Most of us brew our morning coffee on autopilot, and if you regularly wake up to realize you are out of coffee filters, you know what a bummer that can be. Still, most of us have tried at one time or another to improvise a filter, and paper towels make an excellent substitute.
But, can you use a paper towel as a coffee filter?
On the surface, there isn’t much difference between a paper towel and your typical coffee filter. Both are made of paper and are thick enough to absorb and sieve finely ground coffee. However, there is a but…
Can I Use a Paper Towel as a Coffee Filter?
While paper towels are great, you may want to consider if they are safe to use for filtering coffee. Paper towels are a staple in most American households, making them a readily available substitute for paper filters.
However, they have a slightly different manufacturing process, considering that we use them for wiping and drying surfaces. Paper towels have a lot of contaminants from the adhesives, conditioners, and decorative ink added during the manufacturing process that can leach into your coffee.
Additionally, paper towels made with recycled paper may contain bleach to produce white paper towels. Chlorine is the most commonly used bleaching agent, and bleached paper may have cancer-causing dioxins left behind from the bleaching process.
So, while paper towels are convenient and readily available, they may not be as hygienic. The most I can recommend is to use unbleached and unrecycled paper towels. However, you can try better alternatives that you can use in place of coffee filters. I’ll mention these alternatives later on.
How to Make a Coffee Filter With a Paper Towel
If a paper towel is your only option, making a coffee filter out of it is a simple process.
- Use one sheet of paper and fold twice diagonally to form a triangle. Next, fold both ends of the base across the triangle creating a cone.
- Finally, fold the top of the triangle over the edge of the cone on each side. The cone will open up at the top to form a pocket.
- Generally, paper towels tend to be thick to absorb liquids while wiping surfaces properly. Therefore, one sheet will be enough to brew one cup of coffee.
- Fit your paper towel cone inside the filter basket of your brewer. You may fold down the paper along the edge of the basket for a better fit.
- One drawback of using paper filters is that they give your coffee a papery taste. However, wetting the paper filter a little with hot water before spooning in the coffee grounds is a hack I use to prevent that papery taste. Make sure to drain the water away before brewing.
- Add the coffee grounds to the desired quantity and pour in hot water slowly as it drains into your mug or carafe.
- Enjoy your coffee. Paper towels feature a tight weave that helps to sieve the coffee grounds giving you a relatively clean cup of joe.
You can also check out this demonstration video to better understand the process:
What Other Alternatives Can I Use as a Coffee Filter?
Mesh sieves are another alternative to the traditional coffee filter, and some drip coffee machines come with them. Generally, mesh sieves are typically for brewing infusion brew coffees and cold brews. However, they are also an excellent choice for your daily coffee if you don’t mind cleaning after.
Also, you’ll want to use a micro-mesh sieve such as this Gocoffun Pour-Over Coffee Maker for a clean cup. Still, you may end up with some residue sipping through the mesh with a fine grind.
On the plus side, they are reusable, and if you are particular about taste, your cuppa may have a richer flavor as the mesh sieve will not absorb oils from the coffee.
Another advantage is that you can brew more cups of coffee on the fly with a mesh sieve, unlike a paper filter. However, you would need to steep your coffee in hot water for a few minutes, then pour it through the mesh sieve for large brews.
A cloth napkin is another clever way of filtering your coffee when you’ve run out of paper filters. The main advantage of cloth is that it is reusable, and it is also easier to clean than a mesh sieve. On the downside, it absorbs coffee oils, and it may flavor your cup of joe with detergent.
However, if you are using a dishcloth or napkin in an emergency, you might want to consider using a cloth you don’t need for other purposes because the coffee will give it a permanent stain. If you are using it multiple times, ensure that you rinse it properly and hang it to dry after each use.
Plus, you can opt for a commercially made cloth coffee filter for pour-over and coffee machine brewing in place of paper filters. They are reusable, easy to clean, affordable, and are more friendly to the environment.
To use a napkin filter, fold the cloth twice, drape it over your mug and let it droop a little inside, creating a small pocket to hold the ground coffee. Also, you’ll need to secure the sides with a rubber band so that the cloth does not fall inside the mug when pouring the hot water.
Cheesecloth is a loosely-woven cotton fabric typically used for making homemade cheese and straining solid while making recipes such as homemade almond and coconut milk.
Cheesecloth weave comes in seven grades from open to finely woven, making it an essential tool in many kitchens. It is available in grocery and fabric stores, and you can get reusable cheesecloth coffee bags online.
Also, cheesecloth makes an excellent substitute for coffee filters, and you use it the same way as you would with a napkin. The advantage is that it does not leak other flavors into your coffee as a napkin would, and it filters coffee faster than paper filters. So you can maintain some heat in your coffee since it takes less time to brew.
However, it has some drawbacks as well. The typical cheesecloth is not reusable, so you will have to discard it after one use. Secondly, it is not as widely available as paper filters and costs more, making it expensive to use cheesecloth to filter coffee regularly.
If you are an avid tea drinker with a stock of reusable tea bags, you can use them to filter your coffee. There are many multi-use tea bags varieties available, and the best ones are cotton or muslin fabric.
Reusable tea bags are pretty straightforward to use. You spoon your coffee into the bag and steep it in hot water for a couple of minutes.
However, you may want to monitor how long you steep if you like your coffee light. On the upside, reusable bags are easy to clean and help make a strong brew. They also come as several bags in one packet, so you can use a fresh one for your coffee to maintain the taste.
Can I Brew Coffee Without a Coffee Filter?
Yes, it is possible to brew a cup of coffee without a filter. After all, some coffee drinks such as Cowboy, Turkish, Ethiopian, and southeast Asian coffees do not require filtering.
All one needs is the coffee grounds, a brewing pot, and your mug. Put water in the brewer, mix in the coffee grounds, and heat it. Brew the coffee for a few minutes and turn off the heat as it comes to a boil. Pour all the contents into your mug and allow the coffee grounds to sink to the bottom. It will take about half a minute for the grounds to settle, and your coffee is ready to drink.
As you can imagine, it is not a popular way to make coffee because most people like their java clean. However, it is also a convenient way to brew for many people at once. Other brewing methods you can try include using a percolator, a French Press, and a Moka pot, as they come with a filter basket.
However, these methods require a little patience as it takes about 5-7 minutes of brewing time, and you have to be actively involved in the brewing process.
All in all, one can use a paper towel as a coffee filter quite effectively and safely. Paper towels are thick and closely knitted to filter finely grounded coffee, making them an excellent alternative to your regular paper coffee filter.
However, you may need to consider the type of paper you are using to prevent leaching contaminants into your coffee. It will be better to use substitutes such as cloth filters and mesh sieves which are more economical because they are reusable and more hygienic.