Bottomless Portafilter – Should You Buy One?

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If you’re searching for online espresso tutorials, you’ll often encounter a portafilter without a spout. Usually, these will have a different appearance to the portafilter included in your espresso machine. Confused? Read on.

The manufacturers of these mysterious spoutless portafilters didn’t remove the bottom merely to give you a glimpse of the interior. Rather, these are bottomless portafilters.

This guide will take a deeper look at bottomless portafilters, giving you a firm overview of their advantages and disadvantages. By the end, you should know whether it’s time to replace your standard portafilter with a bottomless one.

What Is A Bottomless Portafilter (Naked Portafilter)?

A bottomless portafilter (sometimes referred to as a naked portafilter) is a filter-basket holder attached to a handle. They are portafilters minus spouts and bottom parts.

Bottomless portafilters can act as a tool to diagnose the extraction of your espresso shots. That’s because the portafilter doesn’t have a spout, so the basket bottom is exposed, allowing you to see the entire process.

There are different sizes of spouted portafilter, and the same is true of the bottomless alternatives. So, measures including 51mm, 53mm, and 58mm are available for compatibility with the size of the brew head of your espresso maker and filter baskets.

bottomless-vs-spouted-portafilter

Why Use A Bottomless Portafilter?

1.So You Can Troubleshoot Your Espresso Extraction

As we mentioned earlier, bottomless portafilters enable the barista to observe the whole brewing process. Therefore, from the visual clues alone, you can diagnose several common problems with a bottomless portafilter. Let’s see how to read a naked portafilter like an experienced barista.

Channeling

Channeling occurs when the coffee puck is not distributed evenly and tamped. Because espresso machines brew using nine bars of pressure, that pressurized water will find the weaker areas of the coffee puck and pass through them more quickly and easily. This inconsistency harms the espresso shot, leaving some of the coffee grounds over-extracted and others under-extracted.

bottomless-portafilter-channeling

Thanks to the bottomless portafilter, instances of channeling are easy to detect through spurts shooting through the basket. It’s a quick fix, too – simply distribute the grounds more evenly and tamp them properly. Those spurts can tell us where channeling occurs most often, too. So, if spurting tends to happen around the 3 o’clock position, you can concentrate on that area more when you tamp.

Extraction

Similar to channeling, the bottomless portafilter allows you to see the extraction process (and any weaknesses). For example, if you observe a rapid, high-volume stream of light-colored crema coming through the basket, it could be a sign of under-extraction. Conversely, over-extraction is likely the issue if the crema is thick and dark and comes through the basket at a low volume.

bottomless-portafilter-flow-slowly

Blonding

As the espresso brews, you can observe the color of the shot. To begin with, it will be dark brown, before transitioning to tiger striping, which occurs when the darker crema mixes with lighter crema in the espresso stream.

The final third of the shot will be pale blond. This part of the stream is thin and tasteless and dilutes the shot. If it appears too soon in the stream, you can make the necessary tweaks. For best results, aim for tiger striping that starts early in the shot and continues until the end.

2.So You Can Get More Condensed Crema

Crema consists of small bubbles produced by CO2 and coffee oils during extraction. For more detail on this process, check out our Espresso Crema guide. The espresso liquid flows from the filter basket into the spouts before reaching the cup in a regular, spouted portafilter. However, a bottomless portafilter sees the liquid drop straight from the basket to the cup. Because the tiny crema bubbles don’t make contact with any other surfaces on their way to your cup, they remain intact, so you’ll have more crema.

3.To Improve The Coffee Flavor

Having more crema on your espresso doesn’t necessarily mean the beverage has a better taste. However, many espresso enthusiasts prefer a fuller body and more cup clearance of the shot. Because a bottomless portafilter enables observation of channeling, you can see how to give your shots an even extraction. This leads to a more flavorful espresso.

Bottomless portafilters also remove the possibility of residual coffee odor. That’s because there are no difficult-to-clean metal spouts for it to come into contact with.

4.To Improve Your Skills As A Barista

The ability to observe the brewing process offered by a bottomless portafilter means you can continually improve your technique.

So, your espresso might have signs of over-extraction or be too thin even if the shots look fine and the extraction time was ideal. What’s the problem? It’s hard to determine with a regular portafilter but far easier with a bottomless one.

5.Because It’s Visually Appealing

Quite simply, watching the brewing process is enjoyable and observing the espresso emerging smoothly from the basket is satisfying.

When you have got everything right, the tiger striping coffee liquid will appear evenly from every part of the filter basket, coalescing into one stream centered on the base of the basket as the espresso smoothly and gently reaches your cup. Beautiful!

beautiful-espresso-shot

The Drawbacks Of Bottomless Portafilters

By now, you may wonder why we have spouted portafilters at all, seeing as bottomless portafilters offer so many advantages. However, there are some drawbacks. Let’s go over them.

Not Beginner-Friendly

If you are a novice espresso barista and only recently purchased an espresso machine, we suggest you use the portafilter provided with the machine, at least for the time being. Spouted portafilters make it far easier for beginner baristas to pull a decent shot.

pull a shot of espresso

To make high-quality espresso at home, there are many things to consider. As well as operating the machine and grinder, you also need to learn how to dial in. We went into detail on these challenges in our espresso brewing guide.

When you’ve got to grips with those techniques and can pull a decent shot using a standard portafilter, then it is time to consider a bottomless alternative.

It May Not Be Compatible With Your Espresso Machine

Bottomless portafilters can improve the quality of your shots, but they’re not suitable for all espresso machines. In particular, if you have an entry-level machine with a small pressurized portafilter, using a bottomless portafilter instead can be messy. That’s because these machines are built for higher pressure rather than nine bars of pressure.

You’ll Need A High-Quality Espresso Grinder

Coffee grinders are crucial for premium-quality espresso-making, and a bottomless portafilter is more sensitive to tamping skills and grind sizes than a standard portafilter. If your coffee grinder can’t fine-tune your grind sizes, you won’t get the best out of a bottomless portafilter.

If you use pre-ground coffee instead of grinding your beans, a pressurized portafilter will be more forgiving. Because your coffee puck will have lots of channels, if you use a bottomless portafilter, hot coffee will spray indiscriminately with a bottomless portafilter, creating a mess.

messy-spraying

How To Choose A Bottomless Portafilter

If you decide it’s time to buy a bottomless portafilter, here is some buying advice.

Match Your Espresso Machine

Firstly, ensure there are bottomless portafilters on the market for your espresso machine. Even if the portafilter is the same brand as the espresso machine, it doesn’t mean it will be compatible.

Some 58mm portafilters work with different brands of espresso machines, whereas other don’t. For example, Rancilio bottomless portafilter can’t fit in Gaggia Classic Pro, but it works with other E61 group machines.

There can be significant differences, including shape, lock-in orientation, and thickness of the side tabs. In general, it’s best to choose a portafilter designed with your espresso machine in mind.

Handle

There is a range of handle options. Some are designed and angled ergonomically, making locking in the group head or tamping on a flat surface straightforward. Meanwhile, others have a plastic handle or a handcrafted wood handle. Personal preference – and budget – will dictate which one you opt for.

Portafilter Basket

The quality of the filter basket you use in the bottomless portafilter will affect the quality of the beverage. Of course, you can use the filter baskets that accompany the machine, or you can upgrade. For example, consider an IMS basket with nano quartz finish inside. If you do this, ensure the basket’s diameter fits the portafilter. Also, choose the right size, there is a single or double basket to choose from, some brands also offer triple shot baskets.

Conclusion

As this article has explained, bottomless portafilters offer an excellent way of fine-tuning your tamping technique because they allow you to observe exactly what is taking place in the filter basket and make informed tweaks until you have a perfect shot. This represents a marked difference from standard portafilters, which tend to leave you relying on guesswork to solve any issues you may have because you can’t see the brewing process.

Another advantage of a bottomless portafilter is its ability to provide richer crema because the crema bubbles don’t interact with a spout on the way to your cup.

However, bottomless portafilters do require a steeper learning curve, so we suggest only making the leap once you’ve mastered your technique with a standard portafilter.

However, once you upgrade, despite the inevitable frustrations you’ll encounter at first, because you can see how to rectify any channeling issues, a bottomless portafilter will help you improve your technique and give you a more flavorful espresso.