Espresso Coffee Filter Baskets Explained

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If you’re venturing into the world of espresso, you’ve undoubtedly heard that the key to brewing a fantastic espresso begins with the correct dose of ground coffee in your filter basket.

While this is entirely true and is one of the primary elements of dialing in espresso, the problem with coffee filter baskets is that they come in many different shapes and sizes.

Single, double, triple? Or even ridged or ridgeless? You get the idea. Espresso basket sizes can be confusing.

But don’t fret. Help is at hand. In this short and sweet guide, I will explain all of the different types of portafilter baskets and explain the pros and cons of the various sizes.

By the time you reach the end, you’ll have a clear idea of which coffee filter basket you should be using for your home coffee brewing setup.

Different Coffee Filter Baskets
Espresso coffee filter baskets are not created equal, and you will come across a wide range that may or may not fit inside your portafilter handle.

Some will completely change how you dial in your espresso, while others are extremely challenging to work with, even for seasoned pros.

Let’s take a closer look at a few popular types of filter baskets.

Ridged vs. Ridgeless Filter Baskets
If you’re shopping around for a new filter basket, you have a couple of choices you can make, some have ridges along the side and others don’t.

Ridged filter baskets are easy to identify by the indentation near the top of the basket that runs around the entire perimeter.

There is no real difference in terms of coffee brewing with either basket, but one design is better at staying firmly in place. Can you guess which?

There is a spring in each espresso machine portafilter; it’s called a spring, but in reality, it’s just a piece of wire that holds the basket firmly in place.

If the spring is weak or ill-fitting, the basket can fall out.

The ridge on the basket helps: it’s an extra feature that ensures that the basket stays seated securely inside the portafilter when knocking out extracted pucks into your espresso knock box.

You may be thinking that the ridged is going to be the better option; after all, it stays put!

You would be thinking wrong.

In most cases, the spring clip does an excellent job at holding a regular basket in place without needing a ridge.

The downside of the ridged basket is you will struggle to knock out a clean puck and will subsequently spend more time preparing for your next shot of espresso.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the ridgeless coffee filter baskets.

If given a choice, I would instead swap out the spring clip with one that is slightly stiffer rather than using a ridged basket – just because a ridgeless basket is easier to work with.

Single vs. Double Coffee Filter Basket
As you might have guessed, the single and double baskets will determine how many espresso shots you can make.

Single baskets will typically hold around 7-12 grams of ground coffee and are intended to make one shot of espresso. The basket is almost always paired with a single spouted portafilter handle.

Double-walled baskets tend to hold around 14- 21 grams of coffee and are used with a double-spouted portafilter to pull two shots simultaneously.

If you’re making espresso for one, don’t be fooled into thinking that a single-sized basket will be the better choice.

Sure, on paper, it seems like it is.

But it’s challenging to work with a single basket, and in most situations, when you’re brewing coffee for one, using a larger double basket and adjusting your dose is the better option.

Generally, the single basket shape is much more conical in shape and has a smaller opening on the base to create more resistance due to only having half the dose of coffee.

They are more difficult to prepare compared to double-sized baskets due to their tapered design, and they tend not to brew evenly and are more prone to channeling.

Pressurized Dual Wall Coffee Filter Baskets
I have written a complete guide on the pressurized portafilters, which you can read here, so I won’t go into too much detail in this article.

However, here’s a quick summary: Pressurized filter baskets look like any other basket from the top but underneath there is just one small tiny hole.

They are designed for home espresso machines for someone who prefers using store-bought pre-ground coffee; that isn’t as fine as it should be for brewing espresso.

If you’re using coffee that is not fine enough, a regular portafilter will struggle to build up the required pressure and won’t have enough resistance.

The pressurized filter basket adds the resistance that is missing because you’re using coffee that’s too coarse. Once the pressure has built up, the coffee is forced through the tiny hole.

The end result is a coffee that looks like espresso, with a foamy crema but tastes completely different – not in a good way.

If your machine came with this type of portafilter, do yourself a favor and invest in either a naked portafilter or one that isn’t pressurized.

Coffee Filter Basket Sizes
It’s not a one size fits all: filter baskets also come in different diameters, and your espresso machine only takes one size.

Both commercial and domestic machines often take a 58 mm basket. 57 mm are out there but are incredibly rare and not common in commercial machines.

For smaller home espresso machines, you will find 53 mm baskets; pressurized portafilters tend to come in this size.

If you’re unsure of the size of the basket and you want to buy an espresso tamper, you can try to measure the inner diameter (the centerline) of the basket using a ruler or use vernier calipers for a more accurate measurement.

Tip: Espresso tamper sizes are usually standardized to a whole number.

So once you’ve measured your basket, you’ll need to round up your final number to the lower approximation.

How To Measure Portafilter Size (Capacity)
Sometimes, you may have a filter basket that came with your coffee maker with no size indication, so you will have to determine how much coffee the basket holds.

Don’t worry. It’s easy to figure out the optimal dose for the filter basket you’re working with, but it will cost you some coffee.

Place your portafilter on your digital coffee scale, tare to zero, and lightly dose a heaped mound of finely ground coffee.
Carefully distribute the coffee grounds evenly across the filter basket by gently tapping and by using your finger. Just make sure not to apply any pressure; you don’t want to push down and compact the grounds. Your goal here is to make sure all areas of the basket are filled with coffee. Any excess coffee grounds can be scraped off with your finger.
Once your basket is evenly full, take note of the weight and repeat the same process 2 or 3 times to give you a good indication of whether you’re using an 18-gram or 22-gram basket.

Conclusion
I know it’s a lot to take in, but once you’ve worked out the size and dose of your particular machine, you should be good to go; it’s not something you have to do all the time.

If you’re shopping for a new filter basket, my advice would be to buy a basket that is larger than you actually need, say a 20-gram basket.

You may find that you brew with 18-grams most of the time, but with a slightly bigger portafilter basket, you have room to dose more coffee if required. You can’t brew 20-grams in an 18-gram basket – you get the idea.

So if you’re going to pick one, go just a little bit bigger than you might need. It will save you buying a larger one later on.