Are you shopping for a new espresso machine, and your head’s spinning with all of the new-fangled terms and features that many of these machines come with today.
I bet a pressurized portafilter is one of those terms you keep coming across while reading online about various models.
Is a pressurized portafilter better? Naturally, you might be thinking that you’ll want a pressurized basket. After all, espresso and pressure go hand in hand.
Not necessarily, this type of basket is perfect for beginners. However, if you want to take complete control over your coffee brewing, the pressurized portafilter can be a hindrance more than a benefit.
To help shed some light on both pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters and clear up any confusion you may have, in this article, we will look closer at how it functions, the benefits, what makes it unique, and why one type is better than the other.
Armed with this knowledge, you can then decide which is the best option for you when choosing your new machine.
How Does A Pressurized Portafilter Work
Pressurized portafilters (also called a dual-wall filter basket) are typically found on budget home espresso machines to allow the average user to use regular coarsely ground store-bought pre-ground coffee.
The pressurized portafilter aids in pulling a good consistent shot of espresso by taking away a lot of the guesswork dialing in a regular espresso would generally require.
Unlike a regular espresso portafilter that relies on the machine to do all of the heavy work when it comes to pressure. A pressurized portafilter creates the pressure immediately after coffee extraction and aids in pulling a perfect espresso with a visible crema.
It does this by utilizing a two-layered filter basket design with a single hole to allow the pressurized coffee to pass through.
Some espresso machines, such as budget Gaggia’s, also include a pressure valve that releases when a certain amount of pressure has been built up.
Pressurized vs. Non-Pressurized
Most entry-level semi-automatic espresso machines come with two sets of filter baskets – one pressurized and one non-pressurized commercial portafilter.
This can be confusing to someone not experienced with making espresso at home – which one should you use and why?
I’ll try and keep this pretty simple because it can get confusing once you delve deeper into the inner workings of pressure and espresso.
The pressure required to make espresso can be achieved using two different types of portafilter baskets.
With a non-pressurized basket (also known as single-wall filter baskets), the pressure is built by the fine ground coffee, which is then compressed to form a puck.
This is the “traditional” way of brewing espresso, and it gives you complete control over the extraction, and you can adjust and tweak variables such as the flow rate by adjusting your grind size of tamping pressure.
However, for beginner home baristas nailing the perfect shot of espresso using a traditional filter basket can be challenging and frustrating.
Companies created the pressurized filter basket to bring home the espresso machine to a broader audience and to limit the amount of work required to perfect that perfect shot.
This basket doesn’t rely on the barista’s skill to grind and tamp the coffee perfectly to create pressure.
Instead, the basket features a tiny hole for the coffee to exit once a portafilter mechanism has built up between 8 and 9 bars of pressure.
On the other hand, the non-pressurized filter basket pressure is built up evenly across the surface of the compressed coffee puck and exits through hundreds of tiny holes in the basket.
Looking at both types of filter baskets, you could be confused into thinking they were one and the same. But, if you hold them up to the light, you can see the differences in their design.
It goes without saying that the best results in terms of texture and crema will come from the traditional non-pressurized portafilter basket, and the time taken to perfect your espresso shot will give you a sense of achievement.
You can still achieve a crema using a pressurized filter basket, which is the design’s original idea.
However, because of how pressurized baskets work, they also tend to create a coarser, more foamy crema which lacks the body and texture found in non-pressurized baskets.
When Should You Use A Pressurized Filter?
It’s okay to use a pressurized portafilter; no one is going to judge you. I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret. If I’m feeling lazy and want a quick espresso shot, I will reach for the pressurized filter.
If you’re using pre-ground coffee beans or if your grinder can’t grind fine enough to form a solid puck and build the appropriate pressure in a regular basket, the pressurized filter basket can be a much-needed aid.
It will effectively help you build the proper pressure without the guesswork and proper tamping or leveling but will leave you with less control over your shot.
Just add your pre-ground coffee, and the pressurized basket will allow you to brew a drinkable shot of espresso, but it comes at a cost to both flavor and texture.
If you’re investing in a good espresso machine, why would you allow a portafilter to limit you?
Suppose you want to experience a full-fledged espresso shot.
In that case, you can purchase fresh whole bean coffee, ideally roasted within 14 days, and you have a good coffee grinder able to achieve the fine grind required, a non-pressurized basket is what you should be using.
Once you’ve taken the time to learn how to pull the perfect shot of espresso with a non-pressurized basket, you will be rewarded with a more balanced and better-tasting shot with a syrupy, thick crema that only this type of filter basket can produce.
Can You Switch To A Non-pressurized Portafilter
A large number of budget espresso machines only come with pressurized portafilters leaving you no other option.
But don’t fret. In most cases, you can convert a pressurized portafilter to a non-pressurized by buying an aftermarket replacement such as a bottomless portafilter.
You will then be able to control many key brewing variables such as the coffee grind size, correct dose, extraction ratios, and tamp pressure, all of which will change the quality of your brewed espresso without relying on the pressurized filter basket.
They have been designed to make espresso coffee brewing easier for beginners, but they can be used by anyone wanting to make a quick and easy shot of espresso.
It is not necessary to tamp coffee inside of a pressurized portafilter. Some coffee machine manufacturers do include a plastic tamp, but you cannot apply much pressure with these. If you use a weighted metal tamper, you could potentially cause damage to the portafilter and your machine because the water will not be able to penetrate the coffee puck easily.
They don’t require any specific grind size, and that’s the appeal of this type of portafilter. You can use store-bought medium pre-ground coffee without any issue, but a coarser grind isn’t recommended. Fine ground coffee beans can also be used. Just make sure you don’t tamp or compact the coffee too much inside of the filter basket.
A pressurized portafilter typically only has one small hole for the coffee to be extracted through. This can sometimes be hard to see, especially in an enclosed spouted portafilter like those supplied with the Gaggia machines. A non-pressurized portafilter has only one basket with hundreds of tiny holes on the bottom.
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