Espresso tamping is an often neglected art
For the last several years, I have been brewing a capuccino every morning. Sometimes I even get to tote my hot cup along while I'm walking the dog in the back woods! I've been using the same "Cafe Mocha" espresso machine for over twenty years - we bought it in Montreal at a little shop on St Laurent Blvd. We were returning from our honeymoon, so we lugged that heavy sucker in a bag all the way down Sherbrooke on a shopping spree.
That machine turned out to be an extraordianry investment, it has never required maintenance other than cleaning, and brews a fine cup of espresso every day! Unfortunately, it turns out that, for most of that time, I was using it wrong! I wasnt taking full advantage of the coffee we were using (Illy or Lavazza) because I was not tamping correctly. My brews were inconsistent at best. Once I learned how important the whole tamping process is, especially applying nice firm and level pressure with the tamper - I've been much happier with every espresso pull. This tutorial over at coffeeresearch.org inspired me to refine my tamping art.