I made a fresh cup of coffee the other day -- in a sock. The device holding the coffee grounds was called a coffee sock.
Actually it looked more like a small fish net. The "net" was made of special, untreated cotton and the handle was wooden.
It worked like a tea strainer. Holding the coffee sock over my cup, I poured hot water over the tablespoon of grounds I had already put in the bottom of the sock. Then I waited as the freshly brewed coffee dripped from the sock into the cup.
Finally I tossed the spent grounds in the trash, rinsed the coffee sock with warm water, and the sock was again ready for action.
I made the coffee in the sock to ease my environmental guilt.
The sock was recyclable. If I had used a paper coffee filter I would have had to throw the spent filter in the trash. But I could treat the Coffee Sock just like I treat socks I take along for an out-of-town trip. I could rinse and reuse.
The sock turned out to be one of the many types of reusable cloth coffee filters made by the Coffee Sock Company, a Eugene, Ore., enterprise. I got talked into buying my first sock (for about $3) by an ecologically minded employee of the the Coffee Mill in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood, where I went to buy a pound of coffee. It seems that someone from the !B Baltimore shop had seen the Coffee Sock while visiting San Francisco and had brought a few of them back. Soon the sock had settled in the East, or at least in Hampden.
The father of the sock, Robert Thomas, was back in Oregon. The other day after making a couple of cups with my new device, I called Thomas and got filled in on the facts behind the filter.
Thomas said he started making Coffee Socks in the United States in 1978 after being introduced to them on a trip to South America. Now he and a sewing crew, composed mainly of mothers working at home, make a line of 10 cloth filters sold throughout North America.
Besides the sock, there are cloth filters that fit in the brewing baskets of automatic coffee makers and ones that fit the Melita and Chemex manual coffee makers.
The idea of using cloth filters has been around for years, he said. But recently, as people have begun to examine the environmental consequences of their daily actions, interest in reusable filters has increased.
"I didn't get much of a following until the last couple of years," Thomas said. "Now people seem to want an alternative" to the disposable paper filter.
Thomas gave the paper coffee filter its due. It is very convenient, he said, especially for people in a hurry.
But, he said, he thought the cloth filter appealed to folks who were trying to cut back the amount of trash their households produced.
Cloth coffee filters usually last three to four months before they need to be replaced, he said.
While both types of filters keep the sediment out of the beverage, coffee filtered through cloth does, according to Thomas, taste different from coffee filtered through paper.
Paper filters absorb some of the bitter oils released from the coffee by hot water, he said, but the cloth filter lets them through. Maybe so. The two cups of Costa Rican coffee I made in my coffee sock did not taste bitter to me.
But then again, my judgment may be clouded. I am a coffee drinker on a mission. I have become aware of the ecological impact of my coffee filters.
And I am now working on ways to reuse my spent coffee grounds.
I've heard they are great for azaleas.