Chemex vs French Press [The Ultimate Side-by-Side Comparison]

Everyone who comes to develop a love of coffee eventually arrives at a crossroads. On their current path lies the lazy man’s way of making coffee – drip coffee machine, automated coffee pods and K cups. On the other are more sophisticated, artisan methods of brewing such as the Chemex and French press.

It’s a choice between sticking to standard, easy and convenient methods of brewing, or delving deep into the science and art of coffee brewing. Luckily the learning curve isn’t so steep, especially when it comes to devices such as the Chemex and the French press.

On paper both devices are pretty similar. They’re both glass vessels designed for holding hot liquids producing delicious coffee; they even use the same sized coffee grind. However, what sets them apart is not so much their function as the way they go about it.

The main difference lies in the extraction process, or how each piece of kit infuses the flavor of the coffee beans into hot water. But which is better? It’s a truly artisan question that requires some unpacking, and one that might get you into trouble at a dinner party should you ever devoutly defend one side.

With that in mind let’s explore both the Chemex and the French press, and find out which one is better for you.

Why People Love Chemex and French Press Coffee

Compared to other brewing methods, Chemex and the French press offer a relatively simple way to brew quality coffee in a relatively short amount of time. The apparatus of each is exceedingly simple to both set up and clean. They’re also both pretty cheap, meaning amateur coffee enthusiasts can make the leap from amateur to intermediate coffee guru without breaking the bank.

Compared to say, espresso, which requires a large initial injection of capital in order to purchase an espresso machine, the Chemex and French press can be acquired for $43 and $35 respectively.

For such a cheap and simple way of brewing, both methods also offer the brewer amazing control over the final flavor of the coffee. Expensive coffee machines offer different degrees of variation, whereas the Chemex and French press allow for a much more intuitive brewing experience.


Advantages

Disadvantages
A relatively inexpensive investment compared with other coffee brewing methods such as espresso and cappuccino.Set up and brewing times tend to be quite a bit longer than other brewing methods such as the use of an espresso or filter coffee machine.
Offers the brewer complete control over brewing variables such as brewing time, steeping time, coffee volume and water volume.The glass that both the Chemex and French press is made from tends to be quite fragile. This might result in breakage if either piece is put through a dishwasher.
Both pieces of equipment are visually appealing and work seamlessly with any current kitchen decor. Because of the coarse mesh filter used on a French press, small coffee particles tend to pass through during the plunging process, ending up in the final cup of coffee.
Extremely simple to set up as well as clean.With regards to the Chemex, it tends to be pretty expensive, especially when compared to other similar brewing methods such as a simple, paper-filtered pour over.

Chemex Coffee – Everything You Need to Know

How it works

The Chemex is a manual, pour over style glass device for making coffee. It’s all the rage nowadays and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a brand new coffeemaker. Quite the contrary; the Chemex was developed in 1941 by German inventor Peter Schlumbohm, although it’s enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity among the coffee community.

It’s no wonder, either – the Chemex is absolutely beautiful to look at. Its simple yet tasteful hourglass design makes it a wonderful asset to any decorated kitchen worth its salt, and that’s before even a drop of coffee has been brewed.

The wooden collar also deserves a mention. As the third and final piece in the Chemex setup (after the vase and the disposable filters), it’s the most visually-distinctive feature. Fitting around the neck, the collar is heatproof and allows the Chemex to be handled safely even when full of hot coffee.

How to pour out some of the best pour over

Brewing Chemex coffee is a pretty simple affair. All you’re going to need is the Chemex itself, your coffee of choice, a grinder (check out our grinder guide here) and some Chemex filters

  • To start, measure out 38g of your favorite coffee beans. The Chemex works well with all roasts, but a medium roast is recommended if you want to pack the most flavor into your drink.
  • Next, grind the beans until you achieve a medium coarseness. Because the filters used in a Chemex are thicker than average, you want a medium coarse grind in order to filter out all of the oils and bitterness while still retaining a clean flavor.
  • Insert the filter into the Chemex with the 3 section placed just over the lip for pouring.
  • Boil some water to about 200 degrees fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, just boil water in an ordinary kettle and let it stand for 30 seconds.
  • Wet the paper filter with the hot water. This will prevent the taste of the paper from seeping into your final product.
  • Pour the water you used for rinsing out, then add your grounds to the filter.
  • Saturate the grounds with hot water and let it rest for 30 seconds. This process is called blooming and it allows carbon dioxide trapped within the grounds to escape before brewing.
  • After blooming, gradually add around 600 grams of hot water to the coffee, pouring in a circular pattern starting at the center. Make sure you do this slowly and leave about an inch of space from the top of the flask.
  • Allow all of the water to pass through the filter. Wait about four minutes to make sure you have every single drop.
  • Remove the filter, and serve.

Things to note

Unlike other brewing methods, like the Aeropress or French press, making coffee using a Chemex isn’t going to result in a cup of coffee more bitter than Cersei Lannister. Quite the contrary, due to the thick filters used and the fact that the extraction process occurs as water passes through the grounds, the coffee made by the Chemex is smooth, light and easy to drink. 

It’s important not to rush the process. Pour gradually and deliberately, taking care to let the water drain through the grounds before adding more. Your patience will be well-rewarded a large amount of nuanced coffee that’s great for sharing with friends.

a French Press

French Press Coffee – Simple, Effective, Superb

How it works

The French press is one of the simple coffee extraction systems out there, but surprisingly, one of the most effective. Unlike other similar devices, the French press provides an extremely thorough extraction processes by fulling immerging the coffee grounds in hot water.

Consisting of a glass beaker, lid, and a plunger and coarse steel mesh filter attached, the French press offers complete control of the brewing process. It puts specificity back into the brewer’s hands, allowing manipulation of crucial variables such as water temperature, water volume, coffee volume and brewing time.

This means that, with some thoughtful tinkering, you have the ability to make your coffee as strong or as weak as you’d like. There’s also no reusable filter to deal with, meaning that once you have your French press, you’re ready to brew straightaway without any added extras.

The secret of the French press lies in the fact that the grounds are allowed to fully saturate in the water before they’re filtered. Other methods, such as the Chemex or pour over, rely on extraction to occur as hot water is passing through the grounds. By allowing the grounds to steep fully, broader, more intense and more complex flavors are allowed to develop.

Many of the oils that give coffee such a beautifully strong flavor are removed during filtered extraction, so using the French press means that none of these get lost.

It’s important to note that you need a medium to coarse grind of coffee when using a French press. Because the filter is made of steel and not as fine as a paper filter, using a finer coffee grain will simply flow straight through, rendering it ineffective. If your coffee is too coarse, however, you risk adequate extraction not being able to take place.

And speaking of filters – the French press doesn’t have one. This makes it an environmentally superior option to methods such as the Chemex or pour over, as you don’t have to purchase disposable filters which are ultimately destined for the trash.

How to make delicious French press coffee every time  

  • Place your French press on a dry surface and remove the lid and plunger.
  • Add your coffee; add 8 grams of coffee for every 200mls of water.
  • Boil your water to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, simply boil water in a kettle and let it stand for 30 seconds.
  • Add the appropriate amount of water to your coffee grounds.
  • Stir thoroughly, place the lid and plunger on the top of the pot and then let the mixture sit for four minutes. If you like your coffee stronger, allow it to steep for longer (with some experimentation you can figure out your desired strength).
  • Apply steady and firm pressure to the plunger and press it all the way to the bottom. Take your time here; if you’re too brisk and your hand is too heavy then hot coffee is apt to go spilling all over your counter.
  • Once you’ve pressed the plunger all the way to the bottom, your coffee is ready to go. Pour and enjoy!

Notable French presses

If the French press has got you excited but you’re unsure about which one to go for, stop sweating – we’ve got you covered. Below are some of our favorite tried and tested French presses which almost always guarantee an incredible cup of coffee.

  • Veken French press – Available in both 34oz and 12oz options, the Veken French press is an affordable and effective press that is perfect for a first-timer looking to upgrade their coffee game.
  • Bodum Chambord French press – the Bodum Chambord is one of the most classic names among coffee equipment and French presses in particular. It’s a trusted brand that will get a nod of approval from coffee enthusiasts everywhere.
  • Espro Press P7 – For those uncomfortable with the fragile nature of glass French presses, the Espro Press P7 offers a more sturdy, premium alternative. Made from stainless steel, purchasing an Espro means you’ll never have to worry about accidentally breaking a French press in the pursuit of fine coffee ever again.

Chemex vs French Press – Which Should I Buy?

At the end of the day, the decision to purchase either a French press or a Chemex is a personal choice and comes down to the buyer. Consider your expectations, your budget and the type of coffee you’d like to drink.

If you’re looking for a full-bodied, aromatic and intensely flavored cup of coffee, the French press is the way to go. As discussed above, the steeping technique allows for the retention of all of the oils and aromas which are lost in other brewing methods. 

That being said, if you’re someone who prefers a lighter, less bitter and all round smoother cup of coffee, then you can hardly go wrong with the Chemex. The heavy filter used means most of the bitter oils and particulates that end up in a final cup of French press coffee are removed. This leaves you with a truly refined, and some would say superior, cup of coffee.

Like most things within the coffee world it’s difficult to give an absolute answer. Different brewing methods allow for so much flavor variation of the final product that definitively stating that one technique trumps another is almost impossible.  But if you’re a true coffee enthusiast, all the different methods of brewing coffee should be exciting to one degree or another.

Martin Stokes

Martin Stokes

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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.