Go Naked!

Naked coffee, or a naked group handle (sometimes also known as a bottomless portafilter) is a traditional group handle that has had the bottom cut out of it, so that the base of the filter basket containing freshly ground coffee is directly exposed.

Because of this distinct modification, the extraction process can be observed as the coffee liquid passes straight from the bottom of the filter basket into a cup.





Origin of Naked Coffee

As far as can be established the first published pictures and experiments of naked portafilters were put on the SCAA barista online discussion forum by Chris Davidson and some of his colleagues in Seattle, Washington around 2004. It started as a curious experiment to see what extraction would do and look like without the traditional spouts, but it has turned into somewhat of an international revolution in relation to understanding the more subtle aspects of espresso extraction. Naked fever caught on rapidly, and it is now widely accepted as an excellent tool of analysis and training beyond basic barista skills.

It has no spouts and no chamber of any sort to catch the brewing coffee or direct it in any way, so that the person using is able to pay greater attention to the coffee they are trying to extract. By observing coffee extraction directly from the filter into the cup, the user can scrutinise the effectiveness and
subtleties of their tamping, the extent of their distribution of ground coffee and their dosing methods. The liquid that falls from a naked handle can assist you to fine tune aspects of espresso coffee that in any other circumstance you would have to take an educated guess via the taste of the coffee, or the limited colour and shape analysis as the coffee liquid pours from the spouts.
A naked handle allows greater visual exposure to the pour and therefore analysis of the colour and shape of the extraction. This can tell you about the distribution of the ground coffee within the basket, about the quality of your tamp and how evenly the water has disseminated across your dose.  Taking into consideration the settings of your espresso machine are correct -the temperature is between 90 – 93′C, the pump pressure is good at around 8 -9 bar and the dispersion screen and showers are clean, following are a few common indicators that you might otherwise not realise from a traditional extraction process.

Colour and Shape

The colour and shape of an espresso extraction is always a great diagnostic tool even with traditional methods. The colour of an espresso can tell you about the taste, timing and intensity of the extraction. It can indicate freshness and age of a coffee. All this through the two thin pours that each extend from the double handle spouts.

An even, golden brown or red crema with some slight darker staining or striping indicates a good even extraction. The shape of this pour will start with all the tiny holes fill with thick coffee liquid simultaneously, slowly joining together right in the middle of the filter. After 10 or so seconds this pour comes together to create what resembles a twister or tornado of coffee falling from the centre of the basket. Blonding of the extraction should occur around the 25 – 28 second timeframe from activation of the pump which indicates it’s time to switch off.

Blonde patches around the sides or to one side of the pour (usually the right where you tap the side of the basket) – but an otherwise healthy looking extraction, indicates that tapping the edges or too much collapsing of the coffee has occurred. This means you have shaken the compression of the ground coffee dose too much and created air or channel patches. Reduce your taps or collapsing and continue to dose and tamp as before focussing on a tight compression without any pits or pockets.

Dark intense colour or striping in the pour indicates an over-extraction or overexpansion of the coffee within the filter. Your coffee extraction does not resemble the twister. Instead it resembles several globbing dark lumps falling from all over the base of the filter or very slowly from the middle. This is an indication that either you have too much coffee in the basket or the grind is too fine. As long as there is no tilt to the twister falling from the basket or patchy colour then your distribution and tamp are fine, just your grind and dose need adjusting.

A completely golden blonde or blonde extraction tells you that your pour is too fast – the grind is too coarse or you require more coffee to be dosed. The other sure fire indicator of a quick extraction is that the coffee will spit at you – you literally get sprayed with coffee mist in various directions as there is not enough resistance offered by the ground coffee to the water passing through it.

If either your tamp or distribution of ground coffee is uneven the water can create channels, therefore unevenly extracting the coffee. The shape of the ‘twister’ will pull towards one side of the basket and be darker on one side, blonde on the other.

Some holes might even appear on the base of the filter that never fill with liquid. To rectify such patches you must concentrate on a very flat tamp and a more methodical sweep or distribution of the ground coffee prior to tamping, so that when compressed the density of the ground coffee is consistent right throughout the filter.

The focus must be particularly where the blonde patch occurs – as this indicates the area where there is not enough coffee or a tilt in the tamp towards the lower end, allowing more water to flow with less resistance. The kind of extraction that occur in patches on the bottom of the filter as the coffee pours is the fundamental key to the naked handle.

These are indicators that would otherwise perhaps be disguised with better parts of the extraction as they combine in a traditional spout, diluting their intensity. Using traditional handles someone might overlook such subtle aspects and not create espresso coffee quite as well as they could.

From this kind of information any one can make minute adjustments to their dose, tamp and distribution to improve their coffee extraction taking the quality and consistency of their pour to the next level.

In the everyday environment particularly at a retail level, it is a brave tool to use. Apart from using double the amount of coffee that is the accepted standard for a regular coffee, the mess that can be created and scrutiny applied to each coffee would be intensified.

The true value of the naked handle lies as a training tool. At any level, from home barista to world champion, it helps to reinforce the absolute complexity of espresso coffee, how subtle changes greatly affect the quality and taste of every pour. The coffee is truly exposed and naked – and because of this it just keeps on tasting better.


Words by Emily Oak. Emily is a former member of the WBC Board of Directors and a regular contributor for Crema Magazine.
Pictures by Hamish TaMe

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