What coffee filter should I use?
If you are a filter coffee lover then obviously you care about enjoying the hugely varied flavours and tastes available in speciality coffee. The process of making a filter coffee can be more of a ritual then other brewing methods, with brewers taking care to ensure every aspect is carefully considered, but one thing which people sometimes overlook is the humble filter.
Filters obviously vary widely depending on your brewer; with the variety of filters open to you depending on which brewer you are using; the Aeropress has metal and paper options and so does a drip brewer but the larger coffee percolators tend to only have paper filters available. So, the best filter for you depends on what you are looking to get out of your cup of coffee but there are a few factors when choosing a filter. We’re going to take a look at a few …. let’s start with the basics.
What is a coffee filter?
Basically, the filter’s purpose is to allow water to come in contact with the ground coffee and then pass through the filter, separating the brewed liquid from the grounds. Filters come in a variety of sizes depending on your chosen brewer, they can be conical for brewers like the Chemex or the v60, flat bottom for the Kalita Wave or disc shaped for the AeroPress. Filters can be made of from paper or metal or even cloth and they all will change the end result in the cup. Metal filters range widely from a mesh screen through to microscopic hole sizes and patterns which can get close to being as fine as a paper filter. Paper filters can be as varied, with the thickness of the paper playing a huge roll in the final outcome. V60 filters use a thinner paper than the Chemex which is almost 3 times thicker; the thicker Chemex filter is going to allow the least oil and solids to get through. The Kalita Wave, the other major paper filter pour-over device, matches closer to V60 than Chemex in terms of filter paper thickness.
Going from heaviest to lightest, the coffee filter material spectrum is this: mesh filter, cloth filter, laser cut metal filter, thin paper filter, thick paper filter.
There are two main factors when choosing a filter, how it affects the taste and how easy it is to use.
How does the filter affect cup profile?
This is perhaps the most important factor when considering a filter. In general, the larger the holes in your filter, the more body the cup will have. This is because the larger holes allow more oils and solids to pass through, giving the coffee a weightier mouthfeel. Materials like cloth and metal are going to edge more towards allowing more of these through. On the other end of the spectrum are materials like paper that don’t allow nearly any oils through. Paper filters can produce cups that are generally described as “clean” or “light” or “delicate” in flavour. Paper filters are designed to get the more delicate flavours out of the coffees, by having a very fine filter the water is in contact with the coffee for longer and it is able to extract the more delicate flavours. The mesh, metal, and cloth counterparts do a much better job of creating a more full-bodied cup as the liquid does stay in contact with the ground coffee as long but it’s able to keep hold of the oils as it passes through the wider mesh type filters
What makes a filter easy to use?
There are two main considerations when determining a filter’s ease of use: consistency and setup/cleaning time. A filter might make a great cup of coffee time after time but can be a real pain to use. Its best to work out what your tolerance is; or really …. how much you care.
In general, filters with larger holes tend to be more consistent – producing a good result time after time. Paper filters, especially thicker Chemex-style ones, are prone to getting different results caused by small variances in how you apply water to the coffee grounds —how fast you pour, where on the brew bed you concentrate the pour, etc, all these can have dramatic effects on the overall brew time and the final taste of your coffee.
When it comes to setup/clean-up, the paper rules the day; just pop it in your coffee maker and go, and when you’re done, you just throw them away. Metal and cloth filters are all made to be reusable—which is great—but this also means you have to clean them. Metal filters are more easily cleaned with a quick rinse after use while cloth filters require a lot more work, perhaps even a full-on hand washing or trip to the washing machine
In addition, if you are using a natural/unbleached paper filter, you should give it a rinse first. This will help remove the cardboardy taste it can impart.
On the note of eco-friendliness, the edge has to be given to the reusable filter here. Part of the paper filter’s ease of use comes from its disposability. A good metal filter could last you years but a paper filter’s lifecycle is about five minutes. Now, the environmental impact of the paper filter can (and should) be mitigated by adding it to the compost, but for a variety of reasons this isn’t always a viable option, so the reusable filter still wins out.
So now you have a basic understanding the best thing to do is to experiment. Perhaps try a few different filters out and see which ones you like most …. And which ones you have the patience to entertain.