VST and IMS Precision Baskets: Why You Should Upgrade
A few years ago, we wrote a little ditty posing a question about portafilter baskets and if they matter or not. *Drum Roll* — the conclusion is that portafilter baskets do matter. They matter quite a lot. That said, for most folks making espresso at home, the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) baskets that come with the initial accessories package when you purchase an espresso machine are a great starting point to get you going and pulling shots. Yet, the question remains: should I upgrade my portafilter basket? And why should I upgrade this seemingly simple piece of porous metal?
Portafilter baskets wear out
Think of the portafilter basket as a metal filter; they last long but won’t function optimally forever. Like the shower screen and group head gasket, these are wear and tear parts that break down with use. Ideally, you replace all three every 12-14 months* to keep your coffee tasting clean and fresh. In the cafè environment, especially high volume cafès, the portafilter basket is typically replaced during a PM (overnight) service every month to six months, depending on the cafè. Remember, these baskets are under a lot of continuous heat and pressure. Eventually, you’ll begin to see the baskets bow out. Alas, most home baristas are not pulling hundreds of shots per day in their kitchen, so make sure you replace yours about every year or so. Once you’re ready to replace it, feel free to pick up the upgrade you’ve always wanted.
*This general estimate is based on years of servicing Clive customers’ machines and troubleshooting espresso issues. Depending on how much espresso you make, you may need to replace these parts sooner or later.
How are precision baskets different from OEM baskets?
Some folks will opt to use precision baskets from the jump. This type of home barista generally has the espresso fundamentals under their belt and is looking to step up their game and maximize their extractions. This is a good strategy because while OEM baskets are absolutely decent and can yield amazing shots, why not explore if your shots can taste better?
What does precision actually mean? Precision portafilter baskets often look exactly like OEM baskets. Precision portafilter baskets are made so precisely that all holes in the basket are the same size, with a minimal margin for error. Consistency is vital in extraction because the water being pushed through the coffee will always try to find the path of least resistance; if it manages to, this is a surefire way to cause errant channels in the espresso puck. Channeling in the coffee bed will result in an uneven extraction and inconsistency from shot to shot. Precision baskets achieve consistency through the following:
- Less hole variability than OEM baskets
- Less variation in hole sizes assists in even extraction across the entire surface area of the portafilter basket, with holes spaced uniformly
- As a result, the feedback (when using a bottomless portafilter) is visually clear
When making the switch to precision portafilter baskets, the overall goal and focus shift from simply just wanting to pull good shots to the desire to manipulate all of the subtle nuances of an espresso’s flavor profile, an appreciation of the craft of making espresso, and the yearning to discover more.
Which precision basket should I buy?
This part of the specialty coffee industry is becoming oversaturated. That’s not necessarily bad, but there are so many options that it’s difficult to choose. We used to solely carry VST baskets, but have since expanded to IMS and Pullman, the latter of which are very similar to VST but have some key differences.
IMS (Industria Materiali Stampati) baskets were created for professional baristas in the 2011 World Barista Championship, designed to provide consistent espresso shots and even extractions for the most delicate coffees in the world. IMS baskets are made with a finer mesh than VST baskets, allowing for a more even water distribution over the coffee grounds. Additionally, for all those neat freaks out there, the IMS baskets have a nano quartz coating encouraging a cleaner basket every time you knock out a spent espresso puck.
Vince Fedele, an engineer at VST, noticed inconsistencies in the holes at the bottom of his espresso basket. He decided to address the issue, single-handedly leveling up the specialty coffee industry, creating a basket with consistency and uniformity across a wider surface area/ With meticulous precision, each basket includes a hole size distribution graph and quality assurance data to ensure quality and consistency. VST is considered to have tighter tolerances than IMS; however, it’s very difficult to notice a shot quality difference between the two baskets.
We go into a little more detail overall in our Pullman accessories blog, but the main takeaway from it is that you’ll get very similar extraction results as VST and IMS. The Pullman baskets are also made to fit the Pullman Bigstep tamper perfectly. Like the Big Step tamper, the Pullman baskets can accommodate oversized 58mm tampers like 58.3, 58.5, and 58.55.
Which precision basket should I buy?
Our vote is for IMS! They're the most cost-effective, produce the cleanest pucks, and have almost identical results to the Pullman and VST precision baskets, respectively. Also, they're ridgeless, meaning they can accept oversized tampers. We love IMS's versatility.
Precision baskets are partly borne out of the desire and need to control espresso outcomes for a better result. We’re control freaks over here, and espresso often has a mind of its own. So many different variables go into an excellent extraction, and even that is highly subjective. At the end of the day, what really matters is what tastes good to you, but it’s always fun to try new things!