Bleached vs. Unbleached Coffee Filters What’s The Difference? (White Or Brown)

Coffee filters are an essential piece of kit when it comes to brewing coffee. Sure they’re small, made of paper and cost next to nothing but without the humble paper filter, your morning coffee brewing ritual is kind of screwed; unless you want to use a sock? Most of the best coffee makers use paper filters but should you purchase bleached or unbleached ones?

Choosing either bleached or unbleached filter and which are the best is an ongoing debate with coffee enthusiasts around the globe. I bet you’ve even asked yourself the same question, but is there really a difference?

Bleached vs. Unbleached Coffee Filters

There are many that won’t brew coffee using anything but unbleached coffee filters and of course as you can imagine there are just as many on the other side of the fence that believes bleached filters are the best and there are some that simply say that there is no difference at all between the two.

Confused? I hear ya! Help is at hand. In this article, I hope to shed some light on both types of coffee filter. I’m going to point out some noticeable differences and if coffee filters can actually impact the taste of your cup of coffee. After reading this you should have the answers to whether white or brown coffee filters are better or if there are any differences at all!

Why Is Paper Bleached?

Before we delve any deeper, I thought it would be a good idea to understand why coffee filters are bleached in the first place.

Believe it or not but paper filters are bleached purely for cosmetic reasons, there is no other benefit. I guess they look cleaner when they’re white versus brown, there is NO other benefit. While brown paper might look less pristine, it’s just as hygienic as white.

Bleached Coffee Filter

How Are Coffee Filters Bleached?

How they are made is where the problem arises for me when it comes to bleached filters. The factories that produce the bleached filters use up to several different bleaching methods such as chlorine chemicals which has detrimental effects on the environment (chlorine bleaching is the second biggest polluter in the paper industry after the actual pulp manufacturing process).

The good news is that almost all the bleaching practices are slowly becoming obsolete in the western part of the world in favor of alternative bleaching methods which don’t burden the environment such as hydrogen peroxide and oxygen. Scandinavia for example (a big pulp producing country), has replaced the chlorine process with more environmentally friendly methods like oxygen bleaching.

Big coffee filter companies like Hario and Matilda are listening to consumers and have been a driving force behind more environmentally friendly processing methods and now explicitly state if their filters are oxygen-bleached, making it easier for consumers to choose.

If you prefer the white coffee filter instead of the brown, make sure to look for filters that are marked with “TCF” on the packaging, which means that the paper has been bleached 100% without chlorine.

Able Brewing Reusable Kone Coffee Filter

If you brew coffee using a Chemex or a Hario V60, 02 and 03 drippers, I HIGHLY recommend using the Able Brewing Reusable Kone Coffee Filter. This high-quality stainless steel coffee filter is 100% reusable and it will allow for more oils to pass through compared to a paper filter which in-turn will give you a more robust and flavorful cup of coffee. Plus you’ll save money not buying paper filters! You can find it on Amazon.


Bleached or Unbleached Coffee Filters The Impact on Taste

Even though many may disagree I’m going to say that there is NO noticeable difference in taste between bleached and unbleached filters; there you go I said it!

For the average, everyday coffee drinker the difference is going to be minimal. Coffee geeks with an experienced palate may find that unbleached filters impart a slight paper taste, but this can be almost completely removed if the filter is pre-moistened before use (which is standard practice with pour over methods, and what you should be doing anyway).

But, yes there is a but, some coffee filter brands process their filters differently, and many of the cheaper brands, unfortunately, use the old bleaching methods combined with inferior pulp which can adversely affect the taste. If you want to make sure you are getting a clean flavor, oxygen-bleached filters are the best choice. Just read the label, remember to look for “TCF” on the packaging.

To Bleach Or Not To Bleach – Which Filter Is The Best?

I’m sure after reading through this you already have an idea whether white or brown coffee filters better if you’re still scratching your head here are a few final words.

Unbleached, brown coffee filters “may” affect the taste of your coffee every so slightly, to be honest, it’s going to be barely unstable by many of you reading this article. Double rinse your filter If you’re concerned that your coffee might end up with a papery taste.

Bleached filters have to go through some sort of chemical process to make them white, unfortunately, some of these bleaching processes involve using toxic chemicals. For an environmentally conscious choice, you should go for bleached filters which have a TCF chlorine-free label.

In the great bleached vs. unbleached paper coffee filter debate, it really comes down to your preferences, taste or environmental impact. Oh, and remember that paper filter quality matters! A cheaper bleached coffee filter may add just as much of a papery taste to your coffee, if not more, as a high-quality unbleached filter.

At the end of the day, life’s too short, enjoy your coffee with brown or white or better still why not use a permanent, reusable coffee filter instead!

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coffee disclosureThis article may contain affiliate links on some of the products I use and recommend. Clicking on an affiliate link won’t increase the cost for you but makes it possible to identify the referral by this site. So if you find my article beneficial and decide to purchase via my links I will get a small amount of commission which I can put towards some coffee (probably not enough for a lobster dinner though). Read my full affiliate disclosure here.

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