Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Using the "Naked Portafilter"

This seems to be a topic that has dominated a lot of the coffee forums in the past year. Some have said it's a passing fad or trend. Others have said it will revolutionize the way espresso is extracted, and that things will change forever, from this moment on. I doubt it.

While this portafilter mod is a fantastic training tool, and is capable of yielding some of the best tasting, most flavorful, complex, thickest, sweetest shots you'll probably ever taste... I highly doubt that it will revolutionize the industry the way that some would hope.

As far as I know, you can't use the portafilter in competitions, so that's one strike right there. Why would world class baristas start using a tool that cannot be used in competition?
You can't split shots with it.
It uses more espresso grounds, costing the cafe owner more money.
You have to retrain your staff how to use it.
And, you get complacent while using it. The naked portafilter is so forgiving when it comes to extracting espresso, you could dose unevenly, tamp unevenly, tamp with not enough pressure, to much pressure, your grind could be off and still you would pull better tasting shots with it then you could with a standard portafilter. This leads to sloppiness. You start to pay attention to detail less and less and that's not good. Mediocrity is not our goal. Last I checked, this alleged "third wave" of professional baristas, is setting a standard that far surpasses all previous generations of coffee jockies when it comes to knowledgeabilty about coffee, preparation and all around professionalism. If we come to rely on the naked portafilter as a crutch, that would undermine the goal of this new generation. We cannot let innovation lead to complacency.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it shouldn't be used in the professional field. I just want to make sure it's not being abused. At my shop we use two naked portafilters and one standard double spout poratafilter. It's challenging. We use different techniques for the two portafilters, so we really need to watch our consistancy and make sure we serving only quality espresso to our clients.

So what good is it? Up until now, we could only examine the used grounds(puck) from the portafilter and look for signs of channeling. Have you ever tried this? After, hopefully, expelling the spent puck in one piece(good luck), you have to look very carefully for holes in the puck. Really, the best way to determine whether channeling has occured, is to look for your shot going blonde very early. Usually, within 15 seconds. But, with the naked portafilter, you can easily see if you are dosing unevenly and creating a low spot in basket. Not only that, but you can see on what side you are dosing unevenly. The espresso will clearly come out of the basket lopsided. Being able to see this makes it much easier to correct improper dose/tamp techniques.

How do you use it? From what I've head, because of the use of the triple(21gm.) basket, after you have dosed the espresso into the portafilter, creating a small mound, you should gently push the grounds down so as to fill all the gaps and voids that remain in the espresso basket. Then go on to use Schomers packing technique
( http://www.espressovivace.com/article2p1.html ). After trying this technique, I noticed a problem. Everyone has a different idea of how hard "gently" is when pushing the grounds into the voids of the basket. So, at my shop, I implemented a variation of several different doseing techniques to try and create a consistant process when using the new portafilter.

This is how we do it.
While grinding, pull the dosing lever a few times, filling the basket about one third of the way up. Tap the portafilter "gently" on the forks, to settle the grounds in the bottom of the basket.

Dose a couple of more times, tap on the forks again.

Turn the grinder off. Finish the dosing by pileing a small mound of espresso a little bit higher then the basket wall.

Then, place your fingers level across the top of the basket, swirl them around pushing the remaining grounds towards the bottom corners of the basket.

This is what swirling looks like in pictures =)
Then finish with Schomers technique(east,west,north,south).

To tamp. Place the portafilter on the countertop. Make sure the basket is level.

Place the tamp on top of the grounds and with the top of the tamp handle in the middle of your palm, fingers wrapped around the handle (make sure your wrist and forearm are at a 90 degree angle to avoid injury) push down with______ pounds of force. How much force you tamp with is up to you. As long as you are tamping LEVEL, and the grind is set properly, you really can't go wrong. Play around with it. See if your particular blend/roast of espresso tastes better at 30lbs of pressure with a 24second extaction, or 60lbs of pressure with a 35 second extraction time. After your initial tamp, tap the side of the portafilter with the handle of the tamp. Tap it gently enough to knock the excess grounds from the sidewall of the basket, but be carefaul not to crack the puck. Then, tamp with 20lbs of pressure twisting the tamp to polish the top of the espresso. Repeat 20lb tamp and polish.
However you decide to dose and tamp, your end result should look like this.

It's a little blonde, I know, but I was trying to focus my camera.
The stream should be right in the middle. If its not, you dosed unevenly. You will get drops of espresso for the first part of the extraction, but it should turn into one steady stream.

I hope this little blurb contributes something to our pursuit of knowledge and perfection in dealing with espresso.

"I have read and agreed to all the conditions of the Contest" - Nick Griffith


At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Nick, congrats on the baby. Good job on the naked PF......Cliff



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