In all the fuss over finding your favorite coffee beans and brewing method, there may be an aspect you’ve forgotten: filters. They don’t get a lot of glory, but filters are indispensable to the coffee brewing process. There are three main types of coffee filters: paper, metal, and cloth. Within those three broad categories, there are lots of different shapes and brands, all with pros and cons. So which type of filter will help you brew coffee you love?
Before you jump into filter shopping, you may want to think about what your favorite brewing methods are and what characteristics you look for in coffee. Depending on your coffee brewer and personal taste, one type of filter may work better than the other two. Read on to find out all about the uses, benefits, and flavors produced by each type of filter.
The 3 Types of Coffee Filters:
1. Paper Filters
At a Glance
- Paper filters provide a clear, light cup of coffee with complex flavors and not a hint of silt.
- They’re not reusable, so they’re less environmentally-friendly and you’ll have to keep buying them. On the plus side, you won’t have to clean them.
Paper filters are the best filters to use if you’re looking for clarity of flavor, particularly if you’re buying gourmet, single-origin beans with complex, delicate flavors. These filters are great at soaking up oil from your beans, and the tightly-woven paper keeps even the finest grounds from passing through, creating a smooth, silt-free cup of coffee. Because of that, you won’t have to worry about grinding your beans too finely.
Low cost and easy to find, paper filters are most commonly used in pour-overs and drip machines.
Basic paper filters come two shapes, conical and basket. Conical filters, compatible with pour-overs, help the water to evenly and quickly extract coffee throughout your grounds. These filters come in sizes that correspond to different coffee brewing amounts, ranging from one to over 10 cups.
Basket filters, also called cupcake filters because of their ruffled edges, are generally compatible with large-capacity drip machines. They have wide, flat bottoms, which can potentially cause uneven extraction of your coffee.
Companies like Blue Bottle, AeroPress, and Chemex produce branded paper filters, which are specifically designed to work with their unique brewing systems. We also recently reviewed the Hario V60, which uses its own brand of paper filters.
Paper filters are single-use, meaning you don’t have to worry about cleanup. But there is one reason you might want to rinse them before you start brewing.
A potential downside to paper filters is that you may notice a slightly papery taste in your coffee. But don’t worry, there’s a simple solution to this. Put your paper filter in your coffee maker and drizzle it with water. Throw away the water that comes through, fill the filter with grounds, and brew away! This pre-rinse will wash away that distracting flavor.
Paper filters are not reusable, so you’ll have to keep buying them. They’re a smaller upfront investment, but you’ll have to restock regularly, which can add up. This also means that they’re less environmentally friendly, since they’re single-use, though most are compostable. Are you looking for something to do with your used grounds? Take a look at our guide.
2. Metal Filters
At a Glance
- Metal filters produce lightly textured, full-bodied coffee complete with natural oils.
- These reusable filters are very environmentally friendly. Though you won’t have to keep buying them, they have a higher upfront cost. You will have to rinse them between uses and be careful with your grind settings.
Metal filters are typically made of perforated stainless steel or aluminum. Coffee brewed with a metal filter is bold, strongly flavored, and very aromatic.
The small holes allow water to pass through, but also let through the finest grounds. If you prefer thicker coffee with more mouthfeel and can handle a little sediment at the bottom of the cup, these filters could be for you. However, they don’t work well with finer grinds, so you’ll want to be careful not to over-grind your beans. Metal filters also don’t absorb the oils in your coffee beans, which can mean extra flavor and aroma.
If you don’t love that sediment or you’re concerned about the health effects of coffee bean oil, in some types of brewers, like percolators, you can layer a paper filter on top of the metal filter.
Many kinds of coffee brewers have built-in metal filters, including espresso machines, Moka pots, French presses, and percolators. You can also buy cone-shaped metal filters for use in pour-overs and small filter baskets compatible with single-serve pod machines. You can even buy a disk-shaped metal filter compatible with an AeroPress.
Because metal filters are entirely reusable, you’ll need to clean them between uses. Luckily, they’re easy to clean, particularly if you stick to stainless steel. Plus, metal filters are very environmentally friendly.
3. Cloth Filters
At a Glance
- Cloth filters absorb oils and keep fine grounds from passing through, creating coffee that is light and clear with complex flavor.
- Low-cost and environmentally friendly, these filters require significant upkeep, including frequent rinsing and boiling.
Cloth filters perform similarly to paper filters, absorbing oil and holding in even the finest coffee grounds. Look for filters made of durable fabrics with tight weaves for the best brewing. Using these filters, you can brew light, smooth coffee with complex flavors.
Cloth filters are primarily compatible with pour-over brewers. You may want to check the dimensions of your pour-over before settling on a brand of cloth filters.
Cloth filters are the highest-maintenance of the three types of filters. As it becomes clogged with coffee bean oil and fine grounds, your cloth filter will let water through more slowly with each brew. Between brews, you’ll want to thoroughly rinse your filters, because along with the oil, cloth filters will absorb flavors from your beans. If you switch coffee types frequently, you may want to purchase several cloth filters, or you could end up spending quite a bit of time cleaning.
To thoroughly clean these filters, manufacturers recommend that you boil them for 10 minutes. This will sanitize the cloth and shrink its weave so you don’t get grounds passing through. You’ll probably want to do this when you first purchase them and whenever they become dirty.
With all this boiling and rinsing, you may find that cloth filters, though reusable and environmentally-friendly, are less durable than their metal counterparts. You may need to replace them every few months.
The bottom line? Your coffee brewing method and flavor preferences can help you decide between one of the three main types of filters – paper, metal, and cloth. If you’re looking for a smooth, clear cup of coffee with minimal fuss, you may want to stick with paper filters. Do you prefer a reusable, durable filter that produces a thicker mouthfeel and a stronger brew? Try a metal filter. If you like the flavor and texture of a paper-filtered coffee, but you’d rather have something more eco-friendly, take a look at cloth filter options.
We hope this guide has helped you determine which type of coffee filter will work best for you. Now it’s time to get out there and get brewing!
RELATED READ: Our Favorite Reusable Coffee Filters (Cloth & Metal)