If you are new to the world of Espresso machines, then you’ve probably come across videos of people using bottomless portafilters to make honey-like espresso shots.
This leads to the question, is a bottomless portafilter a necessary upgrade to get the best out of your espresso machine? Or is it possible to make great quality espresso using a pressurized portafilter, which is included with most espresso machines?
In this post, we will explore this topic and I’ll share my personal experience of using a bottomless and pressurized portafilter with my DeLonghi Dedica.
Overview of Portafilter Types
Generally, there are two types of portafilters: bottomless and pressurized.
Most budget or beginner-friendly espresso machines come with pressurized portafilers because it’s the easiest way to get a great shot of espresso without the technicalities of using a bottomless portafilter.
A bottomless portafilter, also known as a naked portafilter, has no bottom (spout) and allows the espresso to flow directly from the filter basket into your cup. This type provides visibility into the extraction process, making it easier for you to identify any issues with your technique or grinder settings. It’s favored by baristas who want to refine their skills, as it requires precise tamping and an even coffee bed to prevent espresso channeling.
In contrast, a pressurized portafilter contains a double-wall basket and a single hole at the bottom of the basket that creates pressure within the filter itself. Pressurized models are particularly beneficial for beginners, offering a simpler and more forgiving way to achieve a crema-rich shot without the need for perfect grind size or tamping consistency. They can also be used with pre-ground coffee or less finely ground beans, which adds convenience.
|High (no bottom)
|Low (double-wall basket)
|Intermediate to advanced
|Fine grind, precise tamping
|Less precise grind and tamp
|Assisted by pressure
Choosing between a bottomless and a pressurized portafilter depends on your skill level, the amount of control you desire, and your willingness to experiment with the variables of espresso making. Remember that each type offers distinct advantages and serves different needs in the pursuit of the perfect espresso shot.
A bottomless portafilter consists of a basket and a handle, without the bottom and spouts found in traditional portafilters. This allows you to see the extraction as it happens, exposing any issues with your tamping or grind size.
- Visibility: Direct view of the extraction process
- Basket Size: Typically larger, accommodating more grounds for espresso
Using a bottomless portafilter can result in a better espresso shot with a richer flavor and thicker crema, which is why most users like to use it. However, this type of portafilter requires a lot of trial and error, especially if you are a beginner.
Skill Level Required
Mastering the bottomless portafilter takes practice. You’ll need to refine your technique for consistent results.
For starters, you can’t use pre-ground espresso coffee because you’ll need perfectly fine and consistent grounds. So unless you have a really good grinder, don’t use a bottomless portafilter.
Another thing you will need is a good tamper that can give you enough pressure for an even coffee bed. For there, you’ll have to test your tamp pressure. Too much pressure will lead to over-extraction or the coffee not coming out at all. A light tamp pressure will create either a spraying shot of espresso or a weak one.
A bottomless portafilter is perfect for someone who is looking to lear and acquire a skill, rather than someone who just wants a good shot of espresso.
This type of portafilter takes the pressure off you and does the hard work for you. If you use pre-ground coffee or not the best ground size, or even if you don’t tamp correctly, a pressurized portafilter will still be able to make you a decent shot of espresso that tastes good, although the crema will be thinner.
Design Features & Extraction Process
Pressurized portafilters differ from their bottomless counterparts. This portafilter includes a basket with a single tiny hole at the bottom. With this setup, backpressure is built up during extraction, which helps in creating the crema that tops a well-brewed espresso without the need for you to manually make a strong puck of coffee to create that crema.
During extraction, the pressurized portafilter controls the flow of water through the coffee grounds, which compensates for inconsistent grind size or tamping technique. You’ll notice that the espresso shot is forcefully emulsified through the small hole, which creates the pressure for espresso.
Comparison of Bottomless and Pressurized Portafilters
When exploring the differences between bottomless and pressurized portafilters, focus on how each affects the taste and aroma of espresso, crema production, and the learning curve involved in mastering their use.
Taste and Aroma
Bottomless portafilters allow for a more direct flow of espresso, which means you get a full-bodied flavor and a clear aroma profile. Pressurized portafilters, on the other hand, enhance extraction through built-in pressure, which can sometimes mask the subtle nuances of the coffee, potentially resulting in a less complex taste if not used correctly.
- Bottomless Portafilters: Achieve richer, thicker crema due to more efficient extraction of coffee oils.
- Pressurized Portafilters: Produce a more consistent crema, even with less perfect grind or tamping, due to the pressure mechanism.
The difference in crema quality directly impacts the texture and flavor of your espresso.
Your skill level will significantly influence your experience with each portafilter type:
- Bottomless Portafilters
- Pros: It allows you to diagnose and refine your technique.
- Cons: Require precise grinding and tamping for optimal results, which can be challenging for beginners.
- Pressurized Portafilters
- Pros: More forgiving for novices, as they compensate for grind and tamp imperfections.
- Cons: Offer less opportunity to improve and experiment with espresso extraction techniques.
Ease of Use
A Pressurized portafilter is simple to use and gives you good results. A bottomless portafilter on the other hand? It will give you a much better result, eventually.
With a bottomless portafilter, you can expect a lot of bad results before getting a good shot. But once you have figured it out, it’s a pleasant experience and a more delicious shot of espresso.
What I did wrong and how I fixed it:
I was constantly getting terrible results with my bottomless portafilter for two reasons:
- My grinder (Baratza Encore) was not good enough. It did grind fine, but not fine enough for a bottomless portafilter. So I had to upgrade my grinder to one that has additional steps for finer grind settings.
- When I finally got my grind setting right, it was time for me to understand the correct dose for the basket. Now I am grinding finer, I needed to tamp lighter because fine ground coffee compacts easily, unlike less fine-ground coffee.
- Another thing to take into account is that using less ground coffee (making a single shot instead of a double shot) means I needed to grind finer. Using a higher dose requires coarser grounds.
All of these factors are things to consider when using a bottomless portafilter. And it’s going to be a matter of trial and error for a while until you figure things out and get your perfect espresso shot.
Which Is The Better Choice?
A bottomless portafilter DOES make a better espresso shot, for sure. It’s more flavorful, thicker crema which not only tastes delicious but helps you with your latte art.
But if you’re just starting out, I recommend that you polish your espresso-making skills first by using a pressurized portafilter. Once you get the hang of it, you can upgrade to a bottomless portafilter. Also consider using a double-spouted portafilter, too.