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Pressurised vs Non-Pressurised Portafilter: Is One Better Than the Other?

A fun thing about espresso is that there are always things to tinker with. Yes, in the quest for that perfect shot. For example, you could use a pressurised or non-pressurised portafilter.

So what is the difference between the two, and why would you want one or the other? And more importantly, does one make better espresso? That’s what this article is all about!

What is a portafilter?

Let’s start with the quick anatomy of the portafilter, one of the most important features of an espresso machine. It has two parts. The main component consists of a handle attached to a filter basket holder that has either one or two spouts on the bottom. Though this is the largest part of the portafilter, the critical part is the filter basket itself.

The filter basket is a small metal filter that is designed to let extracted coffee through while holding back coffee grounds like any other coffee filter. A filter basket made for the espresso rather than coffee is designed to operate under high pressures.

What is the difference between a pressurised and non-pressurised portafilter?

Okay, now let’s talk about pressurised portafilters, which are just different types of filter baskets. A pressurised basket has a false bottom, so it’s also known as a dual-wall basket. From the top, it has a grid of holes like any other filter basket. But from the bottom, there’s just a single hole. This design pressurises the extracted espresso as it exits through one hole.

In a non-pressurised portafilter, the filter basket is just a regular filter. It has a single bottom layer with a regularly spaced grid of holes.

If you’re buying a non-pressurised basket, you can also pay extra for a precision basket.

Precision baskets are carefully machined so that each hole is evenly sized and spaced and has microscopically smooth edges. This helps avoid clogs that can interfere with extraction. So they yield more consistent shots (1).

pressurised vs non-pressurised portafilters
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A head-to-head comparison

So why choose one type of portafilter or the other? It all comes down to your grinder or lack thereof.

Pressurised portafilters were designed to produce a beautiful espresso shot with a thick layer of crema, even if your grind or puck preparation isn’t perfect. According to the pros at Whole Latte Love, they’re an excellent choice for espresso beginners.

If you’re just starting your espresso journey, don’t be afraid to play around with pressurised baskets until you feel comfortable levelling up to standard, or non-pressurised baskets.

So if you’re new to espresso or don’t have access to a good burr grinder, a pressurised portafilter is the right choice. For this reason, they are sold standard with the most inexpensive espresso machines.

On the other hand, if you have a quality burr grinder, you can make undeniably better espresso with a non-pressurised basket. It takes a bit more practice, but you’ll be rewarded with a richer and sweeter shot.

All commercial espresso machines use non-pressurised portafilters, as do prosumer espresso machines, which says a lot about their quality.

What about a bottomless portafilter?

If you’re here with portafilters on the brain, you might be interested in bottomless portafilters. In this case, the portafilter itself is different. Rather than having spouts at the bottom, the filter basket holder has nothing. It’s just an empty ring.

This style of the portafilter is always paired with a non-pressurised filter basket. It makes it easy to spot any flaws in your puck preparation, so it can help you make improvements to your technique. Plus, it looks gorgeous when you manage to nail that perfect shot.

The Verdict

Both pressurised and non-pressurised filter baskets have their place. The right one for you depends on your lifestyle and espresso goals.

Use a pressurised portafilter if:

  • You prefer to buy pre-ground coffee
  • You want a reliably good espresso with a thick layer of crema
  • You have an appliance style espresso machine

Use a non-pressurised portafilter if:

  • You have access to a quality burr grinder
  • You’re willing to work a little harder for truly great espresso
  • You have a commercial or prosumer espresso machine

FAQs

The difference in an automatic vs semi-automatic espresso machine comes down to how these machines work. A semi-automatic machine relies on the barista to control most aspects of pulling the shot, including grinding, dosing, tamping, and timing. An automatic machine automates one or more of these steps.

The most important part of choosing an espresso tamper is getting the right size. Most filter baskets have a diameter of 58 mm, but some home models are smaller. You also want something metal with some weight to it and a handle that feels comfortable in your hand.

To clean a portafilter:

1. Remove the basket and soak everything in warm, soapy water.
2. After soaking, scrub and rinse both parts.
3. Pop the basket back into the portafilter and use your espresso machine to run a shot of hot water through (2).

  1. Prestidge, J. (2016, June 15). Espresso Baskets and Their Effects on Extraction. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2016/06/ims-vs-vst-espresso-baskets-and-their-effects-on-extraction/
  2. Korhonen, J. (2019, October 8). How to Clean Your Espresso Machine? Retrieved from https://www.baristainstitute.com/blog/jori-korhonen/october-2019/how-clean-your-espresso-machine
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I come from a country where people drink domestic coffee (what the rest of the world knows as Turkish coffee) and where Nescafe designates all instant coffees ever made. So, imagine my first encounter with, say, Hario V60...Yes, it was love at first sight.  Today I’m a moderate coffee connoisseur and a huge coffee lover. My favorite brewing methods are the V60 and traditional espresso-making. Yet, despite my country’s long tradition of Turkish-coffee-adoring, I somehow cannot stand it. That’s just too dark, even for me.

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