How To Choose Espresso Filter Baskets & Portafilters
Confused about what basket to use in your espresso machine? You’re about to find out!
In this guide, we’re going to talk you through different portafilters (handles), baskets; the different styles and types, what they are used for, and which of them we try to avoid.
Different Sizes For Filter Baskets & Portafilters:
Different machines can be specific, although there are industry standards. Most baskets are 58mm and they fit into E61 group head machines, such as La Marzocco that brought out a few new different “standards”. Breville has their own standards. Pretty much every manufacturer will use something different, but a lot of them use E61 and some parts will be interchangeable.
Filter baskets can look similar, side-by-side you would think they are the same size but they are actually not! It’s something to be aware of.
La Marzocco produced a 21g basket and that’s quite large. They also produced a 14g basket. These baskets were designed to hold different weights of coffee. The large one doesn’t have to take 21g, you can overdose that up to 23g and probably down to about 19g or 20g and still get a decent extraction, but if you were to put 23g in a 14g basket, it would react very differently to push back up on the shower screen.
Why Are There Different Sizes Of Baskets?
Why doesn’t everyone just have a 21g basket, right? It all comes back to the end result that you look for.
If you are using a small cup with milk and you use your bottomless portafilter so you’re not able to split that shot, a 14g basket might be the strength that you’re looking for.
But if you’re working in a cafe and you’re looking for fast-paced service and you’re splitting shots in half, obviously the larger basket gives you more capacity to make coffee quicker by grinding, tamping, and extracting one basket and getting two cups of coffee out of it.
It’s just something to be aware of. There is much information out there about coffee recipes and brew ratios, a big factor that needs to be specified for any of those is definitely the basket size that you use. If we gave you a recipe of 22.5g in or dose, 45g out in 34 seconds with a 14g basket— it doesn’t matter what you do with your grind size, you will not be able to achieve the gold extraction, and even if you did.. it won’t taste very good.
Dual Wall Basket:
The dual wall basket is also called a “pressurized basket”. It has a double wall. There’s more holes on the top than there’s in the bottom. It’s specifically designed for pre-ground coffee.
Normally in a standard single wall basket, holes in the top run straight through to the bottom. In a dual wall basket, we use the whole differential, although it looks like there’s a lot of holes in the bottom, there’s actually a single hole in the bottom, that is what is controlling the water as it flows through the basket. So the grind size isn’t actually going to control your flow through your extraction as much as the dual wall basket.
The dual wall basket only works with old stale pre-ground coffee. We don’t recommend anybody to use it. Although we’re happy to grind your coffee for you, you’re not going to get a great speciality amazing tasting coffee ever with pre-ground coffee. Always order whole beans when you can.
Do not ever try to put a dual wall basket in a bottomless (naked) portafilter. It’s a very messy process. The single hole would aerate the extraction as it comes through and would create the illusion of crema.
So sometimes with old supermarket bought stale coffee would look like a better extraction through a dual wall basket, and if you can’t change the grind size then you might want to use a dual wall basket. But still, it’s not something we would recommend using even in your home machine.
We recommend that you get a grinder, buy some nice fresh roasted coffee, and be able to control your extraction through the grind size. You’re going to get a far better result.
It can be confusing when you buy a new coffee machine or when you go to look for baskets. There’s a whole myriad of different looking baskets, different sizes, and kind of different uses for each of them.
Most of you probably have seen a single wall basket. The idea of it is that it uses less coffee than a double basket. If you’re just making one small cup of coffee, it makes perfect sense that you would put a single basket in your portafilter, grind your coffee into it, pull a single shot and a way to go!
Beyond the idea of that, it’s a very flawed system. We’ve got a few issues with what we would call a “truncated basket”. It looks smaller at the bottom and has less surface area for the coffee. The distribution of the coffee in it lacks thereof of even bed depth, and the tamp pressure being even through the basket, there’s a whole myriad of problems.
Basically when the water is introduced onto the top of this style basket, it doesn’t run evenly through the coffee (you get that a lot more with a double wall truncated basket as well).
The main thing we’re looking for in any basket is to try to create an even bed of coffee that when the water is introduced, it will run through that even bed of coffee without any channeling with an even extraction to get the most flavor out of it.
Although a single basket seems really great, it doesn’t pull a great shot. We don’t recommend anybody to use it. Obviously, if you’re money conscious and you don’t want to use a large amount of coffee to make an espresso with, a single wall basket is an option, but even experts struggle to get a good extraction out of it.
We must note that depending on the manufacturer, some portafilters would not take a large straight wall basket, they just are not big enough, you would have to buy a different portafilter for your straight wall basket.
Some of you may buy a coffee machine, then come across a few extra bits in the box, and not know what this flat basket is. It’s a blind basket. There are no holes in the bottom, because it’s not for making coffee. It’s designed specifically for back flushing and cleaning your machine.
Pressurized & Non-Pressurized Portafilters:
In the same way that we have a dual wall basket, you can get a pressurized portafilter and that will control the flow water through the coffee rather than your grind size.
Be aware of this when you buy a lower-end machine. Have a look and see whether you have a pressurized portafilter or not. A non-pressurized portafilter has a large hole to allow the coffee to flow through very quickly. On the other hand, a pressurized portafilter has a very small hole in the bottom to control the flow of water through it.
That’s a big consideration when you buy an espresso machine. You’re not going to be able to control your extractions well when you have a pressurized portafilter.
There are three main types of non-pressurized portafilters:
- Single spout
- Double spouts
Single & Double Spout Portafilters:
In most coffee machines, the handles themselves are pretty much identical except for the spout on the bottom. The spout directs the coffee into a cup. If you’re going into one cup, you’ve got a couple of different options, you can just use a single spout which will direct the coffee into one cup very nicely and neatly.
The thing about the double spout is that you can split your shot and divide the coffee into two cups. This can be really useful and it’s pretty much what most cafes are using on a day-to-day basis because it offers them flexibility in being able to split those shots or putting it into one cup.
The bottomless portafilter is a nice training tool that gives you a lot of visual feedback during the extraction, so you can improve your skills. It does not have a base on it nor any spouts. It allows you to see the progress of your extraction to identify things that are not going well.
Good extraction will start on the outside dripping and then condense into one point and run smooth and evenly throughout the extraction. If you have any puck defects, channeling, or wormholes spraying at the side, you will see that in the different colors coming through the coffee. It’s far more visual in a bottomless portafilter.
One of the main reasons why people don’t use bottomless portafilters in cafes on a day-to-day basis is that they are not super clean. Obviously, if we’re pulling a poor extraction or a sub-optimal extraction from a bottomless portafilter with the exposed basket into an espresso cup, it may not all go into the espresso cup and it may cause some spurting around the side and a bit of mess. So that’s a major drawback.
The other thing you can’t do with a bottomless portafilter is to split your shots. If you don’t split your shots and you look to improve your extractions through those visual cues as well as taste (we always go by taste as well!), a bottomless portafilter with an exposed basket is the right way to do that. Experts love bottomless portafilters and they use them every single day!
In this guide, we covered most things about filter baskets and portafilters. If you have any questions or like more information, put a comment down below.
Happy coffee brewing!