What is...

Just what the hell is… a Naked Portafilter?

March 25, 2017

In this article we’re going to delve into what a naked portafilter is and look at whether it’s worth buying one or not. These little devices are a hot topic right now, a contentious one too.

A quick note, there’s a bunch of espresso lingo in this article. If you’re unsure on a word then you should check out this incredible article on The Ultimate A-Z of Espresso Lingo.

What is a portafilter?

Let’s remind ourselves what a portafilter is. Here’s a picture.

It’s the long, thin thing with the handle and the coffee in.

a portafilter

Portafilters are used with espresso machines.

Coffee is placed into the basket of the portafilter. The coffee is tamped and then the portafilter can be locked on to the group head of the espresso machine. Here’s a portafilter that has been screwed on.

a portafilter in an espresso machine

Once the portafilter is clipped on, hot pressurised water is forced through the portafilter where it interacts with the coffee. The resulting espresso drips down through the spout into the cup below. Here’s one in action.

espresso coming through a portafilter

Naked Portafilter – the Description

A naked portafilter is a portafilter that doesn’t have a bottom or a spout. It can also be called a bottomless portafilter. Here’s a picture of one. Notice it has no chute for the coffee to leave from.

a naked portafilter

In a normal portafilter the coffee drips through the spout. With a naked portafilter the coffee kind of ‘gloops’ down into a drip that should form at the centre of the bottom of the portafilter. I know ‘gloop’ is probably not the technical term, but take a look at this photo of a naked portafilter and tell me it’s not glooping!

Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantage 1 – Tamping and Feedback

Tamping is when you pat the ground coffee into the basket in your portafilter. A good tamp requires more care and precision than you might think, and the quality of the tamp affects the quality of the espresso.

Normal portafilters, by design, force the coffee to emerge from the center of the spout.

A naked portafilter does not, and in fact will shoot the water out at crazy angles if you’ve not done a good job with tamping. This is super useful to baristas – particularly inexperienced ones – as it gives them direct feedback on whether they have tamped well.

Perfect drip coming straight down the middle? Kudos! Spurts of espresso being fired around your kitchen at ridiculous tangents? Well… at least you know what to improve.

Advantage 2 – The look

Watching the sweet, dark brown espresso drip down through a naked portafilter really is a gorgeous sight. Need any more proof? Check out this video.

Advantage 3 – Taste

There are those who use a naked portafilter and swear that it makes a big improvement to the taste of the coffee. Blogs post have been written and some heated internet conversations have been had. the world has been set ablaze by the supposed increase in quality of espresso and thickness of crema.

Given the lack of consensus, I’m going to speak personally. I’ve used naked portafilters and I don’t notice a difference in taste. That said, I can’t say I’m too experienced with them, and anyway, I’m just a weird internet guy. You may want to try for yourself.

Advantage 4 – More space

A notable advantage of using a naked portafilter is that removing the spout leaves more room on the tray of your espresso machine. If your espresso setup means you have to mess about with transferring your coffee from small cups to big cups, this might be a good option for you.

Advantage 5 – Easier to clean

Another simple one but a practical one. Naked portafilter are easier to clean than regular portafilters. Is it starting to sound good yet?

Potential Issue: One shot

I know you’ve been checking out those baristas down at big business coffee chain #48592. I know you watch them as they prepare the trademark roast and use the industrial sized machine and add the organic almond milk that you love. You don’t make it obvious, just watching out of the corner of your eye. But you watch them. I know.

Coffee shops will have large machines capable of performing Herculean feats of coffee making. Machines that would humiliate your little kitchen top espresso machine. But don’t be too upset.

When you see a barista pouring a double, all that’s really happening is the spout from the portafilter is split into two – that’s where the two shots come from. It’s still the same coffee.

So when you have a naked portafilter that doesn’t have a spout, you lose the ability to pour two espresso shots at once. It’s considered by some to be a weakness of using a naked portafilter. I’ll leave it up to my extraordinarily handsome/pretty reader to decide what it is for them.

Worth it?

Is it worth getting a naked portafilter?

Take a look at the advantages and decide for yourself. It’s a personal thing. For instance, I know someone who worships their naked portafilter – not because of taste or improved coffee – but because they can finally pour a shot of espresso into a regular cup, rather than using a small cup to transfer it!

If that sounds good, take a look at your options!

Do you have a naked portafilter? If so, I’d love to hear your opinion.

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