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 BFA in product design from Parsons School of Design in NYC. Since then I've done work for Mart...

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.

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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!



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    13 Discussions

    Cheese Queen

    5 years ago on Introduction

    We owned several espresso stands in the PNW in years past; pressure of the tamp will also depend on grind, type of beans and relative humidity. But 27 lbs is about perfect. :^)

    The really crucial metric is how long it takes.

    A perfect pull will take about 20 seconds for the water to make its way through the grounds; less time (not as well packed or grind too coarse) and you'll have a weak shot- longer than 20 seconds (too packed or grind too fine) and you'll be getting bitterness.

    We had timers on the machines and trained our baristas to always hit the timer when they pulled shots, so that they could keep track of how long each shot was taking through the day and adjust technique as necessary.

    PS- I'm quite sure it makes no difference if you twist the tamper or pack straight. And the point of cleaning off the edges of the portafilter is that the grounds are abrasive and will grind on your rubber seals, NOT that the portafilter won't seal correctly with grounds left on..


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I've been twisting the tamper for years without any problems. Why do they dissuade from that method?


    5 years ago on Step 5

    Good, simple instructable - thanks :-)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Mama mia !!!…

    Where on earth they have to learn how to pack an espresso ???…"Clack ! Clack" makes the coffee dispenser, "press", "click-clack" makes the port-filter in the machine, "bling" says the cup slipping under it, "ploch" makes the hand pressing on the machine's button, "schhhh" whispers the steam… Et voilà (as they say in USA).

    Do you really think that a barman who has to attend fifty customer at the noon rush hour has time to care about such basic niceties that any toddler can master just like that in any other part of the world (yes even in Mongolia where they don't have coffee machines but keep their brains alert). "Thanks again to Joe Speicher and Mark Wickens" who cared to take seriously a life's basic question ???…

    Oh God where the world's going to ?…


    5 years ago on Introduction

    What a first world problem... Ask a cuban "how much force they use" and "how they press their puck" to make their excellent expresso and see what they tell you... lol


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Housedog, the dry puck you are trying to achieve depends a lot upon the machine. A $100 Delonghi will not produce the same puck as a $1000 infuser. I'm on my fourth pump machine and am quite happy with my Breville. It's the very first time I experienced a true dry puck after brewing.

    The Rambler

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Did they give (or do you have for that matter) any insight on why you aren't supposed to twist the tamp? The way I was taught was to fill the portafilter like you said, level it (usually with the back of a knife or handle of a spoon), tamp it once at about 30lbs pressure while twisting it, tap the side of the portafilter with the tamp to shake off any grounds, then give it a second light tamp (I think to resettle the grounds). I'm pretty open to improving technique but I've made some pretty darn good shots that way.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Even if I don't do it my own, being italian, this is a thing I've seen my barista do twice a day for 30 years :) This procedure is spot on! I would like to suggest a thing: from the pics, when you tamp it, you put the filter on the table sitting on his "nozzles" from where the coffee goes to the cup. Eventually this could lead to a bending of the "nozzles" especially if you make a lot of coffee and it gets hot. You should hold the filter in your hand and place it against the border of the table, securing the nozzles to the vertical side of the table border and the base of the porta-filter to the top of the table (I hope I made myself clear in english!). As I saw in the pics where you empty the filter, the underside of the filter just in front of the nozzels has a ridge that make it horizontal and i'm pretty sure it is made like so exactly for the tamping purpose… and also that's what my barista does all the time :D


    5 years ago

    Tamp can also be used to level the coffee. The tricky part is actually knowing how much coffee should be put in just so when you tamp it it levels exactly with the line inside.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This is super helpful for me because I have so much trouble with this. I have a machine at home. It's not a fancy expensive one, but it's a pump model and sometimes it makes a great espresso. But sometimes not. I do have this trouble with tamping with the right amount of force. Hadn't thought to use a scale to approximate the pressure. Great idea. I think I too often under-tamp.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    "remove the porta-filter from the machine. If the surface of the grounds look dry, this is a good sign"

    Really? Could you elaborate on that a bit, please.

    I've never seen it not look wet after an espresso is made - I think.

    So steam can go through the coffee, extract the espresso, and leave behind dry coffee?

    I've never had the good fortune to have an expert show me how it's done properly, so this is a really good ible.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Love the color of your coffee grounds, it is often impossible to find coffee that has not been burnt here in the US.