Italy is discovering tools other than the espresso machine to prepare coffee: percolators, ampoules, infusion pots, and filter coffee is no longer a mystery. But what is the difference between filter coffee and espresso?
Today I would like to focus on the macro-differences between the filter and the espresso so loved by Italians. Is one better or the other? Is it fair to compare them? How can we properly perceive the different preparations?
The first big difference should be the style of roasting. Usually for espresso – which is much quicker to extract than filter – the required roast will be darker. For filter brews (let’s not call them Americano which is another matter) the extraction time is longer and we will need lighter roasts. Please note: some major roasters prefer the “omniroast”, i.e. a single intermediate roast, so it is up to the extractor.
The second difference lies in the grain size of the grind; espresso requires a finer grind (around 300-350 microns) than the other filter methods. We can generalise by giving measurements for percolation around 500 microns, and for immersion (French Press type) around 900-1000 microns.
The third point is the tamping of the coffee. Espresso needs to be compacted using a press (after distributing the dose well) to avoid water channeling and to have a homogeneous extraction on the whole coffee panel. Filter coffee, on the other hand, is only distributed and levelled evenly.
The fourth, the extraction time; on average an espresso is extracted in about 25 seconds, thanks to the features of the espresso machine that allow you to create your drink in just a few moments. The filter, on the other hand, requires a longer “coffee pause”, in fact the extraction time can range from 2-3 minutes upwards, depending on the type of tool used.
The fifth difference is the pressure: the espresso machine creates a real punch in the face to our ground coffee! 9 bars of pressure that allow the water to penetrate deeply and concentrate our cup of coffee. The percolation filter, on the other hand, uses the force of gravity. Since it is not subjected to “forced pushes” of any kind, except for Aeropress and Moka, it means that our drink will be less concentrated.
The sixth difference concerns the concentration of the drink. As we were saying, it is mainly the pressure of the espresso machine that allows the concentration of the espresso cup.
The proportions will be, approximately:
Espresso: 30 ml – 10% coffee – 90% water.
Filter: 200-220 ml – 1.5% coffee – 98.5% water.
This is why filter coffee seems “watery” to some people.
Espresso has been part of us Italians for over 100 years, but filter coffee has also played its part, thanks to the Napoletana coffee pot (which works by gravity like a V60) or the Moka, which aided by pressure gives greater concentration than a filter, reaching up to 2%-4% coffee.
What did we learn from this Espresso vs Filter ‘clash’?
In light of these differences, it is clear that we cannot directly compare the two cups: it would be like comparing two types of cooking the same food, an omelette with a soft-boiled egg, for example. The difference is not how you prepare it, but how good you are at it and what you prefer to drink or serve at that moment.
Back to us. The same coffee extracted with different methods, hybrid, espresso, V60, mocha gives, of course, different results but all with their own particularity that could make a breach in our hearts (and in the customer’s).
The starting point is, however, common: excellent raw material, roasted to perfection and professionally extracted. You can find our courses here, for example.
So, peace out, choose the method you prefer and happy coffee to all!
And remember that coffee is also but not only Espresso.