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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?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I am delighted to read this, Anna. I really cannot be bothered with all the fuss using an espresso machine.

I really must replace my simple electric filter coffee machine because the plastic is discoloured and beginning to deteriorate (hardly surprising after 20 years’ use), but there is not much on offer in the shops.

Profile photo of richjenn13
Member

I am always amazed, and mildly irritated, by Which tests recommending £400 coffe machines.
That’s more than a decent washing machine!

Is the mag aiming more and more for Islington yuppies?

R

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Yes – it goes with the balsamic vinegar anxiety.

Member
Peter Edwards says:
6 July 2012

Expresso uses dark roasted beans, which are powerful but not all that tasty. just compare a filter cup from medium roast Costa Rican Beans or even better, a nice sharp Kilimanjaro area medium roast.

Profile photo of fossilboy
Member

I have to disagree with you Wavechange. A watery filter coffee just doesn’t compare to an espresso. I’m not proud to own a Nestle product but at 6am I need a shot of something strong, tasty and quick, and my Nespresso is the only thing that does it for me. My motor skills don’t kick in until I’ve had my morning coffee anyway, so simply pressing a button suits me (and clearly many others).

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

The cafetiere seems a very good compromise .
Quick, almost any amount at one time, easy to adjust strength, cheap , portable and a huge range of coffees to choose from.

For me the major benefit of the rise of the espresso machine in cafes is the wider availability of reasonable, consistent and strong coffee.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I loathe the cafetiere because even using coarsely-ground beans, there is some residue at the bottom of the cup to ruin the last mouthful. A simple filter paper does an efficient job and seems to produce better tasting coffee, but that may be psychological.

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

Not a fan of Turkish coffee then !!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Like vindaloo, once was enough. 🙂

Member
Madtina says:
7 July 2012

I am quite happy to use an ordinary coffee machine, or better yet, my little espresso pot – the type where you fill water into the unscrewed bottom part, fill the filter with coffee, and then attach the top bit and let it percolate on the cooker. Ther is enough for 2 cups of quite strong Americanos and it only takes 5 minutes. Simples!

Member
Sophie Gilbert says:
7 July 2012

I think there is a place for expresso as well as for filter coffee and I would argue that one can’t really replace the other. I like an expresso mid-morning in the summer or after lunch all year round with a small glass of water, but in the morning I prefer a lighter filter coffee in a bigger quantity. In winter at the weekend I treat myself to a cappucino or a latte mid morning with a pastry. Coffee is like wine or beer or even tea, it needs to go with the time of day, the food or the occasion. Limiting oneself to one type is a shame. But yes, it has to be good in the first place. If you find your filter coffee watery or your expresso too strong, revise your type(s) of coffee, your dosage, your coffee maker(s), and enjoy experimenting.

Profile photo of rarrar
Member

One thing this conversation has showed is that there are several methods of making coffee, all producing a slightly different tasting drink and all with their own advocates.
What a versatile foodstuff the coffee bean is.

Profile photo of Anna Norman
Member

I agree, the revival of different brewing methods is definitely something to be celebrated, as it offers a chance to experiment with coffee, in the same way that people experiment with different cooking styles. While the rise of the espresso machine – in cafes and in the home – has fuelled the coffee culture of recent times, our obsession with cappuccinos, lattes and other espresso-based drinks has sometimes made us overlook the more subtle flavours of the coffee itself – they’re often drowned by all that milk. Espresso is great for a quick hit of intense flavour, but filter coffee helps me to appreciate the more delicate flavours of the brew.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I agree with both of you. I would add that the aroma of coffee must be one of the most pleasant smells mankind has invented.

Profile photo of fossilboy
Member

Anyone here tried Kopi Luwak (civet coffee)? Some seem to rave about it (including the producers who charge up to £100 a pack), others say it’s too bitter, smells horrific and is definitely not worth £100. Just wondered if it was a fad or worth giving a try. Not sure about the ethics of squeezing beans out of a small cat though.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

I don’t think they ‘squeeze’ the beans out of the cat do they? Saw this civet coffee in Selfridges when shopping for edible insects: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/eating-insects-would-you-eat-edible-bugs/ The price wasn’t the most off-putting thing about it…

Profile photo of arabiancoffees
Member

As an online seller of ground coffee (that is recommended for traditional methods of coffee making) I think consumers are turning away from household espresso machines. Maybe it’s the inconsistency of some machines, maybe it’s the maintenance of machines, but I think consumption is changing.

We hear more and more that consumers are looking at the different coffee options as one of choice – so when out and about they may treat themselves to an espresso etc, but when home favour the easier option of a French press etc…

Profile photo of Anna Norman
Member

Thanks for your comment – it’s great to hear a retailer’s perspective too. This does suggest that, as our knowledge and sophistication surrounding coffee increases in the UK, context is becoming increasingly important. For me, espresso does seem more like a ‘social drink’, while filter and percolated coffee have more homely associations.

Member
Mike Whitaker says:
12 July 2012

I have to admit, I’m fed up of my only choice for a long black coffee being an Americano in many shops 😀

Also? could they implement a “two adjectives or less” queue for those of us who just want, you know… coffee?

Member
Graham says:
2 August 2012

I have a fantastic Kenwood CM021 I got for £10 from a charity shop. Looked like it had been used possibly twice. It makes a great filter coffee and doesn’t stew with it’s hotplate.
Worth a look if the Espresso machine isn’t your cup of tea… Oooh sorry Coffee 😉

Member
Maggie says:
27 November 2012

Where can I buy – in a shop – not online – a coffee cone (e.g. Mellitta) in Edinburgh – this week.
Thanks.

Member
Paulette says:
25 February 2013

We like a combined machine – expresso and filter which we have at the moment – Magimix bought at John Lewis. My husband likes filter so he can have two or three coffees through the day and I like a strong expresso – so we can have both methods of coffee production. If you want to end a dinner party with coffee the expresso machines are useless because of the delay in expressing them. I suppose there is always the cafetier.

Problem is our machine is getting older and we want a replacement but there are not many around. Could Which do a review of the Combined coffee machines please

Member
Maggie says:
25 February 2013

What is wrong with a simple drip cone – from very cheap plastic to a glass one that looks elegant. You can get recycled paper filters for them. No fuss, no ‘machines’ to clean. Make it a strong or weak as you like. And it filters out the fats that affect cholesterol (I am told).

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I believe that a filter coffee tastes better than that produced by a cafetiere, no doubt because some of the flavour components stick to the filter paper. The biggest advantage is that there is no gritty residue in the last cup.

I do prefer to use a simple filter coffee machine and I reckon that it takes less time than topping up a filter cone with hot water.

Profile photo of siwmae
Member

Oh bring back the the filter! We had a wonderful filter machine that kept a pot of coffee on hand without stewing but times changed. Now where can I get one?

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

I like filter coffee, as well as cafetiere. The problem is if your filter machine has a hotplate and you leave your coffee “keeping warm” – it develops a nasty bitterness, just like commercial Cona machines. Like sweetcorn, coffee needs to be consumed when it is fresh.

Profile photo of siwmae
Member

Yes, on reflection you have a point. I had two good machines in the past a Melitta and a Braun but a long time ago. I don’t think that keeping the coffee for more than 30minutes ever worked or was ever needed. In our case both machines fell into disuse when we couldn’t easily replace the broken jugs!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I use a filter coffee machine but turn it off after serving the coffee. What’s left will keep fresh for a few hours and can be heated in the microwave oven.

Member
Adam Legge says:
29 August 2014

There seems to be a conspiracy amongst coffee machine makers and retailers to force us away from using simple, cheap filter machines and buy shockingly wasteful capsule machines or huge contraptions better suited to the coffee shop. Filter machines are very hard to find on the high street. And I’d accuse Which of deliberately or unconsciously taking part – where is the recent head to head test of coffee filter machines? And of the 126 coffee machines you’ve tested I couldn’t find a single, simple coffee maker

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I agree Adam. I have an ancient Rowenta filter machine with a gold filter. It still works fine but after frequent use for 20 years, the plastic casing looks tatty. On many occasions I have looked at what is on offer in the shops and not found a decent quality replacement. All I’ve seen is cheap junk or models with obvious design faults.

Member
Adam Legge says:
29 August 2014

It’s difficult not to think the manufacturers want us to move to more expensive machines, especially the ones that use expensive capsules. John Lewis still sell a few filter makers, but you can’t buy one at Robert Dyas any longer. I asked why and was told: “They’ve been phased out and replaced with better models” which isn’t the best response.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Eldest son bought a Panasonic filter machine; very impressed – made good coffee quickly and quietly.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Thanks Malcolm. I will have a look.

What I’m looking for is a machine that will either take a paper filter or – like my present one – has a durable gold-plated filter. Most filter coffee makers are just supplied with cheap nylon filters that don’t last long and are expensive to replace, if spares are available. Some of these machines cannot be used with a paper filter, so could be destined for early recycling.

Incidentally, this is one reason I like inspecting goods in shops. I often know what features I’m looking for in a product and websites often don’t provide the information I need.

Member
Colin says:
15 November 2014

You may have reviewed a filter coffee maker, Aerobie AeroPress, but the link does not work for me. What I want is supply of de-caffinated coffee for use in a filter. I only use this in the evening now and then and the ground stuff I have bought in the past is usually stale long before I use it up. I have tried storing in air tight containers in the fridge or freezer without much success. I was thinking of a using pods but do not want to spend £100 plus on a machine for occasional use. I prefer filter to expresso anyway. Asda used to sell individual wrapped decaffinated filters but no longer seem to do so. Any ideas?

Member
Steve says:
27 April 2015

Not a single traditional filter coffee machine in the tests that come up when one enters “filter coffee machine”
Those off the gas grid have the highest energy bills. In the latest Which? the article on the cheapest energy bills helps only dual electricity and mains gas customers. Broadband articles never give any help for those in rural area. Phone articles never give which phoes are best in poor signal areas.

More and more Which? id becoming a journal for urban yuppies. I think it is time I cancelled my sub.

Profile photo of Andrew Collins
Member

Hi Steve, thanks for your feedback about our published content. I’m sorry to hear that you’re considering to end your membership.

With regards to our product reviews, we only have a limited number of test slots in any area we test and so we select models based on a number of criteria, including:

– Popularity – models that sell well and are heavily advertised
– Major brands in the market – new releases from key brands
– Innovation – models with any interesting or special features
– Price – we aim to test products from a range of price points that fit the majority of people’s needs or aspirations
– Availability – products must still be available when testing is over

We’re also aware that consumer habits are changing and more people are buying appliances direct from online retailers.

Dual fuel tariffs seem to be the cheapest and most available to switch to, too. However, there’s a number of ways you can make savings on your energy bills in addition to switching:

– Change the way in which you pay – paying by direct debit will often earn you a discount.
– Submit a meter reading regularly and, in particular, on the day your energy company’s price rise kicks in, so you’re paying for the energy you actually use.
– Check with your energy supplier if there is any additional help you’re entitled to, such as the £135 Warm Home Discount.

Of course, I’ve shared your comments with the relevant teams here at Which? for their consideration.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Steve – I’m looking for a filter coffee machine too – see the first comment on this page. I have a more sophisticated machine, which I was given, but hardly ever use it because it involves too much messing about.

There are few filter coffee machines on sale these days and I have not found anything that looks worth buying.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

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.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

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.

Member
baillieswells says:
14 July 2015

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.

Member

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?

Thanks.

Profile photo of JimS
Member

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?