Your portafilter is where the magic happens. It’s where coffee and water mix to form a beautiful, delicious, and complex espresso shot. So learning about the different portafilter types can be a great opportunity to control the size of your shots, split them in two, or just look awesome.
The thing is, there are many different kinds of portafilters. Some are incredible, some are a waste of money, and some are more suited for specific kinds of machines than others.
I’ll help break it down so that you can know exactly what kind of portafilters you can purchase to enhance your espresso and improve your coffee lifestyle.
Portafilter Diameters: You Get What You Get
Espresso machine group heads (the part you attach the portafilter to) are a preset size according to the manufacturer’s design. You cannot make them wider or smaller.
58mm in diameter is the emerging standard for commercial espresso machines. Chances are, the cheaper the home machine, the smaller the portafilter diameter—though that’s not the case 100% of the time.
- La Marzocco Strada — 58mm
- Breville Infuser — 54mm
- Gaggia Classic — 58mm
- Flair Espresso Maker — 40mm
The smaller the portafilter, the less flexibility you have over how much coffee you us in it. Even though you can change out the filter basket inside the portafilter to increase the basket depth, you can only add so much depth before the shots start to pull weird.
Portafilter Basket Sizes: Single, Double, Or Triple Shot?
Changing out the actual filter basket inside the portafilter is enabled on most home machines, though not every manufacturer has many options to choose from. Generally, the more you pay for a machine, the more options the company will give you.
- Single Shot Baskets — These short baskets typically hold 8-10 grams of coffee. They also often have a smaller set of holes at the bottom of the basket to reduce flow speed.
- Double Shot Baskets — The usual standard for commercial and prosumer machines, double shot baskets can often hold 16-22 grams of ground coffee. This is probably what you’ll want to use on most days.
- Triple Shot Baskets — If you need more caffeine than normal, pop in a triple shot basket that can fit 30-35g of coffee inside. That’s going to be a big triple shot!
Cheaper machines sometimes claim to have double shot baskets, and yet they only hold 10g of coffee or so. This is misleading and typically happens with smaller portafilter diameters.
I suggest sticking with a true double shot basket. Since you’re likely to pull a 1:2 shot (1g of coffee to 2g of water), that’ll end up giving you a shot around 32-40g, which is standard for most specialty cafes.
Pressurized vs Non-Pressurized Portafilters
Your average portafilter is not pressurized. This means the espresso machine itself generates the pressure and you trap it in the portafilter by tamping the coffee.
Pressurized portafilters, on the other hand, are common with low-level espresso machines and super automatics. It’s not the machine that generates the pressure here, but the portafilter with very few holes (thus, more pressure buildup).
Here’s why they exist…
- Manufacturers can outfit their low-level machines with low-level pressure mechanics
- They are simpler for newcomers since they only require a light tamp
However, in the end, pressurized portafilters leave you will less control over your shot. And if you’re investing in the skill of espresso, why would you allow a portafilter to limit you?
Spouted vs Naked Portafilters
Traditionally, portafilters came with either one or two spouts and the espresso would flow out of these and into the cup(s) below. These days, however, a new style of portafilter is becoming increasingly popular: the naked portafilter.
This is potentially a bigger decision than the rest of the things we’ve already discussed, so let’s break down the differences in detail.
Portafilters that funnel the espresso down through a chute and out a spout are convenient, especially if there are two spouts.
If you’re making a double shot and want to split it into two cups, it’s easy! Just pull the shot, put two cups under the two spouts, and you’re good to go. As long as your shot pulls evenly (and no channeling on one side), you should have the same amount of espresso in each cup. There’s no easier way to split shots.
But single-spouted portafilters? I honestly don’t see the point anymore. You can’t split the shot, which really takes away the main advantage that spouted portafilters have over naked ones. I suggest avoiding single spouted portafilters if you can.
The world’s most beautiful pictures of espresso happen with these portafilters. Called naked or bottomless, these have no spouts—the filter basket is exposed.
As the shot pulls, you can see the droplets of espresso forming on the bottom of the basket. You can then see the stream flowing down into your cup. It’s incredible!
There are a few reasons you may want to go with this kind of portafilter over any other…
- Tamping errors are obvious. You can easily see if you’ve tamped evenly by watching how the stream of espresso forms. If it’s situated to one side or lighter in an area, you can tell that that are of the puck was pushed lower down than another side.
- This helps you improve consistency. When you can see these mistakes and tell exactly where they happened, you can make adjustments that result in better, more balanced coffee next time.
- Lots more crema is formed. Bottomless portafilters often result in 50% more crema than spouted portafilters. That’s because those trapped air particles aren’t being released from their coffee oil prisons as they slide down the spout—they stay trapped for longer.
- They’re much easier to clean. The spouts in portafilters are hard to clean well, which can result in ‘off’ flavors from espresso oil buildup. Naked portafilters, on the other hand, are much easier to clean since everything is exposed.
As you can tell, we’re big on bottomless portafilters in specialty coffee. They’re practical, insightful, and visually stunning.
Some machines give you several choices when it comes to portafilters. Some don’t give you any. No matter how much you can customize your portafilter, there’s always one thing you can have complete control over: your coffee beans.
Freshly roasted, specialty-grade beans are the key to stellar espresso. Start with low-grade beans from the supermarket and you’ll never experience the rich espresso your gear is capable of producing for you.
Check out our JavaPresse Coffee Club—we send subscribers fresh beans just two hours after they’ve been roasted. Our beans come from the best small-batch and family farms in the world and are all well-suited for both espresso and regular black coffee.Your shots are about to become more vibrant and flavorful than ever before. Check it out!