Battle of the Baskets

While espresso machines in cafes might look the same, a quiet revolution is brewing behind the counter, driven not by the machines, but by something much simpler and affordable. Enter the ‘high extraction’ filter baskets, a game-changer in espresso technology.

After several weeks of testing the latest filter baskets, the improvements in taste, extraction yield, and efficiency have been remarkable. This breakthrough offers cafes a chance to save time and money amidst rising operational costs. Instead of splurging on a new machine, baristas might find that upgrading their filter baskets could significantly elevate their espresso quality.

Over a decade ago, Vince Fedele’s VST baskets set the gold standard in the field. They became a staple in specialty coffee without much evolution until recently. A new wave of manufacturers like Weber Workshops, Sworksdesign, and Wafo has introduced baskets with improved designs, featuring straighter sides and holes extending closer to the edge. This allows for more even extraction and less warping under high pressure.

Sheldon Wong, founder of Sworksdesign, explained his design philosophy: “The holes span a 57.5mm diameter area on my 58mm basket,” he says. In older designs, the holes don’t reach the edge, causing uneven extraction. “Water will always prefer flowing through paths of less resistance, leading to locally higher extraction and leaving other areas under-extracted.” The Sworksdesign Billet basket is crafted from high-grade 17-4 stainless steel, which withstands the pressures of espresso making better than the lower-grade steel used in standard baskets.

The claim that these new baskets boost extraction is supported by results. Testing the Sworksdesign Billet basket against an older model from IMS, the Billet required a finer grind size and achieved higher extraction rates – by nearly three percentage points. The shots tasted exceptional, even with a finer grind, thanks to the basket’s high flow rate. This was validated using a Mazzer ZM grinder, a Dalla Corte Mina machine, and the 3065 Espresso Blend from Code Black.

Further tests comparing Pesado’s high-extraction baskets to classic Pullman baskets yielded similar results, with the Pesado achieving faster flow and averaging 6% higher extraction. The increased flow in the new baskets isn’t solely due to more holes; it’s also about hole size and design. Smaller holes, as seen in Sworksdesign baskets, create more resistance but interestingly, these baskets still deliver faster shot times, likely due to reduced clogging and blockage by coffee fines.

However, this innovative design does present some challenges. Smaller holes can make these baskets harder to clean, as coffee particles can easily block them. To understand the role fines play, further tests are needed using coffee with fines completely removed. There’s a need for better analysis methods for basket holes, and Professor Abbott is developing an app to help calculate hole sizes from photos.

The coffee community is eagerly exploring these advancements, and while more research is needed to optimize designs further, the promise of faster, better espresso is already being realized in cafes around the world.

The new high-extraction filter baskets are proving to be a revolution in espresso brewing, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with this beloved beverage. As baristas continue to experiment and refine their techniques, coffee lovers can look forward to even better espresso experiences.