Coffee, No Filter

 Garden Cafeteria, New York City, 1973. Photo: Bruce Davidson.

Garden Cafeteria, New York City, 1973. Photo: Bruce Davidson.

From the communal pot at the diner or breakfast table, to the cheapest thing on cafe menus– filter has universality.

How do you take your coffee? This has been the pre-breakfast, post-dinner, question for Americans since the Boston Tea Party of 1773. However, today it means more than just adding a couple of lumps of sugar and a dash of cow’s milk. Preferences are much more elaborate (read: fussy) from brewing choice to milk options.

I was never one for the workaday drip. I prefer to brew mine in a moka pot (a Bialetti, 3 cup one), with heated organic, whole milk (unhomogenised, for the cream). I wholeheartedly understand why it took 47 years for Italy to (reluctantly) embrace Starbucks. However, my Old World smugness is void. Americans are starting to feel the same way about burnt bean water. Even Dunkin’ Donuts*, once synonymous with filter, are offering espresso shots so good, you don’t need to go anywhere else.

 Even Dunkin’ Donuts, once synonymous with filter, are offering espresso shots. Photo:  Salem Public Library Historic Photo Collection .

Even Dunkin’ Donuts, once synonymous with filter, are offering espresso shots. Photo: Salem Public Library Historic Photo Collection.

In the U.S., filter, or drip coffee is now on a steady decline with daily drinking on the up. Premium, gourmet or speciality coffee of the espresso or ready-to-drink variety have become increasingly popular equalling more than half (59%) of according to National Coffee Association.

American’s new love for epicurean coffee is driven by many factors: the nationwide rise in chichi coffee shops, the introduction of Nespresso and K-Cups, and freelance and mobile lifestyle culture– those under 35 tend to work or write out of cafes that serve good coffee (as opposed to Starbucks.)

Despite its decline, drip coffee is one of the few brewing methods that does not discriminate.

Since its birth in 1971, Starbucks injected a European style coffee culture into the American mainstream. We all have been to Starbucks. There is one of every corner apart from Italy (until this year) in every major world city. Through each decade, the green-aproned barista with his steel milk jug takes the place of the pink-dressed waitress with her obligatory coffee pot in her hand. She is a relic of the past, now for flyover states and Lynch’s creative checklist only.

The Seattle-founded company also laid down the rules for elaborate, nonsensical coffee orders at obscene prices. There are infinite flavourings, and sizes, and milk types and add-ons and underground combinations, thanks to its secret menu. This is why ordering a charcoal, organic unsweetened yak milk latte for $6 comes naturally for the urban, coastal caffeelites, without a property portfolio, born after 1983.

 No 1912 Pike Place, Seattle, is actually the second location of the ‘original’ Starbucks cafe. Photo:  The Guardian .

No 1912 Pike Place, Seattle, is actually the second location of the ‘original’ Starbucks cafe. Photo: The Guardian.

The fact that filter, or drip coffee is no longer synonymous with American coffee drinking habits is unsurprising. Nobody really wants to own up to liking a cup of motor oil, enlivened by liquorice either. Well, all is topsy-turvy in the UK, as for economic and palatable reasons, their restaurant industry are now embracing filter like an ostracised, reformed alcoholic uncle at Christmas.

To previous generations, the ones who drank coffee in bucket-like mugs, it was a necessity; an eye opener to get them to their car to corporation to cocktails with Don and Margo. There was less emphasis on the taste - cream and sugar would suffice, more on its stimulation - which why it was drunk en masse. In the 60’s and 70’s, coffee was spiritless and came in cans from the grocery store, and the Brazilian frost of the mid-70’s brought the prices up. So who can blame the gradual exodus towards Starbucks, started by a couple of a high quality bean enthusiasts?

Despite its decline, drip coffee is one of the few brewing methods that does not discriminate. From the communal pot at the diner or breakfast table, to the cheapest thing on cafe menus– filter has universality. It is more agreeable than instant, and more buzzy than a double espresso! But as long as the Generation Y keep their AeroPresses and Arabica almond lattes, the drip may slowing filter out of everyday American life.

*Now rebranded Dunkin’ for reasons that still escape me.


Words: Nikki Hall