A bottomless portafilter, also known as a naked portafilter, is an essential barista tool that allows you to diagnose extraction issues. The spouts are removed and the basket exposed, letting you view the entire extraction process.
There are numerous reasons you should use a bottomless portafilter, but five of those include consistency, crema, taste, extraction troubleshooting, and training, which we will expound on in more detail. The beauty of bottomless portafilters is that they channel into a single stream that flows directly into the cup.
Bottomless portafilters are no more challenging to use than regular portafilters and are an excellent help to beginner baristas. So, let’s analyze how you would use a bottomless portafilter and how to get your tamping method just right. But, first, let’s review how bottomless portafilters compare to regular portafilters.
Bottomless Portafilter Versus A Regular Portafilter
On a regular portafilter, the bottom of the basket is solid, and spouts are removed, allowing the espresso to flow into the cup.
On the other hand, a bottomless portafilter is open, exposing the bottom of the basket. This type of portafilter looks like a sturdy metal ring without a handle.
When pulling an espresso shot, the espresso flows through the puck into a centered liquid column that descends from the basket into the cup.
To truly understand the differences between a bottomless and a regular portafilter, it helps to know the benefits of a bottomless portafilter:
The ability to detect espresso shot problems instantly helps to improve consistency, giving you the edge over the competition.
An experienced barista can yield 50% or more crema as the shot doesn’t come into contact with a surface other than the bottom of the portafilter basket.
This keeps the crema bubbles perfectly intact. In addition, the lack of a spout offers greater cup clearance and a direct flow of coffee into the cup.
More crema equals more flavor. Having fewer metallic surfaces to soak means less contamination from a filthy portafilter. The user can clean the bottom of the portafilter basket after every shot.
4. Extraction Troubleshooting
The barista can deduce whether the bottomless portafilters achieved the proper tamping technique. For example, if the extraction leans to one side or the other, you will know you applied an improper angle when tamping.
Likewise, rogue streams spitting out of the bottom of the basket reveal that your portafilter was dosed or leveled unevenly.
Bottomless portafilters are such a valuable tool for novice baristas in-training. However, whether you are a pro or a novice, it helps to determine without any doubt whether or not your grind, dosing, or tamping methods are off.
How Do You Use A Bottomless Portafilter?
You would use a bottomless portafilter the same way you would use a regular portafilter. The only difference is the way you watch the extraction process. Then, once you have secured your naked portafilter into the group head, brew your coffee the way you would a traditional cup of espresso.
You will be able to get an unobstructed view of your coffee as it flows into your cup. If your tamping weren’t sufficient, you would see streams squirt out the side of the basket.
The flow of coffee will provide information about your technique and give insight into how you could improve your brewing technique.
Always use a stainless steel portafilter that is the right size for your portafilter. If the stream isn’t flowing from the filter’s center, your grinds might be too coarse, causing channels to open up. You must use a grinder with settings to create fine grinds for espresso.
Trial and error will help you notice your flaws to correct them. It would help to write down the weight of the grinds and the grinder’s setting each time to know how to adjust later if required.
How Do You Tamp A Bottomless Portafilter?
At some point, you will experience channeling problems when pulling an espresso shot. Unfortunately, it happens to the most experienced baristas.
This will become apparent when using a bottomless portafilter as the whole process is in full view. Channeling is highly frustrating and affects flavor by resulting in a sour or bitter shot; it’s also incredibly messy. Consider the following ways you can prevent channeling:
1. Distribute The Coffee Grounds
After grinding your coffee, give a few light taps on the side of the portafilter so that there is an even coffee layer throughout the portafilter.
Give a quick tap on your mat when it’s even, and you should be ready to go. You can use a distribution tool like a tamping wedge. This ensures the grounds are spread evenly before tamping.
2. Create A Level And Compressed Puck
Tamping created a uniform coffee bed that is free of cracks. Well-tamped coffee offers even resistance to the pressurized force of brewing water for consistent extraction.
Firmly hold your portafilter, ensuring it’s level on the stand or mat. Next, hold your tamper applying light, and even force to the coffee bed.
Make sure that you are comfortable and use good posture when holding the portafilter. The sides of your thumb and forefinger can gauge if the tamper is even with the basket’s rim.
The pressure you apply isn’t as essential as your consistency and ability to keep the tamp completely level. You can use a levy to ensure your tamp is level each time.
Generally, it is best to use 20 to 30 pounds of pressure on the grounds. Press your hand down on a scale to get the idea of what that pressure feels like.
Why Is Tamping Important?
Even extractions are critical when you wish to extract the best flavor possible from your coffee. Two factors determine whether tamping is good or bad: evenness and pressure.
Correct tamping guarantees a nice even flow of water through the ground coffee. The more even the tamping, the more water is forced through the coffee, as uneven tamping creates more pressure on one side, resulting in uneven extractions.
You don’t want to apply too much pressure to your tamper. However, achieving consistent pressure ensures the puck is entirely solid and well-compressed.
You can use an automatic tamper to offer a level tamp to make life as easy as possible. However, you need to consider that an automatic tamper might be taking away a barista’s skill.
With that said, there is more to being a great barista than having the perfect tamp. In a commercial setting, it’s more important to look after your customers. If using an automatic tamper helps you focus on your customer, then it’s not a bad thing.
Can I Tamp Too Hard?
It is possible to tamp too hard, which leads to water struggling to get through the puck, resulting in over-extraction. Over-extraction can result in a good shot tasting overwhelmingly bitter. Also, continuously tamping too hard can strain your wrist.
When tamping espresso, you are packing it into the portafilter. The more evenly it is packed, the easier it is for the water to contact every coffee particle, leading to a bolder, more balanced flavor.
Tamping too lightly doesn’t pack the grounds together, resulting in water spraying, making a weak, unpleasant-tasting coffee.
Downsides To Using A Bottomless Portafilter
Bottomless portafilters are less forgiving than regular portafilters as they restrict the flow of coffee less.
It’s good to practice with a traditional portafilter and keep up with your barista training, as it’s easy to neglect if you get too used to a naked portafilter.
Uneven tamping and an imperfectly-packed puck can leave a big mess which can leave a lot for you to clean, mainly as coffee can shoot out the sides of the portafilter without a spout to guide it.
If you like to make two single shots of espresso simultaneously, you will need a traditional portafilter. It’s impossible to make one shot for two people with a bottomless portafilter as all the coffee drains into the same cup when nothing redirects the flow.
The final downside is that some people don’t like the crema’s texture from a bottomless portafilter and prefer the crema from a traditional portafilter.
Who can say which crema is better or worse in a bottomless portafilter? It seems to be a matter of personal taste.
Naked portafilters are an excellent tool for those with some experience using a regular portafilter and are just looking to improve their technique.
If you are a complete novice, you will want to try your hand with a standard portafilter. Bottomless portafilters are ideal for intermediate espresso aficionados.
If you experience extraction issues, don’t allow yourself to be stuck in a rut; try out the naked portafilter and take note of your steps.
The extra diagnostic ability you achieve from seeing the filter basket during the brewing process is a game-changer when making espresso.
There is nothing wrong with spouted portafilters, but you can go back to using them once you understand how a bottomless portafilter can enhance your espresso shot.