Bleached vs. Unbleached Filters

A look at the differences between bleached and unbleached (aka white and brown filters).

To put it simply, there’s two types of paper filters: those that have been bleached, and those that have not been bleached. The purpose of this article is to help you understand what the differences between these two are regarding the impact they have on your coffee’s flavor and aroma.

Let’s start with the most widely used of the two; white -bleached- paper filters.

Bleached filters


  • Better tasting coffee
  • Little to no smell
  • Looks better

We are visual creatures and appearances are, like it or not, very important for us. If we see a brown paper with uneven color patches, as most brown filters are, our brain immediately associates this with unclean paper and possibly a distinct smell and flavor that some find unpleasant.

White, however, is limpid, clean, and pure in our brains. We are much more likely to choose a white paper over a brown one based purely on these simple psychological biases.

And so, white paper filters are born. Bleached using chlorine for a beautiful even, white color. The process also helps to get rid of the natural smell and flavor that brown paper imparts. On the other hand, depending on the filter, the smell and flavor of chlorine takes its place, which is worse for coffee. This can usually be resolved by rinsing the paper filter with hot water.

But there’s more than one way to bleach paper. The second most popular way to bleach coffee filters is via oxygen. Oxygen bleaching is a much less contaminating process, though the results aren’t nearly as satisfying as with chlorine regarding whiteness and evenness of the color. However, it is superior in the sense that it leaves no smell nor flavor of chlorine— perfect for our purposes. The catch? It’s much more expensive and paper filters bleached this way are more difficult to find.

Still, white paper filters are perceived to be superior to brown filters, despite not being technically of a higher quality, but simply brown paper with a face-lift. In fact, white paper could contribute more than brown paper to contamination due to the extra process of bleaching which causes unnecessary waste.

Unbleached filters


  • Stronger fiber
  • Better for the environment
  • Woody taste and smell

Unbleached filters are becoming more marginalized than they were in the past. As coffee has gained popularity, it has gained a certain status and glamour, with worldwide competitions, YouTube videos, and so on. As we discussed before, white looks better to our eyes, therefore white paper is virtually everywhere you look on the internet. This can cause coffee drinkers to think that brown paper filters are second-grade, or for non-knowledgeable people, etc.

Brown paper filters, however, are just as good as white paper filters. In fact, they may even be sturdier since they haven’t undergone bleaching.

The biggest issue people take with brown paper filters is that they have a certain smell and flavor. This can vary depending on where it’s been made or even the quality of the wood it’s made from; either way, brown paper certainly does have a very distinct smell. Contrary to that of white paper filters, it’s not easily rid with a hot water rinse, although it does help a lot.

However, the flavor does not by any stretch ruin the taste of your coffee. It may actually enhance and boost certain flavors and aromas found in different coffee blends.

Brown paper filters are sturdier, and they are better for the environment, but unfortunately, they do mess with the taste of coffee a little bit. And there’s nothing that coffee drinkers hold sacred more than the purity of their coffee – therefore some people don’t mind using slightly-worse-for-the-environment paper filters.

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