Many coffee products strive to outdo their competitors by looking new and different somehow, but portafilters are constrained by existing requirements to all look the same way. However, while portafilters may appear identical, the differences in performance can be pretty significant.
There are five things that make an excellent portafilter: weight, size/ergonomics, type of handle, spout, and material. Before buying an espresso maker, it is essential to consider what kind of portafilter the machine uses and its user-friendliness. If it is too difficult to use, it can limit the coffee you brew, and you won’t enjoy your machine as you should.
To help you decide on a good portafilter, let’s discuss in more detail what you must look for to make your final decision. We will also explore the advantages of a bottomless portafilter to examine if it’s worth using.
What Makes A Good Portafilter?
As mentioned previously, five things that make an excellent portafilter. Let’s look at those and discuss them in greater detail:
A portafilter needs to be heavy as it means better thermal mass. Commercial-sized portafilters are generally mm and made from chrome-plated brass. This results in better temperature stability when you pull your shot.
Material is an essential part of portafilter design, and it must be made from durable materials. A good portafilter must last you many years, so a durable metal is a must.
Some low-cost machines come with plastic-lined filters that may wear over time. Stainless steel won’t wear as quickly.
The material can affect heat conduction. If the bottom of the filter is not as warm as the top, this means that the water passing through may lose temperature when passing through the grounds, leading to inconsistent results.
Portafilter handles usually come straight or angled. Angled handles are better when tamping as they rest easily on your countertop, allowing you to put as much pressure as you need for even tamping. Portafilters with straight handles usually need to be elevated to tamp, which is not very convenient.
Portafilter spouts can be either single or double, but their primary function is to direct the flow of coffee into your cup. Single spouts are typically used when brewing for one, while double spouts allow you to brew two shots at once.
A double spout can also help you determine an even tamp. If you brew two equal-sized shots from a double portafilter, you have achieved an even tamp.
While there isn’t much of a size variation between portafilters, a 58mm filter tends to have more even pressure distributing through the puck than a 54mm.
The reason is that a taller filter will experience a more significant pressure difference from the top to the bottom of the puck.
Types Of Portafilter
There are four types of portafilters which include pressurized, pod, commercial, and adapters.
You may have also heard of “bottomless portafilters.” This tool is responsible for creating the correct pressure to brew espresso. Let’s look at the different types of portafilters below to help you decide which one you want to use each day:
As their name suggests, pressurized portafilters create the required pressure to brew espresso.
These portafilters make correct pressure by using a basket or special valve which ensures water doesn’t pass through until it has the right pressure; the portafilter does all the work for you.
All you must do is grind the coffee, decant it in the portafilter, tamp gently, and attach it to your espresso machine.
Pressurized portafilters are incredibly convenient. However, the downside is that you have little control over the flavor of your brew. Also, they are typically made from aluminum and plastic, so they are not as long-lasting nor as good at maintaining heat as others.
Many semi-automatic espresso machines accept pods exclusively. For these machines, a pod portafilter is a must-have. If you wonder what a pod is, it’s a single shot of pre-packed coffee sealed in filter paper.
The pods are very convenient, especially if you want to prevent as much mess as possible that you would typically have with grinding and tamping coffee.
The espresso they brew is usually of excellent quality as well. However, they only come as a single shot, and they tend to be a little drier than ground coffee.
When you use a pod portafilter, you only need to place the pod into the portafilter before locking it into the group head – it’s that simple.
Commercial-style portafilters resemble those found on machines you would typically find in commercial settings. These machines are large, heavy, and incredibly durable.
The portafilter head is usually made of chrome-plated brass, which ensures heat stability which is critical to making a good espresso.
These types of portafilters make some of the best espressos around; however, getting the hang of these machines can take time as you learn how to weigh, compress, and tamp your coffee.
Achieving success with your commercial portafilter requires the following essential steps:
- Place your grounds into the portafilter
- Tamp your grounds firmly
- Insert the portafilter into the group
- Switch on your machine’s pump
The last step ensures that the correct pressure sends hot water to the group and passes through the grounds. While many semi-automatic machines automatically create this pressure, you can significantly impact the pressure through grind fineness and firmly tamping.
The manufacturers of espresso makers have made it possible to buy one type of machine and maybe use a different portafilter than the one that is your machine’s standard, thanks to adapters.
Adapters can be more flexible. For example, you can use them to transform a pressurized or commercial portafilter into a pod portafilter.
Bottomless portafilters are a crucial barista tool. The spout is removed, and the basket is exposed to help you diagnose extraction problems. The bottomless portafilter is sometimes called a naked portafilter, and it is a crucial tool for any good barista.
What Is The Advantage Of A Bottomless Portafilter?
When you can instantly detect problems with espresso shots, your espressos will significantly improve in a short amount of time. This gives an edge over the competition.
Bottomless portafilters also achieve 50% or more crema. This is because your espresso shot is not coming into contact with surfaces other than the bottom of the basket, with no portafilter bottoms or spouts.
This ensures that the little crema bubbles come out perfectly intact. The lack of a spout gives the user more cup clearance, allowing direct extraction into the cup.
More crema equals more flavor, and fewer metal surfaces mean less contamination. This lets the user clean the bottom of the portafilter basket after each use.
Bottomless portafilters allow you to detect whether you achieved the correct tamping technique. You will know that an improper angle was used when tamping when the extraction leans to one side.
Random espresso streams demonstrate that the portafilter wasn’t leveled or dosed evenly.
Pressurized Vs Non-pressurized Portafilters
Pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters differ in the level of control over the brewing process. There is no strictly right way or wrong way to brew coffee. Some individuals want to have more control over the process than others.
The commercial portafilter is an example of a non-pressurized portafilter – this machine uses a pump to push against 9 bars of pressure for a brew.
This machine offers more control to the user, and it requires more prep work, but it’s worth it to get the shot you like.
If you want a simple cup of espresso, and you’re not too interested in controlling the brewing process, then an espresso maker with a pressurized portafilter is the machine for you.
It does most of the work for you. You don’t need to tamp a pressurized portafilter.
The portafilter has a device that doesn’t let coffee out of the portafilter until it has reached 8 and 9 bars of pressure.
You will know if your portafilter is pressurized if the coffee goes through two screens. The basket looks like a standard basket with lots of holes distributed evenly on it, and this is where you put your coffee grounds.
Once the water has passed through the ground coffee and extracted, it enters the holding section between the first and second screens.
This is where the machine pressure builds up, and the coffee is pushed out through a small hole or two. This explains why pressurized portafilters are also known as dual-wall filter baskets.
Should You Keep A Portafilter In The Grouphead?
Yes, it would help if you kept your portafilter in the group head when not in use as it prevents the gasket from drying and cracking. It also keeps it warm.
Can You Put A Portafilter In The Dishwasher?
No, you should never put a portafilter and filter basket in the dishwasher as the metal can rust. Following the cleaning instructions on your manual would be best; you would generally use a mild soap to wash them by hand.
Understanding how to choose the best portafilter will ensure that you can pull perfect espresso shots every time. It’s essential to invest in a top-quality espresso machine and ensure that you have the right portafilter, as different portafilters work for different machines.