Choosing the best coffee filter will require a little experimentation on your part. Gear yourself up with knowledge and then set out down the path that makes the most sense for your method of choice, health, and preferences.
What’s Your Definition of the “Best” Filter?
The best coffee filters for you may be different from the best coffee filters for your neighbors. It depends on your body, your taste, what your coffee maker requires (unless you’re shopping for one of those too!) and how important an environmentally-conscious option is for you. It boils down to personal preference in the end, but there are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about making a switch to a new type of filter.
Types of Coffee Filters
Coffee filters seem easy enough at first glance or if all you’ve known your whole life is a traditional coffee maker. If you’re excited to discover new coffee-making methods and filter types, branching out will be a fun experiment that lets you determine which coffee filter is best for you. Choose from a plethora of materials, sizes, and shapes and experiment with a variety of coffee brewing methods. There are:
• Unbleached paper filters (disposable)
• Bleached paper filters (disposable)
• Bamboo filters (disposable)
• Cone-shaped filters (can be disposable or permanent)
• Basket filters (can be disposable or permanent)
• Metal filters (permanent)
• Nylon filters (permanent)
Filters at a Glance
Each type of filter comes with its own list of pros and cons, and not every filter or filter type will work with every type of machine. Here’s a quick look at some of the features each type of filter offers. It’s up to each coffee drinker to consider what’s most important to them.
|Cleanup||Cost||Shapes||Environmental Impact||Brewing Methods||Flavor||Health Impact|
|Paper (Bleached or Unbleached)||Easy||Less initially, more expensive over time||Cone or basket||Worst (trees cut, creates waste)||Most||Brighter, sweeter coffee, low sediment and oils||Filters out oils that are said to raise LDL levels (as well as some antioxidants)|
|Bamboo||Easy||Less initially, more expensive over time||Cone or basket||Better than paper, but still creates waste since filters are disposable||Most||Brighter, sweeter coffee, low sediment and oils||Filters out oils that are said to raise LDL levels (as well as some antioxidants)|
|Cloth||Messy||Inexpensive||Cone (often has its own handle too)||Not bad||Pour over||Brighter, sweeter coffee, low sediment and oils||Filters out oils that are said to raise LDL levels (as well as some antioxidants)|
|Nylon/Metal||Somewhat messy||More expensive initially, less expensive over time||Cone or basket||Not bad||Most||Richer, bolder flavor, allows oils and sometimes small amounts of sediment through||Some studies say oils could raise LDL cholesterol. However, more antioxidants also make it through permanent filters
Health Impact Filters out oils that are said to raise LDL levels (as well as some antioxidants) Filters out oils that are said to raise LDL levels (as well as some antioxidants) Filters out oils that are said to raise LDL levels (as well as some antioxidants) Some studies say oils could raise LDL cholesterol. However, more antioxidants also make it through permanent filters
The Purpose of Filters
The obvious purpose filters serve is to keep coffee grounds out of your pot or cup of coffee and to hold the water in with the grounds just long enough for it to pick up the flavor as it flows through. However, different types of filters can affect the flavor of your coffee by either adding flavor from the material itself or subtracting it (and taking away some of the bitterness in the process) by holding on to the oils.
Health experts haven’t come to a unanimous conclusion as to whether those oils are a benefit or detriment when they make their way into your cup (some say that the oils in coffee raise LDL levels), so research and experiment to see how you feel and determine which filters yield coffee that tastes the best to you. There’s more to your filter choice than the practical aspect that meets the eye.
Shape: Cone or Basket
The best option here depends solely on the shape of your coffee maker’s filter holder. There’s no best shape that will affect the flavor of your coffee or how much of the oils from your coffee actually make it into the pot. There is no difference in how environmentally friendly they are beyond the permanent versus disposable aspect. They simply need to be the correct shape to fit into your coffee maker so you won’t have spills across your counter or grounds in your coffee as it brews.
If your filter holder has a round top and a taper toward the bottom, choose cone-shaped filters. Flat on bottom? Go for the basket type of filter, which is flat on the bottom and gently flares out toward the top.
Filter Material Options
At the most basic level, there are paper and metal/nylon filters to choose from. However, there are different types of paper and metal that could fall under these categories.
Metal and Nylon Filters
Metal and nylon filters:
• Hold their shape no matter what, which reduces the chance of overflow
• Allow coffee oils to pass through
• May not be the best choice for the most finely ground coffee
• Are reusable so they create less waste than paper filters
• Provides a richer tasting coffee
• Tend to be more expensive than paper filters
• Do need to be cleaned
• Can be made from a variety of materials
• Can make the coffee taste “off” due to leftover oils if not properly cleaned
• Come in special sizes for single-serve machines so you can use your favorite coffee
• Let oils and some sediment through, which results in a bolder, richer cup of coffee but may not always be preferred
• Can allow more antioxidants to pass through into your coffee pot and eventually into your cup
Fun fact: The first coffee filter was designed by a German housewife in the early 1900s. She used her son’s blotting paper. Things haven’t changed much since then. Though there are plenty of alternatives on the market today, paper filters are ubiquitous. They’re easy to find in stores and work with most common coffee-making methods.
• Are convenient to purchase
• Can be used and thrown away
• Do not need to be washed
• Trap oils from the coffee, which some coffee drinkers claim results in coffee that is easier on the stomach
• Are best when rinsed before use
• Work well with finely ground coffee and are unlikely to let grounds slip into the pot or your coffee cup
• Less expensive than metal filters
• Can alter the taste of the coffee
• Special sizes are available for some single-serve coffee makers so you can use your favorite coffees
Bamboo filters are:
• More environmentally friendly than paper because bamboo is a fast-growing plant that grows back when cut
• Disposable, so cleaning after each use is no issue
• Not messy because they can just be tossed out
• Are harder to find in stores
• Filter out oils like paper filters
• Are environmentally-friendly
• Result in a sweeter, lighter coffee than metal filters
• Have to be washed (they’re reusable)
• Run the risk of making coffee taste bad if not cared for properly, due to leftover oils that can go rancid in the cloth
• Become less porous over time, so resulting coffee will be lighter and have less flavor and richness at first and get better with repeated use
• Can be used in pour overs, a Chemex, or right in a mug with no other equipment (some cloth filters come attached to rings with handles)
• Are one of the least expensive options
• Could be the best choice for those who want an environmentally-friendly option that reduces oils in their coffee and are willing to go the extra steps to clean their filters well
• Tend to be messy to use and clean
• Are not typically used in machines
Cloth filters are also used with Toddy Cold Brew systems but they’re disc-shaped and flat rather than cone-shaped with an opening in the middle.
Disposable or Permanent
Paper and bamboo coffee filters are disposable, so you use them once and toss them—and their messy grounds—away. Permanent filters are the nylon or metal ones that you have to empty out and rinse clean after each use. These need to be cleaned regularly by hand or in the dishwasher to maintain the fresh taste of the coffee brewed in your machine. A dirty filter can cause the coffee to taste stale or “off” in other ways.
Brown, White, or Bamboo?
Brown or white really means unbleached (brown) or bleached (white). Worried about chlorine in your coffee from using the bleached version? You don’t really have to. The major coffee filter makers (like Melitta, which uses oxygen to naturally whiten the filters) no longer use chlorine in the process, at least in the United States.
White coffee filters tend to be less expensive than the white or bamboo options but some people report a change in flavor when they use them. Others consider them perfectly fine to use and don’t find that they alter the flavor of the coffee in any way.
Brown filters are slightly more expensive and as natural as they come. Because less processing is involved, they’re better for the environment than the white filters. Some people notice that these filters affect the taste of their coffee more than white filters. Rinsing the filters first can help reduce that.
Bamboo filters are better for the environment all around since bamboo grows more rapidly than trees and regrows on its own when cut. The flavor of your coffee shouldn’t be altered much when you use bamboo, but again, this is up to your palette’s sensitivity and personal preference. You may notice a paper flavor from the bamboo and be fine with brown or white paper filters made from trees. Others may love bamboo filters and detect a paper flavor from the other paper filters.
In most cases, if you’re choosing a metal filter, it will be stainless steel. Some have gold plating on top of the stainless steel.
Some coffee drinkers are fine with the stainless steel option. Others notice a difference in coffee flavor and prefer the gold-plated steel. The gold is less likely to affect the overall flavor of the coffee, but if you find that you’re happy with the regular stainless basket, you may not want to pay the extra cost for a gold option.
Coffee filters come in a variety of sizes. First, choose the correct shape for your brewing method or machine. From there, you’ll need to take into account the number of cups of coffee your coffee maker makes and choose the filter that lines up with that number. Some will have a range they will work with. For example, a #4 cone filter from Mr. Coffee will work in a machine that makes eight, ten, or twelve cups.
Can You Combine Filters?
You can put a paper filter in a metal filter, but it is not usually recommended. Pairing the two together would risk overflow as the coffee was brewing and alter the flavor of your coffee. It will not improve the flavor of the coffee. In fact, it could distort it.
Matching Filters to Methods
Some coffee makers come with a reusable metal filter while others work only with paper filters. Some brewing methods have several options available, so you can pick which one works best for you. Here’s a look at how you could match up your brewing method to your filters:
|Chemex||Traditional Coffee Maker||Pour Overs||Single-Cup Makers|
|White Paper (bleached)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Brown Paper (unbleached)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Experiment and Choose Your Favorite
Each type of filter has an environmental impact, an effect on the flavor of your coffee, an amount of time it takes to use it, and a cost. You’ll have your own ideas about which type of filter is best for your health based on any research you’ve done and conversations you may have had with a health professional.
One person’s best isn’t everyone’s best. It’s a matter of what you need for your flavor preferences, budget, time you have for cleanup, and health. Use this guide as a starting point and experiment with the ones that fit your needs to find the absolute best filter for you.
Gordon is seriously addicted to coffee. He also likes to write. Match made in heaven? Yes. After years of boring casual coffee drinkers to death with bean origin stories, he took to writing publicly here at 2Caffeinated.