Posted on 06 April 2011 by Nate
In our previous article, we discussed choosing a frothing pitcher to pair with your Rancilio Silvia and we’re going to continue the accessory discussion by exploring the importance of choosing a tamper. The tamper that comes with the Rancilio Silvia is a thin, plastic model which you should discard as soon as you open the box. For a proper tamp, you will need something with more weight, good shape, and a comfortable handle. Let’s take a look at what goes into choosing a tamper for use with your Rancilio Silvia.
First, the size…
Tampers are sold in different sizes according to the diameter of the head (or base surface) of the device. This size will indicate the amount of surface area which will be used to place pressure on the coffee puck. Ideally, you want a tamper which fits into the portafilter basket with as little room between the tamper surface and the basket rim as possible, but you don’t want it so tight that you can’t fit the tamper all the way down into the basket.
For the stock Rancilio Silvia portafilter basket, the proper size in most tampers is 58mm. Be aware that slight variations in the machining process among manufacturers can also cause minute variations in diameter. I once order an inexpensive 58mm tamper that was actually slightly over 58mm and consequently did not fit all the way down into the basket. However, with reputable tamper makers, 58mm is a very common commercial size portafilter basket and as such, if you spend a little extra on a nice tamper, it should fit your basket.
Base shape…up for debate.
There are several variations of base shape that you can select from when purchasing a tamper for your Rancilio Silvia. However, the two fundamental shapes which all of the others provide a variation of are flat and curved. Essentially, the curved base leaves a slightly deeper impression in the center of the puck to provide some room for the initial extraction pressure to build and force outward through the puck. The flat base, well, I shouldn’t have to explain this in detail. It creates a consistently smooth surface across the top of the puck.
You could take the debate between flat and curved tamper bases to the Barista Supreme Court and you are unlikely to find a judge who will stake their career on one being better than the other. The general consensus is that it is not of particular significance. I prefer using a nice flat base as I can see how even the tamp is with a quick look and I believe that generally it creates a puck less prone to channeling. The flat base is a good place to start.
Bases come in different metals, too!
You can choose from a variety of metals of which your tamper base is constructed as well. Common bases are made from aluminum or stainless steel, but you can also find them in brass and copper construction. Obviously, these all sell at different price points. I prefer something inexpensive with a bit more weight, so I’ve always opted for stainless steel.
Now for a touch of style…
The final consideration when choosing a tamper is the handle. This is where you can have some fun and add a touch of personalization. Handles vary in size, shape, and construction, with tamper handles available in all types of metal and wood. You may also elect to add a personalized logo or engraving on the top of your tamper handle. No discussion on tampers would be complete without alluding to Reg Barber, the tamper king. On the Reg Barber website, you can customize to your heart’s delight.
Although it may not be the most critical espresso accessory, choosing the right tamper for your Rancilio Silvia is an opportunity to add a personal touch to the accessories that sit on your home espresso bar.