While reading about coffee and coffee machines, you may have probably encountered the word “portafilter”. This may have sparked your curiosity and have getten you wondering about what it is. To rid you of your confusion, a portafilter is actually a part of an espresso machine that plays a huge role in the brewing process. It can be found in any kind of coffee machine, whether it’s a manual, semi-automatic, super-automatic or commercial machine. In fact, many coffee experts consider the portafilter to be one of the most important parts of the coffee machine as this can greatly affect the quality of the brew.
While the quality of the portafilter does indeed matter in the brewing process, it is important to note that certain steps in the preparation of the coffee beans will also affect brewing. Getting the correct grind size, as well as tamping of the coffee grounds into the portafilter itself also matters when preparing the coffee for brewing.
DEFINITION OF A PORTAFILTER
So what exactly is a portafilter and what does it do? To simply put it, the portafilter is that part of the coffee maker where ground coffee beans are placed in order for water to pass through, allowing the extraction of coffee to take place.
As water runs through the portafilter containing the coffee grounds, the desired coffee flavor is produced. The extracted coffee continues to run through the filter and exit through a hole or chute located at the bottom of the portafilter. The coffee goes straight into a coffee cup right after.
The portafilter is a very simple part of the coffee machine, which itself is made up of a few parts. The portafilter also has a handle which is used for holding the portafilter unit before and after machine operation.
One other part of the portafilter is the filter basket. The filter basket is made to fit inside the portafilter. As the name implies, the filter basket acts as a filter meant to filter water from coffee grounds as extraction takes place. It usually is made of metal.
To further elaborate, one can compare the filter basket and portafilter to a paper filter of a regular drip coffee maker. The paper filter would be the filter basket in a coffee machine and the basket that holds the paper filter would be the portafilter.
WHAT IS A PRESSURIZED PORTAFILTER?
Pressurized portafilters, unlike non-pressurized portafilters, have double-walled baskets. These are, otherwise, known as “dual wall” or “double wall” baskets. Pressurized portafilters are usually recommended for use by inexperienced baristas as grind size is not of particular consideration when these portafilters are used. This is also useful for individuals with low-grade burr grinders or blade grinders. This is because of the two filters which are used during the extraction process.
As water passes through the coffee grounds, it first goes through the grounds in the first basket, afterwhich it goes through a holding area, that is the space between the first and second basket. While in the holding area, pressure starts to increase. It is this pressure that forces the extracted coffee to go through a small hole in the second basket and into the cup. This results in a foamy layer known as the “crema”.
Esspresso pulled from pressurized portafilters is not as rich in flavor as compared to espresso pulled from non-pressurized portafilters. Its body also tends to be lighter. Pressurized portafilters also do not give much space for the barista to control the quality of the coffee being pulled.
The advantages of using a pressurized portafilter, however, is that it requires little experience. Problems in tamping and grind size, for example, are of little or no consequence when using pressurized portafilters.
WHAT IS A NON-PRESSURIZED PORTAFILTER?
Non-pressurized portafilters do not have the double wall baskets that pressurized portafilters have. Therefore, unlike in the use of pressurized portafiters, there is much detail that needs to be attended to when using non-pressurized portafilters.
Grind size, dosage and the tamping process have to be strictly observed when using non-pressurized portafilters as any mistake in any of these factors will affect the flavor of the extracted coffee.
Pressure in a non-pressurized portafilter relies completely on the tamping process unlike in pressurized portafilters where pressure is built through a mechanical process.
Professional baristas usually prefer non-pressurized portafilters since his gives them room to adjust certain steps in the extraction process, enough for them to create coffee according to their taste.
WHAT ARE BOTTOMLESS PORTAFILTERS?
Bottomless portafilters are otherwise known as “naked portafilters”. They are used for pulling “naked shots” or “naked extractions” – espresso that goes directly into the coffee cup without having to pass through the spot of a portafilter.
Unlike pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters, bottomless portafilters do not have a spout at the bottom.
Because of this design, baristas claim that they have more control over their brewing technique. With naked portafilters, the barista is able to check for everything from uneven grinds, to an uneven flow of water, all of which can affect the taste of their brew.
As cliché as it may sound, experience is the best teacher in life. The same can be said for expresso brewing. You need to experience doing the actual brewing process yourself.
You may also want to check out the list of commercial espresso machines in the application to see what machine will best meet your preferences and needs.
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