Non-Pressurized Portafilter: How To Use One (Best Grind Size)

By Mark •  Updated: 10/28/22 •  8 min read

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A single wall, or “non-pressurized portafilter,” is the most commonly used basket type for home and professional baristas. In this guide, I will explain what a non-pressurized portafilter is, how to use one to make amazing coffee, provide some tips on dialing in the optimum grind size, and more.

Let’s get started.

What Is A Non-Pressurized Portafilter?

What Is A Non-Pressurized Portafilter

A non-pressurized portafilter basket is a metal container with a single wall and a perforated bottom to allow water to pass through the coffee puck, which sits within the basket. This portafilter is best for experienced baristas and coffee enthusiasts because a non-pressurized basket delivers a fuller-bodied flavor.

Why Use A Non-Pressurized Portafilter?

Why Use A Non-Pressurized Portafilter

The main advantage of using a non-pressurized portafilter is that it gives the user greater control of the coffee grind fineness and the pressure used to tamp the coffee within the basket. When prepared correctly, the espresso from a non-pressurized portafilter will have a finer, thicker crema and improved taste profile.

How Can I Use A Non-Pressurized Portafilter?

There is no denying that a pressurized portafilter can be a helpful tool for beginner baristas or coffee enthusiasts who don’t have access to a quality burr coffee grinder that can finely grind the beans. If you want to learn about that, please refer to my pressurized vs. non-pressurized portafilter guide.

How Can I Use A Non-Pressurized Portafilter
How Can I Use A Non-Pressurized Portafilter?

Even if you are relatively new to the coffee-making world, you can certainly learn how to use a single-wall portafilter and pull amazing espresso shots in no time!

Here are seven simple steps to follow when using a non-pressurized portafilter, which are:

  1. Ensure that you have a double shot, single wall portafilter basket in your portafilterCheck that your espresso machine is topped up with water and switched on.
  2. Set the grind setting to fine. For example, on my Breville Barista Express, I typically use a grind setting of 4 or 5 (on a zero to twenty scale, with zero being the finest).
  3. Grind approximately 18 grams of coffee into the basket.
  4. Optional step: use an espresso distributor to distribute the ground coffee evenly.
  5. Firmly and evenly tamp the coffee by applying moderate pressure.
  6. Place the portafilter into the group head of your coffee machine.
  7. Select the “double shot” option, which should achieve a 25 to 30 seconds extraction time.

You may also find this video a useful introduction to using a single wall basket:

What Is the Optimum Grind Size for A Non-Pressurized Portafilter?

Many things can impact the quality of your coffee. But grind size is undoubtedly one of the most important factors. 

But what is the best grind size for a non-pressurized portafilter?

It’s best to use a fine grind. This will be ideal when making espresso. Though these machines should be able to cope with a medium-coarse grind. But it’s best to steer clear of coarse grinds. These will lead to under-extraction and create weak, bland coffee. 

Finding the right grind size can be a little tricky. 

Often, you’ll need to experiment a little to find the right size to suit your tastes. Keep reading to learn more about how you can dial in the right grind size to produce a delicious cup of coffee.

Grind Size For A Non-Pressurized Portafilter
What Is The Optimum Grind Size For A Non-Pressurized Portafilter?

In a pressurized portafilter, grind size has a vital role to play.

It will determine the way that the water is extracted from the coffee. For example, it will be easy to get the flavor from a fine grind because more of the surface area of the bean is exposed to the water.

This decision should be based on the coffee you are trying to produce. Here are the most popular types of coffee and the grind size you should be using:

  • Espresso. This type of coffee is known for having minimal contact time with the water and being brewed under high pressure. As a result, you’ll often get the best results by using a fine grind.
  • Turkish coffee. This type of grind is even finer than espresso. Often, the consistency will have to resemble icing sugar.

In most cases, you will need to use a fine grind size. But you should be aware that you can produce a grind size that is too fine. 

There are a few signs that this has occurred:

  1. You might notice that pulling an espresso shot takes a long time.
  2. Alternatively, you will find that the flavor has become quite bitter and unpleasant to drink.

Though, if you allow more pressure, you might be able to use a medium-coarse grind. But it would help if you steered clear of coarse grinds, as there won’t be enough time to extract flavor from the coffee beans.

How To Find The Right Grind Size To Suit Your Tastes?

How To Find The Right Grind Size To Suit Your Tastes
How To Find The Right Grind Size To Suit Your Tastes?

In many cases, finding a grind size that works for you will take a while. There are a few tell-tale signs that the grind size is wrong. These include:

  • Coffee tastes too weak. This means that more surface area should be exposed to the water. Often, this is a sign that the coffee grind is too coarse.
  • Coffee is too bitter. This is a sign that the flavor from the beans is being over-extracted. This can also result in coffee that tastes burnt. This means that the coffee grind size is too fine.

The ideal cup of coffee should have a balanced flavor, allowing you to experience the rich texture of the bean.

You will often need to experiment with a few grind sizes to find what pleases your palate. It can help to keep a diary of the coffee you make. Record the size of the grind and the settings on the machine. Then, write down your thoughts on the brew. This will help you tweak your way to beautiful coffee.

Achieving The Perfect Grind

There are two ways to get ground coffee for your portafilter. These are:

  1. Buying pre-ground coffee. In this case, you will need to use a pressurized portafilter and look for a labeled espresso mix pack. This will be the right consistency to suit your machine.
  2. Grinding it yourself. This takes a little more effort and requires purchasing a grinder. But it gives you more control over how the coffee tastes, so you customize the grind to suit your tastes.

If you are planning on grinding the beans yourself, you should only do this immediately before you plan on making the beverage. This reduces the amount of time they spend exposed to oxygen.

The air can interact with the coffee beans, limiting their flavor.

It’s often best to choose a burr grinder if you plan on preparing your beans. While this might be more expensive than blade grinders, it will offer more precision and give you more control over how your coffee tastes.  

What Other Elements Affect Coffee Flavor?

What Other Elements Affect Coffee Flavor
What Other Elements Affect Coffee Flavor?

The grind size has a vital role to play in deciding coffee flavor. But it isn’t the only thing that you need to consider. Here’s a brief rundown of the other elements and the role they play:

  • Water temperature. The heat of the water will determine how quickly the flavor gets extracted from the coffee. Too cold, and the coffee will taste burnt. Too hot, and you risk over-extracting, leading to a burnt flavor. The ideal temperature range is between 195°F and 205°F.
  • Dosage. It’s essential to consider the ratio of coffee to water. This will determine how strong your coffee will be. 
  • Type of bean. Getting the right grind size will highlight the flavor of the beans. With so many coffee flavors, you should shop a little to find one that suits your tastes.

The good news is that it is relatively easy to adjust these settings. Often, you need to tweak the systems on the coffee maker. It’s best to play around a little until you find the settings that you most enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Non-pressurized portafilters are more sensitive to grind sizes than their pressurized counterparts. Because of this, you should stick to using fine grinds.

This will allow the water to extract maximum flavor from the beans, creating a delicious coffee drink.


G'day from Australia! I'm Mark, the Chief Editor of Portafilter. I'm super passionate about everything coffee-related and love to spend endless hours mastering pulling the perfect shot on my Breville Barista Express. Follow on: Linkedin and Facebook.

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