What We Sell, What We Don’t: The Case of Cafec Coffee Filters

On coffee brewing, coffee filters and coffee products. And why (maybe) the old internet was better.

When I started Sweet Maria’s I would look into various products to sell along with our core business, home coffee roasters and green coffee.

If I did a bit of work to investigate something, but then decided against selling it for some reason, I would usually post about it. The idea was that what I found might be useful to others. And since I already did the work, why not?

Well, one good reason “why not” was some of the things I wrote might come off like a hit job. I would do this for brewers etc, but coffees too. I remember posting negative comments on a Guatemalan coffee and the producer emailing me livid about it! That was me in the old World Wide Web days though, and the idea of “netiquette” (remember that word!) was just dawning on dimwits like me. Yeah, don’t harm people, that’s bad, duh.

Coffee Filter Comparisons - Cafec, Hario, Melitta, Filtropa
Coffee Filter Comparisons – Cafec, Hario, Melitta, Filtropa

Then again, the internet has, for me, become generally dishonest in terms of product opinions. While trashing something is not okay, trying to determine the truthfulness of online opinions about products etc is near impossible it seems. I kinda wish there were fair, balanced, critical voices … and that was my original goal when I would post my old “non-product product reviews”. Yes there used to be a lot of rude behavior online … but some of that conflict in the old newsgroups and forums had some purpose. People posted as though they believed having a conflict in discussion could lead to learning, to a little enlightenment. It’s called “the dialectic” to be fancy about it. And back then few people were there to sell something, and nobody lived off of clicks or being an “influencer”. Of course we were all dumb too, because we didn’t know that all the “content” we created, all the info we gave about ourselves online, was itself going to become a product, or our eyeballs would become a commodity to be sold.

So here’s one for the old times. I am going to comment on a line of products we decided NOT to carry. In this case it is from the Japanese company Cafec, and their line of coffee filters and pour-over drippers.

For those who want to skip the rambling and find out about Cafec Filters, skip to “Cafec Filters and Stuff” down the page a bit!

The Long and Roundabout Version…

Coffee filters for lighter roasts? Coffee filters for Dark Roasts? What attracted me to Cafec coffee filters is they are making different filter papers for different roast levels of coffee. That seemed unique, although after testing them I was unsure if this is really needed. But a focus on filter paper quality by a company that actually makes the material (not a private label) seems cool. I saw some really great videos from Melodrip on instagram that further piqued my curiosity. (BTW – the Melodrip videos are great! And if you really enjoy being really careful about brewing, the Melodrip seems really legit. I have seen it in use and tasted the results!)

It fits with my recent observations on the incredibly variable quality of coffee filters out there. It’s not that there are filters that are somehow mysteriously excellent and will make your ho-hum coffee taste better. But there is some terrible (most often budget- level) filter paper out there that can really impact the final cup.

I really don’t like to split hairs over coffee stuff when it comes to brewing. I am really appalled how people who sell coffee stuff sometimes seem to exploit every opportunity to make coffee brewing harder, and more expensive. It’s hot water, ground coffee, and gravity people. How hard does this have to be?

Yet some of the material that comprises filter paper we have seen at Sweet Maria’s is really crappy. We use a sorta okay Bunn brewer in our kitchen for the crew, and the stock Bunn filters that are made for it are garbage. as are many of the budget commercial “8 cup” basket filters (like those that fit the Brazen brewer by Behmor), and some Melitta type filters. We picked up a box at Trader Joes … gah-bage!

Good vs Bad. It’s not a moral thing

What makes a filter paper bad (or good)? In its most basic function, the filter should retain “insoluble solids” to a high degree while allowing the solubles to pass. By insoluble material, that’s stuff like the woody cellulose that comprises much of the structure of the bean itself. Solubles would mean the stuff that can pass with the hot water through the filter medium. For example, caffeine itself is highly soluble in water.

Poor quality filter paper will allow a higher percentage of the insoluble material through. Generally, as more of these pass through, the body / texture / mouthfeel of coffee changes, and along with that can come increasing bittering sensations. Bitter means many things though. And it’s (comically) the thing all coffee shares and the word you never see mentioned on a coffee package.

But in this case we aren’t talking about the positive “roasty” bittering in coffee. We are talking more about something gritty. You can often see the sediment of insoluble solids in a coffee that isn’t filtered well, just as you might see residual material in the bottom of a coffee cup brewed as French Press. These solids are ok for that style of coffee, sure. And to some degree they precipitate out of the brew as it sits, provided you don’t stir it. (Most people don’t want to take that last sip of Press coffee, unless they’re kinda desperate.)

But those who brew with paper filters are generally trying to avoid that kind of sediment. It’s not a good thing or bad thing …. it’s a preference on some level. And, at least to me, pour over brewing with a paper filter means, “I don’t want grit in my coffee.” So I guess that’s my primary gripe about these substandard paper filters. They don’t meet the expectation of a clean cup.

Okay things in people, but not so great in coffee filters: Thin / Weak / Bad Taste / No Texture

One characteristic of a lame coffee filter is it’s usually (but not always) a very thin material. Paper thickness does seem to matter as one aspect of coffee filter quality, and some people like the incredibly thick Chemex filters for this reason. The Cafec for Dark Roast seems to be a heavier duty, thicker ply, whereas their light roast seems to be quite close to the Hario in thinness.

But, with limited knowledge of commercial paper making, the thickness isn’t all the matters.

Have you ever, in desperation, brewed coffee with a paper towel? It falls apart as the paper fibers are not tightly bonded or woven into each other. In that way it is porous and allows more oils and sediments through than an actual purpose-made coffee filter. It’s just poor paper material that deteriorates as you brew: the paper pulp ends up in your coffee and you can taste it. I believe this is due to some technicalities about paper manufacturing that I am not knowledgeable about, but I can see some cheap filters appear to have paper strands not tightly bonded into the structure of the paper itself. It’s like having a ratty sweater that loses fibers all the time. Yeah, just like that.

Paper taste is a phenomenon you can get from any filter I think, if you don’t pre-rinse it. Thick papers like Chemex are surely prone to it, and need extra rinsing. But good filters where the paper fibers seem to be strongly adhered seem to need less rinsing and impart less paper flavor, IMO. Also I have found that aged filters, or those that have dried out / were left out of an exterior barrier package, can also impart more paper taste. But cheap filters that do not have strong structure have resulted in some of the worst paper taste I have experienced, and in particular cheap “eco” brown filters. (BTW white filters are not bleached with like bleach – they are “whitened” by other techniques that do not leave trace chemicals).

The thin budget filters are similar in this sense too: They lack surface texture, which I believe would mean a decreased surface area and less filtering functionality. See the surface texture I tried to capture in the photos … Melitta uses some sort of dimpled pattern it seems whereas others have an almost crepe like surface.

(I want to note here that I am comparing filters usually used for pour-over versus those used for auto drip. However see the vee-bottom Melitta pictured here, which is used for both manual and automatic drip, as that is an apples-to-apples comparison.)

I had heard that perhaps Cafec actually was doing private-label manufacturing for Hario with these paper filters. But in fact they seem a bit different under close inspection of the surface textures. I'm unsure...
I had heard that perhaps Cafec actually was doing private-label manufacturing for Hario with these paper filters. But in fact they seem a bit different under close inspection of the surface textures. I’m unsure…

Cafec Filters and Stuff

Cafec offers filters in 3 main types: Light Roast Coffee Filter Paper, T-90 Dark Roast Coffee Filter Paper, and Abaca Coffee Filter Paper, which is a sustainable source of paper pulp. As you can see from the images, the Hario made-in-Japan is extremly close in most aspects to the Cafec Light roast. In fact, I had heard that they might manufacture the Hario, but I can’t confirm. (Footnote on Hario is that the prolific coffee character James Hoffman has a video demonstrating that the Hario filters not made in Japan are different, and for him not as preferable, as the Japan-made ones. I guess in Europe they have both types. However we have only seen and stocked the Japan-made ones here).

Cafec Filters seem to be top notch material, akin to the Japanese-made Hario (i.e. the good ones that we stock). We couldn’t really produce a verifiable different result between light and dark roast versions though. They are different for sure, but for us that didn’t prove out in the cup. Dan also noted a lot of “paper taste” from his tests, but I feel this might come from the fact he tested “open packages” of filters. If a paper filter is exposed to dry air for a long time it degrades, and will give more paper taste. But we really aren’t sure on this one. We liked their sustainable filter options.

A dark roast filter makes sense to my brain … but it didn’t pan out in cupping the coffee. The main reason it does make sense to me is the increased level of fine particles, as in powder, produced by truly dark roasts. These care called “fines.” Even with nice grinders, dark roasts make more fines because the cellulose bean structure is brittle, and structurally weaker due to loss of organic material and moisture. You know if you hand-grind a dark roast versus a really light roast how different they are: It takes way less muscle to grind a dark roast. But does this double-double Cafec T-90 Dark Roast filter paper clean that up better? Maybe but I couldn’t taste an appreciable difference. And if you did want heavy duty filtering for dark roasts, why not just go with Chemex? All Chemex filters seem to be super heavy-weight material.

I loved the Cafec heavy ceramic "flower dripper" too!
I loved the Cafec heavy ceramic “flower dripper” too!

But Cafec is expensive stuff, the filters are a bit more than our Japan-made Hario and we can’t see a quality difference. So all in all it didn’t add up to a good value for customers, or a compelling reason to offer the various types of filter options. I believe a good quality filter can work well for light or dark roast, unless you are producing a dark roast grind with a ton on fine particles. But in that case, you have a grinder problem you should probably fix, rather than find a paper filter that somehow compensates for the issue (which in truth, it doesn’t).

On top of that, while Cafec isn’t broadly available, it comes right up on Amazon, and that is a real disincentive to stock them on several levels. A. our info will likely just lead to Amazon sales, and B. people have access to them, which is what we want, so our mission to make these available is sorta pointless. They are available. And based on the wholesale prices, which are very high, the Amazon price is actually already a good deal considering, for those that want to give the Cafec filters a whirl.

Again, there’s nothing super unique about their drippers except that they are super nice looking, in great colors … I’m hanging on to mine for sure. They are $$$ but of the price is ok for you, I think you will find it “Sparks Joy!” lol.

Anyway, that’s it for my way-too-long post. Internet, 1999 style. Tah Dah!

3 Responses

  1. I love that you wrote “It’s hot water, ground coffee, and gravity people” but I’m commenting to say the “glossary” is astonishing. That must have been a lot of work, but it’s wonderful that you made that available to people. What a gift! I just saw a hummingbird zip around the yard and it seems similar . . . doing something mind-blowing just because you can!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.