Cafelat is a small company based out of Hong Kong that's been doing some very innovative things for the home and commercial espresso market for some time now. The company is founded and run by Paul Pratt (with partners); Mr. Pratt has had a long involvement with La Marzocco in the past as the agent for the Hong Kong Market, and has been a prolific machine restorer, restoring some of the best machines in various eras of espresso machine development.
Cafelat is the successor company to Bumper, which Mr. Pratt also founded; Bumper's main products were a tamping stand and a series of espresso tampers. When Cafelat was born, the product line was expanded and improved upon, and now includes a wide variety of espresso tampers, a uniquely designed porcelain cup in three sizes, tamping stands, tamping mats, knockboxes, grouphead cleaners, cleaning products and more.
Cafelat's most ambitious product has just hit the market: the Cafelat XT Convertible Portafilter.
What it is
The Cafelat XT Portafilter is a fully convertible portafilter available in a wide variety of bayonet styles (and two handle options). Convertible means the portafilter can convert from a full dual spout portafilter to a single spout, or no spout model, or even better yet, from a spouted portafilter to a chopped model (also known by its more crude names: the naked portafilter, or the crotchless portafilter). As far as we know, it's the first of its kind in the world to be convertible from chopped to full spouted, and it can do so in just a few seconds.
Last year, we received an early prototype version of this Portafilter, and while it showed a lot of promise, it was difficult to use (changing out the chopped portion, swapping spouts), and it had several flaws. We were really happy to see Cafelat overhauled the design and came up with a much more elegant solution.
| Prototype vs Production Model |
One the left is the early prototype of this portafilter design, with it's unfinished outer surface. The final shipping version is on the right.
| Prototype vs Production Portafilter |
| Prototype vs Production |
You can see the insides of these portafilters are quite different. Also in the prototype model, you can see a second adjustment nut in the top of the handle where it mates with the main body.
| Prototype interior |
This design just wouldn't work - there's gaps, holes, places for your espresso to leak out.
The Cafelat portafilter comes in an amazing 11 different bayonet styles to fit a wide variety of machines. The three most common ones are:
- La Marzocco / Synesso / Slayer (also Speedster / Spirit)
- Nuova Simonelli
Mr. Pratt tells us that there are additional eight bayonet styles that will also be available:
- CMA Astoria
- Bezzera and CMA Lever machines (including Kees van der Westen Idro)
- La Pavoni - also fits Bezzera Strega
- La Spaziale
Pretty much every active espresso machine on the planet should have a variant available - check with Cafelat if you have any questions. The most common models are all available through N. American sources; the more rare models will be available direct from Cafelat.
There are also two handle options - you can order it with a standard bakelite style plastic angled handle, or a firm rubber grip angled handle.
When you order the $110 version of the Cafelat XT Portafilter, you'll get the complete model with chopped portafilter, bottom plate (with built in, straight fall single spout), one additonal spout (typically a double spout), a tiny hex wrench, and a spare O-ring (more on that below). Additional spouts (or even additional bottom plates, for lighting quick swaps between single and double spouts) are available for purchase. Also in the box iis the simple instructions sheet explaining how to use the portafilter. You can also order just the chopped portafilter for $85, if you prefer. Our sample unit arrived with two spouts - we received the narrow double spout and an optional single, side pour spout.
Most of these portafilters are designed for 58mm baskets (I imagine the La Spaziale and lever machine variants are different sizes), and a wide variety of filters baskets work in the portafilter, including triple basket La Marzocco style units and the largest triple sized VST baskets.
This is by far the best finished portafilter I've ever seen. I have a wide variety of portafilters, including the custom finished models for the Kees van der Westen Speedster (both chopped and dual spout models) the La Marzocco factory chopped and polished portafilters, the factory chopped Rancilio models, and the exquisite, polished wood handle Elektra portafilters. They are all excellently done, but I have to say on visual inspection, the finish and polish on the Cafelat XT portafilter -- at least the shiny parts -- is the best of the bunch.
It has an absolute mirror finish on most of the outer body, and inside, it looks like a mirror polish as well, but it's just evident of how well the inside bits of the portafilter were done - as far as I can tell, only the outer body got a polish finish - the insides just look fantastic au naturel. The only outside part that isn't a polish finish is the underside of the bottom plate, but that has its own finish - a ruggedized granular finish that also looks extremely well done. Later on, I'll explain how the portafilter's outer polished finish is achieved.
Another thing noticed right away: since this portafilter is designed from the ground up to be a convertible portafilter, there's no compromise in the connection between the handle and the filter holder area: it was designed, engineered and built to be a strong and secure connection. Back in the CoffeeGeek Lab, an overly ambitious local Vancouver bartender once snapped a portafilter handle while inserting it into our Lab's La Marzocco Linea machine -- that particular portafilter was chopped after-market style -- and thus weakened the connection between handle and circular filter area. Seeing how well made the Cafelat XT portafilter is... well it inspires confidence.
The edges and overall look of the Cafelat XT portafilter are all finished nicely. There's no pitting or any kind of sign of poor workmanship. This portafilter is all steel (not chromed brass) which does aid in the engineering and manufacturing with tight tolerances, and it's evident that Cafelat set a high bar here.
| Super strong handle to body connection, polish finish throughout |
| Mating notch at back of portafilter, to match up bottom plate to main body |
| Beautiful polished finish |
The Bottom Plate
The removable bottom plate of the portafilter is just as nicely made as the main body. It has a polished finish on its outer ring (where it mates up with the rest of the outer wall of the portafilter) and inside it is machine finished to a nice polish as well. The plate includes a subtle and tiny curve at its top to nicely mate up with the bottom of the portafilter's main chamber, which itself bevels inwards at its bottom. As mentioned above, the bottom of the plate has a more rough surface - a kind of granular finish which is also very well done.
| Bottom Plate Rough Side |
This is where the spouts are attached; you can see the tiny marks from where I screwed in the hex screw nut to hold the spouts in place.
| Mirror Finish |
The outer surfaces of the bottom plate are super polished to a mirror finish; they also mate up exceedingly well with the main portafilter.
| Inisde surface, bottom plate |
This isn't hand polished, but is machine finished to a rough polish. The cutout notch at the top of the photo helps line up the bottom plate when you mate it to the main portafilter.
At first when I took the portafilter out of its box, I was expecting it to be more complicated than it actually was. Part of this was because I'd seen an early prototype which was much more complicated in its construction and how you removed the bottom plate. This time around, Mr. Pratt designed things as simple as possible, but it still works amazingly well. I'll detail exactly how you convert this portafilter below.
Cafelat has three spout designs for this portafilter, and mine arrived with two: a mini angled double spout (so you can still pour both spouts into one espresso cup); and a single side spout. The third spout option is a traditional wide double spout. The spouts are held in place by sliding them onto the bottom plate's solid spout, then fastening a tiny lock screw with the included hex wrench.
The spouts are great designs on their own. I really like the concept and look of the mini double spout: it still separates the streams enough if you want to brew into two cups, but it's small enough to brew into a single cup without worrying about one or both of the streams hitting the sides of the cup or pouring outside of a single cup.
The spouts slide into place via a u-shaped connector which provides two additional bonuses: you can see the initial stream as it comes out of the bottom of the portafilter, but before it gets into the spout channels; and also, the spouts are very easy to clean because every internal surface is exposed if you remove it from the bottom plate.
| || |
| || |
| Narrow Double Spout |
This is a great design for a double spout - can easily fill a single small espresso cup, but also handle splitting a stream into two cups, no problem.
| Easy to clean |
The insides of the spouts are all accessible for easy cleaning. Try that with most other portafilters.
The Cafelat XT Portafilter is available with two handle options - a hard rubber style version, and a bakelite version. We received the latter variant, and it is definitely bakelite (one of the earliest forms of plastic), which is pretty rare these days. Bakelite is a stronger, more stiff form of plastic that isn't cheap to produce; it's characteristics make it nearly ideal as a portafilter handle material (read up the wikipedia link above).
The Cafelat XT Portafilter features the now-traditional angled design so that when it sits on the counter, it creates a tripod effect with the spouts to provide a filter basket that is almost perfectly level. (Can you believe that 10 years ago, angled portafilter handles were rare!)
I've already touched on this and will do so again - the finish on this portafilter is amazing, and easily the best I've ever seen in an aftermarket portafilter (or a machine maker factory portafilter, for that matter). There's a reason for this. Every single Cafelat XT Portafilter is hand polished, as its final stage of work, by Mr. Pratt himself. Every portafilter gets a final seal of approval by the company founder. Not too shabby. The only thing that could make this portafilter better is perhaps a polished, finished hardwood handle, like the Elektra portafilters have, but I have to say the bakelite handle on our sample model is pretty nice.
One More Thing
There's one more little thing in the design that caught my eye, and I want to point out as an example of the attention to detail Cafelat gave to this portafilter. On the top of the main area of the portafilter, you'll find a cutout on the rim, where the filter basket would sit up against. This is there by design. As explained by Mr. Pratt, "The top notch on the rim is a breather hole to allow smoother pours when it is used with the bottom plate and spouts. If you notice on regular portafilters the coffee will sort of blob out, that is because the air is fighting with the coffee over the same narrow hole. Just a small thing but makes a nice difference."
How the Cafelat XT Portafilter Works
I am embarrassed to say it took me a few minutes to figure out how to convert the Cafelat XT portafilter. I'm embarrassed because of how easy it turns out to be. I opened the box, didn't see the instructions initially, but did see the hex (allen) wrench. So I picked up the portafilter and studied it. I was looking for a slot or hole somewhere to insert the tiny allen wrench to unscrew the bottom plate. But I couldn't find any. Then I was trying to figure out what the (spare) silicone o-ring was for that also came in the box. I couldn't see anywhere it was used for.
Well, it turns out removing the bottom plate is just as simple as pushing it out from inside the portafilter's filter basket area. It's held in place by a silicone o-ring, and held quite well. In fact, Mr. Pratt mentioned it actually holds in stronger the hotter the portafilter gets, because of the characteristics of heat, metal expansion, and the like.
The included hex wrench is there just to lock the spouts in place, depending on which one you want to use with the bottom plate. But you don't even have to use them - you can still use the bottom plate without a spout and have a single column stream from your shot pulls. Why would you want to do this? Some people believe that espresso needs a traditional portafilter including the bottom area below the filter basket and a single exit hole to do a final "polish" and "stir" of the espresso before it gets into the cup -- when you brew with a traditional espresso machine, the espresso can collect faster in the bottom of the portafilter faster than it can pour out (depending of course on the design of the portafilter) -- and some have argued that this does the final stir of your espresso, and you don't have to do it in the cup after.
That said, the two spouts included with this portafilter do the job nicely: I was at first concerned some of the espresso might pour out at a gap where the spouts meet the bottom plate (see photo), but the design of the bottom plate makes that occurrence pretty much impossible. When the entire Cafelat XT Portafilter is assembled with a spout in place, it looks good, and pretty much functions 100% as a traditional portafilter.
The inside part of the bottom plate is also quite nicely finished: macro photography shows the grooves the manufacturing process did to cut this shape out, and it's evident the process to cut the shapes was excellent: there's no apparent polish finish to the inside bottom plate (like the outer surfaces received from Mr. Pratt), but it still shines and looks polished to the normal eye.
| Grooves in Interior Finish |
Removing the plate is pretty easy but still inspires enough confidence in the retention design; what I'm trying to say is, it takes a bit of force to remove the bottom plate, but not too much force. You'll also notice there's only one way for the plate to seat into the portafilter: there's a notch on one side that slots into a subtle groove on the underside of the portafilter's handle. Again, all very nicely engineered and designed.
The Cafelat XT Portafilter fits just about any filter basket I've thrown at it, including the various triples from La Marzocco, Rancilio, VST, and other makers. Every basket fits just fine with the bottom plate on. This was a minor concern with the early prototype, but not a concern at all with the finished model.
You can see why in the photos - this is not a small, sleek, streamlined portafilter. It is big and "boxy"; which is just fine because the finish makes it look fantastic.
The model I'm testing is the La Marzocco / Speedster / Kees van der Westen / Synesso (etc etc) version. It is a tad tight fitting in the Speedster, but fits perfectly in a La Marzocco GS/3. I haven't had the opportunity to test it in other compatible machines, but knowing how Mr. Pratt operates, I have no doubt it fits those other units. The other common bayonet style the Cafelat XT Portafilter will come in is as an E61 grouphead configuration model, which should fit dozens and dozens of different machine designs.
You get your choice of one spout design when you buy one of these portafilters. Fortunately, additional spout options are just $10 each, which doesn't break the bank. I'd suggest getting the double narrow spout design - it works universally well for single and double cup pours, and if you remove it, you have in effect a single spout portafilter anyway.
Four concerns popped up about the Cafelat XT Portafilter. One's very minor, the second happened during testing, the third can affect operation with your grinder, and the last one is something I won't know without a long term test.
The very minor concern: some espresso gets trapped in the miniscule gap between the bottom plate and the side walls of the main portafilter body when you use the portafilter repeatedly without removing the bottom plate. If you're a lazy sod and never, ever clean your portafilter, this will eventually become a stinky, cruddy problem.
That said, cleaning this portafilter is ridiculously easy and definitely easier than any portafilter I've ever used: you can get to every single inside surface of the portafilter, including the spouts (which is where it's notoriously hard to clean other portafilters). Since the portafilter is all stainless steel, cleaning off baked on rancid coffee oils is much easier than many chromed brass portafilters. Because this portafilter is fantastically easy to clean, this concern is a non sequitur.
A second concern came up in my testing. Twice, I had to re-tighten the tiny hex screw that holds the spouts in place. But after my second time tightening it, it stayed in place. Here's why.
Because of the fantastic finish on the portafilter, I was wary of over-tightening the tiny hex screw-nut that holds the spouts in place. I didn't want to mar the finish in any way, including a side no one would see. But within a half dozen uses, the spouts came loose and fell off. I put it back in place, tightened the hex screw nut tighter, and this time it lasted a week before the spouts came loose again. After that, I said to heck with it, and really tightened that hex screw nut. The spouts haven't moved since (except for when I unscrewed the nut).
Third problem is a potentially big one: because of the large size of the portafilter vertically, you might find it does not fit some grinders. It will not fit into the Portaholders of the Baratza lineup without a big adjustment to their forks. The Cafelat XT Portafilter clears the doser chamber of our commercial Compak K10 Konic WBC model grinder by maybe 3-5mm, making it a pretty tight fit (with the bottom plate and double spout in place). It should fit most doser-grinders, but you might want to measure the clearance on yours before buying this portafilter (the vertical height of the Cafelat XT Portafilter, from bottom plate to top of a filter basket's lip, is 43mm; add at least 3-5mm for extra clearance).
I have a small long term worry, but no proof it should be a worry: the long term durability of the base plate seal into the main portafilter body. Cafelat does include a spare O-ring (they sell these as well for $2 each)), and they do recommend "from time to time, the silicone o-ring may require a quick rub of food grade lubricant such as Dow 111. The o-ring requires enough Dow 111 to give it a 'sheen'" they say in their instructions guide.
I imagine in a high volume cafe, you'd probably want to maintain and clean the o-ring as part of your daily or weekly maintenance. In the home? I don't really have an idea on how much or how often you need to clean it to keep it "like new". O-rings are pretty cheap though - perhaps just ordering 4 or 5 from Cafelat and keeping them nearby in a plastic bag is the best option.
This is a very nicely made, innovative product. The Cafelat XT Portafilter has the nicest finish I've ever seen on an aftermarket portafilter, and that is saying something. That extra nice finish comes courtesy of Paul Pratt himself, who does the finishing polish on every portafilter that goes out the door.
It is rock solid, feels great in the hand, has a great weight to it, and fits every 58mm basket I;'ve thrown at it so far. I like the stainless steel aspect of it. I like how super easy it is to clean. I like options, and this one presents more options to you than any portafilter on the market.
I like that you can order one specific for your machine, and you get the same innovations available for literally thousands of different types of espresso machines. And I like the handle options - my preference is for bakelite, but others might prefer the durable, stiff rubber style handles.
Pricing is pretty good too. The few places that currently stock this portafilter in the US are selling it for $110; and considering the fit, finish, everything that comes with it, this is a fantastic price. When some vendors are bulk buying stock portafilters for $35, paying $10 to press-drill the bottoms out with little finishing, and selling them for $90 or more retail, then the $110 for this complete, convertible portafilter system seems a bargain. Even more so when you consider how the portafilter is finished. And if you just want a chopped portafilter, the $85 Cafelat XT chopped model is better made, better looking, and stronger and more secure than any aftermarket chopped on available right now.
The Complete Cafelat XT Portafilter, $110, direct from Cafelat.
The Chopped Cafelat XT Portafilter, $85, direct from Cafelat.
We highly recommend the Cafelat XT portafilter. It's exceedingly well made, priced well, and should last for years, if not decades.