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So you’ve just got yourself a new espresso machine, great! I’m sure now after a week or two of playing around with it, you want to step up your game and buy some accessories?
To start with, I recommend that you invest in a bottomless portafilter. This is probably going to be one of the best aftermarket pieces of kit you can purchase.
You probably haven’t put much thought into choosing a new portafilter for your espresso machine since there’s nothing wrong with the one that came with your machine?
No, there isn’t anything wrong with the supplied spouted portafilter. However, once you understand how a bottomless portafilter can improve your espresso shot, you’ll wonder why you didn’t get one sooner.
A bottomless portafilter filter (or naked portafilter, as they are also called) is a great way to take a lot of the guesswork out when you’re pulling shots.
It lets you see what would usually be hidden from view, allowing you to hone your espresso pulling skills with precision.
If you are a barista, coffee professional, or someone who enjoys specialty coffee, you know the importance of a bottomless portafilter. If you are not, read on to learn why you should be investing in one and the benefits it gives you.
What is a Bottomless Portafilter?
Ok, I’m listening. What is a bottomless portafilter?
The portafilter that came packaged with your espresso coffee machine more than likely has one or two spouts coming out from the bottom. The portafilter is completely enclosed, and the spouts allow the espresso extraction to flow directly into your cup. Some budget machines will also come with a pressurized portafilter which is great for beginners.
A portafilter is classed as “bottomless” or naked when the filter is completely exposed, the underside is open, and there are no spouts.
The bottom of the internal filter basket is visible, and without the spouts, it looks completely “naked,” hence the name. With the basket removed, you simply have a sturdy metal ring and a handle.
With everything exposed, you can see how your espresso flows through your coffee puck and how it forms.
Ideally, you should be aiming for a solid flow of espresso that forms and exits in the center of the portafilter basket.
What Are The Benefits Of A Bottomless Portafilter?
Suppose you’re learning how to pull the perfect shot of espresso, or you’re looking to improve your technique and pull better shots consistently.
In that case, the bottomless portafilter is going to be a valuable learning tool. It helps give you more information about your coffee and makes it easier to figure out what’s going wrong with your extraction.
You will have a direct, unobstructed view of how the water passes through your compressed coffee puck.
You will clearly see any errors such as channeling that would otherwise be hidden from view using a “regular” spouted portafilter.
Flaws Are Exposed
By exposing the extraction process, you can see where the flaws in your espresso are, and you can then make adjustments as needed.
You should be looking for a thin, streamlined collection of coffee exiting the puck near the center of the basket.
For example, If you notice that your coffee is spraying and shooting out at strange angles, you know that your puck hasn’t been evenly tamped and the water has found less resistance, and channels have formed.
Channeling is a big problem when perfecting a tamped puck. Inconsistent or the wrong grind size or even under or overdosing the coffee can also cause channeling.
Even seasoned pros often struggle with an even tamp of the coffee grounds.
If you find that your espresso shots are suffering from channeling, which can easily be identified if you notice multiple streams developing or the stream collects to one side, there are a few things you can do to solve the problem.
Try distributing your ground coffee more evenly inside of the portafilter by moving the portafilter in a circular motion during dosing. Or you can try using a leveler instead of a tamper to help evenly distribute your coffee.
When you get this right and eliminate espresso channeling, you will see your shots pour beautifully, and your coffee will taste far better.
Another benefit of using a bottomless portafilter is it lets you get a bird’s eye view of the color of your espresso as it is forced through the basket.
Tiger striping is where you will notice alternating lines of dark and light coffee; this is a good indication of a well extracted espresso.
The spouts on a regular portafilter will conceal all of these visual indicators and make it far more difficult to diagnose issues in your espresso coffee.
Trying to figure out what has gone wrong with your shot of espresso would be complete guesswork.
Cleaning a bottomless portafilter is also a lot easier compared to a spouted portafilter.
Bottomless portafilters are just a basket inside a metal ring. They have fewer places for grounds to get stuck, and after a quick rinse, you will have peace of mind that there aren’t any leftovers trapped inside.
The wow factor, let’s not forget about that.
So many baristas enjoy using the bottomless portafilter to watch the shot of espresso being pulled and developing as it forms and drops.
Once you’ve tweaked and spent time adjusting your espresso variables, it’s satisfying to see all of your hard work pay off with an impressive, even flowing, rich honey-colored shot of espresso.
Does The Naked Portafilter Have Any Downsides?
So far, everything sounds great. Why the hell don’t they ship this type of portafilter with all the best espresso coffee machines!
Unfortunately, it’s not all positive.
The bottomless portafilter has a few drawbacks and some annoying changes that might turn you off from using them.
One of the big problems you will encounter is a lot of mess if you don’t nail all of the variables correctly – grind size, tamping pressure, etc.
Since there is no spout to guide the flow of espresso, any imperfections in your puck will make themselves known by shooting pressurized hot coffee from the sides of the portafilter.
But practice makes perfect.
If you have dialed in the perfect grind, evenly distributed your grounds, and you’ve mastered the ideal tamping pressure, you should not face any issues.
Splitting your shot of espresso is going to be more difficult with a bottomless portafilter.
Without dual spouts, it could get messy and isn’t worth the effort. You should use a regular portafilter if you want to make two single shots of espresso simultaneously.
Bottomless Portafilters vs. Regular Spouted Portafilters
If you’ve got this far reading this post, you will already have an understanding of the pros and cons and the benefits of bottomless portafilter versus the regular spouted variety.
Personally, I prefer using a bottomless, naked portafilter because I find that I get a better crema with larger bubbles and more fluff. However, when using a regular portafilter, I find the crema gets disturbed more as it flows through the spouts, translating to a finer texture.
Also, let’s not forget the visual aspect of using a naked filter. Nothing beats crouching down at your espresso machine to look at the honey, tiger-striped perfect espresso as it forms and flows through the basket.
Whether you’re trying to improve your espresso-making skills or you simply love watching the golden liquid pool into your cup, the bottomless portafilter is going to be a great addition to your coffee brewing arsenal.
Remember, all of the skills you have learned from using a naked/bottomless portafilter can be transferred over to a regular one as well.
An espresso shot pulled through a regular portafilter won’t taste any worse, maybe a slight reduction of the golden crema; you won’t be able to see any issues or notice the uneven extraction because it is hidden from view.