Is your favorite coffee filtered or unfiltered? The topic of filtered coffee is often confusing because most brewing methods use some type of filter and yet we consider some of them as unfiltered coffee.
The best examples would be espresso, Moka pots, and the French press. They all use a filter but coffee and health experts classify them as unfiltered coffee.
This article discusses filtered coffee beyond the usual simplistic classification of the brewing method and also explains why it’s important to understand whether your coffee is filtered or unfiltered.
What is filter coffee?
Most coffee experts describe filter coffee as coffee that runs through a paper or cloth filter which retains most of the oils. Filter coffee has more clarity and less body than regular coffee. Generally, filter coffee has little or insignificant amounts of the potentially harmful diterpenes that are naturally present in coffee.
Health experts advise that filter coffee is much healthier than unfiltered coffee and this has fueled the debate about filter coffee and what it really means.
In most cases, people confuse drip coffee to mean filter coffee. However, drip coffee is a method of making coffee whereas filter coffee alludes to the type of filter that is used.
Traditional drip coffee brewing methods such as pour-over have lately adopted metallic/mesh filters that allow coffee oils to filter through.
Some other people erroneously classify filter coffee as coffee that uses gravity to drip through the grounds. However, new innovations have delivered filter coffee brewing systems that use pressure such as the AeroPress and drip coffee machines.
Similarly, some unfiltered coffee makers such as the French press now have paper filters available.
As you can see, it is difficult to definitively classify coffee-making methods as filtered or unfiltered because it depends on the type of filter that you are using. The conversation about filtered coffee should be less about the brewing method but more about the type of coffee filter that is used.
Filtered Coffee vs Unfiltered Coffee
Since filtered coffee uses either a paper or cloth filter, we can now interrogate the differences between filtered coffee and unfiltered coffee
- Flavor. Unfiltered coffee has a bigger mouthfeel and more body than filtered coffee as it has more oils.
- Sediments. Unfiltered coffee is likely to have some fine sediments as the coffee fines pass through metallic filters. Filtered coffee, on the other hand, is cleaner.
- Cafestol and kahweol. Cafestol and kahweol are prevalent in unfiltered coffee in significantly higher amounts per milliliter of coffee as compared to filtered coffee. These diterpenes can increase bad cholesterol in your body. You can read more in our previous article about the best way to remove cafestol and kahweol from your coffee.
- Clarity. Manually paper-filtered coffee such as Chemex paper is valued for its clarity and is preferred for single-origin coffee. The absence of oils and sediments gives prominence to the usually subtle nuanced single-origin flavors. The clarity in coffee increases as its body decreases and vice versa.
Why is it Important to Know whether Coffee is Filtered or Unfiltered?
- Unfiltered coffee can increase the risk of cardiovascular and cholesterol-related health problems. A Norwegian study that was investigating the relation between coffee consumption, deaths from cardiovascular diseases, and the total death rate linked unfiltered coffee to more deaths than filtered coffee. Filtered coffee was linked to fewer deaths than not drinking coffee. If you have cholesterol problems, unfiltered coffee is likely to exacerbate them
- Get the best out of the coffee beans. High-quality single-origin coffee beans are best brewed using paper or fabric filters in manual drip coffee makers such as Chemex and Hario V60 to bring out their special flavors. Paper filters are also the best choice for medium and blonde roasts.
6 Types of Filtered Coffee
From this discussion, it is clear that every time we are using a paper or cloth filter, then we are making filtered coffee. Metallic filters have tiny perforations that allow oils to pass through unlike the woven fibers in paper and sock filters that retain the oils.
Therefore, using a metallic cone filter in a Chemex or Hario V60 is essentially making unfiltered coffee as you end up with more oils than regular filter coffee. Similarly, using a metallic disc in the AeroPress makes unfiltered coffee.
On the flip side, using paper filters in the French press makes the coffee filtered. So what are the “true” types of filtered coffee?
Pour Over with Paper or Cloth Filter
Pour-over filter coffee involves pouring hot water over ground coffee in a paper or cloth filter that is inserted in a coffee dripper. You manually control the pouring, blooming, and contact time to make a clean and bright brew. The coffee drips into a cup or carafe.
Pour-over takes practice to master and although it is the most popular type of filtered coffee, it is easier to get wrong even for experienced baristas. Most coffee experts, black coffee lovers, and single-origin coffee enthusiasts prefer this method as it is affordable and the coffee has a clean finish.
Chemex with Paper Filters
The Chemex with the double-bonded paper filter is the crème de la crème of filter coffee. It yields coffee with the highest clarity and least body.
The Chemex is, essentially, pour-over coffee that uses special double-bonded Chemex paper filters. There are numerous alternatives to Chemex paper such as metallic and cloth filters. However, metallic filters in Chemex make the brew unfiltered due to the higher oil content.
French Press with a Paper Filter
Previously in a separate post, we discussed whether the French press is bad for you due to the high amount of cafestol and kahweol.
We also discussed how to make filtered coffee in a French press using the French press paper filters. Therefore, although historically the French press makes unfiltered coffee, you can use the special paper filters to make a filtered brew.
Our best pick for paper filters for a French press is the unbleached Hario siphon paper filters that have a hole in the middle. They retain the oils and grounds to yield a clean cup for French press coffee lovers.
A Siphon coffee maker uses two chambers where the lower chamber contains water and the upper chamber starts empty with a filter at the bottom. The upper chamber also has a hollow stem that inserts into the bottom chamber.
The lower chamber is heated from underneath with a burner. The water boils and vapor pressure forces the water to move up through the stem to the top chamber.
Ground coffee is then added to the hot water in the upper chamber and allowed to bloom. The burner is then turned off and coffee starts dropping from the upper chamber through the filter to occupy the vacuum in the lower chamber.
Siphon coffee uses gravity and vacuum pressure. See our review of this amazing retro-style vacuum coffee maker.
Here is a video that demonstrates how a vacuum coffee maker works.
Auto-drip Coffee Makers with Paper Filters
Most auto-drip coffee makers use mesh filters and therefore, the coffee is usually bold and flavorful especially for golden cup SCA certified home brewers. Fortunately, flat bottom and cone paper filters for auto-drip coffee makers are available in the market.
You can read more about auto-drip coffee makers in our article that also explains the SCA certification.
When buying paper filters for a drip coffee maker, ensure the papers are compatible with your machine. Flat bottomed paper filters such as the Bunn paper filters are compatible with drip coffee makers that use a flat-bottom filter basket.
Cone paper filters such as the #4 Melitta paper filters can fit in 8-12 cup coffee makers that use cone filter baskets such as Cuisinart coffee makers.
AeroPress with a Paper Filter
The AeroPress coffee maker is a revolutionary brewer that makes coffee in under three minutes. The manufacturer has clearly stated that they do not include metal filters when shipping the AeroPress as
“…using a paper filter is healthier because it removes diterpenes from coffee and diterpenes are potent agents that raise your bad cholesterol. Metal filters do not remove diterpenes.” — AeroPress
When classifying coffee as either filtered or unfiltered, the focus should be on the type of filter rather than the brewing method. The types of filtered coffee, therefore, include all coffees that are brewed with paper and cloth filters.
The main reason for classifying coffee as filtered or unfiltered is the fact that filtered coffee is considered healthier as it has very low amounts of diterpenes which are linked to cholesterol problems.
Coffee makers that are historically known to make unfiltered coffee such as the French press can be adapted to make filtered coffee by incorporating a paper or sock filter. Similarly, using mesh filters in drip coffee makers makes the coffee unfiltered.