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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
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.

Member
Doctor Fairlight says:
13 November 2017

Amen to all that.

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

Member

Yes – it goes with the balsamic vinegar anxiety.

Member

Damn right richjenn. It’s only coffee after all, not water from the Fountain of Youth.

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.

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).

Member
Doctor Fairlight says:
13 November 2017

I’m with Wavechange on this one. Filter coffee has a poor rep because too many people use weak coffee. My filter coffee is never weak. Lidl Bellarom Gold filter coffee. £3 for 500g. BINGO!

Member

I agree. You would not complain that my coffee was too weak, though some have said that it’s a bit too strong for them. ☕☕