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?