What is Portafilter on Espresso Machines (Barista Guide)

 Last Updated December 17, 2023

So you're looking at espresso machines and may be wondering what's that stick sticking out of it? And what it's used for? It's called a "portafilter".  

In this guide I'll give a barista guide on everything you need to know about portafilters.

I'll cover what they are, the different types, sizes, and other answer other common questions.

Spouted portafilter

A spouted portafilter.

What is a portafilter?

The portafilter is the handle that sticks out of the espresso machine that contains an espresso basket that holds ground coffee which water passes through to extract espresso.

The portafilter "locks" into the "group head" of the espresso machine to create a seal to extract coffee.

It is the last part of the espresso making process that a coffee machine interacts with before it lands in your cup. 

Below you can see some a photo of my portafilter that locks into the group of my Rocket Appartamento espresso machine.

Portafilter in grouphead

Portafilter locked into my machine's grouphead.

What are the different types of portafilters?

There are three main types of portafilters in the coffee making world: spouted portafilters, bottomless portafilters, and pressurized portafilters

Spouted portafilter

Spouted portafilters have a spout - either single or double - that direct the espresso into your cup. Single spouted ones can only be directed in one cup, while double can be directed into two. 

In a commercial environment you will want to use double spouted portafilters so you can make more coffees at a time. At home you can use either.

Bottomless portafilter / naked portafilter

Bottomless portafilters also known as “naked portafilters” contain no spout, hence the name.

This means that the coffee extracts directly into you cup from the coffee basket.

Bottomless portafilter

A bottomless portafilter.

There are three pros to using these types of portafilters.

Firstly, they look super cool. Watching the espresso slowly extract until it forms a solid single stream is sexy. We've list the best bottomless portafilters here if you're interested.

Secondly, they are easier to clean. What you will find when using spouted portafilters is that are some are harder to clean and get old coffee built up within the spouts. The only way to properly clean them is to submerge them in hot cleaning fluid and leave them to sit. Bottomless portafilters are much easier to clean. All you do rinse the basket from both sides to get rid of coffee residue.

Thirdly, naked portafilters are a great training tool. As if you don’t get your grind right or do a poor tamp, you will see this reflected in the extraction. The coffee may extract on one side only or have multiple streams instead of one. A spout hides this information. So it can help you learn how to pull a better shot.

Just a warming though – if you don’t do a good shot a bottomless portafilter has the risk of being very messy. As the espresso may rush through and splash all over your espresso machine. But once you know how to pull a good shot this will not be an issue anymore.

Pressurized portafilter

Pressurized portafilters contain a device within them that, as the name suggests, that creates additional pressure. This allows your coffee machine to produce a thicker crema during extraction even if your grind is not set right or are using less quality or old coffee beans.

Because of this you only find pressurized portafilters in cheaper consumer product machines. This is because they are beginner friendly and can help create the look of a classic espresso shot, even if you don’t have a good grinder or machine with 9 bars of pressure.

You will not find pressurized portafilters in mid to higher end machines.

This is because  pressurized portafilters are not good as they affect the taste of your coffee as they create an uneven extraction and better machines create the required pressure for espresso.

Once you grind your coffee correctly and put the right amount of coffee in your portafilter, you don’t need an additional device to create pressure – as your coffee beans and espresso machine will do this.

Simply put – un-pressurized portafilters make better tasting coffee.

What sizes do portafilters come in? 

The size of a portafilter basket depends on your espresso machine. However, they tend to come in three main sizes: 58mm, 54mm, and 51mm.

You will find that commercial and prosumer espresso machines come equipped with 58mm portafilter size so they are the most popular size. Think of machines like Rocket, La Marzocco, Gaggia, Bezzera, and Rancilio - all of them have 58mm size groups.

Group head

Your coffee machine group head dictates the size of your portafilter.

Consumer coffee machines on the other hand tend to come with smaller 54mm and 51mm group sizes. For example, the Breville Barista Express has a 54mm group, and Smeg machines have 51mm groups.

But what size is best? 58mm groups are superior to the smaller sizes as they retain heat better and are much more widely available so you have a lot of accessories made for that size.

What Is a Portafilter Basket?

A portafilter basket is the cup within the portafilter that you put your ground coffee that you tamp down.

Most coffee machines will come with a both a single basket and double basket so you can extract a single or double shot espresso. I find it's best to stick to a double shot basket as they produce more consistent shots (and I like strong coffee haha)

A portafilter basket is the cup within the portafilter that you put your ground coffee that you tamp down.

Any questions?

Do you have any other question you would like answered about portafilters? Leave a comment below and I will get back to you.

About The Author 

Ivan Bez

Ivan is the founder of Latte Art Guide and a barista with 10 years of experience. He loves coffee and aims to help people improve their coffee making skills.

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