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.
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.)