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Is the humble filter coffee making a comeback?

Coffee enthusiasts have recently been extolling the virtues of old-fashioned, hand-brewed filter coffee. But is this an industry micro-trend, or is it the beginning of the end of expensive espresso machines?

While espresso-based drinks undeniably still reign in the UK’s booming coffee culture, it seems a quiet revolution has been brewing among coffee connoiseurs over the past couple of years. Filter coffee’s modern reputation as a boring, weak and generally inferior drink is being challenged by specialist coffee shops.

Several London coffee shops such as Caravan and Prufrock now offer filter and immersion coffee alongside their espresso-based drinks, and York Coffee Emporium promotes a range of different brewing equipment.

Meanwhile the website for the forthcoming Brew Lab, an ‘artisan coffee bar’ due to open in Edinburgh in September, says it will be ‘a new kind of coffee shop…melding traditional and innovative brewing techniques’.

Is this a sign that our excitement surrounding the novelty of steamed milk-based espresso drinks is finally dwindling?

Old methods, new innovations

At the second World Brewers Cup, held in Austria last month, enthusiasts of the craft of brewing filter coffee by hand competed to make the best coffee using filter cones, cafetiéres, 19th-century-style vacuum ‘syphons’ and sometimes obscure pourover equipment.

Meanwhile, in the world of home brewing, a new wave of hand-operated equipment has come on to the market. The Aerobie AeroPress, which we reviewed in February of this year, has developed an almost fanatical following, while Japanese brand Hario sells a range of increasingly popular ceramic drip cones and syphons for use in the home.

Has espresso coffee gone off the boil?

All of this is music to my ears (or should I say aromas to my nose?). While part of me does lust after one of the shiny De’Longhi or Gaggias in our collection of Best Buy coffee machines, another part feels that, while a delicious, machine-made espresso or cappuccino is one of life’s joys, these drinks are perhaps more suited to the café rather than the home.

The enjoyment we get from the drinks we consume isn’t only based on taste but also on context – and the noise and steam of a machine can seem a bit, well, flat without the buzz of conversation and the busy baristas.

And when a single cup of good-quality coffee is so easy and quick to produce at home with a ceramic filter cone or my trusty stove-top Bialetti moka pot, is it worth paying money for a bulky machine that can be hard to clean? We don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds in order to take part in the coffee revolution.

A coffee machines survey we carried out back in October 2010 revealed that a quarter of Which? members own an espresso machine, with seven in ten people from this group recommending them as a worthwhile investment. But are these machines losing any of their lustre in favour of old-fashioned methods? Or are all you diehard espresso fanatics out there coffee machine loyalists for life?


I like real coffee (as opposed to the coffee-flavoured drink, as one colleague used to describe “instant”). I use a cafetiere – it’s quick, easy to get the right strength, doesn’t stew the coffee (have you experienced the results of commercial Cona coffee machines left on the hotplate?) and easy to clean – plus no descaling. Cheap too.

My old filter machine has a gold filter, the only part that is still in good condition. The coffee is not as good as can be made with a simple paper filter but I hate the deposit that lands up in the last cup from a cafetiere.

I detest stewed coffee, so turn off the machine as soon as possible. Cold coffee can be reheated later in the microwave and it is still fit to drink several hours later.

So can your forgotten cup of tea. It’s also (microwave) good for making milky drinks without leaving that hard-to-shift deposit left in the saucepan.

The advantage of filter coffee is that the using the same coffee, filter paper and water, the coffee will always taste the same. And you don’t need glass of water to slake your thirst.

Every espresso machine seems to produce different tasting coffee. Some of them are not fit for purpose. Having recently bought and returned to seller two Which “Best Buy” bean to cup machines costing several hundred pounds because they produced coffee that was too weak, luke warm and little crema, I despair. I wonder about the Which tasters.

The original article by Anna Norman says “The Aerobie AeroPress, which we reviewed in February of this year”. I have a hard copy of Which? Feb 2012 and could not find the review there. I couldn’t find a review of the AeroPress on the Which? website either. Can anyone point me to it?


The AeroPress gets a 4.7 out of 5 star rating on amazon.co.uk with over 1,400 reviews and countless YouTube videos about it. With all the coffee machine tests Which? undertake, surely it’s worth a look?