The unsung hero of coffee: coffee filters. You may or may not have noticed, but almost all brewing methods are defined not by their shape, but by the type of coffee filter they use.
Moka pot and espresso use hard metal filters. Pour overs use paper filters; French presses use mesh, just like drip coffee machines. Turkish coffee uses… no filter at all.
So in this article, we’ll dive deeper into this topic. What difference does the type of coffee filter make? Which is the best coffee filter? And how can you get the most out of each type?
Most importantly, we’re going to give you a 10-item list of the best filters out there. First, we’ll be presenting our top choices for each brewing method, then there’s the complete list for you to read more in-detail about each filter.
- Top Choices for Best Coffee Filters
- Types of Coffee Filters
- The 10 Best Coffee Filters
- Bleached vs Unbleached
- Things to Consider when you Buy a Coffee Filter
Top Choices for Best Coffee Filters
A one-of-a-kind fine mesh filter that will revolutionize the way you see pour-over coffee.
The best coffee filters out there, a long-time favorite of many baristas, and the industry’s gold standard for what a good coffee filter should be.
A great, durable coffee filter that will never fail you and can brew thousands of batches without batting an eye.
This is the most common type of paper filter there is. They are very convenient as you can use them once and dispose of them. Convenience, when it comes to coffee, is incredibly valuable. This type of coffee filter is mostly used for pour-over methods.
Besides convenience, a great benefit of paper filters is that they don’t influence flavor a lot. Because they are single-use, there is no risk of them absorbing odors which may then work their way into your cup.
There are different sorts of paper filters—but we’ll talk about that in a later section.
Metal filters are, after paper, the most common ones out there. They come in different shapes—hard metal like those in Moka pots and espresso machines, and fine mesh like the one you have in your French press.
Metal, unlike paper or cloth, does not retain oils. The oils in coffee are responsible for most of the flavor and aroma in it, which is why espresso and French press coffee are often considered some of the most savory there are: because of the material of the filter.
Metal filters are, however, very difficult to clean. It is not uncommon for them to collect build-up, whether of coffee oils or minerals in the water, therefore affecting the taste of coffee. This is the one downside to them.
This one isn’t used a lot in professional settings, but it sees a lot of action in home coffee machines. Most drip coffee machines use this material—or at least all those that don’t use disposable paper filters.
Nylon is quite good at filtering coffee, somewhat similar to metal mesh filters, but it’s much more propense to absorbing odors and collecting build-up. In a short time, nylon filters will have a strong burnt coffee smell. They have to be cleaned rather frequently—and are not nearly as durable as metal filters.
The original coffee filter. Most coffee that was brewed in Europe in the first years of discovering it was done so using cloth as a filter. And it still works wonderfully, depending on how you use it.
Take the siphon, for example. It is considered a super-fancy, expert way of brewing coffee and it uses a thick cloth filter.
Cloth has a way of balancing out the flavor of your coffee. For those who get the hang of it, cloth filters can outperform all others.
The 10 Best Coffee Filters
Gold-tone is the gold standard for drip coffee filters. It is the best material out there: easy to clean, very durable, and makes for great coffee. You can’t ask for anything better than this.
This model right here is one of the most universal ones—it fits many different brands: De’Longhi, Ninja, Krups, Capresso, and more!
This model also has a detachable handle that helps place it easily inside the machine and then take the handle off later. You can attach it back when taking the filter out, as it is quite easy to do just by feeling around.
If you’re not a fan of gold-tone, then stainless steel is the best option out there. It is metal, so you know it delivers full flavor, and it’s going to last a long time.
Of course, that also means you’re going to have a bit of a hard time cleaning it, and you have to clean it more often than gold-tone filters. Metal filters require some more scrubbing.
However, it is all worth it at the end of the day. They may not be as convenient as gold-tone filters, but they certainly deliver a much better taste.
Be sure to check your machine’s instructions, as some of them don’t allow stainless steel filters.
Best for pour-over
In case you didn’t know, Chemex has a unique type of filter, Chemex brand, that differs from most other pour-overs. They’re thicker, made of cotton, which helps a lot in getting that clean brew that is so characteristic of the Chemex.
They’re quite easy to fit into your coffee maker, although there’s a lot of leftover material. They fit great, but it’s probably better to use these ones just for the Chemex.
They’re quite resistant, so you can probably use them more than once. And, of course, the flavor is just something else. If you like clean, balanced coffee, then these are the perfect ones for you!
Hario filters are the blueprint for any other coffee filters you’ve ever seen for pour-overs. They have that classic tabbed edge that helps them stay in shape and which makes it easier to place them where they need to go on the brewer.
They are made of paper and you can choose between “natural” and white. The natural option doesn’t look brown enough, so they might be partially bleached, but not quite unbleached. Still, they are a good alternative.
These are the perfect filters that will go great with any pour-over.
Melitta’s always been a good, recognizable brand. Their coffee filters are in fact one of their strengths, and these disc filters are no exception. They are resistant, but still malleable, and produce an excellent brew.
A pretty good alternative to Melitta. They seem to be just a tad thicker, therefore a little more durable, so that’s a good option if you tend to use more coffee, water, or if you’ve ever had a Melitta filter break before and are wary of them.
Both options here are standard-size and will fit most percolators on the market.
These mesh filter bags are the most convenient way to make cold brews. They are a very similar material to that of tea bags, only of much better quality. They fit up to 100 grams of coffee, so you can make more than a few cups in them!
They come with a cord to adjust the top so the grounds don’t come out.
The best part? They’re disposable! Just toss ‘em after you’re done with them, no mess to clean, nothing. It really is easy to make cold brews with these filters.
The main difference here is the size. They are slightly bigger so you can make almost twice the amount of coffee than with the Homyhee ones. The material is also a little bit different – the mesh is finer, which means that there is a lot less risk of loose grounds in the brew.
The adjustable cord is flat, and much more easy to handle than with the Homyhee.
Best metal coffee filters
You ever wondered if you could have a cone filter that was stainless steel? Yes, you can! You’re basically getting the best of both worlds.
The Zulay Reusable Filter is made of stainless steel. It is a very fine mesh filter that is in a pour over style shape, but the material is so fine that it is almost as malleable as paper. You can use it just as you would use a paper one, only with better flavor.
It lasts a lifetime, and it is reasonably easy to clean.
In the same vein as the previous one, although not quite as malleable. It is a hard metal filter that works wonders along with pour-over methods such as Hario or the Chemex, and since it’s metal, it has a better flavor and is infinitely reusable.
It does feel a little bit redundant, as this filter itself is a brewing method. Still, it’s a great way of not generating waste and having a good-looking filter at home.
Now we get to an age-old discussion: which one is better, bleached or unbleached?
This is mostly about paper filters. Paper, in its original form, is not white. It is more of a brown color and has a very distinctive paper aroma and even flavor. To make paper white, it goes through a series of processes. There’s more than one way to whiten paper.
The first is bleaching paper. This is not very desirable because, well, it’s bleach. Although bleach isn’t supposed to linger in the paper, it does a little bit. Some paper filters may have hints of “cleaning product” smell.
The most important concern with this is that bleach kills aroma and flavor. If even the slightest bit of it remains in the paper, it is very bad for your coffee’s overall taste.
There are, however, other ways to whiten paper. The best one out there is one that uses oxygen. You’ll probably have seen cleaning products that use oxygen as their main cleaning agent; a lot of them have “oxy” in their name. The oxygen works as a cleaning and whitening agent.
Oxygen is much more desirable as it does not have any effect on aroma and flavor. Paper whitened using this technique doesn’t have that characteristic “cleaning product” smell that some others may have.
Now, what about flavor? Well, it all depends on your personal taste.
The white paper will have little to no effect on taste. If anything, it can have a mildening effect on flavor. This is great for some coffees, and some brewing methods more than others. White paper filters are particularly great if you enjoy black coffee, and if you’re preparing a very exotic type of coffee that you don’t want to contaminate with any other taste.
Unbleached coffee filters are a whole world. They have this organic, earthy, papery taste that can actually contribute a lot to the taste of your coffee. This taste compliments coffee, much like other earthy ingredients do. Coffee brewed using unbleached filters has a slightly stronger taste, is more complex, and is complete.
So, in conclusion, each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses. The best way to go about it is to try each of them by yourself and see how you like them. You might surprise yourself.
Unbleached paper, by the way, isn’t all that more recyclable or better for the environment than white paper. So you don’t have to worry too much about that; the difference is inconsequential.
Things to Consider when you Buy a Coffee Filter
There are a few other things regarding paper filters that you may or may not have noticed before: they vary in size and shape. These differences may make them easier for you to brew, and some of the sizes and shapes fit better certain brewing methods. Here’s what you need to know.
This is the ideal one for cone-shaped brewing methods, like the Hario V60 and even the Chemex. It has a nice angle that makes it easy to pour water easily and it’s also rather easy to place correctly without any difficulties.
Square-shaped filters have their charm because they fit virtually any brewing method. They aren’t all that common nowadays, but they were once one of the most used types of filters. Today, it is widely regarded that V-shaped filters are better.
The second most popular after V shape. Round filters are very easy to handle and have a good shape that fits perfectly most brewing methods. They lack that certain angle that V shape filters provide, but some people find that same angle annoying when pouring (ironically), so they opt for round filters.
Baskets are mostly used for drip coffee machines and a few other instances. They are quite easy to use, and are the ideal option for coffee machines.
Discs are really only used for percolators. They can’t be used for any other brewing method, so only buy them if you have a percolator that needs this particular type of filter.
Size matters only when you’re using them for coffee machines. Single-serve, for example, uses No. 1 size, which is the smallest one. The rest (2, 4, and 6) go for different sizes of coffee machines. Check your machine’s instructions to tell which kind of filter you need.
As for pour-over brewing methods, they come in single-size. Chemex and Hario both use a one-size-fits-all type of size (also called “size 2”). You don’t need to worry about size with these, as there is only one size for them and you won’t benefit from using smaller or bigger filters: the one size is already the perfect one. Most pour-overs have the exact same shape.
Baskets come in a single size, although some machines may need bigger baskets, that’s not usually the case. So most basket filters come in their usual medium size.
Can you use paper towel as filter?
Usually, this is not a good idea. Paper towels are rather brittle and will break under the weight of water and grounds.
There are some special paper towels out there that are actually made of cotton fabric and that are marketed as “extra absorbent” paper towels. Technically, not paper. These towels can in fact make a pretty good filter when in need.
Simply cut them in the desired shape and use them as a filter. If they seem a little too brittle, you can use two; this practice is also common when brewing coffee, where a barista might use two coffee filters instead of one, although that’s mostly because of the flavor it produces.
What are the brewing methods that use filters?
Most brewing methods involve a filter at some point or another. Instead, let’s see which methods don’t use filters at all.
- Cowboy coffee: a traditional American brewing method that consists of just a pot, water, and coffee. Coarse ground coffee is added to boiling water and let to steep for a few minutes. Then, you would wait for a few minutes for all the coffee chunks to settle at the bottom of the pot—that’s when you pour. Hopefully, you don’t get a lot of grounds in your cup!
- Turkish coffee: this is one of the oldest ways to prepare coffee. The coffee beans are ground to a very fine grind—even finer than espresso—and mixed with water, then brought to a boil in a special pot. It is then served, ground and all, and it looks a lot like mud. It has a very particular, special flavor that is much richer than regular coffee, but it’s quite different from what we’re used to. It is one of the favorite ways of drinking coffee in many Middle Eastern countries.
What are the benefits of bamboo filters?
Bamboo filters have been around for a while as an alternative to regular paper filters. What are the benefits of bamboo over paper?
To be honest, the difference is very little. Bamboo filters do appear to be a little more resistant and some people say bamboo filters hold their shape better when pouring hot water on them, which can make the brewing process more comfortable.
But overall, bamboo does not offer a lot of benefits over regular paper filters. It is, however, a much more sustainable material than paper, which is why bamboo filters are popular. Paper filters might be a relic of the past sooner than we think!
What to use instead of coffee filters?
If you don’t have coffee filters around, you can always use a piece of fabric. Cotton and nylon work best; they are quite good for brewing coffee.
Cotton fabric can actually be purchased and used as a coffee filter. It has the right drainage to it, it is reusable, and it is easy to clean. Many people purchase bolts of cotton cloth, measure it against their coffee makers, and then cut out the exact shape that they need. It is convenient and literally tailored to your specific needs.
Of course, it comes without all the convenience and benefits of using paper coffee filters, which can defeat the purpose for some people.
Still, it’s nice to know that if you’re ever in a pinch, most things made of cotton can be used as a filter for coffee.
As you can see, coffee filters are a whole world unto themselves and, if you ask any baristas, serious business that is not to be taken lightly. Luckily, this article shed some light on the whole thing, and now you can walk away with a lot more knowledge about it.
Marcelo is a filmmaker and passionate barista on the side. He spends his free time cooking up new and exciting recipes – and drinking too much coffee in the process.