Cloth vs Paper vs Metal Filters. An in-depth comparison.
Which coffee filter to opt for, a question that has sprung hundreds of blog posts, YouTube videos, and a not-so-friendly debate among many coffee appreciators.
What brought about this wild debate has to do with the filtration each of these produces, the difference in flavor, ease of convenience, the cost of convenience, and even the health factors that come into play.
Here is a blog post comparing paper, metal, and cloth filters and the coffee they produce.
Read on to find out what makes these filters so fundamentally different from each other, and why it's not just about the material used to make them.
Various types of filters available in market
Broadly speaking coffee filters can be divided into two kinds- Single-use and Reusable filters.
Single-use or Paper filters have two kinds based on how they are manufactured and processed. Bleached and Unbleached.
In the reusable category, you find metal and cloth filters.
There are a few more reusable options available like the hemp and nylon filters. But they add their own flavor profile to coffee, which most people describe as not preferable at all. They are excluded from this article.
All these filters have different pore sizes. Which is what is responsible for the filtration produced. How much they absorb or don’t absorb, how much coffee grounds they filter, all of these are what built the flavor profile of your drink.
Let’s talk about these filters in depth.
Paper filters are the most popular ones. They probably are the ones you heard about first.
Paper filters have the tiniest pore size out of the three, which results in a sediment-free cup of coffee. What it also does, is take away most of the oils of coffee. This makes the brew slightly more acidic. This is what generally people label as the “clean cup of coffee”
The lighter and brighter brew by the paper filter is what makes it the complete opposite of what the metal filter produces - a heavier brew with lots of flavors.
Cost-wise, it is said to be the cheapest of the three. But here’s another take. You have to keep buying them, for each cup you brew. And this cost adds up over time. Way more than the reusable kinds. These are the demerits of single-use filters.
Cleaning paper filters is easy. It’s just use and dump. The environmental impact is a lot more than just the biodegradability of paper. It’s the raw material for these filters - Trees. It takes roughly 1-1.5 million trees annually to produce the global paper filter requirement. It takes enormous resources to cultivate these trees. And this is the cost of convenience.
Unbleached paper filters are slightly better than bleached ones, for the environment. The bleach used will interact with the biosphere once discarded. Unbleached filters cost more than bleached ones.
At the other end of the filter spectrum, we have the metal filters. They have the biggest pore size out of all three filters. Which results in a richer brew. On one hand, where the paper filter absorbs most of coffee’s natural oils, the metal doesn’t. These oils are responsible for the texture and flavors so lovingly associated with metal filters.
Metal filters don't give you a sediment-free cup. There are coffee grounds present at the bottom. But if the richer and heavier brew is what you seek and you don’t mind the coffee micro grounds, the metal filter might be for you.
A single metal filter does cost you a lot more than a single paper filter, but it also lasts you a lifetime. The reusability of metal filters makes them a very low environmental impact product
Cleaning does include a few more steps. Wash the grounds off and deep clean once in a while and you are good to go.
The oily brew of metal filters does have some health concerns too. The metal filter does not absorb any oil and cafestol. Cafestol is something that increases the bad cholesterol in your body. Paper and cloth filters are much better at absorbing this.
Cloth - The other kind of reusable filter. One that isn’t talked about enough.
The filtration by cloth filters is more similar to the paper filter kind but a richer brew. No sediments and a faster filtration time than paper. And since it is made mostly of cellulose, which is odorless and tasteless, it doesn’t impart any additional flavor of its own to the brew.
The mouthfeel, aromatics, and flavor profile by cloth filters falls right into the balance between paper and metal. The coffee it produces is richer and syrupy compared to paper filtered coffee but has no sediments, unlike metal. More notes and brighter in general.
The maintenance of the cloth filter does involve some additional components. But most cloth filter users don’t mind a few additional steps, as the resulting brew is superior according to them.
This is what you should consider when choosing your filter, which brew makes you happy.
With good maintenance, the cloth filter should last you at least 4 months. And at the end of its lifespan, the filter is compostable and won’t release any nasty chemicals to the environment as it has none.
Most of the oil is absorbed by cloth, though it lets the flavors through.
Which is the right filter for you?
The right filter is very subjective. A better question would be, What is the right brew for you? What type of coffee do you want to drink? Lighter, cleaner brew or the heavier, richer brew, or the in-between brew. Do you want a filter that is super convenient like the paper ones or do you want a sustainable choice?
These are the questions you can ask, but what coffee do you like to drink is the more sensible one. The brew you like is the answer.
Be open to experimentation though. If you have a friend who uses metal or cloth filters, do ask them to brew you a cup. Who knows, you might end up liking it.