Portafilter Engagement with Group Head

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Portafilter Engagement

Portafilter Engagement with Group Head

Today we are going to look at a very interesting topic – the engagement of your portafilter to your machine group head when executing coffee extraction.

When I first acquired my Breville espresso machine, I had the assumption that the closest contact the coffee bed is with the group head, the best extraction I would be able to achieve. And to do this, I would try every time without fail to slot the portafilter into the group head, used the utmost force that could be exerted, turned the portafilter towards the tightest slot possible, to make sure not the slightest drop of leakage from the portafilter would be there when doing extraction. 

Imagine the force that I used to execute the engagement of the portafilter every time I made my cup of espresso, to the point where I was literally bending and slanting my posture to one side to attain absolute tightness. Thinking back, this execution image of mine was definitely funny, and I was glad that I did not hurt any of my muscles then.

Gradually as it went, when I discovered consistent coffee extraction had more to do with freshness of coffee beans, dosage, tamping etc, I finally understood that I did not have to go all the way to exert so much force in executing portafilter engagement. If you slot the portafilter filter too tight, you will have a hard time dislodging it from the group head later. And since the tightness of the portafilter engagement had little to do with the final coffee results.

The above being said, it does not mean this area should be discarded.  BrewRatio is here to share further on this portion where people might have queries and misconceptions, but do not seem to have brought them up. Below are a few points to look at and understand:

  • Portafilter needs to be turned towards a point whereby it is snug and fit, NOT tight. There is not a need to push the portafilter towards to the extreme tightness all the way.
  • Regardless of the size of the espresso machine, it would be best to hold lightly with firmness onto one corner of the machine while turning the portafilter in the group head. The above is a good habit to cultivate, and especially required since certain espresso machine, like the Breville Bambino, is small and light – it will move when you apply force to / turning the portafilter. By supporting one hand to the corner of one side of the machine, it will also make the job of portafilter turning easier while exerting the optimal amount of movement. But before holding to the side, please ensure that the particular area is not too hot.
  • Portafilters of certain models of machines do have a tighter fit and can require a bit more force. This is due to the fact that the steam ring is entirely new OR the portafilter handle is shorter – this means a bit more force is needed because of existence of lesser leverage.
  • In addition, the difficulty to turn the portafilter may be due to too much coffee in the portafilter. For example, Bambino portafilter has a 19g capacity – hence it is advisable not to exceed this capacity. Another reason is that there is not enough tamping executed. All these will cause friction when engaging portafilter to group head, making movement of portafilter difficult.

All in all, do note that espresso machines are designed and structured in such a way that are true to the purpose and vison of the original manufacturer / designer. Some may built their machines as big, but yet light-weight.  Certain materials are used for a fit purpose, eg, material of water tank – for safety and easy dislodging while filling up water etc.

Hence, it goes the same with a portafilter. The portafilter (refer to point 3 above) of certain models may have originally a tighter fit for a more compact machine.

BrewRatio hopes that by sharing on the aforesaid, you will understand more regarding the reasons for portafilter tightness and on portafilter slotting. Remember, a consistent, balanced tweak will do the work when engaging the portafilter to your treasured machine group head. Cheers!

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