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What Are Coffee Filters? How are bleached and unbleached filters different?

Love coffee? Want to learn to improve your pour-over technique? Or just looking to understand more about the different brewing methods available to you? We’ve got you covered! Let’s have a look at bleached vs unbleached coffee filters and learn about the filter brewing process along the way.

This is a guide to bleached vs unbleached coffee filters that will include information about unbleached coffee filters, information about bleached coffee filters, a list of uses for coffee filters and an explanation of the difference between bleached and unbleached coffee filters.

A history of coffee

The origins of coffee

The first step to understanding the role of bleached vs unbleached coffee filters is to understand the history of coffee; what it is, where it comes from and why it is so beloved.

Coffee is a drink that is prepared by brewing the ground, roasted beans of plants of the genus Coffea. The methods used to roast, grind and brew the beans vary wildly but these elements remain true in most processes.

The origins of coffee

Coffee has been a beloved drink in many cultures around the world since its appearance as a roasted and brewed beverage sometime prior to its first recorded use in 15th century Yemen. Groups of Sufis would use coffee for its stimulating effects to remain awake as part of their rituals and religious observances. The Sufis in Yemen would grind and brew the roasted coffee beans much as we do today. We know that they acquired coffee through Somali traders from an Ethiopian source, where the coffee plant is native, and began to cultivate the crop themselves.

Spreading through the Arabic world

By the next century coffee was a popular crop and drink throughout the Middle East and North Africa and it continued to expand in the following centuries. First to Europe and then, through European colonisation, to North and South America and the Caribbean. In the 20th century the advent of global trade and information networks saw coffee explode into the parts of the world where it had not already been popular. Each regional coffee culture of the modern world, new and old, displays slight differences based around the same love for the dark, aromatic beans.

Regional coffee cultures of the 20th century

Regional coffee cultures of the 20th century

In Türkiye, where the famous Türkish coffee is thick and strong, the beans are finely ground and brewed by boiling. Türkish coffee is made unfiltered in a cezve, small copper or brass pots with long handles and pouring lips designed to hold back the grounds when the drink is poured. Cezve is often called ibrik in other countries. Türkish coffee is served from after dinner until midnight and it is not considered a morning drink at all, in stark contrast to Western coffee cultures!

In Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries, coffee is typically enjoyed black, unsweetened, and reverence is held for specialty and 3rd wave experimentalism. These Asian coffee cultures are similarly progressive as those of Australia and New Zealand, who also prize specialty and 3rd wave coffee but celebrate milk drinks. The Flat White originated in this culture. 

The rise of Italian coffee culture

Of course, the most prominent and influential coffee culture in the world is that of Italy. As the driver of the global expansion in coffee use through the 20th century, Italian coffee culture has set the trends for all other European coffee cultures and, by extension, those of North and South America. Italian coffee culture gave the world the espresso, variations on which form the vast majority of all coffee drinks consumed in the world today. These variations include the latte, the lungo, the ristretto, the cappuccino and the Americano. 

The waves of coffee and café culture

The waves of coffee and café culture

There have been three waves in commercial coffee production with a varying degree of interest in the unique flavours of specific coffee beans with specific known origins. Much of the geographical variation in regional coffee culture comes down to wave preferences. 

1st wave coffee overlooks the inherent value of origin. Here, coffee beans are often blended freely from different sources.  This wave is considered old fashioned and is no longer evident in modern cafés. These coffees are generally nondescript and little value is placed on information like origin or roast profile. 

2nd wave coffee came to prominence with coffee chains like Starbucks that prized flavour and experience. 2nd wave coffee dominates much of Europe, especially away from urban centres where newer movements are taking hold. 2nd wave coffee is considered to be more about the cafés than the coffee by 3rd wave aficionados.

3rd wave coffee comprises the modern coffee movement to be found in most independent coffee shops and roasteries. The 3rd wave arose in the 80’s and 90’s as access to the coffee farming and production process increased. Increasingly, traditional 2nd wave coffee companies are bolstering their specialty and 3rd wave offerings in keeping with this rapid pace of change. 

3rd wave coffee celebrates quality and origin

3rd wave coffee is all about the unique and special flavour narrative of the beans. Single-origin coffee and unique custom blends are prized. It has become more common practice to frequent coffee shops promoting beans that can be traced to a specific lot or farm. 

This dedication to specificity is part of the wider pursuit of those qualities that truly make coffee special. The delicate balance of acidity, sweetness, texture and all the other minutiae of what makes coffee great. The thousands of aromatic compounds that can be brought out of well-grown and well-ground beans are the name of the game! 

3rd wave, or specialty, coffee seeks to bring all of this, and more, to the lips of coffee lovers around the world. The speed at which the 2nd wave is being supplanted by the 3rd wave is particularly high in Italy, where tradition has always reigned, and in Britain, where experimental approaches are encouraged.

This might seem like a lot just to understand bleached vs unbleached coffee filters but, as you will see, every detail is relevant when we’re talking about the finest coffee drinks in the world.

What are coffee filters?

What are coffee filters

When it comes to understanding bleached vs unbleached coffee filters we must first understand what coffee filters are.

The act of filtering coffee, through unbleached coffee filters, through bleached coffee filters, or through other filtration methods, is an important part of almost all coffee brewing processes. 

Modern paper coffee filters were invented by Melitta Bentz in Germany in 1908. By folding a piece of blotting paper and pouring her brewed coffee through it she found that she could clarify and improve her cups of coffee considerably. By removing the oils, micro-grounds, chaff, and other inclusions that interfere with the flavour and texture of coffee, Melitta Bentz had invented something that would change the coffee-drinking world.

Since then the basic blueprint hasn’t changed much. A sheet of paper, usually folded conically, that can hold coffee grounds when set in a pour-over funnel and allow hot water to pass through. The water passes through at a steady rate after steeping in contact with the coffee grounds for the desired length of time. 

Why choose filter coffee over other kinds of coffee?

Why choose filter coffee over other kinds of coffee

Filter coffee is perfect for people who don’t want to spend money on expensive coffee machines but prefer a brewing method that can offer a similar  precision in extraction to the french press, Aeropress or other methods.

This method of brewing coffee, when done correctly, is said by coffee experts to bring out much of the unique character and flavour of the ground beans used. With the unique character of the coffee dancing in every cup, pour-over coffee is often a popular choice for home brewing when compared to the cost and time expense required for espresso machines.

The use of bleached coffee filters or unbleached coffee filters to make pour-over filter coffee is a practice that is zenlike in its repetitions, its subtlety. Like all meditative practices, making coffee with a bleached coffee filter or an unbleached coffee filter is a well to which the practitioner may return again and again, always running full.

There are also many other ways to filter coffee - like the Türkish tradition with specially designed pots that hold back the grounds during the pour. Or American ‘cowboy coffee’, brewed by boiling in a high-spouted pot, stirring to settle the grounds to the bottom and then pouring carefully to retain the grounds and to avoid polluting the liquid in the cup. For the most part, paper filtration is central to the coffee brewing process.

The simplicity of the French press has its appeal. The loud strength of the espresso machine has its place. Even cowboy coffee hits the spot, in the right context. But few methods of brewing coffee are quite as intimate. With a good grinder and knowing how to get a good grind out of it, some good bleached coffee filters or unbleached coffee filters and a decent V60 or other pour-over funnel, you’ll be loving your coffee more and more with every cup; the brewer of your own potion..

Bleached coffee filters

Bleached coffee filters

Bleached coffee filters are coffee filters that have been constructed from bleached paper. The bleaching process turns the paper white; further dying may turn the paper other colours, such colouration being another sign of bleached paper.

There are two processes used to make bleached coffee filter papers. 

The first, chlorine bleaching, is cheap but utilises a lot of chemicals and can harm the environment, unless the damage is offset by the paper producer, with toxic chemical byproducts. 

The second method to produce bleached coffee filter papers is oxygen bleaching. Oxygen bleaching has high set-up costs but low operating overheads and is much more environmentally friendly than chlorine bleaching.

Bleached coffee filters are bright white in colour and retain none of their natural brown hue. While the bleaching process does remove the paper from its natural state, it is said by coffee aficionados that bleached coffee filters never produce the slight papery flavour that is occasionally associated with some unbleached coffee filters.

Unbleached coffee filters

Unbleached coffee filters are constructed from unbleached (natural) paper. Unbleached coffee filters undergo no processes, chemical or otherwise, to alter their colour or chemical composition. 

Even the least environmentally impactful oxygen bleaching process is more environmentally impactful than the unbleached coffee filter paper bleaching process, which has no impact on the environment whatsoever. For those seeking to minimise the environmental impact of their coffee habit, unbleached coffee filter papers are the way to go.

Unbleached coffee filter papers are reported, on occasion, to produce a mild papery flavour that can contaminate the coffee that is made with them and filtered through them. It is for this reason that bleached coffee filter papers were developed. That said, high-quality unbleached filter papers, such as those produced by Hario, are extremely unlikely to leach any paper flavour into the coffee that is made with them; that’s why they’re among the favourite unbleached coffee filter papers.

Ultimately it is down to personal preference and priority to make the determination between unbleached coffee filters and bleached coffee filters.

Coffee filter technique

Coffee filter technique

Now that we’ve got a handle on the differences between bleached coffee filters and unbleached coffee filters, let's take a look at pour-over technique so that you can make the best use of your coffee filters, whether bleached coffee filters or unbleached coffee filters! We will be guiding you in the brewing of a 340g cup of coffee.

Equipment for making pour-over coffee

First, what you’ll need. To make a decent pour-over you will need a bleached coffee filter paper or an unbleached coffee filter paper; a V60 or similar pour-over funnel; a cup, mug or pot to brew into; a kettle full of water ready to heat, a grinder and your chosen specialty coffee beans.

Grinding coffee beans for a pour-over brew

Grind the beans to an appropriate grind size. We talk about grind size elsewhere, but for now know that it should be a reasonably fine grind, though not as fine as an espresso grind and finer than a French press grind. 

Dosing a pour-over brew

Dose your bleached coffee filter or unbleached coffee filter. Somewhere between 15g and 21g is usual for a medium-to-strong 340g cup. Make sure the coffee is settled evenly in the steeple of the bleached coffee filter paper or unbleached coffee filter paper. Use a puck rake, if you have one handy, or gently shake the funnel with the filter and coffee in place to evenly spread the ground coffee.

Pouring water over a coffee filter

Pouring water over a coffee filter

Next, heat the water. If your kettle allows it, heat the water to 97 or 98 degrees celsius - slightly hotter than you’d like to brew as the water loses some temperature in the pouring, but not quite boiling. Otherwise, boil the water and wait five seconds after the water has reached boiling point and the kettle has shut off before pouring it.

Pour steadily and evenly. It is critically important that the flow of water through the ground coffee is even and smooth. Pouring kettles, with their spouts low on their bodies, are the ideal tool for this task - and they often also come with thermostats allowing sub-boiling target temperatures.

Pour slowly enough that the funnel does not at any point overflow, ensuring that the level of the liquid remains constant until you have poured slightly more than 340 grams of hot water into the funnel, onto the grounds.

Steeping, brewing, draining a pour-over coffee

Wait while the funnel drains into the cup. Once it is dripping, remove the funnel and enjoy your cup of steaming hot and delicious pour-over coffee. Let’s hope all the unique and delightful flavours in your selected speciality coffee beans made it through into your cup - that’s the whole idea of speciality coffee!

While all that settles in, let’s take a look at some of the uses for coffee filters that you might find beyond simply making coffee - they’re useful things to have about the place!

Other uses for coffee filters

Coffee filters have many uses, the most important of which is filtering coffee! 

Ultimately, a coffee filter is a piece of porous, absorbent paper that leaves no lint or residue of any kind due to its intended purpose of brewing pure coffee. This makes them useful in a wild variety of situations! 

For example: as scratch protection between stacked plates, lining a sieve for an extra fine filtration during cooking, lining snack bowls to prevent sticky residue, as gentle cleaning cloths for computer monitors, screens, windows, and mirrors. They work great for cleaning your glasses!

You can also use bleached coffee filters and unbleached coffee filters as an absorbent filter pad in the bottoms of flower pots to keep soil in but let water flow out to prevent swamping. They can be used as grease cloths for greasing cooking dishes, cloths for drying glassware, microwave liners to catch drips and splutters, oil cloths to wipe up after preparing food, or for cleaning and polishing stainless steel or brass!

In fact bleached coffee filters and unbleached coffee filters work great in all kinds of fine cleaning applications due to their absorbent nature and lint-free swipes.

Hopefully these uses for coffee filters will come in handy for you! Who knew they could be so useful? Of course, the best use for a coffee filter is in the brewing of a delicious cup of coffee!

Hints, tips and coffee-hacks

Here are some handy hints, tips and coffee-hacks that will help you go beyond that critical first choice of bleached vs unbleached coffee filters.

First, grind! Make sure you grind your coffee properly to get the best flavours out of it in their richest forms. A pour-over filter coffee grind should not be too fine - definitely not as fine as an espresso grind - as this will block the flow of water, causing build-up and break-through channels which ruin the contact between the hot water and the coffee grounds. Channelling will cause water to dump through the coffee and the filter without extracting enough aromatic compounds, or without having enough contact time with the coffee grounds to extract the right flavour profile, ruining the flavour and causing an under-extracted cup. Worse, too fine a grind may clog the filter, blocking the water and ruining the entire process.

Similarly, grind should not be too coarse; too much of a coarse grind will let the water through too quickly, before it can steep properly. This will result in an under-extracted cup of coffee at the end.

Try these filter coffees and coffee filters!

Filters Coffee

What kind of guide to bleached vs. unbleached coffee filters would this be if we didn’t recommend some products for you to try?

The Hario V60-02 Brown (40 Pack) and Hario V60-02 Brown (100 Pack) are your go-to, unbleached coffee filter papers, guaranteed not to tear or to produce a papery flavour. The Hario V60 - 02 White Filter (100 pack) is the equivalent bleached coffee filter paper and it is just as excellent. There is a reason Hario are the global leaders in pour-over coffee production!

Of course, you’ll also need a pour-over coffee making kit. We recommend the Hario Craft Coffee Maker (Pourover Kit) - the classic V60 with instant name-recognition throughout the world’s coffee communities. 

Maybe pour-over coffee just isn’t your thing? Too precise, too much concentration, too delicate? Try the time honoured, simple and easy method to produce big, delicious pots of steaming coffee with the Timemore French Press for a flawless cafetiere brew. Another alternative would be the Hario Filter in Coffee Bottle, ideal for making cold-brew coffee so that all your bases are covered in case you fancy something a little different!

Try these coffees in your pour-over set up

Pour-over filter coffee methods are usually best reserved for specialty, single-origin coffees. This type of coffee carries the unique properties of the shared origin, sometimes down to the field. It expresses in its flavours the growing environment, harvest method, drying method (washed or natural process) and roasting method used to produce it. 

Here are some examples of the kind of coffee you might want to try with the pour-over method!

A fantastic start to your filter coffee journey, Portfolio Coffee’s Filter Gift Trio comprises three coffees tailormade for filter brewing! For a broader selection of interesting flavours, the Coffee tasting sampling gift pack is perfect for finding what you love in modern coffee. Once you’ve got your taste buds in order you can start experimenting with different countries of origin and other factors - one of the most popular coffee countries at the moment is Brazil. So why not try the Taste of Brazil Gift Trio pack for your filter coffee experiments?

Now that we’re equipped and up-to-date with the uses for coffee filters and the techniques for bleached coffee filters and unbleached coffee filters it’s time to sum things up…

Wrapping up coffee filters

conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed this guide to bleached vs unbleached coffee filters and our forays into the history of coffee, of paper filtration, and uses for coffee filters.

Hopefully you now know whether or not pour-over filter coffee is the right coffee brewing method for you. If it is, then you have all the tools and knowledge you need to get started on your quest to develop the skills necessary to make that perfect brew. If not… Well, at least we hope that you have a clearer idea of what is involved in the making of good coffee and might be one step closer to finding your perfect brewing method.

Visit Portfolio Coffee for all your specialty coffee needs, be they pour-over or otherwise. From equipment to the best coffee beans around, Portfolio Coffee has more to offer you than just great advice on the differences between bleached coffee filters and unbleached coffee filters!

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