Paper, Metal, or Cloth Filters?
In pour over coffee, the paper filter reigns supreme. It produces amazing clarity by preventing a lot of coffee oil and fines from ending up in the cup. It is also the cheapest and most readily available option stateside compared to either metal or cloth filters. Able Brewing’s beautiful and long lasting Kone metal filters, for one, retail for $60, rather steep up front in comparison to most paper filters. I’ve been served an elegantly brewed Chemex using a Kone at Coava. But ultimately the style itself is too muddled for my taste—lots of oil and fines in the cup. (French pressers, though, would love the Kone when they opt for a pour over).
Cloth filters, in contrast, are another matter. Much simpler to engineer than a metal filter, a traditional cloth filter is one of the most inexpensive around. Many cloth filter setups have the same basic design: a cotton piece held by a round metal wire, with or without a grip. Predating paper filter’s invention in 1906 by Melitta Bentz, cloth was the norm for filtered coffee before the 20th century.
A Global Phenomenon
The use of cloth for brewing is more common in the coffee cultures of Spain, Latin America, and Asia than the States. Examples of these cloth drippers include colador de cafe and chorreador. You could also opt for the pricier Hario Drip Pot Woodneck, which essentially features the flannel cloth used in Japanese nel drip brewing.
For an intensely artful slow pour, check out the nel drip pour documented at the end of A Film about Coffee. Blue Bottle’s James Freeman also writes on this style and provides a recipe in his book.
As far as the resulting brew, I’ve loved cloth filters since trying them for the first time. The Woodneck’s fairly thick flannel, for instance, generally gives a gentle tea-like body in the cup combined with a clear but milder enzymatics (compared to the V60). In short, lots of middle notes with subtler bright highs.
Introducing the CoffeeSock
Those who wanted cloth filters for pour over cones like the Hario V60, Chemex, or Beehouse, would have a harder time finding them. Big names like Chemex, Hario, or Melitta do not offer cloth filters. Luckily, some smaller startups aim to fill the gap. At the moment, Austin-based CoffeeSock Company offers organic cotton filters for different brewing methods. I just recently purchased a pair of its Chemex filters.
Thinner than Woodneck’s flannel filter, the CoffeeSock filter also seems to have a finer, tighter weave overall.
Put to the Test
The CoffeeSock filter is also usable on the Hario V60 02. I tested out the filters with two different light roasted beans from Sunergos (roughly city/full city roast degree) on the V60. First was a brew of Rancho Bonito beans from Chiapas, Mexico. The result was comparable to Woodneck’s flannel drip: a clean, tea-like body with mild enzymatics that are more floral and caramel sweet than fruity/acidic.
The second brew, however, differed dramatically. As the packaging indicates, the weave should tighten after a few uses and thus provide less porosity. So there was increased flow resistance and dwell time. The cup produced a juicier body that works nicely to highlight the sweet and floral enzymatics even more.
For the third CoffeeSock brew, I used natural-processed Ethiopian Sidama Ardi beans and managed to produce a fruit bomb—awesome clarity, juicy body, and the expected fresh strawberry notes—that matched the fruitiest cups I’ve had from a paper V60 or Chemex brew.
I haven’t tried brewing with the Latin American-style cloth filters, so I can’t compare the CoffeeSock filter to any of them. But I will say that V60 diehards will find much to like or compare to in cloth filters like CoffeeSock’s. Just like any reusable filter, cloth requires proper care and storage, something you don’t think about when dumping that paper filter with every brew. (For flannel filters, see the end of this video by Verve.) Retention of rancid coffee oils in dirty reusable filters—metal or cloth—can impart an off-putting flavor. In my experience as a home user, cleaning and storing cloth filters does not require that much extra time. Essentially, cloth makes a great alternative for something not as quickly disposable while being able of producing a cup with clarity and accent on the coffee’s acids.
The above primer on cloth filters clearly reflects my own prejudices and brewing parameters. Comments are super welcome. I love to read people’s thoughts and experiences with cloth filters.
Note: The author did not receive any of the filters by Hario or CoffeeSock for free. (I wish.)
9 thoughts on “Cloth Filters: A Quick Primer and Current Options”
Actually, Hario has offered cloth filters for quite a while. Google search for the product ID “VGNF-02”, and you will find multiple examples.
The trouble is that Hario decided to discontinue them in recent years. However in this past year, I’ve found Merae – a specialty Japanese importer in the US – has started carrying them again:
Not sure where their source is, but I got a backup last year from them. My original was getting pretty rank – which is one of the biggest challenges with the cloth filters: cleaning and storage. I still tend to follow the model of rinsing and then refrigerating in a plastic bag.
Still makes a quality, albeit different-from-paper, pour-over.
Greg, thanks for the info. I’m happy to find out that Hario did (and still does?) produce cloth filters for V60s. (This is where I wish someone else already wrote a comprehensive history of cloth filters.) Maybe I should give it a try. I’m curious to hear more about your thoughts on the resulting brew using the Hario cloth filter.
As for cleaning and storage, I’ve adopted my approach using James Freeman’s. After rinsing off the grounds off the filter in the sink, I put the filter in a mason jar. Then I fill the jar with fresh water, seal it and put it in the fridge. So far so good.
“The result was comparable to Woodneck’s flannel drip: a clean, tea-like body with mild enzymatics that are more floral and caramel sweet than fruity/acidic.”
as per the author, i don’t know if woodneck is the rig for acidity. Ive never drank anything BUT woodneck and would agree that tea-like/caramel/balanced cup are my how i would describe my experience of it. I now relish getting a chemex for greater acidity.
I have been seriously tossing around the idea of getting a Hario Woodneck for some time now and up until today I haven’t pulled the trigger. Today I picked one up at Barista Parlor after reading this post. Reading this finally pushed me over the edge. I brewed with it a few times this afternoon and I must say, I think I am going to fall in love with the flannel filter. I absolutely love the fact that I can brew in a manner that will accentuate acidity while simultaneously allowing more oils to pass through into my cup in order to increase perceived body.
Well said Robbie. I hope that means you’re inviting me over to drink some coffee!
Ciao and thanks Mikey for the useful post.
As anyone tried the cloth filters sold by American Coffee Trader? Was curious to know about them as well.
Thank you Michael for your informed public service. We find that simply rinsing, ringing, and hanging the filter to dry is the only care that the CoffeeSock filters require. I have some prototypes in service that have been treated only this way for years. Occasionally, perhaps every 2 months dependent on use, I do boil the filter to remove some oil buildup.
I just finished using a cloth coffee filter that I bought at a place called Tonys and it’s great everything that has been said I tasted just now.
what is the best way to clean them, I cant imagine I should use soap what can I do.