Updated: April 3, 2018
If you're serious about espresso, eventually you'll decide that you need a bottomless (or naked) portafilter. You'll be able to see the extraction in real time to understand if you're grinding and tamping correctly.
You have two options - you can make one using a hole saw (don't forget the vise, safety glasses, and sandpaper) - or you can shop for one. Of course, you'll also need some space with a workbench - I happen to live in an apartment with a rambunctious 4-year-old, so the DIY option, with its sharp tools and metal shavings wasn't an option.
After searching for months, I finally found the naked 54mm portafilter that fits the Breville Barista Express. I almost gave up hope, as this find was just nowhere to find, and Breville itself isn't making them.
Barista Express 54mm
But, when doing my Breville Barista Express review, I decided to give it one more try. And then, I found it! Turns out, there is a company in Australia which specialized in barista tools: Pullman Espresso Accessories. And luckily they decided to make a bottomless portafilter for the Breville Barista Express, which is actually a modified version of the 54mm portafilter supplied by Breville.
The process is simple: Just cut off the bottom of the portafilter and cut off the edges. However, I didn't have the proper tools, nor the skill to pull this off in a decent way. But as you can see in the picture, Pullman does it perfectly. No sharp edges or burrs, and I can use the filter basket that came along with my machine. And since this is a customized version of the original Breville 54mm portafilter, it will always fit.
In this article I will show you how the bottomless portafilter (54mm) looks and works. I will also give you a few examples of how you can improve your barista skills by using a bottomless portafilter, a method often advised by barista trainers. I did a video on a number of common mistakes made when preparing espresso, mistakes which are easily shown when using a bottomless portafilter. In case you're unsure, a naked portafilter is the same thing as a bottomless portafilter, both meaning that the portafilter doesn't have any spouts underneath.
My espresso machine is the Breville Barista Express BES870XL. If you want to learn more about coffee making with the Barista Express, please check out my full detailed review. Also, always use fresh beans as that makes espresso making so much easier. Old, stale coffee beans simply won't get you the right amount of pressure, no matter what you try. If you like a strong taste, be sure to check out our article on espresso beans.
Pullman also have a custom bottomless portafilter for the:
- Breville Infuser BES840XL
- Breville Barista Express BES860XL (which is the predecessor of the BES870XL).
If you're in a hurry and just want to know whether or not you should purchase the bottomless portafilter for Breville Barista Express, let me give you a quick breakdown:
If you're still unsure, please keep reading. Hopefully, after reading my full and detailed review on the BES870XL bottomless portafilter, you can make a solid decision. If not, just let me know in the comments, where I am happy to answer any questions.
I made the video at my own home, and I used a number of tools to test it properly. If you're interested, this is what I used:
Double Walled espresso glass
These glasses are perfect for visually checking how your espresso comes out, the double walls allow it to stay hot longer.
I own my Breville Barista Express BES870XL for about a year now, constantly working on improving the quality of my espressos. However, with the regular 54mm portafilter with spout, I noticed that of the extraction flow wasn't evenly divided. This is a clear indicator that something is going wrong inside, and it doesn't give you a consistent taste, as the full flavor of the coffee isn't fully extracted.
I wanted to do something about this, but even after examining the puck I couldn't figure it out properly. I read that using a bottomless portafilter can help you identify any extraction problems. The main benefit of a bottomless portafilter vs. a regular portafilter is that you can have a close look right after the coffee leaves the group head, not hindered by the spout. Besides, as you can see in my video, once you get a proper extraction, it looks awesome as well.
So I decided I needed a bottomless portafilter. But that's wasn't easy to find for the Barista Express. Breville itself wasn't making them at 54 mm. They do make the 58mm bottomless portafilter (check it out), which can only be used on the Breville Oracle (review) and Breville Dual Boiler (review). I did found a few guides on how to convert a regular 54mm portafilter to a bottomless version, like this one. However, as I mentioned above, I don't have both the tools and skill to do this myself. So I kept searching for months until I finally found a company which made them.
To get the 54mm bottomless portafilter I ended up in Australia, where I found a company called Pullman Espresso Accessories, a company known for its customized professional tampers. They modify the regular Breville 54mm portafilter, by sawing off the bottom and rounding off the edges. After examining the bottomless portafilter, I bought with them; I can testify that they did this really good. The filter basket still fits, and you won't risk cutting your hand of something.
Mark, the boss of Pullman, is a really nice guy as well. I also wanted to replace/ supplement my filter baskets and get a new tamper, but had some questions about the compatibility. Mark explained to me that no aftermarket filter baskets would fit in the customized 54 bottomless portafilter, as these don't come in 54mm. But a customized tamper for the 54mm portafilter was something they could make themselves, as these are manufactured on order.
Since I was looking for a new tamper as well. I decided to order this one together with the bottomless portafilter. A Pullman tamper is well known in the barista world for its high-quality materials, and excellent handling. A Pullman tamper is a solid, well-balanced piece of art which really helps you in your tamping.
Especially compared with the tamper that Breville supplies with the Barista Express, the Pullman tamper is a breeze to use. It comes with three spacers to adjust the height, of which I used all three as I have big hands. You can select different colors and styles for the base and handle, using Pullman's tamper builder. (You can also have it custom engraved!) I had it made in a US convex profile (more about convex), which gives it a slight 1.67 mm curve. Even though anyone can have one made with these specifications, the amount of options you have pretty much ensures you've got a unique tamper when you're done.
For further details, I will be making a dedicated article for my Pullman tamper in the future. Even though these tampers aren't cheap (mine was about $150), it's definitely worth your money. These are the tampers professional barista's use, by the way.
As they are literally located on the other side of the world for me (I live in the Netherlands), I wanted to make sure my order was totally clear, as I couldn't send anything back easily. Mark was really helpful in this matter, making sure the tamper has the right size for the portafilter. They made both products it in a few days, after which shipping took about a week. And now I can happily say that the tamper indeed fits the portafilter perfectly. Overall it was a very pleasant experience, and no; they didn't pay me to be positive ;-).
Okay, now you know what I bought a bottomless portafilter for my Breville Barista Express (along with a high-quality tamper), let's move on to the good stuff. What can you actually learn from using a bottomless portafilter? To show you this, I made a couple of videos which I merged into one larger presentation. There are a number of questions inside the video to tackle each situatie, and I will discuss these in detail below the video.
Note: The GIFs below are just excerpts of the main action, you can see the full extraction process in the video.
Okay, I did this on purpose for the video, and I knew this would go wrong. The grind setting was set way too coarse, but it gives a perfect example of what happens. First there's the low pressure pre-infusion , where you can still see a bit of a normal flow. However, at full pressure, the water just splashes through quite violently, and it's not even going straight down either. Trust me, this was a mess!
A note on bottomless portafilter spraying: While the example of the spraying in the video is extreme, you can occasionally expect a bit of bottomless portafilter spaying to occur, even with a perfect espresso. The whole process of making espresso is a combination of grinds, high pressure and hot water, all pushed into a tiny basket which is now out in the open. A small particle at the bottom of the basket can be enough to cause spraying, and this isn't something to be worried about. If it happens all the time you're probably grinding too coarse, which is covered in the next section.
Caution: The water coming out the portafilter is very hot, so doing this can be dangerous. Don't try this at home (it's a waste of coffee anyway)!
What can we learn from this? Well, coarse grind is perfectly suited for French press or drip coffee, just never put it in your espresso machine.
Grinding for espresso is a delicate process, especially when you have a grinder with a high number of espresso grind settings. You are often fiddling between too fine grinds (where no extraction takes place, or just a few drips), and too coarse grinds. The latter causes the water too flow through too quickly, not taking all of the flavor along with it, resulting in sour coffee. In the video you can see the extraction flow going from pretty dark to pretty watery in just a few seconds, this is the first indication. The whole process, from start to finish, only takes 24 seconds. You should aim for 35-45 seconds, including pre-infusion.
What can we learn from this? If the extraction looks like this, try to grind a bit finer, and see if the length of the process is extended. If your flow is also a bit wobbly, please have a look at the tamping sections below.
Again, this was done for the video, as there is real use for poking holes, of course. After grinding the coffee and placing it into the bottomless portafilter, I made three holes in the puck. You can clearly see what this does, as the extraction begins as these three exit points. This is called channeling, and this happens because water always looks for the path of least resistance. If you look closely, you can see that all the way through the process the water gets poured through these holes. This causes some parts of the puck to get over-extracted, while other parts are hardly touched at all. The resulting espresso tastes unbalanced, with a mix of sour and bitter coffee.
This is a perfect example of what you can learn from using a bottomless portafilter, as this doesn't show up in a regular portafilter (it might even look like it's evenly distributed). Keep a close eye on how the water fills the basket. Also, afterwards you can look at the bottom of the filter basket, as you can probably see the holes.
What can we learn from this? Besides poking a few holes intentionally, channeling is mostly causes by uneven grinding, or improper tamping. If this happens all the time, try to put you grind on a white piece of paper, and identify any clumps. Maybe your grinder isn't working properly (anymore), or perhaps it isn't well suited for espresso grinding.
If it happens occasionally, it might have something to do with how you distribute the grinds into your portafilter, before you tamp. If you want to learn more, please have a look at this video. Or, if you want to be really precise, this one.
This was what was happening with my espressos, I was tamping unevenly. It was already slightly visible with my regular portafilter, but not as clear as with a naked portafilter. Luckily, the Barista Express is very newbie-friendly, something which I have mentioned my review on the machine as well. When I put the portafilter inside the group head, the puck gets straightened out a bit (that is when you use the advised amount of coffee grind). This diminished the effect to some degree, but inside the puck there's still in imbalance in density. Same as with channeling, this causes an unbalanced extraction process, causing over-extraction on one side, and under-extraction on the other side.
What can we learn from this? This one isn't easily solved, but there are ways to do it. First, try to see if the puck is already a bit sloping to one side before you put it in the group head, and correct your tamp. If you can't see anything, then it's time to make an espresso. Figure out at which side of the portafilter the extraction starts first, this is probably the part with the least pressure applied. Be sure to tamp more firmly on that side, and run another espresso to see the effects. Repeat this process until it looks like the perfect espresso extraction in the video (near the end).
This is another perfect example of the benefits given by a bottomless portafilter. When your tamp is too soft, the pressure build-up inside isn't consistent. You won't easily notice this with a regular portafilter, because the amount of water isn't really changing, or hanging to just one side. In fact, it wobbles around just before the point where the spout is. However, with a naked portafilter, you can't miss what's happening. In the video you can see that the extraction flow starts a bit on the left, which might indicate an uneven tamp. However, when full pressure kicks in, you can see that's it is in fact a soft tamp, instead of an uneven tamp (which doesn't wobble).
What can we learn from this? This one is easily solved, just apply more pressure than you regularly would. It's okay if you apply too much pressure the first few times, so you can see the difference. There's a fine line between applying too much, and too little pressure. If your device needs over a minute to complete a full run, or no coffee is pouring out at all, it's too much pressure. At least you then know your grind setting is good, so getting it right is just a matter of practicing.
After a lot of tweaking, trying and tasting, there's a big chance you end up with the perfect espresso. As I mentioned before, be sure to use fresh coffee beans. If your beans are a few months old, they don't only taste a bit stale, but most of the times you won't get the right pressure in your machine. It looks a bit like you have ground too coarse, or tamped too soft. Just use them for French press, or better yet, throw them away, as they simply won't taste that well with any type of method.
The perfect espresso needs to run for about 35-45 seconds, including pre-infusion. It should have a stead extraction flow, with minimal wobbling and spraying. It should taste well balanced, which means your espresso should taste about the same throughout the whole cup. It also should have a nice crema layer. Be sure to use the same batch of beans when practicing, as each different bean (and even batch of beans) may require dialing in your grinder again. Once you pull this off consistently you can switch beans, after which it should be much easier to make a perfect espresso with it.
Final tip: Don't drink every espresso you make when practicing! Not only does it ruin your taste (a sour espresso can even make you nauseous), but you probably get a bit too hyped up as well (trust me, I made this mistake when I first got my machine...).
What can we learn from this? A bottomless portafilter is a perfect way of identifying flaws in your technique. By listing the most common mistakes when making espresso I am hopefully able to help you improve your skills, leading up to finally making thé perfect espresso! And as I've mentioned before, it looks awesome as well!
If you're like me, and you never get tired of watching a perfect espresso extraction, here you go!
What can we learn from this? That it's really cool to have a high-quality video camera around when making espresso.
If this weren't for a video, it would be fine. You always have a few seconds before extraction starts, after you hit the start button. When you áre making a video, you get to do it all over again...
What can we learn from this? Preparation is the key!
As the guys from Pullman Espresso honestly admit, "these units are unashamedly more expensive than 'generic' bottomless portafilters". Aside from purchasing the regular 54mm Breville portafilter, they have to factor in their manual labor, as they convert them into naked portafilters themselves. Because they use the original Breville portafilters, you are assured that it fits. And since they do it themselves, you are also assured that you get a high-quality job done on the portafilter.
When it comes to quality, the guys from Pullman have an excellent reputation in the barista and coffee bar world. It did quite some research on them before I decided to purchase something across the globe, and found out their products are often recommended by professionals, to professionals. During this research I haven't been able to find any other reliable supplier of bottomless portafilters for the Barista Express.
So now I have hopefully convinced you that the Pullman bottomless portafilter is really worth your money, you probably want to know how much it costs: Around $110, including taxes. They charge you in Australian Dollar. They use insured Airmail for shipping, adding another $30 when calculated for New York. That's a total of $140, almost 3x the cost of a regular Breville 54mm portafilter, or 1/4 of the cost of the Barista Express itself (to put things in perspective). And to be honest, you can only use it on the Breville Barista Express & Infuser, so it's useless when you get a different machine (although you can probably sell it on eBay).
I admit, it's a lot of money, and it's up to you if you think it's worth it. As I mentioned before, I am not paid for in any way for this article, I bought it myself. Now I use the bottomless portafilter almost exclusively. Also, I found myself enjoying making an espresso even more, constantly looking underneath to see if there's anything I can improve (while enjoying the view). I would even say an espresso made with the bottomless portafilter taste better that those made with the regular one, which is a common belief among "us bottomless guys" (no pun intended!). However, I think this has more to do with the fact that I am paying a higher level of attention to my technique, than the actual tool. In the end, I am very happy with it!
If you were Googling for "Bottomless portafilter for Breville Barista Express" or something like that, this is your lucky day. You found it! Although it is expensive, and basically only useful for your Barista Express, it is a great way to improve your barista skills. If you're in the pursuit of making the perfect espresso, you are really going to find a bottomless portafilter invaluable. The skillful guys at Pullman Espresso Accessoires did a very good job on this one, too bad they're located in Australia which makes shipping quite costly (it does make for an excellent reason for a holiday ;-).
If you have any question about the bottomless portafilter, please let me know in the comments, where I am more than happy to help.
Jacco, Chief Grinder
To be absolutely sure: I wasn't paid by anyone for making this article. I honestly like both the company (Pullman) and this specific product (the bottomless portafilter for Breville Barista Express), and paid all of the costs myself. I did inform them of this article before ordering, but I wasn't given any discount or special treatment.