It’s early in the morning. You open the kitchen cabinet to pull out a coffee filter for your coffee maker…and you find the box is empty.
Panic sets in. You need your coffee, and you need it now.
Can you make coffee without a filter? The good news is that you can.
In this article I outline 7 ways you can make coffee without a filter, what you can expect from the substitutes, and how you can get the best results.
Making Coffee Without A Filter
Brewing coffee is a vast and exciting world of methods, filters, and materials. If you’re used to using a method with paper filters, such as a drip coffee maker, you might feel lost at the thought of brewing coffee without a filter.
But actually, life without coffee filters does go on.
At home, I often make coffee without filters. It’s not because I always run out of them. I just love metal filters, which don’t require the constant reminder of “Honey, please buy more coffee filters.”
While many methods require some type of coffee filter, not all do. Some coffee traditions don’t use coffee filters at all, like Turkish coffee.
But if you really want to brew your coffee and you ran out of coffee filters, you might feel the need to replace your filter with something else in your kitchen.
We have you covered in our article about the common kitchen items you can use as a coffee filter substitute. Even better, you don’t need any fancy equipment.
Let’s get into how you can make coffee without a filter – or even without a coffee maker.
7 Ways To Make Coffee Without A Filter
Cowboy coffee, or camping coffee, is the simplest brewing process out there. Before the invention of drip coffee makers, this was how people around the world used to make a cup of coffee. This is also what cowboys used to use while on the range and what campers still often use around a campfire.
You simply put water in a metal pot, put it over a heat source and heat the water.
Then you add ground coffee, stir, and wait a few minutes while the coffee brews and the grounds settle. After which, you carefully pour the hot coffee into your cup. You don’t use any filter at all.
What’s the downside of this method? You’ll get some grounds in your cup, which makes drinking coffee a multi-sensorial experience as you chew on the coffee grinds that lingered in your cup.
The coffee will be quite strong since no paper or fabric coffee filter absorbs the coffee oils.
This is a great brewing method, not just when you’re camping but also when you forgot to pick up the filters at the store. It’s at the top of the list because it’s my first recommendation for brewing coffee without filters.
Try A Filter Substitute
If chewy coffee doesn’t sound like your thing, you might still be looking around your kitchen (or elsewhere around your house) to see what you can use as a quick fix to make coffee without a filter.
There are a number of kitchen items that can help you out in a pinch, some more effective than others.
Perhaps the first item you consider is a paper towel. After all, it does kind of look like a coffee filter. Will it work?
A standard paper towel starts to dissolve shortly after you wet it. For that reason, it’s not the best material for a two or three-minute brewing time.
Keeping the nature of standard paper towels in mind, I recommend using the more resistant, reusable type of paper towels. They’ll hold up to longer brewing.
Or you can brew your coffee in an immersion way, like the camping coffee I mentioned above, and use the paper towel just to quickly strain the coffee at the end.
To do that, arrange your paper towel over a mug and make sure it’s hooked to the rim in some way – rubber bands would probably be the most secure.
Carefully pour the hot coffee into the filter and as soon as the coffee has passed through, lift the filter out of the mug.
This method is good in a pinch. Expect a lingering taste since it can be hard to rinse the paper flavor out of paper towels.
Depending on the paper towel you use, it may absorb almost all of the coffee oils and leave you with a weak brew rather than a tasty cup. The positive point is that you won’t have coffee grinds in your brew.
You might also have a cheesecloth in your kitchen. This is a better option since you don’t have to worry about it dissolving in water. These instructions also work for a dish towel, butter muslin, or a cloth napkin.
You can use cheesecloth in the same way as the paper towel. Place it in the mug, secure it so it doesn’t move during the filtering process, and pour the brewed coffee over it.
The brew might be a bit weak as the coffee oils and sediments get trapped in the cloth. You can get around this by using a higher coffee to water ratio or use fine grounds.
Cheesecloths or other kitchen cloths won’t impart the paper taste that paper towels do. But you might get a taste of the detergent you used to wash the cloth. A good rinse before brewing is a good idea.
This is also a way to make cold brew coffee. You can wrap your coffee grounds in a cheesecloth and steep them overnight in room temperature water to get cold brew coffee. Keep in mind that your towel will not look the same after you have brewed dark coffee in it.
Reusable Tea Bags
Reusable tea bags are fantastic coffee filters. They are designed to steep in hot liquid, so they won’t fall apart. And they won’t impart undesirable flavors to the brew.
If it seems bizarre to use reusable tea bags as a DIY coffee bag, just keep in mind that it’s similar to single-serve coffee pouches.
You’ll get good results, they’re easy to use, and no ground coffee will wind up in the brew.
To use a tea bag, add coffee to the bag. I recommend 2 tablespoons of finely ground coffee. Seal the bag and place it in a mug, and then pour hot water over it. Brew for two minutes and remove the bag.
The downside of this coffee filter alternative is that you might not have a tea bag sitting around your kitchen. And they are also a bit expensive.
While this may seem like a joke, it’s not. Socks are made of fabric and can, in a pinch, be used as coffee filters.
I will say that I recommend using new socks. Just saying.
There is a coffee brewing technique that is known internationally as the sock method. It’s common in Latin America, where I live.
But no, you won’t see it in any of our barista training sessions since it doesn’t get the greatest or most consistent results.
What is the sock method?
It’s a conical piece of fabric (it looks a lot like a thin gym sock) that is hung from a piece of wire or plastic.
You add ground coffee to the sock, then add water just as you would when brewing a pour-over. It’s a simple drip brewing method, and at times I’ve had good coffee using the sock method.
Since most of us have socks handy somewhere, it’s a method that can be used in a pinch. As I mentioned, I recommend using new socks that have not spent hours inside your shoes.
What should you do if your sock is your best option? Set it up over a tall glass and wet it thoroughly with hot water to rinse it out. I recommend a sock that’s not too fuzzy, since all the coffee oils will stay in the sock.
Once you’ve rinsed the sock, dump out that water. Now attach a rubber band around the rim of the glass so the sock doesn’t fall in as you brew the coffee. Add the ground coffee and the hot water just as you would if you were brewing in a V60.
Do you need to worry about using a gooseneck kettle or what your pour techniques are? Probably not, since the fabric isn’t going to allow for complexity or an amazing body.
But you will have coffee.
What can you expect from using the get-your-socks-out-of-a-drawer-and-brew-coffee-with-them method?
Depending on the sock, you might be quite pleased with the results. You’ll get a coffee without any grinds, and it will still be better than many other methods.
But you might not want to use the sock afterward to go to the gym.
A mesh strainer, like a tea strainer, is a good method to use when you don’t have a coffee filter on hand.
After all, think about your typical French Press.
Essentially, it uses a kind of mesh strainer as a filter. The difference is that a French Press has a very fine mesh filter. If you have a fine-mesh strainer, you’re good to go. If not, expect to get a lot of grinds in your brew.
To brew coffee and filter it with a mesh strainer, first make the coffee using an immersion system.
Put the coffee grounds in a container that’s heat-proof and can hold the amount of water you plan to use. That may be a coffee mug, a glass measuring cup, or a whiskey glass.
A coarse grind is better when using a strainer. Add the hot water and wait for about 3-4 minutes. Stir. Then place the mesh strainer on your coffee mug or cup and carefully pour the brewed coffee through the strainer. Discard the ground coffee and enjoy.
What can you expect when making coffee with a mesh strainer?
Depending on the strainer you use, you might get a lot of ground coffee in the brew. Since you won’t use a paper filter, you can also expect all the coffee oils to be in the brew, which will give it an intense body and flavor.
This is also a great alternative because a mesh strainer is a typical kitchen element. Useful for straining tea or small amounts of sauce, you probably have one in a drawer.
Instant Coffee AKA The Last Resort
I really do hate to mention this one, and it should only be used in the case of an extreme emergency.
But I guess instant coffee can still be considered coffee, so it does fit into the category of how to make coffee without a filter or without a coffee machine.
As you no doubt are aware, this type of coffee needs no coffee filter. The coffee beans have been brewed, flash frozen, dehydrated, and then packed up in a convenient way.
You simply add coffee to hot water, stir, and voila, you have coffee. No need for paper filters because there are no coffee grinds to get in the way of your enjoyment.
Instant coffee can keep “fresh” almost indefinitely, so once you open it you don’t have to worry about using it fast because there’s no good aroma or qualities to lose. That’s convenient, even if it won’t give you the best coffee experience you’ve ever had.
Is it worth drinking? That’s a matter of opinion.
Some coffee purists would rather drink tap water than a cup of instant coffee. Other people say that anything hot that gives them the impression of having a coffee is fine in a pinch.
If you find yourself frequently forgetting to pick up paper filters at the supermarket, you might want to tuck a jar of instant coffee away in the back of your cabinet for those emergencies.
Best Way To Make Coffee Without A Filter At Home
It no longer strikes fear into my heart if I find myself without a coffee filter or a drip coffee maker. I know that even without a coffee filter I can use a number of tools in my kitchen and brew delicious coffee.
When I’m stuck in that situation, I tend to use the cowboy method and filter it through a fine-mesh sieve. The immersion method gives me a stronger coffee, while the sieve keeps the grinds out of my brew.
If you like a coffee that’s not quite as strong, the reusable tea bags might be the best for you. They give you a clean cup with no sediment. If you don’t have a tea bag on hand, you can go for the paper towel or dish towel option.
Wrapping Up Coffee Without A Filter
Life without coffee filters and without a coffee machine does go on.
You can not only still have your coffee, but you can even get a satisfying cup using these common kitchen – or bedroom! – items.
Find your favorite coffee filter alternatives and try them out, even if you don’t have a coffee filter emergency. That way, you’ll be prepared for any coffee situation.