When you’re ready to make yourself a fresh cup of coffee, one of the first things you have to do is place a new coffee filter in the coffee machine. You find filters in white or brown. Are there little java elves that paint white filters brown? Why are the paper filters not all of the same color? Let’s see whether we can find out the java elves’ secret to brown vs white coffee filters.
If you’ve shopped for these coffee filters lately, you likely noticed that there is more than one type of filter on the shelves. Coffee filters come in cone shapes or regular oval shapes, and even in brown and white colors. This is because some coffee filters are bleached and are therefore white in color, while others are unbleached and come out in a brown color.
If you’re curious about the differences between white and brown coffee filters, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll dig deep to get down to the differences between bleached vs unbleached coffee filters!
In the Beginning
Although most people are familiar with disposable paper coffee filters, there are actually two other types of filters as well – metal and nylon mesh. The first disposable paper coffee filter was developed in July of 1908 by a German housewife, and her first name might sound familiar to you – Melitta.
She was looking for a way to reduce the bitter taste associated with boiling coffee beans, and the answer was a disposable paper filter. Her invention is still used today and it filters coffee oils and bitter tastes from the beverage. Today, Melitta paper filters are sold all over the world.
Coffee filters made out of paper are usually made from paper that is 100 g/m2 filter paper. The goal of such a paper filter is to keep the beans or grounds out of your coffee cup (How many grams of coffee beans per cup?) while allowing the water to flow through it. It’s the perfect combination, and there are two main types of paper coffee filters used in the United States. The first is the cone-shaped filters, which come in three different sizes; and the second is the basket-shaped filters, which are made to fit coffee machines that make 8 to 12 cups of coffee – Basket Style vs Cone Coffee Filters
If you’re wondering about the difference between brown versus white coffee filters, here is the only thing you need to know: brown filters are unbleached and therefore the natural color of the wood used to make the paper comes through, and white filters have been bleached white to make them that color.
Some companies make brown coffee filters and make you think they’re unbleached, but in reality, they have merely been dyed brown to look like they are unbleached or white coffee filters. If unbleached coffee filters are important to you, the best thing to do is look at the packaging and make sure the word “unbleached” is on there somewhere. You unfortunately cannot simply assume that brown paper filters automatically mean that you’re getting unbleached filters!
What About the Taste?
White or brown coffee filters: which one provides for a better taste?
Although many people claim there is no difference between coffee filters that are brown vs those that are white, others claim that brown filters give the coffee a “papery” taste compared to a bleached filter. This is why, if you read the instructions, most coffee filter manufacturers tell you to rinse a brown paper filter off with water before placing them into your coffee machine. When you do this, that papery taste disappears that you sometimes can have with brown filters.
You can think of brown paper filters as all-natural and organic filters for coffee because they haven’t been processed the way white filters have. For people who appreciate this type of thing and who care about the environment, this is an important attribute and they more often use unbleached filters or brown filters. After all, bleaching a paper filter still adds chlorine, and to many people, even a tiny bit of chlorine is too much chlorine.
Many people prefer Melitta filters because they were the first ones to offer an unbleached filter for coffee and the first ones to offer a bleached filter that has not been bleached with chlorine. Again, if these things make a difference to you, it’s good to know you have options available to you.
White paper filters are bleached using one of two things: chlorine or an oxygen bleaching process. If you want to choose one that’s healthier and better for the environment, it is the oxygen bleaching process.
The companies that use chlorine for bleaching their paper filters claim to use only a small amount of chlorine and not enough to affect the taste of the coffee. Of course, to some people, any amount of chlorine is too much chlorine, but again, you have other options these days.
Or, you certainly can simply forego bleached filters and instead go for high-quality unbleached coffee filters. A top-quality unbleached filter will also not provide you with a papery taste.
Whether you prefer unbleached or bleached filters, both kinds do their job by holding back coffee grounds so they don’t end up in your cup and filter out undesired components of the coffee to make it taste better. These two requirements are met whether you go for unbleached or bleached filters.
What About Recycling?
If you use more than one coffee filter a day, you might start feeling a little guilty about putting them in the trash can every day, which leads us to the next question: can coffee filters be recycled? After all, they’re made of paper, right?
Unfortunately, paper filters cannot be recycled due to the oils from the coffee seeping into the filters. It won’t matter whether they are bleached or unbleached coffee filters. Most recycling centers will therefore not accept paper coffee filters in any form.
You can, however, place paper filters in your compost pile if you like, because they do quite well there. If you’re interested in becoming more environmentally friendly and responsible, you can reuse the filters up to a total of three times before you throw them away, although this does sometimes affect the taste of the coffee somewhat. For most people, simply throwing them away is the most practical thing to do.
If you’re really concerned about this issue, you can always purchase a permanent coffee filter, which usually lasts six months to a year before you have to replace it. Depending on the materials used in this type of filter, you may be able to recycle it after you’re done using it. There are many types of coffee filters that are reusable and considered “permanent,” and a little online research will tell you more about them.
Wetting Your Paper Coffee Filters
If you’d like to know some more about wetting coffee filters, just keep this in mind: if you use a drip coffee machine (electric percolator vs drip coffee maker), there is no need to wet your filters because the water flowing through during the coffee-making process will get the filter wet enough to improve the taste of the coffee.
That being said, pour-over coffee machines are different. They do not wet the filter enough to do the job, so you’ll want to wet the coffee filter when you’re using the pour-over type of coffee pot.
Why Do They Bleach Coffee Filters?
If you’re wondering why coffee filters are bleached in the first place, it’s for two main reasons. First, they want the filters to look more attractive and “commercial.” Second, they want to remove some of the paper flavors from the filters, which is why brown filters still have a somewhat papery taste to them. You can bet that the whiter your coffee filter is, the more chlorine was used in the process.
If you truly want no chlorine in your coffee filters, you can check with the manufacturer’s website to determine how much chlorine they used, but generally, the whiter the coffee filter, the more bleach was used. Having said that, you have to keep in mind that even manufacturers who use more than average amounts of chlorine in their bleaching process, don’t use a whole lot in the end. Although a lot of bleach is used for the entire process, there is usually only a small amount used in each filter, which is good to know.
If you are concerned about the environment and your health but simply don’t like coffee filters in brown, you should look for filters that went through the oxygen bleach process and not the process that uses chlorine.
Oxygen bleach is still better for the environment than chlorine will ever be. This is partly because the oxygen bleach process uses a combination of hydrogen peroxide and oxygen for their “bleaching” process, and these are essentially two very “natural” ingredients.
Which One Should You Choose?
In the end, choosing between bleached versus unbleached filters is really a matter of preference. As far as the taste goes, as long as you wet the unbleached filters, it should be the same for both of these filter types.
Environmentally, the white filters bleached with chlorine are somewhat the opposite of environmentally friendly, but per filter, that amount of chlorine is very low. Furthermore, since you can’t recycle either type of coffee filter, it’s a good idea to use other factors to decide which one to buy in the end.
The good news is that both types of filters can make you a great-tasting cup of coffee, so you won’t have to worry about that part at all.
Since the environmental impact isn’t huge, the choice boils down to your personal preferences and tastes. Of course, you also need to make sure you buy high-quality coffee filters. If you’ve never heard of the brand name, you might want to bypass that brand for a more familiar name just to be on the safe side.
When you make your next cup of coffee, keep in mind that every part of the coffee-making process is important, from the water to the filter, and the coffee to the coffee pot itself. Choosing between brown and white filters isn’t difficult once you know something about each type, and in the end, the decision isn’t likely to solve any world problems. It is just going to make you feel good about your decision – and that’s not a bad thing at all.