There are many ways to prepare coffee, but espresso and filter brewing methods are the two main categories. What is the difference?
As much as espresso used to be considered as the only proper way to drink coffee, this is no longer true.
Filter coffee has risen in popularity and it doesn’t stand for coffee from an American diner anymore. Rather, it is prepared with manual brewing methods that bring out delicate tasting notes.
While espresso and filter coffee both come from the same coffee beans, the resulting cup is very different. How do these two coffees compare and which one is better suited to your tastes?
What Is an Espresso?
While espresso, originating in Italy, can be seen as the traditional way of drinking coffee its invention only dates back to the late 19th century (*).
Espresso is brewed by forcing water at a high temperature under 9-10 bars of pressure through finely-ground coffee beans (*). This results in a small 1oz/30ml concentrated shot of coffee brewed typically within 30 seconds.
What Is Filter Coffee?
The basic principle of filter coffee is similar and it is made with hot water that is passed through coffee grinds. The key difference is that when brewing filter coffee, there is no pressure applied and the resulting cup is only aided with gravity.
This means that the process takes longer and uses more water, resulting in a bigger cup, typically around 8oz/236ml with a brewing time of around 2-3 minutes, depending on the method.
Grind and Roast
Because of the varying brewing methods, each type of brewing requires a different roast and grind.
Since brewing an espresso shot only takes 30 seconds, in order to extract the flavor and develop crema, the process requires finely ground coffee beans.
On the other hand, because coffee grinds are in contact with hot water for a much longer period of time when making filter coffee, the brewing process requires a coarser grind.
While both types of coffee originate from the same coffee bean, they are roasted differently. In order to extract a balanced espresso, the brewing often is more compatible with darker coffee beans roasted to a higher temperature.
Filter roasts are typically light to medium and roasted to a lower temperature, allowing more delicate flavors to come through in your cup.
Brewing Equipment and Cost
Brewing a perfect espresso requires, you’ve guessed it, an espresso machine. And buying a coffee machine is a big investment.
While you can buy an entry-level espresso machine for under $200, it won’t be able to produce an espresso as good as you get at your favorite cafe.
Making filter coffee is affordable. You only need a dripper, filter paper, and your cup for manual brewing.
We recommend using manual brewing methods rather than automatic brewers for the best flavor. Some of the most popular ones include V60, Chemex, or Kalita.
One of the biggest differences between these two coffees is the taste. The espresso shot has a complex flavor profile consisting of body, sweetness, and a finish. It has a thick crema on top and an exaggerated acidity.
Espresso is smaller, offers more concentrated flavors, and comes with more of a punch because of its highly pressurized brewing method. These flavors are ideal with steamed milk to develop the desired sweetness for lattes or cappuccinos.
Filter coffee has more delicate tasting notes, subtle acidity, and a clean, consistent taste. This makes black filter coffee easier to drink and allows for the development of subtle flavors from different single-origin beans.
Because of the intense flavor of the espresso shot, it is often assumed that espresso has higher caffeine content. The opposite is true.
A typical espresso shot contains around 40-75mg of caffeine per 30ml while the filter coffee packs around 80-185mg of caffeine per 236ml cup (*).
While both espresso and filter will do their job in providing you with a solid caffeine hit, filter coffee packs a bigger dose of it.
This is because filter coffee is brewed over a longer period of time, and therefore extracts more natural oils and caffeine.
How to Brew the Perfect Cup?
For both types of coffee, we recommend manual brewing methods. They give you more control over the different parts of the brewing process and allow you to create a balanced delicious cup.
As any barista would tell you, a lot of things need to be done right in order to brew the perfect espresso shot. Some of which include the correct grind, precisely measured grams, and correct brewing time.
And because a capable espresso machine is a significant investment, it might be more difficult to brew the perfect cup at home.
Automatic filter brewing machines gave filter coffee a bad reputation in the past.
But the modern manual brewing methods like V60 or Chemex are affordable, fairly easy to use, and can, with a little bit of practice and precision, produce an excellent cup of coffee.
The Comeback of Filter Coffee
For a long time, filter coffee has been frowned upon as an inferior brewing method. But with the rise of third-wave coffee and the manual brewing methods that have been popularized in recent years, we are witnessing a comeback of filter coffee.
Filter coffee is popular among coffee connoisseurs around the world because the longer brewing method allows you to taste more refined flavors in your cup.
When brewing single-origin coffee with a delicate flavor profile, manual filter brewing methods are preferred.
Espresso vs Filter: Which One Is Better?
Neither of these types of coffee is better than the other one and you can brew a delicious cup with both of these methods.
The final decision comes down to your taste and preferences.
Filter coffee is better for when you want to experience delicate tasting notes in single-origin coffees, offers a clean taste and a higher caffeine content. The brewing process takes longer but can become a part of your morning ritual.
Espresso coffee is a faster way to get your fix and is a better option if you want to mix it with steamed milk.
So the choice between the filter and espresso coffee ultimately comes down to your preferences, but why not have both? Espresso for when you want a quick shot or a sweet latte and filter coffee for a slow Sunday morning.