If you’re an espresso lover, then you know that the portafilter is one of the most critical components of your coffee setup. The portafilter basket holds the coffee grounds and allows water to pass through, producing a delicious shot of espresso.
We’ve all seen the beautiful slow-motion shots of espresso being prepared. Crema slowly forms on the underside of the basket as it gradually transitions from dark chocolate to an amber cascade of delicious espresso.
Most of these videos are what’s called a naked, or bottomless, portafilter basket. These baskets allow you to see the espresso being extracted and also help diagnose any issues with your espresso shot.
There are many different types of portafilter baskets. We researched different devices to help you understand the distinctions so you can make an informed decision when choosing portafilter basket types or simply deepen your lore on this wonderful coffee peripheral.
The first thing to know about portafilter baskets is that they go by many different names. You might see them referred to as “filter baskets,” “basket filters,” or simply “baskets.” But no matter what they’re called, they all serve the same purpose: to hold the coffee grounds and allow water to pass through.
Portafilters come in all shapes and sizes, and each type has a different name. For example, there are “single shot” baskets, which hold enough grounds for one espresso, and “double shot” baskets, which can make two espressos at once. There are also pressurized filters, which let you use coffee grounds with the same coarseness as drip coffee.
Then there are the material types: stainless steel, aluminum, and brass. Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s up to you to decide which one is right for your needs. Stainless steel filters are durable and easy to clean, but they can be difficult to find. Aluminum filters are less expensive but more difficult to clean. Brass filters are the most expensive but also the most durable.
No matter what you call it—a portafilter, a filter basket, or a basket filter—this essential piece plays a crucial role in making delicious espresso.
Ridged vs ridgeless filter baskets
One of the main differences between types of portafilter baskets is whether or not they have ridges. Ridged baskets have raised edges around the perimeter of the basket, while ridgeless baskets are sans indentation. Pretty easy, right?
Our findings show that the ridge creates a tighter fitting to keep the basket firmly seated inside the portafilter when in use. This is important because if the basket isn’t seated correctly, the espresso shot will be uneven.
If there is no ridge on the portafilter basket, it has a higher chance of being knocked out accidentally. Although this rarely happens, it’s something to remember. Despite this disadvantage, ridgeless baskets have the benefit of eliminating pucks more cleanly.
Single, double, and triple filter baskets
Another way to classify portafilter baskets is by size. Single basket filters are the most common basket type, as they will fit most home espresso machines. Double basket filters are typically used in commercial settings, as they allow for a higher volume of coffee grounds to be used. Triple basket filters are rarely used, as they often result in an over-extracted shot of espresso.
Single Filter Baskets
Single filter baskets are identified by their unique funnel shape. They can typically accept 7-12 grams of ground coffee and are used to make one espresso. One of the benefits of using a single filter basket is that it’s easy to get the dose right. Just fill the basket with grounds and tamp until you’ve achieved the desired level of compaction. The ideal extraction time for a single shot of espresso is between 25 and 30 seconds.
Another advantage of single baskets is that they offer better flavor clarity than other options. Because there is less coffee in the basket, each individual bean has a chance to shine through in the final shot. However, this also means that minor grind size and dose variations can significantly impact your espresso’s flavor. So, if you’re using a single basket, pay close attention to your grind and doses to ensure consistency from shot to shot.
Double Filter Baskets
Double baskets will generally be sized between 14 grams and 21 grams. The walls of a double basket are usually straight or taper slightly inward. The ideal extraction time for a double shot of espresso is between 30 and 35 seconds.
One advantage of double baskets is that they’re more forgiving than single baskets when it comes to dose. Because there is more coffee in the basket, minor variations in dose or grind size won’t significantly impact the final shot. This makes them a good choice for beginners still perfecting their technique.
Another advantage of double baskets is that they offer improved crema production compared to single baskets. Crema is that foamy layer on top of an espresso that contains essential aromatic oils and compounds. Because there is more coffee in the double basket, more oils and compounds are available to be extracted into the shot, resulting in richer crema production.
However, some baristas feel that double baskets can produce shots that lack clarity and definition compared to single baskets. Because more coffee grounds are in the basket, some of those individual flavors can get lost in the final shot.
Triple Filter Baskets
While a triple basket can hold more coffee grounds, there is no real difference between it and a double-except for capacity. The ideal extraction time for espresso from a triple shot should be 35 to 40 seconds.
It’s important to note that triple baskets may not fit onto some portafilters, so it’s important to check compatibility before making a purchase.
Pressurized vs Non-Pressurized Portafilters: A Case for the latter
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. 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. They are more straightforward for newcomers since they only require a light tamp. But for those who want to perfect our espresso craft, pressurized portafilters leave you with less control over your shot. And if you’re invested in learning the skills to make espresso, why would you allow a portafilter to limit you?
The Case Against Pressurized Portafilters
As we’ve established, pressurized portafilters abound in lower-quality espresso machines. This is because outfitting a machine with pressurized portafilters is cheaper than making a machine that can generate enough pressure on its own to make quality espresso. So right off the bat, if you see a pressurized portafilter on an espresso machine, it should be cause for concern.
Second, pressurized portafilters leave you with less control over your shot. If you want to perfect your espresso craft, you need to be able to experiment with different grinds, doses, tamps, and brewing times. With a pressurized portafilter, you’re limited in what variables you can control since the portafilter itself is doing a lot of the work.
Finally, pressurized portafilters can produce inconsistent shots. Since they rely on such a small amount of water to create pressure, they often don’t extract evenly. This leads to under-extracted coffee in some areas and over-extracted coffee in others—not exactly what we’re going for when we set out to make a great cup of espresso.
Precision Filter Baskets
All precision filter baskets have one thing in common: equally sized filtering holes. Filter baskets created using standard manufacturing technology might produce filter baskets with varying diameters and even entirely or partially clogged filtering holes. Depending on the specific defect, these manufacturing faults can negatively influence extraction, resulting in uneven and under- or over-extracted espresso. Precision filters are typically manufactured with lasers, ensuring that each hole is precisely the same size.
Why is a Good Precise Filter Basket Important?
A good filter basket is vital because it ensures that your coffee grounds are evenly distributed. This leads to an even extraction, which results in a better-tasting cup of coffee. When hot water running through your grounds is unevenly distributed, it can lead to under or over-extraction, neither of which is ideal.
If your coffee is under-extracted, it will taste weak and watery. If it’s over-extracted, it will taste bitter. A good filter basket helps you avoid both problems by evenly distributing the coffee grounds, resulting in a delicious cup of coffee every time.
Filter Basket Diameters
Choosing the correct filter basket diameter for your espresso machine can seem daunting. However, once you understand the different basket sizes and what they’re used for, it’ll be a breeze! Let’s cover the three most common basket diameters – 58mm, 57mm, and 53mm.
58mm – The most popular size used by espresso machine brands is the standard size for commercial and higher-end domestic/prosumer espresso machines. You’ll find this same size on devices from Breville, Rancilio, Rocket, and many others.
57mm – This size is increasingly difficult to find because many manufacturers are phasing it out. This is because there’s less room for error when using this sized tamper on your espresso machine at home. Brands like Lelit and Ascaso still sell them, though their days may be numbered.
53mm – This size is uncommon but utilized by manufacturers such as La Spaziale, Dalla Corte, some lever-piston machines, and specific domestic devices.
If you’re unsure what size your portafilter needs, pull out a trusty set of Vernier calipers and measure the diameter of the basket. If you don’t have a set of calipers, you can also use a ruler or tape measure. Just be sure to measure from the inside of the basket, not the outside!
The Perfect Ratio for Espresso Extraction
Getting the perfect extraction from your espresso grounds is more than just using the right amount of coffee. The ratio of coffee to water is also crucial in yielding a delicious, correctly proportioned cup of espresso. Here are our brewing ratios and how they can impact the taste of your espresso.
What is a Brewing Ratio?
In short, your brewing ratio is the proportion of coffee to water used in brewing espresso. For example, if you use 7 grams of coffee grounds and extract 14 grams of espresso, your brewing ratio would be 1:2. Your brewing ratio will affect the strength and flavor of your espresso, so it’s important to experiment until you find a ratio that you enjoy.
How Does Brewing Ratio Impact Espresso?
The higher the brewing ratio, the more bold and more intense your espresso will be. If you want a less intense espresso, you can increase the ratio (e.g. 1:2.2). On the other hand, if you want a more intense shot, you can decrease the ratio (e.g 1:1.8).
What’s the Best Brewing Ratio for Espresso?
There is no magic number when it comes to brewing ratios, and what works for one person may not work for another. Starting with a brewing ratio of 1:2 mean you can adjust up or down until you find what you love the best.
Now that you know all there is to know about portafilter baskets, it’s time to put that knowledge to use! Be sure to experiment with different basket sizes and brewing ratios until you find a combination that works for you.
Of course, this is just one key component in the larger picture in the creation of espresso! Other variables, such as grind size, tamp pressure, and water temperature, play a role in the perfect cup of espresso. But that’s a story for another day.