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Paper vs. Metal Pour Over Filters: Which is Best?
Written by: Raj Jana
Once you dive into the world of pour over coffee, there’s no going back.
You’ll discover how the smallest change, like grind size adjustment or a brew recipe, can have a huge impact on the flavors in your cup.
At some point in your specialty coffee journey, you’ll ask yourself: “Should I use a paper or metal filter for pour over coffee?”
The choice to use a paper or a metal pour over filter all depends on how you want your coffee to taste.
In our quick guide to pour over filters, we’ll help you decide which is best for your coffee preferences, plus:
- The differences between paper and metal pour over filters
- 5 questions to ask when choosing between filter types
- The trick to making your pour over coffee taste exceptional (regardless of which filter you choose!)
Paper vs. Metal Filters: What’s the Difference?
At first glance, all coffee filters look the same. They prevent coffee grounds from ending up in our drink, why does it matter which filter I choose?
Coffee filters play a distinct role in the flavors, characteristics, and aromatics in the final cup. And, as a result, filters are not “one size fits all.”
Most pour over coffee drinkers opt for a paper filter.
Paper filter materials absorb natural oils and sediment, producing a bright and clean-tasting cup of coffee.
Paper filters became the standard due to decades upon decades of bad-tasting coffee. The design of a paper filter was capable of transforming a coffee that tasted burnt, carbon-y, or bitter into something far more palatable.
Thanks to modern roasting innovations and better sourcing practices, however, we don’t need to use paper filters to brew a flavorful cup of coffee.
- Flavor — Paper filters are excellent at reducing oils in coffee, leading to cups full of vibrant and crisp flavors. More delicate coffees tend to shine when brewed with a paper pour over filter.
- Clean Up — Cleaning up a paper filter is as simple as throwing it out or composting it! It doesn’t get any easier than that.
- Availability — Paper filters are available for every type of pour over brewer, from a Kalita Wave to an Origami dripper.
- Cost — Paper coffee filters are not reusable (safely, at least.) You’ll need to purchase more filters and replenish your supply a few times a year, depending on your coffee consumption habits.
- Sustainability — While coffee grounds and some paper filters can be composted, the products still create a great deal of waste. If you’re invested in living a sustainable or waste-free lifestyle, paper filters may not be the right choice for you.
Metal pour over filters are typically made from stainless steel mesh.
Unlike paper filters, metal pour over coffee filters allow some oils and sediment to end up in your cup. These oils and micro-grounds are responsible for the luscious mouthfeel and rich flavors many enjoy in a cup of coffee.
Coffee is an intensely aromatic experience. With more than 700 aromatic compounds found in coffee’s natural oils, your morning cup of coffee can taste and smell like jasmine, dark chocolate, cinnamon, orange zest, and a world of other exciting flavors.
Those who enjoy coffee’s sweet and rich flavors prefer metal pour over filters for this reason.
And, the tiny amount of sediment left in the cup aids in the coffee’s overall mouthfeel—producing a heavier-bodied cup than that of a paper filter, similar to French Press coffee.
- Aromatic Experience — For deep natural coffee flavors and fragrances, opt for a metal filter.
- Rich Body — Thanks to the micro-grounds and natural oils in your coffee, you’ll enjoy a full-bodied coffee.
- Price — No need to continuously buy coffee filters. Metal pour over filters are a one-time purchase. However, it’s important to note that costs vary depending on the filter quality and brewer compatibility.
- Sustainability — Metal filters create zero paper or plastic waste. And, you can reuse the filter to your heart’s desire.
- Clean Up — Due to their design, metal pour over filters can be a challenge to clean. While a quick rinse will often do the trick, it’s important to get as much of the grounds into the garbage or compost as possible. Pouring coffee grounds down the drain can lead to clogs. And, if your filter isn’t totally clean, the next brew may taste a little funky.
- Brewer Compatibility — Metal filters are built to fit a particular pour over brewer such as a Chemex or an AeroPress. Since pour over brewers are available in multiple shapes, including cone and flat-bed brew methods, There’s no “one size fits all” metal filter. You’ll need to purchase the metal filter specific to your brew method.
How to Decide Between a Paper and Metal Pour Over Coffee Filter
Neither type of pour over filter is superior to the other. Rather, they fit some lifestyles better than others.
To help you choose the right filter for your home brewing needs, answer these quick questions.
1. What Flavors or Characteristics Do I Prefer In Your Coffee?
Each filter will elicit different flavors and characteristics from the coffee. The right choice for you depends on your coffee preferences.
For vibrant flavors and a clean cup, opt for a paper filter. Or, for a rich mouthfeel and intensely aromatic coffee experience, brew with a metal filter.
Ultimately, there’s no wrong choice! It’s up to your taste buds.
2. How Much Do You Want to Spend?
The best filter for your home pour over setup also depends on how much you’re willing to spend.
A metal pour over filter is a one-time purchase of $15-$30. Keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a different reusable filter for each brew method. A cone-shaped metal filter won’t work in a flat-bottom brewer and vice versa.
Paper filters are not reusable. You’ll need to restock your supply when you run out. A pack of 100 pour over filters costs anywhere from $8-$15, about $0.08 per filter. Depending on how many pour overs you make a day, a pack of 100 filters can last quite a long time!
Filters are not an overly expensive purchase. But, if you’re trying to save money in the long run, a reusable metal filter will do the trick.
3. How Much Time Can You Dedicate to Cleaning?
Making pour over coffee is fun… until you have to clean it up.
Paper filters are simple. Throw the grounds and filter out or into the compost pile and you’re done. Metal filters, on the other hand, require a good scrub to remove micro-grounds from the stainless steel mesh.
When you need a quick clean-up solution, paper filters are your best bet.
4. Is Sustainability An Important Factor to You?
Coffee drinkers who care about the environment and following a sustainable, no-waste lifestyle find that the metal reusable coffee filters best suit their needs. While recycled and eco-friendly paper filters do exist, they still contribute to waste.
5. Does Your Brew Method Require a Specific Filter?
Brew methods like the AeroPress or Hario V60 offer metal and paper filter options. Some more niche or newer brew methods may not have a metal filter counterpart available yet.
Before choosing one filter material over the other, make sure your brewer doesn’t require the use of a specific filter.
The Trick to Better Pour Over Coffee Isn’t The Filter…
It’s all about using the right coffee.
You can have the most expensive metal filter or an abundance of paper filters and still brew bad pour over coffee.
If you’re brewing with low-quality or cheap beans, it doesn’t matter what type of filter you use—it will still taste bad. Spectacular pour overs start with expertly-roasted specialty coffee beans.
Specialty coffee is roasted to highlight the coffee’s delicious natural flavors, acidity, and other characteristics. You’ll be able to taste exciting notes like citrus, walnut, red apple, rose, and everything in between.
No matter if a paper or metal pour over coffee filter meets your needs, make sure you have the freshly-roasted coffee to brew with!