The portafilter is essential for any home barista searching for the perfect espresso. Aside from selecting the right coffee, machine, and grind, a skilled hand with a portafilter is the last element necessary to create a delicious brew. Portafilters work with fully automatic and semi-automatic; however, you must understand what portafilter your machine uses.
There are five common portafilters: pressurized, non-pressurized, adapters, bottomless, and pods. Portafilters help create the necessary pressure to brew espresso, but you must know which one is right for your machine.
There are single and dual-spout portafilters. Some are light; some are heavy. Some have straight handles, while others are angled. So, let’s examine what you must consider when choosing the portafilter you need.
Are All Portafilters The Same?
There are various types of portafilters, and they help control your espresso shot. Unfortunately, they also come in different sizes, and you need to know the right size for your machine. Portafilters are measured in millimeters (mm) and range from 49mm to 58mm.
The 58mm diameter is the most run-of-the-mill size on the market, while others are comparatively rare, particularly in commercial machines.
Unfortunately, 58mm is the standard for virtually all high-end home espresso machines.
Generally speaking, a smaller portafilter usually means a lower level of flexibility regarding the number of coffee grounds your portafilter can fit, restricting your espresso size selection.
Most portafilters don’t come with any information on their size, so determining the size is essential to understand the amount of coffee you’re dealing with, mainly if you follow a recipe.
Also, you need to know the size of the portafilter to know the size of tamper you need. The tamper should be smaller than the basket.
Do I Need A Ridged Or Ridgeless Basket?
Ridgeless filter baskets have smooth walls requiring an even stronger spring to help them stay in place as you knock out coffee pucks.
A ridgeless basket is helpful if you only use a double basket. If you use both a double and single basket, purchase a ridged double and single basket.
When using the single basket, you must change springs in the portafilter. If you can’t decide, buy replacements of the same style that you currently have.
Ridgeless baskets are the preferred option for many home baristas for numerous reasons, including:
- The baskets’ diameter isn’t always the same above and below the ridge. Applying tamp pressure to the grinds below the ridge will be challenging if the basket is smaller under the ridge. This will lead to an undertamped puck.
- If the basket is larger below the ridge, then a ring of untamped coffee will form around the edge of the basket, resulting in the water escaping through.
- Without a ridge, there is a greater chance that the basket will be more uniformly circular. Depending on the level of distortion, a fitted tamper can be harder to achieve, resulting in less than ideal extractions.
- Ridges often create weak spots in the puck for outer channeling to begin.
- Pucks are cleaner when knocked out from a ridgeless basket versus a ridged. Ridged baskets often leave puck residue in the ridge.
What Are The Five Main Types Of Portafilter?
A pressurized portafilter is just a different basket type with a false bottom. This basket is also known as a double/dual-wall basket.
It has a grid of holes from the top, but there is just one hole from the bottom. It’s this design that pressurizes the extracted espresso as it leaves through one hole.
This type of design is easier for beginners as the portafilter creates the necessary pressure for you. There is no need to work on your tamping technique or rely on your grinder’s ability to achieve a palatable brew.
These portafilters restrict the flow of espresso in numerous ways, such as the gasket springs between the handle and basket or engineered into the basket, filter, or handle.
When the boilers’ pressure overcomes the restriction, the brew shoots out. The pressurized systems were designed to make it easier for beginners to create a good quality espresso.
Non-pressurized baskets are the gold standard when brewing espresso. These baskets don’t contain a second wall, so nothing creates pressure when brewing your coffee other than the coffee grind and your tamping technique.
This portafilter basket is the preferred option for professional baristas, as they require more precision from the user. You must ensure you dial in your grinder correctly to achieve the best grind for your machine.
Non-pressurized or single-wall baskets allow for greater control of every extraction. These baskets require more work on your part, but the extra work you put in should yield some excellent results. So, don’t be afraid to try it out.
If you are going for a non-pressurized basket, it’s worth paying extra for a precision basket. Precision baskets are engineered so that each hole is evenly spaced and sized with microscopically smoothed edges to avoid clogs that can interfere with extraction.
It is now possible to purchase one type of espresso machine and use a different portafilter than what comes standard with your machine due to adapters. Adapters offer greater flexibility to convert a pressurized or commercial portafilter into a pod portafilter.
A bottomless or naked portafilter is a tool that aids in determining extraction issues. There are no spouts, and the basket is exposed to reveal the entire extraction process. This is an essential piece of equipment for any quality-oriented cafes’ barista tool.
The ability to troubleshoot espresso shots instantly as a commercial barista allows for better consistency of coffee, giving you an edge over the competition.
A bottomless portafilter often yields 50% more crema in the hands of a skilled barista. The reason is your shot doesn’t come into contact with another surface other than the bottom of the basket. There are no bottoms or spouts to contend with.
The tiny crema bubbles enter your cup unharmed; additionally, the lack of a spout offers more direct extraction into your cup. More crema equals more flavor.
Most semi-automatic machines are exclusively designed for pods or accept pods. Therefore, a pod portafilter is essential for these machines. Pods are single espresso shots of pre-packed coffee sealed in filter paper.
They are convenient and eliminate the mess that comes with grinding and tamping coffee, and the espresso they brew is pretty good.
To use one pod in your semi-automatic espresso maker, you place one pod into the portafilter and lock the portafilter into its group. Pods are standardized and work with every pod machine.
Choosing The Right Portafilter
Weight is an essential factor when choosing your portafilter. Heavier portafilters have more thermal mass, ensuring better temperature stability when pulling shots. Commercial portafilters are generally 58 mm and often made from chrome-plated glass.
Low-cost machines tend to have smaller portafilters of lightweight aluminum construction. However, with little thermo-mass, their temperature can fluctuate quite a bit, making it challenging to achieve consistent results.
Handles are usually straight or angled. Angled handles are more ergonomic, and the angle allows the portafilter to rest on the countertop.
This makes the filter basket parallel to the counter surface. This position makes it easier to tamp the coffee evenly. You need to elevate straight handles to make them parallel to the counter while tamping.
Spouts come in single or double and are usually made of plastic or metal. Good quality spouts feature an open design enabling you to get a more detailed look at the espresso as it flows from portafilter to cup.
For a perfect view of your espresso, bottomless portafilters offer you an unobstructed view as it leaves the perforations of the filter basket, and it’s an excellent way to improve your tamping technique as a beginner.
A good tamp will achieve an even flow, while a bad tamp will result in uneven extraction and uneven flow.
Bottomless portafilters can also accommodate triple shot baskets, and as they have a flat bottom, resting them on the counter edge is easier and helps a lot with tamping.
Remember to keep your portafilters hot and clean, and when not in use, keep them locked in the group head to preheat until you are ready to pull a shot.
Using a product like Cafiza regularly helps to remove coffee residue and enhances the quality and performance of your portafilter.
There is more to choosing a portafilter than most realize, and size is the first factor you need to consider when choosing one for your machine.
Many companies make their own portafilters that you can purchase separately, and you can guarantee that these portafilters will fit your machine.
If you want to purchase a different portafilter than the one that comes as standard with your machine, you can always search the brand and a list of portafilters to match to help you make a better decision.
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