If you’re someone who enjoys making coffee at home, then at some point or another you’re going to want to take your coffee game to the next level. Thanks in large part to modern logistics and the proliferation of specialty coffee, that’s not too difficult to achieve. Two methods – the French press and the pour over – stand head and shoulders above the rest as affordable, accessible means of brewing delicious coffee.
Below we’re going to compare both methods to determine which produces the best coffee, is better suited to your lifestyle, and is overall easier to use.
So heat your water and grind up your beans, in the following paragraphs we’re going to get go deep and we gear up for the ultimate showdown of caffeine melodrama. French press or pour over – which one is the go-to?
French Press: How it Works
But before we start burying bodies, let’s start with some definitions. Namely, what is French press coffee, and how does this brewing technique work? We’ve touched on it in previous articles where we compared the French press to the Aeropress as well as drip coffee methods, but a quick recap is in order just to set the stage.
The French press is a coffee-brewing device consisting of a glass carafe and a fine-mesh steel filter attached to a plunger and lid. While its name is Franco-inspired, the modern French press was developed in Italy in 1929. Since its inception, it’s been an extremely popular method of brewing coffee in Europe, and in recent years has spread to the rest of the world.
The reason that this method is so revered by coffee aficionados has to do with the control it allows the maker during brewing. Few other methods allow the brewer to control all of the crucial variables such as steeping time, water volume, and water temperature, resulting in a complete manipulation of flavor.
The French press is also ready to brew from initial purchase; there is no additional paraphernalia needed to get started. This is great for the environmentally conscious out there, as the French press does away with the need for disposable paper filters. Instead, it can simply be washed and reused again and again.
Unlike other filter methods, the French press also relies on steeping as the primary brewing method. Because of this, many of the delicate oils which would otherwise be lost are retained and make their way into the final brew. The result is a cup of coffee that is intense, aromatic and complex.
Pour-Over: How it Works
Pour-over coffee has become synonymous with the third-wave coffee movement which has swept the globe in the last decade. At its core, it’s a method of producing filter-style coffee using a few specialized but easy-to-use pieces of equipment.
There are several different ways of producing pour-over, but all of them utilize the same conical-shaped filter which then gets placed into a vessel, holder or container. The containers themselves can range from a cheap plastic filter holder, all the way to the beautiful svelte Chemex carafe. Regardless of the type of kit you opt for, the resultant brew is still complex and delicious.
The pour-over technique relies on allowing hot water to pass through the coffee grounds and filter before accumulating in the bottom container. It allows for a fair amount of control and manipulation of the final flavor of the coffee but, unlike the French press, doesn’t give the brewer the option of deciding how long the coffee should steep for.
That being said some people prefer the more straightforward nature of the pour-over. The filtering process also removes a lot of the bitterness that many aren’t a fan of. The resultant brew is smooth, easy to make, and, according to a vocal section of the internet, the best coffee around.
French Press Coffee
So you’re thinking of taking the plunge (get it? get it?) and investing in a French press coffee maker. But before you shell out of that hard-earned cash, you’re curious about exactly what you’re getting into. No one wants to pay for something only to find out it’s too complicated to use or takes too long to finish the job.
Luckily for you, a French press is exceedingly simple to use. Thanks in large part to its uncomplicated design and have exactly only one moving part, the French press is something that even the least technical person in the world can use. After ground coffee and hot water, all it requires is time.
How much time exactly? That all depends on your tastes and preferences (and that’s why the French press is such a beautifully precise piece of kit, to begin with), but generally you’re going to wait between four and five minutes for your coffee to finish brewing. This makes it an ideal choice for someone who wants a good, quality cup of coffee in the morning before work.
Investing in one also won’t break the bank. A standard glass French press will cost around $24.99 depending on the size and the materials it’s constructed from. You can also find differently priced and differently constructed French presses such as stainless steel and ceramic models.
As we mentioned above the coffee itself is going to come out strong, rich and dark. If you’re scared of caffeine or just prefer your coffee on the weaker side, then the French press might not be your answer. If, however, you’re someone who likes your coffee like you like your grizzly bears (strong and dark), then
- A modest investment – buying a standard French press is cheap enough so that even if you find you’re not completely into it, you haven’t wasted too much money.
- Offers complete control – the French press allows you to control all brewing variables so that you can create the perfect cup of coffee just the way you want it.
- Easy to use – brewing coffee with the French press is a simple affair.
- Won’t keep you waiting – making coffee takes just a few minutes, so you can definitely get a delicious cup of coffee every morning before work.
- It’s kind of gritty – due to the brewing method and the coarse steel filter used, some finer particles almost always make their way into the final cup of coffee.
- A pain to clean – the French press is a little bit finicky to clean, especially the lid and plunger which can’t be disassembled.
- Over extraction – more of a risk than a con, but leaving your coffee to brew for too long can cause over-extraction, resulting in an extremely bitter final brew.
How to Make French press coffee
If you’ve read this far then I’m sure you’re curious about the best way of brewing coffee using the French press. Keep reading – below we’ll take you through the process step by step.
- Start with the coffee beans. The exact brand of beans doesn’t matter; as long as you love them and they’re fresh. Stay away from pre-ground coffee as it loses its freshness very quickly.
- Next, grind the beans up. You’ll want a medium to coarse grind; any smaller and you risk clogging up the filter and ending up with a sludgy mess. Check out our article on recommended grinders for French press coffee if you don’t have one yet.
- Once you have your grinds you’ll want to add them to your French press. Add anywhere between 18 – 20 grams of coffee per eight ounces of water. If that’s too strong you can also dilute it with a little more water.
- Boil your water to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, just use an ordinary kettle and then let the water sit for 30 seconds before you use it.
- Splash some hot water into your French press, being sure to fully wet the grinds without filling the carafe significantly. This process is called blooming, and it allows trapped carbon dioxide within the coffee to escape.
- Next, fill the entire French press up. Stir the contents with a spoon to ensure that the coffee is completely saturated then let it rest for about four minutes. If you want your coffee stronger, let it rest until six; any longer and you risk over-extraction.
- After four minutes begin the extraction. Apply slow, steady pressure to the plunger until reaches the bottom of the carafe. Take care that you don’t do this too quickly and spill hot coffee everywhere.
- Serve, and enjoy!
Pro Cleaning Tip
Cleaning a French press can be difficult and is one of the factors that may dissuade a person from buying one. An easy way to clean it is to rinse out all the grinds and then fill the container with soapy water.
Insert the plunger and plunge it up and down several times until all the grinds have been washed out. Then simply rinse the carafe and the plunger and your French press is ready to go again.
The pour-over is simple; it’s exactly what it sounds like. You take your coffee and you pour water over it. The result – delicious, fragrant, coffee that you’d be overjoyed to drink at a cafe.
While simple, pour-over offers a lot of control over how you would like to brew your coffee that many other methods don’t. For starters, you can determine how fast you would like to pour your water, and that in turn determines how quickly the coffee gets extracted.
Whether or not this is a superior brewing technique to say the French press or an espresso machine is debatable. On the one hand, its simplicity and the fact that it uses a filter means you’re able to make an easy, exceedingly smooth cup of coffee every time. On the other hand, you risk losing those precious oils that give other cups of coffee such a rich and intense flavor due to the pour-over extraction method.
That being said if you’re thinking of investing in a pour-over, we definitely encourage it. It’s a cheap enough investment that even if you decide that this method isn’t for you, you haven’t wasted that much money. There are also levels to this game, and the same goes for the amount of money you can spend on a pour-over.
At its most basic, you can make pour-over with nothing more than the filters it requires.
For a single cup of coffee, you can’t go wrong with a ceramic dripper from Hario.
If you’re looking for quantity without breaking the bank, the pour-over from Bodum is the best bang for your buck.
And if you’ve got a little extra money laying around and want a pour-over maker that is as beautiful as it is functional, then the Chemex is the way to go.
- High-quality coffee – pour-over is going to create some of the smoothest and most delicious coffee you’ve ever tasted (provided you use the right beans and filter).
- Easy to use and set-up – With only a dripper, carafe or even just a paper filter, you’re already able to make delicious coffee.
- Quantity – Unlike other methods, pour-over coffee allows you to brew large quantities of coffee at once (unless you’re using a single-cup dripper)
- Pure – the fine paper filter means that, unlike the French press method, there’s going to be absolutely no grit or sediment in your final cup of coffee.
- Requires patience – unlike the French press which you can just fill with water and leave, brewing coffee with a pour-over requires constant supervision and attention. This can easily take up five minutes in your morning routine.
- Difficult to clean – if you’re using a Chemex or a similarly deep carafe, you may need a long-handled brush or other implements to clean it sufficiently.
- Can be wasteful – Having to constantly use disposable paper filters might not be the best or most sustainable option, especially for the environmentally conscious out there.
How to Make Pour-Over Coffee
First thing’s first, before you even start unfolding filters or grinding beans, you need to get yourself a gooseneck pour-over kettle. This is a specialized piece of equipment that gives you control and exactitude over exactly how much water you want to add to your coffee and at what speed you want to pour it. It’s the difference between a carefully-made, considerate pour-over and a flooded mess.
Kettle acquired, let’s get into the final details of how to make pour-over coffee.
- Heat your water to between 195 – 205 Fahrenheit. It’s always advisable to use a thermometer when doing this, but, as we said for the French press, if you don’t just let your boiling water rest for 30 seconds before you add it.
- Weigh your coffee. You want anywhere between 16 and 19 grams of coffee for every one gram of water. Of course, this largely depends on your taste, but the more coffee the stronger the final brew will be.
- Rinse your filters before you add your coffee. This is hugely important as it will remove the papery taste that filters impart. Simply place your filter on your carafe, pour hot water through it and let it rest for a few minutes.
- Discard the filtered water while still keeping the filter in place by simply pouring it out of the carafe.
- Next, grind the coffee beans that you measured earlier and pour them into your filter. A medium to fine grind is optimal for pour-over. Because the filter is much finer than a French press, you can afford to grind the beans into a much smaller size.
- Now, using your gooseneck kettle, saturate the coffee grinds and allow them to bloom for 30 seconds. This will allow all of the trapped carbon dioxide to escape and not make its way into your final brew.
- Add the rest of your water. Using the gooseneck, start in the middle and pour outward in a widening circle in order to fully saturate all of your grinds evenly. Pour at a measured pace so as not to flood your filter.
- Once you’ve poured out your desired quantity of water, let the wet coffee grinds rest for a few minutes to ensure you catch all of the liquid. Then, remove the filter and your pour-over is ready to serve.
French Press vs Pour-Over: The Final Showdown
Who comes out on top – the French press or the pour-over?
It’s not exactly definitive.
If you’re someone who prefers strong coffee with intense flavor, fragrant aromas, and a dark consistency, then the French press is undoubtedly the right coffee choice for you.
If, however, you prefer your coffee to be lighter, smoother and free from any coffee grinds, then pour-over has your name written all over it.
At the end of the day, it’s about personal preference, especially when it comes to two insanely popular methods of brewing coffee revered all over the world. That being said, if you’re still unsure, why not try both? It’s unlikely to break the bank, and you might just find that you love them both but for different reasons.
Martin Stokes hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. He enjoys writing about all manner of things and can quote lines from films like nobody’s business. He moved to Berlin in 2015 and is working tirelessly at broadening his repertoire of bad jokes.