This is an older post that I just found from 2003. Since there, I think Les has moved to Boise ID and hasn’t been as active in wood turning or at least not to create tampers for sale. Nonetheless, the site is still up here.
When I got a new espresso machine that used a different sized filter, I realized that a new tamper was in order. The function of a coffee tamper is simply to more evenly distribute the coffee grinds into a filter and pack the espresso into a puck.
Some argue that a tamper must be perfectly sized, of a specific shape, material, and weight, blah blah blah…for the production of a fine espresso. Realistically, any fairly flat object that will fit into the filter basket will work. I’ve used cheap plastic tampers that come with machines, the bottom of cups and bottles, etc. However, I find that using a device created expressly for the job of tamping coffee adds to the enjoyment of preparing my favourite beverage.
There are a lot of tampers out there, and you can even find some tamper reviews on Coffee Geek. The variety span from the formentioned cheap plastic ones to very expensive models made from exotic metals and woods. Of the popular models, I have used (and quite like) the Reg Barber Coffee Tampers made in British Columbia, Canada. Reg will customize your tamper by laser engraving anything you like on the tamper’s 25 mm Delron (plastic) top. These are great tampers and are the de facto standard for professional baristas.
However, because the ritual of making espresso at home is so near and dear to my heart, I wanted something even more special and more customized. Actually, the truth be told, I was only half-heartly looking at tampers. That is until Prabhakar, my buddy in espresso fanaticism, pointed me to Les Albjerg’s Thor Tampers website.
A quick e-mail put me in contact with Les. He is a wood turner in Roseburg, Oregon that is also a big fan of home espresso and home roasting. Les uses both commonly available and more exotic woods to turn out beautiful pieces of art that just happen to be used as coffee tampers.
After a through look around on the website, I told Les that I wanted something nice to look at but also a tamper can be put to hard use daily. I like to tamp my slightly coarser espresso grind hard and tap the grinds from the edge of the filter basket with my tampers.
When I asked about Ironwood (a dark brown African heart wood that sinks in water), Les told me that while extremely hard, the wood is also brittle and doesn’t take well to being banged against portafilters. Les suggested his “Barista Basher” model which is being used daily by professional baristas. What he does with this model is incorporate a small antique silver coin in the top of the tamper to tap the portafilter with. Hmmm…a further opportunity to customize the tamper. Interesting! (muhahahahahaha…diabolical laugh of a mad man!).
Of the woods that he had available, I chose the Ironwood with a contrasting coloured top in Amboyna (Pterocarpus Indicus — an exotic burl wood from the jungles of Southeast Asia). To cap this, I sent Les a french 5 franc coin (pre-Euro) from a memorable trip to Europe that my wife and I took shortly after being married.
The result can be seen in the photos below. Les Arlbjerg is an excellent bloke to deal with and I can recommend him without any reservation for his finely crafted product as well as his excellent customer service. Drop him a note and let him know that I sent you…