The Complete Guide To Choosing A Coffee Filter

“How hard can choosing a filter for my coffee maker really be?” you may say, as you realise none came with your purchase of a brand new drip pour-over coffee maker.

A quick Google can tell you that actually, there is an entire world of coffee filters out there – and choosing the wrong one could mean a disastrous cuppa.

Paper, or reusable mesh/metal? Bleached or unbleached paper? Which size is needed? Just some of the questions you have to ask before paying for your filters.

The Types Of Coffee Filter

Paper

This is perhaps the most common option. The paper keeps the grounds in the basket, but allows the water to pass through.

Paper filters can come in various sizes and for pretty much any device, whether it be a drip maker or something like an Aeropress. This makes them a popular pick across the board.

Paper filters can also come in two varieties – bleached and unbleached.

  • Bleached

This is a paper that has undergone a process to make it appear white. There are two main products used in the bleaching process; Chlorine and Oxygen. Chlorine turns the paper, but ones which use oxygen instead are seen as better quality. So, oxygen is the one to go for if the quality is key.

Oxygen filters are also better for the environment when discarded, although neither is great if you are super environmentally conscious as there is an extra step in the manufacturing process which adds to resources

  • Unbleached

These aren’t bright white, but they are better for the planet. There is no extra manufacturing, and when they are discarded, no harmful bleach is released into the breakdown. So why do people choose bleached? Well, if not prepared correctly, coffee can have a paper taste when using unbleached.

But this is easily avoided by wetting the paper before using, and then getting rid of the water which was used before carrying on. An extra faff, but many see it as worth it

Paper Coffee Filter Guide
A paper filter used in a drip pour-over coffee maker

The good news, if you do opt for bleached, is that bleaching does not affect the taste. They don’t use a lot in the process, and there are no health concerns either.

But you can’t skimp on price. Cheaper filters may be more permeable, which could allow sediment to get through and water will drip through much quicker, resulting in a weaker coffee. Thicker paper will avoid these issues, and for the small difference in cost, it is worth investing.

Oddly, despite the extra work which goes into them, bleached will often be cheaper. So if you are looking at saving the pennies, go for a bleached paper which has used the oxygen method but is still a little thicker than the rivals. Unbleached is better for the planet though.

Metal

Unlike a paper filter which has to be discarded after one use, a metal filter can be reused for years if looked after properly.

They cost more upfront, but as it isn’t a running cost, can work out as much cheaper overall. It also means less waste on landfill, especially if you reuse your coffee grounds too. There is an extra step of having to ensure that it is fully cleaned, whereas paper is just lifted into the bin, but for many people, this won’t be an additional strain on the setup when considering the benefits.

Ignoring the cleaning aspect, metal will be a surefire winner surely?

Well actually, there are a few negatives too. Metal filters don’t remove as much cafestol from the coffee, which is an oil which can cause higher cholesterol. So, more of these oils will end up in your coffee, which has concerned some health professionals over the years.

But it also does produce a flavour that is much bolder and richer compared to paper filters, which could really appeal to powerful coffee lovers.

Some metal filters can be entirely metallic, and others can have a plastic outer casing to hold a fine metal mesh instead.

Cloth

This is the least common option, and often aren’t used within a machine but more as a DIY drip coffee method. You may have seen it referred to as Sock Coffee in some cultures.

The filter has to be washed after every use. It can’t become too wet or too dry either, so upkeep is a chore. They can only be used around 30 times, too, before oils and grounds can start to permeate the coffee, but you can use them up to 100 times at a pinch if this is minimal.

Metal Coffee Filter

What Else To Consider

The shape of your filter

  • Conical

Cone style filters are usually the favourite amongst more dedicated homebrewers. There are two varieties – one like a party hat with a fine point at the tip, and the other has two sides that taper into a bit of a funnel

  • Basket

Also called a flat bottom filter, these filters are shaped like cupcake cases. They can either have crimped folds around the sides or be smooth like a bucket

  • Disk

Lastly, these are the filters used in Aeropress (or sometimes in a French Press to add an extra layer of filtration). You usually have to buy them in the specific size for your device, so won’t have as much freedom, and they are much smaller

Filter size

Most bucket filters come in sizes ranging from 8-12. It is a case of simply matching up your basket to the right filter. But conical filters are a bit more difficult and can depend on the machine you have:

  • #1: 1 cup electric and non-electric coffee makers
  • #2: 2-6 cup electric coffee makers/1-2 cup non-electric
  • #4: 8-10 cup non-electric/8-12 cup electric
  • #6: Anything 10+ cup non-electric (such as pour-over)

The most common are #2 and #4, which covers the majority of brewing needs for most households.

Your method

Here is a big factor. While the old paper vs. metal debate is a big decision to make for some, for others there isn’t really a choice.

Some brewers can’t use a metal filter, so you will have to double-check with your manufacturer to see if it is possible. This may also be something you want to consider if you are in the market to buy a new coffee machine.

Conclusion

Choosing between unbleached and bleached won’t change the taste of your coffee, but could be a consideration if you are concerned about the planet.

Metal is the best for your eco-credentials but can mean more of the oils are passed through which results in a different taste overall. Remember that some can only accept one particular type, but if you get it right, your coffee will be top-notch!

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