Filter

A mug of filter coffee from Alterra, MilwaukeeI’m aware that I could give a very negative impression of filter coffee and that’s not my aim. My problem with filter coffee is that, as I’ve said elsewhere, you can always make coffee as well and usually better with a cafetiere. That said, you can make perfectly good filter coffee if you take care with your coffee-making equipment and if you don’t leave it to stew. I would certainly never rule out a coffee spot just because it offers filter coffee.

Filter coffee, otherwise known as drip coffee, is made by slowly dripping hot water through coffee grounds. Like coffee made with a cafetiere, you can use a variety of different beans, depending on your mood. There’s lots of ways of getting filter coffee wrong, which tend to be the same ways as getting a cafetiere of coffee wrong. Obvious examples are getting the water temperature wrong (you want it just having come off the boil; too cold and you’ll end up with rubbish coffee) and getting the coffee grind wrong. Too coarse or too fine and the coffee will be too weak.

A row of different coffee grindersIt’s worth saying that getting the right grind is usually a matter of trial and error and once again depends on the bean and on your coffee equipment. Generally speaking, you want a slightly coarser grind for a cafetiere than you do for filter coffee, while for espresso, you want a very fine grind indeed. Anywhere that offers to sell you coffee that is ground “for all coffee makers” clearly has no clue what it is talking about. A good coffee retailer who is selling you ground coffee will ask you precisely what machine you are going to use it in. If you don’t know the answer, don’t be surprised if they seem a little perturbed!

The other way of making a mess of filter coffee is by getting the speed of the drip wrong. If the water comes through too quickly (usually because the grind is too coarse) then the coffee will be too weak; if it takes too long, then the resulting coffee will often be stewed. In the latter case, this can be the fault of the machine; if it’s simply not producing the water fast enough, it’s not going to go through fast enough. It can also be down to the grind being too fine.

Finally, it’s worth having a quick look at recent coffee history/tradition. Broadly speaking, espresso and cafetiere coffee is a European thing, while filter coffee is more American. While I was growing up, Britain, while nominally European, really had a very poor coffee drinking tradition. That started to change around 25 years ago, when good coffee started to make in-roads to the mass market. Back then, good coffee (“proper” or “real” coffee) was synonymous with filter coffee. Ironically it was the influence of American coffee shop chains such as Starbucks that woke us Brits up to the espresso-based coffee traditions of our European neighbours!

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