How to Buy the Best Coffee Filter: Paper, Reusable and Does Size Really Matter?

Coffee filters aren't an easy category to grasp. 

Arne met Handfilter

Coffee filters aren’t an easy category to grasp. 

Sure, everyone’s familiar with paper filters, in all the different shapes and sizes, but there are also pour-over drippers — made of plastic, copper or ceramic — that people consider coffee filters. 

Plus, let’s not forget that there’s also a frustratingly wide range of filters for the trusty old kitchen coffee maker.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the best coffee filters, including the most beautiful pour-over drippers in the world. And for those of you who just want to know which paper filter size to buy for your coffee maker, you’ll find the answers you need here, too.

Coffee Filter Overview: All the Deets

While this article is about classic coffee filters, as well as the best coffee filters for different versions of the pour-over dripper, I also talk about permanent filters and manual brewing methods such as the Chemex

In other words, this is a pretty thorough article. So feel free to have a look at the table of contents and jump to any section that’s relevant to you.

Bleached paper filters are the white ones we've all seen. Bleached using either chlorine or oxygen, these won't pass on any papery taste into your coffee. That said, the bleaching process does create waste and uses chemicals.
The brown-colored, unbleached filters are much more environmentally friendly, but some people worry the coffee filter paper will taint the flavor of the coffee. If you're worried about that, too, you can rinse the filter with hot water before brewing.

Although I’m a huge fan of manual brewing, the old kitchen standby has improved a lot in recent years. Read my article on the best coffee makers to find out more.

Chances are your coffee maker is one of the roughly 95 percent that uses #4 coffee filters. So if you’re using a smaller machine with a 6-cup brewing capacity, you'll probably need to use #2 coffee filters.

In this article, I’ll share some classic filter methods, as well as a few that have attracted a hipster following. We’ll look at the Chemex, the AeroPress, pour-over drippers and the good old Melitta.

The Best Paper Coffee Filters: Brands, Sizes and More

The table below is a brief overview of some of the more commonly used paper filters. But before we take a closer look at the best coffee filters, let’s talk about pour-over drippers.

Paper filterSizeQualityPreparation methodCost
Melitta#4 fits most coffee makersTend to tear easilyCoffee maker or Melitta pour-overAround $3.50/100 filters
Hario01=small
02=large
ExcellentHario V60 dripperAround $7.00/100 filters
Kalita#155=small
#185=large
ExcellentKalita Wave dripperAround $12.00/100 filters
Chemex1-3 cups / 6-8 cupsWorld-classChemex flaskAround $16.00/100 filters
AeroPressOne sizeExcellentAeroPressAround $8.00/350 filters

Coffee Drippers for Pour-Over

While researching for this article, I started to ask myself: “What do people searching for a “coffee filter” actually mean?” 

In my mind, it’s the ubiquitous paper filter. But a lot of folks search for “ceramic coffee filters.” Then I realized that I, too, talk about my “ceramic filter” and my “copper filter.”

A copper Hario V60 next to a gooseneck kettle.

Before I lose you completely, let’s clear up the confusion and use the correct terminology from now on. 

A coffee filter is the thing that’s actually doing the filtering — be it made of paper, cloth, gold, or whatever. A pour-over dripper is the holder for our filter. So saying “ceramic filter” just doesn’t make any sense. There. I feel much better, having got that out of the way.

Now that we’re on the same page, pour-over drippers come in a variety of different materials, including glass, copper, stainless steel and plastic. 

My favorite is the classic ceramic Hario V60, which is available on Amazon for just over $20. I find that the tapered shape of the Hario paper filters allow for the perfect extraction. 

Pour-Over Coffee Filters for Hario Drippers

Hario keeps things nice and simple

For the V60 pour-over dripper, there are two filter sizes — 01 and 02 — for use with the corresponding size of dripper, whether it’s ceramic, copper or stainless steel. 

I think these are the best coffee filters because of the conical shape and pointed tip. This helps control the flow rate, resulting in a particularly clean and well-balanced extraction.

Hario V60 filters are available in white or natural, and neither option seems to pass on any papery taste into the coffee, in my opinion. Whichever version you choose, you can buy them on Amazon and select the size and number of filters you want.

Apparently, there are Hario filters floating around made in the Netherlands rather than Japan. Sure, these may be cheaper, but I’d recommend avoiding them — my mom bought some and didn’t find them up to snuff.
Arne pouring ground coffee into a Hario V60 paper filter.

Pour-Over Coffee Filters for Kalita Wave

The Kalita Wave is one of the most popular stainless steel pour-over drippers around, and for good reason. 

For one, Kalita’s dripper is nice and heavy and uses Kalita flat-bottomed filters that cost about the same, if not a little more than, Hario filters. Plus, the flatbed of ground coffee, together with the Kalita Wave’s three-hole design, results in a pretty even and well-balanced extraction.

Coffee Filters for Chemex

As you can see, Chemex flasks and coffee filters play an important role on my shelf.

A view of all the Chemex products and boxes on Arne's kitchen shelves.

I know it may seem a bit weird, but I love the packaging design so much that I have a hard time throwing the boxes away. I guess I don’t care if my kitchen looks like a Chemex showroom. Ha!

A Chemex flask just looks so incredibly cool to me. And at this point, I couldn’t do without one for aesthetic reasons and the beautifully clean and complex coffee it produces. 

If you don’t yet own a Chemex, do yourself a favor and buy one. You can pick up an 8-cup Chemex on Amazon for around $45.

Chemex filters come in pre-folded squares or circles and unfolded circles. Because it consists of heavy pulp that’s pre-cleaned with oxygen, it’s supposedly the best coffee filter. Either way, these filters are patented, and only Chemex produces them.

Here’s the thing, though: a box of 100 Chemex filters costs about $16, which isn’t cheap. After all, it doesn’t take a math genius to work out that each pot of coffee will set you back 0.16 cents in filter costs. 

Later on, we’ll do some more advanced calculations to see whether it’s worth buying a reusable filter instead.

Coffee Filters for AeroPress

For fans of the AeroPress, it uses small, round paper filters. 

Arne posing with an AeroPress and a Coffeeness mug.

And you can snag 350 AeroPress Microfilters on Amazon for less than $8, which is really inexpensive. Alternatively, you can opt for a set of reusable stainless steel mesh filters.

For more tips and information about using this awesome manual brewing device, check out my AeroPress guide

Should I Buy a Drip Coffee Maker?

Drip coffee makers get a bad rap

Known for being the epitome of bad coffee for many people, these machines became famous during a time when pre-ground coffee from a can was the only option. But the fact of the matter is that if you use old low-grade coffee, there’s no way you’ll get good results.

Even with fresh coffee, you can have complications with a coffee maker. 

The point is, you just can’t achieve anything close to the same amount of control over the brewing process as you can when brewing manually. And that makes sense.

Think about it: as carbon dioxide continues to escape from the newly roasted coffee, and if the coffee filter in the machine is full, it can overflow from the bubbling of the gas. Still, don’t be discouraged from using fresh coffee — just take the necessary precautions!

That said, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of drip coffee makers.

Advantages:

  • It allows you to make large quantities of coffee.
  • It’s easy to clean.
  • It provokes nostalgia — the sound reminds me of my childhood.

Disadvantages:

  • It’s difficult to control the water temperature.
  • It has hot plates, which are a bad idea.

In my opinion, the following conditions are critical to achieving success with a drip coffee maker:

  • Use high-quality, freshly roasted, whole bean coffee.
  • Grind your beans right before you make coffee.
  • Avoid using bright, fruity coffees — save these for pour-over.
  • Descale your machine regularly unless you want a Darth Vader soundalike preparing your coffee.
  • Dispose of used filters promptly — otherwise, mold will contaminate the machine.
  • Buy a coffee maker without a keep-warm function — thermos jugs are allowed.
Arne surrounded by coffee makers.

If you have questions or want to find out more about the wonderful world of drip coffee makers, check out my ultimate guide. I’ve reviewed a number of machines and offer advice, tips and tricks to preparing great drip coffee without incident.

Melitta Paper Drip Coffee Filters

Melitta is the name that most people think of when it comes to paper drip coffee filters. 

That said, I’m a lot more familiar with Hario, Chemex and Kalita than I am with this esteemed German company, which meant I had to do my research.

I was surprised to learn that Melitta filters were originally produced for pour-over drippers. Then again, in 1908, there weren’t any electric coffee makers, so I guess that makes sense. 

The company is named after its founder, Melitta Bentz. So you’ll see her name pop up in every article about coffee filters worth reading. 

These days, the Melitta company also produces coffee machines, and admittedly, I have a somewhat complicated relationship with it. On the one hand, it makes good super-automatic espresso machines, but on the other hand, the mass-market supermarket coffee is truly nasty.

Off my soapbox and back to the paper filters: in the U.S., Melitta filters come in three categories:

  1. Conical coffee filters
  2. Basket filters
  3. Filters for Keurig-style machines

You can see these filters on the Melitta website, but let’s not talk too much about the third category, though. Like I’ve said before, if you find yourself drinking K-cup coffee, something has gone drastically wrong with your life.

Melitta Coffee Filter Sizes

Trying to find the correct coffee filter size can be way too stressful — it’s the same with vacuum cleaners, which is why I went bagless a long time ago. 

Thankfully, Melitta has made things pretty straightforward. It has the number “1,” “2,” “4” or “6” right there on the front of the box. I don’t know what happened to numbers “3” and “5.” 

Most coffee makers with an 8-10 cup brewing capacity use #4 filters.

What's the Deal With Permanent and Reusable Coffee Filters?

In case you were wondering, paper isn’t your only option.

There are all kinds of reusable filters available for pour-over drippers, coffee makers and the AeroPress. These filters come in a variety of materials, including stainless steel and even gold. 

Now the advantages of buying a reusable metal coffee filter are obvious (or at least should be): you’ll save money in the long run and avoid creating extra waste. 

During my review of the awesome Technivorm Moccamaster, I used this gold coffee filter. Sure, at almost $40, it isn’t exactly cheap, but I got great results, and it’ll last a long time.

Although I haven’t tried it yet, there’s a nifty little reusable stainless steel filter set for the AeroPress. You get a fine, ultra-fine and mesh permanent coffee filter, and the set gets . Stay tuned, as it’s definitely going onto my “to be reviewed” list.

If you’re one of the Chemex and Hario V60 aficionados who have been brewing more and more with a reusable stainless steel pour-over filter, there are several options available. Namely, there’s the Barista Warrior, which sells for around $35 on Amazon. 

The Barista Warrior permanent filter.

I know, it’s a terrible name, but a great idea — especially since Chemex paper filters, in particular, aren’t exactly cheap. 

Think about it: a $16 box of 100 Chemex filters means it costs 0.16 cents every time you prepare a pot of coffee. So if you make a Chemex every day for a year, it’ll cost $58.40 in filters! 

You can see where I’m going with this — the Barista Warrior reusable coffee filter is sounding much cooler now. 

An even more affordable option with an equally unfortunate name is the CoffeeSock (seriously?), which costs around $13 on Amazon

This coffee filter alternative consists of organic cotton and works with any size Chemex. And although it’s easy to clean, you’ll have to be careful not to let it stay wet for too long, as it could get moldy.

Conclusion on the Best Coffee Filters

So how do I get the best cup of coffee? That’s a good question because, as you’ve seen, there are many manual drippers and plenty of different paper filters for each method. 

Still, I find each method has its own appeal, though I much prefer infusing by hand than using a coffee maker.

Sure, good coffee machines like the Moccamaster or the Chemex Ottomatic try to imitate exactly this manual pour-over infusion. But what’s really important is that when using either of these machines, you moisten the coffee filter beforehand. For detailed instructions, check out my coffee maker guide.

You should also never use conventional paper coffee filters more than once because these get clogged with fine coffee grounds. Reusable filters are a great idea, though, and will pay for themselves fairly quickly.

I’m often asked, “Which is better: drip coffee or coffee from a French press?” But honestly, it’s a matter of taste and depends on the coffee beans. I happen to like both methods and use them regularly. If you’re interested in learning about using a French press, in particular, read my detailed tutorial.

Arne posing with a French press and a Coffeeness mug.

Pour-over coffee, on the other hand, is definitely much cleaner and less full-bodied. Plenty of people claim it’s more drinkable and easier on the stomach, too, but I’m not so sure.

All that to say, when it comes to buying paper filters, it really is just a case of “you get what you pay for” — though there are undeniable differences in the quality mentioned above.

Still, the great thing about all paper filters is that you can compost them, so don’t ever throw used filters in the trash. Used coffee grounds are ideal for growing things, as anyone who’s ever left a used filter in their coffee machine for too long knows. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to the best coffee filters. What’s your favorite method for filtering coffee? Have you had any experiences with reusable coffee filters that you want to share? Feel free to leave questions and comments below! Thanks for reading!

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