Brewing coffee at home comes with certain challenges at times, and a common problem many people face is running out of filters to brew your coffee with. Luckily, there are a few tricks you can try to help you learn how to make coffee without a filter.

Whether you’re using a makeshift coffee filter from items you have around the house or brewing a cup of coffee without using any type of filter, all your answers are right here.

Even if you are a seasoned home brewer using various kinds of equipment such as a Moka pot, French press, or the popular Chemex, you may get caught one day without any paper filters or even have your plastic/metal filter break unexpectedly.

Learning the many ways to make coffee without a filter will get you out of a tricky situation and enable you to enjoy the delicious coffee you love so much without needing to run to the store before you’ve properly woken up in the morning.

These methods will show you what you can use instead of a coffee filter in a pinch while still brewing up a flavorful cup of Joe. Just be sure to have one of the best coffee grinders on hand so you can have those grounds ready to filter through these great alternative methods.

Why Do You Need a Filter?

If you find yourself looking for a coffee filter replacement, you may be wondering why you even need a filter in the first place. Maybe you want to try making coffee without a filter at all. Luckily, you can do this with a few easy, unconventional brewing methods.

However, certain brewing methods require a filter to keep the gritty coffee grounds out of your brew. While the sandy feel of the grounds in your coffee may be a turn-off on its own, there are  additional practical reasons why you should keep the grounds out of your coffee.

The most important reason is that the longer your grounds sit in the hot water you are drinking, the more they are extracting those coffee flavors. While this may not sound like a bad thing, there is such a thing as over-extraction, which happens when the grounds are left to soak for too long.

Over-extraction of coffee grounds will cause your brew to turn bitter and unpleasant, just as under-extraction will create a sour-tasting brew. Many coffee experts will tell you as soon as your coffee has finished the recommended brew time for your chosen method, you should quickly remove the grounds from the water.

The filtering process helps to separate the finished grounds from the flavorful coffee water you will end up sipping on. While certain brew methods simply pass the water through the grounds in the form of steam or water, other methods require some sort of filtration to separate the two.

If you are moving up in your home brewing experience, you will likely choose brewing methods that require more finesse and filtration to create a well-balanced cup of joe. As with any home method, mistakes can happen. Alternatively, you may run out of the equipment you need, so it is always good to have a backup plan.

If you’re the forgetful sort and constantly running out of paper filters, maybe you could consider using a reusable cloth or steel one.

Next, let’s go over how to make coffee without a filter to make sure you have a plan when things go awry so you can still have your tasty cup of coffee.

How to Make Coffee without a Filter

Luckily, when it comes to making coffee without a filter, there are various methods that utilize different coffee filter substitutes as well as two brew methods that don’t require a filter at all. You can even use these when there is no power at home or when you are camping or traveling.

No matter which of the following methods you choose, you will have delicious tasting coffee in no time. It’s time to choose your favorites to keep in mind for those times you find yourself without a coffee filter.

Method 1: Make a Good ‘Ol Cowboy Brew

cowboy coffee

The first method I have for you is known as the old-fashioned cowboy brew. This brewing technique is perfect for camping or if you have a gas stove and the power is out. All you need are a few basic pieces of equipment, including a pot, a coffee grinder, your preferred beans, and some filtered water.

Step 1: Boil Your Water

Start by adding water to your pot and getting it to a boiling point on your stove, campfire, or some other alternative heat source, like a microwave. You should add a bit of extra water to allow for some to boil away, so if you are using two cups of water for two cups of coffee, then add in an extra ¾ cup of water.

Step 2: Grind and Add Your Coffee Beans

Next, grind your coffee beans to a medium or fine grind size before adding them into the pot of boiling water. A general guideline is to use two tablespoons of coffee for every 6 ounces of water you are making. You can add more or less depending on how strong you would like your coffee to be.

Step 3: Remove the Heat

Once your coffee has been added, move the pot off the heat source and immediately cover it with the lid. Next, let it steep for roughly four minutes. You can potentially let it go an extra minute for stronger coffee, but check that the grounds have settled at the bottom of the pan before serving.

Step 4: Serve the Coffee

The final step is to serve your coffee. Carefully pour the coffee out of the pot into your cup while aiming to keep the grounds at the bottom. Alternatively, you can use a ladle to achieve a more “filtered” brew. The coffee may be a bit gritty, but that is part of the reason why some enjoy the unique taste and texture of a cowboy brew.

Method 2: Brew Your Coffee Using a Dish Towel or Cheesecloth

If you are aiming for a type of pour-over but you don’t have a filter on hand, you can use a makeshift filter instead. This can be done using paper towels or even a light dish towel if you don’t mind it getting a bit coffee-stained.

Some cheesecloths sold online are actually marketed as a coffee filter, like this one.

This method is fairly simple, and you can use various household items to achieve the filtered effect. If you use paper towels, be sure to layer them up and check that they are strong enough to not tear. Other items you can use include:

  • A dish towel
  • A handkerchief
  • A cheesecloth

The handkerchief may be the top option, since it is light enough to allow the water to filter through but strong enough to not tear.

Step 1: Put the “Filter” in Place

Next, simply fold up your makeshift filter and place it in the mouth of your coffee mug while leaving a bit extra to hang over the sides of the cup. You can secure it to the cup with pegs,  clips, or even a rubber band if you don’t want to hold it in place.

Step 2: Prepare Your Beans

Next, grind enough beans for one cup using your preferred grinder (a burr grinder is best), and make sure they are a medium-to-coarse grind size. Pour the grinds onto the “filter” and give the cup a slight shake from side to side to spread them out evenly.

Step 3: Boil the Water

While preparing your beans and filter, you should boil your water and leave it to cool down for one minute before pouring a small amount over the ground coffee nestled in your filter. Use just enough water to wet the grounds, and leave them to bloom for 30 seconds.

Step 4: Add the Water

Once the coffee has finished blooming (a process done to remove some gas from the grinds),  slowly pour the rest of your water over the filter in small amounts at a time. Be sure to not let the water overflow out of the filter by letting it completely seep through before pouring more water over the grounds.

Step 5: Enjoy!

If the water doesn’t filter through easily at first, you can gently stir the grounds with a spoon to help the water through. Once you have filled up the cup, remove the grounds and your “filter” of choice, and enjoy.

Method 3: The Alternative French Press

If you suddenly find yourself with a broken French press and a strong desire to enjoy the bold coffee you usually get from this brew method, you can create a nifty makeshift French press to use until you are able to buy a new one.

This method only requires your coffee beans, a grinder, two coffee mugs (or one glass measuring cup and one mug), and some hot water. In a few simple steps, you can have a coffee similar to the cowboy coffee mentioned above, only with a bit of extra finesse and a stronger taste that is closer to your beloved French press brew.

Step 1: Grind Your Beans

Grind your beans as you typically would for a French press, which should be a fairly coarse grind that resembles sea salt, and place them in one clean mug or a glass measuring cup.

Step 2: Boil and Bloom

Boil your water and let it cool down for around 30 to 60 seconds before pouring a small amount over the grounds. Next, let the coffee bloom for 30 seconds. Once that time is up, pour in the rest of the water. Leave this to brew for three to five minutes, depending on how strong you want your coffee to be.

Step 3: Serve and Enjoy!

Once the coffee has been brewed, the grounds will have sunk to the bottom of the cup. Now you can gently pour the brewed coffee into your drinking mug, being careful to leave the last drops of water with the grounds in the cup. You can use a mesh sieve or even a spoon against the lip of the cup to prevent the grounds from slipping through.

Brewing FAQs

Can you consume coffee grounds?

Yes, you can consume the coffee grounds if there are some lingering in your coffee. However, some people will prefer not to have a gritty tasting coffee, so filtering out the grounds is usually preferred.

Coffee experts will also tell you that leaving coffee grounds in your cup of Joe will cause the grounds to over-extract and create a bitter-tasting brew, which is rather unpleasant.

Can I use any paper as a coffee filter?

It is not recommended to simply use any form of paper as a makeshift coffee filter, as certain types of paper will contain chemicals and dyes that you should not be consuming. If you filter coffee through paper containing harmful chemicals, you may ingest bitter-tasting or even toxic substances.

When you are using household items to make a temporary coffee filter, be sure to check which ones contain chemicals that may leak into your coffee. It is best to use a clean dish towel, paper towels, or a cheesecloth if you have one around the house.

Check out this guy using a paper towel!

Time to Get Brewing!

Now that you know the various materials you can use as a makeshift coffee filter and the methods in which these “filters” are used, you are ready to brew up some tasty coffee, even if you don’t have any actual coffee filters on hand. Remember to stay mindful of your grind size, and filter as many grounds out as possible to prevent over-extraction.