The Complete Guide to Choosing The Right Coffee FilterCLICK HERE to subscribe to our weekly emails on finding and brewing amazing coffee!
For something so seemingly simple, choosing the right coffee filter can actually be quite confusing. Between bleached, unbleached, metal, paper, and sizes, things can quickly spiral into a complete mess.
But don’t worry, we have you covered. From material, processing, size and shape to buying suggestions, this guide has it all.
Bleached vs. Unbleached
Anyone that has immersed themselves into the world of specialty coffee have probably listened to passionate debates about bleached and unbleached coffee filters. But is there really a difference?
There are many out there that swear by their unbleached coffee filters. Of course, there are just as many, if not more, that believe that bleached filters are much better or that there is no difference at all. Today, let’s take a few minutes to examine each type of filter. We will look at the differences between each filter and if they really do impact how good or, I hate to even say it, how bad your cup of coffee really is.
So what are bleached filters? Basically, they are paper that have undergone a process that makes them appear white. Natural paper, you see, doesn’t actually look white. Think of those cheap paper bags that you get in the grocery store. There are two main products used in the bleaching process:
Chlorine is basically the same stuff they use to keep your pool clean. It is very commonly used to whiten the filters but it isn’t considered as high of quality as filters that are bleached using oxygen. If you are looking for a high quality bleached coffee filter, then you want to look for filters that are bleached using oxygen.
Unfortunately, bleached filters are not as good for the environment. First, there is an added step to the manufacturing process. Second, these filters with the bleach can pollute the environment when they are discarded, even though there is only a very small amount of bleach used. Oxygen-based bleaches are the better option here as well, as oxygen is much more environmentally friendly compared to chlorine.
Unbleached filters don’t have that bright white look of their bleached counterparts, but they are more natural and much more environmentally friendly. All paper has that brown look and has to be bleached to look white. Unbleached filters don’t undergo that manufacturing process and when they break down the resulting chemicals put back into the ground are nowhere near as harmful as bleaches such as chlorine.
There are some differences you need to be aware of before you start to use unbleached filters. If you just toss an unbleached filter into your coffee maker, you could find that the coffee ends up with a slight taste of paper to it. Thankfully, it is really easy to prevent this from happening.
- Place your filter in your coffee maker.
- Pour a little water into it to wet the entire filter.
- Discard the water you used to wet the filter and brew your coffee.
Performing these extra steps will help you prevent that paper taste from being passed to your coffee. Once done, you won’t be able to tell a difference in a cup of coffee made from an unbleached filter to that made in a bleached filter.
Bleaching Does NOT Affect Taste
Many people believe that using a bleached or unbleached coffee filter will alter how your coffee tastes, and they are often surprised to find out that isn’t the case at all. The fact is that it doesn’t really matter which one you choose as it won’t change the taste of your coffee. There isn’t a lot of bleach used to make those filters appear white, and it will not impact the taste of our coffee or cause any unwanted health side effects, either.
Quality is Paramount
Remember, bleached and unbleached filters have little effect on the taste of your coffee. What can impact it is the overall quality of the filter you do purchase. When selecting a filter, don’t try and save a few cents. That few cents can make all the difference in the taste of your coffee.
When selecting a filter, make sure you not only select the proper size for your brewing method of choice but also make sure you pick the correct thickness as well. Thinner filters will allow the water to pass through it much more quickly, and this will certainly affect the brewing process, and not in a good way. The thicker the filter, the more expensive it will be, but the cost differences are so small that they really shouldn’t matter. At the end of the day, that is what is important, isn’t it?
A Word on Cost
Now that you know that quality is what is really important, and that basically when you buy bleached or unbleached it is really the color that you are choosing, let’s talk for a minute about their costs. Unbleached filters go through fewer manufacturing processes, yet for some reason they actually cost more than a bleached filter.
So, if you are really looking to save a little money on your filters, then your best bet is to choose a filter bleached using oxygen that is a little thicker than the cheapest varieties out there. Of course, if you want to friendlier to the environment, you could still choose a nice unbleached filter. Just know that you will be paying just a little more for them.
So Which One is Best?
There are actually very few differences between bleached and unbleached coffee filters. Sure, bleached filters undergo and additional process and you can find some type of bleach in them, but neither type really have any impact on the taste of your coffee. So, use whichever one you feel more comfortable with. Unbleached filters are almost always much better for the environment, so if you are concerned about Mother Earth, then by all means buy unbleached.
No matter which one you choose, always remember to buy high-quality filters. That will affect the taste of your coffee. So unbleached or bleached, it doesn’t really matter. Just make sure they are the right size and the correct thickness so you can brew a great cup of your favorite coffee every time.
Paper vs. Metal
There is much debate in the coffee world over something as simple as a coffee filter. And it doesn’t end at the bleached or unbleached crossroads. The Paper Vs. Metal coffee filter debate is one for the ages and one likely to continue for years as well.
But which one makes the best coffee? Of course, what makes coffee the best is highly subjective. After all, what I think is the best coffee isn’t necessarily what you think is the best coffee. So, to help solve this debate, or perhaps add to it, let’s examine these very different filters to see if we can determine which one is the best.
We will take a few questions about these filters and do our best to answer them. In the end, you should be able to decide which is best for you.
Which coffee filters cost more?
A metal filter will cost you much more on the front end compared to paper filters. I’m sure that comes as no surprise. Paper filters cost less per pack, but you must keep buying them. If you are a big coffee drinker, then this can add up fast. The bottom line is, in the long run, you will save more if you buy a metal filter.
What about the environment?
We all should be concerned about the environment and do what we can do minimize our impact on the world around us. Metal filters are the obvious winners here. Sure, you can recycle and compost that old coffee, but how many of you take the time to do that? Don’t worry, not many of us have the time to do that, including me. If you are worried about the environment, then a metal filter is the right choice for you.
Which coffee filter is easier to clean?
I have to admit this one can be subjective. But in my opinion, a paper filter is much easier to clean up compared to a metal filter. With a paper filter, you simply lift the filter out and discard it. A metal filter must be dumped and then rinsed after each pot. On top of that, occasionally you will have to put it through a cleaning cycle in your sink or dishwasher to make sure it stays clean and ready to use.
Which one is better for you?
For all the things that coffee can do for your health, there are some bad things as well. Coffee contains cafestol, an oil that is known for raising cholesterol levels. When you use a paper filter, you remove more cafestol from the coffee. The removal of cafestol leads many experts to believe that paper filters are a better option if you’re concerned about your health.
However, those bright white paper filters didn’t get that way on their own. They get bleached with a substance known as dioxin. While there isn’t any substantial evidence, many experts worry that this bleach can make its way into your coffee when you use these filters. By using a metal filter, you don’t have to worry about those bleaching agents entering your body.
There is another option, though. You can always switch to unbleached paper filters. These filters don’t contain dioxin, but they still filter out more of the cafestol. These are the best option if you’re concerned about your health.
Will the type of coffee filter affect the taste?
Everything else on this list probably doesn’t matter to you if your coffee doesn’t taste good. Am I right? Paper filter and metal filters will produce coffee that tastes very different from one another, and that could have an impact on which one you will choose to use.
Because metal filters don’t remove as much of the cafestol from the coffee, more oils will end up in your coffee, which produces a flavor that is much bolder and richer compared to paper filters. If you prefer a fuller body cup of coffee with a bold flavor, then metal is the right choice for you.
Paper filters, on the other hand, filter more out of the coffee. The result is a much brighter flavored coffee that is also much lighter in body. For many coffee drinkers, this is the preferred taste.
There is one other thing to consider about paper filters. Sometimes, they can make your coffee taste like, well, paper. You can get around this by rinsing the filter with hot water first, but that does add an extra step to the process.
The bottom line is if you prefer a much bolder cup of coffee and aren’t worried about what doesn’t get filtered from your coffee, then go with a metal filter. However, if you prefer a lighter cup of coffee that is much brighter in taste, then choose paper filters.
Things to Consider
The Shape of You(r Filter)
Firstly, conical or cone style filters tend to be the favorite among more dedicated home brewers. They come in two basic types. One is shaped like a standard cone, like a party hat. The other also has a round opening, but instead of coming to one point at the tip, it has two side that taper into a shorter line (not as long as the diameter of the top opening).
The first style is primarily used for manual brewing tools while the other is mainly adopted by permanent filters designed for automatic brewer. Either way the filters work essentially the same.
The filter shape that likely comes into your head when someone mentions a “coffee filter” is the basket filter. Also called the cupcake or-flat bottom filter, these filters are either shaped like cupcake liners with folds around the sides or like buckets with smooth edges.
Their openings at the top can be larger than the surface area at the bottom, but the difference is not nearly as extreme as conical filters.
Lastly, we have the disk filter. These are mainly used for AeroPresses and occasionally as replacements for French Press filters. Disk filters are much smaller than the other two and do not follow the standard sizing rules we will discuss later. You typically have to buy them specifically for your brewing tool.
Cone vs Basket
Now, we mentioned that cone filters are generally considered better than their basket counterparts. This opinion has to do with the quality of grounds saturation.
This issue with basket filters is that they have wide, flat bottoms. Because the grounds are more spread out, uneven extraction can occur. Even with a shower head intended to spread out the water, the streams mostly just go straight down, leaving gaps of less extracted coffee between potentially over extracted coffee. Ultimately this makes for a less flavorful brew.
On the other hand, conical filters force the hot water go travel through grounds more effectively. They tend to be more expensive, but the improvement in flavor is definitely worth it.
Let’s Talk Size
Most bucket filters are sold in 8-12 size filters. However, there are a few different standard sizes for conical filters. They come in #1, #2, #4, and #6, and each number indicates what tools you can use the filter with. Here’s how it works:
- #1 Size Filter: For one-cup coffeemakers (both electric and non-electric)
- #2 Size Filter: For 2 to 6 cup electric coffeemakers or 1-2 non-electric coffeemakers
- #4 Size Filter: For 8-10 cup non-electric coffeemakers or 8-12 cup electric coffeemakers
- #6 Size Filter: For Fits 10+ cup pour overs/ non-electric coffee makers
The most common sizes that you are going to come across are #2 and #4, which will cover most people’s brewing needs.
Your Coffee Brewing Method
This debate may be moot if you can’t even get a metal filter. Some brewers will come with one while others will let you order one instead of using paper filters. Of course, some don’t make metal filters at all for their brewers, like pour over systems. You will have to check with your manufacturer if you are interested in getting a metal filter. If they don’t have one, then it is time to shop for a new coffee maker.
The paper vs. metal coffee filter debate has been around for a long time and probably won’t go away anytime soon. As you can see, there are distinct differences between the filters and the type of coffee they create. Both types of filters offer something to unique to the world of coffee, and which one you choose largely depends on your tastes. Personally, I would encourage you to try both and use the one that suits your tastes. After all, that’s what it’s all about in the end. Wouldn’t you agree?
Best Metal Coffee Filters
Before you go into the buying portion of this article, keep in mind that there are a lot of permanent filters that are specifically designed for one brand or line of products. This is especially true for large manufacturers of automatic machines, such as Mr. Coffee, Cuisinart, and Hamilton Bach.
So if these options won’t work for your needs, we highly recommend looking into others ones that may be a better fit for your brewing tool.
Barista Warrior Gold Conical Filter
If you are working with a Hario V60 or Chemex pour over tool (or something with a similar shape). This filter is titanium coated stainless steel with a no-slip silicon ring at the top. The top-quality material mean it is both durable and dishwasher safe.
The Barista Warrior Filter uses a dual layer filtration method with a stainless steel mesh on the outside, and a laser-cut filter on the inside. Plenty of oils still get through for a fill bodied cup, but it largely eliminates any grittiness.
Additionally, the brand has so much faith in this product that it comes with a 6 month manufacturers guarantee. That means if you are dissatisfied and return it within that time frame, you get a full refund.
If you like this style, the Ovalware Conical filter is another titanium coated stainless steel drip filter, like the Barista warrior. However, it is also available in Gold and Titanium Copper. It has a similar make and compatibility, but it comes with a 90-day manufacturer guarantee and slightly cheaper price point instead.
EZWay Gold Tone Universal Coffee Filter
This EZWay reusable filter is ovular and stretchable. The company claims it can fit most basket, conical, and oval shaped machines. It is made with stainless steel and can make up to 2000 pots of coffee.
Another thing we love about this filter is that it is “universal.” Most other flat-bottom or basket-style reusable filters are designed for one specific brand or set of machines, this one provides more versatility, so it can stay on even if you have to switch out your brewer.
It measures 4.7×4.7×2.4 inches, so while it is marketed towards 6-8 cup brewers, it may be better around the 6-8 cup mark.
NRP Steel Gold-tone Taller #4 Permanent Coffee Filter 12cup
This automatic brewer cone filter has a slightly different shape from the other conical filters we’ve looked at so far. It has a more rectangular shape on the sides with a V-shape at either end, similar to how a boo would look right as you open it.
This design choice is because the filter is intended for 12-cup brewing machines such as the Krups SAVOY coffee makers, Braun BrewSense, Delonghi BCO series, Ninja coffee bar, Capresso coffee makers, Frigidaire coffee makers, Starbucks barista aroma, Kenmore coffee maker, and more.
This is probably one of the most versatile filters of this style as far as its compatibility. It is dishwasher safe, but it will last you longer if you hand-wash it instead.
OddBalls: Other Reusable Filters
Best Reusable Fabric Filter: Organic Hemp Square Coffee Filter
Moving on from our metal options onto something a little different: hemp. This filter uses a highly sustainable plant source to create an astonishingly eco-friendly product as it requires less water to grow and is stronger than cotton. So say goodbye and good riddance to other cloth and paper filters.
The hemp filter is a bit more forgiving than steel or paper filters, which is good for people with humbler kit. Some oils pass through, but not nearly as much as with a metal filter. Plus, it gives you the level of sediment filtration as a paper filter.
To clean it, all you have to do is rinse with some hot water and air dry. Overall, this is a great product to try out. It comes in #2, #4, Chemex, and Cold Brew styles.
Best Reusable Flat (Aeropress) Filter: Corretto Stainless Steel Filter Set
For our Aeropress lovers out there, don’t think we forgot you. If you don’t want to continue buying the bleached flat filters for your tool, you do not have to. Plus, using a metal filter makes the Aeropress even MORE portable. This set of 3 Corretto filters is great for both reducing your waste and doing some experimentation.
The pack includes a mesh, ultra fine, and fine filter option, so you can achieve anything from the typical, ultra-clean cup to a more full-bodied brew (great if you are using the inverted method). They are also sold separately if you already know what you want.
If you are specifically looking for a product with low-waste packaging as well, try the Able DISK. Their products are 100% Made in USA by Able Brewing and all packaging is post-consumer recycled and FSC certified.
Best Reusable Pod Filter: iPartsPlusMore Gold Plated Mesh Filters
One issue that many people take with single-serve pod brewers, like Keurig, is the obscene amount of waste that pod brewing produces. Thus, reusable pods aim not only to give you a better, fresher cup but also to help the environment.
These flamboyant little filters are compatible with both 1.0 and 2.0 Keurig machines. The exciting pink-purple plastic makes them hard to lose and it is BPA free. The mesh is a gold plated stainless steel that works nearly as well as paper filters for cutting out sediment.
If you are a Keurig purist, you can also opt for the My K-Cup. It has more moving parts, but is a lower price and is specifically designed by and for Keurig.
So to keep it simple, choosing between bleached and unbleached isn’t going to change the taste of your coffee, but the choosing between disposable paper and reusable metal will. Cone filters will give you better saturation and extraction than basket filters, and disk filters are for AeroPresses and French Presses.
No matter what filter you choose, we hope the coffee is everything you want it to be.
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