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Which Type of Coffee Filter Should I Use?

filters-grounds-beans

Coffee filters were first invented in the early 1900s by a housewife in Dresden, Germany. Melissa Bentz wanted to brew coffee that wasn't bitter tasting. She invented the filtered drink by pouring boiling water over a round piece of blotting paper folded to hold coffee grounds, letting the paper filter out the grounds as the liquid flowed into a metal cup she set below. This simple concept is still used today.

Filters remove coffee dregs from the finished product. The benefit of removing coffee grounds right after brewing coffee is that it prevents over brewing. Over brewing causes coffee to taste burnt and bitter. This masks the delicious coffee aroma and makes the coffee less enjoyable. Luckily, many varieties of coffee filters are available to assist in making premium coffee at home.

The Many Different Types

There are three different types of filters to choose from: paper, permanent and cloth. We'll go over the pros and cons of each type so that you can determine which one is right for you.

Paper Filters

Paper filters are meant for one-time use and are disposed of after brewing. They are unique in that they remove oily components called diterpenes that are present in raw coffee beans. Diterpene is a natural compound and poses no known health risks, although in some studies it has been positively linked to increasing cholesterol.

Although each paper filter costs pennies, a new one is used for each batch of coffee so that cost adds up. Since permanent filters can be used for years, using a daily paper version is nearly always the more expensive option. Packs of 40 generally cost $2-3 dollars. Permanent ones cost anywhere between $8-30 dollars and can be used for considerably longer after the initial investment.

paper-filter-grounds

Pros:

  • Easier to clean up : They can be thrown away right after use, with no clean up beyond placing the used filter in a trash can.
  • Removes cholesterol raising oils : Only paper filters eliminate oil with diterpene found in coffee.
  • Biodegradable : Since they're made of natural fibers, they will decompose in composts (or landfills).
  • Sanitary : They're only used once, so they don't grow residue or bacteria from repeated use.

Cons:

  • Flimsiness : Cheaper varieties can burst at their crimp, causing grounds to fly everywhere and ruining coffee. Look for quality brands to reduce the chance of the filter coming apart.
  • Environmental damage : Unless you are composting your used filters, they are most likely ending up in the trash can before being buried in a landfill. Paper filters are made from trees that must be cut down before being used. Filters made from bamboo somewhat counteract the deforesting effect.

The different types of paper:

  • Natural brown : In its natural form, all paper is brown colored, so brown filters are completely unprocessed. Other than aesthetics and processing, there are no other differences in color.
  • White : White paper filters are processed to get that clean, white shade. Chlorine bleaching or natural oxygen bleaching are common methods for whitening paper. Generally, better quality paper ones do not use chlorine bleach.
  • Bamboo : Bamboo fibers can also be used. Bamboo is a naturally renewing resource that grows much more quickly than the type of tree used for paper pulp.
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Permanent Filters

Permanent coffee filters are meant to be washed and reused. They are generally made of gold, another metal, or nylon. Depending on the material they're made with, they can cost between $10-30. With proper care and maintenance they can be used for years.

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Pros:

  • Longevity : They can be used for years with proper cleaning and maintenance.
  • Strong roast : They tend to let more coffee through, resulting in a full-bodied flavor. Paper versions can remove some of the complex flavors in the coffee.
  • Green : For those concerned with being eco-friendly, permanent options are the greenest since they do not contribute to deforestation or produce waste.

Cons:

  • Clean-up : They must be cleaned after every use in order to stay clean. Some permanent filters are dishwasher safe, but hand washing is the preferred cleaning method. This is because the filtering medium can get misshapen or torn in a dishwashing cycle.
  • Sediment : This type of filter can leave sediment in the bottom of coffee cups and carafes.

The different permanent options:

  • Gold toned : Gold plated filters are made out of stainless steel with gold plating. Especially good-quality gold versions are available plated with real 23-carat gold. The metal mesh lets in very small particles of coffee grounds to the finished product. The oils in the coffee remain, adding additional flavor.
  • Nylon : Nylon coffee filters are made of the synthetic fabric. They are lower in price and quality when compared to the metal permanent option, and can give off an acidic taste over time.

Cloth Filters

Cloth filters are made of natural cotton, hemp, or muslin fabric. The pores on cotton filters are slightly larger than those on paper filters and smaller than the pores on permanent ones. A small amount of coffee sediment will be present in finished coffee. Cloth filters are available in the shape of a cone or a bag. They can be cleaned with water and bristled scrub-brush if necessary.

hemp-cloth-coffee-filter

Pros:

  • Bold coffee : They let in the tiniest coffee ground particles and other flavors into the final product. The result is a bold tasting cup-a-joe.
  • Green : Depending on where the fibers come from, they can be an environmentally friendly option. Look for versions made with organic, sustainably farmed, or naturally restoring fibers.

Cons:

  • Clean-up : They are rinsed with water to be cleaned. The cloth naturally begins to brown with use.
  • Lifespan : Filters wear out every 3-6 months, depending on how often they are used.

What Size Do You Need

Now that you know all about the different types of filters you can consider what size you need. There are many different sizes available, depending on how much coffee you want to make. Cone filters come in sizes 1, 2, 4, and 6; larger filters for coffee makers are sized to make 4-6 cups or 8-12 cups. Although price is not a guarantee of quality, it's important to not choose bargain basement filters. This is because cheap filters are made from worse materials, which can leach toxic substances and add unwanted flavors to the coffee.

coffee_paper_filters

The Right One For You

With all this information you can now make an informed decision about which coffee filter is right for you. If you're more concerned about the environment and enjoy a bold coffee flavor then a permanent one is probably right for you. Or if you're concerned about high cholesterol and want more convenience then go with the paper option. Can't make up your mind? Then just go with the cloth option, which is a good go-between.

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