So, you’ve finally got that dream espresso machine and grinder combo, eh? Well done! But, that’s not everything you need. Pulling a good espresso shot is a delicate process from start to finish, and you’ve got to ensure you have the right equipment for the workflow. It’s time to put together a little list of the top espresso tools you’ll need to complement your home set-up.
This is a small, yet super important espresso tool that is compulsory to have, and crucial to making good espresso.
Espresso is made when the machine forces hot water through at a ridiculously high pressure. 9 bars of pressure, to be precise. That’s nine times the pressure at sea level, or the water pressure at 300 feet below the sea!
Because the pressure is so scarily high, the bed of coffee grounds in the portafilter has to be compressed to form a firm, tight “puck”, so it can resist the furious flow of water. A tamper is what you use to create this – to tamp down on the freshly-ground coffee.
Most espresso machines, when you buy one, will come with a tamper, but they are usually small, awkwardly shaped blobs of plastic that feel horrible to grip. Worse still is the in-built tamper that many home espresso machines have (I’m looking at you, Breville), in which you’re supposed to tamp upwards.
Tamping is arguably the most important step of espresso preparation, so I’d advise you to spend a bit of money and get a tamper that suits your palm size and grip. Tampers come in a wide selection of handle materials (choose either wood or stainless steel – don’t get a plastic one) and handle shapes (round, oval, flat, ergonomic, etc).
Most importantly, make sure you get a tamper that actually fits your portafilter! Every brand of espresso machine has a differently-sized portafilter. The last thing you want is to spend money on a tamper, tamp down and tear your hair out when it gets stuck. Your espresso machine manual should tell you the size of the portafilter, measured in mm.
For example, most Delonghi home machines have a 51 mm portafilter; Breville tends to go for a 54 mm; and almost all commercial espresso machines are set to a 58 mm global standard.
When choosing a tamper, go 1 mm smaller, so you know it will fit.
A distributor tool is commonly confused with a tamper. They serve very different purposes indeed!
A tamper is used to press down on the bed of coffee grounds to form the coffee puck.
A distributor is used to level out the bed of coffee grounds – to make it flat and even – before it is tamped.
When the portafilter is loaded up with freshly-ground coffee, there is going to be a pile-up of grounds either to the centre or off to one side. The coffee bed is unbalanced. One side will have more grounds than another. If we tamp down on this uneven bed, it will cause an uneven extraction. An uneven extraction equals disgusting coffee. No thanks.
Hence, we use a distributor, which is a heavy, cylindrical tool that you drop on top of the portafilter and spin a few times. The coffee grounds underneath are forced to disperse evenly, and any air bubbles or cracks in the coffee bed will be removed.
Distribution of coffee grounds is a very important step. However, buying a distributor is not compulsory. You can learn how to distribute your coffee grounds by hand (and a lot of practice). It won’t reach the level of accuracy a distributor will, but it will suffice.
I will teach you how to distribute coffee grounds in a future article, and I’ll update this page with the link once it’s published.
3. Tamping Mat
A tamping mat is very simply a black rubber mat for the portafilter to rest on when tamping. It helps keep things neat and tidy, so that loose coffee grounds don’t fly all over your table or kitchen counter. It also protects your table or countertop from damage. You don’t want to be cracking any delicate tiles or wood when you tamp down real hard.
After you’re done making your espresso, just lift up the black mat, brush the caught grounds into the bin, and chuck the mat into the dishwasher. That’s it! Your table or countertop will still look pristine.
You also have the option of getting a tamping box/station, which serves the exact same purpose. The only difference is in how it looks – it’s raised up like a box with a cut-out groove for the portafilter to sit on. Both are great options, but personally, I’d go for the mat as it is more versatile. Since the mat lies flat, it also takes up less space which is quite a plus if you have limited real estate space in your kitchen.
Weighing is so crucial in making good espresso! You might be able to get away with guesstimating scoops of coffee for your French Press (I still do not recommend it), but not for espresso. A difference in a mere 3 g can drastically change the final taste.
Hence, you need a good digital scale for weighing your dose and yield.
- Dose: the dry weight of the coffee grounds that go into your portafilter
- Yield: the wet weight of the extracted espresso shot
The scale has to be sensitive enough to detect small changes. You don’t have to get branded espresso scales. As a rule of thumb, if it can detect an increase in weight of a pinch of salt, it’s a pass and you can use it.
Also note: digital scale. You must be able to tare the scale (i.e. reset to zero) easily. Without this function, it’s pretty darn useless. Most scales have a big “T” button to indicate this feature.
5. Milk Pitcher
Milk jugs are my absolute favourite accessories! This is a must-have if you enjoy drinking espresso-based milk drinks such as cappuccinos, flat whites and lattes.
Pitchers are most commonly made of stainless steel, and the 2 most common sizes are 350ml (12 oz) and 600ml (20 oz). You’ve got extra-large 900ml (30 oz) ones to choose from too, but those are rarely seen outside of cafe settings. Don’t bother with these. I recommend every home barista to own one 12 oz and 20 oz jug for versatility in steaming and pouring milk.
If you’re a fan of latte art, a proper milk pitcher is your best friend. The latte art community is huge, and as such you have a massive selection of milk pitchers designed specially for latte art in mind. You’ll need to do your due research to find a design that suits your grip, pour style, and intended latte art patterns best.
There are milk pitchers with different body shapes, such as the standard one, sloped-top ones (WPM pitchers) and a curved body one (Barista Swag’s latest EVO pitchers).
The type of spouts used also impacts the final latte art design significantly. First, you have your round spouts, which are better suited for basic patterns such as tulips and rosettas. Next up are sharp spouts for drawing advanced latte art designs such as rabbits and unicorns. Then, you also have curved, “eagle-beak” spout designs that suit a very niche group of latte artists (looking at you, JIBBIJUG!).
If you’re curious as to which type of milk jug and spout suits you better, have a more in-depth look at our Latte Art Lab: Round vs Sharp Spouts guide.
If you’re new, don’t feel overwhelmed by the options out there. Start with a standard body, stainless steel, round spout milk jug. This, I’ve found, is the best type of jug to get started with.
After pulling your espresso shot and taking out the portafilter, you need to somehow get the soggy wet remains of the coffee grounds out from the basket and into a bin. Sure, you could knock the portafilter against your regular trash can, but this gets messy, plus the basket could fall out from the portafilter into the trash (I’ve had this happen quite a few times to me, oopsies).
A knockbox (or a dump box) is a special espresso tool for your used coffee pucks. It ‘s basically an open bin, which has a wooden or plastic rod across the top of it. You whack your portafilter forcefully against the rod. The rod holds the basket in place, but forces the puck to drop out into the bin. Once the bin is full, it’s an easy job to dump the contents and give it a nice wash. Alternatively, you could line the knockbox with a rubbish bag.
Cafes use huge, waist-high knock boxes because they need to slam out hundreds of pucks a day. You don’t need such a massive one for home (unless you’re drinking one hundred espresso drinks daily, in which case I need to ask you – you alright, buddy?).
Get yourself a miniature knockbox – that’s all you need.
7. Ceramic Cups
And last but absolutely not least, how could we forget the cups? There’s nothing wrong with using any mug you have at home, so don’t feel that you have to get your hands on a proper cup set. But, here are a couple of ceramic cup shapes and sizes that are made for espresso coffees in mind:
Tiny, adorable 2 oz (60ml) baby cups. Traditionally, only straight-up espresso shots are served in these, but you can use these to serve cortados and piccolo lattes too. You can also use a demitasse to transfer your espresso into taller cups that won’t fit under the machine.
Tulip cups have a small, narrow base that suddenly expands outwards to a wide brim about halfway up. Easy to hold, easy to drink from, and are commonly used to serve long blacks and Americanos.
Yeah, I know. Funny name. But hey, if Loveramics, the official cups of the World Championships, calls it an ‘egg’, then ‘egg’ it shall be.
This is precisely the proper type of cup when you think of espresso drinks. It’s what cafes serve your cappuccinos and flat whites in. The shape resembles the bottom half of an egg shell, so I suppose that’s why it’s named like that. It comes in different sizes: 6 oz, 8 oz, 12 oz, etc., so it’s really your choice as to what size you’d like your coffee at home.
I know, this technically isn’t a cup, but it’s worth a mention. Most cafes serve lattes in a glass these days. It’s to differentiate the size between lattes and flat whites in most cases. So, feel free to pop a glass or two up on your espresso machine, too! Make sure the glass cup has a wider opening/brim than the base. It should taper outwards slightly. You don’t want a constricted vessel type.
A Final Word
And there you have it! The 7 best espresso tools to get your hands on. If you want to learn all about brewing espresso, I highly recommended The Hearty Brew’s very own Espresso 101 series (yes, I might be a tiny bit biased, hehe). It’s designed lesson by lesson to teach you the important foundations of making espresso and steaming milk. Check it out in the Guide section of this website, or click here:
Do you have your home espresso corner all decked out and ready to go?