Posted on January 3, 2012 by
Photo: Olivier Bacquet
For years I’ve made coffee the old fashioned way with a drip coffee machine and paper filters. I did get the brown, unbleached filters. I don’t normally drink any coffee during June and July when I don’t have to work, but that’s still hundreds of filters thrown away each year. This is especially annoying as I also drink tea, but I buy it loose so I don’t have the waste of a used teabag (and also the option to buy better tea). Why should I had to add paper to the coffee equation?
Turns out that this is a pretty easy problem to avoid. Your local grocery store probably sells a reusable metal filter that can replace the paper filters. I found mine pretty easily and I live in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, having tried the same coffee in the same coffee maker using paper filters and the reusable metal filter, I think the metal filter makes a more flavorful cup, so this is ultimately a win-win.
Of course that’s not the entire story. First, the perforated metal isn’t as effective of a filter as paper and can’t be. You may end up with some sediment in the resulting cup because of it, but there are a few work-arounds. The first would be to get a better grinder. This does involve a bit of expense as grinders that create a more even grind and less dust are expensive, but there are actually some really good hand-powered models out there that are reasonable. Still, getting a new grinder isn’t a great option if you’re like me and have one that still works perfectly well. After all, replacing functioning equipment is not the way of The Greenists.
If buying a grinder isn’t an option (or you just don’t grind your own), you’ll need another way to deal with the sediment if it bothers you. One way is to let the coffee sit before pouring. After a few minutes, the fine coffee dust settles to the bottom of the pot and tends to stick together so you can pour most of the coffee off without any issue. The same goes for your cup. Let it sit for a few minutes to cool and then just don’t drink the last sip or two at the bottom of the cup. If you’re like me, however, and can’t even bring yourself to waste that much, after about halfway through the cup, swirl the coffee a little before each sip. There won’t be enough sediment in the cup to notice it this way. It’s only the fact that it settles out and ends up all being in the last sip that makes it annoying to start with.
As for cleaning your reusable filter, just tap out the spent grounds into your compost pot, rinse out the filter to get the stuff that sticks, and put the filter back in your coffee maker. Other than that, just clean the filter when and how you normally clean the rest of your coffee maker.
If you want to experiment a little with methods other than the regular drip coffee maker, some of the paperless options are considered superior brewing methods by coffee geeks (and I use geek as a compliment as I am one.) The French press or plunger pot is a great method. You add the ground coffee to the pot (using a medium coarse grind if grinding your own) and heat the water separately to 195-205 degrees F (not boiling). Add the hot water to the pot, let sit for three minutes, stir, and after three more minutes, press the plunger. This lowers the metal filter that presses the grounds to the bottom of the pot separating them from the liquid. You may have some sediment issues with this method (depending on how well ground the coffee is) just like the reusable drip filter, and that can be handled the same ways. This does require a little more attention than a drip maker, but it is an extremely easy method of brewing coffee.
The last method is one I really want to try. The vacuum method involves two pots, one upside down on top of the other. The coffee is placed in the top. Water is placed in the bottom where it is heated. Pressure from the steam forces the hot water into the top pot with the coffee. Then the heat is killed, the cooling process creates a vacuum that sucks the brewed coffee back down into the bottom pot. I have no personal experience with this method so I cannot speak to any issues with sediment, but it is really cool.
There is always the option of a percolator, but honestly, percolators make horrible coffee. I’m trying to help you get rid of the paper without making crappy coffee. If you’re willing to drink bad coffee, you may want to quit caffeine for a while. You don’t have to worry about filters at all that way.