I've often wondered about the popularity of the triple basket. I have generally been opposed to it on principle (though I've used it with certain coffees that seem to be optimized for this basket like the Black Cat). I've considered it to be, philosophically, a crutch of sorts. And I found that few coffee actually tasted best when extracted from this basket. So I wondered...
I had long theorized that people liked using it for three reasons.
1 - It results in a "stronger" espresso. (It seems like, for many Americans, when it comes to coffee quality equals perceived "strength." Thus a triple is more and thus better than a double.)
2 - It is ridgeless and thus easier to use. (Ridged baskets require far more accuracy and control in dosing.)
3 - It allows for a flavour profile that is more concentrated and intense. (With a triple basket you can pull a sort of "large double ristretto" if you will, that is as concentrated and dense as a ristretto but has more volume - though in actual volume it is about half way between a double ristretto and a triple ristretto).
Recently, however, I've discovered two new potential causes - one of which is probably important.
You'll note that all three reasons above are the sort of things that professional baristas might obsess over. And thus... I decided they were likely the motivations behind the popularity of the basket. For the average serious home barista, however, there are other issues at play here.
1 - The shots look "better". (With the increased popularity of the naked portafilter for home use - and with the rise of the "money shot" style of photography commonly called espresso pornography - there is a huge amount of pride at stake in how these shots look when they are extracting. Shots from a triple basket look "better" and photograph "better.")
2 - With a triple basket you can get decent shots with stale coffee. (This is the important one. Today I experimented with some 7 day old coffee from Ecco Caffe. When fresh, this was a lovely, subtle and balanced espresso. Now, in a double basket it is quite flat and undefined, with little dynamic range and limited aromatics. In the triple basket, however, I can pull a 1.75oz shot that is incredibly concentrated, dense and enjoyable - especially in milk. My guess is that I should be able to get decent shots out of this coffee this way for another day or two.)
Given that most serious home baristas do not get free coffee, do not have access to a top-notch pro roaster less than 100 feet away... there are some economic drivers here that are quite significant. I calculated the other day that, on average, I get about 4 double shots out of a 1/2 lb of coffee. Yes... this is skewed by the fact that I change blends a lot and have to work hard to dial in the grind, thus wasting a lot of coffee. But the reality is that I throw out stale coffee. I throw out shots that are drinkable but not as good as they could be.
If I had to actually pay for my coffee... this would be a very expensive habit.
Suddenly, the popularity of the triple basket makes a ton of sense to me.