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Brown vs White Coffee Filters: What’s the Difference?

brown vs white coffee filters

You’re standing in the coffee aisle at the grocery store. You’re out of paper coffee filters — and expecting to simply grab a box of filters and go. But should you choose brown or white coffee filters? How do you choose the best option, and what’s the difference between these filters?

We’re here to answer these questions and help you choose the right filters, whether you’re buying for a drip machine or a pour-over brewer. Scroll down to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about brown vs white coffee filters.

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Where Do Paper Coffee Filters Come From?

Melitta brown coffee filter
The brown paper filter that started it all: Melitta.

A German woman named Melitta Bentz invented paper coffee filters back in 1908. Searching for a clean, clear cup of coffee, she folded a piece of blotting paper and brewed her coffee through it. The results were so good that she patented her idea! These days, the Melitta company makes inexpensive pour-over coffee makers — and the classic numbered paper filters, of course.

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What’s the Difference Between Brown and White Coffee Filters?

Brown and white coffee filters are made from the same kind of paper. The difference is how they’re processed. Contrary to popular belief, the brown color doesn’t mean these filters are made with recycled paper. Brown filters are simply made with unbleached paper. They’re less processed overall.

folding a brown Hario V60 paper filter
The Hario V60’s unbleached paper filter.

To make white coffee filters, manufacturers have to bleach the paper. This can be done in two different ways: chlorine and oxygen bleaching. Chlorine bleaching is inexpensive but chemical-heavy, producing toxic compounds that can harm the environment. Oxygen bleaching is also inexpensive (once the factory is set up) and much more environmentally-friendly.  The result is a bright white filter without any natural coloring.

Keep in mind that many pour-over coffee brewers use specially designed paper filters. You’ll want to buy filters that go with your brewer — whether you choose brown or white versions! Companies like Hario, Melitta, and Chemex sell both white and brown paper filters.


Which Makes Better Coffee?

Chemex pour over coffee maker review
The white Chemex paper filters produce delicious coffee — as do the brown ones.

The short answer is that the color of your coffee filter probably won’t substantially change your coffee. Brown and white filters are made of the same material and will produce the same coffee. There is a slightly higher chance that you’ll find a papery flavor in your coffee if you use brown filters, but that’s easily prevented with a quick rinse.

SEE ALSO: All About Filters (3 Different Types)


Which is Better for the Environment?

discard paper filter

Because of the extra processing, white coffee filters are harder on the environment. The chlorine bleaching method, in particular, produces several toxic chemicals that can be hard to dispose of. Brown filters require a lot less processing time, which translates to less energy and water usage. The bottom line? If protecting the environment is a priority for you, you’ll probably want to stick to brown coffee filters.

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Brown vs White Coffee Filters: Which Should You Choose?

This comes down to personal preference. If you’re concerned about the environment or the chemicals used in bleaching, you may want to stick with brown coffee filters. If you like the look of the white filters or want to avoid any papery taste, you may prefer the bleached variety. Either way, you’ll be able to brew tasty, clear coffee — thanks to the inventor of filtered coffee, Melitta Bentz!

Brown Filter Pros
  • Less processed and more natural
  • Better for the environment
White Filter Pros
  • Less papery taste
  • Clean white appearance

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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