Bottomless portafilters are useful tools for professional and amateur baristas alike. You might not have put much thought into choosing a portafilter for your espresso machine besides making sure the dimensions match, and that’s fine. Many people haven’t heard of bottomless portafilters, much less know if they should buy one for their home setup. In this article, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about bottomless portafilters to decide if you should pick one up for your home machine. Let’s begin!
What Is a Bottomless Portafilter?
If you’ve used a regular portafilter before, you’re probably familiar with the spout attached to the bottom. Most home machines come with a one or two spout bottom that helps guide espresso into the cup (or cups) when you brew. This spout is necessary if you want to brew a double espresso into two separate mugs.
A bottomless portafilter removes the spout and exposes the bottom of the coffee basket. Getting rid of the spout doesn’t affect the brewing process, but it can help you better diagnose your problems if something goes wrong.
Benefits of Using a Bottomless Portafilter
If you’re new to espresso or looking to improve your technique and pull better shots consistently, switching to a bottomless portafilter can be helpful. Troubleshooting bad shots can be difficult since you have little information about what’s happening during extraction. A bottomless portafilter helps give you more information about your coffee and makes it easier to figure out what’s going wrong.
Without a spout obstructing your view, you can see the coffee pass through the puck and detect any non-uniformities that might be causing an uneven extraction. Ideally, you should see a thin, streamlined column of coffee exiting the puck near the center. If your coffee is draining off-center or forms droplets, you know that your puck isn’t evenly tamped and that some areas will be extracted more than others.
Another benefit of using a bottomless portafilter is that the clear view lets you examine your espresso’s color and texture as it brews. An expert tip is to look for “tiger striping” on the bottom of the filter basket. Well-extracted espresso has alternating lines of dark and light coffee form on the filter basket while a shot is being pulled. Without a spout in the way, you can look for yourself and see if your espresso makes this striped pattern.
Cleaning a bottomless portafilter is also significantly easier than one with a regular bottom. Bottomless portafilters have fewer places for grounds to get stuck and it’s much easier to rinse them knowing you didn’t leave any stragglers behind.
SEE ALSO: What Is a Pressurized Portafilter?
Drawbacks of Bottomless Portafilters
It’s not all sunshine and roses, however. Even though bottomless portafilters are great tools, there are some annoying changes that might turn you off from using them.
Bottomless portafilters are less forgiving than traditional portafilters because they restrict the flow of coffee less. If you’re a beginner who is just starting out on your espresso journey, we recommend you stick with a regular portafilter for a while. If you don’t tamp evenly and your puck isn’t perfectly packed, you might find yourself cleaning up a big mess more often than enjoying delicious espresso since coffee will shoot out the sides of the portafilter if there’s no spout to guide it.
You should also use a regular portafilter if you enjoy making two single shots of espresso simultaneously. Making one shot for two people is impossible with a bottomless portafilter since all the coffee drains into the same cup when nothing is redirecting it.
The final drawback is more of a difference than a pure disadvantage, but we think it’s worth mentioning. Many people love espresso because of the crema, and using a bottomless portafilter changes the crema’s quality slightly. Espresso made with a bottomless portafilter still has crema, but the texture is different. It’s impossible to say if the crema is better or worse in a bottomless portafilter without trying it yourself since it’s entirely a matter of personal preference.
Bottomless portafilters are good tools for intermediate espresso enthusiasts looking for a way to improve their technique. We don’t recommend bottomless portafilters to complete beginners because they can make a mess if you don’t already have decent tamping skills. Once you start to get consistently good coffee, switching to a bottomless portafilter can pay dividends since it gives you a better view – literally – of the extraction process.
If you’ve been pulling shots for a while and seem to be stuck in a rut, you should try out a bottomless portafilter. The added diagnostic ability you gain from being able to see the filter basket during the brewing process is essential if you want to take your espresso game to the next level and start making truly excellent espresso.
More useful espresso tips:
Featured Image: Scott Schiller, Flickr