You're probably in the market for a new espresso machine and you keep reading about the portafilter in online reviews and now you're wondering "What is a portafilter?"
Or, you already own an espresso machine, but you want to experiment with a new portafilter and you're not sure which portafilter types to choose from. So we put together this guide that will explain what a portafilter is, how it works, and the different types of portafilters available.
Whether you're a barista or a home espresso enthusiast, understanding the role of the portafilter is crucial to achieving a great-tasting espresso.
Get ready to discover the secrets behind one of the most important tools in the world of espresso!
When visiting your favorite coffee shop, you probably noticed the long handle sticking out of the espresso machine. This is part of the portafilter, one of the most important components of making espresso.
It’s responsible for holding the coffee grounds in place while hot water passes through to extract rich espresso.
This fancy tool is made up of three main parts: the handle, the basket, and the spout.
The handle is where baristas grip the portafilter, letting them lock in and remove it before and after pulling shots.
The basket is where the coffee grounds go, and it has tiny holes in the bottom to allow the brewed coffee to pass through while still preventing the grounds from escaping.
The spout is where the brewed espresso comes out, and it can be either a traditional spout or a naked/bottomless spout.
A naked portafilter spout? What the heck is that?
Don’t worry, we will dive into all the different types of portafilters later. But first...
Now that you know just how critical the portafilter is for making a delicious cup of espresso, what are the origins of such a weird little device?
The history of the portafilter can be traced back to the early 20th century when espresso was becoming more popular in Italy.
The first machines used a simple filter basket that was placed in the brew head of the machine. This basket was filled with coffee grounds, and hot water was forced through it to extract the espresso. However, this method led to inconsistent extraction and difficulty in cleaning the filter.
To overcome these challenges, the portafilter was invented. The first patent for a portafilter was filed in 1938 by Achille Gaggia, an Italian barista who is widely credited with revolutionizing the espresso industry. Gaggia's portafilter design featured a metal basket with small holes at the bottom, which allowed for more even extraction and easier cleaning.
The original portafilter design had a handle that was separate from the basket, which made it difficult to use. In the 1950s, however, the lever machine was introduced, which allowed for easier use of the portafilter. The lever machine used a lever (duh) to apply pressure to the portafilter, which in turn forced water through the coffee grounds and produced a shot of espresso.
Over the years, the portafilter has undergone several improvements, including the addition of a spout to direct the espresso into the cup, and the use of different materials for the filter basket.
Today, the portafilter is an essential part of espresso machines around the world, and its design continues to evolve to meet the needs of baristas and coffee fans alike.
If you're curious to learn how an espresso machine works, then check out this article:
How Espresso Machines Work & Their 5 Main Parts - The Complete Guide
The portafilter is a complex part of the espresso machine that consists of three main components. They all work together to create a seamless extraction of delicious espresso. So how does this thing work, exactly?
The basket is arguably the most important part of the portafilter. This is where you put your coffee grounds in hopes of brewing a nice espresso.
Filter baskets consist of tiny holes that allow the extracted liquid and oils to pass through while simultaneously preventing any grounds from sneaking into your cup.
Most portafilter baskets are made of stainless steel that won’t react with the acids in the coffee. Make sure to clean this part before and after each use.
The basket connects to the handle, which is where you grip the portafilter. It’s important that the handle is made of a heat-resistant material like certain plastics or types of wood.
A comfortable, ergonomic grip is nice too. After all, you will be using this multiple times a day to fuel your coffee addiction! Pick a sturdy handle that feels good and keeps your hands away from the hot metal of the portafilter.
The spout is the part of the portafilter where the brewed espresso comes out. It can be either a traditional spout or a naked/bottomless spout.
The traditional spout has a metal tube that extends from the bottom of the basket, which helps the espresso flow directly into the cup. Naked/bottomless portafilters, on the other hand, have no metal tube, which allows the barista to see the extraction process and make adjustments as needed.
Overall, the handle, basket, and spout of a portafilter work together to hold the ground espresso beans, distribute hot water through them, and deliver the brewed espresso into the cup.
Now that you know how a portafilter works, there are many different types and variations to choose from. They can come in multiple diameters and with single or double-shot baskets. There are both pressurized portafilters and non-pressurized portafilters.
Let’s tackle all of these terms and the pros and cons of each type of portafilter. That way, you can buy your next one with confidence.
Pressurized portafilters are great for beginners who want consistent pressure every time with their puck of coffee. Essentially, this kind of portafilter has a basket with a false bottom with only one or two holes (or sometimes a small grid of holes), which help pressurize the grounds inside the basket.
These are also known as double-wall basket portafilters.
A pressurized portafilter tends to be common in home espresso machines that are more automated. It’s ideal for someone who isn’t a barista and just wants their espresso to be consistent and tasty each time double-wall baskets facilitate the espresso brewing process.
That being said, if you want to experiment more with your brews, a pressurized portafilter might not be for you.
Contrary to pressurized portafilters, non-pressurized portafilters have baskets with a grid at the bottom. They do not have a false bottom so they are called single-wall basket portafilters as well. Most semi-automatic espresso machines that you see in coffee shops use this type of portafilter.
It requires more skill and barista experience to use, but you get much more control and customization over the shots that you pull.
If you are reading this article, chances are that you like to experiment with brewing coffee and are interested in perfecting your craft. This portafilter is probably the right choice for you.
Spouted portafilters are more common than bottomless portafilters.
With this type of portafilter, the brewed espresso passes through the filter basket, through a curved spout, and into the cup. They produce a consistent shot but can hide extraction problems. They can also be more difficult to properly clean.
Bottomless portafilters are also referred to as naked portafilters since the bottom has no spout and you can see how the espresso drips through the filter basket.
Experienced baristas generally prefer this type of portafilter because they can see what is going wrong if the espresso shots aren’t turning out as they had hoped.
Aside from being aesthetically pleasing to watch (trust me, it’s like meditation), a bottomless portafilter tends to result in shots with more crema. This is because the oils in the coffee are touching fewer surfaces - and potentially getting stuck less often - than in a spouted portafilter.
The coffee has a more direct path to your cup.
Others claim that a naked portafilter can improve flavor and aroma, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. The coffee shop I roasted for in Brazil always used spouted portafilters without any issue! The espresso was amazing every day. You can take my word for it.
A ridged basket has an indentation that runs around the entire circumference of the filter basket. Because this ridge sits towards the top of the basket, it helps secure the unit in place while brewing and during cleaning.
The ridge also helps with more even distribution of the coffee and water, which can result in a more consistent cup of espresso.
One downfall to the ridged portafilter is that coffee grinds tend to get stuck on the inside of the basket where the ridge sits. Even after you knock out a puck, extra cleaning might be required to get everything out. Usually, all it takes is a quick wipe with a slightly damp rag.
Ridgeless filter baskets are also an option if you don’t want to worry about any extra cleaning of stuck grounds. It can be a bit harder to get even distribution with a ridgeless basket, so make sure you are using good distribution and tamping tools when putting your fresh grounds into the basket.
Note: Be aware that the basket might move when trying to get rid of pucks after pulling an espresso. There isn’t any metal indentation holding it in place.
A pod portafilter is a type of portafilter that is designed to hold coffee pods, which are pre-packaged coffee grounds that come in a single-serving size.
Astra, an espresso machine manufacturer, makes adjustable pod portafilters that allow you to conveniently brew individual servings with ESE (easy serve espresso) pods that are popular in some lower-end espresso makers.
I recommend you stay away from pod portafilters if you want a true espresso experience with the best flavor and aroma.
Portafilters can come with single, double, or triple shot baskets, depending on what size and how many shots you want to make each time you pull espresso.
Single-shot baskets typically hold 7-12 grams of coffee, double-shot baskets hold 14-21 grams, and triple-shot baskets hold 21+ grams.
If you like to make one shot of espresso at a time, you’re probably fine with a single-shot basket. You can identify it by its unique funnel shape. It’s usually paired with a single-spouted portafilter.
Most coffee shops use double or triple-shot baskets to keep up with lots of demand. Both sizes are still used to make two shots of espresso at a time, so they are paired with double-spouted portafilters.
This isn’t anything fancy. All it means is that this portafilter has two spouts.
Most coffee shops claim that single spouts make a lower-quality espresso. This was the case at the coffee shop I worked at. We would always use a double-spouted portafilter, even when making just a single shot of espresso. The little bit of extra wasted coffee was worth the better-tasting cup.
With all the variations that portafilters can come in, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are also different diameters available for the filter basket.
The most common basket diameter is 58 mm. This is what most commercial espresso machines come supplied with, and it’s what you will find at most coffee shops using semi-automatic machines.
53 mm and 54 mm are other available sizes for smaller machines. You will find 54 mm diameter baskets on many home machines like Breville’s Bambino and Bambino Plus. 53 mm is less common.
51 mm baskets are used on some of the smallest home machines, like some entry-level DeLonghi espresso makers. Some baskets also come with 57 mm diameters, but these are extremely rare.
This decision is made by the machine that you use or plan to purchase. You can’t substitute a 58 mm basket for a 54 mm one. Save yourself the hassle of trying because it simply won’t fit. Make sure you buy whatever size works for your machine.
If you aren’t sure what size basket your portafilter comes in, you can use a machine caliber to measure the interior dimensions. Make sure you convert to millimeters if you are measuring in inches!
The espresso machine is a complex beast, but using a portafilter is actually a simple part of the process. Follow these steps on how to use and prepare a portafilter basket, and you’ll be pulling espresso shots in no time!
A good portafilter is whichever type works best for you and your needs.
If you want to take out the guesswork and stick to what most professional baristas use with their semi-automatic machines, here’s my recommendation:
Pick a non-pressurized, ridged portafilter that has the right diameter for the machine you are using. Choose a double or triple-shot basket with two spouts to keep things as simple as possible while making two shots of espresso at a time.
In addition, make sure you pick a portafilter that’s made with high-quality materials. Don’t cheap out for lower-quality wood handles or portafilter baskets that aren’t made of stainless steel or chrome-plated brass.
I’ve seen acrylic plastic filters on the market… definitely avoid those! They aren’t durable and can harbor bacteria within scratches.
It's also important to choose a manufacturer that has replacement parts readily available and at a decent price, in case anything breaks.
There are several portafilter accessories that baristas or coffee enthusiasts should have to ensure a better espresso extraction and overall coffee experience. Here are some that I highly recommend you buy if you want to take your espresso to the next level.
A portafilter is a tool used in an espresso machine to hold and distribute coffee grounds evenly for a perfect espresso shot. It is a critical component that controls the distribution of coffee grounds during the brewing process, letting coffee liquid and oils pass through while preventing any coffee grounds from entering your cup.
A portafilter basket is a small, removable basket inside the portafilter that holds the coffee grounds during the brewing process. It is a crucial component that ensures the grounds are distributed evenly, creating a consistent and high-quality espresso shot.
Most importantly, the holes in a portafilter basket allow the coffee liquid and oils to pass through but keep the grounds out of the final cup.
There are several types of portafilters available, including the following most common: single, double, and triple shot baskets, pressurized portafilters and non-pressurized portafilters, spouted and naked/bottomless portafilters, ridged and ridgeless filter baskets. Each type offers different advantages and disadvantages, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences. There are also different diameter sizes, depending on the machine.
The most common type of portafilter is a double shot basket with a spout and ridged basket, typically used in commercial espresso machines. This type of portafilter offers consistency in the amount of coffee used for each shot, making it a popular choice in coffee shops and cafes that use semi-automatic machines. The most common diameter size is 58 mm.
The portafilter is a crucial part of the espresso machine for both coffee enthusiasts and baristas who want to make the perfect espresso shot.
Now that you know what a portafilter is and all the various types of portafilters available, including the advantages and disadvantages of each one, I hope you can make an informed decision on which one to purchase. Even better, try getting different baskets and test your espresso maker!
Whatever you choose, happy brewing!