Modern drip coffee makers require some sort of filter to keep the coffee grinds from ending up in your cup. Looking at the different shapes, you’ll find cone and flat filters. What’s up with that? Why would one shape be better than the other? Let’s find out!
Why Are Coffee Filters Different Shapes?
Coffee filters are made in different shapes for two main reasons: to work with the shape of the coffee maker itself so that the filter fits properly in the machine, and to make sure the hot water spraying head inside of the coffee maker is able to do its job and therefore produce better-tasting coffee. There are many different coffee makers on the market today, and each one has its own unique shape. The coffee filters are designed to fit certain coffee machines so that the two work together to produce great coffee.
There are essentially three shapes for coffee filters: cone, flat, and disk, but the disk coffee filters are used mostly for AeroPress and French Press coffee makers. Both cone and flat (sometimes called basket) coffee filters can come in different sizes as well, although flat filters fit nearly every coffee maker brand that uses that type of filter. It is mostly the cone coffee filters that come in different sizes because they are used in several types of coffee makers.
It is interesting to note that in studies, it has been found that the flavor of the coffee is often affected by the shape of the coffee filter used, even though researchers are not quite sure why this is so. It may have to do with how the water flow changes and, therefore, how the water molecules are transferred into the water when different shapes are used in the brewing process.
What Other Shapes of Coffee Filters Are There Besides Cone and Flat Coffee Filters?
There is essentially only one other type of coffee filter, and that is a disk coffee filter. Disk filters are used for the AeroPress coffee maker and a few other types, and they can be either disposable or reusable. The reusable disk filters are usually made out of some type of stainless steel and are, therefore, very sturdy, not to mention very convenient when you’re traveling. Another advantage is that it allows for more oils from the beans to be deposited into the carafe, which results in a full-body flavor that people love.
The Melitta coffee makers also use a disk-type filter, and these are usually disposable. Melitta and other percolating coffee machines always work best when you use a filter because it reduces the amount of sediment that gets into the coffee so that it tastes better in the end. One of the advantages of disk coffee filters is the price. A reusable disk filter costs around $15, while you can usually get 100 disposable disk filters for around $3. Either way, disk filters are very reasonably priced and won’t put a damper on your budget when you buy them.
What Impact Do Basket-Shaped Filters Have on Brewed Coffee?
It was mentioned earlier that the shape and size of your coffee filter usually directly affects what the coffee will taste like once it’s brewed. This is a curious phenomenon because in reality, it shouldn’t matter what type or size filter you use; they should all produce the same results. Nevertheless, this is not the case, so let’s take a look at a few reasons why.
First of all, when boiling water is poured over the coffee grounds, it usually goes straight to the middle of the filter. It doesn’t automatically spread out until it reaches the outer area of the filter. When you consider this, it’s easy to understand why coffee made with flat filters, which are quite wide in diameter, is going to taste different than coffee made with conical filters, which are much smaller. In some coffee shops, baristas make up for this by changing their pouring patterns so that the water spreads out more and touches every section of the filter. When these pouring methods are used, you get more even extraction and less fluctuations in temperature, resulting in a much better-tasting coffee.
Even without changing the pouring methods, however, the shape of the filter should not be the only consideration when deciding which coffee tastes better. In several studies, participants noted that coffee brewed with flat filters tasted more “roasty” and “smokey” than coffee brewed with cone-shaped filters, which they claimed tasted more “floral” and more like tea than coffee.
What all this means is this: the difference between the two basket shapes means that it’s just a matter of preference regarding which filter is “best.” Coffee-lovers should try them both and see which type of coffee filter they, themselves, prefer, since the term “best” is very subjective.
Why Does Basket Shape Matter?
Because the water is dripped onto the middle of the coffee filter and because conical and flat coffee filters have completely different sizes when it comes to their shape and diameter, you would expect there to be two different tastes involved, but that is not always the case. In fact, other things have to be taken into consideration to make a determination such as this. One of these is the type of coffee grounds used. But oddly enough, when you ask coffee-lovers which type of filter they prefer, both fans of the conical filters and fans of the flat filters claim their way is the best way to make a great cup of coffee. Even more interesting is their reason why – both groups of people said their filter tasted best because of:
- The flow of water through the coffee grounds, which is enhanced.
- The fact that extraction is more uniform.
The reason the shape of the filter matters is because it changes the water flow once the boiling water is poured into the coffee maker. The flow pattern is changed, so the taste of the coffee is also changed because each filter changes the quantity and quality of the coffee particles themselves. Coffee particles include not just the coffee grounds, but also everything that makes up the beans that were ground, which could include minuscule parts that you cannot see with the naked eye. All of the particles that make up the coffee itself are either water-soluble or not, and a good filter will keep any particles out of your cup of coffee that may make that coffee bitter or not very tasty.
While studies have shown that most participants can tell the difference between coffee made with a conical filter and coffee made with a flat filter, the results still varied regarding which participant thought which filter produced the “best” coffee in the end.
Are Cone Coffee Filters Better?
Determining which type of coffee filter is “best” is subjective; nevertheless, you can decide which one is right for you by comparing their features and learning the details you need to know to make this decision. Some of the features you should consider include:
- Bleached versus unbleached. Bleached coffee filters are white because they are bleached. Unbleached filters are usually brown in color. The difference in the taste is reflected in unbleached filters, which usually give the coffee a more “paper”-like flavor.
- Ease of brewing. Cone-shaped coffee filters may offer an advantage over flat filters because they work like a funnel and, therefore, the water is spread more evenly once it reaches the bottom of the filter. This can cause the coffee to taste a little fuller and bolder.
- Its compatibility with other coffee makers. Cone-shaped filters are numbered in size from 1 to 6 and, therefore, you have to make sure you buy the right filter. Flat filters usually accommodate any type of drip coffee maker on the market.
- Price. There are many things that affect the price, but as a general rule, you should expect to pay a little more for conical filters than for flat coffee filters.
As you can see, both conical and flat coffee filters offer pros and cons, so the bottom line is this: your personal preferences and tastes will dictate which type of filter is right for you. While most drip coffee machines use flat filters, that doesn’t mean these are the best ones for all coffee-lovers. In the end, you’ll need to make that decision for yourself by trying them both out so that you can get exactly what you’re looking for in the perfect cup of coffee.
While most coffee-lovers claim they can taste the difference between coffee made with a cone-shaped filter and coffee made with a flat-bottomed filter, there is no official consensus on which type of filter is best. Because of the way each of them handles the flow of the water and the evenness of the water before it reaches the coffee grounds, it’s no surprise that the tastes between the two types of filters will be different.
As a coffee aficionado, it is your job to test out the results for yourself, using factors such as the price, how easy it makes the brewing process, and a few other things. Remember, there is no right or wrong “answer” to the question of which coffee filter makes the best cup of coffee, but coffee-lovers will thoroughly enjoy finding the answer for themselves.