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Getting Down and Dirty with a Naked Portafilter

Five Senses CoffeeGuest Writer 7 April 2009

The naked portafilter is a tool that has applications in both a café setting and for the home enthusiast. Like one of those ‘magician reveals-all specials’ on TV, to an espresso enthusiast, the naked portafilter strips away the mystery as to what makes a terrific espresso coffee.

Essentially, a naked portafilter is exactly the same as a normal portafilter handle, with the spouts removed — showing the ‘naked’ bottom of the basket that holds the coffee.

As every coffee enthusiast knows, obtaining the ‘god shot’ can seem like chasing a unicorn, that is, a mythical creature impossible to capture. Well, this is where the naked portafilter comes into its own!

Having the basket exposed means that you can watch the entire extraction process, and thus diagnose any problems with shot extraction. This sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Keep in mind that to create quality espresso, you need water to be pushed evenly down through the basket of coffee.

Using a naked portafilter, you can see the exposed basket, and you are able to easily ascertain whether the water is being pushed through in an even manner, or if it’s going through a ‘path of least resistance’ in the coffee puck.

If the water is running through this path then the coffee is said to be ‘channelling’. This can be seen easily with a naked portafilter, as the water will pour from the side of the basket rather than through the middle.

This can happen for a number of reasons, including not having enough coffee in the basket, starting with a damp basket or everyone’s favourite, an uneven tamp of the coffee.

The colour of the shots you pull through the naked portafilter can also be a good indication of whether you’re getting everything right. A perfect shot should have an even, golden to reddish brown colour that starts to blonde (lighten in colour) around 25 to 30 seconds.

Don’t forget that drinking coffee is a subjective experience. Everyone has a different personal preference, so bear this in mind when you are experimenting with the naked portafilter.

  • A very blonde (light) shot may be an indication that you need to dose more coffee in your basket, or perhaps your grind is too coarse.
    An overly dark shot can mean that you are dosing too much coffee, or grinding your coffee too fine.
  • Blonding of your extraction to the sides of the basket may be a sign of air pockets within your coffee puck, you could be collapsing the coffee in your basket a bit too much (ie tapping the handle on your bench too many times).
  • Uneven tamping will cause channelling, and the water will run through the path of least resistance. You’ll be able to see blonde patches, which indicate where the coffee is not compressed as tightly or where less coffee is distributed. This is bad news for the quality of your espresso. Have a look at our Hot Tip, which takes you through the basics of tamping.

Once you have had a good look at your extraction with the naked portafilter, you can adjust your technique to fix any problems that may be occurring. Depending on what problem you’ve diagnosed, try adjusting your grind setting, increase or decrease your coffee dosing and work on creating a solid tamping technique.

From a taste point of view, there are more than a few theories floating around. In my opinion, the taste coming from the naked portafilter is different. This is due to the lack of contact through the metal of the spouts, where the coffee obtains a lighter, cleaner flavour with a slightly more aerated crema.

The naked portafilter is an interesting and important piece of equipment which will prove invaluable in terms of its ability to diagnose espresso extraction problems. It even manages to do so while looking very cool in the process!

Of course, the best indication of a great shot is the taste, and from that point of view, I would suggest that you try that for yourself!

If you’re keen to get cranking with your own naked portafilter, why not try one of our Synesso ones. A Synesso portafilter fits most commercial and semi-commercial machines.

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