We are going to take a quick look at portafilters. Espresso portafilters come in different shapes and sizes, but I understood them better looking at their main features.
This blog post will explain the differences between portafilter types to know which is the best option for you, considering their main features.
A bonus you get from reading this blog post is that you won't pay for unnecessary or overhyped features when you get your espresso machine.
Key Espresso Machine Portafilter Features
Depending on your interest, you might have already noticed that espresso portafilters may come in different types and that some of them are combinations of various characteristics. For instance, you can find a small naked portafilter and a large pressurized portafilter. Looking at this, I concluded that features are more helpful to understanding portafilter types than broad categories.
The key features of espresso machine portafilter are:
- Basket size
- Bottom design
You need to attach the portafilter to the espresso machine group head to make an espresso. Although modifying portafilters have become a trend, the group head is almost impossible to adapt without a proper workshop with commercial-grade tools.
In other words, group heads are preset, and portafilter diameters are an excellent reference to learn if it's compatible with your machine. So, if you want to get a handcrafted, customized portafilter, you'll need to check what's the diameter of your espresso machine group head so that you can get the appropriate one.
For some time, portafilter and group head diameter was a clear sign of machine quality, and still today, you'll find that most machines with large portafilters are pricier than those with small ones.
The standard portafilter size is 58 mm, and it's easier to find it in commercial-grade equipment. That said, portafilters come in three different diameters:
The diameter directly relates to the coffee ground capacity of the portafilter, so having a 58 mm portafilter will allow you to play with dosing a lot more than a 40 mm one. The 54 mm portafilter is common among some prosumer espresso machine models, and you'll find that the difference isn't huge for most enthusiasts.
Portafilter basket size
Dosing coffee grounds is essential to dial in a good espresso shot. In doing so, making a single, double, or even a triple espresso shot may improve depending on the portafilter basket size.
Usually, most prosumer and commercial espresso machines come with a double shot basket. However, it isn't always the case. Before getting your espresso machine, it's essential to know if you can adapt different basket sizes to the portafilter or not.
The best-known portafilter basket sizes are:
- Single shot: holds between 7 and 10 grams of coffee grounds. Due to their limited capacity tend to have a specific bottom design to create more resistance and increase extraction.
- Double shot: as I said before, a double shot basket is a standard for prosumer and commercial machines. It holds between 15 and 22 grams of coffee grounds.
- Triple shot: it isn't common to find cafés that serve triple shots, although it's easier to get a triple shot basket in commercial-grade equipment. A triple shot basked can hold between 31 and 35 grams of ground coffee.
But is basket size important? Well, for today's standards in most countries, it's hard to imagine a good espresso shot with less than 10 grams of ground coffee. Traditional Italian espresso single shots have 7 grams of ground coffee, and we can't say that Italian espresso is lower in quality. On the contrary, many favor this Italian custom because it allows for more visits to the espresso bar.
On balance, you can make an excellent single espresso shot in a double shot basket, so it's better to get a machine that can use double-shot baskets. A triple shot basket tends to be more useful in cafés and other commercial setups.
Few things are more significant than pressure when defining espresso machines.
Some people even claim that any device incapable of getting less than 9 bars isn't an espresso machine. A machine needs to have a well-designed system that takes hot water and infuses it precisely and securely into the filter to produce high pressure.
The pressurized portafilter is one of the main differences between super-automatic espresso machines and semi-automatic and manual machines. In manual and semi-automatic machines, tamping creates a uniform coffee bed. On the contrary, a pressurized portafilter deals pressure over the coffee -usually ground with a built-in grinder on demand.
Pressurized portafilters are a convenient feature for beginners, as they provide a more reliable result than manual tamping. However, if you're looking to learn and advance your tamping skills, along with your entire barista skillset, a non-pressurized portafilter is better for you.
Portafilters can come with a spout, two spouts, or bottomless -also called naked.
Spouted portafilters are the most common and traditional ones. They work great in commercial setups, where it's common to dial and serve two-single espresso shots at once.
In many cafés worldwide, mostly specialty coffee shops, serving double espresso shots have become the norm. Spouts lose most of their functionality here, and bottomless portafilters work better.
Additionally, naked portafilters help assess espresso quality because it's easier to notice problems in extraction, like channeling. Another fantastic advantage of having a naked portafilter is improving crema production and stability. Some people say you can get between 30% and 50% more crema with a bottomless portafilter.
Finally, many people prefer naked portafilters because they're easier to clean. Cleaning spouts is annoying and time-consuming, but it's vital. Spouts usually hold oily residues from espresso, producing a terrible taste and smell.
Espresso portafilters come in many shapes and sizes, each designed specifically. We could say that each type suits better a specific setup and barista.
Your barista skillset, convenience, adaptability, budget, and expected volume of work determine which is the best portafilter for you.
That said, portafilters are just a part of the espresso machine, and it's crucial to assess other aspects when getting one. Overall, remember that a good grinder is essential for espresso and evaluating extraction visually and tasting is part of the job.