The portafilter is an essential part of your espresso making but with so many options for types and sizes out there, what exactly is the one you need?
What is a portafilter?
A portafilter is a spoon-looking device that sticks out from your espresso machine.
This device is what holds your ground coffee beans as espresso shots are being pulled and extracted from them.
The portafilter is attached and locked into the grouphead during the brewing process.
Portafilters are also known as group handles.
Some smaller espresso machines need only one portafilter, but industrial-grade espresso machines used commercially may have multiple or bigger ones.
Types of Portafilters
Pressurized Portafilters: These types of portafilters are more beginner-friendly since they are already built-in with an additional pressure mechanism that happens during the brewing process; many brands of espresso machines even have a toggle on and off for people needing the feature.
Non-pressurized Portafilters rely on the dosage, the grind size, and evenness of the tamp, and pressure is derived from the tamped-down coffee instead of in the added mechanism like the pressurized tamper ones.
Bottomless Portafilters: also known as the naker portafilters, as the name would suggest, this portafilter doesn’t have a bottom thus making it a little harder to use but it gives baristas the chance to practice and refine their craft in their coffee making; bottomless filters also results in more crema.
Pod Portafilter is also called easy serving espresso pods; they are convenient since all you need to do is pop them on your pod-compatible espresso maker and the espresso will be ready in no time.
Why is it important to determine your portafilter size?
Portafilters come in a variety of types and sizes and it is critical to know the measurement for several reasons, here are some.
Knowing your portafilter sizes is important if you follow a coffee recipe. Sometimes, recipes do not mention how much coffee you need but instead use phrases such as “the whole portafilter basket” or “half a basket”.
Knowing your portafilter sizes will ensure consistency in every espresso shot you make, it will ensure that you are measuring the right amount of ground coffee for every brew giving you a consistent tasting shot each time; this is especially important for businesses.
Once you know the right portafilter or group handle to use you will know the ideal tamper size to use; a tamper is a tool used in espresso making and what it does is pack the coffee ground into the portafilter.
How to measure portafilter size?
Baristas and other production engineers usually measure the size of a portafilter using a pair of measuring calipers but since most homebrewers don’t have that available at home measuring with a tape measure will work just as fine.
Home measuring a portafilter will require you just two things: a measuring tape (a heavy-duty retractable steel one with 1/32 inches) and the second thing is your smartphone to compute the calculations.
The first step is to measure your portafilter on the centerline, this measurement is also called a diameter.
Once that is done, change the measure in decimals; for example, if your measured 2 ⅓ inches change the value to decimal unit, the new value will be 2.33.
The next thing to do is convert the new value to millimeters and you do this by multiplying 2.33 by 25.4 and you will get the value 59.28 millimeters.
Here’s a little bonus to determine the tamper size you will need for a 58 millimeters portafilter, and you get this by subtracting 0.75 from 59.28 and you will get 58.43 millimeters.
Round it up or round it down to a whole number and you will get 58 millimeters.
53 mm portafilter benefits
- Smaller portafilters like the 53 millimeters portafilter reduce channeling and channeling happens when water finds a narrow path to pour in instead of flowing through your grind coffee bean bed.
- 53-millimeter portafilters also often come in pressurized baskets which are more forgiving and easier to use.
53 mm portafilter drawbacks
- Smaller portafilters are usually synonymous with lower-priced espresso machines, although it is not always the case.
- Smaller portafilter size usually means less flexibility resulting in the less amount of ground coffee beans you can fit inside.
- Smaller portafilter size also means fewer espresso size choices.
- Smaller portafilters usually have ridges on the inside that faces inwards this decreases space for tempering, and 53 millimeters portafilter usually has these ridges.
- Tamper sizes are usually harder to find and procure for this size of portafilter unless you buy from the brand itself and they usually are more expensive.
- If you are someone who likes a stronger coffee and coffee with higher caffeine content, bigger portafilters might be better at extracting stronger shots.
58 mm portafilter benefits
- 58 mm portafilters are the standard size and most traditional portafilter sizes out there.
- These portafilters are used by baristas and are standard to some of the greatest espresso makers like the Gaggia Classic and the La Marzocco Strada, thus making them the choice for many espresso connoisseurs because they incorporate 58 mm portafilters with quality.
- 58 mm portafilters offer more flexibility because it has more room for ground coffee beans.
- The larger group handles also mean more espresso size choices.
- Since 58 millimeters portafilters do not usually have the ridges that most 53 millimeter portafilters do, tampers will be able to pack ground coffee beans in the portafilter.
- You can get a higher caffeine content with a larger portafilter.
58 mm portafilter drawbacks
- Since the 58 mm portafilter has a wider diameter, this means that finer coffee grinds are needed so that there is less resistance to water flow.
So what size or type of portafilter is the best for you?
It depends on what you are looking for in the espresso made by your espresso machine, it’s a matter of personal choice, and usually, you need to try both before settling for one.