My dear friend @LMSC pointed me to this thread and suggested I table what I tolled with on the way to land my tamp process. In reading through this interesting exchange, it is déja vu for me and I thought it may be helpful to share how I settled on a tamp that I am finally happy with.
Like everyone, I own more tampers than I care to admit and certainly what my wife knows about. All of them made sense when I bought them, but at 8, enough is enough. Wood, aluminum, stainless steel, CNC, cast, turned, you name it. Yet my espresso did not taste like it came from a man who owns 8 tampers, I had to find a new way. And the answer for me lied in the oft-dispensed step of tamping.
More than just a precise diameter that gently scrape the wall of the basket of choice, the tamp needs to be in a happy marriage with the grind size and weight. No fights should break out between them - that is to say, the two must be in harmony. The finer the grind, the most precise the tamp needs to be as distribution and leveling becomes even more critical when the water is pulled through it during the brew cycle.
So my requirements for a great tamp are as follows:
A precise fit in the basket - for my IMS 26M, it is exactly 55mm. Not 54.7mm, not 54.mm but 55.0mm.
A graduated tamp that can be precisely calibrated so once the ideal tamp pressure is found, it can be reproduced with accuracy and predictability.
A tamp that is level to the basket as a tilted tamp can easily lead to channeling and messy leaks at the group head.
I looked at tampers, presses manual and electric, cheapo and outrageously expensive. Months later, my solution was actually mostly under my nose all the time, all I needed was a workflow. I am happy to report that my process works with great consistency and repeatability, and is one that I would recommend, all at a cost of about 300 USD or 250 GBP, about ¼ that of a Puqpress which is far inferior.
The elements of my set up are:
- K+M Arbor Press with Force Pack and Dial Gauge.
- JoeFrex Technic Handle + JoeFrex 55mm Base (pick bf55)
- IMS Competition Double Filter Basket 12/18g - B662TH26M
- A piece of 1×2 maple as spacer
The centerpiece of the setup is the arbor press I use on the reloading bench for reloading F-Class 1,000 yard precision rounds. This setup meets all my criteria for precision, repeatability and relatively modest cost. The advantage of this over any Puqpress is not only the cost but:
The dial gauge is calibrated to an industrial standard, not an arbitrary number of a digital display that is not specified. And if the “import” dial gauge is not repeatably precise enough due to hysteresis errors, buy a better one like a Mitutoyo from Japan or Tesa from Switzerland.
When I reached my desired pressure, I hold the lever still for at least 15 seconds longer so the puck does not bounce back or relax on its way to the group head.
I can feel and see how level the tamp is because it is not hidden inside a cover that you cannot see through.
Here is what it looks like on my counter, along with my other tools - the no-longer needed IMS 54,4mm tamper, the 50/55 Amazon tamper used in conjunction with the Norvin dosing funnel, and my RDT spritzer: