four single cup pour over coffees

A Complete Guide to All Coffee Filter Types

We may earn a commission if you purchase from our link at no cost to you. Learn More

If you make coffee at home, there’s a good chance you use coffee filters. Did you know that there are several different types of coffee filters? Keep reading to learn what all these different types of coffee filters are used for.

How Do Coffee Filters Work

Coffee filters work pretty simply and perform a couple of different functions during the coffee brewing process. Primarily, it holds the coffee grounds and provides the barrier between them and your cup of joe. Secondly, it provides a method for controlling the water flow speed. This affects the amount of coffee extraction you get from a brew and how strong the resulting coffee is going to taste.

For manual pours, you can easily experiment with the grind and the temperature of your water until you get a cup brewed exactly to how you like it. This is a luxury you are not afforded with an automatic coffee maker where the water temperature is preset by the manufacturer, and you have little control over how the water is applied to the grounds.

What Are Coffee Filters Made From?

Coffee filters can be made from several different materials, each with its own pros and cons. The ones we are going to take a look at today are paper, metal, nylon, and cloth.

Metal Coffee Filters

Metal filters consist of a fine metal mesh that is supported by a plastic basket of some sort to help maintain rigidity and keep its shape. Metal mesh filters have a wider weave than paper filters, and will not catch fine or micro-fine grounds. 

They are reusable, which makes them a greener option than disposable coffee filters, but they also have a reduced filtering ability compared to paper filters. You will need to stick with a bit more of a coarse grind when you choose your coffee so that you don’t end up with most of it at the bottom of your cup. Because of the presence of fine and micro-fine grounds, the coffee will have a decidedly darker and cloudier appearance. 

Metal coffee filters also have the potential to react with organic compounds, changing how they taste. These filters are reusable but not indefinitely, as they will begin to show wear and possibly develop tears or holes.

Nylon Coffee Filters

A nylon filter is constructed in a similar way to the metal mesh coffee filters. There will often be a plastic basket-type frame that the mesh is attached to for rigidity.

Their ability to filter is on par with paper filters, and they result in a similar level of total dissolved solids (TDS) after extraction. The nylon is synthetic and largely inert, so there is minimal interaction between the filter and the coffee. 

Nylon coffee filters represent a rare expense, as they last for quite some time, but will eventually wear out.

Cloth Coffee Filters

Cloth coffee filters are a fairly uncommon choice for a coffee filter. They are made from either cotton or linen and are reusable.

The filtering ability is going to largely depend on the thread count of the cloth used to construct the filter. They will not be able to filter out many of the ultra-fine grounds that paper filters will catch.

Paper Coffee Filters vs Metal Coffee Filters: Which is better?

This is a common question from people who are used to using paper filters and are thinking about moving to a metal reusable coffee filter. So when it comes to the flavor of the brew, the cost investment, and the cleanup factor, which comes out on top? Let’s take a look.

Difference in Flavor Between Metal and Paper Filters

Metal filters often give a very neutral aroma and allow the full flavor of the coffee to be tasted. This often contributes to a sharper flavor with a more noticeable acidity. This may make a metal filter a great option if you like coarser grinds and lighter roasts, where there will be fewer oils and a more noticeable acidic bite.

Paper filters give a very balanced flavor profile and allow a full and clean taste with a distinctive and pleasant aroma. They will filter out most fine and ultra-fine grounds so that the cup has a bright and minimally cloudy appearance. They will absorb some of the oils during the brewing process, altering the flavor profile in unpredictable ways. 

The specific features of the paper used will have significant effects on the extraction process. Unbleached coffee filters can result in a bolder taste since they trap more particulates and slow the drip down, enhancing the entire extraction.

Cost Difference

The cost difference between metal and paper filters is another factor that can influence your choice. 

Since paper filters are the most common type of filter, there are many more options on the market for them, and as a result, much more price variance. Depending on the brand, features, quantity, and basket-style, paper filters will cost anywhere from $1 to $15 per one hundred filters. This will be a recurring expense, and while some people can and do reuse paper filters to some degree, they are still considered disposable.

Metal filters vary to only a small degree. They come in the standard sizes, and consist of a metal mesh attached to a metal, or more commonly plastic, frame for shaping and rigidity. Metal mesh filters will cost anywhere from $5 to $20 for a standard model. 

While they are not considered disposable and are designed to be reused many, many times, they will eventually need to be replaced due to loss of performance or becoming misshapen. But the longer you use it, the further down you drive your cost per cup, making them a very economical choice.

Clean-Up

Paper filters offer a very easy cleanup since they are designed to be disposable and highly convenient. Simply grab the filter by the upper edges, the top of the basket, or the mouth of the cone, pinch the edges together in the middle to avoid spillage, and transfer the entire filter and grounds to the trash can. If buying biodegradable or specifically compostable filters, the entire bundle can go from the brewer to the compost.

Metal mesh filters, while not disposable, are fairly straightforward to clean. For daily cleanings, a bit of baking soda on a scrub brush, or a soak in a 1:2 mix of white vinegar to water. This will not only get rid of any oils that have coated the mesh but will also deodorize it so old coffee smells are not imparted to your next cup. 

If the filter is attended to immediately after your extraction, hot water may be sufficient to rinse any residue off, but make sure you are still doing an overnight soak at least weekly. The baking soda treatment can be utilized at any time you feel there is residue like oils or odors lingering in the filter mesh.

Paper Coffee Filters: Bleached Filters vs Unbleached Filters

Introduced at the beginning of the 20th century in Germany, paper filters were a game-changer for coffee lovers everywhere. After one mouthful of coffee grounds too many, Melitta Bentz decided that enough was enough. She experimented with various types of paper and eventually landed on her final model. Patented on July 8, 1908, the paper coffee filter entered the market and became one of the most popular products invented.

Modern paper coffee filters come in either bleached or unbleached and they both do a great job of keeping the grounds in the basket and not in your mug. But which is better, bleached or unbleached? Ultimately, the right choice for you comes down to personal preference, but there are some distinct differences between bleached and unbleached paper coffee filters. Let’s take a closer look and see which is best for you.

Unbleached

If you are used to the bright white look of paper coffee filters, then the first time you see an unbleached one you may be surprised by the color. Unbleached filters come in various shades of browns and tans.

Most of the paper you see in day-to-day life is bleached. Paper naturally is brown, since it is made from wood pulp. Due to the lack of processing, you may find that unrinsed natural filters can leave behind papery notes in your coffee. This flavor can be reduced by rinsing the filter beforehand. Bleached filters can also leave this taste behind but it is much more common with the unbleached variety.

Why do people choose to go with unbleached filters? The biggest perks are that they are better for the environment and they are healthier! Unbleached filters require less processing, which produces less waste and air pollution. Because they are unbleached, these filters are compostable and they are better for your body.

Bleached

The main thing that sets bleached and unbleached filters apart is that bleached filters have been whitened. There are a couple of ways this can be done. The manufacturer can use a tiny amount of chlorine or they can use a process called oxygen-bleaching.

In the 1980s, there was a lot of concern surrounding bleached paper coffee filters. Many people were worried that they were dangerous but in the years since it has been determined that not only are bleached filters perfectly safe for use while brewing coffee, the bleach used won’t change the flavor of your coffee.

While they are said to be food-safe, a study done in 2012 discovered that “the most significant environmental issues” in pulp and paper mills are the resulting discharge from chlorine bleaching. Alternatively, oxygen-bleaching requires much less processing and, in turn, is better for the environment. If you want to know which method a company uses before you purchase, all of the major paper filter brands indicate on the packaging which bleaching method is used on their filters.

Difference in Flavor Between Bleached and Unbleached?

If you have ever had a cup of coffee that had an essence of paper to it, then it was likely either brewed in a low-quality bleached paper filter or an unbleached filter. In most cases, if you are using a bleached coffee filter, there won’t be a papery taste, but the brown unbleached ones can give your coffee that taste.

Luckily, you can remove the papery taste from your filters! Rinsing your paper filters is easy and allows you to enjoy a better cup of coffee. Just follow these 5 simple steps to remove that unpleasant flavor:

  1. Set your filter in your coffee maker. This works with any style that takes a filter.
  2. Pre-wet (aka, rinse) your filter: simply pour hot water over the filter.
  3. Discard the water that was ran through the paper filter.
  4. Rinse a second time, if needed.
  5. Brew your coffee!

Cost Difference

One of the deciding factors for many people that are considering trying something new is the price. Bleached coffee filters are definitely more common than unbleached coffee filters so they tend to be a bit cheaper.

Unbleached coffee filters are processed less, but they are more expensive. Companies know that the people buying them are willing to pay a higher price for something that is more natural, environmentally friendly, and unique.

Coffee Filter Shapes

Just as each type of filter material has an effect on the finished brew, the shape of the filter can affect it as well. Changes in function and extraction times suit different brewing styles.

Conical Coffee Filters

If you like pour-over coffee, then you know cone filters are where it’s at. They are available in several different sizes to match the type of coffee maker you use. While the smallest size, a No. 1, fits the one-cup models and styles, and by the time you are at a No. 6 filter you are at a ten cup pot of coffee, so double check your sizes. The size needed should be listed on the instructions for the coffee maker you have.

Basket Coffee Filters

Arguably the most recognizable style of filter is the basket style. This is usually the one we all saw growing up, the filter that looks like a giant cupcake paper. They have a flat bottom, opening upward with edges that are lightly pleated so as to have an accordion effect.

This helps the filter stay put in the brewing basket, and makes sure that all the grounds stay in the middle where they can be most effectively extracted. They are available in bleached or unbleached.

Disk Coffee Filters

Almost exclusively used in Aeropress coffee brewers, they are sometimes used to replace filters for French Press machines. They are often quite small, and the sizing is going to depend on the brand of coffee maker in which they will be used.

Coffee Filter Sizes

The size of your coffee filter needs to be appropriate for both the brand of the coffee maker, and for the number of cups that are intended to be brewed. Basket filters typically come in two sizes, whether they are made from metal, nylon or paper. The typical size basket filter is for machines that make 6 – 12 cups, and there is also a junior size that supports machines that make 4 – 6 cups.

Cone filters also have several sizes, all numbered, that are separated by the number of cups to be brewed. Automatic coffee makers can usually brew between four and twelve cups at a time. These are five or six-ounce cups, not “tall” or “venti” cups. The filter sizes are as follows:

  • #1: For one cup coffeemakers (both automatic and manual)
  • #2: For 2 – 6 cup automatic coffee makers or 1 – 2 cup manual coffee makers
  • #4: For 8 – 10 cup coffee makers (both automatic and manual)
  • #6: For 10+ cup manual coffee makers

How to Choose the Right Coffee Filter

There seem to be so many different varieties of filters that when trying to choose one, it can be overwhelming at times. Trying to figure out what type of coffee filter is right for your tastes and needs might require a little help.

We’re going to dig into how the different coffee filter types measure up in terms of the taste, cost, convenience, and environmental impact to help narrow it down.

Taste of the Coffee

When it comes to factors affecting how you brew your coffee, the taste is probably going to be at the top of the list. Considering the filter’s effect on the taste of the brew is going to be a very important consideration. 

Coffee brewed through metal mesh filters will have a very rich flavor and full body, because of the higher amount of oils and terpenes that have made it through the extraction process. There will also be more fine grounds, so when you get to the end of the cup there may be a more pronounced bitterness since you are getting that last bit of fine grounds.

Brewing through paper filters produces a very clean and brighter flavored coffee. Paper style coffee filters, filter out the largest amount of fine grounds and ultra-fine grounds compared to other types of filters, and produce a cup that is much lighter in the body than other filters. Since paper is absorbent, it will pick up many of the oils during the extraction process, resulting in a more acidic and crisp tasting cup of coffee.

Cost of the Filter

This is a factor that is always important. How much does it cost? Well, when it comes down to it, you can drive your costs down incredibly far by using a reusable metal filter, but some people do not like the more bold and full flavor that the mesh filters produce.

The paper filters need to be constantly replenished, but they provide a slightly better taste in some people’s opinion. You may need to try both before you figure out which one you like best. You may even find you have a different preference based on the coffee you are brewing at the time.

Convenience of the Filter

There is no doubt that the paper is the clear winner here. Easy cleanup is a powerful feature. Though the metal mesh filters are more convenient in the sense that you will not have to remember to pick some up if you are out, but you need to clean it daily to avoid an accumulation of old oils and foul tastes.

Environmental Impact of the Filter

Without some solid research, this is a hard one to call. At a glance, this might be a tie.

The paper filters are disposable, and some are bleached, which both increases its carbon footprint for production, but also increases trash. On the other hand, they are a renewable resource, so they can be continually made with little to no drain on finite resources. The bleaching, if eliminated, would almost certainly make the paper filters the winners.

Metal mesh filters however are reusable, but they take massive amounts of energy and resources to mine, refine, and create the metal mesh, along with the manufacturing needed for the plastic or metal basket frame. Plastic brings along its own host of environmental concerns.

The Best Coffee Filters

With so many options on the market, it can be hard to pick which coffee filter is the best. Take a look at some of our top picks below.

Best Filter for Drip Coffee Makers

If you have a classic 8 – 12 cup coffee maker, check out these natural, unbleached filters. They are super affordable, considering you get 500 filters for a very fair price! They are also available in bleached for the same price if you prefer that.

Best Filter for Pour-Over Coffee Makers

If a pour-over coffee maker is more your style, there are several options available for you. We really like the Hario V60 Paper Coffee Filters. They are a great option if you are looking for something disposable. If you are looking for a reusable option, then you might want to consider trying out this stainless steel coffee filter.

Best Filter for Percolator Coffee Makers

For those that prefer a percolator, we recommend these Melitta disc filters. They are affordable and super easy to use.

Best Filter for Cold Brew

If you love cold brew, check out these disposable mesh filters. Using these allows you to brew cold brew as easily as steeping a cup of tea. Just fill the bag and let it steep until the water transforms into coffee.

Best Reusable Coffee Filters

If you want a reusable filter that will fit most standard coffee machines, check out this basket from GOLDTONE. It is affordable, durable, and it is sure to last a long time.

Best Reusable Pod Filters

For people that prefer to brew a cup at a time in a Keurig, a reusable pod filter might be your best bet. You won’t need to waste money on disposable K-cups anymore.

Best Reusable Flat (Aeropress) Filters

If you use an Aeropress, we recommend checking out these flat filters by Slimm Filter. These are a great value and will allow you to use your Aeropress everyday.

Final Note

There is no doubt that there are a lot of coffee filters out there. Your preference on brewing style and taste will likely determine the best coffee filter for you.

For instance, if you like light roasts and high notes in your morning java, stick with paper, to keep that acidic bite, and those fruity high notes. If you like a bold full-bodied brew with a powerful and deep taste, grab a metal mesh filter and get lost in those fines and those low sweet undertones.

There truly is something out there for everyone, and with this breakdown, a little forethought, and a good cup of coffee at your side, you will be ready to make some big decisions about changing, or not changing, your coffee filter type.

Similar Posts