Nearly everyone has a home coffee machine. Whether it’s a standard drip machine, a pour-over system, or an espresso machine, we all want coffee on-demand. But one easily overlooked part of the coffee brewing process is the coffee filter. The type of filter you have actually has a huge impact on the way your actual cup is going to taste.
While you can technically use any type of cloth as a coffee filter, the products you buy in stores are generally made of paper. It holds the grinds while letting the water pass through, and is generally pretty tough to rip. Depending on how you’re brewing your coffee, or how you want it to taste, you’ll want to understand how coffee filters impact the final cup.
This is the most common type of coffee filter, and has a broad flat bottom with shallow sides. This is what you typically use in a drip coffee machine, though some pour over systems may use a flat bottom filter. By having a broader bottom, the coffee grinds are spread pretty thin, so the water passes through them more quickly.
Cone filters are less common but more useful than a flat bottom. Virtually all pour over rigs and some drip coffee machines use a cone filter. You can buy them either pre-rolled or you can buy loose filter paper and roll it into a cone yourself. The conical shape means that the beans will be pretty deep, with the water spending more time in contact with the grinds.
Bleached vs. Unbleached
You may have notices that some filters are white while other are brown. Paper is naturally brown, so when a coffee filter is white, it’s actually been bleached. This removes the paper flavor from the coffee filter and ensures that you only taste the coffee.
Mant machines actually come with their own permanent filters. These are usually durable materials like hard plastic or metal. Whether it’s wire mesh or stainless steel, permanent filters ensure that you’ll never have to keep track of how many filters you have left. The only big drawback to permanent filters is that you have to clean them after you’ve finished the brewing process.
What Brew Methods Need a Paper Filter?
Different ways of making coffee require different ways of filtering the grinds. While french press, espresso, and percalators usually have their own filters built in, pour over and drip almost exclusively require a filter.
While some pour over rigs can use a flat bottom filter, the overwhelming majority use a cone filter. When you make pour over coffee, you have to slowly pour a few ounces of hot water into the coffee, getting an even soak. The depth of the filter means that the water has longer contact with the grinds. Pair this with the semi-fine grind, and you get that rich, bright final product.
A lot of drip coffee machines use a cone filter, but the ones most of use use are flat bottom. Since the water stream is uncontrolled in a drip machine, the flat bottom is the ideal way to run the water through the grinds. It pools up in the middle, but since the grinds aren’t very deep, the water quickly runs through. This gives us the pot of coffee that most Americans start their days with.
Most home cold brews are made using a french press. However, it’s totally possible to use a paper filter and brew cold coffee as if it were a tea. Simply wrap the loose course grinds in a paper filter and soak overnight. This is roughly the same process as using a french press, where the beans are strained by the wire mesh in the rig.
Which Coffee Filter Is Best
There’s a pretty hot debate when it comes to the best coffee filter. Coffee purists want to avoid the paper flavor of unbleached coffee filters, while many people aren’t comfortable with the idea of bleached paper straining their beans. By weighing the pros and cons of each, you can make your morning cup of joe even more delicious.
The first thing you have to consider is how you’re making your coffee. This is typically a one-time consideration, where you figure out which filter you need based on the coffee machine you use. Your drip machine probably has a flat bottom filter, while your pour over rig likely requires a cone filter.
If you go with bleached coffee filters, you’ll have a pure coffee flavor in your final cup. Most people used bleached filters, but some coffee makers refuse to touch them. There are a couple of things to consider when you purchase bleached coffee filters.
Is bleached paper safe?
The foremost concern for anti-bleached advocates is the safety. Bleach is a powerful chemical used in industrial cleaning processes. While it’s possible to use oxygen to bleach paper, nearly all coffee filters are done using chlorine. While there’s not enough chlorine in the actual coffee filter to cause any significant concern, some people are really uncomfortable with chlorine getting into their coffee. It’s unlikely, but a common concern for coffee drinkers.
The biggest draw to bleached coffee filters is that they have no flavor. No extra preparation is required when brewing coffee using a bleached filter. Simply add the grinds and start your machine. Your final cup of coffee will be a delicious, pure coffee flavor, free from and particles from your paper filter. This is why most coffee filters come bleached.
Another huge concern with bleached coffee filters is the environmental impact. While a single coffee filter likely won’t contaminate any soil, we use a lot of them. With millions of bleached coffee filters being tossed into landfills, some advocates say that the chlorine damages the soil. This leads many to opt for chemical-free options.
Unbleached coffee filters are brown, rough, and have a thick, papery smell. They’re much more popular with cone filters, and typically require additional steps to use.
Unbleached coffee filters are pure paper. They smell, feel, and even taste like the pulp that they’re made from. Because of this, they typically have a huge impact on the flavor of the coffee without any preparation. On the plus side, they’re completley natural and full biodegradable, having no major environmental impact.
How To Use An Unbleached Filter
When you have an unbleached coffee filter, you have to prepare it to prevent the paper flavor from contaminating your brew. You’ll have to rinse it with hot water to get all of the loose particulates out. This is pretty easy to do with a pour over rig, since you can just run some of your hot water through before putting the grinds in. Just make sure to toss out the leftover water before starting to brew the actual coffee.
Should I Use a Permanent Coffee Filter?
When you’re comparing the different types of paper coffee filters, it can be easy to overlook more durable options. Permanent or reusable filters typically don’t have the problems with chemicals or flavor contamination. They do require additional setup and cleaning, though, so you’ll have to carefully consider which one you’ll use.
If you’re using a metal filter, you won’t ever have to worry about restocking your coffee filters. Metal filters rarely impact the flavor, and have almost no risk of tearing open. Many coffee makers already come with one, meaning you won’t have to shop around for the best one for your machine.
The most immediate drawback of a reusable coffee filter is the cleanup. These filters are almost always made of some sort of wire mesh, which can be nightmare to wash out in the sink. If you’re using a cheap filter, it might get holes or even add a metallic flavor to your coffee. While that last issue is pretty rare, it’s important to keep in mind when using a reusable filter.
Picking The Perfect Coffee Filter
Most of the time, there aren’t actually that many options when it comes to picking your coffee filter. Usually, your machine determines whether you need a flat bottom or cone filter. You just have to navigate the defferences between bleached and unbleached filters, or a reusable one. If you have a drip machine, you’re probably limited to bleached or reusable filters, but you can choose unbleached paper for pour over rigs.
Some people want to be absolutely sure that nothing affects their coffee’s flavor, while others want to be certain that there’s no chance of chemicals getting into their bodies. At the same time, others don’t mind a few minutes of cleanup after each batch. By weighing the pros and cons of each filter agains what you want out of the brewing process, you can make sure to get a coffee filter that brews the perfect cup of joe every time.