Filter Coffee v Espresso: The Coffee Snob Debate

Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Unsplash

Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Unsplash

For some people coffee is more than just hot bean juice that fuels the excessive demands of our capitalistic society, it’s a way of life. Coffee is the subject of their coffee table books, coffee gadgets are what they splurge on. It’s what their friends buy them for Christmas and birthday presents, and more than that it’s what they talk about down the pub. While traditional Italian espresso-based coffee ruled Celtic Tiger Ireland, those in the know drink filter these days.

Dublin’s coffee culture has been embraced with such loyalty you’d swear we produced the beans ourselves. Tea is till our at-home go to, but coffee is now the public face of hot drinks in Ireland. Irish people don’t go out for tea because no one ever makes tea as well as you can for yourself. But we go out and grab a coffee. WE grab a coffee with the girls, we meet a mate for a coffee catch-up, we grab a coffee before a walk, we grab an after-lunch coffee, a three pm slump coffee, a meeting coffee, date coffee, a can’t afford adhd coffee, a neurodivergent the caffeine isn’t hitting second coffee, an it’s raining coffee, the sun is out coffee. Basically coffee is the go-to

Coffee can be made in hundreds of different ways. Leave it to our drug-fueled ingenuity to tirelessly combine beans and water to keep some pep in our step. From lattes to cappuccinos, flat whites, americanos, automatic and manual pour-over drip to French press, cold brew, and other “total immersion” methods to prepackaged pod systems and instant soluble powders. There are so many different coffees that there’s definitely one for every person. Even your mate who maintains he doesn’t like coffee.

Filter Coffee in Ireland 

Filter coffee has become more and more synonymous with speciality coffee culture. Dublin has gone all-in on filter coffee. These days you walk into any decent coffee shop, and the was are adorned in V60 drip filters, Aeropress filters, Moccamasters, Marco SP9s, and even Chemex. You’ll even have multiple filter options in any independent coffee shop worth its salt. Generally these are touted on a separate section of the menu dedicated to filter varieties.

Every single one of these options produces a familiar beverage— brewed coffee. As opposed to espresso coffee.

How Is Espresso Made?

Espresso is a unique concoction that differs from brewed coffee in fundamental and interrelated ways. Unlike filter methods, where the water is allowed to steep at a leisurely pace, espresso is made under pressure. An espresso machine heats water to boiling point and uses a pump to force it through the ground coffee at nine times normal atmospheric pressure, in half a minute, directly into the cup. 

It’s ready in a hurry, and each serving is made to order “expressly”.

How Strong Is Espresso?

That method means that espresso comes out more concentrated than brewed coffee. A cup of espresso is made up of about ten per cent coffee matter and ninety water. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but filter coffee lands about one point five, so espresso is almost ten times stronger. That’s why it tastes so strong, and that’s why espresso is ideal for mixing with foamed milk to make lattes, cappuccinos and Ireland’s favourite flat white. It’s concentrated enough to hold its own even when heavily diluted with dairy or whatever alt milk you’re havin’ yourself. 

The Big Difference Between Espresso and Filter

The process, which pushes the water under pressure through the compacted ground coffee and then through a metal filter with tiny holes, forces oils from the coffee to be expressed into the cup. That’s why it’s called espresso. These can’t pass through a paper filter, so typically aren’t present in filter coffee.

Broken into minuscule droplets, the oils form an emulsion to give espresso its thick, rich body and intense, complex flavour. This is what sets espresso apart from just powerful coffee. Without this no matter how much power your filter packs it can’t be espresso it’s just strong AF coffee.

How is Filter Made? 

Unlike espresso, which is made on a knife’s edge of specificity, there is more than one way to skin the filter cat. But that said, there are a few key elements to unite them. Generally, with filter coffee, you’re looking at the flavour profile.

The setup looks very much like a science experiment because filter is a whole heap of extra thinking and decision-making. Selecting good-quality beans is the first step. Then you have to think about stuff you’d mostly bypass unless you’re a filter dork. things like grind size, water temperature, and finding the right coffee-to-water ratio become paramount. Basically, you have many choices at every stage of filtering coffee, so baristas get excited about trying new recipes and new beans. It’s the coffee nerds’ coffee. 

So what does it taste like?

Filter coffee tastes more like a coffee tea. Filter coffee is mellower compared to espresso. By slowing down the extraction process you allow pleasant tasting notes to come through with lesser acidity and bitterness. Thus, filter coffee is generally appreciated black. This is the kind of coffee that tastes like other things. When you hear someone talking about a fruity coffee or a nutty coffee they’re probably talking about filter. It’s like the wine of coffee. Depending on which beans it’s made from the flavour profile varies so you can pick out all kinds of aromas, if that’s your thing.

Which Has More Caffeine?

Does espresso have more caffeine than brewed coffee? Much more, right, because it’s more concentrated? Well, yes, if you drank a full coffee mug full of espresso, you’d be rocketing around like a superball. (Don’t do this.) But a standard double shot of espresso is just about fifty ml. So a serving of espresso gives you around half the dosage of caffeine that you get from a regular filter coffee.

Which has more prestige?

Where once ordering an espresso was the height of sophistication these days its filter. Just like the Millennials killed instant coffee we became uber-versed in the intricacies of coffee. All of us. En masse. We became casually versed enough to know that filter is what baristas drink, which means it’s the best coffee to conspicuously consume. Like ordering a Guinness, a Negroni, or a biodynamic pet nat filter coffee has become an insider’s drink.

It is increasingly becoming a flex-to-order filter. It’s like a wink-wink-nudge-nudge that is designed to elicit an impressed nod from your barista. This, of course, is the external validation we crave from the gatekeepers of coffee. Overnight we all became that guy in the coffee shop, engaging the barista in conversation about which beans they have on drip or what’s best for our V60 and telling people we go to “cupping” classes with no trace of irony.

Dealers Choice

All jokes aside coffee is a personal drink. You get to enjoy it in whatever way you want. That’s part of the fun. Whether it’s mainlining it into your veins, in latte form, or with butter melted into it. You do you and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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