If you’re like most people who’ve fallen down the espresso-making rabbit hole, you're probably on the boundless voyage of perfecting your technique. There are quite a few variables that go into consistently creating a well-balanced shot, and it’s not always obvious what needs to be done to make improvements. Enter: the bottomless portafilter.
Bottomless portafilter vs regular
The portafilter that came with your espresso machine is likely a standard style spouted portafilter, which helps your coffee flow neatly into your cup. This provides a streamlined process, but the bottom/spouts block your view of the filter basket, so you can’t tell if your pull is up to snuff until you taste it.
A bottomless portafilter works just like a standard style portafilter, but simply with the bottom & spouts removed, allowing you to see the liquid pouring straight from the filter basket. This not only gives you access to that Instagrammable shot we all know and love, but more importantly, adding a bottomless portafilter to your Breville espresso machine can help you understand the mechanics of the extraction process and help you master the art of coffee.
Troubleshoot your shot
Fine tuning your espresso with your stock spouted portafilter can be compared to trying to fix your car's engine with the hood closed. If you're going to do any real work, you're going to need to open up the hood so you can get a view of what's really happening inside.
Now, the first time you pull a shot with a bottomless portafilter, there's an equal chance that you may, or may not like what you see. You may have a glorious shot right from the start, which of course we're rooting for. Alternatively, you may have a shot that makes a bit of a mess. If you do have a mess, just keep in mind that this is somewhat expected, and it's not the portafilter that’s causing problems. Chances are good the same issues were happening inside your spouted portafilter, they were simply hidden from view. Here are a few of the visual cues telling you that your technique needs to be tweaked:
Spurting, Spraying or Channeling. A bottomless portafilter spraying hot coffee all over your kitchen is a common (and messy) sign that your puck prep work. Spurting, spraying or channeling is typically caused by gaps or inconsistencies in your prepared grounds, causing water to run much faster in these areas. This leads to over extraction in the high-flow areas, and under extraction in the rest.
Split or off-centered flow. If your puck of tamped-down grounds is uneven (out of level), water will tend to run faster through low spots and slower through high spots. This leaves you with multiple streams of liquid and an imbalanced shot.
Color and texture. If one side of your shot is light in color, while the other is dark, this indicates that you have inconsistencies in the rate of flow across your puck. It's expected that the color of your shot should change throughout the duration of the shot, but this should happen uniformly across the filter basket. Additionally, the ideal texture of your shot should somewhat thick and viscous, as opposed to thin and watery.
Above Left: This shot was not prepped properly, causing channeling/spurting.
Above Right: This shot was tamped out of level, causing water to flow unevenly.
We've put together a comparison to better illustrate how a spouted portafilter can often hide extraction issues from view. Both of the shots below were prepped with the same grind size, distribution technique, and tamping pressure. With all variables remaining the constant during prep, both shots should theoretically extract in the same or similar manner. From the spouted perspective, the shot looks great, right? However, taking a look inside with the bottomless, it's clear to see that we have issues that need to be addressed.
Things to consider
Diving head first into a bottomless portafilter too soon can sometimes be frustrating, as they tend to uncover more problems with your extraction than you know you had. This is a GOOD thing, but chasing too many variables at once can be challenging, especially if you're brand new to espresso.
Before jumping in, make sure you have a solid understanding on how to dial in your shots. In this particular article, we explain the process while using a bottomless portafilter, but the same general rules apply when dialing in on your spouted portafilter.
The second thing you'll want to consider is that a bottomless portafilter won't allow you to split shots directly into two glasses (ie. if you're making two drinks at once). In this case, you'll either need to switch back to your stock spouted portafilter, or if you're using a Crema Bottomless Portafilter, just pop on a set of Bottomless Spouts.
And last, but certainly not least, another often overlooked benefit to bottomless portafilters is that they tend to be a bit easier to keep clean when compared to spouted portafilters. Without a bottom, you're eliminating all the nooks and crannies that espresso may want to hide, which are also spots that can be tough to access and clean. So while this perk may or may not have been something on your radar, it's definitely a perk nonetheless!
Is a bottomless portafilter worth it?
Short answer, yes. If you’re on a quest for the perfect cup of espresso, using a bottomless portafilter can help definitely help get you on the right path, providing insight into extraction issues that may have otherwise been hiding out of sight. If you're chasing that perfect cup, a bottomless portafilter is definitely something we'd suggest adding to your arsenal of tools!
Above: The Breville Barista Express equipped with the Crema Coffee Products Bottomless Portafilter & Bottomless Spout Set, Steam Lever, Tamping Mat, Dosing Cup, Tamper/Distributor Combo and Arc Knock Box.