Table Of Contents
- About This Guide
- French Press Basics
- Chemex Basics
- Nuances Of Each Method
About This Guide
The choices for making coffee have grown significantly in recent years. We are no longer relegated to the same type of brew every day. With so many options, the choice now comes down to what type of coffee is best suited to your taste.
Do we want something that hits the palate with a big flavor, or do we want a coffee that eases us into the day? For me, the choice often comes down to my French press or my Chemex. In short: Both make great coffee, but the French press creates a bolder flavor. The Chemex brews something a little more subtle, but equally tasty.
Breaking down the differences between the French press and the Chemex is what this guide is all about!
French Press Basics
The French press is a simple system, but there is nothing else like it. With a filterless brewing process, the French press facilitates as close to a complete extraction of the best parts of the coffee bean as you can get.
Often called a press pot, the French press was actually invented by an Italian named Paolini Ugo. It was patented by the Italian designers Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta in 1929. It became a fixture throughout Europe, thus it became associated with French cafes and French kitchens.
The process is simple, but it requires a little experimentation. This is the fun part because you have leeway to tweak the process to your liking.
Place coarse ground coffee in the bottom of the beaker. Add enough hot water to allow it to bloom. Then fill the beaker to the designated volume. Wait 2-3 minutes and depress the plunger, or piston, in order to filter the coffee. Again, simple and elegant, but demands some amount of finesse to get the finished brew to your taste.
There is no filter to deal with. You simply dispose of the grounds in a compost and rinse out the pot.
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive look at French press coffee, check out our guide on how to brew French press coffee.
The Chemex pour-over brewing system was invented by an American chemist. This is easy to believe since the Chemex pot and brewing system looks like a mix between a piece of sophisticated lab equipment and beautiful sculpture. It was put on the market in 1942, at a time when most people in the United States made coffee with a percolator.
The Chemex never really presented much of challenge to the main coffee making methods, the percolator and later the automatic drip machine. That is until recently as people have discovered that these other brewing methods actually result in coffee which tastes distinctly different.
The Chemex uses an infusion method of brewing which is similar to a drip coffee, but it is a pour-over system. However, the Chemex uses a filter which is a little thicker than other pour-overs, such as a Hario, and this results in a slower but richer cup of coffee.
You can use the same grind you use for your drip machine. Pour hot water over the grounds and let it bloom. Pour the rest over the grounds in a slow and steady stream. There you have it.
The Chemex produces a sediment free pot of coffee that is much stronger and full-flavored than the automatic drip method.
Another major appeal of the Chemex is that it is just beautiful to look at. They really do look like sculptures. The Chemex sitting in your kitchen is a noticeable improvement over the drab drip machine.
The Nuances of Each
There are a few minor differences between these two great brewing methods that might cause you to prefer one over the other. Let’s take a look:
Since the Chemex requires you to use a filter specifically designed to be used with this system, you cannot use just any filter available at the grocery. The Chemex also requires you to warm the pot before brewing.
Also, you need to allow for the bloom to rise and fall before you proceed to finish the brewing process which itself takes about 3-4 minutes.
The French press, on the other hand, does not require a filter at all. You do need to allow for the bloom with your ground coffee, and then the brewing process is 3-4 minutes in total.
On this count, the French press takes the least amount of time.
Ease Of Brewing
Both processes demand hands-on attention. Both require you to allow for the bloom and then finish with the rest of the hot water.
But with the Chemex, once you have added the water, you are finished. Let it filter and your coffee is ready to drink.
As far as clean up is concerned, you do need to deal with disposing of a filter with the Chemex, but beyond that it is a simple matter of rinsing the pot. The French press will leave you with grounds stuck to the mesh filter, and the entire piston mechanism needs to be detached and cleaned.
For overall ease of use, the Chemex is the way to go.
People often land on both the Chemex and the French Press if they’re looking for a more portable coffee brewing solution. Maybe you travel a lot, or maybe you want to go camping – either way, these two methods are among the more portable coffee solutions available today.
Both the Chemex and the French press are stand-alone sytems. Neither requires an electrical hook-up and all you need beyond the basic equipment is a way to heat water.
The Chemex is made entirely of glass. The pot and the conical filter holder at the top are one continuous piece, and all of this is fragile. They are made of a heavy-duty glass and they are tough. But the simple fact is the Chemex is a fragile piece of equipment.
While the traditional French press is also made of glass, many manufacturers make them out of stainless steel, ceramic, and plastic. There are French presses on the market which can go in a backpack and withstand the punishment of the trail.
For portability, the French press is your best bet.
Both the French press and the Chemex provide fantastic ways to brew coffee. The French press tends to be a richer brew, while the Chemex tends to be more like the kind of coffee we are used to with a drip machine.
Both systems have their advantages. The decision comes down to your time constraints and the different ways you would like to use your coffee maker. But I will admit one thing: I have both, and I use both.