10 Key Differences of Filter Coffee vs. Espresso

Halime Yılmaz

11/27/2023

Espresso and filter coffee differ mainly in the way they are brewed, but they also have distinct characteristics such as size, caffeine content, taste, and aroma. Despite common belief, any coffee beans can be used to make either type of coffee.

The key difference lies in the brewing process: espresso involves packing finely ground coffee beans into a disc and forcing pressurized hot water through them, while filter coffee is made using immersion, pressure, or drip/pour-over methods.

This results in espresso being a more concentrated and intense version of coffee due to the rapid extraction of flavors through pressure.

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly are espresso and filter coffee?

What Is Espresso?

Espresso is more than just a cup of coffee - it's a way of life for some people.

Espresso is a brewing method originating from Italy that produces a unique flavor due to its fast preparation. This method involves forcing hot, pressurized water through finely-ground coffee beans, resulting in a thicker brew than other methods due to a higher concentration of solids and oils. Espresso is not a type of coffee but rather a brewing technique that draws out and dissolves essential components of the coffee beans. This process produces the frothy crema layer characteristic of espresso.

Espresso is made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee using high pressure (8-10 bars), which is too strong for human hands to do alone. This pressure extracts a lot of flavor from the coffee, resulting in a concentrated and strong shot of espresso. Because of its strong flavor, espresso can be used in many different ways.

This pressure makes espresso a foundation for many coffee shop's drinks like lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, americanos, and cortados.

For those of us who appreciate a good cup of coffee, espresso is a true indulgence. It's more than just a caffeine boost - it's an experience that awakens our senses and sets the tone for the day ahead.

So the next time you order an espresso, take a moment to savor its unique taste and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into every shot.

Now that we have discussed espresso let’s talk about filter coffee.

What’s Filter Coffee?

Filter coffee is a traditional way to make coffee. Filter coffee is brewed by pouring hot water over ground coffee grounds to collect a flavorful brew. The water is then pulled through the beans and drips into a container below.

This method uses coarser grounds and more water than espresso, and the flavor depends on the coarseness of the grounds and the roast. The coffee is filtered using paper or a fine mesh.

Unlike espresso, this method does not use pressure to speed up the process. As a result, it takes longer to brew and requires more water. The end result is a lighter, smoother cup of coffee that is typically ready in three to five minutes.

The popular "pour over" method is an example of filter coffee.

Filter Coffee vs. Espresso Coffee? What’s the Difference?

Here are some differences between filter coffee and espresso. The choice between filter coffee and espresso coffee comes from personal preference and the desired taste and texture.

  • Taste the Difference

Due to the different brewing methods, filter coffee and espresso coffee have different tastes.

Filter coffee typically produces a smooth and delicate cup that highlights the complexities of the coffee with soft acidity.

On the other hand, espressos have a more intense acidity and bring out the subtleties of body, sweetness, and finish.

  • Coffee Beans

Filter coffee and espresso require different types of coffee beans.

For filter coffee, beans with a medium roast are preferred, as they have a more balanced flavor and a lower acidity level. The beans should also be ground coarsely to facilitate the extraction process.

In contrast, espresso requires a darker roast and a fine grind to withstand the high pressure and short brewing time. The beans used for espresso have a more intense flavor and higher acidity level.

  • Brewing Method

The primary difference between filter coffee and espresso coffee is the method used to prepare them.

Filter coffee is made by slowly pouring hot water over ground coffee beans in a filter, allowing the water to drip through and extract the flavors.

Espresso, on the other hand, is made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans at high pressure.

Grind Size

For filter coffee, coarser grind size is typically used to prevent over-extraction and a bitter taste. This allows water to flow more slowly through the grounds, producing a smooth and balanced cup.

In contrast, for espresso, a fine grind size is required to create the necessary resistance for the pressurized water to extract flavor and aroma from the grounds. A finer grind allows for a higher surface area, which promotes rapid and even extraction, creating a rich and bold flavor.

Using the wrong grind size for the type of coffee being brewed can result in an under-extracted or over-extracted cup, leading to unpleasant flavors and aromas.

  • Caffeine Content

Because of the different brewing methods, filter coffee and espresso coffee also differ in caffeine content.

Generally, a single shot of espresso has less caffeine than a cup of filtered coffee.

Why?

Because drip or filter coffee takes a longer time to extract natural oils, sugars, and caffeine, resulting in a more subtle flavor profile but with a slightly higher caffeine content.

  • Equipment

The equipment used also differs significantly.

For filter coffee, the most common equipment used is a drip coffee maker, which can be automatic or manual. Automatic drip coffee makers are popular in households and offices as they are easy to use and can brew large quantities of coffee at once. Manual drip coffee makers, such as a Chemex or V60, are preferred by coffee enthusiasts who want more control over the brewing process and prefer a more nuanced flavor profile. Manual brewing is preferred for filter coffee as it allows for better control over the brewing process and brings out the best flavors from the beans. While automatic brewing still produces good filter coffee, it provides less control over the resulting flavors and aromas.

On the other hand, espresso requires specialized equipment, namely an espresso machine. Espresso machines use high pressure to force hot water through finely-ground coffee to produce a concentrated shot. These machines can range from manual lever machines to semi-automatic and fully automatic machines with programmable settings. Manual brewing is the preferred method as it can produce fantastic results when done correctly. It requires skill and knowledge, while automatic brewing can be challenging and require a lot of trial and error to find the right settings, which is not ideal.

Espresso machines can be quite expensive and require regular maintenance and cleaning to ensure optimal performance.

  • Health

When it comes to health, the difference is so small. (of course!).

Both types of coffee contain caffeine, which can have various effects on the body depending on the individual's tolerance and the amount consumed.

However, some studies suggest that filter coffee may be slightly healthier than espresso. This is because filter coffee typically contains higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of cafestol, which can increase cholesterol levels.

Espresso may have some health benefits due to its higher concentration of caffeine, which has been linked to increased alertness, improved cognitive function, and even a lower risk of certain diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

You can also read our comprehensive blog: Good News For Coffee Lovers: 20 Great Benefits of Filter Coffee.

  • Texture

Filter coffee is typically lighter and less thick than espresso coffee, which has a thicker, more syrupy texture.

  • Uses

Espresso is often used as a base for other coffee drinks like lattes, cortados, and cappuccinos, while filter coffee is typically enjoyed on its own.

  • Serving Size

Espresso is typically served in small shot glasses, while filter coffee is served in larger cups or mugs.

Advice for Espresso and Filter Coffee Lovers

Advice for Espresso Lovers:

  • Invest in a high-quality espresso machine and grinder.
  • Buy beans from independent specialty coffee shops or roasteries for the freshest, sustainably-produced coffee. You can check our shop for the freshest coffee.
  • Use freshly roasted beans and grind them just before brewing.
  • Figure out your preferred tasting notes and find beans that match them.
  • Pay attention to the grind size and tamping pressure.
  • Experiment with different brewing recipes and techniques.
  • Enjoy in moderation, as espresso has a higher concentration of caffeine.
  • Check Traum Kaffee Brew Guide to make the perfect espresso!

Advice for Filter Coffee Lovers:

  • Use a manual brewing method for more control over the brewing process.
  • Store your coffee beans in an airtight container in a cool and dark place to maintain their freshness and flavor.
  • Use freshly roasted beans and grind them just before brewing.
  • Experiment with different grind sizes and water-to-coffee ratios.
  • Know the origin of your coffee for ethical and flavor reasons.
  • Filter coffee is best enjoyed within 30 minutes of brewing.
  • Drink in moderation, as filter coffee can also have high caffeine content.
  • Try Traum Kaffee coffee beans to make a perfect filter coffee!

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FAQs

  • Is filter coffee better than espresso?

Personal preference plays a big role in deciding which is better, filter coffee or espresso. While espresso, despite its strong taste and appearance, is better digestible than filter coffee, filter coffee is healthier than espresso.

  • Is espresso the same as filter coffee?

No, espresso and filter coffee are not the same. The brewing methods, equipment, grind size, and taste of espresso and filter coffee differ. Espresso is made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans under high pressure, resulting in a concentrated and strong brew. Filter coffee is made by pouring hot water over coarsely ground coffee beans and allowing the water to drip through a filter, resulting in a smoother and less concentrated brew.

  • Can I use filter coffee in the espresso machine?

Yes, it is possible to use filter coffee in an espresso machine, but we don’t recommend it.

Filter coffee is ground coarser and brewed with less pressure and a longer extraction time than espresso. Using filter coffee in an espresso machine can result in an under-extracted and weak shot. Also, using filter coffee in an espresso machine may damage the machine or cause clogs.

  • Is it healthier to drink espresso or filtered coffee?

Research indicates that consuming filtered coffee is more beneficial for heart health than espresso. This is because unfiltered coffee contains certain compounds that can elevate blood cholesterol levels, which are eliminated when the coffee is filtered.

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