Running out of paper coffee filters or not being able to use your coffee maker for a day is not as horrible as you think. There are several ways to make coffee without a filter.
How to make coffee without a filter? You can use everyday objects to filter coffee, such as a cheesecloth, paper towel, dish towel, mesh strainer, or reusable tea bag. There are also techniques for brewing coffee that don’t require using a filter. One of the most popular manual brewing methods is the cowboy coffee technique.
In this article, we give you step by step instructions for making coffee with makeshift coffee filters. You will also learn other coffee brewing techniques that you can use on days when your coffee maker fails you.
Can You Make Coffee Without a Filter?
What if you wake up to find out that your coffee maker isn’t working or you have no paper filters to use?
Would you go for a cup of instant coffee or drag yourself to the store if you knew that you can make coffee without a filter or using another object as a filter?
If you don’t have coffee filters at home, there are a range of objects to substitute it. The key is finding a clean and non-toxic material that will successfully separate the grounds from the brew.
Anything from a fine mesh strainer to as dish towel can work so long as you secure the makeshift filter on the cup using clamps or elastics and give the coffee enough time to brew.
Another alternative to filtering coffee with everyday objects is not filtering it all! But you need to know a good coffee brewing technique to do so. A popular coffee brewing method that doesn’t call for any filters is cowboy coffee.
What Is Cowboy Coffee?
If you are someone with a coffee maker, you are most likely unfamiliar with the coffee brewing method called cowboy coffee.
But if instant coffee is not something you want to rely on, and you have no idea how to make coffee without a filter, then knowing how the cowboy method works is a must for you.
A method similar to cowboy coffee is making mud coffee, but there are some key differences. In the case of cowboy coffee, you need to bring water to a boil. With mud coffee, you need to keep the water temperature below the boiling point for the ground beans to release their flavor.
Another major difference is that with the cowboy method, as soon as the grounds settle, the coffee is poured into cups. With mud coffee, they are left at the bottom of the coffee cup.
But overall, mud coffee and cowboy coffee are both great manual coffee brewing methods that don’t call for a filter.
How to Make Cowboy Coffee
Here is how to make cowboy coffee if you don’t have a coffee machine or any filter at hand:
- Fill a pan with water. You will need a little more water than you do when making regular coffee.
- Turn on the stovetop and bring the water to a boil.
- Once the water starts to boil, start adding coffee grounds. For every 6 ounces of water, you should add 2 tablespoons of coffee.
- Once you have added the coffee, let the water boil until the coffee grounds sink, and mix with water.
- Turn the heat off and cover the pan immediately.
- Keep the coffee covered for a few minutes. This will give the coffee grounds time to settle to the bottom of the pan. In the meantime, the coffee flavor will get richer.
- Take the lid off and your coffee is ready to be served. Use a ladle to pour yourself a cup of coffee or pour it directly from the pan. If the grounds have settled, they shouldn’t find their way into the cup.
Bonus Tip: If you don’t like strong coffee, add a little less than two full tablespoons per 6 ounces of water. After a few times of making cowboy coffee, you will find the water-coffee ratio that works best for you.
The Best Paper Coffee Filter Substitutes
If you don’t like the idea of cowboy coffee, or just love the taste of your regular filtered coffee, don’t despair.
Luckily, there are multiple coffee filter substitutes that will help you successfully brew coffee on days when you can’t make properly filtered coffee.
Tips Before You Brew
To get pleasing results, knowing how the particular substitutes works is not enough.
There are a few other things to consider:
First off, you should use freshly ground coffee. With freshly ground beans, you only have to wait for 15 to 20 minutes. Beans that have been ground for days will take longer to release their flavor.
Secondly, use water that is neither too hot nor too cold. Boiling water will ‘burn’ your coffee beans. Cold water, on the other hand, will be useless in extracting their flavor. Generally speaking, the perfect water temperature for brewing flavorful coffee ranges between 195 to 205 degrees.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a thermometer. There is no need to look for a coffee substitute and a thermometer. You can simply boil water and then let it sit for 30 seconds or so. It should come to about the right temperature.
Lastly, use freshly roasted beans if you can. Using beans that have been roasted within the last 10 to 14 days will certainly up the flavor of your coffee filtered with everyday objects you have on hand.
But if you can’t get your beans from a local roaster, don’t worry. Your coffee will still be pretty tasty.
Here are five coffee filter substitutes you can use to make perfectly brewed coffee. If you don’t have coffee filters, you will certainly have one of these at hand.
If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen and are good at making custards, nut milks, easy cheese varieties, etc., the chances of you having cheesecloth at home are high.
Here is how to make coffee using a piece of cheesecloth:
- Cut a piece of cheesecloth measuring it based on the cup size you will be using it on. Cut the piece big enough to fold it in half twice. Folding the cheesecloth a few times creates a fine mesh.
- Put the folded piece of cheesecloth over a large mug. Secure it with clamps (or a rubber band) to make sure that the cheesecloth will stay in place once you start pouring the water. Make sure the cloth is slack enough to have a sizable dip in it, for your coffee grounds and water to sit.
- Pour a few teaspoons of medium-coarse ground coffee into the cheesecloth set to act as a filter. Spread the ground coffee evenly on the filter.
- Boil water.
- Pour a small amount of water over the ground coffee to get it wet and open the aroma. Let it sit for 30 seconds.
- Slowly pour the rest of the water.
- If you notice that the cheesecloth is thick and the coffee doesn’t seep through easily, help it by stirring gently with a spoon.
- Once all the coffee has seeped through, remove the cheesecloth, and enjoy your coffee.
Note: It’s best to use an extra-large mug to allow for plenty of space when filtering. Many people underestimate the amount of space they will need for the coffee grounds to sit, especially if the water filters through slowly.
It is much easier to transfer your coffee to your favorite mug later than run out of room and make a mess while you make your brew!
2. Paper Towel
Making a coffee filter out of a paper towel is also an option. However, make sure the towel is not so thin that it will tear right off once you pour water on it.
Additionally, as paper towels are commonly treated with chemicals, you should at least choose a paper towel that has no smell and doesn’t have any prints on it. This increases the chance that your towel is safe to use.
Follow these steps to make filtered coffee using a paper towel:
- Take a square piece of paper towel.
- Fold the paper towel in half twice.
- Put the paper towel in the pot (such as a Chemex) where you would put the paper filter. Unfold one corner to create an opening. When using a mug, secure the paper towel on it using a rubber band.
- Add a few tablespoons of coffee grounds, matching your normal ratio.
- Slowly pour hot water.
- Remove the paper towel with coffee grounds once all the water has seeped through.
3. Dish Towel
A clean dish towel that is fairly thin can also be used as a coffee filter substitute. The good thing about this option is that you probably always have a clean kitchen towel or cloth napkin in your house.
Here’s how a dish towel can work as a coffee filter:
- Find a clean dish towel. Don’t use precious white towels to avoid the risk of staining them.
- Fold the towel in half.
- Secure the folded dish towel on the mug using an elastic or a few clamps.
- Put the coffee grounds on your makeshift filter. Two tablespoons should do for every cup of water.
- Slowly pour hot water over the coffee.
- Once all the water has seeped through, remove the dish towel, rinse it quickly to avoid stains, and enjoy your coffee with whatever additives you like.
4. Mesh Strainer
If you have a fine mesh strainer, you can use go ahead and use it as a coffee filter substitute. Here is the best way of filtering coffee with a mesh strainer.
- Pour ground coffee into a measuring cup or a mug. Two tablespoons per cup.
- Pour a small amount of hot water over the coffee and let it bloom.
- Pour the rest of the water into the cup.
- Let the coffee sit for 5 minutes or longer if you like your coffee strong.
- Place the mesh strainer on a clean coffee mug and pour the coffee through it. The sieve will catch the coffee grounds and leave you with perfectly filtered coffee.
You’ll notice this method works a lot like a tea bag or tea strainer, although not as much as the next method!
5. Reusable Tea Bag
If you are a tea person, it is more than understandable why you are looking for a way to make coffee without a filter. And if you are a tea person, you are likely to have reusable tea bags or strainers in your kitchen.
Here is how to use a tea bag or strainer to filter coffee:
- Add finely ground coffee into the reusable tea bag/strainer and seal it.
- Submerge the tea bag with coffee into a mug with water that is neither too hot nor too cold.
- Leave the teabag in water until the coffee is as strong as you want it to be.
- Remove the teabag/strainer and enjoy.
You can also use a nut bag or a handkerchief as a coffee filter substitute. If you have a pair of new cotton socks, guess what, you can use it to filter coffee!
This may not be the most pleasant coffee brewing experience, but if you really want to try it, it should work.
If it is your worst nightmare to not be able to make filtered coffee before you head to work or hit the gym, and you don’t want to go through the hustle of making a makeshift filter, the best thing you can do is to buy a reusable filter.
Reusable coffee filters have multiple benefits.
First, you can use them whenever you can’t use a regular coffee machine. Second, they will save you money as you won’t need to buy paper filters all the time. And finally, reusable coffee filters are portable, lightweight, and perfect for traveling.
What Else Can You Do?
Assuming you don’t have a Moka pot or French Press lying around, you may still find yourself in need of a makeshift brewing method!
If you are not a fan of the cowboy coffee brewing method and you can’t find any of the aforementioned ingredients for a makeshift coffee filter, here are a few other options that may work for you.
Make a DIY Coffee Bag
You can make a coffee bag using a paper filter. But if you had a filter, why would you need a coffee bag?
Instead, you can make it using out of a tea bag:
- Gently open a tea bag and replace it with coffee. You can also use one of those empty nylon teabags that you can buy in bulk.
- Put the teabag filled coffee into your coffee mug.
- Start pouring boiled water over the teabag. Do it slowly to prevent the bag from opening and spilling the coffee into the water.
- Let the DIY coffee bag sit in hot water for around 5 minutes.
- Remove the bag and enjoy your coffee.
This is basically the same as making your coffee with a reusable tea bag or strainer, but now you know you can use even the tea bag that comes filled in a box!
Makeshift French Press
If your coffee maker isn’t working, or you have no paper filters or anything to substitute them, then this improvised French press method is something you should try.
You only need two mugs, freshly ground coffee, and water.
Here is how to fashion a makeshift French Press:
- Boil water.
- Add fresh coffee grounds into a cup.
- Pour a small amount of water to cover the ground coffee.
- Wait for 30 seconds and continue pouring the rest of the water.
- Let the coffee sit for around 4-5 minutes. If you like it strong, let the coffee brew a few minutes longer.
- After you have finished brewing the coffee, pour the coffee into a clean mug. Do it slowly to avoid pouring the coffee grounds into the new cup along with the liquid. This shouldn’t be a problem as the grounds sink to the bottom of the cup while you let the coffee brew.
- Enjoy your coffee made with makeshift French press technique.
The Microwave Method
Coffee gurus will say that using the microwave to make coffee is simply unacceptable. But if you have to make coffee without a filter, using the microwave oven to do it is an option. So why not?
Here is how to make your morning cup of coffee in the microwave:
- Heat a cup of water in the microwave. Don’t boil it.
- Once properly heated, take out the cup with water and add ground coffee into it.
- Stir well to make sure there are no clumps of coffee left in the water.
- Let the mixture sit and brew. The stronger you like your coffee, the longer you should let it brew.
- Drink your microwave-made coffee. But remember to avoid the last couple of sips as the grounds will be sitting at the bottom of the cup.
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