A key part of an espresso machine is the basket. It’s a metal basket which holds the coffee grounds while extracting espresso.
It is just a metal cup with some holes at the bottom. So it is easy to overlook them but they have a profound impact on the coffee you brew.
There are 2 fundamentally different types of baskets depending on how many holes are punched, Normal and Pressurized.
Pressurized baskets are baskets with only 1 hole. Normal baskets have far more holes across the entire bottom face. Pressurized baskets with their single hole restrict the flow of liquid out of the basket. This means that the basket itself is capable of creating the pressure necessary for espresso brewing. This allows you to use coarsely ground coffee in pressurized baskets while still getting espresso-like shots. They are a beginners aid tool for espresso.
This ease of use makes them popular choice in cheap espresso appliances targeted at non-espresso enthusiasts.
Let’s take a closer look at how they differ, their benefits and limitations, and how the espresso produced changes.
First let’s check out how these two basket types function.
As I mentioned before, the difference is in the number of holes. Pressurized has 1, normal has many.
Espresso extracts coffee by applying pressure on the coffee grounds. The baskets affect how the pressure is created.
When you create pressure, you need something pushing water in to the container (the pump) and you need some resistance to contain the pressure. The resistance is important. Just imagine trying to inflate a balloon with a large hole in it. No matter how hard you try, the air will just leave the balloon through the hole and it will not inflate.
In the case of normal baskets, the resistance is created by the puck of finely ground coffee. The compacted coffee has very little space between them to let water pass thus creating the resistance. The normal basket has too many holes to provide any resistance.
On the other hand, pressurized baskets restrict the flow by only having 1 tiny hole. It can only let through a tiny amount of liquid through, so creates resistance. This means that the coffee grounds in a pressurized basket do not have to (or shall I say, are not allowed to) create resistance. This makes it possible to use pre-ground / coarsely ground coffee and still get some pressure. (If you put finely ground coffee in a pressurized basket, that will create too much resistance and you wont get anything out)
What are the benefits / limitations?
Pressurized baskets allow you to use coarse ground coffee to produce an espresso-like drink. It will have the characteristic crema.
To use a normal basket, the coffee has to be ground very finely and uniformly. This can only be achieved with quality espresso grinders (for more details please visit this post on espresso grinders). Coarse pre-ground coffee just will not work with normal baskets.
The fine tuning of grind size is a very tricky part of espresso brewing. So by using a pressurized basket, you get to avoid doing this. You also don’t have to buy an expensive espresso grinder.
However, as I have been mentioning, espresso from a pressurized basket is fundamentally different from true espresso. The finer you can grind, the easier it will be to extract more stuff from the coffee beans. The pressurized basket shots may look like espresso, but they are just not at the same quality.
I pulled two shots, one with a normal and another with a pressurized basket.
I used the same 12g dose of the same beans for both.
For the normal basket, I used an espresso grind (6 clicks on my TIMEMORE SLIM PLUS). The puck looks like this.
For the pressurized basket, I used a filer coffee grind (14clicks on the TIMEMORE SLIM PLUS).
You can clearly see that the grounds are coarser and have more gaps between them.
This is the shot from the normal basket. 12g in, 30.2g out in 24sec.
And the one from the pressurized basket. 12g in, 32.2g out in 13sec.
As you can see, the pressurized shot has some crema, but if you compare them the crema looks more airy and thin. The crema with the normal basket just looks far more dense and rich.
And the important bit, the taste.
Both of them are strong coffees compared to filter coffee. But they are night and day in strength when compared to each other. The normal basket wins out by a long way.
The texture is just completely different. The normal basket produces a rich syrupy texture, but the pressurized one is not there.
So today I compared pressurized and normal baskets.
Pressurized baskets can come in handy for beginners, when you don’t have a nice espresso grinder yet. It can produce an espresso like drink with out the fuss. For those that don’t care about their coffee too much, this may be sufficient.
But as you have read up to here, you must care about your coffee than these people.
Espresso pulled properly with a normal basket is just better in all ways. I strongly recommend getting a machine that is capable of using normal baskets. Don’t get those cheap espresso appliances which only come with a pressurized basket. You may be able to replace it with a normal basket, but they just are not designed to be used that way.
The Gaggia Classic Pro, which is the machine I bought, comes with both pressurized and normal baskets. This will help you to get started with the pressurized baskets, and you can easily swap out them out for the normal ones when you have your grinder.