What Are Coffee Filters Made Of?

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Let me throw you a scenario.

You wake up and the first thing you do is head down to the kitchen. You need one thing: coffee.

Now, unless you use a French press or espresso maker, chances are you’re going to need a coffee filter to help brew that delicious java… and get your eyes to finally open the rest of the way in the process.

Have you ever wondered, though, what exactly is in that mysterious coffee filter you use on a daily basis?

Let’s take a closer look at what exactly coffee filters are made of!

A Brief History of the Coffee Filter

If you enjoy a pour over, or any of several other kinds of brewed coffee, you probably use a coffee filter.

But, while coffee as a beverage is centuries old, did you know that filters are not? They’re actually a surprisingly recent invention!

Coffee filters were invented by a German woman named Melitta Bentz, who patented her innovation in 1908 – just a hop, skip, and a jump back in time.

Here's a short video about this entrepeneur:

Since then, they have become a worldwide success,  with filters of all sorts being quickly incorporated into countless different brewing techniques.

Before the invention of the filter, brewing coffee was a messy process, with grounds inevitably ending up in the cup. Now, it didn’t take a culinary expert to realize that coffee brewed without a filter can be pretty intense – and often quite bitter. And it didn’t take a team of scientists in white lab coats to figure out a better solution to the process, either.

All it took was for Melitta Bentz, a very “un-scientific” housewife from Dresden, to realized that a simple filtering process could result in a smoother cup. Who doesn’t love smoother coffee, right?

Frau Bentz didn’t get it on the first try, though. She tested many different materials to figure out which would work best. In the end, she found a rather simple and profound solution: Bentz discovered that the blotting paper her son used at school was, in fact, the most effective option, with the material allowing the flavor and oils to pass through while keeping back those gritty grounds.

Bentz simply got the paper to fit and, hey presto, she had a pour over filter!

Today, coffee filters are usually made from paper. There are, however, some alternatives on the market, including ones made from sock cloth, or even gold. If you’re in a pinch, it’s also possible to make an emergency DIY coffee filter using a normal paper towel, as demonstrated in this video.

Paper, Bamboo, Sock Cloth, Gold - What’s Your Material Of Choice?

There are many different materials available for coffee filters, let's review them now before choosing.

Most Coffee Filters Are Made From Paper

As you may know, paper is now the most common material for coffee filters, due to their ease of use and low cost. However, because they cannot be reused, their cost adds up over time, making them a more expensive alternative in the long term.

Paper filters absorb some of the oils present in coffee grounds. This can affect the taste of your coffee, making it less greasy, and by some accounts, healthier. They are also hygienic, as they are only used once.

Most people throw their used coffee filters to the trash, ending up in the the landfill. If you don’t want to be one of those people, it’s your choice.

Coffee filters made from paper can easily be composted, but many users don’t make the effort. In fact, there are many things you can do with used coffee grounds, and the paper filters decompose fairly quickly.

The paper used for coffee filters can be either bleached or unbleached. Either chlorine or oxygen can be used to bleach the coffee filters, giving them a "clean" look. Unbleached filters on the other hand retain the natural wood coloring of the paper.

Bleaching however, does not affect the taste of the coffee in any way, and is an unnecessary extra step in the process.

See the process of making paper coffee filters with your own eyes:

Alternatives Include Bamboo And Metal

Some people prefer non-paper coffee filters due to the taste or environmental consciousness. Alternatives include bamboo, nylon, linen, silver or even gold.

Bamboo is used to produce coffee filters that are very similar to paper ones. Because bamboo grows much faster than trees however, it is a more renewable resource. This means that you can get the convenience of reusable filters, but with less burden for the environment.

Of the large manufacturers, Melitta has jumped on the bamboo bandwagon and is selling convenient boxes containing 80 bamboo filters each.

Other alternatives include reusable coffee filters which last a long time. They are often made with metals such as titanium or gold. Although reusable coffee filters seem expensive, they are meant to last for years.

Here is a review of the Osaka metal coffee filter used for a pour over:

When you use metal coffee filters, the essential oils present in coffee grounds will be retained. Some people will like this, others won’t; why don’t you try it yourself?

A cheaper alternative to metal is also available in the form of cloth or fine-mesh nylon. They are environmentally friendly, but can be difficult to clean. Cloth can also impart a unique flavour to your coffee - not necessarily in a good way. Linen was used to filter coffee before Frau Bentz decided it was time to discover a new method.

What Are Coffee Filters Made Of? - Now You Know!

While paper filters are a convenient option, they aren’t necessarily the best choice.

If you don’t want to lose the essential oils present in coffee, try a metal filter such as the Osaka Himeji-Jo Steel Filter. If you are looking for convenience but don’t like the thought of killing so many trees for your coffee, opt for the Melitta Bamboo filters.

Inspired to switch your paper coffee filters for something else? Let me know how it goes!

Here’s a little more info on coffee filter substitutes, just in case you’re looking for more cool stuff to read!

  • Updated November 22, 2018
  • Coffee
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