As we have all come to really appreciate great coffee, different ways to brew coffee at home have really flourished. Where once we really only had a percolator or an automatic drip coffee machine, we now have just about every form of coffee brewing system available. We can even buy some pretty high-end espresso machines.
With the many choices, manual methods have increased in popularity. Many of us have taken to brewing coffee using older, time-honored methods such as the French press and the pour-over. We have all discovered that the convenience and ease of automated systems does not always provide us with the quality coffee we really enjoy.
With all the choices we need to figure out what is really best for our tastes and our life-styles. All of them are good. We just need to decide what is best for us. Here we will work through the advantages and disadvantages of the French press versus the pour-over method. Again, both are great ways to make coffee. But both will not fit everyone’s lifestyle.
Table Of Contents
- About French Press
- French Press Advantages
- French Press Disadvantages
- About Pour Over
- Pour Over Advantages
- Pour Over Disadvantages
- Durability & Portability
- Final Thoughts
The French Press
Known for brewing silky rich coffee, the French press actually looks elegant, and it is elegant in its simplicity. The brewing apparatus is in the pot and the entire thing is used for serving the freshly brewed coffee.
The entire thing consists of a carafe and a fitted metal mesh filter attached to shaft. This attaches to the lid. The carafe is generally made from borosilicate glass, but they also come in stainless steel, ceramic, and even plastic.
You place you ground coffee in the bottom of the carafe. Begin by filling the pot about a third to half full. Let the grounds and the hot water finish “ballooning.” Then pour hot water over it and let it brew for the required amount of time, and gently press the mesh filter down through the lid on the carafe. That is all there is to it. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at the process, check out our guide on how to make french press coffee.
Advantages of the French press
These things have been in use for more than a century. Long before the trendy coffee people of today locked on to the method, they were in use all over Europe. They have stood the test of time for a lot of good reasons.
The French press allows the ground coffee to brew directly in the hot water. This allows the brewing process to draw out everything in the bean, which makes for an intensely rich and full-bodied brew.
The entire brewing process is in action until you press the filter plunger. This means the brewing process remains active right up until you are ready to pour a cup. Nothing can be more fresh and full of flavor than this!
Since the French press process makes it possible to pull the oils out of the ground coffee, the flavor is far more intense than most other brewing methods.
There is no disposable filter. Environmentally sound and easy to deal with. Your leftover grounds go straight into the compost.
Disadvantages of the French press
The main thing that most people seem to dislike about the French press is the presence of grit in the final brew. While the screen filter mechanism will filter out nearly everything, it simply does not work like a paper or cloth filter. Some small coffee grounds escape and end up in your pot of coffee.
People who swear by the French press consider this a small price to pay for the rich strong coffee they get form the French press. Others find this intolerable.
Cleaning up a French press takes some effort. The filter screen will become clogged. It must be detached from the plunger mechanism. And the carafe will hold onto the grounds even after you dump them in the compost.
Even simpler than the French press, the equipment for a pour over consists of a conical shaped filter holder which goes directly onto a pot (Some of these are made to fit right onto a cup). Fit the filter into the cone, put in your ground coffee, and pour hot water onto the grounds. The pour-over requires an initial step much like the French press. Pour a small amount of hot water onto the ground coffee and let it “balloon” and recede. Then continue pouring the water Everything filters through into the pot.
Pour-over cones range from a simple plastic cone that fits onto a mug to beautiful glass and ceramic pots that are a combination of the conical filter holder and the pot in one piece.
It is important to take note that both the French press and the pour-over require that middle step of blasting the grounds before finishing the brewing process. This extra step can be off-putting to those who really just want quick and easy coffee.
This is basically all there is to it. Both the French press and the pour-over entail pouring hot water directly onto the freshly ground coffee. The only obvious difference is the way in which the final brew is filtered.
To get down to the finer differences…
While both the French press and the pour-over are simple in terms of the equipment, both require some time and care. These systems are nothing like the automatic drip machine. Both methods require boiling water and bringing it to the proper temperature. Both demand that you add hot water according to specific techniques. And both involve further steps before you have a final brew.
Both the French press and the pour-over are hands-on coffee brewing methods, but this is really the appeal for those of us who are taking the extra steps to make great coffee at home.
The Advantages of the Pour-over Method
Like the French press, the pour-over system has been around forever—hundreds of years, actually.
The pour-over equipment is inexpensive. Some of these systems are made out of hard plastic and can be found for just a few dollars. Your investment is minimal, although, like anything else, it is possible to spend a lot of money on pour-over systems.
The pour-over is extremely efficient. It is water poured through a filter. It does not get any simpler than that.
Since the final brew is filtered into a separate vessel, the fresh grounds receive fresh hot water as you are brewing. The result is a much crisper flavor. It is not as strong as the French press, and this may suit some people’s tastes more than the bolder flavor of the French press.
There is less grit. The filter removes everything but the brewed coffee. The French press can allow some small grounds to remain in the coffee. Usually this settles out, but some can still remain.
You can brew small amounts with the pour-over. As I said above, there are filter cones designed to make only one cup.
Clean up is easier. Although you do have the filter, cleaning up the rest of the system is nothing. All you will have in the end is a filter to dispose of, the filter cone, and your pot. A little hot water and you are finished.
We can see that both the French press and the pour-over have distinct advantages. The ease of use for both methods is about equal since both require some attention and care. Both systems have their disadvantages also.
Disadvantages of the Pour-over
The coffee is just not as strong. Some people prefer a milder cup of coffee, and that is fine. But if you are after a bold, strong brew, the pour-over cannot approach other methods.
Pouring the water through the filter is designed to make the coffee cleaner, crisper, and fresher on the palate. This means you sacrifice the rich oils of the coffee bean which can only be extracted from a more direct brewing process. Your coffee will taste great, but it will not be quite as strong as many would prefer.
There are considerations to think about beyond the basic methods and equipment. Nearly all of us who have taken to other methods for brewing coffee at home are prepared for the extra time and care required for these methods. But some people may want to think about issues such as whether or not these things are portable, for example.
Durability and Portability
There are manufacturers who make French presses specifically designed to be taken on the go. GSI, for instance, makes what they call the Java Press, and this is a double-walled insulated carafe with a silicone ringed plunger. It is made for travel and for taking into the great outdoors.
Keep in mind, a French press of this kind is significantly more expensive than the more common carafes. It is durable and portable, but it is pricey.
The point is, the French press is not typically a durable or portable method for brewing coffee. Sure, you can take your nice glass press into the woods, but you know the risks in this.
Pour-over systems are almost by definition portable and durable. The hard plastic filter cones can be tossed around and beat up. Certainly, the finer pour-over pots like Chemex are strictly for home use (beautiful glass pots and a little too expensive for the outdoors), but many of the pour-over systems were almost ready-made for portability.
All of this is only a consideration if these types of things are part of your coffee repertoire. For many, the French press or pour-over will never leave home.
The real goal for all of us is to explore the myriad ways available to us to brew great coffee at home. We all benefit from the explosion of brewing methods that has come in recent years. The trick is to figure out which is going to work best without breaking the bank buying every new piece of equipment that becomes available.
Both the French press and the pour-over method make fantastic coffee. Both require time and attention. But each has its own nuances that make one more appealing than the other. If you are able, see if your local café offers these options and submit them to the only real test: what tastes good to you.
Barring this, look over this guide, sort through the advantages and disadvantages, and decide what type of brew you love. Weigh it all against the time investment. You should have all you need to make the right decision.