For a long time now, middle-class coffee culture has worshipped the espresso and its frothier, milkier variants. Filter coffee has been a poor cousin in the coffee world: cheaper, blander, waterier and certainly less sophisticated. A bit too lo-fi to compare well with the mystique of the espresso machine, its high-tech chrome and dramatic sound-effects.
That seems to be changing. In Small Batch – the nerve centre of Brighton’s middle-class coffee scene – filter coffee is now seriously challenging espresso in the coffee-fetish stakes. When it’s delivered to your table, it comes in an alchemical-looking beaker, slotted into its own special wooden tray, complete with a personal card giving the flavour notes (lingering floral tangerine acidity). And it’s pricier than its espresso counterpart too, overturning familiar coffee hierarchies from every point of view.
So why is the filter-coffee tortoise starting to overtake the espresso hare? Filter does justify, to a greater extent, the term ‘hand-crafted’ which is now an essential descriptor on the coffee scene. While it’s hard to argue that an espresso can truly be hand-crafted, the new filter-coffee culture does look genuinely more artisanal, involving an almost medieval panoply of beakers, siphons and alembics, alongside a lengthy manual stirring and pouring process.
In fact, it’s precisely this lo-fi nature that is now driving filter coffee’s ascendancy. The modernity of machines is losing its appeal and we all want to go back to the artisan’s workshop for a bit of hand-blended alchemy.