There are no shortages of filters to choose from for your pour over coffee maker, as a matter of fact, the number of filter choices can be overwhelming. In this article, I break down three popular categories of pour over coffee filter, Paper Filters, Metal Mesh, and Cloth Filters and the pros and cons of each type. Let’s get started!
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What is the best Pour Over coffee filter?
The best filter for pour over coffee: Bonded and Oxygen Bleached Paper Filter. Even with so many different options, the paper filter remains the better option over metal or cloth filters. I’ve tested and used over half a dozen filter types, the paper filter offers great tasting coffee, it’s easy to use, and convenient whether you’re making 1 cup or 8 cups of coffee. If your main concern is the environment and for a more eco-friendly option, consider metal mesh filters for your pour over coffee.
Pour Over: Paper Filters
For most brewing applications the paper filter works flawlessly with very little effort on your part. A few considerations when choosing paper filters for those that are really into maximizing coffee flavors. In this section, we’ll go over several paper filter options and what you can expect from each one. For the most part, your pour over coffee maker should recommend a brand (usually their own brand). Any type of paper filter can impart ‘paper’ taste to your coffee, which can be very unpleasant if you have a sensitive palate. This can be avoided by ‘pre-wetting’ the coffee filter prior to brewing, here’s how you do it.
- Place your pour over coffee filter in your preferred pour over maker (DO NOT add coffee grounds)
- Ensure that filter is fitted snugly into the walls of the coffee maker
- Pour hot water on the filter and let it soak thoroughly
- If you’re using a Chemex, no need to remove the filter, just discard the hot water
- If necessary, rinse a second time
- Your paper filter is now ready for brewing, enjoy!
It should only require one pre-soak of the filter to remove all the paper taste, if you have a very sensitive palate it may require a second time. However, in the event that your filter still produces unpleasant paper taste after a couple of pre-soak attempts, I would highly recommend changing out the brand of the paper filter.
Bleached vs. Unbleached Filters
There are two popular types of paper filters, bleached and unbleached. There’s a never-ending debate in regards to the health effects of bleach in the coffee filter, especially since you’re using it to brew and filter grounds. The unbleached filter is exactly what it sounds, no bleached has been used in the creation of the filter. Unbleached filters typically come brown in color without any distinguishable features compared to their bleached counter-part, with the exception of the color. Since paper is naturally brown, Coffee filter companies use a very small amount of bleach to make the filters white. The bigger effect of the bleached coffee filter is arguably the environmental cost of chemical waste from paper mills & pulp. However, it’s generally safe to assume that bleached filters are safe, but let’s dig deeper into the two bleaching methods used in coffee filters.
Chlorine Bleached Coffee Filters
It’s the same chemical element used in cleaners, manufacturers also use it to brighten wood pulp and turn filters white. The entire process of making a bleached coffee filter is similar to the processing of regular paper used for writing, the difference primarily is the thickness and quality of pulp used to make the filter.
Oxygen Bleached Coffee Filters
Oxygen bleached coffee filter is achieved by using Sodium Percarbonate, which is made from sodium carbonate + hydrogen peroxide. In simple terms, it works by removing dark brown ‘stains’ from the paper pulp when exposed to water by releasing oxygen. The release of oxygen removes the brown color from the natural paper pulp and turning the filter white.
So Which Filter Should You Use? Chlorine or Oxygen Bleached?
If you want an environmentally friendly option, then oxygen bleached paper is the way to go. In general, oxygen bleached pour over coffee filters is considered higher quality than chlorine-bleached version. The quality of the coffee filter is much more important than the type of bleaching, consider that lower quality coffee filters may impart unwanted paper taste to your cup of coffee.
Natural / Unbleached Pour Over Paper Filters
Another paper filter option is the Unbleached natural coffee filter. All popular pour over coffee makers have an unbleached option for use with their makers and the price difference between unbleached vs bleached is negligible. Unbleached paper filters work exactly the same way as their bleached counterparts, but usually, come brown in color. Natural coffee filters will need to go through the pre-soak/wetting process to remove any unwanted paper flavor in your coffee. The obvious added bonus of natural paper is that no bleaching of any sort is added to the processing of the paper, but it doesn’t mean it’s chemical-free, it’s processed paper after all. Another added bonus is that you can compost natural paper filters along with your coffee grounds! When I used a box of unbleached coffee filters, I always double soaked my filters, I just simply washed it with hot water twice to ensure no paper taste was imparted in my coffee. I can’t confirm whether 2x pre-soak was necessary, but I just made a habit out of it when using unbleached pour over coffee filters.
Pour Over: Metal Mesh Filters
There are also a number of options for metal / reusable coffee filters for use with your pour over coffee maker. I personally own a few of them and can attest that coffee flavor with metal filters is still delicious. Metal filters come in different mesh sizes, usually Fine, Medium and Coarse, referring to the tiny holes in the mesh. I would highly recommend t get a Medium mesh, to test at first and play around with other filter sizes if you’re not happy with medium mesh. I’ve used all three types from different brands with varying results. I’m not 100% in love with metal filters because they come with some annoying drawbacks, purely convenience related, not taste. When you go to Amazon or search online for metal filters, you’ll be presented with different color options, these are all purely aesthetic and does not improve the coffee taste in any way. Anyone claiming that gold plated stainless steel coffee filter taste better is lying to you. Simply put, metals filters are a good alternative to paper coffee filter, more eco-friendly and cost-effective in the long run.
Metal Coffee Filters Cogging Up?
All metal coffee filters will eventually clog up after repeated use. The oils and solubles from the coffee will clog up the metal pores and eventually reduce your metal mesh filter a very slow drip. I’ve used metal mesh coffee filters and have had issues over the years with clogging, it’s mainly due to not cleaning the filter right away after use, sometimes it’s not possible and I’ve left the filter with used coffee grinds on the kitchen counter for hours before. The best usage for metal filters is to throw the ground beans and wash it with light soap and water right away. This should help with the clogging, allowing you to use your metal coffee filter without any issues for months. However, metal filters (especially fine mesh) will inevitably clog and you’ll need to clean. Luckily cleaning it up is an easy task, here’s how you do it.
- Boil a pot of water enough to cover the filter(s) entirely and add vinegar. I use a 1 /4 ratio, for every 4 parts of water, I use 1 part distilled vinegar. 1 Cup Vinger / 4 Cups of Water.
- Let the water get to a rolling boil
- Add your metal mesh filter to the boiling water and let it boil for about 20 mins
- Once your timer goes off, remove the filter from the water after letting cool down
- Test the flow by straining water into the filter to see if it’s improved. (Repeat process above if needed)
The cleaning process I’ve outlined above should work for a majority of clogged metal coffee filters. There are instances where the balance of your tap water is a little bit on the ‘hard’ side and limescale buildup is a very real concern, especially with metal filters. While vinegar is a good natural solution to descaling, sometimes it’s not enough to remove the build-up. There are descaler solutions that you can buy, make sure you’re looking for phosphate-free descaling solutions.
Pour Over: Cloth Filters
The third and last option I’ll cover for pour over coffee maker is the cloth filter. Not nearly as popular as the other two options, paper & metal, still, cloth filters offer a compelling solution to your pour over coffee needs. In full disclosure, I’ve only ever used hemp-based cloth filters, so I’ll cover that in more depth, and I’ll mention alternatives to hemp-based coffee filters if you’re interested in exploring those options. If you find cloth filters to be a great solution, please share it with us in the comments below. Just like paper filters, cloth coffee filters also come in a variety of sizes and types, including No. 2, the ever popular No. 4 and No. 6 type filters. There are some tangible benefits to using cloth filters:
- Cloth filters are eco-friendly
- Cloth filters do not impart unwanted flavors
- Hemp-based cloth filters are naturally bacteria & mildew resistant
- Superb sediment control over metal filters
- Natural filters & compost friendly
Cleaning cloth coffee filter(s) was a breeze if you’re wondering. After each usage, I would compost the used coffee beans and soak the coffee filter in mild soap and warm water. It was actually really easy to use & maintain hemp filters and there was no discernible difference in taste the coffee produced vs paper. Hemp filters have the added benefit not imparting ‘paper’ taste to your coffee, although I would still highly recommend pre-soaking your filter prior to brew.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
With many choices for pour over coffee filters, hopefully, this article has armed you with enough knowledge to make a decision that’s right for you. Each type of filter offers different benefits, but most importantly offers enough variety to fit most of everyone’s needs. The most important take away from this is always choose quality over saving a few cents when it comes to filters. There’s no wrong choice when it comes to pour over coffee filters, but oxygen bleached paper coffee filter is my go-to option when it comes to filters, even though I’ve owned and used several different types, call it old habit.
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