I clearly remember the first time I stumbled upon CoffeeGeek back in July 2002. I read about $50 tampers and I thought that anyone spending more than $10 on a tamper was flat out mad. How little did I know; I turned out to be the one that was mad.
Much has been said about the need to have a good burr grinder in combination with a semi-professional domestic espresso machine. It has become like an axiom to most of us. And many of us will recognise the need for a good tamper, but Q: is it worth $50? A: YES!!! A good tamper should be part of the axiom. I own a E61 machine. My hard plastic Illy 56mm flat tamper makes good ristretto, but with my snuggly fitting 58mm Ergo Packer convex tamper I produce a syrupy, sweet coffee drink you will NEVER find in London. (Note: overfilling has never produced nice ristretto with my machine.)
So now that I have done my promotional talk I will get to the point of this review: Reg Barber steel (£29.99 ($47.00)) vs Ergo Packer ($39.95 (£25.00)).
I have owned the Ergo Packer for 4 months now, and I am perfectly happy with it. Last week I had the opportunity to try out the steel Reg Barber, and compare the two.
The Reg Barber is nicely shaped, reminding me of the female curves of a classic Coke bottle. The grip is made of polished rosewood with a hard plastic logo on top, mine happened to say 'esspressowarehouse.com' and not Reg Barber as you will find on most of them. The piston is made of shiny stainless steel. The bottom is convex.
The Ergo Packer is made of aluminium and must have been designed with usability in mind. I am sure that people with a preference for Germanic square and regular shapes will like this design, but I prefer more classic designs and materials. The piston is quite high and has a red line that is there as a visual reference to level the coffee in the basket. The piston is also convex, possibly just a little bit flatter than the Reg Barber.
Reg Barber vs Ergo Packer 1-0
Both the Reg Barber and the Ergo Packer have a detachable piston that is screwed to the grip. On the end of the grip of the Reg Barber is a plastic logo, and I am not 100% sure how that will hold out to frequent tapping against the portafilter. (To tap loose all ground coffee that is stuck to the side of the basket.) Since the Ergo Packer is made of aluminium, a soft metal, and each tap will leave a little dent on the back of the tamper. You could try to brush them away, but I call them proudly my 'Michelin Scars'. The more scars, the more experience. Both tampers are very solid and will survive quite some abuse, although be careful not to damage the aluminium piston too much.
Reg Barber vs Ergo Packer 2-0
This is going to be unfair... the name will tell you the winner. Indeed the Ergo Packer fits better in the palm of my hand, enabling me to use a lot of force (up to 60lbs). The Reg Barber is less comfortable, and if I were a professional Barista, I would not even think about using more than 25lbs. For the final polishing 180 degree twist (I don't see why I should do 360 degrees, let alone 720), the Reg Barber is slightly more convenient, as I don't have to move my hand. With the Ergo Packer I have to grab the lower bit of the grip to achieve a stable twist. An additional pro for the Reg Barber is its weight. The metal is quite a bit heavier and gives me the feeling I have more control over the tamper.
Reg Barber vs Ergo Packer 2-1
Both fit snuggly in my basket. The red line on the Ergo Packer is very useful to level the ground coffee. The Reg Barber 'disappears' in my basket and it is optically a bit more difficult to level the tamp. I did not even contemplate doing a tasting test. I am confident I can taste the difference between a flat plastic 56mm tamper and a convex metal 58mm tamper, but the difference between these two top-end tampers is going to be minor. Too many other parameters influence the quality of my ristrettos, and one pull can vary a lot from the next, under seemingly identical circumstances. It's a draw.
Reg Barber vs Ergo Packer 2.5 - 1.5
So the Reg Barber seems to be the winner here, but we are comparing a Mercedes SL vs a BMW 7 series. We may prefer one over the other for more emotional reasons. Also... it doesn't mean that one is genuinely better than the other, as different people will assign more weight to certain aspects over others. And I am the same. First of all, the RESULT is most important. As it happens they are equally good, so then the next deciding factor to me is ERGONOMICS. After this exercise of match fixing I declare the ERGO PACKER the WINNER!
(Note: There is also a Reg Barber Aluminium for £19.99 ($31.50)).