I used to think a naked portafilter (or bottomless portafilter) was a weird gimmick. Then I worked with a guy who swore he didn’t make espresso without one. I never did fully agree with his reasons (more on that in a sec), but he did teach me a thing or two.
If you’re interested in learning more about espresso, then you must read this article to the very end. You’ll learn exactly what a naked portafilter is AND how it is different to a normal portafilter. Most importantly, you’ll learn 5 reasons why some people call them a “gamechanger” when making espresso.
What Is A Naked Portafilter?
A naked portafilter is exactly the same as a normal portafilter except it has no bottom. Here’s a picture of one. Notice it has no chute or spout for the coffee to leave from.
In a normal portafilter, the coffee drips through the spout and into your mug. With a naked portafilter the coffee kind of “gloops” through the mesh lining and into a drip, like in the picture below.
Naked portafilter vs regular portafilter
Here’s what a standard portafilter looks like. See the photo below.
A portafilter is used with espresso machines. You put your ground coffee in the little basket as shown.
That silver metal thing next to the portafilter is a tamper, and is used to compress the ground coffee in the basket.
Next, you pick up the portafilter by its handle (black, in these photos), then secure it onto a “slot” on the espresso machine. We call that “slot” a group head.
Here’s a photo of a portafilter that’s been clipped to the group head.
Once the portafilter is clipped on, hot pressurized water is forced through the portafilter and the coffee. And voila, you have espresso.
Here’s one in action. Can you see how this portafilter is different to the naked/bottomless one? The espresso in the photo is coming out of two holes in the spout.
What are the advantages of using a naked portafilter?
Advantage #1: Feedback on tamping
Tamping is when you pat the ground coffee into the basket in your portafilter. A good tamp requires care and precision, 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. Whatever you do with your tamp, the espresso is coming from the same place.
A naked portafilter will shoot the espresso 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 on your tamp, homie!
Spurts of espresso being fired around your kitchen? Well, at least you know what you need to work on.
Advantage #2: The look
Watching golden brown swirls of the finest espresso dance and sway through a naked portafilter really is a gorgeous sight. Want proof? Check out this video.
My personal suspicion is this is the main reason people use a naked portafilter. Aesthetics are king, I guess. And in the right kind of coffee shop, showing off with your naked portafilters can actually be kind of a draw, for some folks.
Advantage #3: Taste
Here’s the big question everyone wants to know. Do naked portafilters make better tasting espresso?
In my experience, I haven’t noticed a difference in taste. And if I think it through logically, it’s hard for me to think of a reason why the espresso dripping into the mug in a slightly different way would make a difference to the taste. That’s just me, though.
There’s plenty of folks out there who will swear it tastes better. The usual arguments are that it gives better crema. Or something to do with texture. Or something to do with advantage #1.
The real way to find the answer? Try it 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. Let’s say you’re low on space. And espresso brewing is a juggling exercise. Moving from small cups to big cups, that kind of nonsense. A naked portafilter could just be a lifesaver.
Advantage #5: Easier to clean
Naked portafilters are easier to clean than regular portafilters. The lack of a bottom makes it easier for water to rinse through the device, taking a bit of the work out of cleaning. Is it starting to sound good yet?
What are the disadvantages of using a naked portafilter?
Naked portafilters struggle to make single shot of espresso, and are mostly suited for double shots.
Most modern portafilters are “split portafilters” which means there are two streams of espresso coming out the spout. This is allows you to make a double shot easily, but also it’s easy to separate the espresso in case you’re making a single or triple shot.
With a naked portafilter, all the espresso comes out as one. So for example, someone orders two triple shot drinks, how do you make it? Well, with only naked portafilters, you’d need to pull two double shots and two single shots, rather than three double shots and splitting one of the doubles.
It’s a small problem, really. These days, double espresso shots are the standard, and you have to ask specifically if you want a single shot.
Should I buy a naked portafilter?
Naked portafilters don’t cost any more than normal portafilters. So if you like the sound of some of the advantages, check out a few on Amazon.
I will say one thing, naked portafilters have a bit of the “love hate” about them. Folks who like using them usually won’t use anything else! Personally, I’m still on the fence.
And if you like upping your espresso knowledge, check out my A-Z on espresso vocab. There’s 35 terms in there you should know. How many have you heard of?