One of the amazing perks of the specialty coffee movement is that we are now spoiled for choice when it comes to different styles of coffee. In fact, even as I write this article I am sitting in a third wave coffee shop enjoying their ‘coffee adventure’ which consists of a V60 pour over, an Aeropress, and a Syphon coffee. Needless to say I love my job!
Especially in the last 10 or so years manual brewing methods (which simply mean everything except espresso) have taken off both in cafes and in the homes of committed coffee lovers.
Which leads us to the focus of this article; the showdown between the tried and true French Press and the new and hipster Pour Over. Which is better? Which tastes nicer? Which is easiest to use? Which best showcases the nuances of single origin beans? And perhaps most importantly which one should you buy if you are considering purchasing a coffee maker? So let’s get into it!
French Press Overview
The French Press is a staple in many homes and has been long loved and cherished for its relative ease of use and the rich and heavy coffee that it produces. This reliable coffee maker goes by various aliases all around the world; in Italy it is known as a Caffettiera a Stantuffo, in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa it goes by the name Coffee Plunger, in the UK, Holland, and France it is a Cafeteire, and in North America it goes by French Press or Coffee Press.
So where did this iconic coffee maker come from? Well it may come as a surprise to many that the first patented version of the French Press was actually designed by an Italian Attilio Calimani in 1929. However, the name may not be completely inaccurate as a somewhat similar brewer was invented by two Frenchmen Mayer and Delforge in 1852.
The French Press is what is known as an ‘immersion’ coffee brewer. This simply means that the coffee flavour is extracted as the coffee grinds are immersed and sit in hot water for a number of minutes. This is similar to the process used for both Aeropress (depending on the recipe) and cold brew. This tends to produce a heavier coffee with a lot more body that other brewing methods which have a shorter contact time between the grinds and hot water.
Another important factor in understanding the French Press is that the extracted coffee passes through a metal mesh instead of a paper filter. The advantage of this is that the final coffee includes more of the coffee oils which leads to a richer, heavier, and more full-bodied cup of coffee. The downside is the perennial issue with the French Press which is the sludge. Because the metal filter tends to have larger holes for the coffee to pass through, French Press coffee almost always includes silty particles at the bottom of the cup which can be overly bitter or unpleasant to drink. This heavy texture and mouthfeel of French Press coffee is often the deciding factor in whether people love or hate this method of coffee brewing.
How to Use it
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of French Press is how easy it is to use even for those with little or no previous experience in coffee brewing. While there are a number of variations on exactly what the process should look like, they all come down to grinding the coffee relatively coarsely, pouring in hot water, leaving the coffee to ‘steep’ in the water for a time, and then pressing down the plunger. Using a French Press is refreshingly simple to use and easy to get really enjoyable results. The following method and recipe comes from barista Chris Baca and we have found it to produce some of the best French Press coffee we have tasted.
French Press Recipe
Step One: Preheat the French Press
Do this by pouring hot water into the brewing chamber, pushing down plunger into hot water, and then pour out the hot water.
Step Two: Grind Coffee Beans
Grind 20g of coffee beans to medium grind setting and place into the bottom of the French Press.
Step Three: Add Water
Bring water to the boil, wait a few seconds and then add 300g of water fairly quickly. Make sure the whole bed of grinds is wet and then place the lid on the press with the plunger up and not touching the water.
Step Four: Wait
As soon as you are finished step three start a timer for 4 minutes and wait.
Step Five: Stir
When the timer goes off take the lid off the French Press and gently stir the ‘crust’ on top of the water. As you do this you should be able to see a number of the grinds sinking to the bottom of the brew. Now get two soup spoons and gently remove as much of the remaining froth as you are able to and dispose of it.
Step Six: Wait and Enjoy
Now the brew is basically good to go so you can either pour the coffee out immediately and drink it or wait for a few more minutes allowing more of the silt to sink to the bottom. When you pour out the coffee, place the lid with the plunger up as high as it can go. Now gently pour the coffee through the filter into your mug and enjoy!
Tips For French Press
Advantages and Disadvantages
So now that we know what French Press is, how it works, and how to make it, we can begin to talk through some of the pros and cons of the brewing method.
Pour Over Overview
Pour Over is an older brewing method whose rediscovery was almost synonymous with the birth of the specialty coffee movement. This highly iconic technique for brewing coffee has probably been around as long as coffee has and was regularly used in parts of Europe in the 1900s. However, while cloth filters were used originally, the invention of the paper filter for pour over is accredited to German inventor Melitta Bentz in 1908. Pour Over coffee can also be known as filter coffee or manual drip.
Pour Over is known as an ‘infusion’ brewer which means that the coffee is extracted by fresh water being steadily poured or infused through the coffee grinds. This method is essentially a manual version of the way that drip coffee machines operate. The resulting short contact time between the grinds and the water makes for a far lighter and brighter coffee which is similar in texture to tea. Further, the use of paper filters (which are the typical although not the only filter used for pour over) means that there is little of the coffee oils that make it into the cup. This leads to a very clean and light cup of coffee. On the positive side this works terrifically with lighter roasts for highlighting nuances of different single origin coffees. Negatively, however, the lightness of the coffee can lack the bold coffee hit which many coffee lovers look forward to (and perhaps need!) in their morning brew.
Pour overs are now widely used in both third wave coffee shops and home brewing contexts. In particular, many people have fallen in love with the process of this brewing method and its ability to showcase the intricacies of different beans. As opposed to French Press, pour over is almost exclusively drunk black as the addition of milk or any other condiments tend to dilute the nuanced flavours which this brewing method is all about.
Pour Over coffee makers can be broadly divided into conical brewers which have a single large hole in the bottom, and flat bottomed brewers which have a flat bottom with a number of small holes in it. The large hole in conical brewers such as the V60 or Chemex means that the speed the water passes through the grinds is entirely determined by grind size, technique, and pouring speed. This makes these pour over makers quite difficult to master for those with little experience but can produce some of the best pour over coffee out there. In flat bottomed brewers like the Kalita Wave, by contrast, the water can only drain as fast as the holes will allow. This tends to make for a more forgiving coffee maker and can produce some really nice coffee even when the technique might not be quite up to scratch. For an in depth understanding of the differences between these two types of pour overs see this article.
How to Use It
While there are various different types of pour over coffee makers they all share the same basic method for extracting coffee. In each case the coffee is added to the pre-wet filter, bloomed, and then gradually soaked with fresh hot water. However, it is important to note that there are differences in method especially between flat bottomed and conical pour overs. The recipe below should work as a good starting point for any type of pour over set up but may need to be tweaked for your specific pour over.
It is also worth noting that the process for brewing pour over is both more complicated and more technical than for French Press. Doing pour over well is an art and a skill that takes time and experience. As coffee expert Scott Rao puts it “Manual Drip is extremely challenging to make well”!!
Pour Over Recipe
Step One – Pre-wet Paper Filter and Coffee Maker.
Once you have brought at least 400mls of hot water to the boil, unfold paper filter and place into pour over cone. Place the pour over cone on top of your carafe or mug and gently pour hot water in cylindrical motion to pre-wet the entire filter. This will both preheat the pour over cone and help get rid of the paper taste and residue on your filter. Dispose of water.
Step Two: Grind Beans
Grind 18g of coffee beans to a medium/fine setting and place into paper filter. Line up the pour over cone and either give it a little shake or tap on the side. This will help flatten the bed of coffee grinds for even extraction. Place pour over on mug/carafe and place onto a set of scales and tare the scales to measure water.
Step Three: Bloom
Make sure your water is just off the boil and pour around 50g of water in a spiral motion over the grind bed seeking to soak all the grinds. As soon as you are finished pouring start a timer. This is called the bloom phase and helps degas the beans for optimal extraction. Wait 30 seconds before moving onto the next phase.
Step Four: Pour Water
You are now ready to pour the rest of the hot water. The aim is to use a total of 288g of water. Pour water in slow spirals starting at the middle of the grind bed and working your way to the outside and then back in. Pour water in 2-3 stages. Each time wait for the water level to recede before starting the next stage. When you have reached the water weight of 288g stop pouring but keep the timer on and wait for all of the water to drain. The goal is for it to stop draining around the 3 minute mark. If it takes much longer then either your grind setting is too fine or you’re pouring too slow. If it takes much less than 3 minutes then either your grind setting is too coarse or you are pouring too fast.
Step Five: Enjoy
You are now ready to enjoy your pour over. Dispose of grinds and filter, give the coffee a gentle stir, and enjoy your hard earned coffee!
You might have noticed that both our recommended method for Pour Over and French Press are from Chris Baca. Chris Baca is a barista who co-owns Cat & Cloud Coffee Roasters and has been a leading light in the speciality coffee movement for a number of years now. We highly recommend his brew methods and just about anything he has to say really.
Tips for Pour Over
Advantages and Disadvantages
So what are the pros and cons of this brewing method?
The Final Verdict
So now that we have run through what these different brewers are all about, how to use them, and what are some of their advantages and disadvantages, what is the verdict? Which is best and which one should you buy?
Well the classic answer is that it depends; it depends on how you like your coffee, what your budget is, how many people you will be brewing for, and how involved you want to be in the brewing process. And there is some truth to this. Both coffee makers are able to make coffee that many people really enjoy and have come to love. Similarly, they do serve different purposes and pour over is often best for a single serve while French Presses strength lies in their capacity to make larger brews.
However, to say it depends does feel like a bit of a copout to be honest. So my personal opinion is that if you are really into coffee and love understanding how coffee works, where it comes from, and the different flavours it can produce, then pour over is the better option for you. There is a reason that most speciality coffee shops and third wave cafes have stopped offering French Press and started making pour overs, and it is that this brewing method can make delicious coffees that are nuanced, distinct, and showcase the flavour characteristics of different coffee growing regions.
So my verdict? Pour Over is the better option for helping people really get into coffee, while French Press is is the better option for larger group settings and for those less bothered about the process of making coffee and who like richer and heavier brews.
Our Top Picks
So now that you are hopefully better equipped to pick which is the better brewing method for you, which French Press or Pour over should you buy? Here are our top two picks for both brewing methods.
The Chamford is in many ways the iconic French Press and is likely what comes to your mind when you hear the words French Press. And there is plenty to love about this press; it is made of heat resistant borosilicate glass, comes in a wide range of sizes, is aesthetically pleasing, has a stainless steel mesh, and is very affordable. We own and use a Chamford and have been really happy with it. The downside of course is that being made of glass it is breakable so requires some care in use.
This stainless steel coffee maker represents the cutting edge of the French Press world. This is a French Press for the sophisticated. It is made of high quality materials, is double walled to keep the coffee hot, and uses a special double micro-filter. It is this filter system that really sets the Espro apart. These twin filters are made of incredibly fine mesh with a silicone lip to give you an incredibly clean and grit free brew. So if the idea of a silt-free version of rich and heavy-bodied French Press coffee appeals to you, and you have money to spare, the Espro may be the way to go.
We have mentioned the V60 in this article a number of times for good reason; that it is simply the best pour over on the market at present. This is the model most often sported by speciality coffee cafes and enables the greatest depth of flavour while requiring the most technical skill. It is a conical pour over which makes it fairly unforgiving for those with little or no experience. This is the pour over to get if you are serious about going places with your coffee and are willing to put in the hard work.
The Kalita Wave was the result of a popular demand for a pour over that it is easy to use and accessible while still producing high quality flavour. It is a flat bottomed brewer with three small holes which makes it fairly forgiving of imperfect technique. This is a fantastic option for those just entering into the world of pour over and can produce some delicious coffee. We own and have used the Kalita extensively and have loved just about everything about it.
Well we hope this article has been helpful for you in either giving you a little more knowledge or helping you to take the next step on your coffee journey. Both French Press and Pour Over coffee makers are able to make some really nice coffee that their advocates have come to love. French Press coffee tends to be heavier, richer, and more intense while Pour Over produces a far lighter and brighter cup which excels in showcasing the nuances of different single origin coffees.