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Sometimes the most high-end espresso machines rely on a simple tool to allow them to work. This is exactly the relationship you get between your espresso machine and its portafilter.
The portafilter is the business end of your espresso machine. Knowing how best to use it, what type is best, picking one to match your specific brewing techniques, and the difference between the various types is significant to know.
We will go over all of these elements and will show you how to use each type correctly.
What Is A Portafilter
A portafilter is a one-pound piece of brass coated in chrome with a handle attached to it that attaches to your espresso machine’s group head.
It holds the tamped ground coffee beans (also called a puck) in its basket, which comes in different sizes to hold a single, double, or triple shot of espresso.
The portafilter is where the hot water will be pushed through to extract your espresso.
Are portafilters Interchangeable/Are They The Same Size
Different manufacturers will have different sizes, shapes, and filter screens.
Making things even more confusing is the same brand will have various sizes for different models.
Ensure you check your manual or go online and speak with customer service to verify the size you need.
Even if you know that you have a 58mm size portafilter, the shape of the outer casing may not allow another portafilter that is also 58mm to lock into the group head of your machine.
The bowl’s diameter, the setting and number of flanges, and the locking mechanism’s angle that the flanges sit-in will decide whether it will attach within the group head.
What Is The Standard Portafilter Size
Years ago, your espresso maker’s standard size was around 54mm now, and it is 58mm.
Larger sizes are better since you will have more flexibility in the coffee grounds you can add to the brewing process.
This can change for various reasons, cheaper models sometimes will have smaller portafilters, and machines that don’t allow you to change basket sizes will be smaller, but this will limit the number of shots you can make, which is why these machines are normally cheaper.
Portafilter size Chart
|ESPRESSO MACHINE MODEL||PORTAFILTER SIZE (IN MILLIMETERS)||TAMPER SIZE (YOU WANT IT TO BE .75 MM SMALLER THAN PORTAFILTER)|
|Breville 800 Series||51mm||50.25mm|
|New Breville Models||58mm||57.25|
|De’Longhi Old Models||49mm||48.25mm|
|De’Longhi Newer Models||51mm||50.25mm|
|ECM Botticelli- Commercial- Cellini- Grotto||58mm||57.25mm|
|Francis Newer Models||56mm||55.25mm|
|Francis Older Models||57mm||56.25mm|
|La Pavoni Napolitana||57mm||56.25mm|
|La Pavoni Lever||51mm||50.25mm|
|La Pavoni scala||58mm||57.25mm|
|La Spaviale Commercial|
|Nuova Simonelli Apple-Grinta-Oscar||58mm||57.25mm|
|Olympic Cremina Club-Express||49mm||48.25mm|
Portafilters For Sale
I would list the different types for each of the popular models, but there are way too many, and it would make it difficult to navigate the list and find the one you need.
The best way for you to use this information is to read about each kind and figure out which one works best for you, and then find the size you need by reading your manual or calling customer service.
How To Measure A Portafilter
There are 3 ways to measure your portafilter to find out what types you can use or if you want to switch out the baskets.
Measure it using calipers
Since your measurement will be in millimeters, it can be a lot easier if you use a digital caliper.
This may sound expensive but you can get an accurate caliper for $20.
- Set the calipers to millimeters
- Measure dead center to get the widest part of your portafilter
- Make sure to measure the inside diameter of the portafilter, not the outside.
Use a tape measure
This will take a little math but don’t be intimidated. You can also use your phone to convert to millimeters.
- Measure from side to side using the inside diameter only. Staying over the center of the portafilter.
- Convert the measurement into decimals using a calculator or smartphone.
- Then convert to millimeters.
Look at the manual
The most accurate way to know what type and size you’ll need is to look at your manual to see the size of the portafilter itself and the flanges’ configuration that lock into the group head.
What Are The Different Parts To A Portafilter
To understand the differences between bottomless portafilters, and pressurized portafilters, you first need to know the individual parts that make them up.
The handle is made from plastic, metal, or wood and is usually 5 to 6 inches long and 3/4 to 1 inch thick.
The baskets are removable metal filters that come in different sizes to give you the option of brewing a single or double shot.
You can even get filter baskets that will hold a triple shot if you’re brave enough.
If you look inside the portafilter’s head, you’ll see two wires running parallel to each other; these create tension when you put the basket in so that it won’t fall out.
When they’re new, it can actually be a little hard for you to remove the baskets, but this will become easier with use.
If you have a spouted portafilter, you will see one or two hollow tubes underneath it; this is where the streams of espresso will pour into your espresso cups.
The vast majority of your commercial espresso machines will have spouted versions.
This is an accessory you can add to measure the bars of pressure that the pumps are pushing through your coffee puck to create extraction.
Professional baristas will mostly use this at commercial establishments.
This will tell you if your tamping technique is correct, if the grinder you’re using gives you the correct , and helps you determine if you’re having extraction issues.
How To Use A Portafilter Correctly
Even though it’s a straightforward tool, there are certain things you should and shouldn’t do.
Decide what type of drink you want.
Before you do anything, you need to know the amount of coffee grind you need, and this will be determined by the type of drink you’re in the mood for.
If you want a single shot (6 to 8 grams of coffee grounds)or a double shot ( 13 to 15 grams of grounds), you will need to grind the appropriate amount.
If you use too little or too much, you will cause under or over-extraction during the brewing process, and the result will not be good espresso.
If you’re making a cappuccino, americano, or latte, the same thought process will be needed, and you will only need to decide if you want one or two espresso shots in your drinks.
Grind your beans
If you use grinds that are too coarse, you will under extract your espresso, and if they are too fine, you will over-extract and possibly clog your machine.
Try not to use pre-packaged ground coffee; it is no longer fresh beans and isn’t ground at a consistent size needed for espresso.
This doesn’t mean you need to use specialty coffee, just make sure to use fresh beans.
Tamp your grinds
If you have ever watched an experienced barista tamp coffee grounds, you’ll probably come away thinking that it’s a simple task that doesn’t require any thought.
This is partly true, but if you have an inconsistent tamping technique, the coffee grinds will be loosely packed, and this will change how the water goes through your puck and will hinder the espresso flow.
In case you don’t know the term coffee puck, this is the compressed coffee in your portafilter.
It’s called a puck because this is the form it takes when you bang it out into the knock box.
Level the grinds off
Your goal is to have a consistent evenness with no peaks, valleys, or ruts in the espresso puck to brew the perfect espresso extraction.
The top of the coffee puck should be level, flat, and smooth without any holes.
If you notice ruts, take a spoon and loosen the grinds up and re-tamp them.
Lock it into the group head
The group head or brew head is where the portafilter locks into your espresso machine.
Different manufacturers use different group heads, and the way they lock in isn’t always the same.
Always make sure they are tight but don’t use excessive force.
Adjust your technique if you’re not happy.
It should take between 25 and 30 seconds for your delicious espresso to be extracted.
If you’re not happy with the result, you can change the grind settings on your grinder or change the way you tamp the grinds.
Both of these factors can have significant results on your coffee; only change one thing at a time, though, so that you know which one had a positive or negative impact.
Different Types Of Portafilters
Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so you should read all the pros and cons before deciding which one will work best for you.
A spouted version has a single or double spout on the bottom to split shots; you see these being used a lot in commercial coffee shops.
- You can make two shots at one time – The whole point of the spout is to be able to make 2 shots simultaneously.
- The crema is thicker and allows it to have a silkier texture – Since the crema comes into contact with the metal, it decreases the number of air bubbles in it, giving it a silkier thicker texture.
- Harder to clean – To ensure that you remove any build-up from the spouts inside, you need to use a tiny metal brush.
- The spouts are prone to mineral build-up – Mineral build-up can attach itself to the inside of the spouts and affect the crema production and your espresso flavor.
- Can cause a metallic taste – Since your espresso is coming into contact with the chrome or brass, leeching can cause your drink to taste metallic.
Bottomless Portafilter (AKA naked portafilters)
A bottomless portafilter has the spout and the bottom cut out so that all you see is the bottom of the filter basket.
It allows you to see the entire extraction process and is quite beautiful. In fact, most stock photos and marketing photos will show baristas using this type for the way it looks.
There are many benefits to using one besides how cool it looks.
How To Use A Bottomless Portafilter In An Espresso machine
If you have never seen a bottomless portafilter, it may be hard to understand what we’re talking about, so here is a video that explains it a little better.
Why Should You Use A Bottomless Portafilter
When I originally bought my Breville Oracle, it came with a spouted portafilter, and I switched to a naked portafilter after a couple of months.
At first, there was a learning curve, but this learning process exposed what I was doing wrong and has made me a more technical barista.
The quality of my espresso has definitely increased because of this.
What Is A Bottomless Portafilter Used For In Espresso Machines
Besides looking awesome, it’s used primarily to detect extraction issues caused by inconsistent tamping, irregularly sized grinds, or the wrong amount of coffee being used.
Bottomless VS. Spouted Portafilter
Below are the advantages and disadvantages of using a bottomless and spouted version.
- Consistency – You’ll now have the ability to determine if you have any extraction issues and troubleshoot them. You’ll know instantly if the evenness of your ground coffee isn’t consistent.
- Quality crema – If you’re using fresh coffee beans, you will produce 50 to 60% more crema. This is because the espresso never touches anything after it’s extracted except for your espresso cups. In a spouted, pressurized, or non-pressurized portafilter, your crema is flowing over chrome plated brass, and this limits the amount of air in it, making it more viscous.
- Increased flavor profile – A few factors will change the way your espresso tastes, the amount of crema and the build-up of bacteria in the spouts. Since a naked portafilter produces more crema and there are no spouts to become contaminated, you won’t experience these problems.
- Easier to clean – You won’t need metal brushes to clean the spouts or have to worry about leaching from the metal. You will only need to clean the filter basket.
- Troubleshoot your espresso making skills – You will know instantly if your tamping, dosing, and brewing technique are sub-par. If you see the espresso flow coming from the left or the right, you tamped at an angle instead of straight down. If you see split streams, you may have dosed unevenly or leveled it wrong.
- Consistency – You will notice with a bottomless portafilter that the crema has more bubbles and is lighter
- Cup clearance – Since the spouts and the bottom of the portafilter are gone, it leaves you with more room to place a taller cup on the tray.
- You need to know what you’re doing – They are great for training people on tamping technique, grinding the correct size, and dosing but expect to create a mess a couple of times until you figure out what you’re doing.
- You can’t split shots – I don’t think this will be a big deal to most people, but if you like to make shots for yourself and your significant other, it will take a little longer now.
Pressurized or double-walled portafilters utilize one more step than non-pressurized brands.
The pressure from the espresso machine pushes the hot water through the coffee in the first screen into a holding area with a hole in its center.
Once the pressure builds up enough, the coffee is pushed through the second screen and into your cup.
This is why it’s considered a pressurized variety.
Why Should You Use A Pressurized Portafilter
The main advantage of using a pressurized version is if you have a cheaper grinder and don’t want to spend the money on a more expensive model.
This is because a presssurized portafilters are more forgiven to inconsistent grind sizes that come with cheaper coffee grinders.
You can also get away with using cheaper forms of coffee beans.
Are Pressurized Portafilters Bad
This is going to be a matter of opinion.
If you enjoy your espresso and are used to using a non-pressurized portafilter that creates a thick level of crema, you will have a hard time drinking the subpar espresso pressurized portafilters produce.
The flavor and texture are very different and not nearly as satisfying.
Do You Have To Tamp A Pressurized Portafilter
You do not need to tamp the ground coffee if you’re using pressurized portafilters.
The only thing you should do is brush the sides of the filter basket off if any grinds can get caught in the group head’s locking mechanism on your espresso machine.
Pressurized VS. Non-Pressurized Portafilters
If you take your espresso seriously and strive for a rich flavor and silky texture, you will have a hard time transitioning to a pressurized portafilter.
- You can use more affordable beans – Since the coffee is in contact with the water for a longer period of time, it can mask the use of cheaper beans.
- Will hide an inconsistent grind – If you own one of the cheaper coffee grinders and cannot make a consistently fine grind needed for espresso, a pressurized portafilter will keep it from being over-extracted since the grinds will soak longer.
- Requires little expertise – Inconsistent tamping, dosing, or grinding won’t affect your drink quality.
- Non-traditional flavor – The crema is almost non-existent and affects the flavor of the coffee.
- Hard to clean – The filter is harder to clean than a normal filter basket and
- little to no control over the extraction process – Once you know what you’re doing, you can change the flavor profile and texture of an espresso shot, but you won’t be able to do this with a pressurized model.
Non – Pressurized Portafilters
Non-pressurized portafilters include spouted, bottomless, and commercial brands.
The extraction process happens due to the resistance the grinds cause when the hot water is pushed through the filter at 9 bars of pressure.
I wanted to mention this because people get confused when they hear non-pressurized and think that it’s a single type of portafilter instead of a group of them.
If you hear the term commercial portafilter, this refers to how it’s made, not the exact type.
You can have commercial bottomless, pressurized, or spouted portafilters; the difference is how they’re made.
They will almost always be 56-58 millimeters in diameter and made of brass coated in chrome for even heat retention.
They also normally weigh a little over a pound; all of these factors make sure that they are durable since they are normally used dozens of times a day in commercial establishments like coffee shops and Starbucks.
Most people have heard of Nespresso, but you may not understand what they are exactly.
Nespresso machines and the many variations that have come about in the last couple of years use what is known as an ESE pod, coffee pods, or coffee capsules.
These are packaged coffee grinds pre-measured and ready to be put into a special portafilter and brewed.
You don’t have to worry about grinding the whole coffee beans, measuring out the amount you want, or tamping it.
Why Use A Pod Portafilter
If you own a pod machine, you have to use a portafilter that accepts coffee pods or capsules.
By owning one of these machines, you’re limiting your options since you have to use the type of coffee compatible with your machine.
But you will also have the convenience of placing a capsule in, pressing a button, and brewing espresso.
- Convenient – It is much quicker than a normal brewing process of having to grind, measure, and tamp your own coffee beans.
- You don’t have to be experienced – Tamping, grinding, and measuring takes a little bit of skill and know-how, which you won’t need with an espresso pod machine.
- Sub Par espresso- When coffee is pre-packaged with ground beans, oxidation starts to happen, making the coffee stale and dry. This severely affects the flavor and causes it to be very bitter.
- Can only make a single shot – They are pre-measured and only meant to be used one time. If you want a double shot, you will have to use another pod or re-use the same one, but this will be much weaker and watered down.
- You lose complete control – With a normal espresso maker, you can change the grind size, tamp pressure, and dosage to change the flavor, acidity, and texture. You won’t be able to do this with a pod machine.
Certain machines come with portafilters that will allow you to use an adapter to switch between most pods and normal coffee grinds.
The benefits of using an adapter would be on days when you’re in a rush, you can throw in a pod, hit a button and, and have your espresso in about 30 seconds.
Then, on days when you have a little more time, you can allow yourself the pleasure of grinding, measuring, and tamping your coffee in the traditional portafilter without the adapter.
If this is something you’re interested in, check your manual or email customer service to see if your machine is compatible and what size you need.
What Is The Compatability Between Brands
Do not guess what size portafilter you need or try to switch them with other brands.
They are not universal, and change in diameter, width, size, depth, and the flanges on the side that lock into the group head are also different in size and angle.
Always make sure to check your manual or contact customer service to find out the exact type you need with your espresso machine model.
Don’t think that you can buy a De’longhi portafilter for another de’longhi machine; different machines made by the same manufacturer often have differently designed portafilters.
What Is A portafilter Basket?
The filter basket is what is placed inside of the portafilter and will hold your ground coffee.
Once your coffee grinds are in the basket and tamped down, you will lock it into the group head and start the brewing process.
The espresso machine will push pressurized water through the grinds, causing it to be extracted from the grounds.
The coffee is then pushed through the holes in the bottom of the basket and into your glass.
What Are The Different Basket Sizes
Filter baskets come in three different sizes.
- Single shot (7 grams of coffee)
- Double shot (14 grams of coffee)
- Triple shot (21 grams of coffee) can only be used with a bottomless portafilter.
How full Should A Portafilter Be
This is going to depend on what type of basket you’re using.
You never want to overfill your basket since this will affect the extraction of your coffee.
I always recommend using a coffee scale and weighing out the coffee per gram; the size shot you want will determine which basket you place in the portafilter.
- If you want a single shot to weigh out 7 grams of coffee grinds
- A double shot will need 14 grams of fine grinds.
- A triple shot will be filled with 21 grams of coffee.
The weights I’m listing are a bit of a guideline also; some people will tell you that a single shot will be around 8 to 10 grams, a double is 16 to 22, and a triple at 30 to 35 grams.
This is the beauty of using non-pressurized or pod portafilters since you have complete control over the brewing process from start to finish.
How Can You Clean A Clogged Portafilter Basket
Cleaning the portafilter and the basket is important to keep it working properly. If you allow the screen to become clogged, you won’t extract the correct amount of espresso, and the result will be subpar.
- Knock out the spent coffee grounds into a knock box.
- Run warm water over the portafilter and the filter basket. If you have a spouted portafilter, I would recommend locking it into the group head and letting the water run through it as if you were making a shot.
- You will also want to look into the group-head at the screen. This is called a shower screen, and this is where the water falls onto your coffee. This should be wiped down with a specialty brush or a paper towel to ensure that the water continues to be distributed evenly for proper extraction.
- Now dry off the portafilter; you do not want to leave it wet.
- When you’re done, you have two options, put it back in the group-head, or if your machine has a warming tray at the top, you can lay in there.
What Does It Mean When Your Portafilter Sprays Everywhere
You will mostly experience this when using a naked or bottomless portafilter.
If you don’t use the correct grind size or tamping skills are lacking, it can cause the coffee to shoot out the side filter basket causing a mess.
Another reason is if you have some coffee grounds on the side of the portafilter when you lock it into the group head, which can cause the gaskets not to seal properly.
If you experience this and you’re not using a naked portafilter, it is probably because you forgot to put the basket in.
I know this seems ridiculous, but I was exhausted one morning and did this exact thing. It makes a mess and scared the crap out of me since I thought my Breville was broken.
It isn’t hard learning how to use or deciding what type of portafilter you want. The difficult part is figuring out the size and which types your machine is compatible with.
If you’re having any problems, read through the article. Look at the size chart, and if you’re still having any problems, read your manual or contact customer service.