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In the portafilter where the water and coffee come into contact during the brewing process, tamping is used to compress loosely dosed coffee grinds into an equally distributed puck.
Using a tamper, espresso grinds are packed (or "tamped") into the basket of an espresso machine. To ensure a perfect shot, a tamper is used to uniformly pack the grounds for the shot. A loose pile of "dosed" grounds is converted to an enclosed cake in the basket.
Tampers range in size from 48 millimetres up to 58 millimetres, with the majority of espresso makers making use of one that is the latter. It's not uncommon for tampers to state their basket's size directly in their name! (i.e. The Motta Professional Coffee Tamper, 58mm).
Portafilter is the right size for your tamping and is made of light, durable metal. By the way, if you're working as a barista and have a lot of baskets to handle, you'll need extra tampers or a convex tamper.