Coffee filters are an often overlooked part of the brewing process. Most people pay close attention to the coffee, water, and brewer they use but don’t give the filter a second thought. This is a huge mistake! The coffee filter is what dictates exactly what ends up in your cup of coffee.
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Let’s take a detailed look at coffee filters and see why they are so important. Continue reading to find out which type is best for the coffee that you brew.
What Are Coffee Filters
Coffee filters essentially have one main job — to separate the coffee grinds from the brewed coffee. Without a coffee filter, we’d end up with a cup of coffee full of grinds. But coffee filters do more than just keep the chunks of grinds out of a brew. They also control the body of a coffee.
Using different filters made of other materials, we can choose between a heavy, velvety-bodied coffee and a thinner, more tea-like cup.
Coffee filters are usually made of either paper, cloth, or metal. Other than cowboy-style coffee, every brew method uses a filter of some sort.
Benefits of Using Coffee Filters
Coffee filters are more important than they look. What looks like a simple paper, metal, or cloth filter is actually a super important part of brewing gear.
Keep Coffee Grinds Out of Your Teeth
Of course, the biggest thing that coffee filters do is keep the coffee grinds from our cup. That means that they also keep the coffee grinds out of our teeth! Have you ever enjoyed a cowboy-style coffee while camping? Maybe someone forgot to pack the filters? A mouthful of coffee grinds ensues if you’re not careful!
Help Control Brew Times
Filters have the ability to control the speed of a brew. This is especially the case when using a brew method that requires paper filters. Each brand of filter is of a different thickness and made of a different kind of paper. A thick paper can slow the brew down, or a thin one can speed it up significantly. We can use this to our advantage— adapting our brew recipe and grind size to work with the paper filter’s flow rate.
Produce a Clean Cup of Coffee
Coffee filters don’t only keep the grinds out of the cup— they can also keep oils and fine particles out. A metal filter will allow more of the finer particles and oils through into the cup. This will equal a heavier-bodied cup of coffee. A paper filter, on the other hand, catches most of the oil and the sediment. This results in a super clean, lower-bodied coffee.
How Do Coffee Filters Work
A coffee filter can be made of different materials. The three most common materials are paper, metal, and cloth. If you were to put each coffee filter under a microscope, you would notice millions of tiny holes or spaces in the fibers. This is where the liquid coffee flows from.
Our morning cup of coffee is nothing more than water, dissolved coffee solids, and oils. These coffee solids are super tiny and dissolve into the liquid. The oils don’t necessarily dissolve, but they end up in the brew, too. These oils are largely what creates the body of the coffee.
The microscopic holes in a paper filter are much smaller than those of a metal filter. This means that only a certain amount of solid matter and oil can make it through the filter when using a paper filter. This will dictate how heavy or light-bodied a coffee cup is— how much makes it through the filter and into the cup.
Pros and Cons of Using Coffee Filters
- Can help brew a clean, delicious cup of coffee.
- Paper filters keep the sediment out of a cup of coffee.
- Metal and cloth filters can be reused many times.
- Fairly inexpensive.
- Paper filters are designed to be single-use only (though they can be used again).
- Metal filters can allow quite a lot of sediment into the cup, creating a muddy drink.
Types of Coffee Filters
Making different types of coffee using different brewers requires different types of filters. A V60 uses a different filter as a Kalita Wave, and a French press uses a different kind of filter entirely. Let’s look at the other options.
Paper Coffee Filters
If you are using a premium pour-over coffee maker like the V60, Kalita Wave, or the Origami Dripper, you’ll need to use a filter. The most common type of filter used in a pour-over coffee dripper is a paper one.
Another coffee brewer that can use a paper filter is the AeroPress. The AeroPress paper filter works in the same way as any other paper filter. It keeps the large coffee solids out and allows the dissolved coffee and some of the oils through.
Paper filters help create a very clean, salt-free cup of coffee. Use a pour-over brewer, the world’s best pour-over kettle, and a paper filter to really get the most out of any coffee.
Metal Coffee Filters
A classic example of a metal coffee filter is found in the French press. It is essentially a mesh disk wrapped over a metal frame. The metal filter located in a French press allows all of the coffee oils and much of the sediment into the coffee cup. This creates a vibrant, heavy-bodied cup.
There are also metal filters for the V60, as well as metal filter discs for the AeroPress.
Many metal coffee filters, because they are made of rigid metal, are all in one brewer. The metal filter is the pour-over cone. That makes metal filters perfect for camping or using anywhere that carrying filters and a brewer might be a hassle.
Nylon Coffee Filters
At somewhere between a paper filter and metal filter, nylon filters can produce fairly clean, pleasant cups of coffee. They aren’t as durable as metal filters, but they are reusable. They are generally a lot easier to clean than cloth filters and don’t pick up off-flavors quickly.
Cloth Coffee Filters
Often known as a coffee sock, a cloth coffee filter can brew a clean coffee cup. It can only brew a clean coffee cup under one condition— the cloth filter must be clean! This task is a little easier said than done. Keeping cloth filters clean is a difficult task that requires much rinsing and keeping the filter in the freezer.
The good thing about cloth filters is that they are reusable and produce a nice coffee cup when clean.
Cold-Brew Coffee Filters
Like the Toddy Cold Brew System, Cold brew coffee makers are capable of producing some delicious coffee. You can use cold-brew coffee as a base for loads of different iced drinks and even add it to cocktails and cakes for a coffee kick! And as we all know, the acid in coffee can damage your teeth. Cold-brew coffee reduces the acid in a cup of coffee.
Some cold brew coffee makers use a thick cloth disc as a filter. Just like other cloth coffee filters, it is essential to keep these cold brew filters clean. They can produce a nice, clean coffee cup somewhere between a paper filter and a metal filter.
These filters are cost-effective because they are cheap and reusable.
How to Choose the Best Coffee Filter
The shape of the coffee filter that you buy depends on the shape of the brewer you are using.
- Conical. Use a conical filter with a V60, Origami dripper, and other cone-shaped coffee brewers.
- Flat Bottom. For use with a Kalita Wave and the Fellow Stagg pour-over dripper. Flat bottom filters can also be used with the Origami dripper.
- Trapezoid. Use these with Melitta drippers, Clever dripper, Bee House dripper, and Bonavita dripper.
- Disc. Disc-shaped filters are used for the AeroPress and the Toddy Cold Brew System, French press, and Syphon.
As with the filter shape, the size you choose will be dictated by your brewer’s size. If you use an 02 sized V60, choose the 02 sized papers. You can use filters smaller than your brewer, but you do risk pouring over the edge of the filter, which will allow coffee grinds into your brew.
Some brew methods don’t even need a filter! You don’t even need a coffee maker to make instant coffee! But outside of instant and cowboy-style coffee, you’re going to want a filter. Another thing that will dictate the filter that you choose will be your brew method. Most pour-over coffee brewers require paper filters. You can use a metal filter with some and cloth filters with others. If you prefer a particular filter over another, be sure that your brewer can support it.
In a perfect world, coffee filters would have no flavor at all. But unfortunately, just like a French roast tends to have a bitter taste, a paper filter has a papery taste. Thankfully we can mitigate this papery taste by rinsing the filter with water. The same issue happens with cloth filters.
We need to thoroughly rinse and clean the filter to keep the filter from developing some nasty flavors. The only filter type that doesn’t have a taste is metal filters. They are fairly easy to clean and don’t pick up unpleasant flavors and odors like other filter types.
The type of filter you use won’t directly affect the strength of the brew. That is mostly decided by a combination of the brewer and the amount of time you brew for. Nitro coffee is full of caffeine and tastes pretty strong. Running a cup of it through a paper filter won’t make it any less strong. But the paper might remove some of the finer particles, making it taste lighter. We may therefore perceive it as being less intense.
A metal mesh filter is more likely to create a brew that tastes strong and full.
Not all filters work with all brewers. A Flat bottom brewer requires a flat bottom filter. A cone-shaped brewer needs…You guessed it! A cone-shaped filter. Though there are a couple of brewers, like the Origami dripper, that can use both. But those are few and far between.
Paper coffee filters are designed to be single-use. Sure, you can rinse them and reuse them, but eventually, the paper will tear, or they’ll develop an odd flavor after a couple of uses. Using so many filters every day can certainly have an impact on the environment. Using a reusable metal filter is a good option to reduce the number of filters you use.
We have the same issue with takeaway coffee cups. Stainless steel coffee mugs can keep your drink hot for a long time, making it perfect for bringing along instead of the standard takeaway cup and lid.
Coffee filters are one of the more affordable bits of coffee brewing gear. A standard pack of Hario filters will set you back less than $10, and most reusable metal and cloth filters are equally as affordable. There certainly are fancy, far more expensive ones, like the Sibarist filters. These filters promise to cut down your brew time, allowing you to grind finer and extract more. But those are luxury, non-essential filters. Definitely nice to experiment with, though!
How to Use a Coffee Filter
Coffee filters are effortless to use. We really only need to do one thing to prepare the filter for brewing. Regardless of the filter, you choose to use, adequate rinsing is essential. Whether it’s paper, cloth, or metal, all filters need to be rinsed for various reasons.
Today, let’s take a look at how to use a Hario V60 filter. The V60 filters are paper and come in various styles— from bleached white filters to natural ones. Paper filters must be rinsed before being used. If we don’t rinse it, we will end up with a papery taste in our coffee— not nice!
- Hario V60
- Hario V60 paper filter
- Hot water
- Gooseneck kettle (optional)
Step 1 – Boil some water
Put enough water in your kettle for the brew you plan to make, plus an extra 200ml or so. Let the water boil.
Step 2 – Prepare the filter
Take the V60 filter and fold down the perforated edge. This will allow the filter to sit nicely inside the V60. Open up the filter and place it into the V60. Make sure it is sitting flat against the walls of the brewer.
Step 3 – Rinse the filter
Use some boiling water to rinse the filter. You don’t need to use loads of water. Just around 200ml should be enough. As you pour the water over the filter, ensure that the entire filter gets rinsed. If we leave any parts of the paper dry, those parts will add a papery taste to our coffee. Discard the rinse water.
Step 4 – Brew
Brew your coffee as you normally would.
Step 5 – Remove the filter
Once the brew is finished, remove the filter from the V60. You can either discard the filter, or you can rinse it and use it again. It is not very common to reuse V60 filters, but the paper is high quality, so it certainly can be done.
If you want to reuse the filter, gently empty the coffee grinds from the filter. Then, rinse the filter clean under the tap. Leave it to dry either in the V60 brewer or on a drying rack.
Bleached vs Unbleached Coffee Filters
If you are shopping for coffee filters, you will undoubtedly face a choice— bleached or unbleached filters?
Bleached filters are bright white filters that have been bleached using either oxygen or chlorine-bleaching. While they have undergone chemical processing, they don’t taste at all like bleach or chemicals. Bleached filters are generally more prevalent than unbleached because they tend to have less of a papery taste.
Unbleached filters are a natural brown color. Because unbleached filters don’t undergo as much processing, they are a little better for the environment. Unbleached filters are known for having a more papery taste than their bleached counterparts. Most of this taste can be removed with rinsing, though, so that’s not a big deal.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
Luckily, coffee filters aren’t like coffee roasting machines— there are various home coffee roasters and the prices vary astronomically! With coffee filters, the price difference between cheaper ones and more expensive ones is much smaller.
A standard pack of Hario V60 paper filters is our benchmark here.
Spending a lot more than a standard V60 pack might buy a filter with a faster brew time. But that filter may not produce coffee that tastes any better. Buying filters that are a lot cheaper than the standard V60 papers might be a risk. The paper may be low quality, and it may have more of a papery or even a chemical taste, depending on how it was processed.
Do’s and Don’ts With Coffee Filters
- Do rinse your filters. Regardless of the filter you choose— paper, cloth, or metal— rinse it.
- Do keep your filters in a clean and dust-free environment. A simple container or the pack that they came in is good enough.
- Do experiment with different filters. The metal disc filters for the AeroPress are really cool to experiment with. Great for camping too!
- Do rinse your reusable filters thoroughly and store them appropriately. If not rinsed and stored properly, cloth and fabric filters can get really smelly and unpleasant.
- Don’t forget to fold your filter down the perforated edge before placing it into the V60.
- Don’t miss rinsing. Some filters need to be flushed twice. Don’t be afraid of running a decent amount of water through to remove that papery taste.
FAQ About Coffee Filters
Are brown or white coffee filters better?
It’s all personal preference. If you want to be sure, there will be no papery taste in your brew, and you don’t want to spend too much time rinsing, go with a white filter. If you don’t like the idea of using a bleached paper filter, go for the brown ones. Just rinse it well and there shouldn’t be much of a difference.
Why are unbleached paper coffee filters more expensive if they require less processing?
Most likely, because there is more demand for bleached filters, more of the bleached filters are made and purchased, so the production cost becomes less and can be offered for a lower price.
Are permanent coffee filters better than paper?
In specific ways, permanent filters are better than paper filters. Some people prefer drinking black coffee two times a day, and if you use a paper filter each time, the number of filters being used really adds up. Permanent filters are certainly better for the environment.
As far as taste goes, it’s a personal preference. If you like a heaver coffee and don’t mind a little sediment, go for permanent, metal or mesh filters. If you want your cup of coffee to be super clean, go for a paper filter.
How many coffee filters should I use?
Just one. Some people like to use two filters in brewers like the AeroPress. But two filters are certainly not essential. Using two filters in the AeroPress case will filter out more of the coffee’s finer particles. It is not recommended to use more than one filter with cone-shaped brewers.
Can I reuse coffee filters?
Yes! Even paper filters can be reused. See above for instructions on how to use and reuse a paper filter.
Coffee filters are an essential piece of brewing equipment. They are simple and easy to use and don’t require much maintenance to produce delicious results! Choose the right filter for your coffee and you’ll be in flavor heaven before you know it!
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