Millions of people drink coffee, in fact, people in the United States alone drink between 2 - 3 cups per day.
Many people make coffee at home using a drip coffee machine - but have you ever noticed that there are different colored paper coffee filters to choose from?
There are two main types - brown coffee filters, and white coffee filters.
In this guide we'll help explain the key differences between these two types of paper coffee filters, and help you decide which is best for you.
What Is A Coffee Filter? (Overview & Benefits)
Let's start with the basics first before we explore the differences.
A coffee maker uses filters as part of the brewing process. Hot water drips through the coffee grounds and then goes through some kind of filter, before producing a cup of coffee for you to drink.
The purpose of the filter is simple, it's to keep the coffee grounds out of your cup, and allow the water to capture all the taste when brewing coffee. They remove unwanted coffee oils and particles which can make your coffee bitter.
Most drip coffee makers use a paper filter, though some other brewing methods use a cloth filter. Whatever material is used, they all work the same way.
Paper filters are made from tightly interwoven layers and are considered better than most cloth filters. They let the coffee brew clean by keeping out a lot of the impurities and oils, giving you a fresh coffee with less bitterness.
The development of high quality coffee filters has been a game changer for home brewers. They allow anyone making a pour over or drip coffee to do it at home - effectively making high quality coffee available for anyone without the need for specialist equipment.
Brown Vs White Coffee Filters: What’s The Difference?
Coffee is a huge industry, so it's no surprise that different variations of paper filter have been developed.
Really, the only difference between a brown paper filter and the white paper filter is the materials used, or more specifically - whether you have the coffee filters bleached or not.
A brown filter is the natural color of the paper. They're what the unbleached paper filters look like and that's why natural brown filters remain so popular.
A white paper filters have been through a bleaching process - but the white filter would be naturally brown before that bleaching had taken place.
Why Are White Coffee Filters Bleached?
Brown paper filters are an unbleached filter, so you might be wondering why the white bleached filter even exists. Well, it all comes down to taste.
Some people complain that drip coffee has a slight paper taste. Naturally, this would be as a result of the filter paper, and some people believe that brown filters leave more of a paper taste in your pour over coffee.
Alternative bleaching methods were then explored to help reduce this papery flavor in the coffee - which led to the creation of a white coffee filter.
How Are White Coffee Filters Bleached?
There are two main ways to change your brown coffee filter into a white coffee filter: oxygen bleaching or chlorine bleaching.
Oxygen bleaching is done using a substance called sodium percarbonate. The oxygen bleaching process involves covering the brown color paper filter in this substance, and it's supposed to disguise the paper taste. The side effect is that it turns the paper white.
The advantage of oxygen bleaching is that it isn't toxic, and the sodium percarbonate actually breaks down to oxygen and water - so it's eco friendly.
The disadvantage is that oxygen bleaching is expensive - so buying paper filters chemically treated in this way will cost more.
Chlorine bleaching is a cheaper way to whiten your paper filters and involves using chlorine to bleach the paper. You might be thinking 'this doesn't sound safe!' - and while the filters aren't toxic, we wouldn't recommend using them.
The advantage of chlorine bleaching is that it's cheap, so you can pick up white coffee filters without spending much.
The disadvantage is that they are lower quality than oxygen bleach filters and they can actually impact the coffee's flavor more than the brown color filters. They're also less eco friendly.
Which Makes The Best Coffee?
For the average coffee drinker, there's no noticeable difference between brown and white filters.
However, as we mentioned above, some people say they notice a papery taste in their cup of coffee when using brown filters.
To avoid this, give your filter a quick rinse with water before adding your coffee for a smoother taste.
The question of whether to use bleached or unbleached coffee filters has been around for a long time.
There are two schools of thought on this issue. Those who use unbleached filters claim they produce a better-tasting coffee.
Those who use bleached filters claim that bleached filters are more efficient and cost-effective.
The truth is that there's no clear answer here between brown or white filters - which is why you can still buy either.
Which Is More Environmentally Friendly?
Drip coffee isn't the most environmentally friendly option but using brown filters is better for the environment.
The production of white paper filters tends to be more harmful to the environment because of the bleach is used during the manufacturing process. Oxygen bleach is worse than chlorine bleach, unbleached paper filters are best.
The good news is that white and brown filters are both compostable, even if they have been bleached.
If you're looking to reduce your environmental impact, consider using a reusable coffee filter. By avoiding paper filters, you'll be reducing waste and saving money on filter replacements. You can also switch to French press.
These have a reusable metal filter instead of brown or white coffee filters, so you can use them every day without generating waste and it's much better for the environment.
Other Factors To Consider When Choosing Paper Filters
As you can see, there isn't really much difference between brown coffee filters or white coffee filters - it's pretty much all aesthetic. Rather than choosing between white filters and brown filters, here are some other factors to consider:
Quality, Thickness, and Strength
There are usually a range of brown coffee filters and white filters available, and for us the most important factor is the quality.
Thick white or brown coffee filters will be able to properly support the brewing process and keep sediment out of the coffee. They'll also be strong enough to hold the wet grounds without splitting, which can completely ruin a jug of drip coffee.
The thickness of your white or brown paper filters is measured in microns. The average thickness is about 20 microns, but you get what you pay for.
It's definitely worth spending more to get good quality, thicker filters - and this is something you should consider before you worry about whether it's a bleached or unbleached filter.
Efficiency And Capacity
The efficiency of your white and brown coffee filters will have a bit impact on your coffee.
Drip coffee machines are all designed to produce different amount of coffee. Some coffee makers can produce 6 cups, others can make more than 12 -and your paper filters need to support that.
You should choose white or brown filters which match your machines specifications. If you don't then you'll find the particles won't be filtered properly and you could get bitter coffee.
It's worth noting that it doesn't make a difference if they're white or brown coffee filters - you still need to check their capacity before you buy them.
Let's face it, cost is going to be a big factor - and may influence whether you choose white filters or brown filters.
Unbleached filters are cheaper because they're simpler to make. White filters are more expensive because of the extra steps in the production process.
This means it's generally going to be cheaper to get a good quality brown paper filter than good quality white filters.
Try to think beyond brown and white filters when making your choice and instead look for quality. This will determine the effectiveness of your brewing method, and give you the best drip or pour over coffee.
Should You Wet A Paper Coffee Filter First?
One of the best ways to avoid the papery taste in your coffee is to rinse your paper coffee filters before you use them. This helps the brown or white filters to stop any sediment getting through and keep the papery taste out.
It's more important to rinse unbleached filters because it helps to remove the natural flavors from the paper. You don't necessarily have to with white paper coffee filters, but it is recommended - especially if you're using light roast coffee.
Using hot water to wet your white or brown coffee filters can also make them easier to unfold. this is particularly useful you're using a pour over Chemex coffee machine or V60.
Common Coffee Filter Questions Answered
Why are unbleached coffee filters more expensive?
Compared to bleached coffee filters, unbleached ones use fewer chemicals. Yet many brands charge more for unbleached versions.
So why are unbleached coffee filters more expensive? It comes down to supply and demand.
The demand for this kind of filter is higher, so cost savings can be passed on to the customer. It’s also possible that an ‘organic tax’ comes into play — companies know that people will pay more for products if they're considered organic or natural.
Are coffee filters reusable?
The answer is yes, you can use coffee filters multiple times to brew coffee. However, after a few brews, the filter will get discolored from the coffee oils, and the paper will lose its ability to filter the coffee properly.
As an alternative, reusable coffee filters are great for the environment and a great way to save money, and no, they don’t give your coffee a weird taste. All you have to do is rinse them with water, and you're good to go.
Difference between melitta brown vs white coffee filters?
If you're looking for premium coffee filters, there's a good chance that you'll find them at your local grocery store. It's more likely than not that they'll be the Melitta brand. Some brands of white coffee filters are processed with chlorine. Melitta filters are all-natural and contain no chlorine, making them friendly for those with chemical sensitivities.
When it comes to doing the job they are designed for, they essentially do the same thing, so don't feel like you need to shell out on the big brands to get a good cup of coffee.
What can I use if i’m out of coffee filters?
Although it might be a little bit more work, you can actually use a couple of paper towels or tea towels if you don't have a coffee filter. Just fold them and lay them flat on top of each other, and lay your coffee grounds on top of the towels before using as you would a typical filter.
Without a paper filter, the coffee grounds would be distributed evenly in the cup, and the coffee would taste like dirt. It would be unpalatable. The paper filter allows the coffee to be distributed through the paper evenly and serves as a barrier between the grounds and the coffee. For that reason, we would recommend stocking up on coffee filters so you never have to face this problem.
Honestly, there's not much difference between a brown filter and a white filter - and there's no evidence that either filters differently. It all just comes down to personal preference.
Brown filters are more eco friendly, and cheaper, whereas a white coffee filters may give less of a papery taste.
To be honest, making coffee correctly and using the right coffee beans are more important than the paper filter you choose - so it's best to focus on them.