You have fresh coffee grounds and spend plenty of time and care tamping and measuring properly, so why is your espresso extraction still off the mark?
It could come down to your portafilter! It’s true - not all portafilters are created equal!
Here, I explain whether or not this component is universal or interchangeable to make sure your espresso is delicious each time you pull a shot.
Are All Portafilters The Same Size? (Myth Busted!)
The answer is no! Not all portafilters are the same.
While they may look very similar, portafilters aren’t made to be interchangeable. However, they do come in very similar sizes.
How Do You Know What Size Portafilter To Get?
You must check your espresso machine manual to discover what size portafilter you need.
The standard portafilter size is 58mm, though many home espresso machines come in 54mm or 51mm.
However, selecting the right portafilter size is crucial to reap optimal results from your espresso machine!
Let's look at the most common portafilter sizes and why they're important!
You’ll find this size in smaller espresso machines, which also creates a smaller coffee bed due to the smaller size.
The downside is that this could create a slightly less even extraction, making it a bit more difficult to pull an optimal espresso shot.
That's not to say that you can't still make great espresso shots by using fresh ground coffee and focusing on grind size, tamping, and distribution.
These portafilters are just a tiny bit smaller than the standard and are almost exclusively found inside the Breville Barista series espresso machines.
Just like with the 51mm, you’ll need to pay more attention to details to ensure proper dosage, even tamp, and so on.
58mm Portafilters (Standard Size)
This is the most common size of portafilters, offering a larger coffee bed area. It allows for more versatility and control over the brewing process but also offers a bit more consistency.
If you're truly serious about good espresso, the 58mm is for you.
Are The Same Size Portafilters Interchangeable?
Are portafilters interchangeable if they measure the same diameter? Can you use an already-existing portafilter if the diameter is the same?
Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case.
Even if the diameter is equal, each manufacturer and model varies, creating slight gaps, misalignments, etcetera when used with machines they aren't intended for.
Even the smallest change could make a huge difference when using an espresso machine.
For example, the incorrect model or size could block one or more of the filter baskets' holes, creating clogs.
Does Portafilter Size & Type Affect Espresso Taste?
Not only could this blockage of the hole pattern create leaks, channeling, and uneven extraction, but it can also create an overly bitter-tasting espresso cup.
In fact, you could seriously damage the machine and find yourself in hot water (perhaps literally) if you use a portafilter that isn't designed for it!
If you have any doubts, please consult your machine's user manual and consider the models and accessories you will be using.
How Tight Should A Portafilter Be? (Find The Perfect Fit)
The key to a beautiful extraction is ensuring the espresso machine's group head fits seamlessly with the portafilter.
Coffee beans should be quite close to the group head so that water doesn't collect in the gap.
Portafilters should be turned until snug, but never tight.
Of course, if the portafilter handle is shorter or it has a new steam ring, the tightness may temporarily require a bit more effort to lock in.
If you're having a really hard time locking it in, check to make sure you haven't added too much coffee.
If you haven't added too much, ensure you've tamped down enough.
What About Espresso Baskets: Are They Universal?
You’re probably wondering about the portafilter basket, now. Are they at least universal?
In most cases, they're universal. The filter basket size can vary quite a bit, but the most important aspect to consider is the diameter of the basket.
Like portafilters, baskets are also made to work with 58mm, 54mm, or 51mm portafilter sizes.
Within those various sizes, you could use a different basket, even if it's another brand. You aren't just stuck to one size.
Baskets come in single, double, and occasionally triple shot sizes, so consider how much of an espresso fiend you are and go from there.
Choosing The Right Portafilter And Basket
Studies show that coffee drinking is one of the most complex consumption behaviors, influenced by different preferences, preparation methods, cultures, and traditions.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, this will influence the portafilter and basket that you select for your espresso machine.
Always Check Your User Manual
Before you do anything else, make sure you consult the user manual of your espresso machine. As previously discussed, not all espresso machines use the same size of portafilter.
Even if they do, there will be certain models that simply don’t work with the machine manufacturer.
If you don’t have the user manual handy, you’ll almost always be able to find information on the manufacturer’s website.
Identify Your Portafilter Size
First, check the manual of your espresso machine to learn which size of portafilter it's compatible with.
If you already have a portafilter at home and aren't sure what size it is, don't worry - there are ways to measure it!
First, grab a retractable measuring tape and a calculator.
- Measure the centerline of the portafilter.
- Convert this measurement into a decimal by typing it. For example, if you get 3 ⅓, you’ll end up with 3.33.
- Take inches and convert to millimeters by taking your measurement and multiplying it by 25.4. Get a tamper that’s .75mm smaller by subtracting (ex. 59.18 - 0.75 = 58.53mm).
Remember that tamper sizes will always be a whole number, so round your result up or down.
Remember, the standard diameters include 58mm, 54mm, and 51mm, though there are some brands that use non-standard sizes.
There are many different types of portafilters out there, so let’s determine which of these four common types is right for you.
Pressurized portafilters are fantastic for beginner baristas, as they don’t require you to have your extraction methods as precise.
As you can probably guess by the name, they apply pressure, so you don’t have to worry about tamping the espresso properly and worry about channeling.
While they’re undoubtedly great for beginners, a pressurized portafilter is not exactly user-friendly in the sense that they’re a hassle to clean up afterward.
For home baristas who are serious about perfecting their espresso-making skills, non-pressurized portafilters are ideal.
While you’ll have to really learn the proper way to dose, tamp, distribute, etc., the end result is much better.
Also known as naked portafilters, bottomless portafilters are named as such because the espresso streams right out from the basket without any spouts to obstruct the view.
This clear view allows you to see if you've done something wrong in your extraction process, which lets you learn how to create a great cup of espresso.
While it is more difficult to use at first, the benefits of using a naked model are worth it.
Most portafilter types you see at your local cafe will be bottomless, producing a rich crema and tasty cup of liquid gold when used correctly.
For many people, it's more practical to use ESE pods than fresh coffee beans. Depending on packaging and storage conditions, you may still find that the coffee within these pods is very fresh.
These pods come in pre-measured, small bags of espresso, which are typically much easier for beginners to work with.
While you won't usually find them on a commercial machine, this type of portafilter has one long spout down the middle rather than two spouts that come from the sides.
Make Sure You Have A Compatible Basket
When making espresso, it's crucial that the material and hole pattern of the portafilter is compatible with your espresso machine and the portafilter itself.
Also, take the depth and shot size of the basket into consideration, depending on how strong you like your espresso and what your machine is capable of.
Pay Attention To The Materials and Shape
There are many types of portafilters and baskets, but stainless steel baskets seem to last the longest and are easiest to clean and maintain.
I know the appeal of purchasing a cheap portafilter or basket, but don't fall into this trap. When it comes to barista materials, you're almost always better off spending a bit more on a quality brand.
Related Portafilter Size Questions
Is a bigger portafilter better?
Yes, a bigger portafilter size is better! Larger portafilters let you use more grounds, which means you not only have a higher extraction yield, but it tastes bolder and stronger and offers more consistency in extraction.
How do you store portafilters?
Always store your own portafilters in the group head of your machine when you're not using them. This keeps the gasket from drying out, keeping the portafilter preheated whenever you're ready for some tasty espresso.
How much difference does a 58mm portafilter make?
You’ll have to change dosing if you’re used to using smaller portafilters. I noticed that I had to use a finer grind as well, but this may not be your case. Overall, you’ll likely find that most portafilters of this size yields quality espresso that tastes similar to what you’re used to experiencing on commercial machines.
How many grams of coffee does a 58mm portafilter hold?
Your standard 58mm portafilter basket can hold around 18 to 22 grams of espresso. This will vary a bit based on your machine, roast level, freshness, grind size, and other considerations.
I know you place quality and taste above anything else, but will your portafilter help you achieve that?
While a universal portafilter doesn’t really exist, there are cases where a portafilter of equal diameter will be compatible with another machine.
If there’s any doubt at all, again, refer to your user manual! Thanks for tuning in, and happy sipping!