What Exactly Is Filter Coffee And How Do You Make It?

So what exactly is filter coffee? Ah. Well that is a good question. It depends who you are and why you want to know. Hold onto your hats, because this could get complicated. We’ll try our best to explain what a filter coffee is, and how to produce the very best filter coffee with the tools currently available.


What is Filter Coffee?

Filter coffee generally refers to coffee that is made, in various ways, with a paper or fabric filter. Yes, espresso and cafetiere and Moka pots use a filter of a sort, but these are metal which have larger holes, thus not filtering out the oils or diterpenes that some believe to be harmful or detrimental to the taste/texture of the resulting beverage.


Thanks to recent articles about how filtered coffee is better for you and your heart, a lot of people have been searching the term, believing that it is a particular type of coffee. If you are here for the health benefits of ‘filter coffee’ then you’re good with any type, as long as it uses a paper filter.


What is known as filter coffee in the coffee industry usually refers to coffee made using the drip method, and there are many options to be aware of. Let's get back to basics here: coffee preparation generally falls into the three categories of pressure, steeping and drip. These are fairly self explanatory: 


Pressure: the coffee is either pushed through a metal filter or basket (this is not the ‘filter’ of filter coffee, but more on that later!) with a high amount of pressure, to create a stronger, more concentrated end result: espresso, moka pot, syphon/vacuum pot & Aeropress are all examples of this. 


Steeping: coffee is placed in a volume of water, and left there for a period of time, before being seperated by various means, depending on the apparatus used: French Press, soft brew, coffee bags, and to a certain extent cold brew too. 


Drip: this is when coffee is placed in some sort of filter and water is poured over, either manually or automatically, which is then dripped through into a waiting vessel. This includes: the auto drip machines of the past decades, Chemex, the v60, Clever dripper, Beehouse and the many variations that have been invented in the past few years. 


As with everything else in the coffee world, all preparation processes are suggestions, and there are masses of discussions online about proper ways to use each tool, experiments to try, and arguments to join; all in the pursuit of the mythical perfect cup, which surely is a wasted pursuit as it is as much about personal taste as you can get. To complicate matters further, coffee that was previously not considered a filter (such as French Press) now has the option of adding a paper filter, so technically could now be called a filter coffee in some circles.


Plus it works the other way: you can get reusable metal filters for some drip coffees, so if they don’t filter out sediment and oils as well, does that make them technically no longer a filter coffee? Depends who you're talking to. For example, while the Aeropress may use a paper filter, it technically would not be classed as a filter coffee if you are going by taste alone, as it uses pressure to create a more concentrated end product. Yet it would be if you are going for the health benefits and lack of oils or sediment. Confused yet?


So, back to our original question: what would be considered a filter in the coffee industry? It’s essentially anything that runs through a paper or cloth filter, thus removing most of the oils, giving a ‘clean and thin’ taste and texture as an end result. It is because of this clarity that most filter coffees can be enjoyed without milk: they just aren't as harsh on the palette and serve well for trying out different blends of coffee, or single origin beans, as there will be no flavour interference from added ingredients.


How to make filter coffee

At the heart of perfecting a drip or pour over coffee comes the control of the variables: the timing, the way you pour the water, the weight and type of coffee and the temperature of the water.

For whichever method you choose to use, you will need a few other tools.

Ideally you will have:

  • Freshly ground coffee, weighed or measured to match the amount of coffee you want to produce (we sell all our beans ground to whichever grind you would like, or you can grind fresh beans yourself with a grinder).
  • A thermometer
  • A kettle: those in the know like a gooseneck one, as it allows the best control of the pour.
  • Filters! 
  • A stopwatch or your phone.

V-60

We are particularly fond of this little cone-shaped brewer, and it is definitely one of the most popular ways to drink coffee at home, not just because it creates an exceptional cup of coffee, but also because it is relatively cheap to buy and easy to master. That is not to say that you cannot get super nerdy about it: there are thousands of videos and discussions online about how to get the best, or quirkiest, results from your V-60, a name that refers to the 60 degree angle of the cone.

Produced by Herio, a company already well known for their kitchen equipment, these devices are made of ceramic, or plastic for a more travel-friendly version and sit on top of your cup of choice, ready to produce a fresh cup (or two) in a matter of minutes. Plus there's very little mess to clean up after, just pop the filter and coffee grounds in the bin when finished.

How to:


  • Gather your coffee and put the kettle on.
  • Place your v60 above a cup or carafe.
  • Fold the filter into a cone shape and place it inside the v60.
  • Wet the filter with a bit of water, making sure to pour out the excess.
  • Put the desired amount of coffee into the filter, and shake gently so that it sits flat.
  • Pour in approximately 50ml of the heated water, to make the coffee bloom (some super serious types weigh the whole thing, in which case, put in 50g of just off-boiling water).
  • Wait for 30-45 seconds, before pouring over another 100ml. Pour in a circular motion to ensure all the coffee gets contact. 
  • Add 50ml of water at 30 second intervals until it is all in.
  • Wait for the coffee to drip through. This should take no longer than 2-3 minutes (If it takes longer, go for a coarser grind, if it’s too quick or weak, go for a finer grind).
  • Throw away the used filter and coffee grounds and rinse the cone clean.

What coffee to use: medium to fine grind, similar to caster sugar.


Chemex

Invented in 1941, this is the one you’ve probably seen in more artisan coffee houses, as it requires a certain amount of skill to master. The filters are thicker than other drip coffees, giving the clearest possible results, which sort of matches the fact that it looks like a science experiment.

How to:

  • Prepare your coffee grounds and pop on the kettle.
  • Open up your Chemex filter so that three layers cover the pouring spout.
  • Optional: warm up the pot and dampen the filter with a bit of water, making sure you empty it out again while keeping the filter secure against the brewer wall. 
  • Place your coffee into the filter, using 1 rounded tablespoon per cup you want to produce. Feel free to add more if you like it stronger.
  • Once the water has boiled, leave it a minute to cool. 
  • Pour enough of the water over the grinds to wet them, and wait 30 seconds. This is called the bloom time.
  • Slowly pour more water over, mindful to always keep the water well below the top level. Use a back and forth and circular motion to ensure an even pour.
  • Once the desired amount of coffee has been made, simply pick up the filter with the coffee grinds still inside and throw away.
  • Rinse out your Chemex after each use.

What coffee to use: Medium-coarse grind. 


Autodrip

Sometimes confused with percolators, these machines were ubiquitous in previous decades, in your parents' kitchen and in cafes (and are particularly popular in America). They take all of the hassle, and most of the control,  out of filter preparation by doing it automatically, as well as being able to prepare large quantities of coffee in one go.


Yet they don’t have to be the bitter, reheated coffee of those days: newer models can be programmed to turn off and on at set times, and you have way a little more control over the variables of the brew now.


How to: fill it up with coffee, water and filter, and go. Empty and clean as required.

Note: not all automatic drip coffees use paper filters, so back we go again to whether it is a filter coffee...

What coffee to use: Most machines will tell you what grind to look for.


Other variations:

This is where you can truly lose yourself down a rabbit hole, with new drip coffee apparatus seemingly being invented every year. Ones of note include the Kalita Wave, Beehouse and Clever Dripper, which a lot of coffee shops use to produce their pour over coffees for their customers.


Final thoughts

When considering whether a coffee is ‘filter’ or not, it is important to take into account what type of filter is used in the preparation as well as why you are asking in the first place. Filter should not really be described as a way to make coffee, but rather any coffee that includes the benefits (health or otherwise) of keeping the oils and sediment out of your cup. 


That being said, there are pros and cons to whether you use a filter or not, regardless of how you choose to make your perfect brew, and The Coffee Bean Shop will always be here to provide you with the best coffee beans possible, filter or not.

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