If you want great espresso and are having a problem with consistent tamping, this is the device for you!
Positive Product Points
A very solid, well-built machine with Italian craftsmanship. Very easy to use and visually blends nicely with most any espresso machine and grinder. Gives consistent tamp every time. You may think, by looking at the sleek design that this machine is lightweight but, believe me, it's heavy 'n packs a punch. Fits most prosumer portafilters. The price may seem steep (the price includes shipping within the US) but in my opinion it's worth every penny!
Negative Product Points
Not many. Being picky; here are a few changes I would recommend:
1) I added nonskid pads to the bottom of the four rubber feet on the base to keep it from sliding on my slippery granite countertop.
2) The tamping disk is 57mm which works fine on my 58mm filter basket. It would be nice if they had a 58mm disk (I believe the machine only comes in 52mm and 57mm).
3) Not really needed, but a gauge that shows the tamping pressure applied on the coffee grounds would be cool.
4) Add some kind of protective covering on top of the fork that holds the portafilter, to keep the bottom of the portafilter from possibly getting scratched.
5) You really have to look closely for this one. On the base of the unit there is a very slight ring-shaped depression about 3" in diameter which in my judgement suggests that this base is also used for another purpose (this is why I gave only a 9 in the aesthetics category).
After getting frustrated by inconsistent espresso shots, and in my never-ending crusade for the all elusive GOD SHOT (you know the variables; freshness of beans, quality of grind, tamp pressure, position of the sun or moon, etc.), I decided to either create or purchase some kind of machine I could use to control the tamping pressure. I found an orange juice press on the internet which looked like it possibly could be converted to my pressing needs with some modification. Then, just when I was about to pull out the ol' credit card for one of these gadgets, I spied a segment on HGTV's "Follow That Food" (gosh, I gotta get a life!). They were doing a spot on coffee beans in Italy at the Illy Cafe. A Barista was making an espresso and, to my surprise, she didn't use the old hand tamper but a sleek-looking machine. Wow! I said to myself, "SELF," you gotta HAVE that divine device. And the hunt began. After surfing the internet to no avail for what seemed like forever, I finally e-mailed Illy USA with my inquiry. I must say their customer support was great and they e-mailed me a picture of what they call a CPS (Constant Pressure System). They said they would contact Illy Italy to check on its availability. ("Due to many logistical and technical reasons, I am not sure if it is sold in the USA.") A few weeks later Illy USA e-mailed me again saying that the CPS was indeed not available in the US.
I took that as a challenge. Nothing like a good hunt! After many hours on the internet with no luck, I e-mailed my friend Bill at Blend Italia (blenditalia.com) for help. Bill has been more than helpful regarding questions about my Bezzera BZ99S. And darned if Bill didn't track down the manufacturer of the AutoTamper. "Bam!" I placed my order. The rest is history.
Now on to the nitty gritty. Upon receiving the tamping machine, I must say that out of the box I was impressed, not only by the aesthetics but with its sheer weight. So I said let's try this puppy out. Turned on the BZ99S, ground some beans in my Mazzer Mini, filled the portafilter, leveled the grounds, went directly to my new tamping machine, pulled the handle down and heard the "click" which means the tamp is complete. Locked the portafilter into the old BZ99S, hit the brew button and to my surprise it literally choked the machine! Never did that with my 58mm Reg Barber hand tamper before, so I adjusted the grind a little on the Mini and tried again. After about 3-4 grind adjustments I found the "sweet spot." I must say that this was the best shot I have ever pulled in my life. I thought I had done some good shots but nothing like this. It was great. Thinking that this was a fluke I pulled another. Same result so I pulled another. Same as the first and second. Using my hand tamper my shots were irregular at best. I have had this wonderful machine for about 2 months now and my shots, in my opinion, are consistent at least 95% of the time. It's been a magical experience. Because the machine is so easy to use and the lever pulls down so effortlessly I decided to do a little test to see what kind of pressure is being applied to the coffee grounds. I put my hand where the portafilter goes (warning: don't try this at home) and began to pull the handle down slowly. To my surprise I could not fully finish the cycle (hear that click) in fear of doing some serious damage to my hand. Let me tell you, there is a lot of force being applied. I will probably do a test with a bathroom scale to see what pressure is actually applied but it is not a high priority since the machine works flawlessly. The reported pressure applied, according to Illy, is 30-35 lbs. and I tend to believe that to be true after my hand-squishing test.
My goal here was to try to eliminate one more variable in the art of espresso making and in my opinion this machine has done that for me.
I know that at this point in my life I can't really apply the required amount of tamping pressure needed to make a great espresso (my Gold's Gym membership expired years ... okay, decades ... ago). This Autotamper does exactly what it is designed to do, give an effortlessly constant tamp of the grounds with the right amount of pressure; all this with a very pleasing overall design (in my opinion this machine is quite a looker). If you have an espresso machine (high end or low) a good grinder, and are experiencing differences from shot to shot or just can't apply the proper amount of hand tamping pressure, I highly recommend you get yourself one of these. Not only will your shots improve but you will eliminate one more variable from the espresso making ritual.
As always, Bill at Blend Italia (blenditalia.com) has been more than helpful with this and other purchases. He's very professional and doesn't pull any punches, a real pleasure to do business with. Would highly recommend.
Three Month Followup
Still very happy with the Autotamper, worth the price and would buy again. Thinking of buying another one for my other machine.
One Year Followup
I was the original author of the first review on this item, and after more than a year of daily use I can say that I am still very happy with the Autotamper. Does the job very well every time. Would I but it again? Yes, in my opinion it is worth every penny.