Pressurized VS Non-pressurized portafilter – Explained!


Ten-fifteen years back my father and I were looking to buy a high-quality espresso machine that my mother, famous for her exquisite palate and love for coffee, would like.

During our research, I first became aware of the existence of the dual-wall pressurized portafilters and their single-walled ancestors.

If you’re looking for your first espresso machine, I’m pretty sure you’ve stumbled upon those two options.

But which one should you choose to make your coffee with?

Is there a significant difference between the coffee made with a pressurized portafilter and the one made with a non-pressurized basket?

What is the grind size that you should use having one or the other?

Maybe you’ve heard that dual wall filters are bad and don’t make a “real espresso”.

Then what are you having if you’ve been using the pressurized version ever since you’ve had your espresso machine at home and what difference does it bear compared to a non-pressurized filter?

If you feel like something is missing and you want to master the extraction and the overall taste and quality, it might be good for you to check if the portafilter you’re using is the one that can produce the coffee of your dreams.

So let’s dive in and explain all you need to know.

What is the difference when it comes to pressurized versus a non-pressurized portafilter?

In order for you to find out which one will suit you best, you need to understand what are their basic characteristics.

Here is the difference between pressurized and non-pressurized portafilters:

In its essence, espresso needs to have a decent extraction of emulsified coffee oils, which can be best achieved through a finer size of the grind.

Non-pressurized portafilters work with such espresso fine grind.

The tamped coffee grounds provide the resistance and serve to build the needed 8-9 bars of pressure in the basket.

This forces gases out of the grounds, and the overall extraction results in a rich-tasting and balanced espresso with great crema, emulsified with coffee proteins and oils.

However, with pressurized portafilters, the grind needs to be coarser because the fine espresso grind blocks the dual-wall basket mechanism and doesn’t allow water pressure to build in and open the tiny valve.

This would choke the coffee machine.

When using pressurized portafilter the coffee is being forced through a small hole which results in aeration producing faux crema (foam).

For these reasons, the coffee made with pressurized portafilter isn’t as good as the espresso made with a non-pressurized filter basket.

The former is widely spread as it is designed to compensate for lack of proper espresso grind and is much easier to use.

A pressurized basket doesn’t allow for an extraction process that will result in a classic espresso taste and feel.

Mechanical dissimilarities between the baskets


You can tell the difference between the two filter baskets easily.

With the pressurized portafilter, the coffee goes through two screens.

The internal one looks just like a standard espresso basket with lots of holes spread evenly on it.

This is where you place your coffee grounds.

After the water passes through the grounds, extracting them, it enters the holding area, between the first and the second screen, where the machine pressure builds up and the coffee gets pushed through a tiny hole (sometimes the holes are two).

This is why pressurized portafilters are also called dual-wall filter baskets.

The second wall is the one providing the resistance and serving for building pressure – not the puck of fine coffee grounds.

Even without you placing any coffee in the basket, some pressure can build, because of this mechanism.

When 9 bars of pressure are reached the coffee starts pouring down entering your coffee cup.

The single-wall filter baskets are used by baristas at commercial locations and by passionate coffee lovers at home.

Photo of a naked non-pressurized portafilter made by Janko Ferlic from Pexels

Non-pressurized portafilters were the ones put into work when espresso was first made and nowadays – where espresso is properly made.

If you manage to get the hang of using it properly, you will end up with a beautiful cup of full-bodied coffee with nuanced taste and satisfying intense crema.

There is definitely a learning curve, because by using the non-pressurized filter, slight variations in the dose, the coffee grind, the way it’s distributed in the basket and the level of tamping, will result in significant differences at the end.

But is taking time to get the hang of it really worth it in your case?

Which one will suit you best at home?

Now that you know the basic differences between the espresso coffee filter baskets we’re currently discussing and between the coffee they produce, you might quickly jump to the conclusion that you want the single wall filter basket.

After all, we all want to have the best possible espresso at home.

But as I already mentioned, if you want to upgrade to a non-pressurized portafilter you need to take some time to figure out the way to use it.

Not only that:

When brewing with a single wall basket for espresso you also need to make sure you use good quality, freshly roasted beans.

That comes on top of experimenting with the dose, grind, distribution, and tamping.

Whole coffee beans can be considered as fresh for only 3 days after opening the valve-sealed bag.

My barista trainer taught me this.

He also made sure we made espresso with freshly ground beans that have gone through the grinder within the last 3 hours.

He was serious about us making high-quality espresso and made sure we know that after the third hour the coffee grounds are capable of producing a stale cup because of their contact with the oxygen.

Of course at home, this timeframe could be prolonged by using an airtight container.

But you should definitely forget about pre-ground if you’re aiming for a true espresso!

It’s essential to also point out that not all grinders can achieve a proper espresso grind.

If you are planning on using a non-pressurized portafilter you have to invest in an adequate grinder that can produce a consistent high-end espresso grind out of your freshly roasted coffee beans.

So if you’re wondering whether to upgrade to a single wall basket, bear in mind that your built-in grinder might not let you achieve satisfying results.

You will have to invest at least $400 – $500 in a new grinder.

If you ask me all that is totally worth it.

If you appreciate a classy espresso you should be looking at something like this.

I love having total control over the brewing process, knowing that I use high-quality products resulting in high-quality espresso taste.

I also quite enjoy the process of preparing coffee with the non-pressurized filter basket.

Ever since I got the hang of it I have impressed quite a few of my friends with my espresso-making skills.

They love making fun of how serious I am about coffee making, but in the end, they all enjoy what I’ve prepared.

On the other hand, if you don’t feel like investing time and money into upgrading to a non-pressurized portafilter, I totally understand.

A dual wall is a great option if you have a lower-end grinder or if you tend to use pre-ground coffee and you’re satisfied with its taste.

The pressurized portafilter exists to ease the brewing process.

You shouldn’t be that precise with all the variables that non-pressurized portafilters are highly sensitive to.

You will get consistent results with the coffee, even if the level of tamping, the coffee grind, and the dose differ in each brew.

Overall you won’t have to spend as much money and you will get an easier cup of coffee.

The dual wall is perfect for you if you don’t truly care about controlling each nuance in the taste of your coffee.

And if you don’t mind that with pressurized portafilter you won’t get to have a real espresso by the book.

In comparison to the real espresso, the one you’ll get with the pressurized filter basket will have somewhat stable, but rather airy foam, and a thinner body.

If you’re used to the original taste – you will notice that the result you’ll get isn’t as rich in flavor as you’d expect.

But if that isn’t an issue in your case, you can get a satisfying cup of coffee at home each morning with the dual wall.

And when you feel like spoiling yourself with a high-quality espresso – go to a café and order one.

This way you will enjoy it even more.

Conclusion

I hope I managed to help you out and now you know which type of portafilter is the one for you.

You may decide that the battle of the pressurized versus the non-pressurized one is won by the double-wall filter basket.

However, in time you might want to dive deeper into the world of coffee and upgrade to a higher-end grinder and a single wall filter.

To those that feel the urge to dive in sooner – congratulations!

The single wall portafilter is worth the hassle.

I plan on writing an article to give you a detailed guide on how to use the non-pressurized portafilter to ease your journey as a beginner.

But now let me know what your thoughts are in the comments below.

Which one did you choose and why?

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16 Comments
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James
9 months ago

This was an excellent explanation for those who are confused about the differences. The best I’ve seen it explained. Thank you.

Jake
8 months ago

Good explanation, but that non pressurized picture looks disappointing.
No crema at all.

Dev
8 months ago

Best explanation I’ve found so far. I got a Gaggia pressurized filter ND was confused as to why the crema was so bubbly. Now I know! Thank you very much

Mamad Fathi
7 months ago

This was a great explanation. I really like it, because I had read a lot about the difference, but I couldn’t understand the exact difference. Now, I know 🙂 Thank you

Could you please explain that is there any difference between the process to make steam for a pressurized and a non-pressurized basket. I mean if the difference is just between the basket we could use a non-pressurized basket with any machine by having a suitable grinder?!

Julien
6 months ago

Hi! Nice article! I have a question though: If my machine is shipped with a pressurized basket, will it accept a non pressurized one? (I own a Magimix Expresso and Filtre).

chuy
6 months ago

hola buen dia mas claro ni el agua gracias por la informacion muy completa podrian decirme si esta maquina se puede usar con filtros no presurizados el modelo es DeLonghi EC702 15-Bar-Pump

Jinsu
5 months ago

Amazing article. This solved my question.
I just started serious espresso making recently with a cheap espresso machine(delonghi ecp 35.31) at home. I ordered a single wall filter and I was surprised at the taste of the espresso. Full body taste. (At first the shot was terrible but after I make ground finer and increased the dose, it worked) Thank you so much for your wonderful guide to my coffee journey. Bless you.
From South Korea.

Georgios
3 months ago

Great explanation! Thank you!

I just received my non pressurised basket and my first coffee ended up with no foam.

I wonder if there is a guideline over the size of the grinded coffee to use. My assumption is I need smaller particles?

Alex
29 days ago

Thank you for this, it is a very thorough and easy to understand explanation. This is very helpful as I have been going further and further down the espresso making rabbit hole for a few months now and I am still seeking the perfect cup!