What is a portafilter? A portafilter is a scoop-like tool with a perforated filter basket that holds coffee grounds. It locks into the group head of an espresso machine, and pressurized hot water interacts with the grounds inside the basket to create espresso. There are two types of portafilters: spouted/regular and bottomless/naked.
What is the difference between a bottomless portafilter and a regular portafilter?
A regular portafilter has a single or two chutes that protrude from its bottom. Coffee flows through the filter basket into the chutes that direct it neatly into your cup. A bottomless portafilter, on the other hand, has no chutes and the filter basket is visible from the bottom.
The type of portafilter that you use can impact the quality of your coffee. In this article, we shall interrogate the merits and demerits of each type of portafilter. We will also reveal why, from our experience, a bottomless portafilter is better than a spouted one.
A regular portafilter has one or two spouts that jut out from its bottom. These spouts transfer the coffee from the basket to your cup. Generally, a portafilter with a single spout fits a single-shot filter basket that holds between 7 gms to 10 gms of coffee grounds.
A double-spouted portafilter fits a double-shot filter basket that carries between 14 gms to 20 gms of grounds.
Advantages Of A Regular Portafilter Over The Bottomless
The advantages of spouted portafilters are
- Spouted portafilters minimize spraying due to espresso channeling by funneling the coffee cleanly through the spouts.
- A double-spouted portafilter easily splits a double shot to make two single shots of espresso
- Regular portafilters are ideal when using pressurized filter baskets
1. A Regular Portafilter Masks Channeling And Gives A Cleaner Extraction
Espresso channeling causes coffee to flow in different directions at different rates. A spouted portafilter collects the coffee and directs it – through the spouts – into your cup hence preventing the coffee from spraying all over your countertop.
Espresso channeling highlights dosage, distribution, and tamping problems and is undesirable as it compromises the extraction of your espresso.
2. A Double-Spouted Portafilter Helps To Split Double Shots
A double-spouted portafilter provides an easy way to divide a double shot into two equal shots especially when no channeling occurs. Place a cup under each spout and the filter will split the shot to create “two shots” where each shot flows through the respective spout into the cup.
Spouted portafilters are the best choice when using pressurized filter baskets that eject coffee at high pressure because the spouts break the flow of the coffee and minimize the chances of splashing.
4. Regular Portafilters Are Beginner-friendly
Spraying can crash the confidence of a new learner, especially, when it occurs frequently. A spouted portafilter can boost your confidence by eliminating spraying as you continue to practice and master your espresso technique.
Drawbacks of A Spouted Portafilter
The main drawback to a spouted portafilter is that it is harder to diagnose channeling as compared to a naked filter. Failure to promptly detect channeling means that you are likely to continue making “bad espresso” because you miss out on the opportunity to improve your technique.
A naked portafilter has no spout at the bottom and the filter basket is visible from the bottom. It resembles a ring with a handle. Although a bottomless portafilter can be difficult to use for a beginner, when mastered, its advantages outstrip those of a regular filter.
7 Advantages of A Bottomless Portafilter
Here are seven reasons as to why you should use a bottomless portafilter
- Easy to detect and troubleshoot channeling problems
- Excellent training tool
- Easy to clean
- More crema
- Extra cup clearance
- Accommodates deeper filter baskets
- Magical to watch the extraction process
1. A Bottomless Portafilter Helps To Detect Channeling Problems
A bottomless filter provides a clear view of the extraction process and enables you to detect and troubleshoot faults such as channeling. You are able to promptly identify and resolve grinding, dosing, distribution, and tamping issues.
2. A Naked Portafilter Is An Excellent Training Tool
A naked portafilter is an excellent training tool when trying to perfect your extraction process because you are able to diagnose extraction problems. It will help you to improve your overall technique when pulling an espresso.
3. A Bottomless Portafilter Is Easy To Clean
It is easy to clean as all the parts of the bottomless filter are easily accessible for cleaning. A clean portafilter can contribute to the good taste of your espresso.
4. A Bottomless Portafilter Yields More Crema Than A Spouted
With perfect technique, a naked portafilter gives more crema than a spouted filter. The absence of spouts eliminates potential areas for crema to stick on. The crema falls from the filter basket direct into the cup.
5. A Bottomless Portafilter Gives More Cup Clearance
A naked portafilter has no chutes and is, therefore, lighter in weight and gives more cup clearance as compared to a spouted filter. You are able to pull your espresso directly into a taller cup such as travel mugs and takeaway cup.
6. A Naked Portafilter Easily Accommodates Deeper Filter Baskets
Bottomless portafilters accommodate filter baskets that are deeper such as triple baskets (21 grams or more) much better than spouted portafilters.
7. A Naked Portafilter Gives A Magical View of The Extraction Process
A naked filter allows you to watch as the espresso drops from the bottom of the basket all the way to the cup. Once you have perfected your extraction technique, the rich dark brown color of the espresso as it flows through the filter is, truly, a sight to behold.
Disadvantages of Using A Bottomless Portafilter
- When using a bottomless portafilter, you are not able to split double shots into two cups. This can be limiting especially in a busy commercial setting when several customers prefer single shots
- Poor dosing, distribution, and tamping can result in spraying when using a naked portafilter leading to a dirty workstation.
- Naked portafilters are not ideal for pressurized filter baskets as they can lead to coffee splashing all over the countertop
- It can be messy and frustrating, especially for beginners, due to espresso spritzing issues
To improve your coffee distribution technique and the quality of espresso, read about how to distribute ground coffee with or without a distribution tool.
Bottomless Portafilter Spraying
A bottomless portafilter that is spraying can be an indication of channeling that results from uneven grind size, poor dosing, poor distribution, or poor tamping of coffee grounds.
Espresso channeling happens when pressurized water finds weak points due to inconsistencies and cracks in the coffee puck. The water flows through these weak points faster than through the more consistent areas of the puck. The water unevenly draws the soluble elements in coffee grounds and produces a bad espresso.
When using a bottomless portafilter, inconsistencies in the coffee puck will lead to channeling that causes coffee to spray through the filter in multiple streams.
Consequently, a naked portafilter that is spritzing coffee enables you to detect espresso channeling so that you are able to correct your grind size as well as your dosing, distribution, and tamping technique.
How To Stop Your Bottomless Portafilter From Spraying
To troubleshoot a bottomless portafilter that is spraying:
- Ensure that you have a consistent grind size for your espresso
- Check that that you are using the right dosage for your filter basket: 7-10 gms for a single shot, 14-20 gms for a double shot, and about 21 gms for a triple shot
- Ensure you are evenly distributing the coffee grounds on the filter basket when dosing to minimize chances of uneven distribution
- Ensure that you tamp the puck correctly using a bit of your weight to level and press the coffee grounds with consistency
- Avoid knocking the portafilter with the tamper to remove excess grounds as it might crack the puck. Instead, use a soft brush to remove grounds that are stuck on the sides of the portafilter
- Avoid knocking the portafilter onto the group head of your espresso machine to avoid cracking the puck
If you are new to making espresso, a bottomless portafilter may be challenging to use in the beginning but it will massively assist you to perfect your technique. You are better off paying more attention to your grind size, dosing, and distribution and tamping to correct any spraying that might occur.
Alternatively, you can start learning with a spouted portafilter and switch to a bottomless one as your skills and confidence grow.
We would like to point out that although we rate a bottomless portafilter higher than a spouted one, with proper technique, both types of portafilters are capable of producing a perfect cup of espresso.