For those who are looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to paper coffee filters, there are two basic options: cloth or metal. While metal filters may be more common in the United States, cloth filters are becoming more common. Outside of the U.S., cloth filters are widely used in Asia, Spain and Latin America, and it was the filter-of-choice before Melitta Bentz invented the paper filter in 1906. As more and more people consider embracing reusable filters for economic and environmental reasons, here’s a look at cloth and metal filters from a brewing point of view.
Cloth Filters Brew Clean Coffee
Cloth filters produce a lighter, sweeter coffee than metal filters. Although they subdue flavor notes by filtering out some oils, they also catch more small particles, or fines. These particles add a slight sharpness to a cup, a flavor French press drinkers are familiar with. By filtering the fines out, cloth filters both brew a clearer cup of coffee and one where sweet notes aren’t counteracted by bittering particles.
Additionally, cloth filters catch cafestol, an oil that’s found in coffee and has been linked to high levels of cholesterol. For this reason, some health-conscious coffee drinkers prefer cloth filters.
Metal Filters Brew Full-Bodied Coffees
Metal filters create brews with fuller bodies and stronger flavors, because they don’t filter out as many oils or fines as cloth filters do. The oils contain a coffee’s flavor notes, while the fines enhance a cup’s body.
Metal filters may slightly affect a coffee’s taste by imparting their own, mildly metallic flavors. Many coffee drinkers are willing to overlook this slight disadvantage, appreciating the fuller notes and bigger body that metal filters provide.
When it comes to clean up, metal filters are often easier to rinse and wash than cloth ones. Cloth filters may require several rinsings before all the grounds are out of them. Metal filters can easily be washed by hand or in a dishwasher.
Picking a Filter to Use
The best way to decide between a cloth or metal filter is to borrow one of each and use them yourself. If you don’t have a friend you can borrow one from, then try matching up the filter with the type of coffee you prefer. For example, if you typically like clean, bright coffees from Central and South America, a cloth filter might serve you best. Alternatively, if you often drink fruity coffees from Africa or bold coffees from Asia, you might appreciate the additional flavor and body that a metal filter affords.
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