sustainability.: Filter Stories: How Sustainable Are Five Commonly Used Filters?

in partnership with Cafe Demitasse

Coffee filters are a key component to brewing coffee. They filter out coffee grinds and are a step in ensuring a clean, full bodied and juicy cup. For as long as I’ve known about the process of making coffee, I’ve associated paper filters with batch brewing and pour over. I’ve associated stainless and ceramic filters with more advanced coffee preparation techniques.

I never thought about the environmental impact a coffee filter can have on our earth at large,  until I read Cafe Demitasses’ May post chronicling its journey into reducing waste.  As it considers which filters are the best for flavor and environment, the topic aroused thoughts of my own, including my home brewing system for when I make coffee and when coffee shops at large are making coffee for me.


My current setup is a stainless steel pour over system from Japanese brand Kinto, complete with a reusable, stainless steel filter. I love it; it does a great job with sifting fines, and I don’t have to worry about coating it with a paper or cloth filter that will result in a single use product or one that needs extensive cleaning time and time again.

Here’s an excerpt from its manufacturers:

The CARAT coffee dripper & pot [is] inspired by a cut diamond. Superior stainless-steel and glass design for sophisticated coffee breaks and teatime. The coffee dripper & pot set comes with a stainless-steel filter that allows for greater extraction of coffee oils than a paper filter, resulting in a richer and smoother coffee.”

Filters are important, because as they come in contact with our coffee through our brew method, they determined how well we can enjoy what is extracted into our cups.

I’ve looked at five filters that are in common use by coffee shop owners and at home brewers to see the pros and cons of their usage, along with their environmental impact whether using basket or cone.   

  1. Paper filter

Paper is hugely accessible yet widely discardable.  The use of paper comes from trees as a dominant resource around the world. However, this dominance shouldn’t be confused for never ending. “Paper filters reduce the amount of cafestol, a coffee oil that’s been implicated in raising cholesterol levels, that makes it into your cup. Because of that, some medical experts feel that paper coffee filters are a healthier option than metal filters.” 

Additionally, paper filters are a single use item which means  you’ll use more of them than if you went with a less disposable option.  

If you opt for paper, err on the size of quality, as a filter with some weight can do the job well and preferably unbleached as less effort went into manufacturing them which is easier on the environment. Should you decide to go with a bleached filter, knowing how the company making them applies this process is important. There is chlorine and oxygen bleaching, the latter being the better of the two.

Note: all bleached filters should be wet prior to usage to minimize affecting flavor and a papery taste to your coffee. When farmers, producers and roasters work so hard to enunciate flavor, it’s important that we don’t mitigate that work with a filter that can derail a coffee’s results.

      2. Stainless steel filter 

This variation on a metal, buoys up the presence of a coffees’ natural flavors. Because oil is important to the property of coffee, most coffee drinkers enjoy discerning full bodied flavors in their coffee and pleasant mouthfeel. Stainless steel filters enables drinkers to fully embrace what a coffee’s taste can be. What is more, they are a one-time buy and made to fit your coffee brewer of choice. These two latter aspects make for a minimal environmental impact while ensuring quality isn’t compromised.

     3. Metal filter 

According to some, metal coffee filters are said to create richer flavor, fuller body and more fines in the cup.

 While fines aren’t the love of ones coffee life when they appear in the cup, the trace of them doesn’t have to significantly detract from a coffee’s quality.

In regards to fines, the option is to be patient with the small microns that may end up in your coffee and control your grind size as much as possible. And when aided by a sifter shouldn’t alter your tactile preference too much. When it comes to impact, metal coffee filters are easy on the environment, “they don’t contribute to deforestation or add to the waste stream.”  That’s a big plus when it comes to having a more mindful and long-term sustainable brewing routine.

    4. Gold filter

While I have as yet to brew with a gold filter, it is thought that gold filters -gold plated metal- “create unique characteristics and flavors of coffee with better because gold filters are hard to ionize.” Cores.Coffee

How this affects the taste in the cup, I imagine is largely subjective. According to Coffee Habitat, “it allows all the coffee flavors to come through because it is chemically inert.”

Since coffee is an adventure, exploring the differences your palate might discern might be one you’ll want to pursue.

      5. Cloth Filters

There are endless options to cloth filters. From the highly custom, organic cotton and DIY options, you’ll have a wide variety from which to choose. I do like the Coffeesock,  as it’s durable, reusable, compostable and made by hand. One pack replaces the use of roughly 500 paper filters a year. That’s economic savings and earth savings too.

Where you save in reusable wear there’s also the expenditure of time, energy and water to clean and properly rinse your cloth filters. However, mindfulness with water usage and proper care should balance the greater gains, less waste going into our environment and a cloth that can adequately brew coffee and sift unwanted fines.

A look at these filter methods reveal that with options comes choice. If a small business coffee shop owner like Cafe Demitasse who is weighing the value and long term impact of filters across multiple cafes can tackle it so can we as fellow business owners and individual citizens. While some methods may be limited in its ability to render the best experience we may formerly be accustomed to, its probable, even possible that taking on one small part of a daily occurrence could help small changes to make big sense.

What will become your filter of choice?