How to Make Coffee Without a Filter

by TobyJan 17, 2024

If your regular go-to brew is filter coffee, running out of filters can be your worst nightmare. Or perhaps you’ve been drinking filter coffee for a while now and fancy a change. Either way, if you’re looking to make coffee without coffee filters (either by choice or not), we thought we’d suggest some alternative ways to brew your coffee, as well as some alternative ‘filters’ that will get you back on track. But first, let’s take a look at why filter coffee is so popular in the first place.

What Makes Filter Coffee So Popular

You could probably apply the term ‘filter coffee’ to any brewed coffee that is passed through some kind of filter to improve the taste of the resulting drink. Traditional filter coffee typically involves an electric machine you will with water and ground coffee and a paper filter, and the machine then heats the water and pushes it through the grounds and the filter, so the end result is coffee with all the flavor and none of the bits.

It’s simplicity and the smooth-tasting coffee at the end of the process is generally why it’s such a popular method of brewing. Other methods of using filters to brew coffee include pour over, drip brewing, French press, Chemex, Aeropress etc. which are all filter the coffee, so are technically filter coffee.

Filter Coffee… Without Filters

So we now understand why filter coffee is so popular – but what do you do if you’re just about to make a nice pot of coffee and you’ve run out of filters? First things first – don’t panic. We’ve got a few ideas of how you can improvise with some makeshift filters that will get your coffee brewing in not time; or alternatively, you could consider trying a different brewing method if you have the necessary equipment.

Filter alternatives

Paper towel: Most people would have normal kitchen paper towels, and these can actually be used instead of a proper filter, although probably not in your filter machine. Instead, line a suitable pour-over or drip basket or similar (a funnel or similar would even do) with a couple of paper towels (depending on their thickness), add your coffee grounds and then carefully pour over your hot water until you have your cup of coffee. These should work okay, but depending on the type of paper towels you use they may have traces of bleach or other chemicals in them.

Cheesecloth/Cloth napkin: If you have a cheesecloth or cloth napkin handy, these will also make good alternative filters. It goes without saying that you want to make sure they are clean (and ideally haven’t been washed with any strong detergents or chemicals), and it should probably be one that you’re not too bothered about becoming coffee-stained. If you have a drip basket simply place the cloth in it, add your ground coffee, and pour over the hot water. If you don’t have a drip basket this filter alternative could actually be used straight into your mug, and using a rubber band to keep the towel in place will make things a bit easier.

Normal/Reusable tea bags: If you’re a coffee lover, you might not have many teabags (normal or reusable) in your house, but if you do these make good filters for your coffee, as well. You can make your coffee with a reusable tea bag pretty much as you would your tea – add a couple of spoonfuls of your coffee grounds to the bag, seal it up and place it in your cup, and the pour your nearly-boiling water in. After a few minutes you should have a nice cup of coffee without much mess or fuss. For normal tea bags, just empty these out and replace with your coffee grounds and do the same as above.

Mesh sieve: Most kitchens will have some kind of mesh sieve, and if you’re lucky to own one of the really fine mesh ones, you could also use this instead of your usual filters. Simply add your coffee grounds to a measuring judge, a couple of spoonfuls for a single cup but you could add more if you want to make a whole pot. Leave for a few minutes and then simply pour into your sieve, which you’ve placed on top of your pot or coffee cup.

Sock: No, that’s not a typo, if you are really desperate and can’t find any other viable options, you could actually use a sock to filter your coffee. Obviously, you need to make sure it’s clean, and ideally not washed in any chemicals or heavy detergents. Add a couple of spoonfuls of grounds and then pour hot water into the sock while it’s over your pot or cup and it should catch all but the most finely ground coffee.

Alternative Brewing Methods

As we’ve already said, filter coffee is a popular way of making your daily brew – but without filters for your machine, you might have to go to some lengths to find a suitable alternative filter to enjoy your coffee the way you’re used to. But what about simply choosing a different way to brew your coffee. Here are some brewing methods you could try, either as a temporary or permanent alternative way of making your daily coffee.

French Press: If you opt for a French Press (or cafetière) you’ll never have to worry about filters again. Simply add your ground coffee to the jug, pour over the nearly boiling water, gently stir and leave for a few minutes to steep, then place the lid on top and slowly push the plunger down. The metal sieve pushes all the ground to the bottom, leaving you to pour out the lovely filtered coffee.

Cold Brew Coffee: While cold brew coffee still requires some filtering, it’s not a method brewing that needs specific paper filter like your filter coffee machine. You simply mix coarse ground coffee in a jar with cold water, using between 150g-250g of ground coffee per liter of water, depending on how strong you like it. After stirring the mix, you then leave it for at least 12 hours, and the refrigerator is a good place to store it while it steeps. When it’s ready, you need to filter the mixture through a cheesecloth or similar filter, and then you have a coffee brew that can be served hot or cold.

Turkish Coffee: Turkish coffee uses another filter-free method of brewing and simply uses ground coffee and a small, traditional pot usually made from copper, called a cezve. Turkish coffee is made a little different in that you add the ground coffee and cold water to the pot, and then place on the heat to boil. Once it starts to foam you serve a little of the coffee in your cups. You then return it to the heat to boil it again and pour out the remaining coffee once it starts to foam once more. You can also add sugar to the mix if you prefer a sweeter taste.

Cowboy Coffee: Apart from sounding pretty cool, the Cowboy Coffee brewing method is not only a good alternative to filter brewing when you’ve run out of filter, but it’s also incredibly simple – all you need is ground coffee beans, water, and a pot or pan. Simply pour water into the pot (a bit more than the amount of coffee you want to end up with as some will boil away), once the water is at a boil, add your coarsely ground coffee (a couple of tablespoons per person should do it), then wait until the grounds settle to the bottom and you’re ready to pour a steaming cup of strong coffee like they use to brew on the frontier.

The Last Drop

So there you have it, while you might be a filter coffee lover whose world has ended because you’ve run out of filters for your coffee maker, there are a variety of options available to you that will make sure you can still enjoy a nice hot cup of your favorite brew. Whether it’s improvising with the various items you might have around the house to use instead of your usual paper filters, or trying a completely different way of brewing your coffee, at least you won’t have to go without or resort to instant coffee powder until you’re able to replenish your coffee filter stocks again.