Coffee Snob Series: A Beginner’s Guide To Filter Coffee

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What is filter coffee?

With the rise of coffee culture and more and more people interested in coffee, we also see a rise of popularity of filter brewing methods. Don’t imagine the traditional electric filter coffee machine that you put on and let sit there for hours, resulting in bleak burnt coffee taste. That is a thing of the past.

When ordering a filter at your local speciality cafe, they’ll do it a bit differently. The method of brewing is manual, which gives the barista the full control over the brewing process. The coffee is ground fresh before brewing, the amount of coffee, the yield and the time of brewing are precisely measured and coffee used for this method is usually “single origin” which means sourced from a specific location often the same farm. These attributes make it more complex, full of character and flavour that is superior to your usual espresso.

Difference between filter and espresso coffee

While espresso coffee is brewed by applying pressure to force the hot water through coffee grounds, the filter coffee soaks up the water, releasing the flavours and letting it drip through the coffee grounds. Let’s look at the differences more closely though.

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Extraction time

The key difference between the espresso and filter coffee is the extraction time. While the espresso shot is usually extracted in 25-30 seconds, the filter coffee, depending on the method, can take around 3-5 minutes. This makes a massive impact on taste. Since the espresso method utilises pressure and the contact brewing time is very short, it results in a more “intense” taste with a rich crema. Which can be interpreted as “stronger”. But the truth is when you compare the caffeine content of the two, a double espresso contains around 120 milligrams while a cup of brewed filter coffee, depending on how much coffee you use, contains around 170-250 milligrams of caffeine.

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Why do the coffee connoisseurs prefer filter coffee and why do they ask you what coffee you’d like when ordering one at a cafe? The fact is that since the coffee is in contact with the water for a longer period of time, the flavours are much more developed and noticeable. My favourite way to describe it is to compare it to whisky. If you were gonna drink whisky as a shot, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a 18 year old Talisker or Monkey Shoulder blend. But if you were gonna sip on it, with a bit of water, which lets the whisky flavours develop (see the analogy), you definitely want the Talisker, right?

Filter brewing method produces a cleaner, more subtle flavour that can showcase the complexity of the coffee while the espresso brewing method exaggerates acidity, amplifies the body and uses darker roasts to produce an intense shot that makes it perfect to drink with milk that mellows the taste. On the other hand, the subtle flavours of filter coffee means it’s almost always drunk black.

Can you use the same coffee for filter as you use for espresso?


And that’s the biggest difference people make. The coffee is roasted with a different brewing method in mind. As mentioned, the espresso will usually be a darker roast while filter will be lighter. And more importantly, you should never use the coffee that was ground for espresso when brewing your filter coffee. Espresso grind is finer, therefore, if used for filter coffee, it will result in a burnt over-extracted cup of coffee which is definitely not what it should be.

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Single origin coffee

In fact, reasons for getting a single origin coffee are very similar to those of drinking single malt whisky. The beans are sourced from a single region and has a distinct taste. When you start experimenting with different coffees, you’ll soon notice the differences, for example, the coffee from Kenya or El Salvador is going to be acidic, sweet and fruity while coffee from Guatemala is going to be full-bodied, nutty with hints of cocoa. You know when speciality coffees come with different tasting notes? Like dark chocolate, praline, orange, fig, lime and so on? Have you ever thought that that’s nonsense because you can’t taste the difference? Well, try them as a proper filter brew. That will be a different story.

Brewing method

If you found it hard to wrap your head around the differences between espresso and filter coffee, I’ve got bad news, there are different brewing methods in which you can make your filter coffee, which make it a different experience too. The most popular ones are V60, Aeropress, Chemex or Kalita.

What are the differences between these? Which brewing method is the easiest, cheapest or the quickest? We’ll find that out in the next coffee snob series, shall we?

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In caffeine we trust,


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