Which Portafilter is Right for You?
So you're in the market for an espresso machine and you're not sure what all these different portafilter styles are about, eh? We've created this handy guide to break 'em down for you.
A great learning tool for the newbie barista, the pressurized portafilter can be found on most entry level machines and takes away the stress of finding the precise grind and tamp before you extract an ideal shot.
The Way It Works
Creating the pressure that tamping would create, the pressurized portafilter is built with the function to allow water to pass through the filter when the exact pressure is reached. With no need to base it on your tamp, it will do the work for you giving you a consistent shot every time. Whether it be with a valve or a filter basket, all you need to do is fill the portafilter with your favorite ground coffee, level it out, insert the portafilter in the brew head and watch it extract your shot, leaving it to do all the work and you stress free.
However, even though the pressurized portafilter may take a lot of the work off your hands, what you'll be trading it off for is the ability to control the flavor and strength of your brew. While commercial portafilters are made of durable chrome, stainless steel and brass material, most pressurized portafiters are are made with aluminum and plastic, which don't maintain heat as well as the more durable commercial portafilters.
This is how the big boys roll, or let's just say these are the portafilters that give you the ability to control the taste and quality of your shot. When you've passed the stage of having your machine do all the work for you, this is where you can get your own hands dirty and start learning how important dialing in your grind and knowing what 30 lbs. of pressure feels like when you tamp.
The Way It Works
The commercial portafilter is made from heavier materials (chrome, brass, stainless steel) and will likely last longer. With these components, it guarantees heat stability which is key when making the ideal shot.
However, with more quality parts comes a little more time spent preparing your extraction. You'll now have the variables of grind consistency, coarseness, tamp pressure and dosage to concern yourself with. You'll calibrate your shot based on shot timing, changing each of these variables one by one to achieve the correct grind for your grinder, coffee and machine. With great power comes great responsibility, so while you have the most potential to get a great shot with this style of portafilter, that potential all lies in your hands and skill set.
If it's mess free that you want, it's mess free that you'll get. Taking a cue from tea bags, pods are single shots of prepackaged coffee sealed in a paper filter. Not only are they mess free but they are convenient, taking away the need to dial-in the right grind and filling your portafilter with the ideal amount of ground coffee.
The Way It Works
Most semi-automatics that are E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) friendly, tend to include a pod adapter that you can pop right into your single basket filter for your portafilter. Once that adapter is in all you need to do is place a pod in the portafilter and lock it into place in your machine's brew head.
However, unlike grinding your grounds fresh, we'll warn you that your shot may not taste as rich and velvety smooth, nor will it have that layer of rich crema as fresh ground coffee does. Also, you'll have little to no control over the strength of your espresso since each pod is already pre-measured and packaged.
No this isn't rated X, but let's just say you'll go balls-to-the-walls-crazy for this portafilter when you see how sexy your shots will be when they're extracted! A bottomless portafilter looks exactly like your average commercial portafilter except the bottom half is cut off, so your extraction is visible and 'nakedly' exposed for all to see.
The Way It Works
The bottomless portafilter is also a great teaching tool as you're able to see the bottom of the portafilter and what the color of your extraction is once the hot water hits the coffee grounds. You'll also seeing channeling, if you're tamping harder on one side vs. the other, etc. Just like the commercial portafilter you'll go through the same exact steps, dialing in your grind, finding what 30 lbs. of pressure is like and locking in your portafilter in the brew head.
The benefits of having a naked portafilter versus a dressed (commercial) portafilter is the ability to identify blonding, tiger striping, channeling, overdosing and the evenness of your tamp, which is usually hidden with a portafilter with single or double spouts.
Channeling happens when "spurters" or "geysers" occur. This is when espresso sprays out in small or large jet-like streams at various angles from your extraction. There also are multiple smaller streams that are separate from the unified stream which indicates side channeling. A perfect extraction will not have any channeling.