Are Portafilters Interchangeable? (Myth vs Fact)

Most coffee products have evolved over time, but portafilters, at least at first glance, seem to have stuck to traditional standards in appearance. It may shock you to discover that many different manufacturers make portafilters, and many are of a similar size. Generally, they all look quite similar, even though looks can be deceptive.

Portafilters were not designed to be interchangeable even though 58m is the standard size for many espresso machine brands. However, there is no guarantee that a 58mm portafilter will fit many models.

Getting the right portafilter is crucial for your espresso machine. There are four common types of portafilter which we will discuss. But, first, we will examine what you need to look out for to get the right portafilter for you.

Does A Portafilter Affect Espresso?

The portafilter significantly affects espresso. To understand the role of the portafilter, you must know that the metal filter is designed to achieve a clean flow of ultra-fine coffee under great pressure.

However, as most coffee grounds don’t have a uniform size, the large particles can stick in the filter’s holes and cause problems.

Any particle that’s the wrong shape or size can obstruct one of the filter basket’s holes, affecting not just the one but numerous openings during extraction.

To avoid clogs, you must consider the size and shape of the holes. Coffee will likely get stuck on those edges if holes are sharp and jagged. If the holes are perfectly circular and smooth, there is far less risk of obstruction.

The size of your portafilter is essential, but you must also consider the precision of the holes in your basket.

How Do You Know What Size Portafilter To Get?

Despite appearances, not all portafilters were created equal. First, you should know that portafilters are measured in millimeters (mm). Portafilters range from 49mm to 58mm in diameter.

58mm are the most common portafilter basket size, while other sizes are rare, particularly in home espresso machines.

Although this isn’t always the case, a smaller portafilter size usually indicates a lower-priced coffee machine. In addition, smaller-sized portafilters usually only offer lower levels of flexibility, especially where grind size is concerned.

While it’s essential to determine the size of your portafilter, especially if you are following a recipe, most portafilters do not come with details about their grind size.

Therefore, the most practical way to measure your portafilter size is to use a set of measuring calipers. However, since most home baristas don’t have one, an alternative way is to pick the right tamper.

In addition, you will need a retractable measuring tape, with 1/32 inches divisions, and a calculator:

  • Measure the centerline of the portafilter
  • Convert your reading to the decimal unit. Do this by typing your measurement; if you type 2 1/3, you get 2.33.
  • Change the inches to millimeters by multiplying your measurement by 25.4, for example, 2.33 by 25.4 = 59.18 mm
  • Get a tamper that is .75mm smaller by subtracting for example, 59.18 – 0.75 = 58.43mm

Tamper sizes are set to a whole number, so you must round up your end result to the lowest approximation. So, using the example above, you must round up 58.43 to 58mm, which is the most common size.

Is A Bigger Portafilter Better?

The larger the portafilter is, the higher the extraction force with the same pressure. Larger portafilters lean towards better extraction consistency.

There is more contact with the water on the bottom surface for a given dose, offering a better pressure gradient through the puck as it becomes thinner in the larger basket. This helps lower the probability of channeling.

Most higher-end espresso machines feature a 58mm portafilter, whereas the lower-end models tend to have smaller portafilters.

While the size of your portafilter does affect the taste and quality of your brew, that is not the only factor to consider. There are four main types of portafilters, and their sizes vary; let’s elaborate further:

  • PRESSURIZED: Pressurized portafilters are usually smaller, about 52mm in diameter, and partly made from plastic. Since the diameter is smaller, maintaining the pressure is easier, even when tamping isn’t even. This is why this is the most popular portafilter for beginner home baristas- it mitigates many irregularities.
  • REGULAR: This portafilter is typically made from pure metal and has a larger diameter (58mm). This enhances their heat retention, which equally distributes temperature. However, this portafilter needs an experienced barista as it doesn’t hide any flaws.
  • BOTTOMLESS: This portafilter doesn’t have bottom spouts. This is helpful if you wish to see what’s happening inside the portafilter. This can be beneficial if you have tamping issues, you can see if one side is flooding faster than the other.
  • POD: Pods are pre-measured and pre-ground espresso portions in small bags like you would find in tea. These can be useful for beginners because they don’t need to worry about tamping or measuring out their grinds. Some portafilters work specifically with pods, and instead of having spouts that angle to the side, they have one long spout in the middle. These pods are user-friendly, but their freshness isn’t always guaranteed as you are not grinding yourself.

How Tight Should A Portafilter Be?

The engagement of your portafilter to your espresso machine’s group head is essential during extraction. The closer the coffee bed is to the group head, the better the brew will be, and it can take a good bit of practice before you can perfectly slot the portafilter into the group head.

You don’t need to use the utmost force to turn the portafilter into the tightest slot possible. There are better ways to ensure that there isn’t the slightest bit of leakage from your portafilter during extraction.

Consider the following key points when putting your portafilter into the group head:

1. Turn your portafilter to a point where it is snug and fit and not tight. You don’t need to push the portafilter to extreme tightness all the way.

2. Regardless of the size of your espresso machine, it’s always best to lightly hold but with firmness the top corner of the machine when turning the portafilter in the group head. This is a good practice to cultivate, especially with smaller espresso machines like the Breville Bambino. Before holding the machine to the side, ensure that it isn’t hot.

3. Some models have a tighter fit and may require more force. For example, the portafilter handle is shorter, or the steam ring could be new.

4. Difficulty in turning the portafilter could be due to too much coffee in the portafilter. If a machine has a 19g capacity, it wouldn’t be wise to exceed this capacity. Other reasons include not enough tamping – this will cause friction when engaging the portafilter to the group head.

You must note that espresso machines were built to remain true to the vision and purpose of the original manufacturer or designer.

As a result, some brands make their machines big but lightweight. The same goes for portafilters, and some are designed with a tighter fit for a more compact machine.

How Do You Store Portafilters?

It’s a good idea to keep the portafilter in the group head to keep it warm. This helps to release more oils during extraction, leading to more crema. It’s good practice to keep the portafilter in the group head to prevent warping.

Leaving the portafilter in the group head improves temperature stability, and when you’re ready to use it, it’s nice and hot.

Leaving your portafilter off the machine can sour the shot when the portafilter is cold. When cleaning the portafilter, it’s a good idea to run some water from the group head into the portafilter and whirl it around, rather than running it under the tap, as this can cool the portafilter down.

Once you have cleaned it, take a paper towel or microfiber cloth and wipe out the basket. It’s good to use a dry basket for every shot, so dry the basket thoroughly.

5 Things You Should Know About Portafilters

  • Portafilters are not designed to be interchangeable, but they can be. Most high-end portafilters are 58mm in diameter.
  • A smaller portafilter indicates a lower-end espresso machine.
  • Choosing the tight tamper can help you determine the size of your portafilter.
  • There are four types of portafilters, pressurized, non-pressurized, bottomless, and pods.
  • It’s good to store your portafilter in your espresso machines’ group head to ensure even temperature. It also helps to release more oils.

How Much Difference Does a 58mm Portafilter Make?

A 58mm portafilter makes a difference to espresso because it increases the surface area of the ground coffee in contact with the hot water. The result is a more even extraction and therefore a much better-tasting cup of espresso. Espresso is only as good as the quality of the ingredients used to make it. If you are going to put a lot of effort into making really good espresso, you have to pay attention to every detail involved.

Are All 58mm Portafilters The Same?

The baskets for 58mm are interchangeable, whereas the baskets for many PFs are not interchangeable. As previously stated, the Rancilio and E61 PFs are interchangeable, and the bottomless Rancilio is sold by a few online vendors as an E61 bottomless, so you were extremely fortunate with your purchase.

How Many Grams of Coffee Does a 58mm Portafilter Hold

Regardless of the variables, a machine with a 49mm basket that holds an 11 gram dose will not produce the same volume of espresso as a machine with a 58mm portafilter that holds an 18 gram dose.

Final Thoughts

It helps to know the size and type of portafilter you need for your machine. Many manufactures make their own portafilters, and even those of the same diameter may not fit every make.

This is particularly true of lower-priced portafilters. If you are an enterprising hobby barista, you may modify your preferred variety to use on your machine.

You can swap baskets as long as they are the same size as the portafilter. However, unlike the baskets, the portafilters are typically not interchangeable between different espresso machine brands.

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