The Espresso Machine

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EM 1.08 The Birth of the Portafilter

The Italian word portafilter translates to ‘carry’ or ‘portable filter’ in English. The portafilter was quite revolutionary in helping espresso coffee progress on its journey towards becoming a delicious beverage. The first known design to feature a portafilter as we know it today was the Bezzera machine, from 1901. Many of the features of Bezzera’s design are similar to Moriondo’s, but the portafilters that unlatch from group heads at each side of the machine really set Bezzera’s design apart. 

To make a fresh batch of coffee in Moriondo’s machine, the group head could be unlatched (shown in red) at the top, similar to the way a growler bottle is unsealed. The basket and the bottom of the brewing chamber would swivel open to reveal a filter basket. The barista would remove the very large filter basket, which was able to hold 500–600 grams of coffee, and remove the spent grinds. 

These diagrams taken from Moriondo’s 1884 patent show, underneath the filter basket, a large reservoir where it appears coffee would have been stored for a few minutes in anticipation of new customers coming to order a beverage. This receptacle would have been large enough to hold as many as 50 servings. 

As we know from our investigation into holding coffee in Chapter 6 of the Percolation course, the coffee flavour would have deteriorated quickly in this environment, and the apparatus would have been prone to a significant buildup of oxidised coffee residue. 

In his patent lodged in 1901, Luigi Bezzera announced his innovations in coffee brewing, which included a new single-serve portafilter. (We describe Bezzera’s innovations in more detail in the following section.) He bemoaned the status quo of batch-brewing machines, almost certainly making reference to Moriondo’s design — his only known competitor — in the process. Ian Bersten, espresso machine collector, provides this English translation of an excerpt from Bezzera’s patent:

‘The other machines of the day make a large quantity of coffee, for example, fifty cups, in such a way that the coffee stays fresh and rich in aroma only for the first cups served immediately after the action of the water and steam,