by Matt Gibson
Coffee filters not only help strain the coffee from your ground coffee beans, they also keep some harmful compounds out of your brew, such as cafestol, which raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels which can increase your risk of heart disease. But what kind of filter should you use? There are so many different coffee filter options available to consumers that many people don’t know where to start.
There are different kinds of filters that are suitable to certain brewing techniques, or coffee making machines. There are different shaped filters and filters made from different kinds of materials. There are disposable filters that are to be tossed out after a single use, and reusable filters that can brew up to 2000 cups of coffee before needing to be replaced.
‘Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in existence. Coffee drinkers have so many options available to them in terms of coffee beans, drink types, coffee makers, filters, creamers, brewing methods, sweeteners, syrups, and more, it’s enough to make your head spin. There are countless ways to customize your coffee experience, and with so many options available to consumers, many people are so confused and overwhelmed by all the choices, that they settle for one of the few types of brew that they are familiar with instead of trying out new coffee experiences and expanding their palate.
With so many different ways to enjoy coffee, many variables that can greatly affect the taste of your drink are simply overlooked because it is easier to focus on the obvious factors, like the roast that you select, or the creamer that you use. Typically, there’s not a lot of thought that goes into what type of coffee filter you use. Coffee filters are not something that people think about as an important variable in the brewing process. However, the type of coffee filter that you use has a major effect on the taste, body, and healthiness of your brew.
Some coffee filters are better suited to particular brewing techniques than other types. Some coffee filters are made to extract a strong brew that has little effect on removing the oils and other compounds from your brew, while other filters are designed to produce a bright, delicate brew that removes lots of unwanted substances from your coffee during extraction. Some coffee filters are bleached white, while others are naturally brown, and are not treated to alter the color. Unbleached coffee filters are better for the environment than bleached filters. Reusable filters, on the other hand, like metal filters, or cloth filters, are better for the environment than either paper filter option, as they reduce the waste created by daily coffee consumption.
Recent research has found that drinking filtered coffee is much better for you than drinking non-filtered coffee. Electric drip coffee makers are typically used with thin paper bucket-style filters that do little to remove the compounds that can cause spikes in your cholesterol levels, while the pour over brewing method, especially the Chemex brand pour over devices, call for coffee filters that remove the majority of the cholesterol-causing compounds, as well as the oils, turning strong, robust roasts into bright, light-bodied coffee.
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about coffee filters, especially those that work well for pour over style coffee. We compare the different types of filters, explain how they work, how they affect the flavor and body of the coffee they brew. We discuss the various sizes and shapes of common coffee filters, the best filters for pour over coffee, and brand specific filters for specific pour over models. Lastly, we make a few suggestions for makeshift items that you might have laying around the house that could work in a pinch when you don’t have any coffee filters on hand.
What Are Coffee Filters?
Coffee filters are simple devices, typically made of paper, or a fine mesh-like metal material which are designed for extracting coffee by filtering hot water and allowing it to seep its way through coffee grounds and into your cup or carafe. Coffee filters provide several important functions in the extraction process, including straining the grounds to keep them out of your brew, filtering out unwanted substances that would make the coffee too oily, bitter, or heavy, as well as substances that can lead to health problems.
Without filters, medical professionals might not deem coffee to be a healthy beverage in moderation. Filters make the clean-up process after brewing much easier, as all of the coffee trash can be removed and discarded with ease just by pulling out the filter. Unbleached coffee filters can be composted along with your used coffee grounds to make a nutrient-rich soil amendment that can improve your soil quality and fertility.
How Do Coffee Filters Work?
Most coffee makers brew coffee by forcing hot water to interact with ground coffee beans, using a filter to strain the resulting liquid into your carafe or coffee mug to enjoy. Coffee filters are essential parts to many of the most popular brewing methods. Only stovetop methods, such as turkish coffee, aeropress, and French press coffee brewing function without a filter.
Do Coffee Filters Affect The Way Coffee Tastes?
So many little parts of the coffee brewing process have an impact on the flavor of the coffee you make, and although it may surprise you to find this out, the type of coffee filter you use is no different. Not only will the coffee filter you choose have an influence on the time your coffee steeps and other parts of the brewing process—the material your coffee filters are made of will subtly change the flavor of the coffee itself.
Of course, some types of coffee filters have a more desirable effect on your coffee’s taste than others. And here’s something you may not have ever considered (although we bet you’ll never forget it now that you’ve heard about it). You should rinse the filter you use—no matter what type of filter you’re using—to clean it out and remove dust and other undesirable materials from mixing with your coffee and changing the flavor for the worse. Giving a paper filter a rinse before you brew your coffee will also get rid of some of the “papery” flavor that these filters can transmit to your brew otherwise.
To find out the effects of different types of filters on your coffee’s taste, we delved into reports of several different experiments that coffee companies or barista bloggers conducted. Here’s what we learned.
- Able Kone lets some coffee grounds and oils make their way into your cup, resulting in a brew something like what you’d get using a French press.
- Able Fine Disk keeps out the sediment that similar filters can allow to pass through, and has no significant effect on the coffee’s flavor.
- Able Standard Disk will let a bit of sediment and grit flow through into your coffee
- Chemex filters interfere with the natural flavor of your coffee the least.
- Hario V60 filters add a grassy note to the coffee if you rinse them only once, but rionsing twice resolves this issue.
- Melitta’s oxygen bleached filters don’t impart much papery flavor to the coffee as long as you rinse the filters before using them.
- Melitta’s unbleached natural filters change the taste of the coffee in ways you may find unpleasant, even when they’re rinsed twice before use. These filters add a papery taste, pass on a sweet flavor reminiscent of wood, and increase the coffee’s dryness.
- Sock cloth filters aren’t recommended because they add a wet sock element to the finished brew (ick).
If the type of filter you use isn’t listed here, that’s OK—there are some general rules of thumb that apply to all the filters in certain categories. Paper filters will catch a lot of the coffee grounds and oils that a stainless steel filter will sometimes allow to trickle into your cup. For some people, this is a benefit, as they enjoy coffee with a thinner, cleaner mouthfeel. For others, it’s a shortcoming because the loss of the oil and sediment makes the brew less complex and nuanced. Oxygen bleached filters have the least effect on the coffee you brew with them, while natural filters need to be thoroughly rinsed before use to avoid unwanted changes to the taste of your beverage.
Filtered Coffee Versus Unfiltered Coffee
Filtered coffee has one major advantage over unfiltered coffee, and that is the health benefits associated with removing cholesterol raising diterpenes cafestol and kahweol. Both of these substances are present in unfiltered coffee, but are present in substantially lower amounts in filtered coffee. The presence of a filter also affects the strength of the coffee in terms of flavor and aroma. Unfiltered java, like what you get from a French press is robust, and intense, giving you a strong coffee taste and smell that will help bring you back from the dead and get you ready to take on the day.
If you enjoy super strong coffee and loud, pronounced coffee flavors, and you don’t have any respiratory issues, unfiltered coffee, like a french press, is likely to be your favorite brewing method. If you prefer a lighter, brighter, more complex, but delicate brew, and you are concerned about keeping your cholesterol levels as low as possible, you would probably prefer the pour over technique, or possibly an electric drip coffee maker.
What Materials Are Coffee Filters?
There are lots of different individual brands of coffee filters, each with their own materials. However, despite the array of options out there, the coffee filters on the market tend to fall into just a few categories when it comes to what they’re made out of. Here’s a brief introduction to each coffee filter material that explains how each type of filter impacts your coffee’s flavor. There’s no one best option or right answer here—the right option for you will depend on your individual palate and preferences.
Paper coffee filters absorb a lot of the oil that some other filters will let drip into your cup of coffee. They’re also woven tightly enough to put a stop to grit and keep it from becoming part of your brew. Paper coffee filters may be bleached, or they may be allowed to retain their natural color. By catching the sediment and oil, paper coffee filters produce a clean cup of coffee, but the drawback is that you do lose out on some of the full-bodied aroma and slight nuances of flavor that the oil and coffee grounds can add to the coffee drinking experience. Also, the acidic element of your beverage can seem to be amplified when you use a paper coffee filter. Paper filters are easy to come by and very simple to use. However, if reducing waste is important to you, another type of filter may be your best option as paper coffee filters do generate quite a bit of trash.
Metal coffee filters basically offer the opposite of the paper filter experience. Whereas paper filters will catch oil and sediment, preventing it from trickling through to your cup, some metal filters tend to let a bit of oil and coffee grounds slip through. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as the oils are where the majority of coffee’s distinctive aroma comes from. While you’re unlikely to detect an oily texture when the coffee oils make it into your beverage, you will notice some added flavors and increased complexity of taste when you use a metal filter. The micro grounds that slip through the holes in a metal filter don’t add a sandy or gritty texture to the drink, either, though your coffee will seem a little less pure and may feel a bit heavier in your mouth. Your palate also won’t hone in on the acidity of your brew quite so much when these microgrounds are present (though the actual acidity level of the coffee does not change—only your perception of it).
Cloth coffee filters aren’t used as much as paper or metal filters in the United States. They offer a blend of the benefits of paper and metal filters. Like paper, a cloth filter will have a fine enough weave to trap the coffee grounds (even the microgrounds) and keep them from migrating into your beverage. But unlike a paper filter, the cloth will let the coffee oils pass by unobstructed. That means you’ll get to enjoy the redolent aroma and mosaic of delicate flavors that coffee oils are responsible for. The downside of using cloth coffee filters is that they can be a hassle to clean. If you choose cloth coffee filters, you’ll need to carefully wash them out after each brew, and you’ll also need to be careful that the filters don’t stay damp for too long, as they can develop mildew if they don’t dry out properly. While most cloth coffee filters are safe for more than 100 uses, after a third to half that amount of time, the cloth will often begin to harbor residual oil and coffee remnants that will have an unsavory effect on the taste of your coffee.
Bleached Versus Unbleached Paper Coffee Filters
The most noticeable difference between bleached and unbleached coffee filters is the color of the filter. While unbleached paper coffee filters tend to be a manila or tan color, bleached paper coffee filters are white. The filters are bleached using one of two methods: oxygen bleaching and chlorine bleaching.
The idea of bleach coming into contact with a product you use to prepare coffee may give you pause—in the 1980s, it caused a bit of controversy. However, the amount of bleach used to treat bleached coffee filters is so small that it won’t have a detrimental effect on your health. That said, bleached coffee filters made with chlorine aren’t ideal when it comes to environmental concerns because of the discharge the bleaching process produces. However, oxygen bleaching has a smaller footprint because it doesn’t need as much manufacturing, and it is healthier for the planet than chlorine bleaching.
According to reports of how different types of filters impacted the flavor of coffee, the least invasive type of filter you can use is an oxygen bleached filter. (In other words, oxygen bleached filters do the best job of letting coffee’s natural essence shine through without adding their own flavors to the mix.) Remember that for the best possible coffee drinking experience, you should rinse both bleached and unbleached coffee filters two times before you use them to cut down on dust and reduce the likelihood of the filter adding a papery flavor to your brew.
Filter Shapes: Conical Filters Versus Basket Filters (and Disc Filters)
Coffee filters come in several different shapes, including conical, or cone-shaped filters, basket style filters, which are the most common coffee filter type, and disc-shaped filters. Conical filters are the ideal filter type for pour over coffee. They are shaped in a cone-like shape, just like the filter holder part of a pour over device. Basket-shaped filters are designed to fit into just about any type of coffee maker on the market.
Is there a difference in the taste of coffee made with a cone-shaped filter in comparison to a basket filter? Researchers from the UC Davis Coffee Center agree, there is a substantial difference in taste between coffees brewed using these two different filters, however, they were not able to determine any reason why the tastes were any different from one another. More research is needed to determine why the taste of the brew is modified by the shape of the filter used. Though far less common than conical and basket-shaped filters, the disc-shaped filter is another filter shape that is available on the market, though they are primarily used in aeropress machines only.
Most coffee filters are also available in four different standard sizes, though filter size has any known effect on the taste of the coffee brewed through them.
In A Pinch: Makeshift Household DIY Coffee Filter Substitutes
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you run out of coffee filters and need to make a pot of coffee anyway, there are several household items that you could turn to in a pinch to get the job done. Paper towels could be folded in a way to resemble a coffee filter. Toilet paper can be folded into a filter similarly to paper towels, though extra care should be taken to keep your toilet paper filter from falling apart or coming unfolded before finishing the brewing process. Socks can be used as makeshift filters in some machines, but we advise avoiding this one if possible, as it creates a strange, funky, very uncoffee-like flavor. Washcloths and any kind of spare fabric could also be folded into a makeshift filter in a pinch.
The type of filter you use is a very important part of the brewing process. It is surprising to learn that something so insignificant could play such a large role in the quality and flavor of the coffee you brew. Now that you know just how important the filter can be in the final product, you should try experimenting with different filters to see how it affects the taste of your favorite brew.