So you’re ready to brew your morning coffee and discover you have no filters. Not having coffee is out of the question, so you need another way to filter the grounds from the beans. What, then, are some good coffee filter substitutes?
Good coffee filter substitutes include methods to replace a filter and processes where you brew coffee in water, also known as decoction. Paper towels, sieves, cheesecloths, and socks can make acceptable filters. Cowboy coffee or a variation of it can also make good coffee.
Don’t panic! These coffee filter substitutes can make perfectly acceptable coffee, and you’ll only need items everyone has in their house.
If paper towels fall apart or the idea of making coffee with a sock doesn’t sound appealing, you can always make coffee the old-fashioned way.
If you don’t have a coffee filter, you can use one of two kinds of filter substitutes. Either find another way to strain the coffee, or make coffee in water and then separate the liquid from the ground coffee.
With the first method, you need to find a substitute for a paper filter. Also, brewing a pot of coffee will be risky. Most substitute filters will work for individual cups, but they won’t drain fast enough in a coffee maker.
Then you’ll have a mess on your counter and still no drinkable coffee.
This section lists four filtering methods that work well—paper towels, a sieve, cheesecloth, a sock, dish towel, or cloth napkin.
1. Paper towels
The most common solution for this problem is paper towels. They allow water to filter through, are convenient, and everyone has some.
One method that works well for a pour over is to fold your paper towel in half, then in half again. Set your grounds in the center of a paper towel square, then place the “filter” in your pot and brew!
Another thing to try is laying the paper towel in the drip basket, adding coffee, and placing the basket on the carafe. Then, slowly pour hot water over the grounds.
Using the coffee maker isn’t recommended since you won’t be able to monitor how quickly the water is draining.
Also, you wouldn’t want to make too much coffee using this method. There could be some glue, bleach, or other chemicals used to produce the paper towels. In addition, the result will be acidic coffee with a chemical aftertaste.
When you’re finished with your coffee, toss your DIY coffee filter and add coffee filters to your grocery list.
2. A sieve
A sieve makes an excellent substitute for a filter if you have one. You can use a tea strainer to brew a cup of joe, especially if it has a fine mesh. The result will be a better-tasting coffee than a paper towel.
This method works best if you use coarsely ground coffee. Finely ground coffee will either clog the sieve or add coffee ground sediments to your cup.
Making coffee with a sieve is straightforward. You pour boiling water into a cup or mug, fill the tea ball with coarsely ground coffee, and let it steep for four to eight minutes.
Your coffee could be slightly watery, so consider using slightly less water than usual.
The only disadvantage to this method is you need a sieve. However, dig around in the kitchen drawers, and you might find the one you bought several years ago and never used.
If you have some, cheesecloth makes an excellent coffee filter substitute, producing a superior coffee. This is because cheesecloth is designed to strain water, so it won’t tear or disintegrate like paper towels.
Cheesecloth is a cotton cloth similar to gauze, and it’s used to separate solids from liquids (and vice versa). Cheesecloth is commonly used for manufacturing cheese, but home cooks use it to make yogurt, tofu, and ghee.
Cheesecloths are graded in units of ten. A 10 to 20 grade cheesecloth allows more material to pass through, but it’s not durable. Similarly, a 90-grade cheesecloth will be durable, but liquids have difficulty passing through it.
If you want to use cheesecloth, make sure you use 50 or 60-grade cloth. Fold it over twice and cut it to fit into the drip basket. Add your coffee, and brew.
To be on the safe side, put the basket over the carafe and pour hot water over it, as you would over a pour over.
Unfortunately, not everyone has a cheesecloth. But there are a few additional options you might want to try.
4. Socks, dish towels, or napkins
If the paper towel trick didn’t work, and you don’t have a tea strainer or cheesecloth, clean socks, dish towels, or cloth napkins will work. They let water seep through while holding the filters. The process is simple:
- Fill the sock with ground coffee.
- Place it in your mug.
- Slowly pour hot water over it.
Water will gather in the sock’s toe, mix with the coffee ground, and then filter down into your mug.
Using a sock to make coffee has been used for a long time in parts of Cuba, Costa Rica, and Mexico, as well as countries in the east, such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Street vendors in Thailand still use socks to brew coffee. In Cuba, a sock is used to brew the traditional Café Carretero.
The typical method for making sock coffee is to place the coffee grinds in the sock, then put the sock inside a cup or pot, pour in hot water, and leave it to sit for a few minutes. Then, remove the sock, and your coffee is ready.
Or, instead of putting the sock and coffee in boiling water, you can hang the sock above your mug. Then, hold it in place with a rubber band and pour water as you would in any other pour over method.
If using a dish towel or napkin, drape it over the cup, or better yet, a larger container, such as the carafe. Next, add coffee, boiling water, and let the liquid soak through the coffee.
One disadvantage to this method is if you use scented laundry soap, it might affect the taste or odor of your brew. A second is that your coffee might permanently stain the cloth.
Making coffee with boiling water
Most of the techniques for making coffee with boiling water use almost boiling water. This process of making coffee is called decoction, and it’s also used to extract the medicinal substances in other plants.
Decoction was the primary method of making coffee from the 13th through 19th century. However, early concoction methods took several hours to make coffee. Who has time for that?
The Ibrik method of brewing coffee was developed in Turkey in the 16th century, and it sped up coffee making substantially. Most of these solutions are variations of that method.
These methods work better with coarsely ground coffee:
Coffee boiled in water presents two problems you’ll need to solve. First, the temperature of the water must be correct. Second, you’ll want to keep as much sediment out of your cup as possible.
Otherwise, you wind up with bitter and gritty coffee.
Although Americans call it Cowboy coffee, this decoction method has a long history and is still used in some parts of the world. This was the method that inspired the inventor of the coffee filter.
However, many people associate it with the coffee brewed over open fires.
Here are the steps to make a coffee with the Cowboy coffee method:
- Start with 2 cups (473.18 ml) of water. Pour them into a pot or kettle and bring the water to a boil. A pinch of salt, which is sometimes recommended, is optional. Since the salt is added to reduce bitterness, add it only if the final cup is too bitter.
- Add 5 to 6 tablespoons (70.87 to 85.05 g) of coffee and stir well.
- Then place the kettle on the stove and boil the water for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove the kettle from the heat and let it sit so the grounds can settle.
- Once the grounds have settled, pour the coffee slowly into the mug—the slower you pour, the more grounds will stay in the pot.
Tip: To help the grounds settle, you can add ¼ cup (59.15 ml) of cold water. Along with helping the grounds settle, it also stops the extraction process.
Some Cowboy coffee Aficionados add crushed eggshells instead. They do so because the gelatin in the shells binds the coffee grounds. Eggshells can also reduce the coffee’s acidity because the shells are alkaline.
KokeKaffe or slightly different Cowboy coffee
KokeKaffe is the Norwegian version of Cowboy coffee. The process for making it is nearly identical.
The most significant difference is when you add the beans. Also, brewing the coffee takes a few extra minutes, and you might be in too much of a rush to use this process.
Here are the steps to make a coffee with the KokeKaffe method:
- Once again, start with 2 cups (473.18 ml) of water, put it in a kettle or pot, and bring it to a boil.
- When the water has come to a boil, turn off the heat and wait for 30 seconds.
- Next, add the coffee and place the kettle on the heat. Wait until the water is simmering (tiny bubbles rise to the surface).
- Take the kettle from the stove and let it steep for 2 minutes.
- Stir the coffee slowly for 10 to 15 seconds and then put the lid on the pot and let it steep for another 2 minutes.
- Use the cold water or eggshell method to settle the grounds.
- Slowly pour coffee into a mug and enjoy.
As you can see, this method is a bit more labor-intensive. However, many coffee drinkers don’t mind spending a few minutes on a smoother-tasting cup of joe.
Why do we have coffee filters?
We have coffee filters thanks to Melitta Bentz. She became fed up with the daily process of scrubbing coffee residue from a brass coffee pot. In 1908, she invented coffee filters, which revolutionized the coffee industry.
She took an old brass pot and poked holes in its bottom with a nail. Bentz then tore a sheet of paper from her son’s school notebook, which she used to line the bottom of the pot.
Finally, she placed the pot on top of a coffee mug, added coffee grounds, and poured boiling water over it.
So the next time you use a coffee filter (after you buy some), you can thank Melitta Bentz for her DIY solution.
Can you reuse a coffee filter?
It’s possible to reuse a coffee filter. However, the filter needs to be rinsed and dried. Even if your filter isn’t dirty, you’d need to wash, rinse, and dry it before using it again. The resulting coffee won’t taste as good.
It’ll take longer for coffee to seep through the filter, and your coffee will taste bitter. So even though it’s possible to reuse a filter, it’s doubtful you’ll like the results.
Check out this complete article where I tested reusing coffee filters!
How to prevent running out of coffee filters
It’s easy to prevent this problem. Reusable coffee filters come in many types and sizes and can fit nearly any coffee maker basket. These filters can rescue you in an emergency, and they might be better for the planet anyway.
Worldwide consumption of coffee is 2.25 billion cups of coffee daily. If only one-third of that coffee is made with paper filters in 8 cup (1,892.71 ml) batches, it means that 140 million paper filters are trashed every day.
Producing the number of filters we use in a year requires the equivalent of 1.5 million trees, and the filters create 433,000 cubic yards (331,052.25 ml) of waste.
So there you have it—6 tried and true methods for making coffee when you’ve used your last filter and have no interest in digging into your garbage can and reusing yesterday’s filter.
In the time that it would take to get a cup of over-priced coffee from Starbucks, you can make your own cup.
However, we can probably agree that it would be better to prevent running out of filters in the first place.