Coffee filters may seem like a somewhat insignificant piece of a coffee kit, but this simple accessory is key to great tasting coffee. And that’s why we have written this guide to coffee filters. Bleached vs unbleached, paper vs cloth vs metal, conical vs basket vs disk? By the end of this article you will be able to toss around coffee filter theory with the best of them.
What is a Coffee Filter?
A coffee filter fulfils a very simple but vital function. It traps the coffee grounds while allowing the extracted coffee to pass through to your cup. Coffee filters are made of either paper, cloth, or metal. Each material lends different characteristics to the brew which we will go into in more detail later.
Types of Coffee Filters
Paper filters were first invented by Melitta Bentz in 1908 and today they are the most commonly used filters. A paper filter is made of tightly woven paper that keeps fine coffee grounds out of your brew. Paper is also highly absorbent making it good at soaking up the coffee oils. A paper filter will produce a clean, bright cup of coffee with clarity of flavor and no silt. This is particularly helpful if you are brewing with single origin beans and looking to highlight the delicate and complex origin flavors of the bean.
Paper filters are designed for single use, so once you are done brewing you simply chuck the used filter and grounds in the bin- convenient! As an extra bonus, paper filters are also good for your health. Coffee contains Cafestol (an oil known to raise cholesterol levels), paper filters absorb this oil so it doesn’t make it into your coffee!
They come in multipacks and are affordable to buy, however on the downside it is an ongoing cost. When it comes to buying paper coffee filters we recommend investing in quality filters. Generally good quality filters will be thicker which ensures good brew flow and clean coffee profiles. While slightly more expensive a good quality coffee filter will produce a better tasting brew.
The Great Paper Coffee Filters Debate: Bleached vs Unbleached
If you have been around the coffee world long you would have heard of the debate of bleached vs unbleached paper filters tossed around…
Bleached Paper Filters
Bleached paper is what would first come to mind when you think of paper – crisp and white. As most of you would know, natural paper is actually brown, it has to undergo a process to make it appear white. This bleaching process is done using either a tiny amount of chlorine or a process called oxygen-bleaching. Initially there was some concern about the safety of using bleached filters to brew coffee however it is now a widely accepted practice.
The main issue people have with bleached filters is that there is some pollution due to the discharge of chlorine from disposed filters. However oxygen-bleaching is considered environmentally friendly and the higher quality filters are bleached using oxygen-bleaching. Generally all the major filter brands list the method of bleaching on their packaging.
Unbleached Paper Filters
Unbleached paper filters have that natural brown color. Other than a difference in color the only other difference between the two types of paper is that you have to make sure you rinse the filter well before using an unbleached one (which you should be doing anyway!). Otherwise you will get a distinct papery taste to your brew.
The bottom line of this highly contested issue is that bleached vs unbleached filters don’t have much effect on the final taste of your coffee. The main difference is the color of the filter.
Cloth filters (or a coffee sock) sit somewhere between paper and metal coffee filters. They are a reusable filter made of fabric like muslin or cotton. Similar to paper filters they are excellent at catching coffee grounds resulting in a clean, silt-free brew. However they do let more of the coffee oils through resulting in a rich, smooth cup of coffee. Cloth filters have a low cost and are very environmentally friendly. However, the pay-off is that they require significant upkeep.
Cloth filters are notoriously difficult to keep clean and easily build mildew. If you are using a cloth filter you need to give it a good clean after each use and then keep it damp between uses. This can be done by keeping it in a cup of water in the fridge or in a ziplock bag in the freezer. If you don’t mind the work you will find cloth filters can produce a great cup of coffee.
Metal filters are another option if you are looking for a reusable coffee filter. They are made of a finely woven mesh often gold plated. Metal filters keep most of the grounds out of your cup but may still let some sediment into the cup. Unlike paper filters, they do not filter out the coffee oils resulting in a full-bodied, rich coffee. Metal filters have a higher upfront cost, but no ongoing cost. And unlike cloth filters they are very easy to clean and upkeep.
Shape of Coffee Filter
The second thing to consider is what shape filter you need. There are three main shapes of coffee filters: cone, basket or disk.
A cone filter (or conical filter) is a filter in the shape of a cone (think ice cream cone). This is a favorite shape of coffee filter among home brewers, particularly for manual brewing methods such as pour over. Cone coffee filters are considered to be one of the best filters for even extraction. The shape of the filter forced the water to travel through the grounds more effectively.
A basket filter (or flat bottomed filter) looks exactly like a cupcake case. It has crinkled edges that taper to a flat bottom. With the wide, flat bottom the grounds are more spread out which can cause uneven extraction to occur. Basket coffee filters are used for manual brewing methods such as kalita wave and in drip coffee makers.
Disk filters are a small flat circle filter that are used for Aeropress.
Size Of Coffee Filter
The final thing to consider is what size coffee filter you need. Disk filters come in a single size, while cone and basket filters have different sizes depending on what size coffee maker you are using. We have summarised the different sizes below.
Cone Filter Sizes
Cone filters come in #01 #02 #04 and #06 sizes.
Size #2 and #4 are the most commonly used filters and cover most brewing needs.
Basket Filter Sizes
Basket filters come in 2 sizes: junior which is for 4-6 cup coffee makers or the larger size which fits 8-12 cup coffee makers.
Guide To Coffee Filters
We have put together a guide of the best coffee filters for each brewing method.
Chemex Coffee Filters
When it comes to brewing with a Chemex, it really is hard to beat the branded coffee filter. Many of the unique flavors and qualities associated with Chemex coffee are due to the heavy paper filters used during brewing. These coffee filters prevent the oils and coffee fines (small coffee particles) from entering the cup and ensure a good filtration rate leaving a light and clean cup of coffee. Chemex coffee filters come in 6 different options:
Able Kone Reusable Coffee Filter
If you are wanting a permanent filter for your Chemex, the Able Kone is one of the best on the market. This polished filter has been meticulously designed to ensure an even flow of water through your grounds. The filter is well made, easy to clean and just looks beautiful. You will find that brewing with the Kone will produce a coffee more similar in mouthfeel and texture to a French press rather than a Chemex. The metal filter still allows all the oils and some sediment into the cup for a bold, rich brew. The Able Kone fits the 6, 8 or 10 cup Chemex coffee makers and as an added bonus also fits the Technivorm Moccamaster and Bonavita drip brewers. This filter is also available in a mini size, designed to work with the v60.
Coffee Sock Reusable Coffee Filter
The Coffee Sock is a great in-between option that is both economical and reusable. Made of organic cotton, it absorbs some of the oils from the coffee and is excellent at catching coffee grinds. This results in a rich and smooth brew, free from sediment. Each pack contains 2 filters which lasts about a year with the proper care. As we mentioned above, a cloth filter takes significant upkeep to keep it clean and free from unpleasant flavors. Coffee Sock produces cloth filters for nearly all brewing methods, they also have cone, basket and disk cloth filters. If you are looking for an affordable and eco-friendly option- this is it!
Kalita Wave Filter
When it comes to the Kalita Wave you can’t beat the branded filter. The Kalita filter has been designed specifically for the Kalita wave dripper to aid in allowing an even extraction and to help you brew a balanced cup of coffee. The filters are made in Japan from premium thick paper and are available in two sizes: 155 and 185 to fit the respective brewers. We recommend you thoroughly rinse each filter before use to prevent any papery taste.
Hario v60 Filter
If you are looking for a paper coffee filter for your v60 the Hario filter seems like the obvious choice. Hario currently has three types of filters on the market; each made in different factories. However there have been murmurings among the coffee community about a drop in quality of the filters, particularly the ones made in the Netherlands (these filters have a tab and v60 embossed on them). They seem to be made of a different paper than the Japanese made filters resulting in a longer drawdown time. Despite this we still think the Hario v60 filters are a good option, but would recommend opting for one of the Japanese made filters.
If you are wanting to try a different brand Cafec paper filters are an excellent alternative. These filters are produced by the company that manufactured the original Hario v60 filters before they switched. As a result they are made of excellent quality paper and produce a clean and consistent cup of coffee. The filter is also made of eco-friendly, forest-sustainable paper.
Kinto Slow Coffee Set
The Kinto Slow Coffee Set is a pour over brewer that comes with a stainless steel reusable filter. The stainless steel filter allows the coffee oils to slide through into the final brew creating a silky and rich flavor. This is a bit more pricier as you are not just buying a filter but a stunning glass carafe as well. This is a beautifully crafted brewer made from high quality materials.
Aesir Paper Filters
Aesir Paper Filters are a premium paper filter for the Aeropress. Made in Finland, these filters are noticeably thicker than a standard Aeropress filter with a far smaller pore size. The result is a far cleaner and brighter cup with even greater flavour clarity. The smaller pore size helps reduce both channelling and clogging and these filters simply feel premium in every sense of the word. If you are looking for a superb quality filter for the Aeropress, Aesir is the way to go. See here for a more in-depth guide to Aeropress filters.
If you are looking for a metal filter for your Aeropress, the Able Disk is one of the most popular options. The company produces two different disks: the Standard which is thicker and more robust, or the Fine which is about 2/3rds thinner with far smaller holes (pores). The Standard is really your classic metal disk, while the fine seeks to produce a far cleaner cup of coffee with significantly less sediment in the cup. It is also worth noting the Fine disk is very delicate and needs to be treated with care. The Able disk comes in an aesthetically pleasing package and is highly recommended by the majority of users.
Hario Siphon Cloth Filter
When it comes to brewing with a siphon, cloth filters are the best option. Most siphons will come with cloth filters but if you need to replace them the Hario filters are a great choice. These filters are compatible with both Yama and Hario siphons. They come in a pack of 5, so with good care will last a long time. These are also very affordable. Hario do have a paper filter option as well if you are wanting to give that a go.
Melitta Coffee Filters
Melitta Coffee Filters are a household name when it comes to coffee filters. Manufactured by the German company Melitta, these filters are of a consistently high quality. They are made of high quality paper that helps catch grinds and oils to brew rich and flavorful coffee. Melitta has both cone and basket filters available in multiple sizes. And they are very affordable.
Yeosen Resucable Filter
If you are looking for a reusable coffee filter for your drip machine the Yeosen reusable filter is a safe option. Made of a fine mesh, it allows the oils to reach your cup while catching most of the fines. Yeosen have both a cone option that is compatible with most size 4 coffee filters. It fits most Cuisinart, Ninja and Hamilton Beach coffee makers. They also have a basket option that works with Black and Decker and Mr Coffee coffee makers. This filter is also extremely affordable, so you can’t go wrong!
If you love the Keurig brand then you will love their My K-cup Universal Reusable Coffee Filter. This is the only Keurig approved Reusable filter. Being designed by Keurig it has the benefit of being compatible with all Keurig Coffee makers including the Keurig 2.0, K-plus and Mini series. The filter consists of 3 parts: a filter basket, lid and filter holder. It is very easy to use, with 2 fill lines; optimized for cup and travel mug brew sizes. The filter itself is made from durable materials and is BPA free.
Coffee Filters In Summary
While we haven’t reviewed every coffee filter out there, we have sought to provide a guide to the best of each category to give you a comprehensive coffee filter guide. There are literally hundreds of different options available so when it comes to buying a filter, we recommend you opt for a quality one (you will notice the difference).
What type you go for will be up to you. Our recommendation is to give it a go brewing with paper, cloth and metal filters and see what tastes best for you.
If we missed any coffee filters you love feel free to leave a comment below.
Are paper filters better for coffee?
Paper filters are a popular option among coffee aficionados as they are excellent at catching both coffee oils and grinds, producing a light, clean cup of coffee. This makes them ideal for brewing with single origin beans, so you can highlight the unique origin flavors. They are also very convenient to use and clean. While they are a great option, it really comes down to personal preference.
Can you reuse a paper filter?
Sure you can reuse a paper filter if you clean it properly, but once a filter is used it tends to be very fragile and breaks easily. They are designed to be for single use, and they aren’t that expensive so we would not recommend reusing them.
Can you use a paper towel as a coffee filter?
If you have run out of paper filters at home a paper towel can be used instead. It is probably not the best option (a tea strainer or sieve would be better). When using one you simply line your pour over or drip basket with a paper towel, add your ground coffee and brew as per usual. When it comes to discarding the grounds you may need to be careful as a paper towel can easily break, creating a huge mess. Your end result should be drinkable although it may taste a bit papery. Paper towels are also pretty effective at ensuring no grinds make it to the cup.