinder that allows you to fill the basket this way, try to approximate this by adding small spoonfuls until you've created the same mountain peak formation.

Step 2: Leveling Off

Using your index finger, pull the coffee 'mountain' gently to one side, without pushing down, until their is no more mountain and the grounds are mostly level with the top of the basket. Gently drag the same finger back over the grounds in the other direction.

You're goal is to create an even distribution of the grounds, so that there are not any pockets or holes around the edge of the basket.

Step 3: Tamp It!

Holding the handle of the porta-filter with your non-dominant hand, place the espresso tamper gently, and as level as possible, on top the grounds (without pushing down), using your other hand.

Raise your dominant arm so that the bicep section is parallel with the counter and let the lower half and hand hang straight down. (see last picture of this step)

Gently grab a hold of the tamper handle as pictured.

Keeping your arm in its right angle formation, and with a firm grip on the handle, push the tamper straight into the grounds with approximately 30 lbs of pressure. (You can practice on a bathroom scale if you'd like to see what 30 lbs of pressure feels like.) IMPORTANT: Do not twist the tamper! Just push straight down.

The goal is to create a dense pellet of coffee through which the hot water can be evenly filtered. Because the water is under pressure, if the pellet is not packed well enough, the water will find it's way through the spaces (path of least resistance) and will not go through the grounds evenly, extracting less coffee.

Step 4: Tidy the Edges

Gently blow the excess grounds from the rim of the port-filter, ensuring that when the filter is inserted into the espresso machine, there are no obstacles to getting a good, tight seal.

Step 5: Tamping Troubleshooting

Here's how to know if you have achieved shot packing perfection:

Once you have pulled (aka made) your shot, remove the porta-filter from the machine. If the surface of the grounds look dry, this is a good sign. Turn the porta-filter upside-down and give it a light tap on the counter. If you applied enough tamping pressure back in Step 3, your pellet will come out intact. (like pictured) If this is the case, congratulations!! - you're a shot packing Jedi.

If, when you remove the porta-filter, the surface of the grounds are watery, it means that you didn't apply enough pressure during the tamping process in Step 3. Don't despair, just try using more Force next time. You will eventually get a feel for how hard to push to achieve espresso shot perfection!

A reminder: To learn what to look for when choosing coffee beans, visit my Instructable here.

Thanks again to Joe Speicher and Mark Wickens from Ground to Grounds for coming by and dropping some coffee making knowledge!